obama mic

As Obama enters the final hours of his 2 terms as president of the United States, social media, news outlets and  facebook feeds are buzzing. Many are heartbroken – they beleieve their country has traded in an articulate, outwardly progressive, intelligent man for someone who embodies an entirely opposing and distasteful set of values. They are fearful for the future.

People generally fall into two main camps with Obama. They love him or they hate him. A few fall into a more nuanced approach . Various marginalised communities measure his Presidency on what his policies specifically did for their community. In the African-American community, several community ‘leaders’ have been outspoken about the fact that Barack did not specifically target the black community with his policies or create any tangible change for them. Indeed, it’s arguable that black people in America and across the world are equally if not more disenfranchised, downtrodden and disrespected post Obama’s presidency as they were before it.

I speak as somewhat of an outsider being Jamaican-British and I acknowledge that it’s a lot easier for me to have an admittedly more impartial, but potentially less accurate analysis as someone who is largely  affected indirectly by American politics.  I will  hesistantly say though,  that I believe anyone who expected Obama to create any real change for the black community was somewhat delusional. Obama, despite the historicity, despite the tears and moments of pride, despite the cute family pictures and swaggalicious YouTube videos, is a politician. Western politicians, especially at senior levels of government, rarely get there by being completely radical and challenging privilege and power. They get there by acquiescing to it. They might appear, like Trump, to say radical things, but they will almost always either be part of or have to acquiesce to a capitalist white supremacist power structure. It doesn’t matter if they fist bump their constituents or tell them they’re building a massive wall to keep out the rapey Mexicans. At some point they will have to make a choice to play the game.

Obama, as the countries first black president had to be even more careful than any of his predecessors that he was playing the game correctly. He was bound by processes of power that meant that half of his congress had values that despite their protestations were  at least partially rooted in maintaining inequality and upholding white male privilege. He had the burden of not only failing himself, but failing the community. There was a burden of collective blackness that whether or not Barack Obama acknowledged, history would force him to carry. Most importantly, he did not win the election on a mandate of black power – the main groups who voted for him were liberal whites. Undoubtedly, black man and women galvanised around him, but the harsh reality is that a community with very  little economic power has very little political power.

I’m not excusing Obama.  He arguably did more for the LGBTQ community than he did directly for the black community. I agree with every analysis that suggests that he didn’t do enough about police brutality or reverse America’s legacy of destructive foreign policy or dismantle a cruel prison industrial compex. He wasn’t enough. I don’t know that America’s first black president was ever really going to be able to play the game and win if he was publicly seen to be considering the needs of his community as paramount in a country where a significant proportion of the population are deeply prejudiced. Simply put, it was never gonna happen.

Real change has rarely come from the top down, but from the bottom up. It’s the people at the bottom who don’t have enough power and privilege  to be  constrained by the courts and the congresses that can push till the top is forced to look down at them for fear of toppling over. It’s the people who have less to lose that often risk everything to try to change their existence. Desperation is often the fuel that changes societies, not comfort. We, black, white, poor, female , other were never going to find a saviour in Obama because had he had been the radical change you were looking for, he wouldn’t have made it that far.

I remember when Obama got elected for the second time. I watched my Dad, a jamaican man who had come to this country in the 1960’s, walked through the streets of Wolverhampton and had rubbish thrown at his head, stand in the corner of my living room and watch as Obama and his family walked out to a crowd of cheering peooe. I saw the emotion on his face. I saw my Mum’s smile when Michelle Obama spoke. And despite being my usual cynical self, I couldn’t deny the messure of pride and relief when I saw the first family. Entirely black, entirely seemingly in love with each other. Secretly, I wanted my own Obama – or at least what he respresented.

The enduring image from his presidency that I will remember is one of a little black boy touching the President’s head as he bent over in the Oval office. He just wanted to know that the President had the same hair he did. We will never know the countless number of black children across the world who were too young to understand the effects of foreign and domestic policy, but old enough to remember that yes, they can. They can be President. And despite the morality or immoralities of the Obama Presidency, that is in itself significant and enduring.

That’s what Obama’s Presidency meant to me. Not a  departure from neo-liberal values, not a politician that I put my faith and trust in, and certainly not someone who was going to usher in a new dawn of equality or progress.

The Bible says ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God, the things that are God’s. There are some things that belong to the power  structures of this world. Absolute truth, equity , justice, and complete freedom are not those things.Once we recognise that, we can accept Obama for what he was as well as what he wasn’t.

 

fried chicken

 

I have to commend myself on my progress in my continuing quest towards enlightenment. 3 years ago at the tender age of 23  when I first started writing this blog,  I would have had a very different initial response to a viral video of a young black man taste testing fried chicken from various KFC imitation outlets.It would have been something along the lines of..“*rolls eyes* Yet again mainstream media picking up on every negative stereotype about black people, why has this idiot decided to go cavorting around London sampling wings and Fanta – can’t he find himself some kind of gainful employment and stop embarrassing us?

3 years later, my response is somewhat different.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, Elijah Quashie is rumored to be 23 (he will neither confirm or deny his age, perhaps he’s worried that taste testing Sam’s in air max’s  will be seen as juvenile?) and has  in the space of a week morphed into an internet sensation with his witty take on the quality of chicken, chips  and burgers in London’s many fast food shops. His youtube series the Pengest Munch shows Quashie, presumably filmed by one of his friends (man dem) sampling chicken from a different shop in each episode and rating their food offerings out of 5.

He is obviously charming, funny (‘burger sauce was a myth’)  and rather charismatic, not to mention innovative – he states that he was inspired by the ‘bald guy from Masterchef’, questioning why Greg Wallace’s opinion on food held any more gravitas than anyone elses, which inspired him to start his own series.

I’ve heard a bit of murmuring on the interwebs about the series promoting the same old tired stereotype about black people liking fried chicken and also a negative portrayal of young black men as lacking aspiration. Additionally, in a recent interview with ITV the chicken connoisseur perhaps performed the ultimate  negative stereotype – the interview ended with him pulling  gun fingers. In the past I would have probably agreed that not only was it embarrassing, but irresponsible on his part.

I’m not so sure anymore.

In fact,  I think that he said something particularly profound during the interview which was that he made the web series for people who eat like him, talk like him and live in his area. This wasn’t made for white mainstream consumption. Unlike some members of the black middle class who are forever obsessed with how they are perceived by the white mainstream and how the actions of inner city or working class (not necessarily mutually exclusive) black people reflect negatively on the race as a whole, Quashie’s  (initial) attitude completely ignored the white gaze. His initial audience was never the mainstream. He was making content for ‘his’ people. And ‘his’ people, are inner city, mainly black,  young people.

While I agree that mainstream media is a lot quicker to broadcast and give a platform for media that conforms to the same repetitive stereotypes of blackness, I would also argue that ‘educated’ black people often place the burden on black people of other backgrounds to carry the weight of how the race is perceived and in turn burden themselves by being embarrassed when in their eyes, the portrayal isn’t positive enough. Unfortunately, positive often means holding middle class white culture as aspirational,.Part of being black in a white supremacist society is that we  will all  be viewed via the lens of negative stereotypes – it’s inescapable. Part of living freely though,  has to be trying to live as unburdened as possible by these stereotypes. It’s exhausting to pretend to not like things you do like just for the sake of not conforming to stereotypes. A lot of young black people in inner city London do seem to like fried chicken. Weirdly enough, so do the white and Asian kids. I’m probably more concerned about what the quantity of deep fried wings is doing to Elijah’s arteries than I am to what it’s doing to reaffirm the stereotype about us and chicken.

A more important conversation that needs to be had is why inner city areas seem to be flooded with these cheap chicken shops and why healthy food is so overpriced and often scarce in these areas. It’s not true that young black people don’t care about their health.  A lot of young black people go to the gym, work out and aspire to look like an ‘Instagram baddie’ complete with flat abs and a rear end created by a million squats. They aren’t completely immune to the clean eating, soaked quinoa, fitness trend just because they live in Peckham. (I’m not even sure if Peckham counts as a black area anymore). When Caribbeans and Africans first came to this country, there weren’t an abundance of chicken shops and we definitely don’t own or start up most of them. The demand for this food isn’t really organic, the market has been created. I would love to see more conversation being generated about public health and health education and what we can do to create a more positive behaviours towards food in inner city areas.

In essence, there is room for more than one type of blackness and we need to let go of the idea that all aspects of inner city culture that other people might look down on are ’embarrassing’. The truth is, that like any culture, there are aspects that are negative and appropriately draw criticism. The truth is  that aspects of these inner city cultures are often co-opted, reworked and marketed to the mainstream without credit being given to the originators. The truth is that white people rarely feel embarrassed by what another totally unrelated white person does and we shouldn’t either. The truth is that Elijah Quashie is probably just living his truth. Which is that he likes fried chicken, and has eaten enough to be considered an expert. The truth is that as a vegetarian and health advocate, I’d rather he ate a lentil burger with a side of kale, but in all honesty, they probably don’t taste as…..well, peng.

 

Maybe you saw the title of this blog and felt slightly offended. What’s wrong with going to Southbank University? Or London Met? Or any of the universities where a significant proportion of  young black people attend? To which I reply – absolutely nothing. Congratulations on making a decision to enter higher education and following through with it. I applaud your efforts and achievements.

BUT.

Please allow me to be brutally honest: In the hierarchy of universities in the UK, Southbank, London Met, Kingston, and many of the other universities where you’re likely to find people that look like me flounder at the bottom of the league tables fairly consistently.

If we put our feelings aside for a moment and focus on the needs of our community, this is a problem. Black graduates find it more difficult to find jobs than white graduates. We know that institutional racism, classism and other factors contribute to that and in all honesty there’s little we can do about these things. One factor that maybe we aren’t talking so much about is that many young black people simply choose poorly when it comes to university. Employers look at you university  as well as your degree classification and judge you based on that. That’s the harsh reality.

Choosing a university  partly based on the numbers of black people that attend isn’t entirely stupid. Your emotional well being will actually affect your performance, and community is important to many of us. However, choosing a low ranking university compared to a good or brilliant one based on numbers of black people is shortchanging yourself and your community. (ETA someone pointed out not many people do this, but I’ve heard of enough people who choose London uni’s over non London ones because they feel ‘safe’ in london and part of it is connected to perceptions of diversity. I’m also aware that many people feel they don’t have the grades for better universities and that’s an important factor and another post)

So here’s a guide to choosing. I hope you find it useful.

1)Identify why you’re going to university.

This sounds simple enough. To get a degree, innit? Not so fast Damilola, not so fast. Do you have an idea about your career path and what you want it to look like? No. That’s no necessarily a problem. But do you have a vague idea about what you want your life to look like in  5 years time? What is your skill set? What are you good at? Are you entrepeneurial? Are you creative? Are you practical? Does what you want to do even require a university degree? Does it require a lot of networking?

University is currently £9000 a year without living expenses. That’s a pretty hefty financial investment. If you have rich parents and can afford to go to university for the sheer joy of learning, then great. If not, think about whether your time and money needs to be invested in this.

I personally think that for a lot of people a university degree from a good university is a sensible choice because it proves to employers you have a skill set. For some people though, it’s a waste of time and a few grand.

It’s not enough to go because you want to be able to say you have. That’s like paying for a ticket to China to see the Great Wall when you actually hate Chinese food, culture and planes. It’s pointless.

2) Choose a sensible course or courses.

Sensible doesn’t necessarily mean traditional – it means a course that aligns with your answers to question 1. If you’re a rich Nigerian who’s Dad has oil money and university is just for intellectual exploration, then Ancient Russian with Events Management joint honours might be the one for you. For the rest of us, we need to think more carefully.

Write down a list of the subject/s you’re interested in. Then write down a list of your  realistic predicted  A level grades in those subjects. If it’s a D and you know in your heart that you’re probably going to get a D, then slap yourself and get a tutor (if you can afford it,  some of us can’t but if you can afford £20 a week on going out or eating takeaway, you can afford it you’re just not prioritising it), or rewrite your list of subjects.

3) Use a university guide and look at the ranking for your course/s.

There are websites where you can check which universities are good for certain subjects. Redbrick universities are older, more prestigious universities. Universities in the Russell group are elite universities known for their research credential. Some universities like Aston are neither of these but have good reputations.  Some universities might be lower in the league table overall, but have a higher ranking for your subject and be well known for it in the field you’re interested in entering. Google around to find out what each university or course is well known for. They might be ranked highly for music, but is that because they’re known for classical and not jazz performance? If you want to do jazz performance, then maybe that’s not for you.

4) Eliminate universities that you know are unsuitable.

Contact the universities, or use their website to check for their requirements. That might be grades, work experience etc. If you know there is absolutely no chance of you attaining even close to this then cross them off your list. (But don’t be pessimistic – if you’re not 100% ideal but determined, sometimes there are ways around this).
Now look at things like, placement opportunities, chances to study abroad and location. Is it an absolute requirement that you have a placement year in France? Are you adamant that you’re not gong to be able to study in Scotland and retain your mental health? Then St Andrews is off the list. Try to keep an open mind though, and remember that new experiences aren’t always bad experiences.

5) Visit the universities.

This is crucial. You cannot choose a university without going there before you apply. I actually applied before going to a couple. In hindsight it’s a bad idea. You need to get the feel of the environment, the city/town and decide whether it’s somewhere you can see yourself. Go to open days. Or even go again on a day where it isn’t an open day. Talk to people who go to the university. If diversity is important to you, spot some black people who go there and ask their honest opinions on living in the area and attending the uni. Research cost of living and house prices.

6) Don’t get mugged off by teachers at your school.

Teachers often have low expectations for black pupils. They will mug you off and tell you that the University of Nonsense is ‘a good uni’ and that your low/mediocre grade is acceptable. Set a standard of excellence for yourself. If you’re starting out your A levels, I think it’s a good idea to get a tutor from the start if you or your parents can afford it. Don’t let teachers get away with giving you low predicted grades – negotiate! This is your future!

7) Find a mentor.

Try and find someone in your field through your social circle who is where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be the exact same career field if that’s not possible – maybe just someone who is successful and might have connections. Use your connections. If you have no one in your social circle be brave and contact someone you respect and see if they are willing to mentor you. Ask your school about alumni who might be interested.

8) Have faith.

You might not get the grades you wanted. You might not get into the university you wanted. But with hard work and determination you I believe you can still achieve great things. Say and prayer and jump – with faith and hard work you’ll land on your feet.

What do you think? Was this helpful? What advice would you add? Please share this with as many people as possible!

 

 

facebbok fdadoes that make you a bad person?

There was article yesterday in the Guardian which claimed that female graduates are less likely than their less (conventionally) educated counterparts to be able to date or marry a man who is their educational equal. Apparently, more women are going to university than men. I know that in my course for example, women outnumbered men. Which proves what women have known for centuries – we’re far more intelligent and productive than men, which explains why until recently they wouldn’t give us our chance to shine. Jokes aside, the article goes on to suggest that in the future we’ll go on to see a lot more ‘mixed collar’ relationships, where women who are highly educated marry and date men in traditional blue collar professions. He emphasises that this shouldn’t be seen as ‘settling’ because obviously, there are wonderful men from many different backgrounds who would make great life partners.

But surely settling is determined by the person who does it? The definition of settling in dating terms is having a standard that is very important to you, but realising that the standard is, at present, unobtainable, and so you learn to live with something lower than that standard. View Post

black church hug

There’s a great hashtag trending on twitter at the moment called #BlackChurchSex. No, it’s not some kind of strange niche fetish involving black people and pews. It’s shedding light on the cultural attitudes towards sex and sexuality within the black church and hopefully, what we can do to encourage better ones.

I actually believe that this is probably one thing that the black and white church has in common – warped, unbiblical views of sexuality that are rooted in a history of misogyny and misunderstanding of God’s intention for our sexuality. As far as the black church, things are complicated even further when we add the historical disrespect of black bodies and sexual abuse of black bodies during slavery and colonialism, often at the hands of ‘Christian’ masters, in the formation of our attitudes towards sexual behaviour.A natural response to black sexuality being treated as cheap is to enforce a legalistic code of conduct around our sexuality that encourages ‘sacredness’.

One thing that stood out to me from the hashtag were the stories of sexual abuse at the hands of ministers and and authority figures. Thankfully, I’ve never personally encountered what most would consider serious sexual abuse, but I did have an incident where a man who was known for being predatory sat me on his lap and started touching my thigh (I was 9)  and I was chastised for kicking him and running out the room. Yeh, I kicked him – and I still maintain that it was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes in the black church tend to foster a culture of shame and secrecy when it comes to anything sexual. I know other women who were treated inappropriately by the same man, but felt extremely embarrassed about informing the relevant church authority. Fortunately for me, I was young and had a great relationship with my parents, so I didn’t feel the pressure of having to deal with that situation after it happened – they did it for me. For the other women who were in their 20’s, they didn’t have that luxury. It doesn’t help that the close environment of the church means that the person who abuses you might well be the uncle, cousin, brother or sister of one of your church leaders.

The sexual abuse that is rampant in the black church cannot be examined in isolation. The entire sexual formation of black people as they grow up in the black church actively encourages an environment where sexual abuse can grow.

Not least on the list is the head-in-the-sand attitude we have towards sexual desire. Granted, I absolutely discourage people from being very open about the particulars of their personal sexual history, unless they feel moved to do so. I tend to believe that the modern tendency to put your sexual past and present on loudspeaker is pathological, but I do believe that there needs to be a culture where general discussion about sex and sexuality is welcomed and encouraged.

Denial of human sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality is part of the reason why sexual abuse and sexual immorality run rife. You cannot address a problem when you are constantly ignoring it’s existence.

The basic teaching in many churches on sex and sexuality is:

1)Don’t have sex until you’re married.

2)If you do have sex as a woman, you are slightly damaged. As a man, we kinda expected it anyway, don’t worry – you can still marry a virgin.

34)Don’t worry either ladies, God forgives you even if the good men won’t, but don’t get pregnant.

4)If you do get pregnant we will disfellowship you. The guy might get disfellowshipped also, but YOU will suffer everlasting shame while he might well go on to marry a ‘virgin’ in the next couple of years.

5) Don’t sleep with the Pastor. If he abuses his power and position of authority to sleep with single women in his congregation, it’s because they lured him with their Jezebel charms.

6) Men can’t really control themselves, so women, the onus is on YOU.

7) Gay is bad. With no further commentary.

With attitudes like this, is it a wonder that we have so many women getting pregnant outside of marriage? Is it a wonder that most of our young people aren’t abstinent or celibate? Is it a wonder that sexual abuse goes unpunished and ignored? Is it a wonder that men who are sexually abused feel ashamed to admit it? Is it a wonder that many of those who don’t have a heterosexual orientation instead of going to the church for help, reject faith altogether?

There are simple solutions though. The first is proper training of Godly, committed church leaders on Biblical principles of sex and sexuality. In a culture where so many negative attitudes have been formed, there needs to be formal, intentional training about sexuality.It is not something we can afford to leave to chance.  This includes a complete departure from any teaching that encourages men to feel like their sexuality is something the do not have any ability to steward and any teaching that suggests that women are inherently less sexual than men. It also includes focusing on wholeness rather than simply dodging sin.

The second, is churches enabling and empowering parents to teach their children these principles, including confidence in their own sexual choices and how to articulate when someone makes them feel uncomfortable sexually.

The third, is a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse. All leaders should have appropriate government checks before being placed in any position. Any leader that sexually abuses a child or a member of the congregation needs to step down immediately and be reported to the appropriate legal body.

The fourth, and most important is an emphasis on the heart of the gospel – God’s love redeeming all our brokenness. And none of it being too broken for him.

Our sexuality is a key part of who we are, and today more than ever, the church cannot be a relevant force to share a gospel which encompasses the totality of human experience  while it refuses to deal with this issue.