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.

rosaparksnah

 

So #brexit happened. Cue weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth etc. The leave campaign have effectively galvanised over 50% of the voting population with a campaign that was essentially a single issue campaign – immigration. Those of you who voted leave for various other reasons are at this point protesting- not all of you voted on immigration, it was do with democracy, sovereignty, freedom, TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!! Sure. But regardless of your very legitimate reasons for voting leave, all the polls show that the majority of people voted based on immigration or issues related to it.

Since #Brexit, many have noted that xenophobic and racist incidents have been on the increase. It’s not Eastern Europeans that are the only targets for xenophobia (which I would add is different from racism and we should no confuse the two), but Black and Asian people have been targets of both xenophobia and racism. People are tweeting that they have been told to go back to their country. I myself have walked into shops in my local area in the Midlands and felt an atmosphere of tension that is palpable – more palpable than before.

What’s fascinating and frankly slightly hilarious,  is watching mainstream media collectively lament this new dawn of racism that has apparently been ushered in by Brexit. The white working class are demoralised and disenfranchised, they say. How awful that neglect from the left wing politicians that were supposed to look after them has pushed them into fear and bigotry. How can we rectify this? By creating more jobs, by ushering in a new semi-socialist dawn. We can TAKE BACK CONTROL!

This is a complete and utter piffle.

White working class racism has always been there. It was there in the 60’s when my Grandad walked through Wolverhampton with his six children and had rubbish and bottles thrown at them. It was there in the 1970’s and 80’s when gangs of working class white youth used to target and beat up young black men and women. It was there in the 90’s at Milwall football matches. It was there when, age 7, my next door neighbour who lived in the bottom flat of the house next door that had been split into council housing, threw a knife at my head and called me a nigger. It was there when a few months ago a patient called me a Paki. It was there when a few weeks later another patient told me the last doctor who screwed up his treatment was coloured.

Framing post-brexit racism as something new is another way of the white middle class pushing the stigma of racism onto the working class instead of admitting that white supremacy is part and parcel of what this country has built it’s legacy on. Overt racism from the white working class is no better than the institutionalised racism legitimised and upheld by the middle and upper classes. The foundation for bigotry was laid many hundreds of years ago and there has been little attempt to destroy the foundation- only half-hearted efforts to build flimsy structures of seeming equality over it’s rotten core.

The positive outcome of this is that maybe for many of the younger generation of African-Caribbean’s this referendum has been a wake up call. Perhaps, the casual xenophobia and racism that has been unearthed will serve as a timely reminder of how tenuous our position is in this country. Too many of us have been comfortable in an identity of Britishness based on the fact that we felt accepted and at home in the bubble of big-city diversity. The cosmopolitan nature of London  is not reflective of the mood of the rest of the country. In London you are British. In Devon you may well not be considered so. For some of us, we are adamant that we will not allow what is British to be dictated by the prejudice of others. For others, myself included, we have decide that Britishness is a label that is fairly dispensable depending on its utility at any given moment and feel uncomfortable feeling attached to a country where a good proportion of the population seem to be uncomfortable with our presence. However you decide to define yourself, now more than ever is a time where we can focus on unity as a community. We need positivity, support and kindness towards each other at a time when the atmosphere seems to be one of hatred and fear. We don’t need to prove to others that we are worthy of respect. We don’t need to beg for acceptance.

Brexit was a reminder that as sinful humans, we react with fear when we feel we have less than others. We lash out and hurt others when we think they have something we should have. We become insular and closed instead of open and warm. I am determined that I will never excuse or be sympathetic to the racism that was always present before Brexit and that will be there long after the dust has settled. Poverty does not excuse bigotry.  I will not be more sympathetic to anyone’s racism because they have less than I have. I will not allow myself to be fearful or hateful. They have chosen to do that.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

 

white dance

I can’t remember the exact day when I decided that it wasn’t my job to ‘break stereotypes’, but it should be marked as a day of rejoicing. It might have been somewhere between the time one of my consultants in medical school emailed me back to say of course I could have a day off to speak to the girls at my old secondary school because she understood why I would want to inspire those from less privileged backgrounds (I went to a private school), or the time my work colleague tried to fist bump me when I offered to check some blood results for him, but either way, the day came when I refused to participate in the lunacy any longer.

Growing up black and middle class, you’ll often experience that many  white people will treat you like a unicorn or at the very least, a mongoose. Something rare and unfamiliar. They are curious. What school did you go to? How are you so well spoken? Is the rest of your family like you? How have you managed to arise from the ashes of your inevitable council estate experience to the glorious present? View Post

dave chapelle meme

I am so completely and utterly bored with discussions about colourism in the black community, and I’m sure many of you are. #teamlightskin, #teamdarkskin, #teamyawn.

But here we are again. Why? Because it hasn’t gone away  and unfortunately the biggest barrier to dealing with colorism in the community is that most black men are either in denial about their colourism, or in denial about how negative the impact of colourism is.The proverbial hamster wheel keeps on spinning because the hamster will not get off the wheel and admit that it’s not going anywhere. Black men keep spinning their wheel, and in 2015, in the year of Lupita, we are still having this conversation.

I was chatting with my Mum yesterday on the phone and telling her that while I was examining  one of my patients that evening, she stopped me and said,”You really are so beautiful”. Looks aren’t everything but they’re something, and it really touched me that although this lady was sick she took the time out to compliment me in the middle of a stressful shift. When I thought about it, what struck me is that most of the compliments I’ve had about my appearance have been from white people. I regularly get complimented on my looks by patients and colleagues and at first I found it rather unsettling. Mainly because I don’t really think of myself as particularly more beautiful than the average woman with good concealer, but also because up until the age of 18, I genuinely thought I was ugly.

On further reflection, I can remember that most of the negative comments I’ve had about my appearance have been from black men. From being called downright ugly to being told I was “just average”. I don’t have an agenda to make black men look bad – my Dad is a black man, my brother is, the majority of my male friends are, and my preference is that my future life partner will be too. But if I truthfully relay my experience , although I have faced numerous instances of racism and discrimination from white people, the majority of the instances where someone has said the words ‘you are beautiful’ to me, that person has been white, and if they have been black it has been other black women.

I have no doubt that at least part of the reason for this is that I am a self identified dark skinned, milk chocolate woman. (Ironically, also the lightest person in my immediate family, to who my Dad once sniffed his nose at and said “well, you’re not realllly properly dark skinned so you wouldn’t understand”. I look back and laugh only because it exemplifies the often complex and ridiculous obsession black people have with the various wonderful hues we come in.)

As a dark skinned woman I already know that in my community I am not at the top of the totem pole when it comes to desirability. I’m not suggesting that the majority of black men don’t find dark skinned women attractive at all. My Dad is married to my Mum, who is also a dark skinned woman, and my brother has also dated dark skinned women. Unfortunately though, for some men, a light skinned woman who looks like Shrek (who is someone’s beautiful treasured Queen – so no shade to her) is more eligible than an average looking dark skinned woman.

The most ridiculous thing about this is that a lot of black men will either stay denying the colourism that is so prevalent amongst their counterparts with throwaway phrases like “a pretty woman is a pretty woman innit“, or “if you have self esteem then men will be attracted to you” (which is manifest nonsense – Precious can have all the self esteem in the world, but many men will still find her unattractive), or suggest that it’s not that big a deal – ‘it’s just their preference’. Ironically, many of these dark skinned men have a good chance of having a dark skinned daughter even if her mother is light.. I often wonder if, when their dark skinned teenage daughter is upset by her constant erasure in mainstream AND black media or being overlooked by teenage boys her age for her light skinned friend they will use the same redundant phrases to console her as they do for the dark skinned women their age? Will they tell her she needs more self esteem? Will they tell her that in terms of the problems facing the community, colourism is the least of our worries? Will they tell her to suck it up because it’s just their preference? If they have a light skinned daughter, will they appreciate her being treated as a trophy and objectified by younger men with the same attitude they had?

On Twitter, it’s sometimes horrifying to see how colourism and the objectifying of light skinned women spreads even to babies and young children. Grown black men will post pictures of lighter skinned babies with very disturbing statements about how they want their daughter to look. It’s never their sons they want to be light, it’s only their daughters – which effectively suggests that they want to create daughters that appeal to their own sexual preference. It’s just weird, and it shows how deeply rooted it is in some segments of our community.

What I don’t want to suggest is that every man who dates light skinned women does so because he is colourist. I applaud equal opportunity daters – men who date light, dark and in between, because they really do believe that a attractive woman (inside and out) is an attractive woman. And I know men like that. There are also men who simply will have light skin as an honest preference (although I do think it’s extremely difficult  to separate honest preference from the constant onslaught of colourism in society).

So what can be done?

Maybe controversially I think black women actually have a bigger part to play in this. Sadly, more black men are brought up by single black mothers  than in two parent households. If we want to deal with this cancer in our community, we cannot leave the formation of our children’s mindset on colour to chance. A healthy view of colour in a white supremacist society is the result of deliberate effort on the part of the parent. Yes, ideally black men should be equally involved in this but realistically they probably won’t be as much as women. So as black women (or white women with black/bi-racial sons) , we can make conscious efforts to promote positive images to our sons from an early age. It isn’t just a male problem – if we are the main parents for these men, the clearly we are also promoting colourism even if it impacts more directly in a negative way against us.

Secondly, I’ve begun to realise that on a personal level when a black man admits that he is colourist it’s probably far more useful to approach the conversation with understanding rather than instantly berating him for his preference. Colourism is something that most of us have to unlearn, but some of us do that work earlier than others. If someone admits that they are colourist and knows that it’s problematic, it’s much more progressive than the majority of men who are in complete denial and it’s the basis for some healthy conversation and growth.

Black women, does my experience ring true for you or not? Black men, is my analysis unfair? Everyone else, feel free to chime in also!

 

miniskirthijab

 

I don’t really check the news on Friday evening so I found out about the Paris attacks via social media (which is another thing I want to cut out of my Friday evenings). My first thoughts were for my family in Paris. I had a moment of panicky Facebooking until I got a reply. Everybody was safe. In fact, they didn’t even know about the attacks till I asked. In our language barrier muddle she had thought “Are you ok? The attacks?”, was some kind of strange way of asking about her post-pregnancy symptoms.

My next thoughts were of the victim’s families. I remembered when the 7/7 bombs struck London -I was in the car on the way back from the dentist. We had a school trip that day and my class of blue clad teenage girls would have got on a tube on the same line just a little later than when those bombs went off. I remember sitting in the back of the car, my Mum’s hand reached out to mine as I went into a panic attack. I sat there listening to the news reader  slowly, carefully relaying the events of that morning, and I gasped for air. I don’t know why. No one I knew had been on those tubes or that bus, but for some reason the mere thought of it so close to me, the randomness and luck (or in my thinking, divine mercy) of my not being there sent me into a wave of panic. View Post