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.

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

Aunt Viv gave the best side eye..

Aunt Viv gave the best side eye..

Piers Morgan, you  got a bit of a killing on twitter last night. It was a bit bloody. You decided to write an article entitled “if black American’s want the N-word to die, they’ll have to do it themselves”. Uh-oh.

The first misstep was the title itself. It sounded facetious. It sounded arrogant. It sounded like you were putting the onus on black people for the continued use of the word, which as any black person who has been called nigger before knows, is simply not true.

But to be fair to you Piers, as you got into the article, you made some decent points. In fact, I agree with some of what you wrote. I agree that it’s a ugly word that doesn’t need to be used. I agree that as black people, there is no need for us to use it in our day to day discourse. I will admit to using it in jokes with friends, but I don’t personally think that by using it I’m removing power from it. I also agree with your statement at the end that as a white man, you have no right to tell black people what they should or should not call themselves.

The thing is though Piers, that’s exactly what you did. Of all the numerous articles you could have written to challenge structural racism, to place a spotlight on the institutions and attitudes embodied by other white people that perpetuate the oppression of non-whites, you chose to write an article ‘politely suggesting’ that black people stop using the N-word. Frankly, casual use of the n-word by black people themselves is probably not top on the list of ‘things holding black people back in 2014’. Furthermore, you naively (I’m giving you a massive benefit of the doubt), are suggesting that if WE stop using the word, then maybe over time, the racist white people will too? Really? Do you HONESTLY believe this? Even if that were the case, would the fact that they no longer use the word, make any difference to the socio-economic and political power of black people in real terms?

For every black person who stops using the word nigger, will a pound (because the dollar is weak right now), be donated to some special fund? Will a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop close? What will actually happen?

Probably very little. Until the psychological barriers of venerating whiteness as supreme are eradicated from the conscious of our society, dropping offensive words here and there, will change nothing. The problem isn’t a word. The problem is a WORLD that creates the environment where racist structures, attitudes and behaviour can be perpetuated without adequate recognition and retribution.

Part of that is the paternalistic attitude exhibited in your article. Part of that is insidiously placing responsibility on the victims of racism as opposed to the perpetuators of it, to change the system. Part of it is thinking that you as a white man, can write an article like that and that the race of the writer should have no bearing on how the message contained in it is received.

This isn’t to place us as powerless victims in society. I do believe black people have tremendous power, more than we realise. We are massive consumers – economically unified, we could cause serious damage to some industries. Black children have potential to rise above school systems that stereotype them and place structural barriers in their way to do great things. There is as much brilliance and potential in our community as any other.

But there are glass ceilings to break, and barriers to overcome. Your article deflected the responsibility away from the white community to deal with their racism, onto us, the black community.

And you know that ain’t right.

black men

Dear Black men,

It’s the end of another black history month, and I haven’t really acknowledged it all that much. Maybe because I was lazy, or too tired, or didn’t google enough events, or maybe because I have mixed feelings about the concept. Probably all of those things.

In a strange way, I feel somewhat uncomfortable addressing you as a group. I think too many people spend too much of their time seeing you as one, instead of a billion different parts that share something. I know I do sometimes.

There isn’t one black man. There is my Dad, the picture of consistency – like an old clock, chiming at the same time, every hour, never moving from the same loving place it has always occupied. There is my brother, a hairy, sometimes annoying lump of brains and brilliance and kindness that always makes me believe that there are people in the world who are good simply for goodness sake. There is the drunk man down my street who people laugh at, and at who I have laughed at before. He has a story that people who have lived here for a long time try to piece together, but too many cans of lager have stolen away any hope of it being told with certainty. There are the young men who sit at the back of the 75 bus on the top deck, playing too loud music into too young ears.

There is the deacon at one of my churches who tells me in his gruff Bajan accent that church starts at 9:30 every time I get there at 10:45, which is most times. There is Obama. And there is T-Pain. There are the men I see in Canary Wharf who wear their suits and shoulders equally well. There are the builders who come to help with the loft speaking loudly in patois and always switch to English when I offer them a drink. And it makes me laugh inside every time. There are the young men I see mugshotted onto newspaper headlines for doing unimaginable things. There is the little boy I saw at the bus stop last week who smiled at me gap-toothy and goofy, and made me wonder how anyone could see him as less innocent simply because he was brown.

There are as many different shades of brown as I can count, and as many different men who wear those shades. The one thing you have in common is that you get a bad rap. You are always too much and never enough. You are apparently dysfunctional – violent, hypersexual, uneducated. I cannot say that I don’t sometimes succumb to the overwhelming tide of negativity that surrounds you. Too many times I have opened my mouth with “Black men just…”. Too many times I have forgotten that in a place filled with the living, we tend to focus on the one who is dead. And so many of you are alive with hope that is choked from your mouth by a world that sees you as a potential burden instead of potential brilliance.

I will not patronise you by congratulating those of you who are good fathers, good brothers, who work hard every day. These are things that we are sometimes fooled into thinking are rarer than they are. My life is full of ordinary black men who are extraordinary to the people who know and love them, just like men from any other race.

This is not to deny the problems. This is not to deny the tensions. This is just to say thank you to the every day men who get unfairly painted with colours that don’t belong to them. And dedicated to the ones who may fulfil every negative stereotype, but have tomorrows that they can make better. We see you.

Happy black history month 🙂

Image

So I’ve already hinted in previous posts that I find the way that non-whites are often objectified, even in relationships where their partner should see them as equal, scary. The idea of Asian women being fetishised by white men is nothing new (the stereotype of the submissive Asian woman lives on), and some Black women are also wary of being an exotic thrill for a White man who wants to journey into a moving, breathing African jungle, but we don’t seem to like to talk about the objectification of black men by white women. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Because the majority of interracial couplings we see are black male- white female pairings, and you’re supposed to not speak about it unless your commentary is wholly positive, otherwise you are labelled as a black racist, a bitter, manless, hating black women, an enemy of societal progress. But if we are going to move in any way towards some type of real progressive healing of the wounds of racism, we have to do better than these superficial conversations where we ignore widespread discrimination, structural racism, and deep seated stereotyping and objectification because “la la la people are having mixed race babies so obviously they are not racist”. (See Donald Sterling and the Clippers fiasco as a textbook example of why romantic and sexual relations with a black person tell me absolutely nothing about your level of racism).

Anyway. 

It’s always interesting to me look at the way black men as a group are often perceived by general society, and the impact it has on romantic and other personal relationships. There are a few major themes when we look at how society perceives black men. The first and most obvious theme is that of the violent, aggressive and angry black man. That’s the media’s favourite. It’s why Mark Duggan’s picture was cropped so that you didn’t see him holding a heart with an inscription about his dead daughter, but instead were only shown an apparently menacing and angry face glowering at you. Closely linked to that is the theme of the hyper physical black man – all running, all dancing, all boxing, leaping over walls and gates as he runs from detectives – natural physical prowess seems to exude from his very pores. Also closely connected to physical prowess is the idea of the hyper sexual black man. The mystical large penis, and the ability to please sexually in a way white men can’t. Black men are perceived by some with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

Now I know we all want to believe that everyone lives in a bubble where their romantic and sexual inclinations are uninfluenced by media branding and historical stereotyping…well tell a lie, we’re happy to admit that people are influenced by these things, except for when it comes to race. Any suggestion that someone of another race is interested in someone of another race for reasons other than love, is frowned upon. It’s a taboo topic.

Unfortunately, from conversations I’ve heard and from experiences relayed to me by others, it’s quite obvious that for some white women, a part of their desire to be in a relationship with a black man is based on an level of intrigue which is rooted in the stereotypes I noted above. Black men are somewhat of an illicit thrill, the man that at 17 your parents would be be a bit unhappy about, the resident new ‘cool kid’, the epitome of a bad boy – complete with this mythical sexual prowess. For some women, sleeping or having a relationship with a black man is something to tick off their bucket list. 

But you already knew that. You think it’s a small but unfortunate minority of women who think like this, and they’re easily avoided by asking a few simple questions.

I’m arguing that it’s not so much a minority, but a level of sub-concious thinking that a lot of us, black, white or other have absorbed. In fact, some of the major proponents of the black male hypersexualisation theme have been black men themselves. There are quite a few black men who enjoy the idea of having larger members, being physically stronger, and having more finesse than white men and use it to their advantage on a night out on the pull. There are a few who don’t really mind being objectified or treated as a fetish by white women as long as it means they get some sexual favours. They will happily sit there as women wax lyrical about their ‘chocolate skin’ or sexual ability. In fact, more frightening to me is the fact that the stereotype of the hyper sexualised black male is being pushed via some elements of black media and promoted by some black men. A historical stereotype is somewhat out of your control, but your promotion and embodiment of it is up to you, and if you are content for someone to objectify you, then don’t be surprised when in a  moment of anger that objectification morphs into overt racism.

One very mistaken idea that has managed to seep into our thinking is that if someone objectifies or fetishises you, they will never marry you or date you long term. Therefore, people who are looking for a quickie or a short term relationship are the ones to look out for, but if someone loves you and enters into a long term relationship with you, then by virtue of that fact, they see you as equal, they are not stereotyping and will not stereotype you, and they’ve completely deconstructed any underlying racial prejudices they might have. With all due respect, that is utter rubbish. In the same way that it is very possible for a man who loves a woman to be sexist, to objectify her, and to stereotype her, it is very possible for a white woman who loves a black man to be racist, to objectify him, and to stereotype him. Anyone who suggests the contrary is just being disingenuous.

So what I am I suggesting? That every white woman who dates a black man is using him as an object for her fetish of a physically adept, sexually skilled ebony Adonis? No, of course not. 

 I am suggesting though that the media, historical and cultural stereotypes mean that there will be an element of that as the driving force as to why black men are being increasingly seen as so universally attractive (I mean, I think they’re great, but the hype is intense right now…). Black men in particular need to be aware of that, and instead of encouraging these negative and animalistic stereotypes, be more discerning with who they allow into their emotional and sexual spaces.

Thoughts?