I made a Facebook status earlier today that said the attitudes of *some* Africans, and especially Nigerians towards Caribbeans had me questioning the idea of a global African identity. I also said (and I was called out for it, maybe rightly so), that the rise of Afrobeats and general popularity of (West) African culture in the mainstream has, in my opinion led to a rise in my African peers being openly negative towards Caribbeans and our culture.

If I’m honest, I was a bit in my feelings about various things I’d seen on the interwebs from my African (mostly Nigerian) brothers and sisters about Caribbean people and African Americans. There word ‘akata’ was flying around a lot. There were a few ugly stereotypes about Caribs being uneducated, lazy, drug dealers and having no respect for their elders.

But forget a one off internet session gone wrong. The tension between African and Caribbeans in the UK, and apparently between African Americans and Caribbeans and Africans (I know, it’s exhausting), in the U.S, has a long-ish history. View Post

asian prejudice

On Saturday evening, I stretched my legs out after a long day (it was communion at church – beautiful, essential, but well over 2 hours), and decided that I was going to braid my hair. So I threw on the new Zara coat that I’d fought off the animals at Westfield for (Boxing Day sales – don’t do it, save yourself), and ambled down the road to my local hair shop.

I browsed through the different varieties of afro-kinky hair, and settled on one that for some reason was called ‘Cuban Twist’. I snorted at the hair companies that are suddenly touting five different curl creams for natural hair, when a year ago they only sold relaxers, paid for my hair, and left.

On the way home, I started thinking about a conversation I’d had with an Asian friend of mine where we’d briefly spoken about anti-blackness in the Asian community. I thought about my trip to Nepal and the overt prejudice I’d encountered there. And I thought about solidarity.

The relationship between the black and Asian community in the UK has always been somewhat complicated. On the one hand, when my grandparents first came to this country, every brown person, regardless of whether they came from the East or the West Indies, or the African continent was termed ‘black’. Black became a political identity, a supposedly unifying term in the face of rather overt and clearly institutionalized racism. Over time, Asians no longer ‘needed’ black people in order to progress. They developed more economic power than the black community as a whole, and the term black became reserved more or less for those with African descent. As racism became less overt, the need for solidarity diminished.

I remember a few years ago, the tensions between the Black and Asian communities in Birmingham erupted. Some Asian owned shops were damaged, people shouted at each other in the street, there was a public spotlight on something that had been festering for some time. Around that time, a documentary came out, part of which used secret camera to film conversations in the Asian community where they discussed black people. Some people were shocked at the level of prejudice within the Asian community.

Really, there should be no surprise. There are probably a number of reasons as to why there is such a high level of anti-blackness in the Asian community.

Historically, many countries in Asia operate on a caste system, in which skin tone plays a partial role. I was shocked by the level of skin bleaching when I was in Nepal – major brands like L’oreal, Garnier and Vaseline plastered slogans like ‘fair and white’ ‘intense whitening cream’ ‘white beauty’ all over their products. Watch most Bollywood movies and you would swear that Indians exist in one shade of extremely light brown, although any visit to India would tell you the complete opposite. Although there are many black people who are light skinned, and lighter than some Asians – there are more black people who are darker skinned. It’s not surprising then, that the self hatred in terms of skin tone that plagues the Asian community expresses itself in anti-blackness.

Additionally, the images of black people exported to many Asian countries are dominated by white mainstream images. There are of course exceptions, but hip hop culture, ‘oppression’ films (slavery, poor people, black kids being ‘saved’ by the middle class white teacher/person), and skewed depictions of black sexuality probably aren’t helpful in fostering any kind of positivity towards black people.

Not to mention the fact that White supremacy, by nature, is hierarchical.  South Asians have become in the UK, and in America (along with other Asian communities), a ‘model minority’. Ignoring the completely different history of how Europeans operated in Asia in comparison to Africa and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming effort to dehumanise Africans, the Asian community is subtly compared to the black community. The underlying tone is that if the Asian community manages a certain level of economic success, why can’t the Black community do the same? (A form of racism which also ignores the varied communities within the black community. Black Africans and Black Caribbeans have different educational outcomes and social outcomes, which in itself proves the enduring effects of slavery on Caribbean communities).

It is only natural that Asian people will seek to find a way to separate themselves from Black people in a system that rewards anti-blackness. To be Black is to be at the bottom of the pile. And who wants to be at the bottom?

It’s up to the younger generation to challenge the legacy that has been handed down to them, instead of mildly accepting the prejudice of their elders…

Thought? What are your experiences?

classism meme

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice..” Martin Luther King

I recently wrote a blog on gentrification ( that became semi viral. With it, came the expected comments from well-intentioned (I do try to give the benefit of the doubt), white liberals who told me that it was “not about race, it was about class”. Cue internal groan. I tell ya, if I had a penny….

It’s nice to be a colourblind, white middle class liberal. You get to benefit from the privileges of being white and middle class, while at the same time patting yourself gently on the back in the knowledge that you’re not ‘one of those’ right winging, nose upturned at the poor folk and the black folk, rich white people. So you read your Guardian in the morning, you have a diverse circle of friends who all get along tremendously well and you ‘don’t see colour, because race doesn’t matter’.

Well, unfortunately, it matters to a lot of people. So it not mattering to you is nice, but fairly irrelevant.

I remember a story last year that was splashed across the cover of Tatler magazine. Emma Mcquiston was about to become Britain’s first (to our knowledge, I suppose) black marchioness. I flipped through to read the story, and it relayed accounts of being snubbed by some members of the upper class who were unhappy that a brown face was gracing the aristocracy with its presence. This overt display of racism is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the connection between class and race.

Race and class are inextricably linked. The history of this country  and the United States, in fact, the past four hundred years or so of world history mean that the nature of being black and middle class (or Asian) is completely different to being white and middle class. WIth being black comes the assumption from many, that you are working class, but  being black and middle class does not release you from the stereotypes associated with blackness.

Members of the black middle class are far more likely to have a recent family history of being working class. Not only that, but research in America (more needs to be done in the UK, but there has been similar research with similar results), shows that black families with similar incomes to white middle class families are more likely to live in or in close proximity to poor neighbourhoods, and are therefore more likely to fall victim to the negative outcomes that come from living in those environments. Downward social mobility (i.e. becoming working class despite being brought up in a middle class environment) , is far more likely for blacks than whites. (I’m not entirely comfortable with the term upward/downward mobility, but that’s another post). Essentially, trying to erase race in the discussion of being middle class is in itself a form of racism, as it deliberately ignores the unique interplay between class and race, and completely ignores the experiences of black middle class people. It isn’t just individualised experiences of racism – research shows the systemic differences.

Being black and middle class means being subject to a unique set of racially motivated passive aggressive behaviour that comes from interacting in primarily white, middle class environments. This unfounded idea that black middle class people have “arrived”, and that the only work left to do is help poor blacks reach the levels of their middle class siblings and then everything will be fine, isn’t founded in reality, but rather in a fantastical colourblind society that makes some white liberals feel better. Unfortunately, their primary concern appears to be relieving themselves of the discomfort that comes from admitting the racism that pervades white middle class spaces, as opposed to actually wanting to effect any real change.

Ignoring race and focusing on class alone isn’t possible. And asking black people to do that, yet again, selfishly stifles their voices in order to maintain a status quo. This blog isn’t the place for that.

*Disclaimer. Please read this with allowance for artistic license. Caribbean restaurants are great, and even if the lady at the counter isn’t smiley, the food always makes up for it :-).

Sometimes, when you’re away from everything you call home, even the things about home that you complain about become strangely comforting.In a similar way to when you start secondary school and the girl who bullied you all through year 5 and 6 becomes your firm friend – for the first week at least – not because you like her, but because you like her familiarity.

That’s how I feel about the Caribbean takeaway experience. When I’m in England, I sometimes leave a Caribbean takeaway with a huff of annoyance, sighing, and wondering why I’m made to feel like the entire establishment is doing me a personal favour by taking the time out to fry a dumpling and sell it to me. Now that I’m in Nepal, nearing the end of my stay and beginning to feel a bit more homesick the closer it gets to my leaving date, somehow, the thought of a slightly overweight West Indian woman waddling at 0.55 miles per hour to the microwave to heat up my patty while I frantically glance at my watch praying that the train to London Bridge is slightly delayed, gives my heart a warmish glow.

You see, Caribbean takeaways, in general, offer a unique consumer experience.
Your first time in a Caribbean takeaway might be a bit baffling if you aren’t used to the protocol. You might be used to your more mundane takeaway experience. Stroll in, squint at the blinding fluorescent light and smell the slightly gone-off hunk of kebab meat rotating on the metal pole,glance up at the menu emblazoned in bright colours and then order. The guy at the counter might then smile at you, ask you if you want anything else, shout your order back, take your money, and ask you to wait briefly. You take you items (just as your eyes have become acclimatised to the light) and then stroll out of the takeaway. Pretty run of the mill right? Right.

This is not what typically happens in Jerk Island, Mango Paradise, Plantain Party or any other Caribbean takeaway of your choosing.
What typically happens is this:
You walk up to the takeaway and as you approach, you begin to wonder if there is some kind of function happening. It sounds terribly busy in there, in fact, there are quite a few men hanging around outside -they eye you up as you walk in. “Pssstt psssssttt..Empressss..”, one of them drawls. “Pretty girl..” another whispers. Don’t be alarmed, you can either take it as a very nice compliment or as street harassment depending on your feminist leanings that day. As you enter, you realise that out of the multitude of people inhabiting the takeaway, possibly around 50% of them are actual customers. The rest are just well wishers, there to provide ambience.

Don’t expect to be served quickly. Relax, talk to the person in front of you in the queue, pick up one of the multiple flyers on the counter, enjoy the music, soak yourself in the atmosphere.

Finally, it’s your turn.

“Yes darlin'”. This will probably not be said with a smile, but with a straight face, or what appears to be a scowl. Again, don’t be alarmed. This isn’t personal. It’s not because you’re white and in a Caribbean takeaway. It’s not because she doesn’t like your weave. It’s not even because she’s in a bad mood – in fact for all you know, she’s as happy as a lark. It’s just the way things are done round here.

You then proceed to look at the menu. First mistake. Let me let you in on a little secret – menus in many Caribbean takeaways are mere formalities. Of course they have a menu, beautifully done, perhaps with creative names for the dishes, even the odd picture of a palm tree in the background and a little collage of Carribean flags with the Jamaican one in the middle. However, once you become a regular at that particular restaurant, you’ll begin to cotton on to which dishes make regular appearances, and which dishes are actually limited editions delights that come out once every 2 years.If you were listening to the people around you while you were waiting though, you would have heard them ask one key question on repeat “What do you have today?”. This is your best bet for getting food quickly.

If you’re like me though, forever the optimist, you’ll probably still go through the menu, listing the items that you would like…”Roti?” “Sorry, not today darlin'”. “Macaroni cheese?”. “That finished around lunchtime”. “Parlori?” (Knowing full well they have NEVER had parlori, yet living in hope) “Sorry, not today darlin'”. “Do you have anything vegetarian?” you ask. “Do you eat chicken?” she replies. You eventually settle on the usual patty and cocobread, or stew veg and rice.

You watch as she slowly, slowly, very very slowly, almost deliberately slowly, makes her way to the kitchen. Along her 5 metre journey, she might stop to share a joke with one of the other customers or one of the other servers. You laugh along. You wait. Your wait could be 20 seconds, it could be 20 minutes. The unpredictability is all part of the experience.

You pay and receive your yummy goodies. You pick up a flyer from the counter as you leave, and scoot past the men who are still hanging round the entrance – they nod at you to wish you well for your journey home.

Then you open up your bag of food, and the smell of home cooking and taste of everything that is good in the world hits your senses. It was all worth it.

And that my friends, is the unique Caribbean takeaway experience. We complain, but really, we love it. Have I missed anything?