love and hip hop.jpg

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I really hate when I get angry. I’m not talking the kind of angry when I see a video of a kid being bullied or a police officer shooting an unarmed black person. I’m not even talking about the kind of  irrational anger when there’s an unidentified object in my bagging area and I have to wait that incredibly, infinitely long 47 seconds for one of the assistants to type in their little code only for it to happen again 3 items later. I’m not even talking the kind of angry when the lady threading my eyebrows decide to go renegade and experiment with my facial expression for the next 2 weeks (it’s always some sort of variation of permanent surprise). No. All these angers are, frankly, justified. Righteous indignation – be that at the ruination of my eyebrow or a much more serious injustice, I can live with. I would even argue that well placed anger is a healthy and necessary emotion.

But I hate being angry when it comes to my interactions with strangers and  especially the people who I love. I hate being the kind of angry where I feel completely out of control, where I say things that I don’t mean, the angry where I can see the words flying out my mouth and whacking the other person in the place where it really hurts, but I can’t seem to reach out fast enough to grab them and stuff them back into hiding.

Which brings me to Love and Hip Hop. If you haven’t seen it, it chronicles the lives of Hip Hop and R+B musicians and their partners, many of them black women, I don’t watch Love and Hip Hop routinely, but I’ve definitely come across it while flicking through channels. (I’m not perfect when it comes to my TV habits and I have my trash TV guilty pleasures that I’m trying to break, but Love and Hip Hop just ain’t one of them.)

Black women, apparently, alternate between anger and emotional breakdown. In the popular imagination we’re rarely in neutral gear we’re always accelerating somewhere,  whether that be some grand display of strength in the midst of adversity or a fit of rage involving wine glasses, hot grits, baseball bats, setting our ex-man’s car alight with petrol or dragging out weave. We’re also really good at ‘telling people about themselves’. Love and Hip Hop and other shows of their ilk are expert in displaying all these streotypes in the form of ‘reality’ television.

The natural response to this is to reply that this is simply a ugly stereotype, that black women aren’t any more angry than anyone else and to a large extent I agree with this.

However, I have observed in recent years an increasing tendency especially for young black women in certain socio-economic brackets, to model their behaviour in ways that seem strangely similar to the tired tropes that we seem to be seeing on our screens. There appears to be a trend for applauding rudeness,  which is framed as plain talking, aggressiveness which is classed as keeping it real, and a lack of ability to maintain friendships – cancelling the haters.

Wait, what are you saying? Are you suggesting that something a simple as watching Love and Hip Hop or  Real Housewives, can cause young black women to become angry?

Well, sort of, yes.

I’m not suggesting that after watching Nightmare on Elm Street age thirteen, I had to fight against the constant desire to become a serial killer but there’s fairly good evidence that television has an effect on the behaviour of children. Research has linked increases in anti-social behaviour with children who have increased television viewing time, and violent behaviour with violence seen on television. There’s even research that suggests that watching violent behaviour can impact adults as well. The good news is that there’s also evidence that children model good behaviour that they see on television.

In humans we know that the frontal lobe which is involved with conscious behaviour such as sexual behaviour, judgement and emotional expression isn’t fully developed until our late 20’s. This means that up until our late 20’s we’re particularly susceptible to influences in these areas. The hundreds of thousands of teenagers who watch shows like Love and Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta are inevitably affected by the behaviour they see. Arguably, the closer the on screen representation, the more likely a person is to model the behaviour seen. Is it surprising then if young black women who have an extremely narrow range of representation in mass media, are more vulnerable to modelling their behaviour on archetypes of angry black women?

In some black cultures (African American and Caribbean) black children disproportionately grow up in single parent households. I would like to think that most of us are sensible enough to not see many of the couples in these shows as #relationship goals (there may well be couples who are positive examples, but from what I deduce most aren’t) but unfortunately our subconscious mind is slicker than freshly laid edges, and what we see will influence what we do.

Hoping that teenagers and young black women will be able to sift through the negative ways of relating to others portrayed on these shows is wishful thinking and certainly not rooted in any knowledge of psychology.

It’s pretty simple really. Who are you? What do you want from life and what do you want your relationships with those around you to be? Make sure what you habitually watch reflects that. Your mind is stronger than you give it credit for.

pauline

Pauline looking vex. (www.mirror.co.uk)

It’s Valentines day and in the words of Catherine Tate, I aint’ bothered. I do however, love a good love story. I do also love an awkward love story, even if it ends in failure. Actually, I love watching awkwardness in any situation.

Which brings me to this First Dates clip that has gone viral. First Dates is a TV show where they film people having blind first dates – I guess the title is fairly self-explanatory. I’ll tell the story for those of you who haven’t watched it. Are you sitting comfortably?

It’s the end of the date. Aunty Pauline is sitting there on national television, her grey afro looking tight because she made sure she had a shape up and creamed her foot before she came to the date. Because she has broughtupsy (that’s a Jamaican word for manners and home training). Someone’s ashy Uncle (we’ll call him Errol) is sitting across from her. Bubbly waitress walks over and hands Errol the bill,  with a smile of course. He looks at the bill, raises his eyebrows and says with a snort “I ain’t got this” (because he has no broughtupsy). Aunty Pauline smiles and raises her eyebrows. Waitress looks at both of them like “Giirrllll, I can’t”, and leaves them to sort out this relational disaster. Errol then says, “So we’re going dutch right?”. Fair enough. Pay day hasn’t happened yet. She smiles again, in shock, but puts some money on the table and says “Is that enough?”. This mess of manliness peers over the table and then proceeds to use the good oxygen God has created to give us life and strength to say “Hmm…put another tenner in”.

If your mouth has dropped open at this , close it quick before the horseflies catch your tongue.

I don’t know what happened after that, but all I know is that if I had been sitting across from Uncle, the story wouldn’t even have got that far. This would have been the scenario:

Him: “I ain’t got this”.

Me: “That’s unfortunate”.

Him: “Are we going Dutch then?”

Me: “Sure. Here you go. It was nice to have met you”.

I would have then proceeded to leave the restaurant. There would have been no time for an extra tenner, fiver, or even another goodbye.

The end.

I fail to understand why she didn’t tell him about his life  and everything that was disastrous about it there and then. He needed it. Some people can’t understand why this is an outrage. Feminism, equality, you guys wanted equal rights now you have them, why should he pay if he wasn’t feeling her, maybe he didn’t like her afro bla bla to the blaaddy bla. You’re all missing the point.

It’s not even the fact that he tried to split the bill live on national television. I’m sure men before him have done it and I’m sure men after him will. It’s the way he did it.

I’ll very plainly state that I, girlwiththafro, girlwiththabraids, girlwiththaweave, girlwiththebougieattitude, whatever you wanna call me,  will not, shall not, have never, and does not intend to, go halves on a first date. I’ve always offered to out of politeness, but I’ve always expected the man to decline my offer and he always has. That’s because in my fairly conservative Christian circle ‘dating’ doesn’t tend to follow the same pattern as one might expect for the average 20-something.  So because I tend to date men who have the same ideals as me about gender roles I don’t ever really envisage a situation where a man would expect me to go halves on the first date. If in some strange alternative universe it did happen, I would smile politely and pay, but he would never get a second date.

The rules are very simple and very fair. They aren’t biased against men in the slightest. Whoever asks for the date pays for the date.It’s basic etiquette. If you’re a woman and you’re in the habit of asking men out on dates, then don’t be mad when he expects to split the bill. I don’t know if you should even be mad if he expects you to pay for it all  (although most people’s ideas of gender roles would  mean that he would probably at least offer to split). Therefore, if a man asks you out on the date  then he should pay. Regardless of whether he doesn’t like your ombre weave, or thought you were more boring in person or thinks your breath is a little funky. If you can’t afford to date, stay in your yard and play chess with your friends or pull out your inner artist and get creative. Picnics in Hyde Park are free.

For the sake of argument though, this was a blind date. He didn’t initiate or pursue this woman, he was just set up with her by some person at Channel 4. IF he was the kind of man I appreciate, he would have paid for the date despite the fact that it was a blind date or despite the fact that it didn’t go well. But he wasn’t. It still could have played out very differently. Firstly, before he got the bill he could have said ” Are you happy to split the bill?”, as the waitress was getting it. He would still have been a cheapskate in my eyes, but not as ashy a cheapskate. Then, when he got the bill, he could have simply looked at it like a normal person instead of acting like someone had asked him to pay his whole mortgage in one year. Then, when she put in her half and asked if it was enough, he could have been like ‘yeh, sure’.

Basically Errol wasn’t just a cheapskate, he was ashy about his cheapskateness. He had no broughtupsy. He’s the kind of man who expects you to give him some sugar him on the first date even though he’s only taken you to Nandos for a quarter chicken wing. Here is the basic lesson:

Avoid the Errols of this world, remember what your mother taught you about broughtupsy and make sure, like Pauline, your afro is always tight. Goodnight.

period meme

I remember in Year 5, everyone’s parents got a letter in the post. It was something along the lines of:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Girlwiththafro,

As part of the St Jude the Fields personal development lessons, we will be screening a short video on sexual health and reproduction called “The Facts of Life”. Please return the slip attached to the letter below to indicate whether or not you are happy for your child to attend….”.

My Mum being who she is had already given me her own version of “The Facts of Life” at least a year earlier and so I sat smugly through the video, content in my 10 year old mind that I was EXTREMELY mature and aware. The video to my recollection was a fairly benign animation and I don’t remember much, apart from that I was completely unprepared for the ensuing carnage that puberty would bring.

Things they don’t tell you about periods:

1)It’s more blood than you think.

So we know the average woman doesn’t actually lose that much blood, it’s actually really the lining of your uterus shedding. Who cares? It’s red. We’ve all had that awful feeling of standing up after a lecture, date or dinner party and feeling the sudden gush between your legs as your period  has suddenly decided it’s had a nice break, but now it’s time to get back to work. If you’re lucky, you’re prepared and you’ve got a pad, a tampon, or a mooncup to catch the evidence of the slaughter. If you’re unlucky, you’ve just ruined a pair of Boux Avenue polyester knickers. Again.

2) It can smell.

No, it’s not the back of a meat market, just Anna at the other end of the office isn’t changing her pad as frequently as she should. There’s a distinctive and rather gross smell that can associated with period-ing, especially if you use pads (MOONCUPS GUYS, MOONCUPS). The worst bit about the smell is that really, most of us don’t want everyone to know we’re bleeding. Again. Period smell is like a Honda Civic blaring old school garage music through Lewisham High Street at midday. You can’t miss it.

3) The pain is comparable to childbirth.

I’ve never, and may never give birth, but no one can convince me that the period pain I had in 2008 wasn’t as bad a childbirth. I was literally on the verge of taking a kitchen knife, carving my own uterus out, and then just lying there as I bled to death. It would have been a perfectly reasonable response. No one tells you that there are actual women, women all around us who have eventually had to have their wombs removed because their periods were so heavy and the pain is so bad. Nope, they just say “Isn’t it wonderful, you’re becoming a woman!!!”

4) Your hormones can literally ruin life.

I know women who just before their period, practically sink into depression. I’m not joking – lack of motivation, suicidal ideation, unable to perform normal day to day tasks. Some women go on oral contraception just so that their month isn’t at the mercy of their fluctuating hormones. I used to scoff at women who kept claiming that their PMS was the cause of their once monthly erratic behaviour – but now I’m more sympathetic. Recently I found myself sitting on my bed, eating popcorn, crying hysterically, then as it dawned on me that my period was starting in two days, laughing hysterically. Madness I tell you, madness.

5) You’re expected to just get on with it.

If you think everyone will be sympathetic to the fact that your womb is playing squash in your pelvis, and disintegrating through your vagina, think again. Your new boyfriend will be sympathetic for the first 4 months and then after that, he’ll disinterestedly bring you an Ibuprofen and a hot water bottle and go back to watching the football. Your colleagues at work might well be more caring, but it’s really just luck of the draw. Even if your period pain is worse than Mike Tyson repeatedly biting at your ear, no one is going to take kindly to you taking a day off every.single.month.

6) You can have great periods.

So I’ve spent a few hundred words trashing them, but for some lucky women, it’s possible to actually have great periods. I’ve started trying to be more grateful when my period comes. If you have regular, relatively pain free periods, be thankful! Many women don’t get that chance and it’s probably a sign that you’re healthy and your body is working exactly how it should. In fact, for some women changing their eating habits, losing weight and getting better sleep can actually transform their entire menstrual cycle. So if, you’re having bad periods, don’t give up, see your doctor, do your research, and see if there are things you can do to have a happier period. Every month you’re reminded (not so gently?) of the fact that you can bring new life into the world! Isn’t that kind of amazing? No? Ok.

Have I left anything out? What do they not tell you about periods when you’re younger?

 

burkini

I was up later than I should have been a couple of nights ago and I can no longer blame it on the disrupted sleep pattern my body was forced into by two night shifts a couple weeks back. It’s not the rota coordinator’s problem anymore, it’s all me. I’ve failed to self regulate and I find myself meandering into intemperance and insomnia more nights than is healthy. On this particular night, I had just finished watching a documentary on Donald Trump (will he become President, won’t he? Is this all a dream?)  with my dear old Dad, and casually flicked through the channels with the intention to head to bed. As I flicked, I came across 3 naked women, standing in booths, and another woman scrutinising their bodies as a presenter teased her, asking what she thought, who she liked best. I saw the title of the show, Naked Attraction. Ah, this was the show I had heard others talk about and had determined not to watch. The nudity wasn’t as shocking as the sheer banality of it all. Clearly, TV has run out of ideas. And when you’ve run out of ideas, naked women will generally keep the party going for a bit.

We’ve all seen nudity on screen, be that via an X rated site, a film or even an advert for washing up liquid. This generation of westerners is suffering from nudity fatigue – we’ve seen so much nakedness it no longer excites in the same way.  The existence of Naked Attraction is just one more story to add to the particular secular liberal narrative that wants us to believe that nudity (women’s in particular),  is sexually liberating.

France’s recent ban on the burkini, a modest swimsuit cleverly named to allude to the burqua, was met with astonishment and derision by many liberal media outlets.  It’s a shocking display of disregard for religious liberty. It polices women’s bodies. It makes Muslim women bear the burden for the atrocities committed by a few renegade terrorists who many Muslims would not even consider to share their faith. It’s oppressive. I agree with all these statements, but I wonder how we can separate the ban from the prevailing attitudes towards female bodies and sexual liberation that we have incubated in the West for the past 50 years, as if the two aren’t directly correlated.

The reason why the burkini is so ‘other’ is not merely becuase of the head covering although this is significant part of it. It’s also because of the idea of modesty and covering the female form that is such a stark contrast to our current social norms.

We live in an age where some women can propel themselves into fame and fortune sheerly off the back of sex tapes large bottoms and where women, (black women especially) with considerable musical talent often face overt and subtle pressure to act in an extremely sexual manner in order to achieve success. (I specified race because fuller figured black women who sing better than Adele and like her, aren’t overtly sexual, are not achieving her level of success, and yes, it’s at least partially a race thing).

Despite this being to my mind obviously oppressive, there is a relentless insistence from some sectors of society that these women are sexually liberated and concurrently, the subtle suggestion that modesty and covering are rooted in oppression. Although many liberal pundits in the wake of burkini will loudly proclaim that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she dresses modestly, we have created a culture where uncovering is by design. Our fashion magazines, our shops, our advertisements and our media all propel us in a direction of nudity under the guise of freedom and despite declaring that we support women in whatever choices they make, we have created a culture that celebrates, orchestrates and rewards nudity. Is it any wonder then, that in our subconscious mind, the burkini is an assault on our ‘value system’? Could it be that despite condemning France for her actions, we have as a collective, played a part in facilitating an environment where to be modest is to be constantly othered?

Arguably, the situation in other countries that are less secular ,where women are forced to cover is far worse than what we currently have in the west. I would be the first to say I would much rather live in a country where I could be naked or burqua’d without retribution (and France is now excluded from this), but oppression is not always as bold as morality police and Taliban soldiers. Both societies have failed to reach a place where women’s bodies are not dissected for mass consumption, where women’s bodies are fully their own without the enduring threat of breaking under standards that are constantly placed on them without regard for their emotional, mental, even spiritual well being.

When I cannot walk into a high street shop and with ease find a dress that does not have a random hole cut into it, a thigh high split, or plunging cleavage, in a not-so-subtle way, I am being told how I should be as a woman. There are a thousands of items of clothing, but so few that allow me to not be forced to conform to the narrative that I a freer when I am less covered.

We may rightly condemn France but we are wrong if we do not examine how, maybe almost imperceptibly to some, we have all allowed this to happen.

bearded man

 

Every girl remembers when she started her period. I remember that it was one evening in 1st year of secondary school. As it dawned on me that it had finally arrived, I ran down the stairs admittedly filled with excitement, smug in the knowledge that I was now a ‘woman’. As I got to the bottom of the stairs I put on my cool pre teen slouch and turned into the front hall, where I caught my Dad coming from the kitchen. It didn’t occur to me that he couldn’t be the first person I could tell or that it would be weird. It was Dad. The same Dad who had fumbled my afro into two very loose and very messy pony puffs when my Mum had gone away for a work trip (that school day ended fairly traumatically with a kind hearted teacher braiding my hair with multi coloured elastic bands  to rescue me from the teasing of my classmates). The same Dad who picked me up from school most days because he finished work earlier than Mum. The same Dad who taught me how to ride a bike and who, equally scared of dogs as I am, pedalled furiously beside me when we got chased by a pitbull in the park. . Who helped with my maths homework. Who horrified my Mum by buying a £99 school rucksack in year 8 because it had a lifetime warranty ( I still have it, 14 years later).

And so, unable to hide my excitement any longer I blurted..”Dad, I started my period!”. He looked slightly panicked and I could see him trying to compose himself. This wasn’t on his list of things he’d have to do. “Erm…well..has your mother told you what to do?”. “Yes”. I replied. ‘And you’ve got all the stuff?” “Yes”. “Well, make sure you do everything she told you to do. Erm..and make sure you tell her when she gets home, she’ll be happy to hear”. I quickly learnt that the easiest way to get out of any trouble was to tell my dad his only daughter was on her period. “Dad, Shade hasn’t done the washing up!” “Leave your sister alone…she’s on her period”.

Whether it’s been starting periods, starting school, finishing university or my first break up, my Dad has always been the most reliable man in my life. That doesn’t mean our relationship has been perfect. Me and my Dad have fought, and we’ve fought hard. There were times I’ve cried and screamed and been angry enough to burst. But he has always been there. Like the ticking of the clock on my wall, he has been a constant that I have never questioned. Not once have I worried that I would come home and my Dad would not be there. There may have been times I wish he hadn’t been there, but there he was – stubborn and stoic in that old Jamaican way, and funny and full of life in a way that is unique to him.

And why is this special? I know so many people who have not had what should not be considered a luxury. I should not feel lucky to have a father that has consistently provided for me. He should not be congratulated for doing what is good and reasonable for a father to do, which is offer basic care for the children he produced. My Dad has gone above and beyond that, but in a community where fatherhood is sometimes seen as a casual extra that may or may not exist, he stands out.

I don’t want to add to the narrative that black fathers are bad fathers. As much as I can say that I know many people who didn’t have their biological father in their life, I probably just as many who did and some who had fathering from men who didn’t share the same genes as them. Half, isn’t good enough though. It’s not good enough that half of my friends had fathers who were consistently there and half didn’t. It’s not good enough that on Father’s Day, my Facebook timeline was flooded with people shouting out their Dads, but a large enough group of my friends were silent (and not because they don’t use Facebook like that).

Marriages end, couples split up and animosity brews. I understand that the woman you once loved may turn out to be someone you feel you have no respect for. Not everyone has chosen to do what my parents have done and brave the storms of marriage for 30 plus years. For some, they never had the option to choose to do the battle that is learning to love someone for life, sacrificing and being unselfish and remembering vows you made when it’s the only thing you have to hold on to. Life happens.

But whatever life does, fatherhood is never trivial. It is never unimportant. You will always matter to that little boy or little girl. Or 20 years later, that big boy or big girl. No matter what voices scream loudly that you are a bonus, an extra or even just dead weight, I believe that fathers, all fathers, black fathers are essential. I would not be the woman I am today had it not been for my Dad.

Some of you have incredible children who have managed to do impossibly beautiful things with their life despite your absence or inconsistency. You should be proud and ashamed. And you should know that it’s never too late to try. Some of you have been like my Dad – imperfect, faltering, human but persevering in your efforts to be fathers. And I thank you. #BlackDadsMatter