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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.

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In a rare, but frankly predictable moment, the police chief of the Minneapolis police force stepped down in the wake of the death of Justine Damond, an unarmed white woman killed by a black police officer. Speaking of Justine, her attorney stated that she was the ‘most innocent victim of a police shooting”.

The statement was shocking in its disregard for the black children who have been fatally shot by police officers – Aiyana Jones was 7 when she was killed by a police officers in a raid, Tamir Rice only 12, not least for the countless innocent black men and women who have been killed by police.  Shocking, but predictable.

White women are always innocent.

In the case of Justine she truly was, and as with any other victim of police brutality her and her family deserve justice.

But white women are innocent even when they’re not innocent.

A recent study on perceptions of black girls that was widely reported on gave evidence to the fact that “adultification” of black girls begins as young as 5*. Black girls are perceived as having less need for nurturing and protection compared with white girls. Stereotypes of black women as angry, more masculine and difficult to deal with are projected onto young black girls.

But this as much about stereotypes of black women as it is about entrenched beliefs about white womanhood.

Since before slavery, white womanhood has carefully crafted a propaganda of innocence, supported by white men initially for their own sexist purposes (which I won’t detail here) but often used by white women to absolve themselves of responsibility in a myriad of situations. White European women are perceived as delicate, fragile, pure, kind and well intentioned despite historically being wholly complicit in some of the greatest atrocities against other humans, many of them black or brown.

White feminism has tried with some level of success to rewrite modern history as a story in which all women are united in a struggle against the evils of a white male patriarchal system, when the truth is that white women have often used this system to their benefit to abuse black men and women. Slavery was not a white male institution. Colonialism was not a white male institution. White women stood alongside white men during slavery, during colonialism and during segregation. In England, white women posted signs on their doors saying “No coloureds, No Irish, No dogs”. More white women who voted, voted for Trump than Clinton – yes, at least half of white women voters were more committed to upholding a white supremacist narrative than a seemingly feminist one.

But white women are always innocent.

A younger friend of mine recently told me of situation in which she was called defensive and aggressive by a supervisor who has been bullying her at work. She didn’t have to tell me what happened. “Let me guess”, I said, “She called you aggressive and said you were intimidating”. More than several black women have had the experience in the work place of being constantly goaded by passive aggressive white women who employ racial micro-agressions and bullying as a form of emotional abuse, and then, when the black woman finally gets angry she is told that she is being ‘hostile’. Because inherent in white womanhoods propaganda of innocence is the idea that black women are the antithesis of it. Even when we are the victims, we are the aggressors. Our inherent masculinity in the white imagination positions us as the constant perpetrators. Even during slavery when white men were raping black women in droves, black women were accused tempting white men away from their wives. Even rape was not enough to make us victims.

The propaganda has been so successful that even in the black community we associate white femininity or proximity to it, as innocence.

The idea that white men are the ‘enemy’ but that white woman are desirable, innocent, even potential  ‘allies’ to black men in their struggle against ‘the man’ often plays out in the ease with which black men partner with white women but historically have recoiled at the idea of black women doing the same with white men.

But white women have always known that the combination of their presumed innocence and black men’s presumed sexual deviancy could be used as a weapon against black men and women. Littered throughout history are the bodies of black men who have been lynched both literally and figuratively by white women who have accused them of being abusive, often sexually. (It goes without saying that not every accusation of rape by a white women against a black man is or was false). Alongside them are the black women who have had to mourn the loss of sons, brothers, fathers, friends not only through death but undeserved prison time.

The rape of black women during slavery is well documented, but less well known are the stories of black male slaves who were coerced into sexual acts by their white female masters. Rape isn’t always about physical strength but it is always about power. Despite white women’s protestations that they are victims of misogyny, it is completely ludicrous to ignore the fact that not only have they historically occupied a position of privilege and power in comparison to black men as well as black women, but that they have used white men’s misogyny as a form of deflection from their own complicity in racial violence. Just as black men can endure racism at the hands of a racist society and still practice misogyny in their own communities, white women have proven time and time again that their supposed innocence is simply a facade when it comes to their  racism.

As adamant as I am that the idea of white womanhood being inherently innocent is mythological I am just as adamant that black women are equally if not more so deserving of being typecast as innocent. While white women wielded their presumed innocence against us, black women often fed, defended, even nursed the children of these white women at their breast. Black women, despite the constant assaults on their womanhood and families, offered and continue to offer themselves as allies in feminist movements that refused to centre them or even peripherally serve them. The role of the mammy, the big black woman forever coddling and nurturing white children while themselves being asexual, undesirable and nothing more but a facilitator of white happiness continues into adulthood – from the sage black woman being a sidechick to white women in a popular film, to black women being asked to lay aside their specific concerns because ‘we’re all women’.

Black women in America, and likely in England also are some of the most faithful church goers. It is no surprise then, that we have been taught to presume that turning the other cheek means turning a blind eye. We sit under the watchful gaze of white Madonnas, benevolent and infantile, a fitting symbol of the propaganda of white womanhood if there was any. Mary, an unwed teenage Palestinian mother of an ethnic minority child, made a pariah by her community who are themselves colonised and governed by the Romans – is ironically almost always falsely portrayed as an innocent white woman.

No human or group of humans can claim inherent innocence. But if there’s any group I had to choose, it wouldn’t be white women.

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*Names and locations have been changed to protect identities. And because I don’t want to get shanked because I’m too young to die even though life gets hard sometimes.

It’s Sunday morning. You’ve woken up late because the post-church youth group hang out/ turn up was particularly lit and you drank too much Mighty Malt and Appletiser. Drowsy and blurry eyed from your non-alcoholic hangover, you reach for your glasses. The world slowly comes into focus. Your room is a mess. It’s because you’ve worked too many late shifts, because really you’re a tidy person and you like things to be in order, you tell yourself. You look at the time on your phone. It’s 0930 hours. You have an appointment to get your hair braided in exactly 20 minutes. The stereotype is that black hairdressers are always running late, but this hairdresser is gentrified and has a strict appointment policy. (More evidence that gentrification is traumatic and inconvenient for everyone involved except the gentrifier – which in your case has a Jamaican accent and is called Simone).

You tumble out of bed and manage to shower, lotion, brush your teeth, get dressed, talk to Jesus, salute your parents, say your daily affirmations and argue with your younger brother in exactly 8 minutes and 53 seconds.

You arrive at “Motivationz” at 1007, 3 minutes shy of the 10 minute cancellation policy window. As far as you’re concerned, you’ve arrived early and you’re breaking stereotypes.

The receptionist lady smiles concernedly when you tell her your appointment time and asks you to take a seat and wait, in order to make you nervous that your late arrival might result in you entering the working week with 2 large canerows and a headwrap as your only companions. This is all fake news. You are Simone’s first and only customer till 1230.

You are brought a cup of lemongrass tea and you browse your Pinterest ‘DOPE HAIRSTYLES’ folder to finalise the style you want.

Simone walks over to the chair. You exchange the usual pleasantries. She starts to run her fingers through your hair. “Do you know what style you want?”. You nod excitedly and show her the picture you’ve saved on Pinterest.

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adventist

Listen, I know there are some of you who are already disgruntled at the title. Yes, this isn’t going to be a glowing advertisement for Adventist culture. If you want that, I made a blog post a month or so ago about the things I love about my church. Because I do love it, deeply. But although God is perfect, his people, including me, are imperfect and so are the systems and cultures we create.

I read a research paper a few months ago about the common problems that crop up when engaging in psychotherapy and counselling with Adventists. It stated that some of the common problems were rigid perfectionism, unintegrated sexuality and problems of self worth/esteem. As I sat there on the bed in my onesie, bag of sweet and salty popcorn in one hand, I started laughing and crying at the same time. Laughing because there was something almost hysterical about how pointedly accurate it was and crying because it resonated with me personally.

I thought twice about writing this. Once because I didn’t want to get too critical. Twice because I didn’t want to get too personal.

I’ve always been a perfectionist whilst at the same time having a tendency towards being quite far from perfect in a lot of ways. Understandably, that poses a lot of problems.

I can’t blame it all on Adventism. I can partially blame it on the burden of being a naturally smart kid. The sort of kid who had an existential crisis in when she got her results for the year 5 end of year exams. 82% in science. What happened to the other 18%? And if I I could get 18% wrong, what if the next time, another 18% went missing?

I can also probably partially blame it on having a Mother who despite her flaws, is probably as close to a perfect person as anyone I’ve met. And I can definitely put some of it down to my own neurosis and unchecked thought processes.

I can’t however, let Adventist culture get off scott free.

Adventism, like any other denomination of Christianity, is a fairly broad church. Pun intended. There are liberals and conservatives. There are those who are fully committed and those who are non-committal. There are nice people and nasty people (on both the liberal and conservative side). The conservative or liberal labels are sometimes applied lazily because of our desperate need to categorise each other, but they aren’t entirely without merit.

I grew up in what would be considered by some accounts, a fairly conservative family. (Liberal to those who were left of us and conservative to those who were right of us – see how labels are problematic?). During my teenage years I found myself drawn to a brand of Adventism that was even more conservative than what my parents brought me up in. I was sincere in my efforts to be like Jesus. I honestly just wanted to do the right thing and I didn’t care how extreme that looked to anyone else. I went to conferences, I watched sermons online, and I studied avidly. One thing that was emphasised over and over again was the high standard that God called us to as Christians. We weren’t supposed to be like everyone else. We spoke differently, we dressed differently, we ate differently, we used our free time differently – with God’s strength, we could be perfect. My skirt length increased and my Bible highlighting became more creative. My virginity was firmly intact, powered by fail-proof curfews and myriad books on purity. I demanded excellence of myself in every facet of my life. And didn’t always succeed.

The central tenet wasn’t in and of itself theologically incorrect. The idea that Christianity is supposed to be a radically transformative experience that affects every aspect of your life is one that I hold to and one that I believe many churches and denominations have lost in an age of feel-good spirituality and blurry TED talk-esque sermons. Intent and outcome though, are often two very different things, and although the intent may have been to challenge young people to live lives that were dedicated to their faith, the outcome of constant messages that emphasised high standards was often young people who became obsessive about avoiding ‘sin’ whilst forgetting the  principle of love that is supposed to underpin our faith.

You could argue that it’s unfair to blame a preacher or conference for my failure to find the perfect marriage of love and high standards, but when so many young people I know experienced similar struggles with feeling unworthy, unloved and unforgiven, there has to be some self-examination on the part of the leaders sharing these messages.

The acknowledgement that along the way to becoming the person we want to be there will probably be a plethora of wrong turns and false starts was nodded to quietly but quickly dismissed with the exhortation that God’s grace and personal effort meant that those wrong turns could and should be minimised. And isn’t that true? Don’t I believe that my faith is a sat nav that gives me instructions for my journey? I do. But I’ve also come to accept that as the driver in this complicated and sometimes tiring journey we call life, sometimes I get distracted and don’t listen to the sat nav. Sometimes the music is too loud or there are other people in the back that I listen to when really I should be listening to the sat nav. And so I take a wrong turn. But as long as the sat nav is still charged, switched on and in front, it will keep telling me to u-turn or try another route to make sure I get to my destination. One thing I know for sure about sat navs is that they never give up.My route might be different to someone else because of the times I didn’t listen to the sat nav, but the most important thing is that I’m trying my best to listen and that just like the sat nav, I’m not abandoning the journey.

The journey is difficult enough without people adding extra baggage that  you don’t really need. There is no doubt that God requires a certain way for us to live as Christians,  but sometimes I’ve found that humans are really good at adding and taking away things and encouraging others to do the same. People’s intentions might be good, but the effect it can have on your spiritual path can be disastrous.

I’m not here to make a case for low standards or tell you that mistakes don’t have consequences. I’m not here either to make a case for specific lifestyle choices (although I believe in them and will happily share them in person). I’m definitely not here to suggest that sin is anything less than it is or that we can’t overcome it. I am here though to make a case for grace, forgiveness and a little bit more self love. I’m here to make a case for defining yourself by the love of an all forgiving and willingly forgetful (of our mistakes) God. I’m here to speak to the other very imperfect perfectionists.

Someone reading this blog has been beating themselves up because they’re not ‘there’ yet. Beloved, the person you look at that you think is ‘there’ wasn’t always ‘there’. They probably aren’t even ‘there’ now. I’m definitely not.Becoming like Jesus is the work of a lifetime. Be open to the fact that you will make mistakes and so will others. Know that you are loved and essential despite your mistakes. Keep listening to the sat nav. You’ll get there.

P.S. If anyone wants to know more about my particular theological leanings on certain things (from what I’ve studied), shoot me a line in the comment section, facebook, twitter etc.

I recently got back from an amazing week in Bahia, north Brazil. As cliché as it may sound, it’s an amazing place with a rich culture and a unique spirit. Bahia is an area where the majority of the population are descended from enslaved Africans. I immediately felt at home there, more at home than I do in the average British city. I was surrounded by Afros, dreadlocks, brown skin, food that tasted strangely similar to the Caribbean stews my Mum cooks at home and men that appreciated me post-tan (been trying and failing to get to Lupita levels of melanin).

On my second day there, I went to a Samba dance/workout class. Now, I usually avoid gym situations like the plague, being naturally averse to other people’s sweat. Like, I genuinely am disgusted by people who drip sweat from their head – which is most men (wipe yourself down before you hug me please), and I visibly shudder when I have to go near anyone who has anything more than a gentle post workout glow. This class was great though. I was working every muscle, had a lot of fun, felt absolutely no judgement about the fact that my melanin had not conferred any dancing ability to me and samba’d my non rhythmic self for 2 hours. It was all going so well, until we approached the end of the class. Our super energetic teacher summoned us towards the band at the front of the room who had been drumming us through the class. I was a bit bemused, but whatever, I samba’d my way over to the drums. She knelt to the floor in front of the drums. I knelt too  – figured this was our final stretch or cool down. Then before I knew it, she was bowing in front of  the drums, arms outstretched, wailing and arching her back.

Hold up. Wait a minute. Let me put some Jesus in it.

I finally cottoned on to the fact that this was some kind of religious activity. Which I respect, but I wasn’t about to be involved in. So I stood up and shuffled to the side.

Later, she explained that she was a daughter of Oshun, (one of the Yoruba deities or what is believed to be a manifestation of God) and that the drumming and dancing was used to summon the Orisha (spirit).

And what is strange about this? She is after all, an African descendent practising her religious lineage.

The history of the intersection of Europeans with Africans is the same in Brazil as anywhere else in the modern world. There are nuances , but the story of deceit, cultural stripping ,rape, whipping, forbidding traditional religions, segregation and hierarchy enforced amongst Africans based on their proximity to whiteness follows the same pattern it does anywhere else.

Unlike my home country of Jamaica, where the majority of the country is Christian and the traditional African religions are shunned by a sizeable amount of the population (although definitely practiced by some), Brazil has a strong tradition of syncretism. The basic definition of syncretism is the amalgamation of two or more religions. In the case of Brazil, Christianity, mainly Catholicism – which arguably is very different from mainstream Christianity, is blended with traditional African religions. The Yoruba religion has different Orishas – manifestations of the supreme being, and people can be daughters and sons of these various orishas. Many slaves were adherents of this religion but were banned by the Catholic church from following it once they arrived in Brazil. To maintain their practice enslaved Africans combined elements of the Yoruba, Bantu and Fon religions known overall as Candomble, with Catholicism.  The ritualism and worship of dead saints in Catholicism lends very well to the reverence for ancestral worship in the traditional African religions. The belief systems, although very different, have enough similarities that allow for their amalgamation.

Strangely to me at first, some of the followers of Candomble in Brazil that I spoke to, identified as Christian  and Candomble. One man simply said “Candomble is first because it is the religion of my ancestors, but I’m a Christian as well”.

I thought a lot that week about how I as a black Christian related to traditional African religions. Had I been taught to fear them more than other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism? Did I think they were ‘more’ evil? Had I ignorantly referred to them as voodoo simply because I had very little understanding of the practices? The answer to all these questions is, yes.  I can accept that one of the functions of white Christianity was to instil a level of disdain for traditional religions that was part of an entire system created dehumanise people of African descent.

What does this mean for black Christians? If we understand that our receiving of what is termed  ‘The Gospel” – good news, was actually part of a package of what was admittedly bad news for anyone who shared our skin colour, is it necessary for us to reject it?

Firstly, religion being a cultural baton that is passed down through generations doesn’t appear logical. The idea that because my ancestors worshipped a certain way I should naturally follow it, although superficially compelling, seems a completely illogical way to decide on a belief system. There are many things our ancestors believed about a lot of things that we now question, regardless of our ethnic or cultural background. Few people would suggest that because Irish people once believed in leprechauns that Irish Christians are rejecting their ancestry. Clearly, Candomble is seen as a more sophisticated belief system than leprechauns, but the logic that ancestral belief trumps all, fails.

I realise that although I’ve been brought up in a Christian family, I don’t really see Christianity as something that was simply passed down to me. In fact, I think if I had done, I would be a lot more resistant to following it. Undoubtedly the fact that I was exposed to it contributed to my acceptance of it, and it’s obvious that parental beliefs influence children hugely, but most importantly I felt that it was ultimately an individual decision about a belief system.

Secondly,  suggesting that because a religion was initially presented via oppressive means automatically means that the belief system is inherently false is again, illogical. If we reject Christianity, it cannot be on the basis that we came into contact with it in a less than favourable way. Parts of West Africa were exposed to Western medicine via colonialism, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that we reject every aspect of Western medicine simply because our initial contact with it was via colonialism. A system, be that belief system or other, must be judged in and of itself and that is outside the scope of this post.

Before slavery and colonialism and the rise of the Roman Catholic church, Jesus was not white, and Christianity was not synonymous with white supremacy. Jesus was the son of poor woman who got pregnant out-of-wedlock, part of a minority group living under Roman colonial rule. James and John were anti-Roman activists who had a supernatural experience and laid down their placards for preaching.

One definition of colonisation is ‘to appropriate for one’s own use’, and Christianity has been and continues to be colonised by white supremacy. It manifests not only in the historical and present abuses of black bodies in the name of Jesus, but also in the continuing demeaning of black cultural traditions and black self-worth in our own practices of faith. From white Christianity’s refusal to address their racism, to pictures of white Jesus in majority black churches, to black Christians being guilted into accepting their oppression in exchange for a blessing in the afterlife – the manifestations are endless.

In an age where so many young black people are rejecting what they see as a failed faith, a relic of slavery that they cannot in good conscience engage with, the black church must be rigorous, evangelical even, in its attempts to contend for the faith. Decolonising Chritianity is part of our missionary work.  Practically, that means rejecting extra-biblical traditions that are founded on white supremacist ideology.  It’s simple things like not having only Brad Pitt lookalikes when we visually represent Jesus to our congregations, especially our children. It’s more complex things like dealing with the questions our young people might have about how Christians relate to social justice movements, and being open to supporting black theologians in their attempts to understand how our story as black people is positioned in the grand story of redemption. The problem of pain and suffering in the presence of a loving God transcends race and culture, and becomes even more poignant in the recent history of African peoples. It’s challenging ideas that European art traditions have an inherent holiness that African ones are excluded from. It’s lovingly speaking out against voices that suggest that to be proudly black and a devoted follower of Jesus is oxymoronic.

Individually, it starts from a place of accepting that our own blackness is purposefully designed by creator God.  It is not an aberration or variation of whiteness. It is not ‘other’. The Biblical declaration is that God created from rich, brown earth, sons and daughters of glory. The story of redemption IS our story, as much as anyone’s and we must reclaim it.