Is Britain ready for a mixed-race princess?

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This really isn’t a question we should need to ask in 2017, is it? We shouldn’t get the feeling this could go either way, but as most of us know all too well, in our post-Brexit era every single hard-won social victory feels like it’s up in the air, so let’s get started on tackling this one.

The princess-in-waiting that the country just isn’t sure about is of course African-American actress Meghan Markle. Her relationship with Prince Harry was only confirmed by Kensington Palace in November 2016 when the Palace had to basically tell everyone to cool it on the racism and abuse she was receiving. It was a surprising move from the Palace to issue such a statement, showing just how severe the situation must have been for Markle and her family.

Forbes posed the question, does Prince Harry’s girlfriend, Meghan Markle, have what it takes to be a princess? The Daily Mail produced an article that was essentially a list of seemingly obvious facts that all linked to Meghan being black. It read like the writer had just discovered this new-found concept, blackness, about an hour before his deadline and wanted to let the world know what he’d found.

Read the full article at IBTimes.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

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How much are black ideas worth?

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Image courtesy of Mike Linksvayer

In the past, if the average person wanted to know what was going on around the world, what the latest trends were or take in the thoughts of their generations most prolific thinkers they would have to open up a broadsheet and ingest the information given to them on the page.

Now with the avid use of social media that is no longer the case. Pew Research Center found that 62% of Americans get their new from social media. Since you can interact 24/7 on social media, gone are the days when newspaper pundits were seen as unchallengeable intellectuals. We no longer merely consume our information; we respond, offer our own analysis and become cultural critics in our own right.

This is most obviously the case for the black community who use social media in new and fantastic ways; from hilariously funny vine culture (RIP) to university debate worthy Facebook threads. Although black people are prolific across all social media platforms, the most well-known enclave of black thought has to be Black Twitter.

Read the full article at Media Diversified.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

Fried chicken and swimming really aren’t pressing issues for Black British youth

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The BBC is an institution close to many people’s hearts. Known for its programmes about working your fingers to the bone baking a Victoria sponge in what must be an extremely stuffy marquee and surprisingly white East End communities, it has rarely ventured deeply into the topic of race, preferring to see itself as a non-partisan organisation.

This is probably what caught most people off guard when during the station’s promotion of BBC Newsbeat’s online documentary That Black British Feeling, which asked why Black Lives Matter is in the UK, they asked series of inane, reductive questions on their Twitter page. These included “Is it true all black people like chicken” and “The myths around swimming and being black …”.

For an organisation that’s usually too steeped in nostalgia to notice any changes in society this sideways jump to openly using racist stereotypes to start a conversation seems a little left-field. What happened to the BBC that never mentioned racism?

Read the full article at IBTimes.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

It’s clear which race the Italian Government wants to procreate

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Italy: The place to go for delectable cuisine, breathtaking culture and that creeping sensation that you’re living in worst of the 1950s. From Berlusconi’s many, many gaffs to the abuse thrown at black footballers, news from Italy has made us despair on many occasions.

The latest reason to shake our heads comes from Italian health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, and her nosy insistence on butting into women’s lives to increase the birth rate in the country. Earlier this month, Lorenzin launched a series of posters to promote Fertility Day, which took place on 22nd September.

The posters featured women with hourglasses to demonstrate their ever dwindling biological clock and included slogans such as “Beauty knows no age. Fertility does” and “Reproducing is the best way for young couples to be creative”.

The Italian government and Lorenzin were roundly mocked for the sexist and ageist campaign, which was reminiscent of the fascist slogans of 1930s that encouraged women to have more children for the country.

Read my full article at IBTimes

Azealia Banks’s rage is understandable, but not when she’s using the rhetoric of white racists

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Shade is a hell of a drug. Once you take it you just can’t get enough.

The line between hilarity and pain is so fine it’s barely visible, but it’s there. That line got crossed once again yesterday when Azealia “the walking definition of the phrase ‘your faves are problematic'” Banks launched a vitriolic racist and homophobic attack on former One-Direction star Zayn Malik.

The Twitter rant was prompted by Azealia’s belief that Zayn copied her music video. When Zayn seemed to respond to her on Twitter stating, “I see you reaching but I don’t care” and “My @’s too good for you”, instead of Azealia replying with a quick, catty comeback, all hell broke loose.

Read the full article at IBTimes

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

Crooked Grrrls

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Extract from an illustration by Kelsey Wroten

Originally published in One Beat Zine’s Identity Issue, November 2015

I always knew that I was different. Well, not that I was different but that I was treated differently to other people. From an early age I was used to the different tone, the sad looks, the blank faces my presence would draw out of everyone and anyone I came across. I noticed the difference in the ways I was treated compared to other little girls my age. I didn’t know what exactly was causing this wave of indifference to everyone around me but I knew that it centred not just on me but how others perceived me.

If you don’t know, it can be hard growing up as a little black girl child. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just stating the facts.  The treatment I received and interactions I had with people were all heavily influenced by how they perceived my blackness and therefore value. The different tone was one in reaction to my perceived threatening nature. The sad looks reflected the pity they felt looking at my unconventional appearance that didn’t fit the rigid Eurocentric beauty standards. The blank faces were from those who do not even rate my existence as worth acknowledging.

Navigating this world is complicated, confusing and requires an ability to both adapt to different identities and to be able to deal with the reconstructed concepts of black female identity imposed on you by society. Like many black women I found myself representing all things to all people. Having a fixed identity during my teenage years to early twenties became secondary to keeping the perception society has about black women alive.

Sometimes I was shy and quiet, easier to get through the day if no one knew what I was thinking; sometimes I was more gregarious, playing the fun black best friend from every sitcom ever; sometimes I tried to over compensate and be better than my white counterparts, knowing that I’d be judged more harshly than them.

Dealing with such contradictory personality traits and expectations it is no wonder that black women can find it hard to find their own identity. But not all is lost. This is the point in the story where every black girl needs to hear political scientist, Melissa Harris-Perry’s theory on the impact stereotypes have on black women’s lives. In her book Sister Citizen, Harris-Perry refers to the ‘Crooked Room’ theory; a post world war two field dependence study that saw subjects placed in a crooked room in a crooked chair and asked to find their vertical. Many subjects believed themselves to be standing up straight in relation to their surroundings even though they were standing at angles of up to 35 degrees.

Harris-Perry expands this theory to suggest that when black women have to confront race and gender stereotypes and are constantly shown warped versions of their own humanity they are standing in their own crooked room. Sometimes we see ourselves purely in relation to our surroundings and adapt to become the Jezebel, strong black woman, baby mama that we see looking back at us. Have you ever acted up and louder than you normally would around white friends and asked why? It’s because that is the way we have been taught to act.

Of course, sometimes we ignore our surroundings, see the damaging images for what they really are and stand tall.  This is not something that every black woman is able to, or feels comfortable enough to do. They may not be at the right point in their life or may not understand how to be once you break down that wall. After all even when you stand up straight you’re still in the same crooked room with the same images weighing down on you, forcing you to conform.

To stand up straight, take a look at the images and stereotypes around us and see how cartoon-like we would have to be to truly meet the stereotype of the black woman. Once we see it for what it is, slowly that room will start to transform. On the walls a space will emerge, ready to create a new identity based on beauty, intellect, and power for each and every black woman.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

Article in Intersectional Politics For Punx Zine

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You can order the first issue of Intersection Politics for Punx zine which features my article. The first issue focuses on race and racism in the UK DIY punk scene.

I wrote about growing up listening to pop punk as a teenager in the Midlands and the unintentional violence of white femininity.

The zine was edited and compiled by Cassie Agbehenu, bassist in Fight Rosa Fight, who says that she was “sick of being the only person of colour at shows when she knew of punx of colour sitting at home and not feeling welcome. We’ve got so much work to do and so many conversations to start.”

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

Essay in One Beat Zine’s Identity Issue

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You can pre order the Identity issue of One Beat Zine which features an essay I wrote on finding black female identity in a world that distorts who we really are. It was illustrated by the brilliant Kelsey Wroten. The zine is A5 and will printed in full colour.

Identity will make its debut at the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds on 14th November but for now you can pre order your copy here. Profits from the zine will be donated to The Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity that helps young LGBT people, and The Feminist Library.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

How Do Women of Colour Find a Place in the Punk Scene

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe

This article has been adapted from a talk given at the event, Off the Shelf in Sheffield, October 2014

I am lucky and I know that. I am lucky that I found a semi-comfortable place to be. I play in feminist punk bands as part of the London punk scene that encompasses everything from riot grrrl to hardcore, post punk to noise pop. Growing up in Wolverhampton, there was a music scene of sorts it was nothing like the one I am currently involved in. As a shy teenager I never had the confidence to start a scene by myself and I’m not sure how other teenagers could either. It was too much and I thought it was easier to leave.

So that is just to say that I know that both the time we’re living in and the London and UK punk scene in general has improved. Nevertheless as inclusive as the London punk scene aims to be it is safe to say that it can fail in numerous ways. Not in an actively aggressive way but more in a passively ignorant way that is almost worse. We live in an age of UKIP, regressive politics, Islamaphobia and class snobbery so it would be a miracle if these attitudes did not seep their way into every aspect of our culture including the people within our music scene.

I have told people examples of things that have happened to me before but it’s so hard to express the insidious nature of, to quote bell hooks, the “Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy” that sometimes my friends could not understand it or perhaps I could not understand fully. When the weapons of the enemy are all around us it’s hard to recognise them as anything but normal.

We all know the obvious ways women musicians are treated within the industry. We probably should be pretty but not too pretty, talented but with the knowledge that you’ll never be fully recognised for it and white men with half the talent, who sometimes stole your creative ideas (cough* Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones) will make the magazine covers, line bedroom walls and be crowned the kings of rock n roll. What’s missing from that list is to be crowned the perfect indie songstress, and that’s an indie songstress that appeals to male music journalists as well, you had to be white.

This was integral and it’s something that even as a teenager I noticed immediately but no one talks about the racial element in the music industry. The most popular women in music that I admired when I was younger were PJ Harvey, Brody Dalle, Kathleen Hanna and Karen O. They were all talented, brave and if they were men would have been made into Gods. If Alex Turner can get into NME every other week for accomplishing seemingly creative endeavours in-between tax evading than surely Peej deserves more than a quick look in every few years.

PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey

They also embodied a girl next door beauty that was welcoming, alluring and most importantly non threatening. This was because it was a beauty based on conventional beauty standards that value whiteness and Caucasian features. While I admire these women no one ever discussed the fact that whiteness, sexuality and gender were so heavily intertwined when I was younger.  I would look at these talented white women and look at the men and I could not see a place for myself in that world.

I did not grow up in a household that was openly creative. I was not popular, confident, I had no innate talent for anything. I needed validation or a visual cue to give me the go ahead and say “yes you could be in a band, here’s your spot, make your mark,” but that did not happen. I decided that since I could not look as beautiful as my idols, and I did not know whether I could play like them either, that I probably could not be a musician.

I changed my mind later, but it is important to note how these images and codes can affect our way of thinking. I eventually joined a band and began to play music in places other than in my room with the door closed and my headphones on but it was hard. Having the confidence to believe in myself, my music or even turn the volume up too high took a long time to come and in certain situations it still fails me completely. I have realised that still at the back of my mind those early images are holding me back and telling me I don’t have authority here.

So when we think about how hard it is for white women in the music industry when their role models are sidelined by white men, think how hard it must be for black women when our role models rarely get a mention. If black women do make it into the spotlight they are unfortunately white washed by history like Poly Styrene, vocalist in X-Ray Spex. What I saw as my first ray of hope, a slightly kooky mixed race girl, many white people saw as another white woman. Seeing a black and white image of a woman in a punk band the assumption is made that she must have been white so just like that an entire aspect of her life is erased.

It took me years to learn the true history of rock music and fill in the blanks that had been rubbed out and replaced with a conventional white man. The canon of music history that we are taught is flawed and incomplete. For example Led Zeppelin’s classic ‘When the Levee Breaks’ was actually written by the black female guitarist Memphis Minnie and her husband Kansas Joe in 1935. This story is well known, mainly because Led Zeppelin are well known for stealing songs, but nevertheless Memphis Minnie is rarely as celebrated as Led Zeppelin.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the most popular blues and gospel singers in the 30s and 40s. Her guitar style was incredibly unique and she was a huge influence on stars such as Chuck Berry and Elvis who would have seen Tharpe was a hero. Chuck Berry and Elvis went on to influence bands such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Nevertheless Tharpe’s name is rarely mentioned in everyday circles. When we discuss the mainstream history of rock it is important to remember the styles and influences have been garnered from a confrontational black femininity that has been put into a white male space to make it more conventional.

Nina Simone
Nina Simone

Sometimes I lie awake at night and think about all of the amazing black women who formed bands and wrote amazing music that we’ll never know about because they were written about of history before they could even get properly started. I refuse to believe that they did not exist. I know they did because I exist and I am not an anomaly.

I think we need to consider ways to make the music industry a better space for black women. To start we need to take more time to consider the black women who paved the way. Being able to fill in the canon of rock history with women such as Nina Simone, Betty Davis,  Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marlena Shaw, has given me more confidence to continue in music and knowing that other women have done it before me gives me hope for the road ahead.

In James Spooner’s now legendary 2003 documentary Afro Punk, which looks at race and identity within the punk movement, punk musician Tamar Kali stated: “Being caught in a system that you can’t identify with, that you can’t support and just being contrary, that’s the true energy of what punk is. I think one of the punk-ist people i can think of in history is Nina Simone.”

I have to agree with her that Nina Simone is probably more punk than everyone. If you don’t think so, know that at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 she asked the majority black crowd if they were ready to kill for the revolution.

If being punk mean being “caught in a system that you can’t identify with, that you can’t support” that I believe that the main group of people that experience this from birth are black women. Black women, by our very nature, by getting up every day, having confidence in ourselves, wearing what we want, smiling when we want or not, being loud, gregarious or shy and retiring; by being ourselves black women are the definition of punk.

We need to reclaim our space and title in a world that, as the great jazz musician Charles Mingus succinctly put, is constantly “singing your praises while stealing your phrases”.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

The Black Renaissance is Here

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It happens every year; the same time every year. We know it so well; the lead up, the commotion and the eventual indifference. Awards season is upon us and with that star-filled month in our calendar comes the annual moment members of the white arts industry shake themselves out of the blinkered daze that envelopes them for most of the year, look around, and realise there are few Black faces around them.

This is also the time of year that a small number of other white members of the arts industry decide that there are no issues with diversity in the industry and, if anything, there needs to be more opportunities for straight white men, as they need all the help they can get, poor mites. Oh yes, those kinds of white people exist (cough, cough Blunty), but we’ll save another article for their kind.

White people are waking up, only for a few weeks, mind, but it is happening. A few weeks ago, rent-a-posh actor Benedict Cumberbatch found out that there are rarely any Black people on his film sets. A fact that is certainly true, and needs to be said, but whilst making that statement he managed to refer to Black people with a word so archaic that it actually adds another piece of evidence to my theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is actually from the past, and has been brought here to our timeline to trick the world into liking the upper-class! In response to the Baftas overwhelmingly white cast of nominees, MP Chris Bryant wrote what I can only assume as an intentionally ironic comment piece about the lack of diversity in the arts.

Read the full article at Media Diversified.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

We Need to Talk About Racism in Punk

black punk

I recently wrote an article about my experiences in a white majority punk scene and culture and why we need to talk about racism in the punk scene.

The initial article was posted on Collapse Board and received a lot of coverage and comments.

I wrote a follow up article on my music blog, Don’t Dance Her Down Boys, responding to some of the comments I received from the first article.

It is an issue that I feel strongly about and aim to write more about in the near future.

I don’t always get paid for my work, so if you’ve liked my pieces and want me to write more you can donate a couple pennies to keep me going in between paid work.

Our Plastic Brits

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Originally posted at Black Feminists UK
As someone who would rather sit on a barb wire chair in a locked room filled with the undeniably terrible sounds of Simply Red than do anything sports related the Olympics is a hard subject for me to tackle.
It’s boring, I don’t understand it and seeing all those toned, muscley thighs just make me feel insecure about my podgy, wobbly thighs. It isn’t my thing basically but I’m writing about it today because of a particularly vile brand of ‘othering’ that is being committed at the moment.
The Daily Mail has decided to unleash an aggressive campaign against athletes who will be competing in this summer’s Olympics who they have called, the new xenophobic phrase of the year, ‘Plastic Brits’.
The Mail have been going at the whole “they’re not from round these parts” bit for a while and their previous headlines on the subject include “Why we need plastic surgery”, “Team GB have ended up with a bunch of foreign wrestlers, I wish they would all shove off” and “London 2012 will be ruined by the call for plastic Brits”.
They take particular issue with Tiffany Porter, an American athlete who has dual nationality, and her appointment as the captain of Team GB at the World Indoor Championships in Turkey.
Jonathan McEvoy, Daily Mail reporter, complained: “British athletics played fast and loose with our national identity on Thursday by appointing as captain a ‘Plastic Brit’ who would not — or cannot — recite the words of God Save The Queen.”
Despite the fact that Porter has held a British passport since birth, her mother is British and her father Nigerian, the reporter still believes that she is not British enough, not worthy enough and certainly not one of us.
The use of meaningless, emotive notions of Britishness to show that she is not “one of us” is a cheap shot that I would hope that most people would see through but I fear they actually will not. The whole God Save The Queen line was thrown in so the average man / woman on the street would read it and cry “She CAN’T sing our national anthem. She WON’T sing our national anthem. Well then she’s not British enough, she’s not worthy enough, she’s certainly not one of us.
The term itself is so blatantly xenophobic and anti-foreign that I’m truly shocked that it has been repeated so widely in the media. We cannot accept this blatant attempt to set up an “other” for us to ridicule, mock and blame all our ills on. If Britain perform badly I’d bet a million quid that Porter and the other ‘plastics’ get to enjoy the blame for the British loss all by themselves. How lucky for them. Of course, being a hypocritical nation at our core, if we do well you know who will be the first to get a knighthood. “Our” Plastic Brits of course.