Rest in perfect peace dear Toni: Toni Morrison 1931 -2019

Just goes to show how it’s important to keep up with the news here in the UK. Fed up with politicians’ indecisiveness over Brexit or/and Trump’s refusal to accept how he is responsible for stoking up right-wing hatred towards people of colour and different faiths, so I find myself these days reading books and watching too much TV. But today I decided I should check out The Guardian online to read the cultural section and I see a photo of Toni Morrison. It was just her face I saw but I was unable to see the caption under the photo. I repeatedly press the keys to scroll down but my laptop is so stupidly slow but eventually I get there and my worst suspicions are confirmed.  

I discovered Toni’s books some thirty-odd years ago, in a popular black book shop in Tottenham. The first one I bought was Tar Baby. I must have been fourteen when I got this book; I have to be honest and say that I didn’t understand the deeper meanings but I felt it spoke to me in a way other literature did not such as, hair straightening, skin colour (being light skin or dark-skinned) and the ‘friendships’ between black and whites – whether they could ever be real? Issues which I experienced and wondered about, in my life. 

But what was strange – Toni was writing about African Americans in America and yet some of the themes in the book I bought, resonated even though I was of West Indian parentage, born in London.  I thought from the little I understood, how audacious and brave of Toni to write about our issues. Some years later I picked up the book Tar Baby again and just opened to a page to where the narrator explains the protagonist Jardine’s love for Son;

Gradually she came to feel unorphaned. He cherished and safeguarded her.

Reading this is similar to drinking my favourite drink, then pausing to savour every moment.

The second book I read was The Bluest Eye.  Now, this book, I was able to understand. It was so beautiful in its brutal honesty; making it clear to me it was not my fault I had an inferiority complex and that as a result, I disassociated myself from me. I understood clearly it had been imposed on me with neither my consent or permission! I found the book very moving and disturbing in how she was able to say, what was considered, the unthinkable, with ease.

Four years ago, I bought my daughter God Help the Child and she loved it, as she felt it was so pertinent to Black women and in particular to young Black women.

So, thank you, Toni, for all that you have done and helping to put the struggle out there and thanks, for being unapologetic because you have dedicated your talent and commitment to writing about Black people.  I know your soul will rest in perfect peace.  

Welcoming 2019

A Happy New Year! Yes, I am late, but it is better late than never. 2018 was an interesting year which happened very quickly, which I would like to reflect on.

My mother passed away three years ago, and sorting out the estate has finally come to an end. Due to inheritance tax, no Will provided by my parents and other accumulated expenses, me and my siblings have no choice but to sell the family property which has been with us for the past 38 years. It makes my heart drop each time I think about it, but I must accept this.

Whilst working with the solicitor, I decided to attend a writing course in my area to provide me with some distractions. There are seven of us which includes the tutor, and each would read out about six hundred words from our writings and give feedback.

The environment was totally outside my comfort zone and yet it felt safe and supportive. But what was more helpful, the group liked my work and were keen to hear more. Just before Christmas, all members of the group plus other members attending the classes in the college put on a performance evening which I attended. Unfortunately, I chickened out and did not want to read my work but after the readings, I met someone who was planning to hold a masterclass on appropriation and writing i.e., whether writers have the right to write or imagine experiences of people who are not of the same race or the same class as themselves.

I decided to sign up as what I was writing about involved race and included some aspects of class-ism. I also attended another writers’ group in Hackney which was just for women.

The point of attending this group was to still get out of my comfort zone and to listen to different points of views with regards to my writing. I guess when you are writing, it is a good feeling when someone says that your work is ‘nice’ but most times you want constructive criticisms, which I am always free to accept or reject. I have decided now to discontinue attending these groups as I want to get back to writing the remaining of my memoir and perhaps, I might return when the work is complete.

I celebrated my 60th birthday in 2018; my husband not only put on a surprise birthday party at a restaurant but also included a power point presentation to talk about my life! The weird thing is that I have spent most of my time supporting my family, (with no regret) but I feel the time has come, especially as the ‘kids’ have grown, for me to pursue my interests. And one of those interests is writing.

A week ago, I saw a documentary on the Black British writer Andrea Levy. I have four of her novels. I have also watched the drama Small Island and recently shown on the BBC, The Long Song. But towards the end of the documentary, I was saddened to learn that Andrea is undergoing cancer treatment. She has had cancer for some time and managed to chase it away but this time around, it has returned and is ‘incurable’.  Hence why she has not written since The Long Song was published in 2004.

She had been rightfully focusing on her health and accepted her fate. She courageously stated on camera her outcome and did not want to elaborate any further.

Andrea and I are the same age, the same generation, of West Indian descent and we are Black Britons. I felt Small Island, although applicable to my parents’ generation, spoke to me along with her other early novels, especially Never Far from Nowhere.  She told ‘our’ stories with such beauty and dignity, but they are also stories which ‘speaks’ to those who feel that the term ‘British’ can only apply to the English population.

But the other thing which really hit me whilst watching the documentary is how life can be annoyingly short when you least expect it; that life, may not start at the beginning but can begin in the ‘middle’ or what some people may consider the ‘end’ (‘Oh! You don’t want to do that now…aren’t you too old for that!!).

So, although I don’t usually carry out my resolutions, my plan for this new year is to finish writing my memoir, take up some physical activity and improve my cooking skills. I want to continue with my prayers and constantly ask for guidance and support, but I’ve now merged my prayers with meditation. I hope to increase my sense of peace and understanding of myself.

If I am to summarize 2018 with two words, it would be change and acceptance:

  • Having to sell off the property that has been with the family, since – but learning to accept the inevitable.
  • Continuing with prayers but now including meditation. Embracing who I am and know I still have a long way to go!
  • Learning that age really is a number and life is too short.
  • Even if my writing will never be a good as my favorite writers, that it does not mean I do not have the ability to write. I should be more accepting of my abilities and have belief in myself.
  • That I am responsible for my health and well-being.

I am sure there is more.  But this is what I will focus on for the time being. This new year will ‘move’ just as quickly as the previous year, but I intend to be more conscious of time, my health, my writing, and my life.

I will continue to ask for support and peace in my prayers. I also pray that for you, this year will be successful, peaceful, healthy and good.

 

Happy New Year Everyone!

Happy 100th Nelson Mandela: What I know now.

I’ve finished watching the last of the documentaries on celebrating ‘Nelson Mandela, One Hundred‘; I thought I knew all I needed to know about the man, about the country, about Apartheid, the tortures and the atrocities, but I was wrong.

This time around I realise just how close he was to all the saints we know and that probably (although not in my life time), he’ll be made a saint. I also learnt that my other idol, Maya Angelou died not too long after Mandela. I wondered if when she wrote the poem His Day is Done that some six months later, it would also apply somewhat, to herself.

His benevolence, tolerance and altruism reminded me that I still need to be more forgiving, to be a much better listener and more importantly, that it’s ok to have high standards, just as long as I realise to temper those standards when applying to people and situations.

What Mandela’s freedom did for me could almost be equated with being cleansed by the blood of Christ. If not for Mandela’s victory election, as a black person I would not have been able to live in South Africa and had all those incredible experiences. I am so grateful Nelson. Happy 100th and you should know, that we will never forget you.

 

Rest in Peace: Joe Jackson, Father to the Jackson 5

I have just finished reading an obituary of Joe Jackson, father of The Jackson Five in The Guardian newspaper. But it is expected that such a monstrous article would focus on Joe’s lack of compassion and concentrate instead, on the cruelties he inflicted upon his ten children. Of course it would ignore that Joe had to feed his family on a paltry wage he received from working as a crane worker at a steel plant in Gary, Indiana; it would also ignore the everlasting poverty, the racism that was always there ready to inflict its hatred on anything which tried to be successful.

I guess what is probably frustrating for the author is how Joe was totally unapologetic and neither ashamed of his parenting methods. He was hard and unrelenting but as crude as he might have been, he basically did what he had to do.

I can understand Joe Jackson. If MJ were still alive, he would have been the same age as myself. My parents, in particular my father, was incredibly ambitious and persistent. He refused to accept that as he left the sugar plantation estate in the West Indies cutting cane, he did not leave for the UK so that I could become a typist or my brothers would be bus drivers. To him, education was the be-all and end-all. I was not allowed to go to parties, have boyfriends, my head had to be buried in books at all times. I can remember, gazing at my father with astonishment as he declared that he wanted me to go to University.  Go to University?  Was he for real?

Unfortunately, myself and my brothers experienced either lashings via the leather belt or had a copy of The Yellow Pages crashing down on our skulls! This happened several times to me and I decided that it was not going to happen again so I did what he wanted.

Yes, at the time I considered my father to be an unforgiving brute! He was aggressive towards my mother and his sisters. He did not suffer fools, whether they were as dark as he or any other colour.  He was not scared. When the infamous Notting Hill riots took place some months after I was born, he participated. Clearly, depending on one’s point of view or politics, my Dad was far from perfect.

As a result of failing my exams and being really fed up of the whole thing, I mustered up the courage to confront my father and tell him that I wanted to go to work. My father was angry but accepted if I wanted this, then so be it but…whilst I lived under his roof and worked, he never gave up in continuously reminding me of the mistake I was making.

After a year of working at a job I found locally, I remember feeling bored, feeling how mundane and repetitive the job was. It was then, it occurred to me that if this was work or my future with regards to work, I did not want this. It was then, that my father’s ambition became my own. So while I worked I went to three evening classes per week. I did this for a year before applying as a mature student to a University. I never heard a whisper from my father again, instead I received his blessings and respect while I lived at the family house. And as for my mother, she played the ‘good cop’ to my father’s ‘bad cop’; she supported and loved his ambition and respected him as a good caretaker.

For those who want to crucify Joe Jackson for how he brought up his family, one thing that cannot be ignored, if Joe Jackson was not the parent he was, no matter how bad (Bad – such a great track) we most certainly would not have had the Jackson 5, we couldn’t have known Michael Jackson, and the latest Janet Jackson CD, the fantastic Unbreakable simply would not have existed.

I doff my cap to Mr Jackson, for his strength, his endurance, for his determination and ambition. It is clear that if he did not possess these qualities, the world would never have witnessed such a phenomenon as the Jackson Five which was and still is, the first of a kind.

The Spear has fallen

There is nothing the apartheid government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known ~ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

I was talking to my husband this morning when I saw the banner running under the program on the TV.  It said Winnie Mandela had passed away. This strong, defiant beautiful incredible activist is no longer with us. Her struggle had to be the toughest, fighting the oppressive apartheid system, immured in a jail cell and separated for years from her dearly beloved, the great Madiba – Nelson Mandela.

My slight contact with the Mother of the Nation was during the time I lived in Johannesburg in 1994. My husband and I owned a boutique in the Sandton area of Jo’berg and at some point Mrs Mandela visited the shop. Unfortunately I was not there but my manager was present.  Another time when I almost was near is when we participated in a fashion show. The clothes from our boutique were used by the organisers to promote African wear and fashions. In fact, clothes were loaned from a number of shops.

Taking the clothes back stage to help with the models, I remember walking across the stage and someone calling out to me that Winnie is taking her place in the audience. I stopped to look. I could see in the distance, a woman wearing a long gown, her hair was a curly Afro and she was talking, smiling. When the lights went out and the show began, I took my seat in one of the front rows. It was a great show and I was pleased with the way our clothes were displayed and looked on the models. When the show had to come to an end, my manager went back stage to collect the clothes and I went to greet Mrs Mandela but when I got to where she sat, she had left.

Dear Winnie, you did what you came to do and made long-lasting achievements. You were truly a blessing to South Africans and will remain in their hearts forever. I offer my condolences to loved ones and know that your gentle soul now quietly rests.

Darcus Howe: A Titan of a Man

 

Just found out by browsing through WordPress that Darcus Howe, the black British activist passed away at the beginning of this month.

 

Darcus was an interesting character: he was fearless, intelligent and articulate and never suffered fools. He passionately campaigned against racism and injustice for as long as I can remember. Constantly on TV, and so able to defend himself, I saw him as Briton’s answer to Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. I would regularly watch his programmes and documentaries, and enjoyed especially those that took him to the West Indies.

 

I know in our family he was considered a controversial figure – you either loved or hated him but you could never dismiss him. He was a warrior devoted to stamping out injustice, a stalwart supporter of the black cause which he refused to compromise.  I was just so glad, that he was there.  To speak UP.

 

Darcus, you have been tireless in keeping up the good fight, but it’s time to say goodbye, and for us to thank you for all that you’ve done. Be at peace in knowing that we, the community will always be grateful and you will never be forgotten.

 

 

Casting Black Brits for African American movie roles: Does Samuel L Jackson have a point? I think he does.

So Samuel L. Jackson is not happy about black Brits being cast for African American roles in American movies. He was interviewed on a radio show a few days ago and his comments about giving the role to a Black Briton playing Martin Luther King in the film Selma, he said: I tend to wonder what that movie would have been with an American brother who really feels that.

I think he was a bit provocative, making surreptitious remarks about how ‘interracial dating’ had been happening in the UK for ‘hundreds of years’ which I believe is another way of saying — the Black British community have sold out by marrying out! I could be wrong, but putting that aside, does he have a point? I believe he does. I know I shouldn’t agree with him as I am a Black Brit and would feel pleased that my own brothers and sisters are out there, making it in La La Land. We know Hollywood has a lot more to offer than perhaps what you’d find in the UK film industry, hence the reason why Black Brits are in Hollywood but we should use the opportunity to address the industry’s failure in creating parts or roles for Black actors.

But I also understand there are lots of African American actors who are finding it difficult to get a break. When this story was released, in the comments section of an article I was reading, a poster said they felt they believed the reason for hiring Black Brits was more than capability and experience, it was about the fascination some viewers had for the delivery of the English language and how it assuaged those who want to see something of themselves, even if it’s delivered from someone of a different colour or race. But is this a good reason to be hiring from abroad?

I’ve experienced something similar to this but it wasn’t acting, it was TV presenting.

The year was 1995 and my family had emigrated the previous year to live in Jo’burg, South Africa. We just had our first Christmas and I had just given birth to a baby girl. One day I was shopping at our local mall and I was with my six year old son who annoyingly was running up and down the aisles looking for sweets to put into the shopping basket. I called out to him, telling him to stop when suddenly, a man stood in front of me. He was slightly bald and had a round chubby face which was edged with a thick beard.

‘That’s a London accent…’ he said with an English accent and an impish smile. I stepped back and glared. ‘Are you from London?’ he continued.

‘Yes! I am.’ I confirmed. I was about to walk around him when he began to tell me that he was a TV director, currently working on a popular show on a TV station. He went straight to the point and asked if I’d done any TV work. I said no, wondering where all this was going. He quickly introduced himself as James and told me briefly, about the programme.

‘Have you seen it?’ he asked. No I said, I hadn’t. He continued telling me that he liked my diction and that I had a good accent and if I would consider presenting this show as for months they have been looking for new and suitable presenter.

Are you for real, are you joking? I wondered, considering I had not said much. He seemed to know what I was thinking as he removed a piece of paper from his pocket, apologising at the same time for not having a business card and wrote down his number. He said I should call him soon, then left. I stood in the middle of the shopping area, staring at the paper in my hand with people walking pass on either side of me. My son had managed to put all the sweets he wanted into the shopping basket. I went to the supermarket to buy some food items then went home.

I asked my domestic lady, Queen, if she had heard of this show and she shook her head. I waited patiently for my husband to come home and when he did, he said I should go for it, call the number and say that I’m interested. Internet had just come out, and we were waiting for our modem to be installed and although we had a telephone, we did not have any directories so I could not locate the studio.

The following day I called the number. James told me to write down the address and we agreed to meet in two days’ time as he wanted to discuss the programme plus introduce me to his crew.

The TV station was located in a quiet suburb and not difficult to find. James met me in the lobby area and took me to a room where I met his crew — the camera man, producer, assistant, researcher. We sat in a semi-circle and discussed over tea and coffee. They explained to me about the programme, its format, the episodes and locations. When the meeting had finished and I agreed to host this programme despite the fact I had not done anything like this and I was intrigued by the fact they had faith in me. They seemed impressed with my speaking voice and strangely made me feel as though I was some sort of phenomenon, as though they didn’t think it possible to speak the Queens English — that is, if you were black. But hey! I wasn’t complaining. After all, I was going to be on television!

I participated in about five episodes until it was time for my family to leave. My husband was offered a job in another country and the decision to move was sudden and we argued about it, as obviously I wanted to stay! But he was worried about the increasing crime; a week earlier, he had been mugged and earlier still, Queen had caught someone lurking in the garden during the night, so he was concerned. Of course, the intruder in the garden got to me so I eventually agreed that we should leave.

I found presenting nerve racking as well as interesting. It enabled me to see more of Johannesburg and to engage with all sorts of people. There wasn’t an auto-cue to follow, just a speech prepared for me which I had to rehearse; I practiced pronouncing African names of areas and asked Queen to help me with pronunciation. The response from viewers were positive, to the point that producers/directors from other programmes and advertisements approached me. I realised it was possible for me do voice-over work, something I would have not considered if I’d still been in the UK. Around about this time my mother joined us from London to see her new grandchild. She was amazed as well as proud that her daughter’s presence and voice on this TV show could be heard across the land. She would be on the phone to my father daily just going on about her granddaughter and her daughter.

Some months later after we had emigrated, my husband had to return to Joburg to attend a conference. He told me whilst being there, there was a demonstration by Black South Africans, as a programme on the same TV station had hired a black presenter from the UK. She was well-spoken and experienced but the local people wanted her removed. Their argument was that white South Africans should make do with black talent and not hand the jobs to black foreigners just because they ‘speak better’.

At the time, when I heard this I thought it was unfair and felt bad for the presenter, as she was promptly taken off air. But when I returned to Jo’burg some years later, there were a number of South African born black presenters on a variety of TV stations. They were good; they were able to switch with ease from English to the indigenous languages; their English was accented but it made sense that they should speak and sound like the environment there were in. It does not make sense to speak in a voice that is too dissimilar to the majority of the population. If they want presenters to be more polished, then education and training should be provided. The viewers or audience should be made to accommodate and accept.

I could understand why James did what he did and why he wanted me. Hiring me was his way of holding on to his ‘standards’ as explained previously but at the same time when attending the station’s board meetings, he had to meet the criteria of having ‘black’ people on his programme to justify it be shown on TV.

The Black Brits that S L Jackson refers to are good actors, and were ‘good’ well before they began doing American movies. This should not be dismissed and we should be confident and proud that if they are called to play a part, we know they will do it justice. However, home grown talent should likewise be exploited and never overlooked. African Americans have truly had it tough and it would be crazy if they are not considered because directors prefer an actor purely because they are from abroad and speak a certain way.