What will 2017 bring?

I know that it is considered taboo to speak or write about a member of family that you are having problems with. I remember some years ago reading an article in The Guardian, by a well known journalist, who had a troublesome son. She went into detail about his addiction with drugs, and I guess she was perplexed as to what to do about it. She probably felt that writing about it was cathartic for her.  But there was a massive backlash from readers – it wasn’t just from Guardian readers or The Daily Mail readers, presenters from the tv programme, The View all complained and said it was completely out of order.

I also got up on my high horse and agreed with everyone else. But today, as I write this, when I just found out my Uncle, from my mother’s side has passed away, is also when I find out that my son has been disrespecting his Uncles and other members of the family. Threatening to hit them and abusing them. He is in his late twenties.

He might have BPD; he diagnosed this himself by completing one of those online questions but he doesn’t want to do anything about it other shut himself up in his room. His anger comes quickly to the point that he could physically hurt someone, so everyone has to step carefully around him when speaking to him.  And I guess really, the most frustrating thing is, knowing what to do. He’s been to several counsellors but he doesn’t find them of use. We pray about it but we feel as though we are losing our grip on the situation. I just hope that this new year, will be kind to us; we hope that our son can find the peace that he is looking for.

Have a peaceful year, everyone.

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Cilla Black

Gosh! Memories. I must have been just six years old when I heard Cilla’s Any One who had a Heart. I loved it so much that my father took me to the record shop in Stamford Hill and he bought it for me. It was the beginning of us regularly buying records. About a year later, my parents bought a radiogram, again, purchased from a large electronics shop in Stamford Hill and I played this 7” record non-stop.

Radiogram

It is difficult to know at such a young age why I liked this record so much: was it the passion she injected or the way it trailed off at the end? I was also too young to know that the song written by Burt Bacharach and sung originally by my mother’s favourite, Dionne Warwick was released first. But no matter, it was Cilla’s version that was truly embedded in my mind; that each time the song is mentioned or is covered by someone else, Cilla’s voice comes to mind.

Cilla

My condolences to Cilla’s family and may she rest in perfect peace.

Can living a lie be ‘passed’ off as living real: The Rachel Dolezal matter

The Rachel Dolezal story is an interesting one.  Her story forces me back to my past, the late 70s when I was a teenager growing up in Tottenham, North London.  For as long as I can remember, the black community would battle its way against racism as well as fighting to hold onto its self-respect and dignity.  The encounters it experienced from the host community were many, but the one which intrigued me the most were those who hustled to befriend you, that is, to be you. Dreadlock-Hairstyles

The girls I moved around with were black but there was a white girl, who also used to hang with us.  Her name was Norma.  She was pale in complexion, sported long blonde dreadlocks which she bunched up under a large tam bearing the colours of the Jamaican flag.  Ackee and salt fish (a traditional Jamaican dish) was her favourite meal; Jamaican patois poured from her mouth as if its origins began there. We’d all meet up after school and most times our activities would involve roaming from each other’s house to the next and purposely checking out the High Rd (just so we didn’t miss the opportunity of accidentally bumping into some guy we were hoping to meet).   Another one of our regular haunts was visiting the many record shops in the area.  Norma would show off her knowledge on the latest reggae ‘tunes’, and could tell you about the forthcoming ‘pre-release’.  Added to all these qualities was her relationship with black guys.  They liked her.  And if there was any resentment on our part, it was how we automatically melted into the background when she was around.  She acted as if it was all natural to her.  No one would confront her with any of this but we would discuss it behind her back.

There would be the odd occasion where she was challenged.  During her predatory moments, when she was interested in a guy, it didn’t matter on whose toes she trod. Girls, whose boyfriends she took, would face her at one of the disco’s or at the local park where the fight would take place. In fact, when she was involved in a fight, it would not meet its expected conclusion. Guys would get involved and break it up before any damage was done.  On another occasion, she was confronted by black girl named Rita from Stamford Hill. Rita had a reputation as a bully and she was also a good fighter.  At one of the discos, Rita confronted Norma about her identity.   black female dread

“And what do you look like?”  Rita scowled with contempt.  Norma just laughed with her locks swinging from side to side. Her blithe response was fearless. Rita, built like a tank could have floored Norma, easily.  But as with Rita and the rest of us, there was an assumed feeling like some sort of edict, that physically attacking Norma would result in her parents, our parents and the police descending on you. In the days where Child Line was yet to be born, getting ‘lix’ from your parents was a fear, far greater than other parents or the police!  Norma was sacrosanct: an untouchable, where she could do whatever she wanted and they’d be no consequences from us nor interference from her own community.  Just as a pretender who has usurped the throne from its rightful Queen and remains unsurpassed, was like Norma.  And just like a Queen holding court, she would ridicule her conquests and be untroubled by her defeats; she would inject and impose her opinions on top of our views while editing our experiences.

At times she would make it hard for us to criticise her when there were injustices. It would make her angry when young black men were being stopped and searched by the police or, pitied hard-working immigrants who could never satisfy the relentless criticism.  And just like anyone of us, she was also contradictory.  There were moments when her actions worked for us?  I remember an incident which took place not too far from the Gestetner factory on Tottenham Hale, when one of us were called names by an elderly white woman. I remember Norma charging towards the woman, snatching her hat from her head and hitting her continuously with it.  A crowd closed in as we all watched her belt the woman with suRachel Dolezalch fury.   It was incredulous to believe that Norma was doing this, on our behalf.  We told her to stop, as the incident was taking place on the High street somebody was bound to have called the police.   We dragged Norma away and the woman quickly retreated into one of the shops.  I remember seeing the woman again, a week later. Maybe she recognized me, I don’t know, but she took one look, and crossed to the other side of the road.

Years later, one of the friends in the group, Brenda, told me she saw Norma in Enfield Town.  She said Norma had married an English man and had two children.  With the dreadlocks and patois gone, she spoke in a Standard English accent about her eldest getting into university and wanting the family to move to a better area.  She appeared happy and satisfied but she did not ask any questions of us or the guys.  Brenda, tempted to ask for her mobile number to arrange a reunion of sorts, sensed Norma’s disinterest to be reacquainted with the past.  In fact, Norma wished her all the best when saying good-bye. ‘It felt final’, Brenda said ‘as if she didn’t expect to see me again.’

Brenda and I explored this.  We remembered she did not have a good relationship with her family and perhaps found sanctuary in the people she moved around with. Being us, or having another identity perhaps enabled her to escape the shackles of her own life. Our readiness to accommodate her without question is what she embraced.  Norma mimicking us or appropriating our culture, I did not see it as a threat because deep down, we all knew it wasn’t for real. How could it be?  You could not compare her to the level Rachel Dolezal took it. Norma heading the Race Relations board or becoming a lecturer on Black Studies at Middlesex Poly by ticking the wrong ethnicity box? I don’t think so.  I remember the time when we no longer saw Norma.  We wondered what had happened to her. We called at her home where she had lived with her parents (they said she had moved out and staying with a relative, which I didn’t believe) checked her last boyfriend and she was nowhere to be seen. I think somewhere within us all we were not surprised.  If I were to hazard a guess, perhaps black life was becoming too real. It was time to get rid of the disguise, since it had served its purpose, and head to the suburbs.white dreadlocks

As for Rachel Dolezal, she had given lectures on black hair, helped to fight some of the injustices faced by the black community.  You could say she had good intentions but spoilt it all by stating in one video that she is black. She used her make over, her knowledge to transition herself to secure a top job with the NAACP.   But as one African-American writer Alicia Walters writes, ‘the black identity cannot be put on like a pair of shoes’. Norma did this and Dolezal is still doing this.  I welcome Dolezal’s concern but I’m not sure whether pretending to be black or culturally nicking bits and pieces of a culture is the way to go about things. There are a number of white people who similarly hate injustices meted out to ethnic minorities but don’t find it necessary to pretend to be something they are not.  Also I feel the dishonesty reduces the seriousness of a people’s experiences as well as mocking them.

The other key thing whilst practicing Mindfulness Meditation, you realise that you eventually learn to embrace and love who you are. As someone who has struggled over the years against the pervasive, dominant images that I see from the press and print media, forcing me to rework my look, hoping that one day, the reflection in the mirror will return the ‘look’ I want.  Trying to exist in someone else’s image does not lead you anywhere. So whether I braid or relax my hair, I will always look like me.  Rachel, I hope you’re listening…

Readers visiting my blog about Scotland – for the wrong reasons!!

Wow! I’m getting so many ‘reads’ on my Experiences: Moving to Scotland which I wrote some years ago. I guess readers are not just visiting because of the referendum that is taking place as I write this but I’ve received a number of visits as readers (in the past and present) are keen to see if my article is about the business of meeting black women in Scotland. A dating site? hmm! I don’t think so! But I’m sure as they read the blog or when they have finished reading, they realise that my article has nothing do with ‘dating’ but just as the title of my site states, it’s about my experiences of life, generally.  The blog is about the time when my family and I lived in Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire, just outside Glasgow.

We didn’t spend a long time there as I had a longing for London.  However, I was impressed with how friendly the Scots were and the embarrassing thing was I went there with the notion of not expecting anything, dare I say, of a standard ie., at the back of my mind, Glasgow would look ‘inferior’ to London but it did not.  Living there was a great experience but it still did not match my London.

And while talking about Scotland, I wish them all the best, especially, if it’s a Yes.  If it’s No, then I guess Alex Salmond has to go back to drawing board because I don’t believe he will give up.

 

The Great Mandela is now at peace

Mr Mandela, sadly, you have now left us. I want to thank you for all you have done for your people; for avoiding a civil war and allowing peace to reign. But I also know that if it were not for you, I would not have been allowed, as a black woman, to emigrate to South Africa in 1994. I had the pleasure of living in your beautiful country for two years, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

You will be missed and you will never be forgotten. Go and enjoy your well deserved rest and may the Almighty Father bless your wonderful soul.

Can’t he make friends with who he likes: Denzel Washington and white actors in Hollywood.

When I lived in South Africa, I used to own a boutique selling African outfits. I was not around when Denzel Washington and his wife visited the shop but the following day my staff told me that he was exceptionally nice and gracious and took an interest in what the shop had to offer. Please don’t think that I’m his newly appointed publicist but I do feel he has rights: the right to be who he is and the right to live his life how he wants, without being answerable to anyone. I’m referring to the article that was written in the British Guardian, sometime in January, this year. The article was an interview with Washington about his movie, Flight.

The article, written by Xan Brooks, did not just go on about the finer qualities of Denzel or how spectacular an actor he is but talked about how he did not have actor friends, in particular, white actor friends. It was also revealed how he was a committed Christian and devoted family man. Since the article was written, there has been a flurry of responses from various online sites, such as YahooMovies and the Perez Hilton site; emphasis being on Washington’s supposed reluctance to ‘mix’. As one can imagine, his comments has caused an uproar in Hollywood. According to YahooMovies, when the interview was taking place, Washington’s publicist sat in on the interview and said Washington did add about his ‘friendship with various white stars’. But Mr. Brooks’s clarified in another article that there was no publicist who sat in on the interview and how he stood by his article. Mr. Brooks’s also uploaded an audio recording of the interview, just to prove that Washington was not provoked and neither were words put in his mouth.

What I found annoying is that as Mr. Brooks chose to include Washington’s comments in the article, why did he not bother to find out if Washington held a similar policy towards black actors? Also, Brooks could have inquired if, perhaps, in the early days of Washington’s acting career when he was looking for jobs in Hollywood, was it hard for him as an African-American to find work? Were the directors, producers, casting agents, fellow white actors giving him a hard time? Or Brooks could have asked how relevant is Christianity to his life ie, if being a committed Christian has enabled him to work in Hollywood but still remain dutifully married and keep his integrity intact? Mr. Brooks could have developed this article but he chose not to, leading me to think that he was up to mischief. I wonder if he had interviewed say, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino or Warren Beatty, whether he would have asked if they had any black actor/non-actor friends.

I don’t know Mr. Washington but reading about him over the years in not just The Guardian but other quality newspapers, he comes across as no-nonsense, committed to his family and Christianity and chooses to hang out with friends from his past. Because of the nature of being in show business, he’s probably selective about whom he chooses to be friends with, whether they are white, black, Latino etc. He describes himself as a working actor as opposed to being a celebrity and I really don’t see anything wrong with that. But judging from all the furore, it proves that still, if you are black and have two Oscars under your belt plus a ton load of money, you may not be able to make as many choices as you would like.

Things that Black people do

I had an interesting conversation the other day.  A Nigerian friend of mine was proudly telling me he’d been invited to lunch by his English neighbour. In fact he was part of a selected few that this neighbour had invited; and this friend whom I shall call Ade, felt honoured to be included. The reason for the lunch was so that the neighbour could say good bye to these chosen few who all lived in the same road, and also he was celebrating his move out of Chingford into Essex.  According to Ade, the discussion was dominated by the neighbour’s reasons for moving out. ‘Too much of the wrong sort coming into the area’ and ‘Chingford has changed for the worse’, were some of the comments Ade said the man had made.  I asked Ade how could he stay to listen to such nonsense. He gave me a look as if I’d missed the point and said he agreed there was too much of the wrong sort in the area. ‘Wrong sort? I said. I didn’t understand. ‘When you say ‘wrong sort’, do you mean people like us?’ He laughed.  But I didn’t. He continued. ‘Well you know what I mean.  When I moved here I was one of the first blacks to be living in this street. Now, there are so many. Wanting to play loud music, having parties going on all night – whether they’re Africans like me or West Indians, it’s too much.  We don’t know how to behave.’  Wow, I thought, I was speechless. I should have had a quick ready answer but the strange thing was my silence prevented me from making further comments as he was probably the umpteenth Black person I’d met who held this viewpoint. 

 

As someone born and bred in Tottenham but have lived in places like Manchester, Scotland and Croydon, I drive through areas like Winchmore Hill and Mill Hill in North London and realise that the Black people you see walking around actually live in these areas.   Nothing wrong with that. We have been here long enough to expect that will happen.  But in Tottenham, where once the community was very connected: everybody knew everyone whether one was a Jamaican or Guyanese, there was some degree of unity.  When I went to a talk given by Professor Paul Gilroy (promoting his new book Black Britain) a month ago, he said that unfortunately Black Britons had made little progress in the last thirty years (which he went on to elaborate that it wasn’t our fault) but when I walk around the area these days, maybe there is some truth in what he says as the community has become like a shadow of what it once was.  There are new communities which I must welcome but it seems as if we have become dislodged and weakened as a result. 

 

Those of us, who used to live in places like Tottenham, have moved out into unwelcome territories not realising that perhaps the reason White people are moving out, is simply because they want to have a neighbour who looks them and shares a culture they can identify with. They want their own space and are determined to live as they want. Again, nothing wrong with that, especially as their ‘protest’ has been non-confrontational. But there we go, chasing them wherever they go to, hoping that what? It will finally make us feel accepted or that we have achieved something?  We are better off staying in ‘our’ areas, and working to improve and strengthen our community.  We cannot have any effect or impact by living in places like Essex.