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.

My Party, along with Harry and Meghan’s Wedding

I’m not likely to watch the forthcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, this weekend as I’ll be celebrating my birthday with a party. For once, I’ll be away from the TV, preparing my speech, ironing out the creases from my special dress, satisfied that friends and family have all been notified and will turn up. My husband is responsible for the organising so I’m confident he will have everything down to a tee.

But given what I’m reading in the press about this wedding, do I want to watch this event slowly unfold into a fiasco? With step-sister Samantha Grant really laying her bitterness into Meghan, stating she (Grant) cannot be censored and refuses to be censored; Meghan’s step brother Thomas, in this statements say how Meghan is ‘conceited’ and ‘jaded’.

There are other estranged members who believe Meghan owes them and therefore deserve to be invited to the wedding. But then, there’s the father, Mr Markle. He has been accused of faking photos of himself being measured up for suits, constantly running to the media outlet TMZ saying he will walk his daughter down the aisle, then changing his mind, then changing his mind again. The latest now is that he is scheduled for a heart operation meaning that he will not be able to attend to his daughter’s wedding. The whole thing is turning into a more than tacky reality show.

The Queen is said to be angry and you can’t blame her. Although according to the feminist Germaine Greer, the royals do not want Mr Markle to be there, hoping he will be so overwhelmed by the mere idea of walking down the aisle with over a billion people watching, that he’ll pull out.  But she doesn’t say why the royals may not want Mr. Markle to attend.

The journalist and interviewer Piers Morgan wonders why the palace has not sent someone to Mr Markle to speak to him about procedures and protocol, or invite Markle to the UK where he can take part in rehearsals enabling him to feel confident on the day. I feel bad for Meghan. She must be totally mortified and pressurised under her new family’s watchful eye.

I’m confident that my day will go well, that friends and family will turn up and that on this occasion where I can celebrate reaching a milestone, it will be a day to remember. For as long as I can remember, royal weddings have always been a treasure to watch.  They are meticulously planned, with incredible music, the bride and bridegroom dressed to perfection. I really hope that Harry and Meghan have their day, uninterrupted.

Your Pastor – is it necessary for you to like him?

I was thinking of my Pastor the other day; thinking of how I found it difficult to reconcile the inconsistency of his spreading the Gospel and what I consider to be his disdain for his flock.  When I’m in church, I look around the congregation at the faces to see if they see what I see, but it’s either they are oblivious or believe it’s just typical human behavior.

It bothered me, this. My mind churning, telling me that it’s wrong to judge and depersonalise, it goes against the reason I go to church in the first place, but there are strong factors getting in the way that counters that.

It all started when I found the problems of my son were becoming too much. With a husband/father, who was abroad, it wasn’t always easy when a problem arose. My husband and I would Skype each other, but that would be several times a week. He could not do more as he was busy. So a member of the church, and a friend suggested that I should see the Pastor, Pastor John.  I went to see him and told him that for some time, my son has been experiencing depression; a talented writer, a polite person and for reasons unbeknown to me, dropped out of his final year at University. My mind picked all over to see what I had done wrong.

Pastor John listened and watched, as I held my head trying to understand.  The Pastor talked of how he saw my son walking ‘up and down’ the high street, which suggested his behaviour was odd considering the ‘good family he came from’.  It was not something he expected. Then he recounted how he led his own son from an episode of apathy towards his studies, where he ended up getting a good degree.  I looked up at his face, only to be met with a smile which tried not to be smug. Great, I thought, for his son but failed to see how this helped me with mine. Then I said to him something which quickly popped into my head, how my mother would always tell me that God does not always give you everything. He holds back on some things just so that you don’t forget what he has done for you. When a problem presents itself, you have to find a way of dealing with it.  I wondered why this comment did not enter my head before.  I raised my head and looked at the pastor; the look he gave was one of astonishment. Didn’t he think my mother was capable of meaningful statements? Our time was brought to an end and the pastor prayed about all that had taken place, and for my son.

I left the office, forlorn and worse than when I went in. all of a sudden, my vulnerability was apparent. I felt as though there was a glitch in my family leaving me with no choice but to feel embarrassed.

It was time to flag this experience as I reminded myself that I had experienced something like this before but dismissed it. About a year ago, I attended a bible studies group; there were five of us, plus the pastor.  After the meeting, we raised a sensitive subject about the progress of the church. I say ‘sensitive’ because the Pastor took it personally when you criticized the church. I said how the church has always been humble, something  I was proud to be a part of, but a few things needed to be changed. The Pastor smiled briefly, and then asked what I meant by ‘humble’. I had to stop and do a quick inventory. Did I say something offensive? No I did not, I told myself.

The church was built seventy years ago; it has a small congregation made up of predominantly elderly people who seemed to be at a place in their lives where the mortgage has more or less being paid, where visits to the Doctor are frequent, they see their grandchildren and hopefully they get a holiday once per year. I should add that in the years they have attended, they go with their partners but in the last three years, quite a few have lost their partners to ill-health.  For the widows and widowers, single parent families, the church plays an important role. If you go to the church, say, on a Tuesday morning, you can see them enjoying their game of cards or dominoes, keenly waiting for the tea break along with the sandwiches.

I also say ‘humble’ because unlike many other church services which uses PowerPoint to support the sermon and has a resident band, this church struggles. The church assistant struggling with the projector to find the hymn the same time the congregation is about to sing or, the music (The Music!!) is meagrely supplied by a sole musician, a pianist, struggling to make up for every instrument that is not there!  The choir which struggles to sing in unison rather than four point harmony. Perhaps I’m asking for too much but the point is no one complains, the congregation is happy with this. So yes, ‘humble’ it is, but I feel that it could do with some changes.

He said he was confused with the word ‘humble’. As far as he was concerned it was progressing, and up to date. But I added that perhaps the reason why the church failed to attract new people, young people was that it was just too…serious. I realised that it was superficial for a church to have technology in order to present itself as professional, but the church had reached a position that it did not want to leave, sort of trapped in its comfort zone. The other members looked on, thinking I had said too much. Pastor John shook his head wearily and made a frown. He said he would think about it and that we’d have another meeting to discuss the matter. As I said, this was a year ago.

Leaving the Pastor to get ready for the evening session, another thing that came to mind. A few people talked of when he or they are outside the church, say shopping or on the local bus, he has tendency to ignore them. I’ve not experienced this but then I realise I would not because my husband is a lecturer and he respects this. As I head towards my car, I pause and inhale this new revelation. I should have realised. When he subtly drops the hint of wanting to visit us, I always say, ‘Yes! Come around. I’m home most evenings.’ But he never does as he wants to be invited, and I’m not formal like that. I get into the car, start the engine, allowing the engine to run as I marinate these new thoughts.

I like my church, despite its humbleness. I like the people; some of whom I have known since school or they have lived in the area for some time. So I’m not looking to leave even though some people will probably feel that is my best option. But I go to church for a good reason: to hear the Word, to hear God’s message. Something that will help me to cope with the new, up and coming week or some ongoing problem.  Sometimes I win the jackpot where the sermon delivered hits it right on the nail i.e. I hear my message or answer. But there are other times, I go and I leave, empty.

As I find parking space just outside the house, I learn that what has become problematic, is seeing a side of the Pastor that I feel, should not be there. I hate that I’m aware of it to the point that I fail to realise he has been ‘sent’ to do a job; and I hate the fact that it is likely to get in the way of receiving the good Word.

It would make life a lot easier if I liked and respected him. But still quoting my mother: people are people are people. They may not be perfect but they were meant to strive, be good and to auto-correct themselves as they progress. I guess there is still a lot for me to do.

 

7th July ’05 to be remembered

Yesterday, I watched on Sky News the service of those who lost their lives on 7th July ’05. 52 people died and over 700 people were injured.  The survivors and relatives of victims were at a simple ceremony at Hyde Park.  It was very moving and inspirational to listen to loved ones speak of how they have coped with loss. They were very similar to the families of the massacred African-Americans who lost their lives in the Charleston church shooting on 17th June.  Their sentiments, their strength and their forgiveness for those who carried out these atrocious acts.

I was in London when it happened but a friend of mine whose cousin’s son lost their life in the  London Underground explosion was present at today’s ceremony; and although at the time it happened, the son’s mother spoke very powerfully but today she sat, dignified and in quiet repose.  I am sorry for their loss and totally admire them for their courage and pray that the Almighty Father continues to give them strength.

Is Humour a one-sided affair: The Paris bombing.

As stated in other blogs I was born in London of West Indian parentage.  I now live in Nigeria and have done so for a number of years.  When I lived in London, amongst friends and family members, I would make jokes and people would laugh.  This did not make me a stand-up comedian but I knew I had a quick wit, a sense of humour and a sense of timing, and was able to make a joke out of a situation. I guess as a result of living in the UK and being exposed to the humour that I saw daily on TV, especially the ‘put down’ variety, was something I had gotten used to and therefore did not question.  I felt it was normal to use this same kind of humour when making jokes. But when I got to Nigeria I realised my humour was not seen as funny. My ‘jokes’ were considered acidic and unkind. I eventually got the message when I was at a function; getting carried away telling one anecdote after the other, when the couple at my table got up and sat elsewhere. On another occasion, someone who was a friend actually stopped talking to me because she couldn’t stand my ‘jokes’.  I was surprised.je suis

I had to take two steps back and realise that ‘humour’ can be a one sided affair.  After all, how can a joke be funny and inclusive if people did not get it?  And really, I should know better, that is, not getting the joke or more to the point, when a joke is mocking me.  If I dig into my past and relive some of those toe-cringing experiences, it would be similar to going to a theatre house, where I am the only black person seated amongst a white audience, and on walks the comedian say, Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning, where a large chunk of their material is making jokes about black people etc. I laugh, but with some element of shame at the fact that I am the butt of their jokes! The rest of the audience is satisfied that I ‘see’ the joke but when everything comes to an end and I’m left with my thoughts; I feel humiliated, demeaned, disarmed and powerless followed by the emotion of anger. I’m not, as I said, a comedian nor satirist; I don’t have key contacts or belong to any institutions that can support or protect me. Of course, I can take refuge with family and friends, who gives me the needed support but at the end of the day, they are just as disarmed and powerless as I am.

To make it worse, when I complain to my white friends, they fob me off as suffering from the classic case of ‘chip on my shoulder’ syndrome.  So therein my resentment remains firm, simmering and waiting until a time comes when I can express myself. I understand that the role of humour is to let off steam, release tension.  Laughing at something that deep down is found to be threatening, humour can be the antidote that removes the sting out the bite. For those who find the whole business about immigrants/immigration threatening, humour perhaps, can give them some space between what they feel and the reality of the situation.

What happened in Paris is absolutely tragic. I feel for the journalists who were killed in the bombing and my sympathies goes out to their loved ones.  My understanding is that the magazine where the journalists worked – Charlie Hebdo – was satirical in its content and was well renowned throughout the country.  But I wonder if they went too far, in putting out their brand of humour?  Yes, freedom of speech is at the heart of democracy, but upon seeing a few of the cartoons I can understand why Muslims would be offended. However, I’m relieved that they found it abhorrent that extreme violence was used as a way of ‘correcting’ the problem. They realise, as we all realise, that no amount of provocation can ever warrant or justify violence.

I implore France to do what is right and not allow the histrionics of the Far Right to dictate the fate of the country and not see what has happened as a ‘clash of civilizations’. The New Year has just begun, but it is clear we are living in dangerous times, (as I write this, a bomb exploded killing a number of people in Baga, North East of Nigeria) we should all court tolerance and strive towards unity, if we hope to make it!

Relaxed hair verses natural hair

As a young girl growing up in Tottenham, my mother used to ‘press’ my hair. Because it was unusually long (I’m quite dark skinned so it was considered an anomaly), it didn’t make me popular amongst my black peers and of course, to white girls I was still black. But my mother insisted that I should ‘straighten’ my hair because it was time consuming if it was kept natural, and because she wanted to show me off to her friends. And in those days you didn’t challenge your parents. I was supposed to be proud of being blessed in this way but I was not. It just left me miserable. The key thing is how we, black women, so much despised who we were and our looks and wanted so much to be white – I included, even though I was not exempt by having long hair. However I do remember teachers, and some white girls commending me that I had the ‘best looking hair that they have seen a black girl’ but ‘compliments’ could only take me so far.

And of course there are the practicalities of having long straightened black hair: running out of the rain or keeping away from anything that resembles water; retouching the virgin bits of hair every three months; hair gradually falling out due to chemical left on too long or the weight of the hair being too heavy (??); when they style that you’ve worked so hard to resemble (in those days it was Farah Fawcett-Majors just ends up looking too dry and sticking out, then the whole thing is defeated.

Some thirty years on, I constantly keep my hair in braids/extensions and really love my look (after all black skin does age well). But the fight now is to convince my daughter that she should keep her hair in braids but she wants to relax her hair and look like Raven! I guess it will always be a fight to make sure that black skin/hair is fairly presented along side with long flowing curls.