Category Archives: Identity

Black Beauty

Loving this series, brought to my attention by Ms Afropolitan. Awesome to hear from this collection of Black women talking about our wonderful city of London and Black beauty.  So many things resonate with me on a personal level; particularly what Minna has to say on Black beauty in a political context, in contrast to the visual or aesthetic. Check out the London edition but the whole series is worth a look.

What say you, is there such a thing as Black Beauty?

Advertisements

Colourism; will we ever see the end of it??

I’ve read 2 articles about colourism this week.  It’s not a subject I’ve discussed in any depth on this blog but it’s one that I often discuss with my girlfriends.  Here I’ve added a link to an article which is written as a response to the other article I read earlier in the week, The Problem with Black Women.  The title alone slaps you in the face, right??

I’m not going to put my own opinion in here; I’m interested to hear what you think so please comment.  I’m up for a healthy debate on this one!

Wrong and Strong??

So, I’ve written about many things so far that I feel pertinent to me and my experience of being an African woman in, and of, the diaspora. So many topics to tackle and I’m sure I’ll get to them all at some point or another. But the one I’m finally feeling ready to tackle is hair. Black hair. Thousands of words dedicated to the topic and I’m about to add a few hundred of my own.

I’ve mentioned black hair in my other blogs; not in any great detail but I have made reference to it when I’ve described some of the elements that bond and cement friendships amongst some of us. The shared experiences of the all day hair appointment; the burnt scalps; the growing out headaches; the Sunday night hair plait session with a tired, tetchy, head-conking mum.
These experiences do not define but they are certainly part of my personal story of black womanhood.

So I’ve decided to write a series on Black hair. I will gather a group of girlfriends to share our stories and experiences which will be as diverse as we are. Together we’ll cover issues around beauty norms, identity, the politics of black hair and the journey to knowing and loving your hair.

Hopefully some of them will resonate with you.

But for now let me start with a rant and an experience.

I’m gonna start this story 15 years ago with my decision to go natural. I had relaxed hair and one christmas (you know the pre-Christmas appointment, right?) I had one of those all day, half the night appointments which had me in a hairdresser in Finsbury Park (it’s still there) from about 2.00pm to about 9.00pm. I decided to locs up that night.

So I wore my dreads for 10 years which I loved. I cut them off about 5 years ago and have been growing my hair out ever since. And I’ve loved that too.

Today I had a hair appointment at 10.00 to put some kinky twists in. I have a party tonight, a photo shoot on Monday and an event of Thursday so I thought I’d mix it up a bit, get a new do and keep my head warm. These twist out dos are great but COLD. Any way, I arrive just after 10.00. There are 3 women in front of me and 2 stylists on. Now, when I book an appointment for 10, I expect to book a stylist who will be waiting for me when I arrive. I do not expect to share or wait for one.

The owner assures me that I will be seen shortly. I am sceptical because the woman getting small cane rows is only half done; the owner is putting two big side plaits with extensions into another woman’s hair and she has another woman waiting for a weave.

I am now contemplating leaving because I am on a tight time frame; I have to be out of this place for 2.30 because me and Husband are driving to Sheffield for a party he’s DJIing at. I cannot rock up at home 2 hours cos he will lose his mind. If I commit to starting the twists, I’m committed for however long it takes. I’m also thinking now:

I’m not paying full price for this, I’m getting me a discount today

At 11.00, I’ve been waiting for pretty much an hour. The owner has called a colleague to do it for me, as long as I’m happy to go to another salon. A pain in the butt, but I’m still wanting to get this hair done so I’ll go with this woman. I ask how much she’s gonna charge me. The woman quotes me a price higher than I normally pay. I say no, this is what I normally pay. Before I have a chance to say anything else, she negotiates with her colleague. Turns back to me and I tell her I am not paying the regular price as I have been waiting for an hour. The colleague walks out the shop, clearly unprepared to be paid any less than her quoted price.

I tell the owner that she should be offering me a discount for keeping me waiting so long and putting me an hour behind schedule. She starts arguing with me. I get up, out my hat on, put my coat on and prepare to leave. She starts trying to tell me that she got me someone to do my hair, etc. I am not having this. I have been a semi-regular customer of this woman for 3 years. I had my scalp burned in there before (I should never have gone back after that). I had my wedding hair done in there. If you keep me waiting for an hour, you offer a discount. So this woman is trying to ‘wrong and strong. And I leave.

Furious.

I have never walked out of a hairdresser before but I am sick to the back teeth of this kind of service and the presumption that my time is not valuable; you can keep me waiting an hour, not offer a discount and expect me to be happy with that.

That is not happening.

There are many things I could say about this experience. I’m angry because I do not want to be forced to go through this every time I visit a hair salon. I’m angry because, as a paying customer, I expect to be treated professionally and reasonably. I am angry that my time is being valued so little that it is deemed perfectly ok to keep me waiting for an hour and not offer an apology or compensation.

I am angry because this, unfortunately, is not an isolated experience.

So, I’ve decided that I’m gonna locs up again. I’ve come full circle.

Here’s a pic of me with my solution for hair nightmares and another with my trusty twist out style.

Look out for the next blog in my hair series. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories and opinions so please leave me your comments.

2015/01/img_1655-0.jpg

2015/01/img_1453-0.jpg

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye-Part 2

Well, a happy new year to y’all, lovely readers.  I’ve been itching to blog for the past week or so but haven’t quite found the time.  I find myself in-between jobs (a glorious thing!) but I am sooo busy that I’m struggling to fit the things that I want to do but don’t have to do.  I don’t make hard and fast resolutions any more but I always have a sense of the things that I want to achieve in the coming year.  One of these things has to be to say ‘no’ more and leave space for those ‘want to do’ things. Any way,  when I wrote Say Hello, Wave Goodbye-Part 1, I was aware of wanting to finish 2014 on a positive note so I wanted to share the things that had brought me pleasure; that I felt proud of.  However, there’s always a flip side, right?  So I made a commitment to write a Part 2 which would talk about some of the things that have been a challenge or that I have struggled with.  So here goes, in no particular order: 5 challenges I faced in 2014 (and as it goes, beyond that as well!)

  • The murders to Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice

In December 2014 I wrote a blog which was triggered by the decision of a grand jury not to indict the police officer who preformed an illegal choke-hold  Eric Garner, which killed him. I struggled to watch video footage of this man’s last moment will, they are so upsetting. This came in a succession of almost unbelievable news stories of Black men being killed by the US police, where the officers responsible would walk away from any responsibility for their actions.  This hurt.  Really badly. As I watched what appears to be open season on Black men in the US, I have struggled to comprehend how we live in a world where this is acceptable.  I have struggled as the parent to a son who, although born in the UK, will probably experience more than his fair share of hardships due to being male and the colour of his skin.  I am struggling to  comprehend what appears to be obvious; that black lives don’t matter.

  • Terrorism

This sounds broad, right?  How can I talk about this in a couple of paragraphs?  My caveat with this one is that I I recognise that there are many socio-political points to be made around the rise of these kinds of event.  And maybe I will try to have that discussion as some point.  But not today. So that being said, the murders by ISIS of journalist James FoleyUK aid worker David Haine and the US aid worker Peter Kassig were brutal and shocking, as they were meant to be.  There are many more than have been killed by this extremist group but these are the particular deaths that drew my attention to the horrors being committed by this group. The kidnap of over 2000 Nigerian school girls by another extremist group, Boko Harem, in April of 2014 is simply terrifying.  The parents of those girls still don’t have their children back, let alone know where they are; if they’re alive or dead. There are many angles I could go down here but simply put, I have despaired and continue to despair over the way human beings treat each other.  It is terrifying that anyone can have such disregard for another human life.  Being human and feeling empathy, it is hard to get my head around how this is even possible. And as anti-Muslim, anti-Islam rhetoric continues to build, I am concerned at the inability of many to separate the actions of a few individuals with the peaceful Muslim communities with share our lives with. And it would appear there are no easy answers to end this massacre of innocents.

  • Saying goodbye

In Part 1, I talked about this from the other side of the mirror, the positive side of ‘letting go’ but in letting go, there are always goodbyes.  As I rapidly approach 40 (a spring baby, I will be saying goodbye to my 30s in April), there has been a  sense of things shifting over the past 18 months.  A shift in perspective; a shift in relationships, in shift in my place in the universe.  I don’t mind this. It’s a process and I’m happy to be in it, but it is interesting to be in a process whilst reflecting and observing it at the same time.   It almost feels like clearing space for the next phase, whatever that will be. So there is an awareness of having made and continuing to make conscious decisions as I say ‘goodbye’ to some things.  But I know there are other things that I am in the process of saying goodbye to that I haven’t even got a clue about! And it is a challenge. It is difficult to accept change; that things are no longer what they were, especially if those things are much-loved and in perfectly decent working order! But change is inevitable, so bring it on.  I will continue to struggle with some of those goodbyes, I also know this is growing and learning and being.

  • Sitting with things

I am naturally ‘push’ kinda person.  I always have been.  I am a 1st born child, only girl and I am used to striding forth into the great unknown to do whatever I think needs doing at any particular moment in time.  This has (nearly always!) served me well.  Up until recently, I would never have really considered doing things any other way.  That is my way.  I accept it. Except I’ve had to question ‘my way’. Not in a ‘have I got this all wrong??’ kinda way.  It’s been more of an experiential thing.  I have agonised over making important decisions about career and family that, at the time, it felt crucial that I make a decision; that I knew what I was going to do and then I could get on with it.  And then life happened.  Having time to reflect on those events, I have come up with a few things that seem to be a constant:

  1. I am capable and resilient.  Even when I find myself in ridiculous situations (usually created by me), I will find a way of making it work.  It will work out fine.
  2. I have an incredibly supportive network of friends, family and colleagues around me.  This network will always offer at least part of a solution.  Trust it.
  3. Sometimes doing nothing is ok.

All that adds up to a ‘me’ that is trying to push less.  Or at least understand when I should push and when I should just sit.  Something that my neglected yoga practice always teaches me.

  • Accepting that accepting time is not elastic

This one makes me grumpy.  I admit, I have a problem with the concept of time.  I like to think that it bends and can manipulated by my wants and needs. I tend to fill my time up, constantly.  I have an interest in lots of things and I like to be engaged in the world around me.  This leads to a number of things:

  1. Over-committing myself
  2. Lateness
  3. Stress
  4. Me and the 5-year-old falling out in the morning due to nearly lateness

Now, on one hand my approach to time means that I get LOADS done.  I am able to juggle lots of things fairly competently and for me, this means I get to satisfy my many interests.  When I shuffle on this ball, I don’t want to regret the things I haven;t done. In the other hand, I do too much.  And time is not elastic.  It does not expand to allow for the one last thing I tend to do before rushing out the door.  It just means I am gonna be late or very nearly late. So, those are the things I struggled with in 2014 and am still struggling with.  Some of the big, depressing topics that I could only touch one.  Some of them very personal to me, little bit funny but very much part of my ongoing struggle to find balance. So, a hugely long post, which I don’t have time to edit down any more else I will be late for yoga.  And today, I am not going to be late.

My African City-The Ghanaian Friend

I have been looking forward to my Ghanaian Friend returning from her trip to her homeland.  We have been discussing a guest blog for months and her trip home seemed like the perfect opportunity to put this to the test.  And she did not disappoint!  I hope you enjoy her blog.  It is a rich and vibrant offering, highlighting some of the issues from my previous blog posts; mainly identity as a African born in the diaspora and the impact when one returns home.  I’d like to thank Ghanaian Friend and say that she will definitely be invited to come back!

I was actually introduced to the YouTube show ‘An African City’ by the ‘Diasporan Newbie’ herself some months back.  I knew instantly after my first viewing of the 15 minute first episode, that I would have a field day discussing this with her as soon as we next met.  Cue the excitable chinwag that followed: “But is this REALLY Africa?”, “Are these ‘bougie’ girls meant to represent today’s African woman?”, “Seriously? An episode that centers on retrieving a vibrator from customs?”  And of course: “Oooh the fashion is outta this world!  Carrie Bradshaw – eat your heart out!!”

Yet for all my conflicted and indecisive opinion on Nicole Amarteifio’s

YouTube hit, when I finally touched down in Accra, Ghana a few weeks ago, this is strangely what I had in the back of mind.  In my defense, I hadn’t been back to Ghana since 1995 when I performed the Krobo tradition of dipo in respect of my mother’s tribe.  Hence my vision of the county now as a 29 year old woman had been moderately shaped by friends and colleagues who were born there but now lived in the UK, and travelled back frequently, or family members who had disturbingly polarized views on the former ‘Gold Coast’ – ranging from charming Utopia where one might find the sweetest pineapple and mangoes to enjoy all day, to a deep societal inertia that continued to be glossed over by the Wests’ obsession with labeling Ghana’s relatively stable economic and political governance as West Africa’s ‘beacon of hope’.

I wouldn’t exactly say that I was on a mission to penetrate these opinions or theories.  I was, lest not I forget there to unwind, further discover my roots and heritage, and enjoy myself!  Incidentally, I had the time of my life, seeing parts of the country I had never experienced before and adopting ‘YO-LO’ (‘you only live once’ for those who haven’t watch enough episodes of  KUWTK!) as the official holiday mantra – an indication it’s going to be a crazy one!

But I’m not writing to give a blow-by-blow account of my phenomenal experiences (which by the way included riding horseback across the sandy white beaches of Labadi, climbing 40 metres high to cross less than sturdy planks in the rainforest (YO-LO!!), and surviving two marriage proposals in 2 weeks!).  I’m writing because I want to salute the Ghana I met for teaching me an important lesson about identity.  There were a million and one observations that I made about Ghana (or more accurately the snapshot that I saw), but Ill keep to identity for now (and maybe chip in on another blog about other stimulating and provocative topics).

Identity is was and is extremely real for me in Ghana, particularly as I was conscious that I might be received as a foreigner or that they would call me ‘obroni’ meaning white person.  Surprisingly, that never happened.  Perhaps it was my insistence on speaking ‘Twi’ as much as possible and being quite clear that I was a Ghanaian who just happened to be born and raised in the UK.  Instead I was accepted and ushered in a way that I have never felt in my 29 years in good ole’ Great Britain.  Instead what I heard was;

“Sister/Maame, you must come back soon, this is your home”.

I couldn’t help but compare, but what I noted was, from the Ghanaians that I met (some “bougies” that could have stepped right out of an episode of ‘An African City’, some extremely wealthy, and others leading a very humble lifestyle indeed)

Nobody merely exists in the way that I see Brits bitterly do.  Ghanaians are so proud of their cultures, they love their country (many still acknowledging deep social, economic, and political blockages) and as one Ghanaian friend said: “we don’t envy the white man!”

I couldn’t help but feel that I and my fellow inspired Ghanaians, with our strong (and in my case renewed) sense of identity could be part of the solution to shaking up the inertia I mentioned.  So what started out with an interest in ‘An African City’ and its ability to ‘keep it real’ ended with a truly amazing experience of my own African City.  On both fronts, I have no doubt there is plenty more to come.

Lauryn Hill, a Night Bus and a Feminist Struggle

Last Thursday, I went to see Lauryn Hill at the Manchester Apollo with my Nerdy Friend. By the way, we have discovered so many other similarities between us, I’m starting to think we are the same person living in a different time space/time continuum. We both cite Salavdor, Bahia as our favourite places on Earth, we found out that we were both in the hair dressers, on the same day, at the same time, having red kinky twists put in(!) and last week I sent her an email while on a journey to Preston and she sent me this picture!

IMG_0922-0

Spooky.

Anyway,  we went to see Ms Lauryn Hill. The last time I saw her was at a Brixton Academy, in the 90s as Fugee mania was just about to peak. It was a great concert.  Obviously since then, life has happened to Ms Hill. And it’s not necessarily been kind.

tumblr_n3l3fsvJ5x1qbh3s0o1_500

Many column inches has been written about her incarceration for non payment of taxes, her relationship with Stephen Marley and her (alleged) subsequent drug use and mental breakdown. Not to mention her racist comments a few years back.

I’m not here to talk about that.

The concert was a shocker but also amazing. She was over an hour late coming on stage. I thought at one point that there was going to be an announcement that Ms Hill would not be performing at all.  We were prepared for this because the reviews for this tour so far have been awful, quite frankly. By the time she did actually arrive on stage, the goodwill and atmosphere that her warm up DJ had managed to create had all but disappeared (he’d been playing for 45 mins, hyping the crowd for Ms Hill to come on but each time she seemed to miss her cue). The boos had started when she eventually walked on stage.

Her voice was amazing. She looked amazing. But she had chosen to perform drastically rearranged versions of her most loved songs and the crowd was NOT happy. To be fair, as an artist she is totally entitled to do what she wants with her material BUT, given she has a tiny back catoulouge, given she was over an hour late on stage (with no apology), given that the reviews have been bad, you would think that she would’ve worked harder to get the audience on side. She might have made more effort to understand her audience and give them just a little but more of what they wanted after waiting so long for her.

042313-music-lauryn-hill-performs_t750x550

She turned things around after singing Black Rage, though. Haunting lyrics. The second half was pretty much phenomenal and it seemed that she was all but forgiven for her tardiness, her lack of empathy with her audience and a very ill judged ‘Q&A’ where she asked the audience why they were booing her.

In many ways, me and Nerdy Friend felt let down by Lauryn last night, even though we danced our arses off to Doo Woop (That Thing).

But I’m not even here to talk about THAT!

On the night bus home, we had an interesting conversation about Lauryn and Beyoncé. I have a bug bear about Beyoncé. I admit it. Mostly, this is because it would seem the media seem to believe that she invented feminism and we should now be following her lead. A byline in the Huffington  Post recently made me seethe with anger, as they took Chimimanda’s definition, which Bey sampled, and basically said ‘ Bey has given us a definition of feminism, now go forth and practice it”!

feminist

WHAT?! Please let us not forget that she only sampled this. It is borrowed from Chimamanda!

Anyway, my friend said if Bey’s spike heels and leotards have got 13 year old girls talking about feminism then that can’t be a bad thing. And I do agree with this. To an extent. The balance between a woman owning her sexuality and doing what she pleases with it, which might be using it as a feminist platform VS the fact that more often that not our voices are not heard unless it’s wrapped up in a hyper sexual package….I’m not comfortable with a lot of how Beyoncé chooses to present herself as seriously talented woman. But I will fight to the death for her right…..

So we started talking about this some more and in my head I saw Ms Hill and Bey side by side. And as disappointed as I felt by how Lauryn had behaved, I would still see her any day of the week over Beyoncé, who I consider to be so talented, so professional and in many ways a role model. She works hard for what she has. And she will also give the fans what they want and then some.

lauryn_hill_1383073909239       BeyonceKnowles

However. In these 2 women I see a stark representation of feminism and black womanhood.

Beyoncé is a mega star. She has worked hard, played the game, married another mega star and become a celebrity juganaut. All the while, there’s been a lot of flesh, a lot of swishy weaves and crowd pleasing. She is the acceptable face of African American womanhood, living the ‘American Dream’.  Her moniker ‘Queen Bey’ says it all.

Lauryn refused to play the game. Dark skinned, dreadlocked Lauryn, full of attitude and consciousness. Lauryn, who looked amazing with barely an inch of flesh on show. Lauryn, who consciously fought against playing the game, having her image manipulated in order to be more ‘ consumer-friendly’.  A woman who fought the law and the law won.

Her fight to be herself in all her Black womanhood, with all her flaws, without the industry (society) manipulating that; she lost that fight. They out her in jail. Essentially, they showed her that if you ain’t gonna play the game, we’re gonna squash you.  This is not to say that Lauryn is a complete innocent.  She carries her share of responsibility.

There is a tension between assimilation and disruption.  The message is if you assimilate, you can be a winner, you can be one of us, you can be a Queen if you want. But on the terms we set.
But if you try to disrupt those terms, we will shut you down. We will make it hard for you to even be heard. We don’t want your kind of black womanhood here.

Despite still feeling disappointed with Lauryn’s apparent disregard for her fans, I see her her defiance and fight to represent her authentic self as a political act.  As a feminist act.  And I admire her for that.  Beyonce ‘s doing her part; don’t get me wrong.  She has the right to self identify however she pleases.  And Nerdy Friend is right; there are girls growing up out there who will feel empowered by Bey’s brand of feminism.  I’m not the feminism police, neither do I want to be.

For me, these two women represent an interesting narrative about Black womanhood, feminism and the struggle to be our authentic selves.

A couple of interesting reads for you.  Different perspectives but both are interesting commentary on Ms Hill, her fans and what creative licence means.  Enjoy!

http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2014/10/hurts-bad-cost-lauryn-hill-fan/https://medium.com/cuepoint/in-defense-of-ms-hill-6fa84ba81d63

 

Together We Stand

Today I was moved by this image that I came across on Ms Afropolitan’s Facebook page.

PA08-017_Three_Wise_Men_Greeting_Entry_Into_Lagos-1024x793

It is stunningly beautiful.  Arresting. I was so taken with this piece that I decided to check the artist out.  His name is Kehinde Wiley, a New York-Based visual artist.

His World Stage series depicts ‘urban, black and brown men’.  Here is the brief description on his Facebook page describing his work;

Kehinde Wiley creates highly realistic paintings of people of the African diaspora which reference the Western European portrait tradition.

As I looked through his work, seeing images of Black men faces from Haiti, Lagos, Dakar, Jamaica, Israel and France, I connected with his description of his work and more importantly, his subjects.  The Africanness of his subjects, no matter where they are, is what made my heart rejoice.  At this point in my journey, this is still very important to me.  Not only is it vital for me to identify with my African heritage, there is something about how that is acknowledged by others.  Kehinde’s work ( I love this name; it is the name of a character in Ghana Must Go) seems to break down the barriers between people of African descent. Through the lens of his work, we are all African, wherever we are in the diaspora.

Now, not everyone identifies in this way.  And that’s OK.  This thing of identity is multi-faceted.  And Caribbean culture is the one that is most familiar to me as this is the culture I was born into and grew up in.  Still, I find that the more time I spend with friends with African parentage, the more similarities I feel in how move through the world, our experiences of being Black British and Black Other, how we were parented, our values.  So many similarities yet still so many differences.

One of the things I want to explore in this blog is the perception of difference.  Growing up, I was always aware of was the unspoken understanding that ‘us Caribbeans’ were different from ‘those Africans’. Those Caribbean do not know who they are.  They have no true heritage. I don’t really know what us Caribbean had to say about our African brothers an sisters.  As a child,  it manifested in things like laughing at unpronounceable African names at school; grown ups turning their noses up at the smell of African food; how they dressed.  Why the laughter?  Why were these things chosen to highlight out differences?

This journey is about not about difference but about sameness.

I have not broached this topic with my friends as yet but know that is a conversation that I will have soon.  It will be a difficult one.  Because in there somewhere I do wonder whether it is true; many of us Caribbean’s do not know who we are.  That privilege was taken away from us many generations back.  This blog is proof of that in many ways.  I am envious of my friends who are firmly rooted to their heritage, with knowledge of their home, their people, their language, their ancestors.  Is there truly a snobbery about this?

In any case, those conversations will definitely be the stuff of future blogs!  Ghanaian Friend is in Ghana right now and I have asked her to guest on Musings From a Diasporan Newbie.  I think she will have something to say on this subject so watch this space!

On Sunday, I’m off to Africa Utopia at the Southbank Centre.  Some of the themes for Sunday are around Africa and the Caribbean as well as the wider diaspora.  I’m really excited and I’m sure inspiration for blogging will be everywhere.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Are you of Caribbean descent and disagree with me?  Are you of African parentage and want to weigh in with your perspective? Or maybe you are neither but would like to share your thoughts.  I’m happy to explore different perspectives so feel free to comment!

Final words; check out Kehinde’s work.  It really is incredible.

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing my Inner Nerd

I’m on my way back from visiting a good friend of mine. One of the 4 who inspired this blog, actually. It’s been a fabulous weekend. Although we became firm friends some time ago, this is the 1st time either of us have visited the other’s home; we live in different parts of the country. Our kids met for the 1st time and got on famously (a huge relief!) and we spent time catching up and getting to know each other.  An interesting dynamic in making new friends at this age is that short-hand or fast-tracking of the essential information about ourselves which tell people who we are and how we arrived at this point. In sharing these intimate stores, we often see a different self reflected in the other person’s eyes; or a tale that you have told many times takes on a different perspective.

Anyway, despite knowing each other for some time, we have not done this level of revelation.  Previous partners, disastrous relationships, childhood humiliations (I’m thinking of a short back and sides mto a 13 year old girl!).   These are the tales we share to form a bond.  In telling these stories over the weekend, we both discovered we were both Awkward Black Girl’s (if you have not discovered this hilarious on-line show by Issa Rae then you are in for a treat!).  As we swapped storied about our teen crushes (Andrew McCarthy, Keither Sutherland) and fav Brat Pack movies (St Elmo’s Fire), we understood that we shared similar experiences of being slightly odd, teenage girls in the 80s. I’ve just sent her this link and she has sent me a message back ;

Loved that guy!! That’s the moment I was 100% convinced we should have been nerdy black teen buddies!!

Having both grown up in large urban cities (although at opposite ends of the country), we were Odd Bods in a sea of Black kids who were like ‘WTF?!’

I will never forget one of the girls in my class asking to listen to my Walkman (remember those??) on a school trip when I was about 12.  I was listening to Led Zepplin and had a studded bracelets on my wrist.  She put the headphones on and almost threw them back at me.  That sealed my fate as the weird not very black, black girl at my school.  I didn’t mind that, I’ve never minded being different or standing out.   It was a difficult journey for me though.  During my teen years, I had little, if any of the external culturally acceptable indicators that said I ‘belonged’ and this was in some ways hard to accept.  It has meant that there has been a forging of my own path and a strong sense that ‘being Black’ was more than food you ate, people you like, men you fancy and music you listen to.

Now as an adult, I’m far more comfortable in my skin.   But I often think back to my 12 year old self who in many ways felt she had to ‘learn to be Black’.  The 12 year old girl didn’t realise that all her experiences would be shaped by her Blackness, whether consciously or subconsciously.  She didn’t realise that one day she would come to a deeper understanding on what her Blackness meant to her and the journey it would take her on.

Most of all, she didn’t know that other Black, nerdy kids existed!  So me and my Nerdy Nigerian Friend are left wondering what might have been had we met in our teens when we were struggling to get a grip of ourselves.  We’re convinced we would’ve been great friends and co-conspirators, as we are now.

We have a date with St Elmo’s Fire with our names written all over it!  Embrace the nerdiness!

A View from the World Cup- African, Caribbean or other??

I’m watching the France v Nigeria game with my son.  I’m supporting Nigeria just I’ve supported Ivory Coast and Ghana in each of their matches.  At 1-0 to France 86.52 minutes into the game I am losing hope of a win.  By the end of the evening, we’ll know whether any African country goes through to the next round.

For many of us 1st and 2nd generation of Caribbean parentage, this is the norm.  Speaking to my friends of African parentage, they of course support their home team.  But they also support other Africa teams when they play (thank God there was no Nigeria V Ghana.  God knows how we would’ve coped!!).

My Twitter, Facebook and What’s App account use has been more frantic during the African games than anything else (including about Thierry Henry…!).  I have loved being part of that camaraderie.  Don’t get me wrong, I was screaming along with the entire country when England played. I was hurting the day after THE match that saw the England pretty much guarantee crashing out of the tournament.

But it fascinates me how so many of us hold on to our identities as Africans, even through something like a sporting event.  Even in childhood, I remember being aware of issues around culture and identity  tied up with the world’s biggest football tournament.

My Guyanese mother always supporting the South American teams when I was a kid.  She was born in Guyana and in the absence of a Guyanese national team in World Cup, she opted for the South American teams.  I feel the need to point out that Guyana is on the South American mainland. It shares borders with Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname.  It is part of the Caribbean but NOT part of the West Indies (although Guyana plays in the West Indian cricket team!  As you can see from this map, it is sometimes considered as part of the West Indies but generally, the term refers to the Caribbean Islands). It is also not Ghana.

Growing up I always identified with my Guyanese heritage over my Jamaican one.  Our family traditions were very Guyanese; we ate pepper pot on Christmas morning; roti, dhal and dhal puri were and still are some of my favourite foods and my nan taught us songs in Hindi, which she had learnt through mixing with the significant Hindu community in Guyana (and Trinidad; a hop, skip and a jump away).  I felt ‘Guyanese’ more strongly than ‘Caribbean’.  Supporting a South American team felt right because South America is where my mum was from, right?  That was just normal for us.  And when West Germany beat England in 1990?  That’s right, we were supporting West Germany!!

A lot has changed since then, including how I view Guyana, the Caribbean and our shared cultural heritage.  Guyana is of course much closer to the Caribbean in culture, psychology and history than its South American neighbours, in many ways.  However, some of my journey into identity took me to Central and South America for extensive periods of time.  Parts of coastal Mexico & Costa Rica have been influenced by African and Caribbean history which can be seen in the people who live there are well as the food, music and religions present. And don’t get me started on Salvador in Brazil!  If you haven’t been there, put it on your list!  The pride the people have in their African ancestry, their identification with African religions and Gods was truly beautiful and even familiar, in a weird way.

So where I find myself now is in a weird place of supporting African teams as an African; supporting South American teams as a Guyanese and supporting England, as I’m British! That’s pretty much all the teams in the tournament.

I’m ok with that though; I can be all three things as I AM all three things.  It often feels like a fluid identify; all of these things yet none of them.  And I guess this is the nature of identify for many people.  We all occupy different spaces at different times, in one way or another.