The Trouble with Black Madams……….


Paul and wife, Janet.

Paul and wife, Janet.

So, Janet Boateng has embarrassed her husband, the current British High Commissioner for South Africa, Paul Boateng, by allegedly bullying her staff.  You may think, what is the big deal about this story.  The big deal is, Paul and Janet are Black and staff in their home is predominantly Black. Given the history of the two, Janet, a former Labour Councillor who successfully managed to prevent White families from adopting Black children, on the grounds that White people could not begin to comprehend racism and Paul, the first Black government minister, there is the feeling that they should have known better.  Between herself and her husband, back in the day, they were vociferous in fighting against injustice and inequality, especially when it came to Black people.  I remember seeing Paul Boateng, one of the few Black faces, always ready to speak out against racism, cleverly articulating the Queen’s English to the max.  He spoke out even more when the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, sent troops to Iraq.  Boateng’s reward was he was made British High Commission to South Africa.  Some say it was a demotion but then that’s another story.  The one I want to talk about is that now we have a Black President in the White House, and more and more Blacks taking on high-profile positions around the World, I wonder how they cope, leading a staff who must obey and indulge their every whim.

I, a Black woman, married to a high-profile Black achiever well-known in this country, finds it an ongoing dilemma.  We came to this land about 18 years ago to work for an international organisation. What made it exciting were the perks – the mansion, the grounds, the pool and sauna and gym, and of course, there is the staff.  One qualified, uniformed cook, two house-helps and two drivers plus security men. There were private schools for the children which was heavily subsidized.  Initially, of course, I was over whelmed by what I had gained but given my humble background and life experiences, I was conscious of not taking advantage of the staff, always thanking them each time they brought me a cup of tea (and belting the kids around their heads when they didn’t say ‘thanks!’), making sure I brought presents each time I returned from an overseas trip.  For several years, it was all bliss until things began to happen making me realise that my ‘niceness’ was perceived as weakness.  For instance, I would ask the helper to sweep the floor in the living room.  When I leave to do something and then return, the helper is lying on the couch, reading one of my magazines.  This continues until I do something that I have not done in a while and that is argue.  She threatens to hit me and I have no choice but to call in security to have her removed from the house.  I walk in on the cook only to find him watching the cartoon, Tom and Jerry on the TV, and the steak he is supposed to be cooking, is burning to high heavens.  When I challenge him, his eyes are glazed due to the wine he has drunk (and nicked!) and he refuses to leave. I leave to call the security; he slams the door and stands in front of it, not allowing me (and the children) to leave. Luckily, the security can see what is happening through the window and knocks firmly, gaining the attention of the cook, who eventually lets us out. When I sacked another cook for mixing up a strange concoction then refusing to tell me what it is made of, he turns up two days later at my company and threatens me.  The worst of these experiences is of a woman who had worked for me for three years. When she stopped seeing her boyfriend, he decided to pay her back by showing me all the things she had stolen from the house. I was devastated.  Although I don’t know all the facts, something tells me these experiences are not too different from what Janet was encountering. 

Beautiful home in Cape Town.

Beautiful home in Cape Town.

But other than these experiences, there is another reason. I think, since I’m responsible for the upkeep of the house, I have to set rules but because I am Black there is some deep inherent thought within the staff that I am meant to treat them differently, i.e., there is no master and servant relationship here. We are all Blacks, so we are ‘friends’. I state this as I know there are rich White households elsewhere in this country and everybody knows their place. The article I read stated that the complaints were not against Paul but against Janet.  Well, of course Paul will not be ‘attacked’ because he is not dealing with the staff on a day-to-day basis, but Janet is. Janet is, after all, only a human being. We are bound to get it wrong, bound to go overboard in imitating our colonial masters and still expect to be loved irregardless; because of our new-found status we expect everyone to bow and curtsy, figuratively that is.  Janet, I’m sure made mistakes but I’m also sure that her staff had certain expectations from her which were not fulfilled. The woman, at the end of the day, sees her job as making sure her husband’s environment is comfortable at all times and she is determined to do that. I can’t believe that former wives at the High Commission were always polite to their staff. Here, where I live, everybody shouts at their staff.  And that’s the truth and I hope Michelle Obama takes note






“I won’t have to pay for my petrol anymore. Obama is going to help me.”


Last Sunday (9/11/08) it was reported in one of the British tabloids that African Americans ‘really think that things will change – for them.’ Peggy Joseph who was at an Obama rally told a TV interviewer: “I won’t have to pay for my petrol anymore.  I won’t have to work to pay my mortgage. He’s going to help me.”  Somewhere else in Washington, near a popular market, Isaac Johnson was wandering around in a dream like state with tears running down his cheeks, repeating “We’ll get respect now, we’ll get our dream.”  But will Obama actually do something for African Americans?


The Obama camp has help to put some distance between him and African American problems. “President-elect Obama did not put himself forward as an African-American president; he put himself as an American who happens to be black.” Said Colin Powell.  The report went on to say that Obama cannot risk being too caught up with favouring blacks if he wants to still remain popular with the other multi-racial communities that put him into office.  He also has no choice but to distance himself from the likes of Jesse Jackson, Sharpton and Farrakhan.


However, some blacks are already reporting that they are getting better tables at restaurants because maitres d’ think they may know the new president, so change is taking place. But joking aside, I do hope that everyone realises that how this job is going to be challenging and that not only does he need the support but also tolerance and understanding for those inevitable mistakes he will make.


Where were you and what were you doing when Obama claimed victory??

Where were you when Barack Obama claimed victory and what were you doing?

Unfortunately I was fast asleep but at 5:30am, my husband switched on the light and shouted “He’s done it. The man has won!!  I smiled briefly and nodded off back to sleep thinking I was still in a dream  A few hours later, I woke up to see my husband still glued to the TV, and that’s when I realised it was for real. Obama, an African American, had won. I reminded my husband that he would be late for work.  He told me about the interview with Gore Vidal and Oprah. 

I’m now watching the TV, and at the same time checking my watch as I will have to leave for work but I wished I had the energy to stay up all night. But never mind, as I wrote else where on my blog, it is a great day.  Let us know what you were up to when it was declared that Obama had won the Presidency.

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.




Are we done with the ‘inexperienced’ tag yet?

I read somewhere in today’s paper that some people are still trying to firmly nail the label ‘inexperienced’ to Barack Obama to  such extent that it will never go away.  For sure, if he is elected, he will certainly take a slender CV to the office than any president in history.  But surely over the past two years he has gained invaluable experience. They say that Obama has never run anything but that’s not true. His campaign has been run with incredible discipline and has magically and subtly acquired the Democratic Party establishment as represented by the Clintons.  It also helps that the team around him are loyal and dedicated.


The article also said that he may prove to be disappointment just like Jimmy Carter who also had good intentions but was also overwhelmed by the job.  America, right now, is like a sick patient that is depressed, tired and penniless and needs someone like Obama to inject new kind of political energy – into its citizens and to be seen in a new light around the world.  I thank America and am proud of America for giving this guy, and the rest of the world, a chance.

The One

I just know that I can beat you!!

I just know that I can beat you!!

I read an interesting piece about Barack Obama yesterday (Click onto cutting – I am the chosen one).  A really good article except its author, Andrew Sullivan described Obama as a ‘miscegenated Black man’.  I didn’t know that you could have a Black man (or a White person for that matter) that could be ‘miscegenated’.  Let me know what you think?











Are African Americans being ‘racist’ because of Barack Obama’s ‘White Experience’?

I watched the BBC programme Newsnight where the Nobel Prize laureate, Toni Morrison, was being interviewed about her new book ‘A Mercy’.  The presenter asked Morrison if African Americans could be accused of being racist towards Barack Obama because of his alleged ‘white’ experience.  Morrison responded tactfully by saying ‘that African Americans were worried that Obama had no slaves in his family and senior members of the Civil Rights Movement begrudged the fact that he had not participated in the struggle.’  Morrison ended by saying that this was no longer a problem for her community and that they were proud of the fact that it was highly possible for Barack, an African American, to be the next President of the United States. 


But as I listened, I wondered why on earth should this be seen as racist??  The community can be accused of being resentful or bearing ill will or being wrongfully suspicious but not racist.  The Black community should be forgiven for wanting Barack to be pulled over as many times as they have by racist cops, just so that they can say he ‘qualifies’ but I don’t think that makes the community racist.  The Black community has the right to comment even if that comment(s) is misplaced or taken out of context.  Redefining and misinterpreting what the community thinks, is racist and if we don’t watch it, racism will lose its true meaning.