So Liam Neeson has made headlines. We have seen and heard what he has said so there will be no point in repeating it. But what struck me was his question: What colour were they? As usual, if you read things, I’ve written you would know that incidents such as these remind me of similar incidents that happened in my past.
Growing up in North London, during the 60s, I had an English childminder, who conveniently lived next door to us. I believed I was ‘handed’ over to her when I was zero years old and I stopped being looked after when I turned 13. She was seen as a member of the family and to a certain extent, I considered her to be a second mother. I also believe that as she did not have children of her own, she saw me as a daughter.
When my parents decided to move and settle into a house, in the same area but quarter a mile away from the childminder’s home, she would visit on a weekly basis, and continued to visit and be a part of our lives right up until she passed away.
But I do recall numerous conversations we had, especially about incidents between people, or a fight had taken place where somebody was arrested, her immediate question would always be – what colour were they? As a young child, it was difficult to work out what exactly she meant but I sensed there was something wrong with the question. So much so, this line of questioning became a part of my own psychology. So, if there were incidents that I read about or discussed on the news, I would wonder, what race were they? Praying and hoping that the participants were not black. And my reasons would be that yet again, the black community is being demonized and blamed. In the same way, I’m imagining that Liam Neeson instinctively felt he had to ask that question because somewhere deep in his subconscious, black men constantly go out and do these things!
If anything good came out of this, at least he was honest about the way he felt. But I hope that I don’t have to worry about my son or nephews going out and coming across prospective Oscar-nominated, elderly white men, possessing a special set of skills (holding a cosh!) looking to ‘kill’ black men.
Mr. Neeson may not be a racist, but he needs to do more to set the record straight if he wants fans (or customers) to continue to patronize him.
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.
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.
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.
In the past month there have been many think pieces on the controversy of Zoe Saldana; a light-skinned black actress playing the role of a dark-skinned artist Nina Simone, in the movie Nina. It is regarded as controversial because Saldana possess features which betrays and contradicts what Simone was all about. Nina Simone’s artistry and success took her way beyond the boundaries of beauty making it impossible for her to be ignored. But she clearly felt she had a responsibility to use her platform and protest about the treatment of black people and speak the unspeakable – being black and dark-skinned.
As a black female born in the UK I consider my experiences as a dark-skinned woman a little unique. I know one cannot generalize as I have come across light-skinned people who see themselves as undeniably black and dark-skinned people who have not experienced negativity from their light-skinned mates. However, my experience is not just the usual standard racism but I have also experienced this from those who are a lighter than me; from those who consider themselves black!
Being defined by people and the environment takes a psychological toll, so much so that you cannot help but create a space between you and this shadowy edifice. In my case, I created an imaginary person, where I’m able to install this ‘dark skin’. So whenever I meet this negativity, I redirect it to this ‘person’, as a way of protecting me!
I would seat it at the back of the class or make it stand firmly against the wall at discos; it would have to wait until it was spoken to at college and sit politely among others in the conference room at work. It is used to being invisible and ostracised when in the company of its so-called betters. But in general, it has always depended on the kindness and acceptance of those into the exotic and curious.
If I am to look elsewhere for other examples of such experiences, it’s used to taking on cameo parts in movies, and if it has a major role then it is flawed in some way. And in literature, it has made appearances in novels such as A House for Mr. Biswas. Or if you check The Bluest Eye, the protagonist Pereola Breadlove is considered ugly by everyone including her own mother. She escapes this situation by imagining herself to be beautiful – by having blue eyes, white skin and blonde hair, feeling that her life would improve.
I know for those who are not black will think what’s the big deal, after all the lead role in Nina is played by a black woman in the same way the role of Margaret Thatcher in the movie The Iron Lady was played by a white actress. This is true but it’s also true that when Othello was played by a black actor for the first time, the critics said how the play began to make sense. The nuances and details of racism suddenly became alive and clear.
Where did this all begin for me? How did this experience affect me? I think it’s best to look at my family situation to see how it evolved.
My mother told me early on in my life that my hair was my beauty. It was her subtle way of letting me know there was no point relying on my looks. My hair was abundant, long and thick, and twice per month I went to our regular hairdresser where he was able to create a Shirley Temple look, that is, big drop curls which hung to the middle of my back. Later on, when the salon began to use chemicals such as straighteners, he abandoned the press ‘n’ curl routine leaving me with patches of burnt scalp.
Clearly, I was no Shirley Temple and could never be, as I owned two deadly sins – a dark complexion and a wide inflated nose. My mother’s disappointment though, was enduring; I simply did not meet her criteria of what she expected, so regular visits to the salon was her way to compensate for the things she felt I lacked.
This endeavour reached fruition, when after a year of attending dance school, I had to perform on stage a solo tap routine to a popular song sung by Shirley Temple, On the Good Ship Lollipop. Followed by an enthusiastic applause from the predominantly white audience, my mother beamed. She acted as though this audience had been conquered and converted by the weighted ringlets bouncing all over the place while I did my ‘step ball’ change and ‘brush hop brush drops’.
Of course, I was clueless about what was going on at the tender age of eight, realising later given the interests of people who surrounded me, my purpose was to help dismiss a part of myself which caused offence.
But it was not just my mother’s incredible expectations as well as disappointments which loomed like a permanent grey cloud. It was also her. For my mother was beautiful. She was haughty, glamorous and intelligent, and believed her looks surpassed well-known black actresses of the day. I knew at an early age I could not reach such dizzy heights and would spend the rest of my days acting as a shock-absorber when people realised I was her daughter.
My mother carried a light brown complexion; a Joan Collins-esque nose, with high cheekbones, heart-shaped lips and a thick set of hair. She was always well presented and her make-up was meticulously applied. My grandmother was Indo-Guyanese with European features and her grandfather was near enough white.
As we were the only black family in a North London road where I grew up in the early 60s, the neighbours deified my mother; it was an enigma as to how her features found their way in this black setting. You’re black but you look white, but how can you look white when you’re black? Their gazes seem to query. Not everyone was convinced for it did not stop the name calling and abuse from the other residents, nor did it stop the jealousy from the witch-like female members of my extended family. But my mother’s popularity forced them to make sure we were always well presented, whether at school or church. With our white ankle socks, starched hankies and our polished shoes it was almost as if a standard had been set and we had to keep to it. Each time we went out with our mother, the neighbours came and gathered around us.
For my father however, it was different. Dark-skinned with strong big features, he did not query my mother’s behaviour and possibly received vicarious satisfaction from all the attention, even though it did not fall on him. But there was no doubt of the racism he experienced – the fights he got into with the Teddy Boys and the insults he received at work. He left Guyana as a carpenter but prior to that, he worked on the sugar (plantation) estates. With determination he managed to leave the country and find his way to London, and then a year later, he was joined by a woman who would eventually become his wife and my mother.
Whilst in Guyana, my father grew accustomed stepping aside or lowering his head when a light-skinned person came his way. When he met some of these people years later in London at a function, he behaved in the same manner. They quickly but jokingly said ‘Hey, you na know me?’ My father was speechless. When he shared this story, he laughed saying the experience was ‘positive’; it proved to him that London was a great equalizer and he had no regrets leaving Guyana.
Growing up as a teenager, I realised that having long hair had its advantages even though I was ignorant to its drawbacks. Styling and wearing it in the latest fashions gave the illusion of beauty. The black guys who were attracted to me ‘believed’ I was pretty. Just as milk in coffee makes the drink palatable, my hair helped dismiss and divert attention from my skin tone. One of these guys even said they liked my hair and how ‘it would be better if I kept it straightened’. So I did. Just to make sure my approval ratings remained high with those that mattered.
As a married woman with young children, my focus was on my family where I had to set myself aside. So for twenty years, I kept (or hid) my hair in braids. What I love about it is the multitude of styles which can be created and the practical reasons, as it does not take up time and gives your hair a rest from the chemicals.
But it was a fight guiding my daughter in self-acceptance while witnessing her confidence being extinguished, as she battled with white images of beauty from the media. With the increased number of skin lighteners and the more ‘creative’ ways of having long hair, unfortunately it has become easier for black girls and women to perpetuate the notion that white beauty is still more desirable. Unlike me who had to do as I was told, the children of today clearly know their own minds about what they want. The same applies to my daughter who would argue that she doesn’t have an ‘inferiority complex’ and the ‘younger generation don’t think that way, and besides, what’s wrong with experimenting?’
But ever since my daughter began her degree course, she has a new attitude towards her looks. She proudly wears natural hair styles as opposed to relaxing her hair and uses natural organic products. In fact, she says she never wants to relax her hair again or go near a skin ‘brightener’. As a result, she has received compliments from other black students as well as those from other races. She realises there is no need to ‘change herself’ as it is more important to accept and love who she is, even if the image of a celebrated top model is bearing down on her.
After my mother passed away and I look back on our relationship, it occurred to me her thinking and the conditioning she received in the West Indies had an effect on me. But I understand she was the product of an environment which shaped and created her thinking and she could not be held responsible for how she wanted me to be. Several years before she died, her manner changed; it was tolerant and accommodating. She complimented me of how I had turned out – something she had rarely done – and how she was proud. Just after she died, a friend of hers told me that my mother believed she was not a good parent. Strange to say but upon hearing this, it gave me some relief. I always wondered if she was conscious of her parenting methods and the effects it had me. It was never confronted when she alive as I felt that if I had, she would have denied it. But it gave me some respite from thinking all along she did not care.
I still carry the scars of my upbringing. My ‘scars’ come in the form of self-doubt and a low self-esteem. The positive thing about this I’m living in a time where due to the amount of information available, I realise that I’m not the only one with doubts; as there are lots of souls battling daily of how to embrace themselves. So whether I visit a counsellor or do a course in meditation, or simply study the Bible, at least it’s a start in defeating the pervading images and stereotypes and not to be dictated by them.
And as for the controversy surrounding the movie Nina, I am glad that this discussion has been brought out into the open. If anything good is to come out of this, at least it has allowed me to share my experiences, and for me to feel they are most certainly valid.
Thanks for listening.
I just thought this was so beautifully written with a hint of sadness. Any truth in this? What do you think?
2014 was sort of an okay year. I say this as it sped past in a single blink, and added to that, I’m guilty of not having done too much! There has been the daily routine of work (I manage a shop), I attended several conferences, managed an exhibition, attended meetings, and travelled to London. The year ended with the family coming together for Xmas and the New Year, and each moment was a treasure which I thoroughly enjoyed (my kids study abroad). But I feel as though I should have done more. So now that 2015 has begun, I’ve decided that I want to learn something, not something that will contribute to my work, but to me.
Of recent I’ve noticed how my mind likes to do its own thing. By that I mean, it likes to chat endlessly. It likes to tell me what I can’t do, what to worry or whine about; it leads me to believe that I can experience my past, which has long since gone, or experience the future, which is yet to be. It seems to feel threatened by the present and so far, has managed to convince me that happiness is obtainable, even though I know it’s a fleeting experience. It fights the belief, ‘nothing is ever permanent’ and therefore keeps you stuck in the notion that ‘things remain the same’. I get some relief when I’m with family/friends or at church.
It is said that ‘a mind can be a humble servant or a dangerous master’. It is how you use it that will decide which direction it will take. If you don’t ‘direct’ it, you are just left confused and unfocused. There is a lot of information on courses where you can learn to study the mind such as Psychology or NLP; or you can learn to quieten it with Mindfulness Meditation. My rule for this New Year is that besides improving my health, I have to look after my mind. Has anyone taken a course in Mindfulness or NLP? How did you find it? If you live in London, which courses did you take and where? I would love to know.
If 2014 was a great year for you, then brilliant. But if it wasn’t, then I hope, for you and I, the New Year brings us what we want and surpasses our expectations.
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.
Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer
I just learnt that Nadine Gordimer passed away yesterday. I admired her writing. Her book My Son’s Story was my introduction to South African literature. I was of the opinion that white writers could not write about black people and their experiences. But Gordimer proved me wrong. Whenever I read her novels, I’m not only overwhelmed by the accuracy in the depiction of her characters, but the truth as she sees it, no matter how cold it is! For those who supported Apartheid, her books could not have made comfortable reading. But I am happy for her presence and her immense contribution towards ending the struggle and that her soul should rest among all those other great souls who have recently passed.
In 2007 I wrote a review of Gordimer’s biography titled No Cold Kitchen. I know the author (Robert Suresh Roberts) received a lot of criticism as people were offended by it. But I do not believe that it was bad; I thought it fair and that it rightly praised Gordimer for her contribution to the removal of Apartheid in South Africa.