A Braidy Business.

Young black girls have been wearing braids since the dawn of time. I never thought that such a simple hairstyle would be seen as problematic until I saw this tweet on Twitter last week:

I was so shocked by this because I had no idea that it was an issue. Why should it be? When I was a teenager, I wore braids at secondary school and not one teacher told me that my hair was ‘unsuitable’ or ‘unnatural’. That was in the early to mid-1990s, so how is it a problem now? If anything, schools should be more knowledgeable about this instead of wanting all children to conform to one generic look. Many of them cannot do that because: genetics.

According to this school’s uniform policy (which encourages pupils to adopt a ‘corporate identity’ – I’m guessing this extends to how they look as well), braids fall under the category of an ‘extreme hairstyle’. This is nonsense. Braids are not an extreme hairstyle, they are a protective hairstyle – two very different things. They protect our fragile follicles and strands. Not every black child wants to relax their hair and braids are a convenient and stylish way to maintain their Afro locks. If this teacher did some research, he would have known that.

This situation is scandalous and yet again adds to the policing and demonisation of black hair and the myopic viewpoint that our hair is perceived as ‘unprofessional’, no matter how we style it.

If the girl’s braids were down to her knees, it could be deemed a health and safety issue but this is not the case – it is a cultural issue and that’s not all. First, the head of year said her braids were ‘unnatural’; then he declared that the colour of the braids contravened the uniform policy, so she must remove the blonde bits. Like she can just pull them out quickly as if the hairdresser didn’t spend hours painstakingly braiding her hair. She cannot remove the blonde bits because that would mean SHE WOULD HAVE TO REMOVE ALL HER BRAIDS.

Knowing how much it costs to braid hair – both in price and in time – would mean that the whole process was a waste of time for the poor girl, merely because her teacher viewed her hair negatively and in an ignorant manner.

All this happened on her first day of secondary school. Imagine! The poor girl must have been excited and nervous starting at a new school. Then, she walked in and her new head of year criticised her hair, implying that she did not fit in because of this one aspect. That staff member likely gave that young girl a poor start to her experience at her new school because he’s now provided her with a complex, thanks to his dismissal of her perfectly fine hairstyle.

Also, how can you such a style is unnatural and yet have a young black girl on your homepage wearing – yes, you’ve guessed it – braids? Oh, the irony. But then again, what do you expect from a school that doesn’t even allow their pupils to wear earrings? I understand if they restricted pupils to wearing studs, but no earrings at all? Really?

Their policy states that ‘unnatural hair extensions or dyes are not permitted’. Fair enough, but what if there is a pupil at the school who has, say, a serious illness or alopecia and want to cover up by wearing a wig? Would that be allowed? Or would they make up another excuse on the spot and humiliate the child on their first day?

Fortunately, the school in question saw sense and softened their stance on this, so the young girl did not have to remove her braids. Thank goodness they did. Negatively affecting this young girl’s progress before she’s even begun because she sported braids is ridiculous. Wearing them will not impact her education or how she learns in any way and maybe they will realise that this hairstyle can be a part of her corporate and cultural identities. The two should not be mutually exclusive.

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Unwanted Frizz.

Rochelle Humes has been announced as the new Curl Ambassador for Frizz Ease, John Frieda’s longtime serum. Good for her – girl, get your coins. But this has not gone down well with some folk who are annoyed that she has been chosen to represent this brand.

You see, Rochelle is mixed-race and has loose curly hair. But many black women are not happy about her new role as they feel she does not represent them or their hair, and that Frizz Ease been on the market long enough to start doing so. At first, I was a little swept up by the row and could see their point. There is a feeling that Rochelle was picked as an ambassador because she is the more ‘acceptable’ face (or hair) of black hair: curly and malleable, but not too Nubian, kinky and ‘unmanageable’, which is what my hair type (4c/4d) is perceived as. It is the in-between level, straddling both spheres and seen as desirable and palatable. As I said, I understood why people are wound up by this, but then I thought the rage about this needs to calm down – and let me tell you why.

I bought Frizz Ease curl serum for the first (and last) time several years ago. I wanted something to help tame my curls as I was growing my hair out. At the time, there was not as much choice on the high street for women with natural hair like mine (thick, kinky and coily) as there is now, so I was in trial and error mode most of the time. I quickly realised that the serum was not right for me and found it to be a waste of money.

Since then, – judging by his appointment of Rochelle as ambassador – Frieda must have updated the product to be suitable for mixed-race hair, but I knew years ago that Frizz Ease was not the one and I still do. It is mainly for Caucasian hair and is now suitable for mixed-race follicles, but not for women like me with kinky Afro hair – and that’s OK.

This trifling serum was never meant for me or for us. Rochelle’s hair is very different to mine, in terms of curl type and texture. What I need for my hair differs to what a Caucasian or mixed-race woman would require. I would rather use something that is specifically suited for my hair type than a generic ‘for all hair types’ product that works on everyone’s hair but mine. Not everything in the mainstream will work on my hair – that’s just the way it is.

Thanks to social media, things have changed and black women (and girls) are more knowledgeable regarding the best products for our hair. There are more ranges than ever on the high street which cater for Afro hair and it’s late, but great. We can protest by not putting our hands in our pockets for the products that do not cater to us. Also we don’t always have to rely on the mainstream, as we can make or own products (though buying hair food in Boots is less problematic than whipping something up at home).

Now before anyone says this situation is similar to that of, say, make-up – no, it is not. Skin is skin – the only difference is in our skin tones, therefore all make-up brands should be catering to people of all colours as far as I am concerned. With hair, there are different factors to take into account: the texture, how curly or straight it is and the porosity levels of your barnet. What works on Caucasian hair will most likely not work on my Blackity-Black hair because we are at different ends of the spectrum.

Some of the women berating Rochelle for taking the ambassador role are the same ones who claim that her hair type excludes her from the natural hair movement, because they see her as ‘not black enough’. Make up your minds! One minute it’s, ‘you’ve got mixed-race hair, you can’t sit with us’ – the next, you say she should be representing all of us. It does not make sense. To my fellow black women: this product is not worth ranting about. You are getting upset over a product that was never meant for us in the first place. Save your breath and spend your money on what is meant for you.

Preference or Prejudice?

I watched a programme today called Is Love Racist?: The Dating Game. As someone who has dabbled with online dating, I knew how this show would turn out the minute I saw the title (i.e.: not very well) and I'm not going to lie, I wanted to slap everyone involved by the first commercial break. 

I didn't really need this documentary to show me that Black and Asian women get a raw deal when it comes to online dating. It seems that if you do not look like one of the babes off Instagram or a supermodel and instead look decent but average- i.e: me -you get nowhere. Believe me, I tried and all it did was crush my self-esteem. The rest of us are fucked… but not literally. 

I get the whole preference issue. Everyone has a particular type regarding what they look for in a lover or partner, whether they prefer blondes, brunettes or redheads. Nobody likes everything- imagine if we did!  What a weird world that would be. 

That said, there were some unbelievable comments during this programme. The stereotypes came thick and fast: the White guy who said he preferred Asian women because 'they're more submissive'. He wants someone who will answer to his beck and call and call him master, right? I hope the woman you find ends up being anything but submissive when she waves your bollocks in your face.


The woman who said she did not like the look of a black guy because 'his nose is flared… he looks angry.' This stereotype is so basic. She is probably the type who clutches her bag close to her chest whenever a Black man (young or old) sits next to her. 
The unconscious, automatic reaction of the participants in visualising someone described as 'classically handsome' as a White man- while the phrase, 'lover, not a fighter' immediately made them think of a Black man.

Not forgetting the man who said that he liked and slept with mixed race women, but would not exactly take them home to mother (though he was an absolute pillock so I disregarded most things he said). 

As I said before, I don't think there's anything wrong with having a preference, per se. It's when it goes to extremes that it's gets problematic, such as fetishism or negative stereotyping. Some people fetishise particular racial groups and that is when problems begin. Black men are seen as 'well-endowed', Asian women are 'submissive', Black women are either 'exotic, like a bird' and/or 'sexually aggressive', apparently in manner and appearance. Like we are a sexual trend to be consumed when we are 'in fashion' and discarded at all other times; seen as trophies to be paraded on the arms of men, instead of being afforded the courtesy to be seen as people. 


Then you have the instances of stereotyping, made worse when it's your own kind criticising you and your fellow women- then proclaiming, 'It's my preference!' when they are called out on it. I have seen and heard men of different races (including Black men) slate Black women about all manner of things and the crass dog-whistle comments and blatant disrespect ('she would be hotter if she wasn't so dark', 'you all are so angry') never ceases to amaze me. I don't care what anyone says- when other races hear Black men dissing their own, it enables and emboldens them to do the same towards us. No wonder Black women are treated shabbily when it comes to dating in general. It is a thin line between preference and prejudice and this programme proved that. 

© 19th July 2017

Unnecessary Poise.

Over the past few days, actress Leslie Jones has been on the receiving end of a shedload of abuse from anonymous keyboard warriors because of her starring role in the new Ghostbusters movie. The movie has attracted a lot of attention as the main characters are all female (the original characters were all men). As she is both black and female, she has been subjected to what’s known as ‘misogynoir’ because of this.

Many have come out in support and to defend her against the unwarranted abuse she has endured, but naturally, she was very upset- she even had someone create an account that looked like hers and sending homophobic tweets. 

But among all the vicious content sent to her, one tweet caught my eye. It was from someone (a woman no less) who decided that Jones’ natural reaction was unbecoming of a woman and tweeted that to her instead of, y’know, support: 

‘More poise’? I beg your pardon? 

So she’s getting dogs abuse hurled at her from various people/trolls and you expect to be demure and ladylike in her responses? Because she cannot possibly react like a normal human being and be allowed to give back what these people deserve. 

As the line in the legendary Pharcyde song ‘Runnin” goes: ‘There comes a time in every man’s life when they’ve gotta handle shit…’ There is a time and place for rapier wit and pithy one-liners and some situations call for exactly that. But when you are called a nigger, an ape and countless other disgusting slurs just for doing your job, sometimes the only way to respond is to fight back. If she has to swear and cuss, so be it- it is an absolutely understandable reaction. 

As for this woman telling her- a black woman -to act with more poise when confronted with such offensive comments: how unbelievably patronising. How dare you tell her how she should behave and react to such unrelenting abuse? I am not one of those people who thinks that people should turn the other cheek every time something horrible happens or is said to them. Even then, we- and others -can be so taken aback that we don’t respond in the necessary way. She was subjected to all this purely because of her race and gender and you want her to reply like she’s meek and mild. Various other women with an online presence have to deal with disgusting, inflammatory, rude and hateful comments on a daily basis, simply because of their race and gender or because they do not act in the ‘way a woman should’. So for this silly girl to tweet this nonsense is insulting and buys into the BS regarding how women should behave.

Leslie Jones tweeted a reply to her and (though it took a while), eventually this girl realised the extent of the situation and how traumatic it was for Jones and how she managed to feed into it by making it sound like Jones was making a mountain out of a molehill. 

I’m not even going to get into the whole situation regarding certain persons on Twitter and how they appeared to fuel the fire for others to aim their vitriol at Leslie Jones- I’m looking at this from a different angle. Despite Twitter banning some of those who sent abusive tweets to Jones, she has unsurprisingly taken a break from social media as a result. Will she be back? Who knows.  

Black Lives Matter.

Sunday. Oxford Circus. London. 9:30am. 

I stood waiting outside the station with a group of friends and a large crowd of strangers. Not much gets me out of bed that early on a Sunday morning- especially in central London -but there I was. Everybody was there for one reason: the Black Lives Matter march. The one held last Friday was a resounding success and now it was our turn. Forty minutes later, we set off down Oxford Street towards the American embassy, back down Oxford Street then onto Marble Arch and Hyde Park.

As the day went on the crowd grew bigger and bigger, almost like people dumped their shopping to join us. It was amazing to see. We were loud, we were proud, we held up traffic on Oxford Street (not something I thought I’d ever say) and we were peaceful. People of all backgrounds, ages, races and cultures- people who might not speak to each other at any other time were marching side by side on that rainy Sunday.

Bus drivers beeped their horns in solidarity (though I’m sure some of them wanted us to just get out of the way). An old woman gave everybody two thumbs-up while sitting upstairs on the bus. Some people we walked past gave us approving nods- very British.

Eventually we left after four hours with the several-thousand strong crowd still chanting and protesting as they walked down Park Lane, past The Dorchester hotel- again, not something I thought I would ever see! Instead of heading home, I had a little wander around London for an hour or two and saw that the protesters had made it to the Houses of Parliament. No rain or terrible British summer (because this is definitely the worst summer this country has ever had) could put them off as they stood there, while bewildered tourists wondered what was going on. 

The next day I discussed the march with a couple of friends. They wanted to attend but could not make it, then one of them declared, ‘I don’t see the point of protesting. What’s the point? Nothing is gonna change anyway.’ I was disappointed by his reaction but also unsurprised. If he had that attitude throughout life, I argued, then what’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning? What’s the point of going to work to pay for your car? You might as well give up. The point of the protest was to show solidarity in the aftermath of the terrible deaths/unlawful killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in America, as well as highlight the injustices towards black people in this country and worldwide. It was to show that any injustices perpetrated in future will not be taken lying down. It was also to (literally) demonstrate that we are here and we are as important as everyone else. 

There is a long-standing debate concerning the tagline ‘All Lives Matter’. Some people feel that by having the Black Lives Matter movement, it is encouraging a new kind of segregation and racism, to which I reply: No. As one placard said at Sunday’s march: ‘Pro-Black does NOT mean anti-White’. I wish some people would realise this because it’s not that hard to understand. I have friends and family of various races and religions and I am very proud of that fact. Of course all lives matter- that is obvious. Everybody matters on this planet. But I am also proud of my colour and my heritage and there is nothing wrong with showing that. 

The problem is sometimes, underneath the banner of All Lives Matter, black people can tend to be forgotten, unheard or even misrepresented. This may be due to certain people being pushed forward as the voice of our community who, let’s face it, have nothing to do with us. People who think they know everything about us and our culture because they’ve been around us for longer than 10 minutes. Too many times we have seen people represent us who are not of the same colour or, even worse, those who describe themselves as ‘politically black’. Where on earth did this nonsense come from? You CANNOT (and never can be) politically black- you either are or you are not. Being black is not a piece of clothing that you can throw on or off whenever you feel like it. 

It was fantastic to see so many people come together in London and across other cities in Britain (Birmingham and Manchester respectively) to show solidarity, love, peace and positivity while also shining a light on the issues that black people have to face here and around the world. 

Boycott at the Oscars?

I know I’m a bit late to the after party but I have to throw in my two pennies in about this whole #OscarsSoWhite saga that has been everywhere the past few weeks. I noticed that last week, the bigwigs at the Oscars released a list of presenters for the upcoming extravaganza, many of whom are from black and ethnic minorities. I am sure they gave themselves a hearty pat on the back for that gesture. Funny how they paid attention to this list and not the main actors and actresses lists, eh?

Anyway, I have a bone to pick with a couple of things regarding all this:

1. The Oscars President is one Cheryl Boone-Isaacs. She is a black woman in a highly prestigious role who was at the helm when the same issue cropped up last year. Did she not think to check the list before the nominees were announced to the world? And if she did, surely it must have crossed her mind how some people might react? Or is she so cocooned in the world of Oscars that she didn’t notice? She appeared to be caught on the hop and I don’t understand how she allowed that to happen, because the shortlist ultimately represents the Oscars brand and her.

2. Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee should have boycotted years ago. If this is such a big thing, why is this only happening now? There have been many instances where black actors and actresses should have won an Oscar and they did not. Samuel L Jackson for Pulp Fiction and Angela Bassett for What’s Love Got to Do With It, to name but two. So, as I say: why now? Because Will Smith did not get nominated for an Oscar this time round? Hmm…as much as Janet Hubert is still a tad bitter about Will Smith, she made some good points in her blog post.

3. Stacey Dash needs to be quiet. She is merely an attack dog for Fox News they wheel out when it is convenient.

Personally, I think this issue has got a bit out of hand. For all their prorestations, Will and Jada are Hollywood royalty, so it is a bit jarring when they call out their counterparts.

As for those saying that Chris Rock should withdraw as presenter: hell no! He is absolutely the right presenter for this shindig, especially after all this furore- but only if he is given free rein. He will tear everyone involved in this shambles to shreds. I’m practically rubbing my hands with glee at the prospect of all that truth and shade, live on stage.

There is a race issue at the heart of this, but it does not just involve black people being prejudiced against: it’s against all minorities. However, I do not think there should be a boycott. I understand why they think this is a good idea, but I still believe that Spike Lee and co should go to the Oscars and make their point. A sit-down protest in the ampitheatre, or say something on the red carpet, perhaps? Or get one of the presenters to comment in a way that has people tugging at their collars and smoothing down their skirts awkwardly. Staying away only serves to highlight the imbalance and to be honest, I think the bigwigs would be delighted if they did not attend. If black actors, actresses and performers stay away, it will make things easier for them.

Also, what about any black or ethnic minority persons who want to attend because they have been nominated or invited, yet do not have the clout to turn their back on such an event? They are bound to feel uncomfortable when they should not be the ones feeling that way. Spike Lee and the Smiths should go and make their presence felt because that way they can make a difference. Because, believe me, the Oscar bigwigs cannot be that stupid and do this next year. By attending and drawing focus on the numerous snubs live on air, they would take note and realise that they cannot carry on like this anymore.

itooamoxford.tumblr.com

I stumbled across this brilliant site today. It’s the British alternative to ‘I Too Am Harvard’ and unfortunately I could relate to many of the ignorant comments which were aimed at these students. It staggers me that certain people still go round- IN 2014!!! -and say ‘Oh, I was pleasantly surprised, you speak really well’ to those who are not of the same hue as them. I mean, what the actual f***? Just…why would anybody say such a thing to another person? Woe betide the dipstick who says that to me one day. As for the hair issue- why do some people think it’s OK for them to touch your hair without asking? Like you are owned by the public and they think, ‘Well, you shouldn’t mind- you should be happy’ because people want to stare goggle-eyed while they stroke your hair like you’re a goat or something.

This happened to me a couple of times when I had natural hair. I’d be having a conversation with someone and suddenly their hands would move towards your head, forcing me to dodge out of their way before asking what they think they’re doing. I find it baffling, for if a white woman who usually sports straight hair turned up one day with curls, most people would tell her that her hair looks lovely/awful and carry on. They wouldn’t paw at her hair like she’s an animal. But even though more black women are now wearing their hair in unrelaxed form, some people still think there’s nothing wrong in behaving this way. 

That said, ignorance runs both ways. Years ago, an ex-colleague (who was black) once said to me that I sounded ‘Caucasian’ because of the way I spoke. Not quite sure how she expected me to sound considering I was born and raised in London my whole life. Maybe she thought I should have a transatlantic twang to my accent or that I should sound ‘more black’, a phrase that I despise. 

Anyway, ranting over- have a look at this site and you’ll also laugh and shake your head in equal measure.