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.

Stormzy’s Scholarship.

Stormzy continues to excel in his quest for world domination. Earlier today, he announced a new Stormzy Scholarship, a new venture in partnership with Cambridge University which gives two black British students the fully-funded opportunity to study at the esteemed institution.

Wow. First, his publishing project with Penguin Books – called Merky Books – and now this. What an absolutely fantastic opportunity and a boost to black British students, many of whom often feel that, while the road to Oxbridge is an option, it is not exactly open to them.

Of course in this day and age of people who moan for moaning’s sake, there were dunces out there bleating, “Why is Stormzy only doing this scholarship for underprivileged black British students? Why not include underprivileged white students?”

The reason why he is doing this, you ignorant fools, is because even an underprivileged white student has a better chance of getting into Oxbridge than a black British student – thanks to their skin colour they are not subjected to quotas or outright ignored, as everything is geared in their favour. The number of black British students at Cambridge would be laughable if it wasn’t so low – they even asked for help from schools and parents to increase the number of black British students enrolling at the university (because Cambridge ‘could not do it on its own.’)

See, this is what the class system does in Britain – it tries to obstruct certain people from certain backgrounds gaining access to certain institutions. Despite all the talk of diversity, the Oxbridge definition is along the lines of allowing more white women through the doors – a bit like golf clubs (though they still do not want women in the clubhouse). They look down upon those whose looks and image does not fit the general consensus and allow a select number of ethnic minorities within the hallowed walls – and even then, instead of allowing them to flourish, the black British contingent are made to feel like they should be forever grateful that they were allowed to study at Oxbridge. Never mind that they got there on merit by getting the grades and working their backsides off to achieve and succeed – they endured snippy comments from those who looked down at them saying, ‘You can’t sit with us.’

In an ideal world Stormzy should not have had to do this scholarship. It also (in a roundabout way) shamed Cambridge University and highlighted the lack of action with their previous (ahem) ‘efforts’ regarding diversity. However, the fact that he has made this happen demonstrates his greatness, his astute nature and his desire to level the playing field. At the end of the day, an underprivileged white student is still a white person and a part of the mainstream. Black people are a very visible minority so anything that helps raise the number of us within such stiflingly white institutions is a great thing. Education is for all – Stormzy’s scholarship proves so.

Breast Cancer and Me.

Just over a month ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When the consultant told me, it was as if all the noise had been sucked out of the room. I knew I had a lump, so I got it checked and half-convinced myself that everything would be fine. But instead, on a beautiful summer’s day, I was told that the lump in my breast was cancerous.

I remember few things in that initial blur except my mum’s shock and the consultant saying the cancer was treatable – I clung to that word like a person at sea clinging to a rubber ring.

My mind went blank after that bombshell, until I went into another room with my mum and one of the nurses and cried my eyes out. A few minutes later, I had to have another biopsy, this time to check whether my lymph nodes were affected. I cried throughout – not because it hurt, but because I was in shock. Mum reassured me that whatever happened we would get through it, but I was in a daze.

Telling my family and friends was hard – every time I told someone close to me, I ended up tearful. My dad had no idea because I did not want to worry him until I knew the results. When I told him, he gave me a huge hug and tried to hold his emotions in check. I told my brother and sister later that day and there were lots of tears, hugs and some laughter, which was what I needed in a heavy situation like that.

The whole week leading up to the second biopsy result was awful. Everyone I know sees me as a positive person but I constantly worried that the consultant would have more bad news for me. When I went back, I discovered that my lymph nodes were also affected which was not great but, weirdly, I felt relieved knowing because waiting for results when diagnosed with breast cancer (or any cancer) is the pits.

I have had many health issues throughout my life, mainly concerning my heart. Countless operations, check-ups, a heart valve replacement – I’ve had them all. You could say I’m a veteran, but that makes me sound old (I prefer to be called unique, thanks). But this was something else. All my operations took place when I was younger and – if I’m honest – I did not understand the enormity and complexity of what I was going through. Whereas now, I’m older and wiser and understand what I’m facing.

Also when I had my heart operations, they were usually the last thing and once I got over that, I was on the road to recovery. With breast cancer, the operation felt like the beginning.

My operation was due to take place within ten days of my diagnosis but was postponed (with good reason) until a week later. I had a lumpectomy and axillary node clearance, but have to undergo another (minor) operation. I’m not as worried about that because nothing compares to the nerves I felt before my first op. After that, it’s all about what comes next: radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both? I’m steeling myself to undergo both treatments.

Physically, I feel ok. Although my wound is still sore and tight, it is healing well and feeling steady. I’m mainly thinking positive and trying to be good to myself. I have had so much love from my family and friends – but it is not always easy. I wish I could magic the cancer away. I wish I could go to the gym and (if I exercise hard enough) all this would disappear, but it does not work like that. So I distract myself by writing, drawing, watching TV and scrolling through Twitter.

My cancer situation has triggered a whole load of emotions. When I got the initial diagnosis, I was very upset and surprised at how angry I was. My other health issues had calmed down so I was looking forward to a lovely summer, going out and enjoying life. Now, all that was on hold and I didn’t know how long for.

Also, this is happening during the hottest summer Britain has had in decades. Bar the torrential downpour that came a couple of weeks ago, London has had no rain since May, just wall-to-wall blue skies and sunshine. It is both amazing and unbearable.

Now, ladies (and gentlemen), I cannot stress enough how important it is to check your breasts. If you feel awkward doing so then you need to start getting acquainted with your body. If you think something feels a bit odd but not enough for you to go to the doctor – DO IT ANYWAY. Too many people choose to ignore things instead. Don’t do this. Check yourself and get checked out. ❤️

©️ G. Holder 2018

Rudd Resignation: My Verdict.

Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary on Sunday night. I feel a slight degree of sympathy for her, as she fell on her sword by taking the blame for her predecessor’s mess. The Windrush debacle is mainly Theresa May’s fault as it was she who lit the fuse for this scandal when she was Home Secretary in 2010. May should step down but she’s currently immovable as PM because her supposed leadership is needed to steer the Good Ship Brexit and if she goes, we’ll be rudderless (no pun intended) as we veer towards one of the most pivotal moments in British history.

I’m amazed that she’s still at the helm after the shitfest that was last year (or last June). She did not have the landslide victory that was predicted at the general election, then the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred and her failure to reach out to those affected made her a lame duck PM. Cut to nearly a year later and she’s still here, like a fly on excrement and it’s a shame.

Someone had to take the blame for the Windrush debacle and it had to be Rudd – she was the person in charge and didn’t seem to know what was going on and she ‘inadvertently misled’ MPs (her own words) about this and other issues, so she had to go. But May is getting off scot-free and surely that cannot be right? Everyone knows that she should resign but it’s like a whole heap of tumbleweed has blown into Parliament because it seems nobody is coming out and saying it.

Beggars Belief.

Another day, another example of a council showing their callous disregard for those in their region. Fresh from councils putting spikes in doorways and weirdly shaped steel straps on benches to deter homeless people from sleeping rough, now Poole council are to start fining beggars £100 for bedding down in their city centre. Where these beggars are going to find the money to pay off said debt is another matter.

In this day and age where many people are one missed payment away from ending up on the streets, this is a pretty shitty idea. The price of everything is going up but people’s salaries are often not enough to cover their rent or bills and many are constantly teetering on the edge. Whatever happened to helping residents? Because let’s be honest, that is what these homeless people are. They barely have much so how are you, dear council, planning to collect the money from them? Prise the pennies out of their cold hands?

There must be a better alternative than enforcing fines that will not be paid. How the hell are they going to pay? They have no fixed abode yet will miraculously have the funds to cough up £100 each time they are caught sleeping in a car park. It will be like a bar tab that is not resolved – and what happens then? Will that person continue to accumulate more fines until it reaches a level where it will be written off? If that is the case, surely it will be a pointless exercise and a failure for the council to add to their list.

Various people have been vocal in their criticism of the plan (which was originally put off due to the anger against it) and more than 3,500 people have signed a petition to get this new plan shelved. But it’s to no avail, as this fining fiasco is to go ahead next month. It does not seem like they will differentiate between ‘professional’ beggars and those that are genuinely in hard times either – it’s a one size fits all policy, which makes things worse and makes absolutely no sense.

Nobody wants to see homeless people sleeping rough but this is not the solution most had in mind. The government must do more than pay lip service for those in need. It should not be left to the likes of Shelter to always step in and help the homeless – this is a nationwide issue, after all.

What about helping the homeless to not be in such a situation? Give them the means to find other accommodation or something. Perhaps open up a soup kitchen for the whole year, instead of the odd one at Christmas that can barely hold the total number of homeless in your borough? Anything must be better than treating them like an empty cash machine?

I don’t know what Poole council hope to achieve from this but it is likely they will target those that actually need their help rather than this nonsense. Good luck to them trying to enforce this – maybe some good will come out of this but judging by the way it will be implemented, I doubt that very much.

Precedent for the President.

A few things about Trump and his state visit to Britain, which has been put off ‘indefinitely’.

Following the lunacy of the current President of the United States retweeting not one, but three videos from the Twitter account of extreme British right-wing party Britain First, the calls for Trump to be banned from entering the UK grow louder every day. Now, if he was plain old Donald Trump, loudmouth billionaire extraordinaire, I’m sure it would be easy for the powers that be (namely, one Theresa May) to ban him from our shores because he would be deemed as not a very important person. An insignificant blustering billionaire aiming to build yet another golf course.

But- whether you like it or not -Trump is the President of the United States. Things have changed. His status has changed. His power and reach have changed (and have far-reaching consequences). If he were to be banned from Britain, the precedent set for the President would not bode well for the future.

Also, we cannot pick and choose democracy as and when we feel like it. I disagree with pretty much everything he has said and done since his inauguration, but I feel like banning him from the country would defeat the object and purpose of democracy. He is not some random reality TV wannabe anymore, he is the supposed President of the Free World (whatever that means). He also has some support in this country from those who like his bullish approach and the values he claims to stand for. So banning him is not as simple as it sounds.

It is also a major headache for our Prime Minister Theresa May, because the Brexit deadline is fast approaching (March 2019 will come round sooner than you think) and the government are keen to seal those trade deals with America once we commit hari-kari and separate from the European Union.

I believe Trump should come to Britain for his state visit. He should step off Air Force One and be greeted at Heathrow airport or some unidentified airfield somewhere in the shires. He should be chauffeured through the streets in London. But we should not close all the roads for him and literally give him an easy ride, oh no. If he deigns to grace us with his presence, Trump should be given a first-hand experience of exactly what the majority of the British public really think of him, protests and all. Let him see how most of the British public are not hoodwinked by his bullshit, bluster and bravado. Let him see how vexed and angry we are at his actions and his terrible hair. Stick him on Question Time and put him up against some of the big guns in politics and beyond on the panel. I’ll bring the popcorn as we watch him be bombarded with questions.

There is a possibility that he will love all the attention- after all, there is no such thing as bad publicity in his eyes, and him being heckled and hollered at by members of the British public would be seized upon by his people as a sign of how badly he had been treated or demonised. But no matter- let the state visit go ahead (whenever that will be) and let the games begin.