My American Dream has Died

When I was a child my TV
showed US shows each day to me
Sold US dreams to this
Black British
Young girl and won me over easily
Because I watched, I wanted prom
Wanted to call my mother “mom”
To cheer lead dancing with a Pom Pom
To me you see
The U.S. was where I belonged
If given the choice where to reside
Bel air, Beverley Hills or Bayside
Who cares
I’d have better hair
And white teeth
Like all Americans who live there
I’d go to the mall, hang out at the beach
Life in America would be peachy

That’s what I’d see
When closing my eyes and California Dreaming

That dream has been cut short

By the sound of black voices screaming

I was late
To read the words that graced
The pages of Haley’s story
For my unexposed mind, this was gory
My eyes spilled metaphorical tears
For a people stolen, brutalised, the worst of all fears
Realised
DeGruy is right
That the trauma is still alive
My American Dream was beginning to die

Feelings of heaviness inside
How can a people live with this past
With this pain
With this knowledge that your blood spilled
Was their gain
You weren’t human in their eyes
My American Dream began to die

And then Obama
They’ve come so far
The most powerful man
And he’s black like me
“We don’t see colour, look at Obama. See?”
Yet to to make black lives matter
Powerless is he.
I was not fooled
But still fooled to believe
That racism was only in the awards blacks didn’t receive
Was only in parts on screen they could never play
America was still a place to travel to some day

The trouble is
Now we have technology
Camera phones that record and see
What the overseers, sorry officers
Don’t want anyone to see
Thank God for passers by
Now the world can see what America would like to hide
You still want black labour,
So you put blacks in jail
You still want to be Massa
white supremacy prevails
It was not a crime then for a slave to be killed
And still now you murder blacks as you will
Instead of serving time
You hit the big time
Get lauded as a king
Or sheltered under the Roof of a Burger King

I’m no longer dreaming, I will stay woke
It is sad to say, I can’t see a day
That the dream MLK spoke
Of will ever come to pass
Blacks still being pushed
To the bottom of the class
When it comes to wealth and healthcare
They’re still coming last
The whites have the gall to put “immigrants” on blast
You are also an immigrant have you forgotten your past?
But for the blacks it’s
Not so much California, but Compton
But even when the blacks
Do live in a nice neighbourhood
The whites believe blacks are no good
“This is our swimming pool
Stay out of our spaces
Or we will call the cops
But don’t you dare call us racist”
Yes Amerikkka; the police man of the world
Allows its own police force
To assault innocent young black girls
As I watch the whitewashed media spin
It sinks in
From the beginning
The dream was never for those with melanin

I now watch Amerikkka through cynical eyes
Death in police custody is followed by lies
Lies followed by victim blaming
And shaming
No justice for black bodies
Just more hashtag naming
Everyday a new hashtag
The world ignores Amerikkka’s genocide
But not I
I dare not step foot on that blood soaked stolen soil
Lest I die
(If I do I did not commit suicide)

To express what has been implied:
My American Dream has died

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Book Review: A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta

I read about this book in a Newspaper and the way in which it was described drew me in. I recall, it was said to be a book about exploring the differences in culture between the Nigerian protagonist and those she comes into contact with within her Western environment. I bought the book with an expectation of something Americanh-ish. I think part of my problem is that I have been spoilt by Chimananda, and now expect all African writers to sound like her.

Well, Atta does not sound anything like Adichie, and that in and of itself is not a criticism of Atta. I’ll start with some positives.  I like that the main character’s name is not introduced until she is addressed by another character and we learn her name is Deola. Up until that point she is only referred to as “she”.

Deola is in her late 30s, single. This information is provided to the reader, but other aspects of her character, who she really is, remained somewhat of a mystery. She works for an international charity in London, but visits “home” which is Lagos for her late father’s memorial. Some of her thoughts and dilemmas seem more typically associated with an adolescent. I can understand this is some way, because in some West African culture, a woman has not truly become a woman until she is married with children. Yet I found it hard to connect her thoughts and feeling to that of a woman of her age and stage in life. Deola clearly has dissatisfaction with her life in London, but the reason for this is not made entirely clear.

What is clear is Deola’s love hate relationship with religion, and Christianity in particular. Now this touched a nerve with me because of the sweeping generalisations made about the Faith. Again though, I have understanding as to why “African Christianity” is criticised because I know from experience how distorted it is from the Christianity of the bible. Religion is certainly a theme in this novel, but I was not expecting it to be tackled in a way that could be seen scornful and disrespectful.

In terms of some of the other themes explored, I found myself asking at one point, is this a book about HIV and Aids? A bit like the MTV series “Shuga” based in Nigeria, (where almost every character either had HIV, or was about to catch it), was the thinking that, seeing as this is going to have a mostly African audience, I’d better do my best to educate them about the importance of being tested for HIV, seeing as most Africans are dying of Aids?

Perhaps not the biggest let down, another thing I found disappointing was that I could in no way relate to Deola and her privileged background. I had waited to find a novel that was based between Nigeria and London, and having finally found it, I couldn’t connect with Deola as I shared very few of her experiences. I did not go to an expensive fee paying boarding school and I do not have any friends who were educated at Harrow, for a start.

Fatally, the book included too many scenes that did not move the story forward, and an ending that leaves the reader hanging. Not hanging from a cliff as such, as that would suggest an exciting ending. More like hanging from a set of monkey bars.  I kept returning to the blurb to remind myself of what the story was supposed to be about. A love story? Deola’s love interest, hotel owner Wale, does not feature enough for it to be described as a love story.

With no lucid understanding of where the story is going, what is driving the main character, and what message the writer is trying to give, a Bit of Difference, was a bit of a flop for me.

Happy New Year?

The reason for the question mark in my title is, hasn’t January 2015 just been a little bit depressing? I do not mean to sound negative here, but I really do hope things improve from here on out. The following (in no particular order) are a list of reasons why in my opinion, this year so far has not been so “happy”:

  • It is very cold, windy and rainy.
  • Trains everywhere seem to be running an appalling service, constantly running late, and are extremely over packed. Oh and fares have gone up too.
  • I’m fatter than usual following Christmas 2014. Usually after Christmas, I go up just one dress size, but this year it’s two.
  • Hospitals everywhere cannot cope with the number of patients being admitted. I’m scared that should I need urgent medical attention, an ambulance may reach me by January 2016.
  • The general election has not happened yet, and David Cameron is still the prime minister.
  • Over 2000 people, according to Amnesty figures, were massacred in Nigeria. As bad as that is, the tragedy was made worse by the lack of media coverage it received.
  • It’s 2015 and instead of there being greater understanding of different cultures etc, racism, it appears, is more acceptable than ever under the guises of “an honest debate about immigration”, “promoting British/Western values” and “the freedom/right to offend”.
  • Black lives still don’t matter
  • The rich continue to get richer, and the poor get poorer
  • Celebrity Big Brother has returned again. (When will this trash die?)
  • I can’t even comfort eat away some of my woes because I now have to be on a stupid diet

Despite all of these things, I live in hope. Not every year can be entirely wonderful, and anyway, this is just the beginning. After all at this time last year I was unaware that I was going to be proposed to a few days later, and then married by the end of the year (more about that later).

The best comfort really, is to continue to remind myself that this life is temporary, and to think of things eternal.

Black Hair (Part 2): It’s None of Your Business!

I do not mean to cause offence by the title of this post; it is aimed at narrow minded people who judge black women not on the content of their character, but on something as superficial as how they choose to style their hair.

 

With this post I fall in danger of contradicting part 1, in which I sought to argue that it does matter how black women style their hair, in the sense that those who choose to wear it naturally, (knowingly or unknowingly) send a message to the world that there is nothing wrong the kinky textured hair of people of African descent. However I do think that it is also true that how a woman chooses to style her hair is her own personal choice, and as such should not be open for criticism and debate by others.

 

Let me explain what I mean. One day I was sitting on a train when I observed a very disturbing and bizarre scene. A black male starting speaking loudly to a young black female sitting across the aisle.

 

“Excuse me, is that your real hair?”

“No” she replied quietly, head down.

“I didn’t think so. You shouldn’t be wearing weave. It looks fake”.

 

I felt embarrassed for the young woman. Her hair was obviously a weave, and by the looks of it not “human hair”. Maybe she was not in a position to afford a better quality weave. Maybe she just wanted to cover her natural/relaxed hair with a weave as a protective style. Whatever her reasons for having a, not so great, weave, what right did that man have to question her? Whatever the state of her hair, in what way did it affect him?

 

Sadly he’s not alone in his condemnation of black women who do not wear their hair natural. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to stumble across certain Youtube channels of (black) men, dedicated to spewing venom at black women, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. In fairness, it’s not just black men, and it’s not just men. Women too can be very judgmental about what they perceive to be a bad weave or bad hair day. Remember how much stick Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglass during the

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

2012 Olympics? She was not criticised for her performance – and rightly so as she won two gold medals – but what was her crime? Not having freshly relaxed hair!

 

I accept that criticism of women’s looks is not limited to one race. The picking apart of women’s bodies in national magazines is indiscriminate. But when it comes to hair, there does not seem to be such a fierce debate around what it means if Caucasian hair is straightened or left curly, or if extensions are added in. If you listen to those venomous self-hating Youtube cowards (cowards because it’s easy to be foul mouthed and derogatory behind your computer screen), then a black women who straightens her hair, or gets a weave, does so because she wishes she were white. Of course it can’t be because she feels like a change, or likes the way it looks, or wants a protective style. Even if she does wish to be white, surely it’s only a small minority of people who would actually conclude that a woman wishes she were a different race because of her hairstyle? Or should I suppose that when Cheryl Cole wears cornrows she is expressing her inner desire to be black?

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

For the record, black hair is versatile. It’s probably the most versatile hair type that exists. Many different styles can be achieved with it. So when black women choose to explore the different styles, why not just leave them be? It’s not hurting you. And in my experience, most people of other races do not quite understand black hair, and so do not even realise that. For example, box braids involve fake hair! How many times have I taken out braids and then been asked by classmates/colleagues “have you cut your hair?” Before I would roll my eyes, and think “how ignorant”, but now I find it liberating. Knowing that my colleagues are not scrutinizing my latest hairstyle and scanning the back of my head for visible tracks, puts me at ease. If only all black women could feel that way all of the time.

Where Are The Black Owned Businesses?

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“I remember when there used to be two black owned shops here next door to each other” my mother said from the passenger seat as we were driving through Deptford High Street one afternoon. This sentence preceded a very strange sounding tale of rivalry and revenge. It was prompted by our passing a row of shops, all of which were now owned by Asians.

The tale went something like this: Once upon a time there were two shops selling African groceries, sat side by side on Deptford High Street. One was owned by Mrs A, the other was owned by Mr B. Mrs A’s shop started to do very well. Soon it became obvious that Mrs A’s shop was far more popular than Mr B’s. Then one day Mrs A became very ill. Within a few days she died in hospital. Mr B had been jealous that her shop was doing much better than his and so he had poisoned her! Mrs A’s children were left devastated at their loss, and soon the shop closed. In the meantime, word began to spread that Mr B was responsible for Mrs A’s death. People began to boycott his shop, resulting in its steady decline. Then Mrs A’s son seeking revenge, one day went and dowsed Mr B’s shop with petrol and set it alight. He succeeded in burning to a cinder Mr B’s shop, but he also got badly burned in the process, and scarred for life. Both shops were never to see black owners again. The end.

I had some questions about this story. How did people know Mrs A had been poisoned, and that Mr B was responsible? According to my mother, there was no confirmation, but people “just knew”. After all, these things happened in Nigeria, and so it followed that these things could happen in Britain amongst Nigerians. But whether or not the details of the story are true or not, it is a story that perhaps identifies some of the key reasons why we do not see more black owned businesses. Maybe if black people worked together more, instead of against each other, like the Jews do for example, then the tide would start to turn.

I am always puzzled by the fact that shops selling African and Caribbean food, and African and Caribbean hair and beauty products seem to all be owned by Asians. These shops stock products that African and Caribbean people will always flock to buy. They are cash cows. Has no black person cottoned on to this fact? I doubt that is the case. One theory is that Asians have ring fenced the hair and beauty industry, and force out black owners, either by their economic position of power, or by other means. For example I think of another tale that I have been told, this time about a black hair and beauty store in Peckham, owned by a Nigerian woman. Allegedly, Asian shop owners of the neighbouring shops had their eye on hers. They were constantly in touch with the Local Authority to find ways to have her shop shut down. Eventually they succeeded, and swiftly took over the shop.

With the knowledge that black people are to a large degree frozen out of the market dealing with products specifically tailored to many cultures found within the black race, I can’t put the blame entirely on black people for not owning more businesses. There are probably other factors to take into account as well, such as legacies, and connections that immigrants, or children of immigrants may not have to the same degree as those who come from a long line of descendants settled in the UK. However, I would like to see more black people in enterprise, because I often meet black people with ideas that could work. Those of us who are of the second generation, let’s leave behind the tendency of our parents to distrust one’s neighbour, or for one-upmanship for the purposes of showing off to others within our community. I feel other racial groups are respected more, because of their power, which is fed by their wealth. I believe those of African descent need to undo the damage caused by the “divide and rule” tactics of colonialism, and rise to their full potential of generating wealth and pioneering new ideas.