Thursday, 13 October 2011

"Learning from the journey to here, for the journeys to come"

Black Feminist Learning Event

The under-documentation of Black feminist herstory means that much learning is at risk of being lost. The aim of this event is to share learning and experiences which will strengthen Black feminist activism. So we are calling together Black feminists who were instrumental in setting up and running groups, organisations and campaigns over the past five decades to share their experiences and document Black herstory. All groups and campaigns have had their ups and downs. We would like to focus the event on:
- what were the achievements
- what were the challenges
- what would you do differently (with hindsight)
- what is the focus for Black feminist activism now

For women descended (through one or both parents) from Africa, Asia (including Pacific nations), Latin America, the original inhabitants of Australasia, North America, and the islands of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Indian Oceans. This includes trans women.

WHEN: 6.30 – 9.30pm, Wednesday 26th October 2011
WHERE: Development House, 56 - 64 Leonard St, London, EC2A 4LT

The format will be facilitated large and small group discussions - not a panel. If you would like to help shape the event, please do get in touch:

ACCESS DETAILS FOR DEVELOPMENT HOUSE: 3 steps and lift access at main entrance (with alternative ramped entrance directly to basement); lift or 19 steps to basement from lobby level; accessible toilets in basement area. Basement floor even throughout. Nearest Blue Badge Parking in Moorfields (850 metres). If you need further access information, please do get in touch. There will be sign language interpretation at the event.

DIRECTIONS FROM OLD STREET UNDERGROUND: Use exit 4. Go past Sainsbury’s on your left; turn left onto Leonard Street. Go down Leonard Street for two minutes, Development House is on your right immediately before the small roundabout.
COST: FREE (Black Feminists is an unfunded group; donations are welcome on the night to cover the cost of the event.)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Street Harassment Part 1?

by Saba Mossagizi

I was born and lived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada up until 8 months ago. Alberta is a province known for its conservatism, lack of respect for the environment and abundance of money from its natural resources (see: lack of respect for the environment). Edmonton, as a city, is quite small with a population of just over a million. Besides the occasional random car driving past and honking, I could walk down the street without ever being hassled by strange men. If a man did approach me on the street with an “excuse me miss” I would never give out my number, but I would always stop because they were being polite, and who am I to just ignore another human being.

Moving to London was an insane culture shock for many reasons, the main one being, just the vast difference in population (there are just a lot more people living here). Another massive reason for my uneasy transition into life in London is the way I am spoken to while walking down the street. Men make hissing sounds, look me up and down and become aggressors, sometimes they stand in packs and intimidate me into walking around them.

Being talked to by strangers is not the issue, being complimented is not the issue, however, being disrespected on almost a daily basis can weigh on a person. When a man is shouting at you as you pass, not even attempting to have a conversation then what is the point in that interaction other than to make you feel uncomfortable and lesser than him?

I find myself passing men who are being polite because I cannot walk down the street without a “hey darlin/beautiful/gorgeous/love”, which is unfortunate because I do not want to be shaped into a different kind of person because of the men who act as aggressors towards me. I should not have to feel like I have to fix up or be embarrassed because someone has taken it upon themselves to hiss at me like they are calling for their house pet. This same type of attention directed at any male in the same circumstance would undoubtedly lead to some type of altercation; but as women, we are taught that we are to be looked at and men are taught to look (a bigger can of worms that represents a larger problem and cannot be respectfully dealt with in this relatively short post).

The first time I spoke up when at a Black Feminist gathering about street harassment, I was surprised to hear that most women have become used to this type of harassment. I even heard murmurings that it was just a part of living in London. The fact that these women that I respect so highly, never thought of this type of harassment as constantly or consistently as myself, completely and totally baffled me. However, this is the sad truth, all of my female friends who are from London have dealt with street harassment since they have hit puberty. Unfortunately, they are used to street harassment.

My end goal when I walk out of my flat is to make it to my destination without feeling dread, that I might make eye contact with someone who will try and “put me in my place”. No one has the right me to feel that uncomfortable, full stop.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Kanazawa is just a racist who went as far as to get a phd in order to impress upon the world his prejudiced views.

Back in May of this year - yes, that would be The Year 2011 - an evolutionary psychologist who was and still is employed by the London School of Economics (an academic institution that is routinely ranked in the top ten of all universities in the world) published a magazine article on the attractiveness (of abject lack of) of black women. By black, he meant Afro-Caribbean as far as I can tell.

It was a hugely insulting piece and entirely irrelevant to any questions of importance today, or yesterday, or indeed for tomorrow, but there we have it. A publicly funded (mostly - ha! Gaddafi's regime has had a hand in funding the LSE, see here:, so OSTENSIBLY publicly funded with tax payers money) has hired and gives an office and room to speak and air his views to a bigot who spends his time engaging in non-rigorous, non-robust 'research' (read: musings) on how come black women are just so ugly while all other women at least have something of the aesthetic to recommend themselves.

Hugely sexist, hugely racist. This much is obvious.

While I never forget (memory like an elephant, to match my looks perhaps Satoshi would say, but whatever!) I had stopped obsessing about how offended I am by the article. That was until the new smack in the face which was the LSE published note on the outcome of Satoshi's disciplinary hearing. (It is in full below. I think it is only fair to show all of it if I am to rip into it and tear it apart - only fair.)

Apparently, "Measures have also been put in place to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again. In particular, Dr Kanazawa must refrain from publishing in all non-peer reviewed outlets for a year. Further, he will not be teaching any compulsory courses in the School for this academic year."

So, he will not be able to submit any shameful, inaccurate, racist, bigoted articles that have not been okayed by his mates (sorry, subjected to scientific scrutiny by academic peers) for one year.

This isn't long enough for me. And, if someone has the gumption to go this far out to disseminate, culture and propagate this tripe, he probably has academic type friends who'll support him, why not, the LSE supports him with a pay packet each month. Let's look at the published (and apparently scientifically sound) papers that the LSE is not ashamed to show on its site (as of 15/9/11):

Beautiful British parents have more daughters
Kanazawa, Satoshi (2011) Beautiful British parents have more daughters. Reproductive sciences, 18 (4). pp. 353-358. ISSN 1933-7191

Full of generalisations, but the crux is that beauty is more important for women than men, so 'beautiful' people have more daughters. I wonder then, how black people have any daughters at all....

In 2009 he said feminism is illogical, unnecessary and evil: "First, modern feminism is illogical because, as Pinker points out, it is based on the vanilla assumption that, but for lifelong gender socialization and pernicious patriarchy, men and women are on the whole identical. An insurmountable body of evidence by now conclusively demonstrates that the vanilla assumption is false; men and women areinherently, fundamentally, and irreconcilably different. Any political movement based on such a spectacularly incorrect assumption about human nature – that men and women are and should be identical – is doomed to failure. Further, modern feminism is unnecessary, because its entire raison d’être is the unquestioned assumption that women are and have historically always been worse off than men. The fact that men and women are fundamentally different and want different things makes it difficult to compare their welfare directly, to assess which sex is better off; for example, the fact that women make less money than men cannot by itself be evidence that women are worse off than men, any more than the fact that men own fewer pairs of shoes than women cannot be evidence that men are worse off than women."

That's right, when it comes to women it's always actually about shoes..... For more of this dribble, see Psychology Today, if you really must.

Back in 2006 the LSE backed him up on an article published in the British Journal of Health Psychology where he stated that African people living in African states have lower IQs than people in richer countries and this leads to chronic ill-health and poverty. Hog's wash, but for proof that I am not making this up, see: So, who's with me on not trusting the academic community to rein him in, either? This is the kind of stats that he has been teaching in the compulsory (yes, compulsory, as in students have NO CHOICE but to attend) lectures at the LSE.

The other punishment is for Kanazawa to forgo teaching any compulsory courses for a year. How about ANY courses EVER? How about him losing his job? Surely publishing that paper is drawing the LSE and the social scientific community into disrepute? If it has been found to be lacking academically, inaccurate in its findings and insensitive to audience, the correct action is dismissal, not to keep him from teaching racism in his stats classes for 12 short months.

This would not be too harsh because Kanazawa has not shown that he has changed from his marred course at all. Instead he says: "The blog post in question was motivated entirely by my scientific curiosity and my desire to solve an empirical puzzle."

Empirical puzzle? As though black women being ugly is a social fact. No, the only answer to that personal 'empirical puzzle' is that Kanazawa is racist, that is why he thinks black women are ugly. That's it, that is the end to the conundrum. Kanazawa is racist and so is his curiosity and I don't need to conduct a multilinear regression analysis to come up with that answer.

"In retrospect, I should have been more careful in selecting the title of the blog post and the language that I used to express my ideas."

How about a rigorous interrogation of those very same ideas? Run it by the EHRC first, then the ESRC for ethics and then take a step back, think about it for ten years, and then if you think it is still a good idea seek out other social scientists to co-author and if you have a hard time finding partners in your own School, drop it. That would be my advice to you, Satoshi.


Dr Satoshi Kanazawa - findings of internal review and disciplinary hearing

The internal review and formal disciplinary hearing into a controversial blog posting by Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, Reader in the Department of Management, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has now been completed.

It has concluded that some of the arguments used in the publication were flawed and not supported by evidence, that an error was made in publishing the blog post and that Dr Kanazawa did not give due consideration to his approach or audience. Disciplinary action has been taken and Dr Kanazawa has written a letter of apology. Measures have also been put in place to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again. In particular, Dr Kanazawa must refrain from publishing in all non-peer reviewed outlets for a year. Further, he will not be teaching any compulsory courses in the School for this academic year.

On 15 May 2011 Dr Satoshi Kanazawa posted a blog entry on the Psychology Today website entitled “Why are black women less physically attractive than other women?”. The School received considerable criticism from LSE students, academics and members of the public about the blog article.

In response, the School appointed a committee of senior academics to investigate the blog posting and its impact. It was clear that a number of people had been greatly offended by the blog and for this Dr Kanazawa has apologised. The review and hearing also considered the quality of the research underlying the article. After examination of the blog and detailed discussion with Dr Kanazawa, the hearing concluded that some of the assertions put forward in the blog post were flawed and would have benefited from more rigorous academic scrutiny. The view was that the author ignored the basic responsibility of a scientific communicator to qualify claims made in proportion to the certainty of the evidence.

It was the opinion of the hearing that the publication of the article had brought the School into disrepute. During the internal investigation and at the disciplinary hearing Dr Kanazawa expressed regret for the offence caused by the article and the damage to the School’s reputation. The School has accepted that Dr Kanazawa has learnt from this experience and will not make the same errors in future.



The letter of apology by Dr Satoshi Kanazawa to LSE Director Professor Judith Rees reads as follows:

Dear Professor Rees:

I am writing to express my sincere apology for the controversial post on myPsychology Today blog and the damage it has caused to the reputation of the School. I regret that the controversy surrounding its publication has offended and hurt the feelings of so many both inside and outside the School. The blog post in question was motivated entirely by my scientific curiosity and my desire to solve an empirical puzzle. It was not at all motivated by a desire to seek or cause controversy and I deeply regret the unintended consequences that its publication nevertheless had because of my error in judgment. I accept I made an error in publishing the blog post.

In retrospect, I should have been more careful in selecting the title of the blog post and the language that I used to express my ideas. In the aftermath of its publication, and from all the criticisms that I have received, I have learned that some of my arguments may have been flawed and not supported by the available evidence. In my blog post, I did not give due consideration to my approach to the interpretation of the data and my use of language.

The past three months have been most difficult for all concerned, and I would never want to relive the experience. I give you my solemn word that in the future I will give more consideration to the approach to my work and I will never again do anything to damage the reputation of the School.

Yours sincerely,

Satoshi Kanazawa


Friday, 16 September 2011

Bol (Speak)

by Chitra Nagarajan

Bol, the newest film from Shoaib Mansor, was released in Pakistan in June this year and in India, the UK and the USA on 31st August. I just returned from seeing it tonight, on the fervent recommendation of a friend who urged me to spread the word.

South Asian cinema remains dominated by films of the singing/ dancing romance/ thriller variety but there is a growing number of films of a more political nature. Bol is a welcome addition to Pakistani cinema. The director has stated, 'Having been so blessed in life, I often think of the things that I should be grateful for. The list always seems to be never ending, but invariably it ends at one thing... that I was born a MAN. Nothing in the world scares me more than the thought of being born a woman or a eunuch...'

Bol tells the story of Zainab, the eldest of eight children that survive into adulthood, born in Lahore. She is about to be executed for murder and asks to be able to tell her story to the media from the execution block before she is hanged.

She starts with 'I am not innocent. I am a killer not a criminal.' She goes on to tell the story of growing up in a patriarchal household with a controlling, tyrannical and abusive father and a mother made ill by repeated pregnancies in the quest for a son. Even prayers during an India-Pakistan cricket match cause tension. 'In my house, father's absence was celebrated as a festival,' Zainab says at one point. The film addresses issues including poverty, Shia/ Sunni dynamics, the need for women's education, intersexuality, religion, homosexuality, prostitution, the perceived 'burden' of having daughters, as well as the realities of living in a household controlled by a non-benevolent patriarch. It also celebrates women's resistance and sisterhood. 'Like a man, you raise your hand when you are speechless,' Zainab says to her father just before he is about to beat her. At another point, she exclaims, 'I wish I was God; I would make every man give birth to a child,' when trying to explain to her father why he shouldn't impregnate her mother again.

The story unfolds in ways that I am not going to mention - needless to say that at around 2 1/2 hours, quite a lot happens. Zainab ends by asking, Why is only taking life a crime and not giving it as well? Why is having illegitimate children only wrong but not having children and making their life hell? Why isn't it a crime to produce children if you can't feed them?

It's received largely rave reviews (although one TV host has said 'filmmakers should realise that the masses want entertainment and not social messages') with many calling it 'a courageous film that has the guts to expose issues plaguing the society. It raises questions, challenges the age-old customs and mirrors a reality most convincingly.'

Hunt down a cinema showing the film (there aren't many of them around in the UK I'm afraid) and go and watch it if you can.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

'disgusting Nigerian/slave'...the long road to racial equality continues

by Caroline Alabi

At a London airport recently a white man threw racist rants at singer Kelis today because he thought she cut the line. Many people witnessed this open racist rant as they were queuing up and none of them flinched.

He called her a disgusting Nigerian, a slave and said she should refer to him as sir. While this was happening the clerk at the customs desk was nodding his head in agreement! Kelis wasn't alone when this was happening; she was holding her 2 year old son. Approximately 300 other passengers who were queuing also witnessed this and not one person said a word!

Why are we so behind in terms of progression with racial equality and dealing with racism in the UK? Well, Kelis answers this nicely when she says that in the UK everything is swept under a rug - I couldn't agree with this more! When Obama got elected I remember going into work and one of the first things the receptionist (white) said was it's not long before he'll get assassinated! I then proceeded to ignore her and talk openly in the office to my other colleagues about the fact that only ignorant people will be disappointed with a black president. She always used to make subtle statements that were clearly racially charged and because she would word things in a certain way it was hard to actually point out that she was being racist.

A black prime minister in the UK is not even within reach if you ask me because the stiff upper lip culture of the UK is about not being honest and open about things. Americans will openly challenge racism and talk about inequality and aren't afraid to but in the UK saying something like ‘I'm part of a black feminist group’ will just lead to people thinking you are some sort of black panther lesbian idealist but they will pretend that they don't have an issue with it! The racism in the UK so undercover, so discreet and so subtle that it's even harder to tackle!

Here is an article on the racist attack against Kelis, but it makes you wonder doesn't it? The UK isn't actually that tolerant despite the great mix of ethnicities and nationalities represented here. It makes me feel like in theory we think we are making progress because we have race discrimination employment laws in place but in reality it hasn't changed things as much as we think. Until we start openly challenging racist and don't feel apologetic/embarrassed to challenge racism then it will continue. We need to help ourselves because nobody else will.

Ethiopian Girl, Ethiopian Girl

by Saba Mozzagizi

The other day my friend was on the tube when she overheard a group of young boys talking about girls, she didn't really pay attention until she heard one of them say very loudly “I don’t care, I don’t care how hot that chick is, I only want an Ethiopian”.

It is true, what is considered beauty in popular culture changes, which means what is considered beautiful in hip hop culture changes. Pop culture is hip hop, but hip hop is not pop culture; meaning everything you hear on the radio has been influenced by hip hop but there are certain aspects of hip hop culture that can still remain outside of pop (ie. models with fake butts). So when you see women with big butts on television becoming the trend, you can bet that in hip hop videos that the women have even bigger behinds, some of which have been artificially enhanced.

These bodies are now artificial so these women who are idolized for their parts can have the same measurements regardless of ethnic background. However rap artists covet these women based on their race rather than their individual looks ie. shouting out Brazilian girls, Spanish girls, Asian girls, Light skinned girls, Dark skinned girls etc.

Lately I have been hearing more and more of this type of coveting language surrounding Ethiopian women, especially since I have moved to London. I have been stopped on the streets by men who are obviously not Ethiopian, that have taken the time to learn a few phrases in Amharic (the most spoken language in Ethiopia) to start a conversation. Why? People are people, the differences within races are greater than those between different races. There are plenty of “unattractive” Ethiopian girls!

I may be a bit sensitive because I am the first person in my family to have been born outside of Ethiopia, in Canada. My mother had lived a life of fear of her government, oppression of her political beliefs (she was a socialist), love and laughter before she had even arrived in Canada at the age of 25. So maybe I am sensitive to the fact that someone who has gone through so much should be only talked about for her outer beauty and for the fact that some teenage boy might have wanted to “have” her or date her daughters, nieces etc. just because she was born in a particular country.

Do not get me wrong, growing up in a city and going to schools with very few black people, hearing rappers consider women of my ethnicity beautiful, made me feel better. It made me feel like maybe, somewhere, people considered girls with my same background attractive. However, there is a difference between appreciating an individual’s beauty and deciding that you will only date one race or ethnicity of people.

Oh, and by the way calling a woman exotic based on her looks is not a compliment, it is racist.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Words Fail Me

Dear Sirs • man to man • manpower • craftsman
working men • the thinking man • the man in the street
fellow countrymen • the history of mankind
one-man show • man in his wisdom • statesman
forefathers • masterful • masterpiece • old masters
the brotherhood of man • Liberty Equality Fraternity
sons of free men • faith of our fathers • god the father
god the son • yours fraternally • amen • words fail me

(Women’s Right’s Postcard, Women's Press, London
Stephanie Dowrick, 1981)

* The formatting, including the green font for the 'Words fail me', is apparently how it appears on the card.

Friday, 12 August 2011

We Need To Listen

By Lola Okolosie

In the spirit of Charmaine’s post, what I have written below is not in support of looting but is my way to try to understand…

I had been ill with an agonising abscess at the root of one of my molars throughout the whole London/UK rioting; it meant that I wasn’t able to talk, or in anyway feeling inclined to socialise. For those five days, I was a near mute listening/reading any news about unfolding events. I mention the fact because I think it provides an apt metaphor for both what has happened in the last week and what should follow in the coming weeks, months and possibly years.

The riots are about Britain’s deeply unequal society, pure and simple. Be it a discussion about poor parenting (often linked to poverty, yet successful schemes like Sure Start, providing excellent early years parenting support and advice, now face sharp cuts to funding under this coalition government); poor education (again, often linked to inadequately resourced schools in areas of deprivation, yet Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s Schools White Paper clearly delineates the ways in which the coalition are attempting, as they did with the NHS, to create a market system in schools leading to the increased ghettoisation of many primary and secondary institutions across the country); or a poor moral outlook, we inevitably return to inequality. Indeed, it is evident that one set of ‘bad morals’ are worse than others if the sentencing of MPs who fiddled their expenses in comparison to looting rioters is anything to go by. Compare the sentence given to former Labour MP, Jim Divine, who received a 16-month custodial sentence for ‘looting’ £8,385 from public funds to that given to 21-year-old student, Nicolas Robinson, for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water- 6 months. Both men were defendants who, prior to their sentences, had no criminal records. The inequality in their punishment speaks for itself.

These riots demonstrate the ways in which, forgive me if it seems trite, the abscess of inequality has come to announce its painful presence to a society which is largely ignorant of what the word means for millions who live on the breadline. The appalling Commons debate on Thursday in which seemingly intelligent politicians tabled proposals around the curtailment of benefits for rioters, demonstrates that this country is categorically unwilling to have a discussion about inequality and its impact on social cohesion. Rather than do as I did with my abscess, stop and listen, our nation is caught in the grip of wanting to fight fire with fire. The mindlessness of the violence and looting we witnessed screams that we need to LISTEN. The sheer fact that a clearly evident anger and frustration at the system, by a largely poor and disenfranchised conglomeration of individuals, was articulated in this most inarticulate of modes, begs us, that’s right, the British public, to seek to interpret, enumerate and analyse these gabbled messages.

Yet that is not what is happening. I am as sickened and saddened by this fact in much the same way as I was by some of the footage of people wrecking their own neighbourhoods.

True to form the British public is looking for a scapegoat and true to form it appears in the visage of that age-old bogeyman, the young black boy/man. Forget the fact that this is an individual who, by virtue of being himself, young, black, invariably poor and male, places him at the bottom rung of society’s ladder (see statistics on educational attainment, employment, life expectancy, mental health, prisons below). On Thursday, when news first emerged that police had shot and killed Mark Duggan, the pictures circulated on TV and newspapers, the erroneous detail (from the Daily Mail) that he had shot a bullet lodged in a police vehicle attempted to frame him in the very same light: violent young black man corrupting social order.

I won’t even begin to mention how the looters and rioters were NOT a homogenous group but instead a reflection of the melting pot deprived communities of London; young, old, white, Asian, black, male, female, you get the idea! Once again, young black men are now, despite being one of the most disempowered of individuals being bandied about as the real scabs of British society. The real problem in Britain is not the bankers who have taken £3 trillion of British taxpayers money to continue their selfish acquisition of wealth, which they will distribute amongst an infinitesimal proportion of the population, no. It is not politicians who have, through MPs expenses and the News International scandals, shown time and again that they are a group of individuals with vested interests who will only argue the public’s corner when it is expedient to do so, no. It is not the police and media, named and shamed as having been engaged in a corrupt and criminal collaborations over phone hacking, no. It is those at the very bottom of society with no constructive means or avenues to articulate their position. Maybe my metaphor of an abscess is inadequate; they work from the bottom up…

The Stats

“The lowest levels of GCSE attainment were among Black Caribbean pupils, particularly boys. Only 27 per cent of Black Caribbean boy achieved five or more A*-C grade GCSEs…The permanent exclusion rates for pupils from the Other Black, Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean groups were 42 pupils per 10,000, 41 per 10,000 and 37 per 10,000 respectively. These were up to three times the rate for White pupils.” – Office of National Statistics

“Studies show up to 7 times higher rates of new diagnosis of psychosis among Black Caribbean people than among the White British.” – Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

London-wide, life expectancy is currently 75.7 for males and 80.7 for females, compared with 76 and 80.6 for England as a whole. But for males born in the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Waltham Forest—all of which have significant ethnic minority populations—life expectancy is one year less than the average.”- British Medical Journal

“Infant mortality in seven London boroughs with a high ethnic minority population is 7 or more per 1000 live births, considerably higher than the average of 5.4 for England and Wales. “ – British Medical Journal

“Among men, those from Black Caribbean, Black African, Bangladeshi and Mixed ethnic groups had the highest unemployment rates (between 13 and 14 per cent). These rates were around three times the rates for White British and White Irish men (5 per cent in each case). “- Office of National Statistics

From the Office of National Statistics Black British people make up 2% of the British population, we can thus crudely assume that black men constitute 1% of that group yet they make up 15% of the prison population. Last figure from Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I loot, therefore I am

by C

‘Getting mine’ appeared to be the mantra of the London civil unrest / uprisings / lootings / riots (delete as necessary). It wasn’t action against the police, or fighting the system, it was ‘getting what’s mine’ carpe diem style.

I’m not an apologist for what has unfolded in many parts of London and the rest of the UK over the past few days, but like Chris Rock says (and I am not a woman to quote Chris Rock) I’m not saying they should have looted, but I understand.

I know I need to explain, it starts with a little story, so here we go:

I grew up young, black with not very much money in London. During the summer holidays I used to work in town on Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets, the nearly very expensive squares on the Monopoly board. I could really only go to these places at night to rave, when the West End was turned over to us (ironically that is now the City – bankers by day, black ravers by night) or to work at the weekend in order to be just about able to afford anything in the very same shop that I worked in. In other words, I knew that this place, the pride of London, was not for me in anything but a tangential sense - get in, work, get out. Memorably, I took a trip to Selfridges one afternoon to visit a friend and was struck by advertising slogans that said, a la Barbara Kruger, ‘I shop, therefore I am’. And I couldn’t help but wonder that as I couldn’t actually shop, ergo what?

And this is what I think was at the heart of what happened in London on Monday. Apparently we are what we shop, what we have, or if we have no means for real, consistent, reliable access to this in a legitimate way, we are what we can loot. Without these things, we are nothing and nobodies. Trainers, clothes, mobiles, ipods, macs – possession of these things are tantamount to human rights in the UK, with a dominant society that recognises people according to social class and money and for decades it has been very difficult for people particularly susceptible to poverty (working classes, ethnic minorities, women, young people) to progress socially or economically. For the past year it’s been impossible. No credit, no jobs, no other legitimate ways to get them, and at the very same time costs of basics are soaring – gas, electricity, petrol and staple foods like flour, bread, milk. Of course, some were still getting them, through crime, cash-in-hand jobs, mugging here or there, or petty theft. On Monday and Tuesday, this behaviour left the estates and no-go areas of London and moved into full view and force on high streets, and now we are calling it 'rioting' and 'looting'.

No, there’s been rioting and looting in some communities for a long long time, it’s just that no cameras were trained on it. I wonder whether burglaries and similar crimes will decline over the next few weeks in some (poor) neighbourhoods. I’m willing to bet no one will care enough to look at it.

It has been asked ‘how can these people do that to their communities?’ That’s the point; it isn’t their community. Up and down the country playgrounds are locked, basketball courts are locked, in Hammersmith the Tory-led council transformed a football field into a polo pitch (let’s not talk about the libraries, because yes, young people hung out there, too), and the jobcentres are being shut down. Whose community is that? It’s not theirs and there has been precious little attempt to open it up to them. The cuts have cut them out. These communities have not been sites of enjoyment for them in the large, they have been where the police harass them, teachers are prejudiced against them, bus drivers drive by, and potential employers just say no.

It has been asked ‘why don’t their parents keep these children at home?’ Maybe their parents are working two or three jobs to make ends meet (unsuccessfully), maybe the children don’t want to go home for reasons related to social and economic poverty and it IS summer time! For some of these children being outside of the home is safer, happier and healthier in the short term, bring on the sun. Many of them are hardly ever indoors, the streets of estates have long been home to throngs of behaving and misbehaving young (and not so young) people. It’s a problem now because they are becoming visible, in some areas it is the first time they have been seen on the high streets in any real number for years. You could be forgiven for believing that most of Camden, Clapham and Woolwich is a white middle class holding area for post-university home counties Tobys and Sophies to have extended sleepovers, because widespread gentrification masks the social malaise. We’ve all seen it, but it’s worth taking a look at the map that overlays the London riots map with the 2007 social deprivation map.

The London riots happened extensively in places where poverty and affluence exist cheek and jowl. Crime increases with the disparity between rich and poor, and for the last few nights of London rioting so did the likelihood of looting. Surely that doesn’t take a genius?

And then there is the police brutality. Mark Duggan was shot dead in broad daylight on Thursday, his family were pleading for information and got nothing. They peacefully demonstrated and still nothing, and then allegedly the police set upon a 16 year old girl and that galvanised violent disturbance and people up and down the country with riot in their hearts jumped into the fray.

In 1976 Roots was televised in the UK and that year carnival was turned upside down by riots. I watched Babylon on TV last week and felt a fire rise in my chest. A few nights later Tottenham set the riots in motion and the UK fell like dominoes. Go figure.

I’m not saying I condone the looting, I do not, but I understand.

Riot, rage and rebellion

Cross-posted from MsAfropolitan
 Riot, rage and rebellion
Mark Duggan
This is the picture the media is using to remember the man who unawarely, post-mortem, instigated the UK riots.
Some see what is intended – a dangerous black man making gun gestures.
To others, this is a picture of another ‘cheap’ black life taken unjustly and irreplacably.
Duggan’s family say, “We don’t want Mark portrayed as some kind of gangster. He was a good man, a family man.”
I also sense a man with a sorrowful, defiant look in his eyes, an embodiment of a social system that nourishes difference. In a fragment of that type of society, a rebel.
For sake of clarification – I’m aware that the vast amount of the looters are opportunistic criminals. This article is not discussing that group, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and other UK politicians seem in fact to be addressing only those people.
I’m quite interested in discussing those young men and women that have that same lost look of defiance in their eyes that Duggan has in this picture. Those that set buildings on fire for the sake of it, that fought the police, those that literally went to war against society.
It is important that we try to understand those young people. However, by the look of things, that discussion will not be held in any mass forum, or what do you think?
Life’s cycles sees adolescence as the stage of life when we unprecedentedly are susceptible to injustice because we are coming to see the world with independent eyes for the first time. Adolescence is also a time when we don’t always know how to deal with pain internally.
We have much to learn from the youth therefore. If we are the conscience, they are the shadow of our conscience. And right now, a considerable amount are reflecting something foul, a recurrent rotting wound.
These youth are a reminder that you cannot dress up in bubble wrap, protecting yourself from the sharp edges of reality. Pop the bubbles, it will make you feel lighter. Metaphorically speaking, our adolescent shadow does not harbour this much anger for no reason. It is lazy to see the animosity as detached from our own actions.
A mature society would be able to deal with issues like the difference placed in the value of life. Or with non-inclusive gentrification. And with people seeing crime in their community through racially segregated lenses, as I wrote in Hackney Citizen last year.
Personally, I feel rebellious too,I want these leaders to explain why a black life still seems to be worth less than a white life. Not only because I’m African, but because I’m human. Why did the police kill a young man who did not deserve to die? Why were people who peacefully demanded answers treated so unjustly?
I certainly don’t want to destroy anyone else’s life to prove my rebellion. Yet I don’t wish to crush the rebellion in some of these youth either, not even as they stand at my doorstep in all their threatening rage. What I wish, is that we could discuss this with integrity, okay address criminality with the muscular language so familiar to Prime Minister Cameron and his establishment; yes there is room for the draconian, militarily approach of theirs.
But who will address the kids who have been let down by a systemic failure to address inequality? Who will explain to them that the true meaning of rebellion is freedom, is love?
We shouldn’t even expect the same politicians or police who’ve been sleeping with media as recent scandals revealed to do it. Too many don’t want to disturb their comfortable reality, one where injustice is not something to be destroyed, nor rebuilt, at anyone’s inconvenience. Yet as history repeats, we must ask ourselves the questions, how much longer will we blind to our own shadows?

Menstrual Tales - Part One

by La Lyonne

Our recent on-line discussion about periods has prompted me to remember what my first period was like. I was eleven years old and had just started attending secondary school. I woke up as usual one morning, went to the loo and was panicked at the sight of my blood-stained knickers. I didn't understand at all what was happening to me. I thought that I was ill or that someone had come and injured me during the night, and that I was slowly bleeding to death. In a state of shock, I called to my mum and explained about my bloody knickers. She said I had to have a bath. I remember my mum using eggs whilst I was in the bath. I remember asking my mum how long my periods (because by then she'd given the blood a name) were going to last - a week? a month? a year? Her reply? 30 YEARS OR MORE. My eleven-year old brain could not compute. I remember my mum telling me that I couldn't bathe whilst I was on my period - despite the fact that I was having a bath at the beginning my first period ever. Hmmm. I remember my introduction to Dr. White's sanitary pads, thick and with loops for pinning into place. (You must remember that back in 1977, innovation and sanitary protection were not even remotely contiguous - it is arguable that the same is true today but that's another whole realm of discussion.) I remember emerging from my bath and drying myself off, getting dressed, and then coming out of the bathroom to see my dad and my older brother hovering about with eager anticipation on their faces. Were they happy? Did they want to say something? What, exactly? Brandy appeared and I was given some to drink together with the refrain "You're a woman now". It's taken me some time to understand what that means.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Black women, beauty and advertising

by Chitra Nagarajan

I'm sure you all remember Satoshi Kanazawa's claim that "Black women are … far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women." Psychology Today has since apologised for the post and removed it from their site (hence, why I haven't linked to it but you can read commentary about it here).

This week, comes the news that

Naomi Campbell is like chocolate...

...and Dove can make your skin become 'visibly more beautiful in just one week' (meaning of course whiter).

So not impressed.

Operation Black Vote has called for Cadbury's to apologise and withdraw its campaign and said the Dove advert reflects subliminal racial stereotypes in advertising.

What do y'all think?

Interview with Dan Tres Omi - a black male feminist

This interview was originally posted on
In honour of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, I caught up with Dan Tres Omi, a freelance writer and lecturer whose meaningful and powerful writing I came across in Clutch Magazine in a article titled Black Male Feminist – What Being a Feminist means to me. I wanted to ask him why he became a feminist and why he thinks women’s equality is important for men also.
1. It is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) this year. What does IWD mean to you?
When I think of the International Women’s Day, I immediately think of people like Phoolan Deviof India. Devi who was murdered in 2001 then reminds me of Ida B. Wells. Both Devi and Wells were warriors and both were responding to their immediate crises. They used the pen as a sword to fight for the rights of women everywhere.
Most recently I think of Wangari Maathai of Kenya who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. She stands out because she was on what later became the Green movement since the 1970s. What I enjoy the most of Maathai is her looking to raise the quality of life for everyone by doing something very simple: planting trees. When you learn about what she went through to just launch her political movement off the ground, you realise that she went through what a great number of women go through every day when it comes to patriarchy. She is a single mom just like my mother. Like my mother, she refused to sit back and just let things be. She rolled her sleeves up and went to work the best way she knew how. If anything, we should be taking cues from Maathai.
2. When did you become a feminist and what led you to make the decision?
Becoming a feminist was a long process. I never set out to become one. As a matter of fact, I was one of those who became a rabid dog if the term ‘feminist’ was mentioned around me. I pounced on anyone who claimed to be a feminist. I thought it was a white thing and excluded women of African descent. I thought it was antithetical to Pan Africanism.
I consider myself a critical thinker. When I wasn’t a feminist, I did see disparities between men and women but didn’t have the terminology to put two and two together. After reading folks like Dr. bell hooks and Audre Lourde who provide a clear analogy of white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, I was able to put those things together and have a better understanding of those disparities. I was able to connect the dots and see how patriarchy is connected to white supremacy.
Again, it was a slow process for me. I can say it took about ten years for me to come around. Like anyone else, I was raised in a steep patriarchy. I had to learn about male privilege first and realize that privilege is not just invisible but relative. I have to thank many of the sisters I worked with who are feminists. They refused to back down and I thank them tremendously for not giving up on me. I said some harsh and hurtful things during those discussions. They could have easily chalked me up as a loss. They didn’t and I am so grateful for it. So I am living proof that the most reluctant brother can get down for the cause.
3. Despite the male privilege, do you believe that men also suffer from gender inequality and in what way?
Men suffer from gender inequality because of the disparities between men and women. If the quality of life is not raised equally for everyone, we all suffer. Gender equality is good for all of us, men, women and children. Women should earn equal pay. Women should have the same access as men do. This is good for everyone. My daughter and my nieces should be allowed the same career paths as my sons and nephews. That’s a win-win for everyone. Inequality only helps a handful of people. One might assume that privilege and patriarchy is advantageous to all men but this is not true. For example, patriarchy maintains a status quo that still places men of African descent as second class citizens.
We cannot claim to want equal rights and deny this to our woman. So when I hear men cry that there is ‘reverse sexism,’ I have to point out that they sound as ridiculous as white men who claim there is ‘reverse racism.’
4. You are a Pan Africanist as well as a feminist. How do you reconcile that feminism hasn’t always considered those cultures outside of the white western one and that Pan Africanism doesn’t always embrace the struggle for gender equality?
That’s a great question and it’s one I get all the time.  First of all, Pan Africanism is a political ideology that is not based on a cultural basis. Pan Africanism is in fact a concept that came up outside of the continent by Africans in the Diaspora. Some people aren’t happy when this is bought up. It makes sense, since the continent is made up 54 countries with separate histories and cultures. Oftentimes, we Pan Africanist base our understanding under Afrocentrism but the idea that Africa was once a unified nation is a myth.
All of the notable Pan Africanists who were born on the continent, studied abroad, and then came back to become political leaders of many African nations learned Pan Africanism while they were abroad. Many political leaders who took up the mantel of Pan Africanism were ran out of office. In the 21st century, Pan Africanism touted by political leaders in Africa is still unpopular. Pan Africanism is a reaction to white supremacy. If there wasn’t any European colonialism, Atlantic slave trade, or a deliberate European exploitation of African resources, would Pan Africanism exist?
I’m not saying Pan Africanism isn’t valid. It is tremendously important and I think it is a political ideology that provides the only viable solution for self determination for all of Africa and the people in the African Diaspora. If it wasn’t, none of the leaders who espoused this ideology would be dead or run out. If it wasn’t a viable option, then European powers would not go out of their way to destroy it and its adherents.
The problem is too many Pan Africanists don’t see beyond just kicking out the colonialists. Too many of our leaders are European in black face. Many of us intend on replacing the heads of patriarchy and continue the exploitation of our own especially women. This is not going to work. Women have to be a part of the struggle and the solution. If we don’t realize that then we are no better than those who enslaved us to begin with.
5. Do you have any black male feminist role model/s and why?
Kevin Powell was the brother who set me on the right path. I enjoy his honesty. I enjoy the fact that he realizes he is a work in progress. If there is anyone who made me realize what male privilege is it has to be Kevin Powell. It’s a shame that in his work to expose male privilege, he has been vilified and his work virtually ignored.
The film maker Byron Hurt hit out of the ball park with his documentary “Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” This film pretty much drew the line in the sand when it comes to patriarchy and hip hop.
Finally, Mark Anthony Neal was the first person I heard use the term black male feminist and it is Neal’s work that pretty much made me accept that term. I am not suggesting he was the first person to use the term but he was the first person I heard use it.
6. What has been the greatest challenge in being a black male feminist?
The greatest challenge is realizing that there is male privilege. The scary part is that there are days when I wake up in the morning and I embrace male privilege without even knowing it. It is so easy to slip back into patriarchy mode and revert to being sexist. I remember teaching my sons Chi Sao/sticky hands. Unintentionally I called to them only when I began their lessons. My wife pointed out that I never called my daughter. For a moment I wondered to myself why she would ever need me to teach her Chi Sao or spar with her as a girl. Then my heart skipped a beat. There I was, a black male feminist, denying my daughter lessons in Martial Arts because she is a girl. Turns out, she is my best student!
7. In ten years from now, where do you hope that the black community will be in terms of gender equality?
I hope that feminists such as Dr. bell hooks becomes as intrinsic to Black Liberation as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. I hope that we read and learn about feminists from other African countries and countries in the Diaspora and their work becomes more familiar to all of us. [Editors note – see post on 7 African feminists for a start]. I hope that when we talk about Arturo Schomburg, we also talk about Ida B. Wells in the same vein. I hope to see the same level of respect given to women in our communities who put in work and are not overshadowed by their male counterparts. I hope to work with more men who see women as partners in our struggle.
Thoughts, questions? Do you agree with the point raised by Dan Tres Omi, that contemporary patriarchy is a Western concept and one which ultimately stifles Pan Africanism? Do you see a link between male privilege and white privilege?