Three for Monday

I’d love to see these artists live (in fact I will be seeing Hot 8 next month), but I’d settle for their albums:

OneLadysmith Ladysmith Black Mambazo need no introduction. Their music soothes and unsettles me at the same time. They make me homesick for a time long past, at home with my family before my father’s passing, in Malawi – for the beauty and security of a time of my life shot through with laughter and love that I took for granted and will always treasure.

Their new album, Always With Us, is dedicated to the memory of Nellie Shabalala, wife of Joseph Shabalala, the band co-founder. An American news station did an interview with the band, with songs.

Two Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I haven’t been able to shake their new song Retreat out of my head for weeks. It’s an unapologetic, fierce song that turns the usual “Come hither” soul song on its head. Their new album, Give the People What They Want, is a sort of soul-funk homage. Sharon Jones was recently diagnosed with cancer, which pushed the alblum launch back, which might be why they opted for a cartoon video for Retreat, but I have to say I would have preferred to see her in it.

Three Hot 8 Brass Band. I blog about them all the time, so I won’t go on. But here’s their cover of Rastafunk.


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We All Bring Something to the Table

I wrote something more personal than usual, for Open Democracy.

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My Speech at the Open Generation Event

Well, these things never go to plan, but this is what I prepared…

What sort of country to do you want to live in?

I ask that question because one of the great fallacies of the government’s hostile environment campaign is that you can isolate a group of people – in this case, to hive off the undocumented migrants from everyone else.

First off,  I don’t believe we should seek to exclude a group people, some of whom will be extremely vulnerable to exploitation, simply because for one reason or another they don’t have papers. Immigration status is a complicated web of rules that seems designed to catch you out, speaking as a migrant here.

But secondly, I also believe that you can’t. Just as you can’t separate one group of migrants from another, you can’t introduce punitive legislation that intrudes so much on migrant’s private lives without the rest of society being sucked into the net.

We are told that because of health tourism – an issue that has been talked up and despite estimates, is hard to quantify, students and other categories of temporary migrants will have to pay to use the NHS. And changes to the rules on ‘ordinary residence’ could mean that until you have indefinite leave to remain – a process that can take roughly to six years – you’d be paying for the service, even if you’re working legally here and paying taxes including National Insurance.  Many believe that this is the thin end of the wedge in terms of introducing charges for the NHS – but it also introduces an administrative burden on health professionals to check everyone’s immigration status. Otherwise, how do you know who is a migrant?

The same question is being asked at Universities. When Media Diversified –  @WritersofColour if you’re on twitter, hosted a discussion on immigration, lecturers tweeted us about their discomfort at having to snoop on their students to comply with immigration rules, something that was raised in a letter sent to the Guardian newspaper by 160 academics last month.

International students are feeling it. In an NUS survey over 50% of international students said the UK government wasn’t welcoming. When asked to name specific measures that bothered them,  74 per cent cited the NHS levy, and 40 per cent cited moves to get landlords to check on their legal status.

Which brings me to my third example: housing. Last year the BBC uncovered routine discrimination against Black people by letting agents in the private rental market  – a situation which will likely be exacerbated if we ask landlords- who are not regulated – to start investigating people’s immigration status. For starters, the paperwork isn’t straightforward. But also, will they want to go to the trouble, or will it be easier to just turn away anyone who looks or seems foreign?

At the beginning of my little intervention I should really have asked, do you fancy working for the UKBA? Because that’s what the government proposes to ask doctors, nurses, lecturers and landlords – among others – to do.

We are all being asked to consider our neighbour as immigrants first and people second. And if you seem “foreign”, you’re probably more likely to be asked these questions. These policies risk driving a wedge of suspicion into communities and dragging a lot of ordinary people into a net of surveillance.

So – what kind of society do you want to live in? And more importantly, what are we, the young generation, the open generation, the future of this country, going to do about it?

I’m so honoured to be here with all of you, and those joining us online and around the UK, to ask these questions. And I’m grateful to Open Generation and the Migrant Rights Network for hosting this important conversation and for inviting me to take part, and for all the vital advocacy work that they do. Thank you very much.



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Open Generation

Last week, I participated in a dynamic, challenging event on immigration and the younger generation, organised by Open Generation, part of the Migrant Rights Network.

Here is the video live stream of the event.



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I am currently squirrelled away, writing a number of things, including a dreaded research proposal, but seeing as I haven’t updated the blog for a while, I thought I would highlight some great upcoming events that I’m looking forward to:

One The new play by Roy Williams, one of my favourite playwrights, called Kingston 14. It’s at one of my favourite London theatres, Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Two Hopelessly Devoted at the Tricycle. I’m not familiar with the playwright, but it’s about women, love, prison and music. I’ll give it a whirl.

Three In May, the Hot 8 Brass Band are in London. Here they are playing Steamin’ Blues.

Four I have written elsewhere on this blog about my bitterness of missing the Scottsboro Boys when it was at the Young Vic. It’s making the jump to the West End! It’s going to be one of the best things about autumn. *contented sigh*

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Dencia Defending Skin Whiteners

“If you feel like your whole body is a dark spot…fine…say goodbye to dark spots.”

Cameroonian singer Dencia, whose cream I mentioned in my last article, defended the cream  on Channel 4. A very disingenuous interview followed. She alleges that the cream is for dark spots…but the advertising campaign just doesn’t add up.


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Skin Lighteners

I wrote about skin lighteners for the What I See Project.

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Intriguing Resistance

NaomiCampbellFor an industry that changes with the seasons, some adjustments take a little longer to bed down. We’ve now completed the Fashion Weeks for New York, London and Paris. Before it all began, the Diversity Coalition, a campaign for greater diversity on the runway launched last year and spearheaded by veteran model booker Bethann Hardison, and supported by former supermodels Iman and Naomi Campbell, published its statistics on the use of black models in 2013’s runway shows.

Letters to the heads of each of the four fashion weeks analysed the numbers from 2013 and noted “a marked improvement”, but pointed out that “ there are design houses serviced by casting directors and stylists who are latent, as they seem comfortable with stereotypical images.”

In London in 2013, JW Anderson and Preen made the biggest improvements, using four black models each in 2013 compared to one before then. Temperley London used two black models, whereas before they had none, whereas Moschino Cheap and Chic had no black models at all, no change from previous years.

The numbers for this year aren’t in yet, but the Sunday Times reported that black models were still struggling to get cast in fashion shows despite the British Fashion Council writing to fashion houses urging them to diversify their shows to reflect the diversity of London.

Or just, you know, real life. I agree that it’s ridiculous to have all-white fashion shows in London, but surely it’s ridiculous anywhere. The world is diverse and fashion is a global business. This may be high fashion, but these images influence high street fashion and powerfully shape what we consider to be beautiful.  This is true for body image as well as skin colour – and the excuses that are often given for rejecting black models are “aesthetic”: one casting agent told the Sunday Times that designers would often say that black models were “too extreme” and “their features don’t fit”.

It does feel like we’re having a “Black” moment in the media and entertainment industries. The convergence of the Bafta Awards and London Fashion Week this year underscored this, with Lupita Nyong’o the undisputed red carpet darling, celebrated for her acting talent in 12 Years a Slave, as well as for her distinctive, gorgeous fashion sense. She stands out for many reasons; not least because she represents an image of black womanhood that’s not often celebrated –a dark-skinned woman with natural hair. She also joins five other Black actors on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue, widely touted as their most diverse yet in a year when Black actors are storming the awards ceremonies.

But is this a season or are we turning a corner? Time will tell if these actors continue to get offered Oscar-worthy roles, in particular roles that aren’t limited by history or biography to only be played by Black actors. Hopefully, in time we won’t need to keep tabs on the number of Black models on the catwalk or actors on the red carpet.

On receiving a Diversity Award from the Director’s Guild of America last month, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and who does colour blind casting for her shows, recently spoke about  being “a little pissed off because there still needs to be an award. Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”

“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another… Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”

We need more diverse stories and storytellers to reflect the world we live in.  What Shonda says about the gatekeepers of media holds true for fashion too.

A year on from the launch of the campaign, race is firmly on the agenda and black models are not afraid to speak up.  Heavyweights like Iman and Naomi Campbell have broken the silence and impressively, younger models still at the stage of building their careers have joined in;  Jourdan Dunn has been particularly outspoken.

Sustained change is going to take time, but Diversity Coalition is in it for the long haul: “We look for consistency and not because of advocacy or a season lending to darker skin…Diversifying is not difficult.  The resistance to do so is intriguing.”

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Inspirational Woman: Cecile Kyenge

Cécile_Kyenge_-_The_State_of_the_Union_2013I wrote a profile of Italian politician Cecile Kyenge for Black Feminists’ Inspirational Women Series – click to read it on the Black Feminists Website.


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Learning Curve

Three immigration stories that caught my eye in the last week: 

ONE This came up during my twitter conversation @WritersofColour discussing immigration when a University professor flagged her concerns about acting as a de facto border agent on behalf of UKBA. In a letter this week to the Guardian from academics raised some pretty alarming issues with what they’re being asked to do, including sharing emails and other sensitive information about international students: 

Academics are being asked to monitor attendance and in some cases potentially to share emails with UKVI, said Mette Berg, of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University. “We have a duty of care towards our students, and there is an issue about this undermining the trust between tutor and student. We are not there to be proxy border police.”

A poll I saw a month or so ago showed that international students no longer feel welcome in the UK – at a time when Universities need their money more than ever. Among other things, students ought to be taken out of the net migration target. The Lib Dems might adopt this policy at their Spring Conference, but (and I know this is cynical, forgive me) I’m sure they’ll drop it in a heartbeat depending on which way the wind blows in (the next?) coalition.

TWO Hugh Muir (love him long time) wrote an interesting little sidenote on immigration post World War I, which goes to show that history is cyclical:

“Black labour had been welcomed, especially at sea, but “when the armistice was signalled on 11 November 1918, the wartime boom for black labour fizzled out as quickly as it had begun”. The cry instead was too many foreigners; British jobs for British workers. Black jobseekers were shunned and the complicit Ministry of Labour resolved not to tell them about benefits to which they were entitled. Destitute, they were targeted. By 1919, there were violent mob attacks in Liverpool, Cardiff and London.”

THREE A great article in the Guardian about the Home Office’s ongoing suppression of migration reports that contain inconvenient truths. This government has form in this regard (*slow hand clap for the Department of Work and Pensions*) but the article cuts to the heart of the debate, such as there is one:

“The evidence to support a rational case against migration is crumbling away. That makes countering the irrational one even tougher. But the really challenging piece of evidence, which can’t be analysed away, is that not talking about it just stokes it up some more.”

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