Oldtown Funk

This group of senior citizens giving Uptown Funk an African, vintage makeover is everything. I might as well go home because Friday is officially DONE.

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Great vocals

I am actually too tired to tackle Emma Barnett’s rant on racism and the ISIS schoolgirls in today’s Telegraph. In summary: “There are real racists, like Chelsea fans and UKIP councillors. That’s full-fat racism. Saying the ISIS schoolgirls should be considered as adults is not racist. It’s my view. You don’t know me. I’m not a racist. Skimmed milk etc etc.”

My thoughts on this are basically:

1. *yawn*.

2. Being a “nice”person (or not being a UKIP councillor) doesn’t mean you’re not perpetuating a stereotype or upholding a racist structure. And no, I don’t know you. If the pre-requisite for calling out this behaviour was knowing someone, we’d never get anything done. However, if you’re hanging out with racists, that’s going to be questioned. And if you say or do things that are racially insensitive or racist, then, yeah, that’s going to be questioned too.

3. *sigh*

4. Racism isn’t a pantomime act; while the more egregious displays are violent or plain ridiculous and invite public opprobrium, the more garden variety racial insensitivity and/or implicit racism is much more common and much harder to counter. It’s often done through ignorance. And yes, while motives do matter, it still must be challenged. (even among allies/friends).

5. *bangs head on desk*

Actually, that was more than I planned to say. The reason I titled this post “Great vocals” is because I have been listening to some beautiful voices. The ones in this list are all male, as it happens.

My prize for group vocals: Naturally 7 singing a cover of Coldplay’s Fix You. Not sure why I always like Coldplay covers but can’t stand the band themselves.

My prize for bringing sexy back: Al Green. (of course)

And finally, the prize for just being so silky smooth: Gregory Porter. (yes, again. I will celebrate him and Hot 8 Brass Band about once a month, ok?)

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“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

It starts at home

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Measure for measure

CaptureIt’s been interesting to see how the results of a BBC survey of Muslim attitudes has been reported. The BBC headline is that the majority of British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals’. For the Telegraph and the Times among others, the newsworthy information was the fact that 27% of those polled sympathised with the motives behind the attacks. Others followed the BBC headline. The most interesting contribution I have read today is Ian Dunt from politics.co.uk , who deftly highlighted some of the underlying values revealed by the survey – not necessarily limited to those being surveyed:

“It’s difficult to compare the results of the BBC survey on Muslim opinions with the rest of the population, because no-one else is ever asked these questions – but it’s probable Muslims are actually more loyal to the UK than the general public.

Today’s BBC survey found 95% of Muslims are loyal to the country. There are no similar measurements for the general public.” – Ian Dunt

Ian goes further, and in my opinion to the heart of this general line of enquiry:

“The fact these questions are never asked of non-Muslims speaks volumes about the higher standards they are held to and the levels of proof they are required to provide. A terror attack by Muslims, be it by Isis or the lunatics in Paris, is always followed by demands, often in respectable newspapers, for Muslims to publicly distance themselves from them. These demands continue even when Muslim leaders have already done so, suggesting they are motivated by suspicion rather than reason.” – Dunt

And about that 27%….

“However, it is important to disentangle sympathy for motive and sympathy for action. We might sympathise with the motive of a homeless man who steals bread, while condemning the theft itself. Sympathising with the motives behind the attack is different to supporting it.

The background of the survey offers some indication of the context in which these sentiments are expressed. Muslims are afraid. Forty-six per cent said being a Muslim in Britain is difficult due to prejudice against Islam. Thirty-five per cent said most British people did not trust Muslims. Twenty per cent of Muslim women felt unsafe, as did ten per cent of Muslim men.

If these levels of discomfort and insecurity were expressed by any other ethnic group it would lead the headlines and hand-wringing editorials about where we’d gone wrong. Instead, it sparked headlines about the level of minority sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attack. That in itself speaks to the intellectual environment in which Muslims are forced to operate. The abiding message is that they refuse to integrate and that their culture is incompatible with western society. They are a problem to be solved.” – Dunt

This is the rather febrile atmosphere in which Cathy Newman saw fit to lie about being “ushered” out of a mosque. Why? And in which Grace Dent refers to the girls who left to join ISIS as “cool headed, elegantly pulled together, determined young women”, mocking in particular the grieving and bewildered parents who made a TV appeal clutching their girls’ teddy bears. Are they wrong? Yes.  Worryingly, inexplicably misguided? Oh yes. Are they still children? Yes. An excellent riposte to that is over at Media Diversified: “The Denial of Childhood to Children of Colour“.

I don’t have the answers, but I know that this atmosphere doesn’t help. And the disingenous pleas for the Muslim community to somehow defeat the nihilistic, warped ideology of ISIS by themselves, as if the horrors of that group are visited on “us”, in the “West” alone… as if Muslims aren’t their main victims (in terms of numbers) – aren’t helping. ISIS, like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, claim to be Muslims but they’re really power-hungry murderers using their version of Islam as a handy ideological cloak for their bloodstained campaign. They’re a problem for us all.

A few weeks ago I heard an impassioned press conference by a US mother whose three children ran away to join ISIS, the younger two influenced by their older brother.  I cannot remember whether they managed to apprehend them in time, but I do recall that she condemned their actions and wept for her chlidren, for her loss. She also addressed ISIS directly: “Leave our children alone.”

Children.

Their children.

Ours.

 

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Women Fashion Power

WOMEN-FASHION-POWER-Graphic-300-x-400I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum last night.

It ticked all of my boxes.

The evening talk, after the museum officially closed, was preceded by a private view of the exhibition of itself, that charts changing fashion and social status  for women. It looks at mass movements that affected ordinary women and those who occupied positions of power, from the early twentieth century until today. There were profiles of powerful women in positions of leadership from Ancient Egypt to China, but overall it primarily had a European/US focus. It was staggering to see how at times women have subverted the world of men, either by co-opting men’s dress or reclaiming their sexuality. There was a great section on the suffragettes and women leaders from different spheres of life from politics to business to human rights. Corsets, bikinis, beach pajamas (I want one!)…it’s all there.

It really made me reflect on my own style and preferences.

Then came a fascinating talk by Lauren Rhoomes of Akhu designs on the politics, spirituality and history of African textiles. Her focus was primarily on West Africa, but it was an engaging and informative talk, followed by a great head wrap workshop. Now I know how to do the great head wrap styles that I see around London.

Rhoomes also brought along some beautiful textiles from Nigeria that have been handed down through the generations of her family. She expounded on the weaving and printing techniques in Ghana and Nigeria in particular, and also made a powerful statement on the fair trade aspect to the textile trade, especially with the influx of cheap textiles from China.

I would give the whole experience five stars out of five if I had to rate it. The exhibition is a must-see, and I was privileged to hear Rhoomes speak with such authority and pride on African textiles, fashion, symbolism and craftmanship.

 

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Real Beautiful

Capture“It is real, it is honest, it is gorgeous” is how Marie Claire described the unretouched photos of Cindy Crawford that leaked last week. They weren’t supposed to be seen, but I have to tip my hat to Marie Claire’s communications team for classy handling of the affair.

They’re right, though.

At 48, she looks amazing. And real. Apart from a lucky few, most women have rounded tums and dimply thighs. We bear the scars of life: childbirth, bumps and scrapes, age.

One of the best things about being over 30 is settling into myself. I wish I had done it sooner. More than anything now, I just want to be strong and flexible so that my body can go the distance into old age. Our bodies are phenomenal, from the tips of our fingers to the organs inside – so much happens automatically that we take for granted.

So much time is wasted in an adversarial relationship with its quirks or in pursuit of an ideal, when your body is uniquely yours.

Real.

Honest.

(and quite possibly) Gorgeous.

 

 

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The power of touch

Why do we say that somebody or something “rubs me up the wrong way”? How is that statement so evocative, so easy to understand?

We all know touch is important, but NPR did a fascinating interview with a neuroscientist about why touch is vital for our survival – and why some touch can irritate you, while others can soothe. (apparently, there is an ideal speed, people).

A few things I found very interesting: “Touch is so central to our humanity that it’s hard to even imagine [life without] it. For example, if a child is born blind, they can grow up and have a completely full and normal life. They will be cognitively normal, psychiatrically normal and not have profound problems — the same if a child is born deaf. However, if a child is born into a situation, like a Kurd in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and ’90s, where social touch is deprived because there are not enough caregivers around, then that child will develop terrible psychiatric problems, attachment disorders, mood disorders, and also physical problems — problems with the digestive system and immune system, higher incidences of diabetes. And, amazingly, these problems are not just problems of childhood, but persist throughout life.”

And on the link between depression and pain: “…emotional pain centers are richly interconnected with regions of our brain having to do with cognition and anxiety and anticipation. So this is why many people who suffer from chronic pain can get partial relief from anti-anxiety medication. It’s not that the anti-anxiety medication directly affects pain-perception — what it does is it breaks this horrible positive feedback loop between anxiety and chronic pain. So if you have chronic pain, then you become anxious about, “When is it going to stop? When is it going to recur?” And that anxiety seems to trigger more chronic pain. If you can interrupt that … then often times that can bring at least partial pain relief.”

As Diana Ross sang, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand….”

 

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Make it Good

Stop press: There is a new Macgyver in the works (well, it’s news to me) and the show’s creator has confirmed that the lead will definitely be a woman. NPR speculates that it may even be a woman of colour.

I love the fact that the moment we’re having in TV at the moment means that a woman of colour fronting the show is a real possibility. Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Sleepy Hollow are just a few of the shows paving the way.

But it also comes on the crest of a trend of remaking some old favourites with women. Like the all-female Ghostbusters that’s coming out soon.

I have just one heartfelt prayer*: let them be good. It’s one thing to have a woman front and centre, but the key is always good writing and believable characters, otherwise it’s an easy slide into arguments on tokenism.

Representation matters; make it good.

*I have another prayer: Gina Torres (Firefy, Suits) for Wonder Woman!

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Shondaland

I’ve been catching up on my favourites list; articles and shows that I have bookmarked and not got round to reading yet.

One of these was Shonda Rhimes’ acceptance speech from October last year when she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership award for being a pioneer in her field. Shonda owns Thursday night TV with her shows Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Grey’s Anatomy. She is the first woman to have that sort of TV real estate and definitely the first Black woman to do so.

I have to say, I enjoy all her shows. They are full of action, drama, ridiculous, breathless dialogue and fabulous music. She also makes some great (though at times quite heavyhanded) points on sexism, racism and other issues. She makes the pill sweet to swallow. Her shows lack the subtlety and devastating finesse of The Good Wife or Damages, but they are punchy and assertive; much like the woman herself.

Her reflections on leadership and women breaking through the industry remind me of Hillary Clinton’s comment about cracking the glass ceiling when she lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.

“I know this isn’t an award because I’m a woman or because I’m African-American. I know that it’s really about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.,”

“But I haven’t broken through the glass ceiling…If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know..If I had broken through a glass ceiling, I would have felt some cuts, I would have some bruises, there’d be shards of glass in my hair. … If I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I made it through to the other side, where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face.”

“The view from here  —  way up here where the glass ceiling is broken  —  would be incredible. Right? So how come I don’t remember the moment? When me with my woman-ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that thick layer of glass and smashed right through it? How come I don’t remember that happening? Here’s why: It’s 2014. This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now.”

She went on to pay tribute to all the women who have gone before her. It’s easy, as a woman living now, to forget that the privileges we enjoy are hard-won, that so many women fell at the first hurdles so that we could walk over them later.

My maternal grandmother left the home to work as a postmistress in rural Jamaica. My paternal grandmother was one of the first primary school teachers in her region in Malawi, outlived two husbands, built a life for herself and her children. Even in my small family, there are stories of breaking the mould, of the power of education for women, stories of sacrifice and strength. They paved the way for me; crucially, they and other women in my family expanded my ideas of what I, as a woman, could achieve. I have been nurtured, encouraged, challenged by a whole host of remarkable, understated women who would never make a song or dance about it, but who have powerfully shaped my life.

As Rhimes put it:

“How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?” Rhimes said. “How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore. I mean, the wind was already whistling through  —  I could always feel it on my face. And there were all these holes giving me a perfect view to other side. I didn’t even notice the gravity, I think it had worn itself away.

“So I didn’t have to fight as hard. I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and called it my target. And I ran. And when I hit finally that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”

 

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Facing Fears

I am an avid follower of the Eloquent Woman blog. Denise Graveline’s Eloquent Woman workshops have really helped me to develop my confidence and creativity in public speaking. Every week she highlights a different remarkable speech; recently it was Lupita Nyong’o’s December address to the Massachusetts Conference for Women, on facing your fears. It has a special resonance for me this year. I promised myself that 2015 would be a year for pushing my proverbial boat out.

In December, I wrote down my goals for what I dubbed “Terrific Lady Year”. (you have to watch the American football sports comedy The League to understand the reference), which my sister teasingly dubbed #yearofKiri (Who knows? I wouldn’t mind).  I was also inspired by reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, who gave the famous Ted Talk on Vulnerability. So far, I’d say it’s going well. The trick is to keep showing up.

As part of Terrific Lady Year, I also have the Terrific Lady List, a bucket list of all the fun things that I always say I’m going to do but never get round to. Things that I want to start doing again: horseriding, mountain biking, abseiling, slam poetry….things that I can wear a pretty dress to: afternoon tea, Ascot, any given Tuesday…and some things I’ve never tried before: zorbing? Speaker’s Corner?

Three inspiring videos on the theme of taking risks:

1. Danny Macaskill, the Scottish free rider (like parkour, but on a bike) exploring the rugged terrain of his native Skye.

2. Lupita’s aforementioned speech:

3. Brene Brown on vulnerability:

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