Thoughts and Prayers and…

Maybe it has always been the case, but after the mass shooting in a Texas church earlier this month, I noticed a backlash to politicians trotting out the phrase “thoughts and prayers..” – especially politicians who in the next breath went on to affirm, as always, that an epidemic of mass shootings has nothing to do with a need for better gun regulation in the US.

Time Magazine took an interesting look at language, cliche’s and grief which noted that

Politicians (and journalists) have long turned to cliches because of the nature of their work. It’s grueling and repetitive, often requiring them to communicate a message to a whole districtful of people, if not an entire country. They generally want to do this in language that won’t be misconstrued, that doesn’t leave them vulnerable to attacks, that feels familiar. Cliches aren’t just overused because they’re clever; they are also safe. You can assume people will know what you mean when you use rhetoric that so many have used before you, even if it is stale as old toast.

However, it also pointed out that the backlash may have something to do with the fact that:

Repeating the same language can even feed into the feeling that mass shootings are becoming normal and unworthy of deep, sustained attention, much less legislative action.

I’ve noticed some religious people offended at the backlash, taking it as more evidence of an increasingly sceptical world when it comes to spiritual matters. But I think there’s more to it than that. Grief takes you beyond yourself. Everyone responds differently. Some will find comfort in other people’s prayers, others will not – and that goes for those who are spiritual or religious as well as those who are not.

But I do think that those of us who are part of faith or belief communities who trot out cliches and then decline to take any action in the face of gun violence – especially Christians, who tend to be the most high-profile offenders, need to sit in the backlash and feel the burn.

We should burn if we offer people cliches instead of transformative action. Prayer is not meant to be a passive act. If you are really praying about the issue of gun violence, if you are truly in a dialogue about it with God, then I don’t know how you can not be changed by it, especially if you are a policymaker who can take meaningful action.

Prayer is not meant to be a wish sent up to heaven, it’s a dialogue – and one that should charge you to do something. We are here, fragile flesh and bone, with hands and feet to transform the world we live in, supposedly for the better. I don’t understand how politicians can claim to be praying one moment, and cling blindly to the ideology of guns the next, as if somehow this is a sacred issue that was enshrined once in law and can never be reopened again. And do so in the face of such overwhelming suffering of their fellow citizens.

The backlash against the cliche of thought and prayers is richly deserved. Maybe shame will do what prayer and compassion apparently cannot.

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Fen-tastic

Right, so cheesy pun there. Rihanna has never been on my radar much; her music wasn’t particularly to my tastes, though I had nothing against it, and I thought she was beautiful and clearly talented but was not a fan girl.

Something that I have noticed recently, however, and perhaps I would have noticed this earlier if I had actually been a fan, is how independent she is. She’s a savvy businesswoman – her makeup line Fenty has changed the game by simply acknowledging that women of every shade should have makeup that suits their skin. Other brands have widened their ranges over the years, but Fenty set out to cater for every shade from albino to the darkest black from the outset. No tiptoeing around the edges, they just dived right in and what I find striking is that every woman has at least a couple of shades that might suit her. Everyone.

But what really impressed me recently was her body positivity, revealed in an interview for Cut Magazine in which she was asked about her approach to clothing:

“Well, I actually have had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type, where one day I can literally fit into something that is bodycon, and then the next day — the next week — I need something oversized; I need a little crop here and a high-waist there to hide that part, you know?

I really pay attention every day when I go into the closet about what’s working for my body that morning. I feel like that’s how everyone should go after fashion, because it’s an individual thing. And then, if you take it further, it’s like: What week are you having? You having a skinny week? You having a fat week? Are we doing arms this week? We doing legs this week? We doing oversized?

I love to play with silhouettes as well, but I think it’s important to make sure that you wear the thing that works for your body the best, and that’s flattering.” – Rihanna

There’s something beautiful and so very rare about a woman who is at peace with her body and makes the clothes fit her frame, rather than the other way around. I love that Rihanna is a positive role model and yes, she has stylists and custom made clothes, but while her wardrobe is out of reach, her attitude is something we can all adopt.

I remember falling in love with my thighs a few years ago. Not because they’re lovely  – far from it. But because they’re mine. They’re huge and strong and curvy and have cellulite but they are mine.

Since I was a teen I have hated my legs, especially my knees. But as I got older and my body changed, I found that my thighs bothered me the most. I steered well clear of tight jeans and skirts and sought to cover up my lower half whenever possible.

And then one day, at the grand old age of 30, I just stopped*. I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw, because it was very me. Men may hate or love them, and thick thighs are currently in vogue thanks to Nicki Minaj, but I try to make how I feel about my body my plumb line for self-confidence. It doesn’t always work, but like Rihanna, I find what makes me feel cute (nice underwear especially) and rock it. I’ve found the looks that flatter my shape and feel good – they aren’t always in fashion, but I’m true to my style.

 

*being in my thirties is amazing. I think I’ll have to write about it sometime.

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Still I Rise

For Black History Month, I wrote about Maya Angelou and what her work means to me for Migrant Voice.

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Patients not passports

When the government talks about British values, think about deliberate cruelty of Universal Credit:

“Already the evidence from Citizens Advice is that UC is pushing people further into debt. The National Landlords Association has just reported that four out of five landlords are now reluctant to let to tenants in receipt of housing benefit or UC. Food banks are buckling under the strain. Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that if all the cuts made to UC since it was first mooted were reversed, up to 1 million children could be kept out of poverty. As it is, they calculate lone parent families will lose a huge £2,380 a year on average by 2020. “

Then consider the hostile environment.

Today the government introduced up front charging for foreign nationals using the NHS. They already pay a £200 surcharge on top of taxes. And they already pay for hospital treatment. Now, this extends to NHS community services and will have to be paid in full before treatment is given.

And who is likely to be targeted, in a country where we don’t routinely carry ID documents? Those with foreign names, accents and anyone who “looks foreign” – whether they are British or not.

Doctors are protesting because they quite rightly want to focus on providing care, not checking people’s immigration status. But Theresa May’s endless border continues to encroach on community life – and what started as a regime primarly targeted at non-EU migrants continues to suck ever more Europeans and Britons into its net.

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I speak Navajo

I will say it again: I love BBC World Service. The programming is of such a high calibre. I still think their coverage of the Ebola crisis was second to none – they stayed with the story months after the headlines had moved on, letting Africans tell our own stories, with dignity.

This morning I caught the beginning of another great programme: I speak Navajo. It starts with the story of a young woman who discovered that her grandfather and great grandfather’s voices were being held in recordings at her university library, the journey she goes on to get them back, and the story of her tribe and that of others.

These are voices you don’t often get to hear, languages I have never heard before, stories and myths from a culture that survived deliberate attempts to obliterate it. It’s a haunting, mesmerising listen.

Black Panther

My first reactions to the trailer, in no particular order:

  1. ……(speechless in a good way)
  2. There are going to be so many inside jokes in this movie.
  3. The visuals are stunning.
  4. Come through, ladies!
  5. Please let the accents make sense.
  6. At least Wakanda is fictional, so if it pulls from a lot of different African cultures, I can consider it a “Greatest Hits”-type homage to the continent.
  7. Please let there be some coherence in spite of #6, so don’t go full Afropunk.
  8. AFROFUTURISM.
  9. I could watch Danai Gurira twirl weapons all day long.
  10. From opening waterfall to glistening final title credit, this is so damn satisfying.

In Praise of Fish Mooney

The TV show Gotham is not without its problems, especially concerning its treatment of women.

Poison Ivy and her accelerated maturity, which seems to have been done to usher in the sexpot aspect of the comic book character at the expense of her intelligence, is just one example. It was entirely unnecessary and the result has a Lolita-esque quality that is uncomfortable viewing, especially in the year of our Lord 2017, with the pussy-grabber-in-chief and Weinstein story swirling.

Poison Ivy is meant to be sexy but also smart – and the latter has yet to manifest. Watching the Selena Kyle character unfold, who will one day become Cat Woman, however, is a nuanced and layered affair that firmly lays the groundwork for who she will become, in a neat parallel of Bruce Wayne’s journey. There are other women, and unusually for a television show, most of them get a chance to be real heel, even if it’s temporarily (and wear some amazing outfits/makeup in the process. I have to say, being bad comes with some great eye shadow and dark outfits with brilliant textures).

But the star, for me, is Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney.

kk

She isn’t canon – she was created for the show, one of the many villains of the Gotham underworld, not one that comes with any comic book mythology, and the show’s resistance to exploring her back story was a bit annoying -but she instantly becomes one of the most memorable.

She is one of my favourite TV characters of all time. Fish Mooney, as played by Jada with a relish that reminds me of Jada earlier in her career, is wily, witty, strong but nurturing. It’s a reminder that although Will Smith gets most of the shine, there are two acting powerhouses in that marriage and quite frankly, I think Jada has more range.

So often, the strong woman in a TV show can be a bit one-note, but Fish is like a jewel turning in the sun that captivates as it catches the light. It’s great writing, of course, but Jada plays the part with ferocity and tenderness that makes her an utter scene stealer whenever she is on screen.

Fish is a survivor in a world where the supernatural rubs shoulder with reality all the time – in fact the one time she does get superpowers briefly, it almost seemed lazy.

It’s no surprise that the character’s constant resurrections are the result of popular demand. My favourite one is at the hands of Dr Strange in a process that robs previous characters of their memory, allowing the Dr to craft a persona for them. Fish, however, comes back to life and instantly knows who she is. She will not be told, owned or controlled.

Her unapologetic realness is a #Blackgirlmagic all day long.

New Tings

This has not been a good year for blogging. But I haven’t been dormant; far from it. I have done some great panel events at Universities, I have written some new work coming at politics from a slightly different angle and I have been working on (supervising the building of) a new website.

So, here is my new (est) ting:

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I will keep working out my thoughts on here, like a newsletter into the ether, but I will start collating my work on the new site and hopefully showing my portfolio in a more holistic way.

 

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Skull vibrations, baby

A moment of nerdery that is also close to home: scientists have a theory about why we don’t recognise or like hearing our recorded voices played back.

The answer is interesting (and my title is a spoiler alert) but it’s also something I struggle with. I find it so hard to listen back to my speeches or interviews, but I know it’s one of the best ways to improve and to learn what you do well too.

So, grit your teeth, listen back to yourself and learn to be a better public speaker. And if it sounds like a hot mess, it’s probably all in your head.

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Here My Dear

2017 is many things so far, but for me personally, it’s the year (ok, I started this towards the end of last year) that I take care of myself.

Not in a New-Years-Resolution-Fitness-Craze sort of way; more of a commitment.

Committing to my health spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally.

Committing to living the life I have, not looking backwards and being trapped in nostalgia or straining forwards waiting for it to “begin”.

Committing to the people in my life by showing up and allowing myself to be seen; and taking the time to see, listen and love my family, friends and colleagues.

Commit to doing all the things that I’ve been putting off out of fear or waiting to have someone to do them with.

Aside from all of that, I’ve been watching, listening to and reading some new stuff – new to me, so don’t stone me for being late to many proverbial parties.

Baggage Reclaim: A site that’s about all things relationships. Not just romantic relationships, I hasten to add. Natalie Lue writes with wit, kindness, humour and directness about self-esteem, love and life. It’s therapeutic.

Very Smart Brothas: Sharp commentary that makes me laugh darkly at least once a day because: truth. eg Dear White People Who Write Things: People Who Voted for a Blatant Racist are Fine With Racism (It’s Not That Hard).

Tiny Letters: Yes, I know everyone has been all about this for maybe two years but it’s a great email newsletter from all your faves. Bim Adewumni, whose own one (entitled …fuck is this? ) is fantastic and here she’s compiled a handy list of some other good ones. 2017 may be the year I start my own.

This Is Us: Listen. I am not a sappy person. (start of this post notwithstanding). I like to think of myself as a soft boiled egg: yes, a little gooey on the inside but there’s a robust buffer and a resilient shell to crack through first. I like my TV sharp and either funny and dark (Crazyhead), action-packed and dark (Banshee) or somewhat creepy and dark (Penny Dreadful). Throw in the odd trashy drama (Nashville – but I blame my love of country music for this) and I’m set. What I do not do is sweet. This is Us is sweet and funny and has me all up in my feelings every damn episode. It’s about a family and all the frustrating/beautiful/slightly bonkers things that families do. It’s also a wider commentary on society, race… there’s a lot, okay. And it undoes me every time.

Podcasts: I’ve added Melanin Millenials to my listening mix. Right now, my favourites are the Baggage Reclaim podcast (linked to the aforementioned blog), NPR’s Code Switch podcast (filling that chasm left when Melissa Harris Perry departed our screens) and Death, Sex and Money (Presenter Anna Sale has a gloriously intimate interviewing style that draws the best out of her subjects and one of the loveliest presenting voices to boot).

Music: Lee Moses is on repeat for me right now. His track Bad Girl is raw soul.

 

 

 

 

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