Last year I wrote a post: Black Books you Must Read to Reverse Brainwashing
After Malorie Blackman’s appointment as the new Children’s Laurate 2013 -2015, I’ve been inspired to give you some more book recommendations.
Fela: This Bitch of a Life – Fela Kuti
“Fela was possessed by an apocalyptic vision, wherin he saw how tall were the walls that had to be broken down”
Forward, This Bitch of a Life.
Having seen the musical Fela! I got a good sense of the spirit of Fela’s existence. Vibrant, energetic, indulgent but above all, in spite of the Nigeria of his time, completely free. His book is even more revelatory. It is an insight into a traditional African view of masculinity, an un-traditional African view on democracy and a totally agreeable view on the power of music.
This Bitch of a Life is really an authorised biography of the man, his politics, his music, his lifestyle and his international influence. It’s fascinating and inspiring. And it is also the book that informed me he is Wole Soyinka’s cousin. Which I found to be a nice fact.
You don be slave from before
Dem don release you now
But you never release yourself
“Colonial Mentality” Fela Kuti
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
This is a short book consisting of two letters; one from James Baldwin to his nephew, the second more of an essay on Baldwin’s encounters with religion.
In this book Baldwin undertakes ‘the talk’ with his nephew. This is the talk in which he reveals to his nephew to be black in America is a terrible thing. He speaks of his own father (his nephew’s grandfather):
“Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he dies because, at the bottom of his heart, he believed what the white man said about him.”
The letter is an urgent plea, and angry and emotional request to all of black America to not accept the same fate. He positions America as a threat: (“it [is] intended that you perish”) for no other reason that he is black.
I could quote all day from this book. Save me the trouble and read this succinct, frank and totally truthful text. It’s a book that will make you realise, whatever your background, what America did and still endavours to do, to it’s black citizens.
The European Tribe – Caryl Phillips
Caryl Philips did not know he could become a writer. Having been raised in England, he was never offered a book authored by a black person and received no hint or suggestion such a thing would be possible. The state of Britain corrupted him so much, it was inconceivable. A journey to America fixed this. Thank goodness it did because his sharp, observational focus, that highlights not only difference but the absurdity of it all, is in full flow in this book.
Feeling both ‘of, and not of Europe’ Phillips travels Europe in the 1980s, and identifies white Europeans as a funny old ‘tribe’, on a relentless journey for power over others, denying equality with persistent fervour and at any opportunity. And he hangs out with James Baldwin! It’s a satisfying read that people of minority ethnic backgrounds in Europe could certainly relate to.
Negro with a Hat – Colin Grant
I read this book in about a week, I inhaled its words. It is an in depth biography of one of the most famous black men to have lived, Marcus Garvey. A Richard Branson of his time, he united black people across the globe in a way that is staggering to read. It is almost a fairy tale. The most amazing thing is not the fame, the influence or the power, it’s the thing he motivated black people around the world to do. He motivated the planet’s black citizens…to INVEST. His great venture, the Black Star Line, eventually failed. But in many ways, it succeeded. The fact it ever existed, was a success. The fact the American government became terrified of his existence, was a success. And in my opinion, only for the corrupt actions of a few and the interference of an oppressive state, the Black Star Line so nearly became more than a tragic icon black power. The black star lives on in the flag of Ghana, and his words live on in the music, art and other creativity of black people who study him and feel motivated to continue his message. If you want to know more about the man, this book is a excellent, well researched and fantastically neutral way to start. It is not full of hero worship. It is full of facts. Marcus Garvey is indeed, laid bare.
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is a phenomenally famous book so including it seems a bit patronising. But I’m sure there is some out there that hasn’t read it. There were aspects of this book I didn’t like. A participant in a gang rape is redeemed, for example. I found some of the characters verged on the stereotypical. However, who am I to judge? This is a book that wants the reader to reimagine Nigeria – to see it as a state constructed by Europeans, suffering from the conflicts artificial borders create. It is set during the Biafran war, the most tragic war many people have never heard of. It’s a nice representation of middle class Nigeria (yes, African countries have always had a well fed middle class- who knew?), has some gripping story lines related to the topics of love and loss and is part of a much needed cannon of modern African literature; a representation of an African country’s history by an African person.
Richard Pryor – Pryor Convictions and other Life Sentences
Richards Pryor’s memoirs are a must read for any comedian. With passages written from the point of view of Pryor’s alter-ego Mudbone, this book is another one I could quote all day from. Here’s some, just from the introduction:
On MS: “It don’t kill you, it just makes you wish you were dead”
On Love: “Some people fall in love. Others fall in shit.
On his marriages: “When God makes a fool, he makes a perfect one”
On comedy: “You start telling the truth to people and people look at you like you’re trying to fuck their mama or somthin’”
(I’ve especially found the last point to be true).
There is a strong connection between Richard Pryor’s life and the cautionary tale of Baldwins’ The Fire Next Time; I wish Pryor had read that book every morning of his life. I can’t help but think his self-destruction was down to one thing: helplessness. He exposed the flaws of race relations in America in the most public way possible but he was still treated like Mudbone.
Extraordinary talent, addiction, a breakdown, destructive health problems and a bevy of white women who he loved so very much make for a eye-opening and engrossing memoir of a life excessively lived.
The Last Holiday – Gil Scott Heron
When Gil Scott-Heron died his memoirs were not complete and alas, this book unsatisfyingly omits swathes of his life story. Yet it’s included because it’s easy to understate his fame and popularity in the 1970s (he was Clive Davis’ first signing to his Arista) and his talent as a songwriter, author and musician. It also tells of his self belief; he dropped out of college to write his first book The Nigger Factory, so in many ways he was the original College Dropout, a notion much appreciated by Kanye West as shown by Heron’s presence in his albums.
Above everything, I like Heron’s message. His questioning not only of white America, but black America’s response to it, his thirst for knowledge and his unnerving desire to communicate through art.
Nicknamed ‘Aries’ by Stevie Wonder, this book is billed as a journey towards Heron’s 40 date tour with the superstar in the 80s but I found this to be a bit inconsequential. It’s really about Heron’s life. If you want to know how far political consciousness, art and a strong family background can take you, then do read.
Cornel West participated in his second of three converstations on 7 May 2013 with Professor Mary Margaret McCabe. This is his response to the question: would he make a good President of the United States? The questioner thought he would!
This week Stuart Hall pleaded guilty to 14 indecent assaults between 1967 – 1985. We can be sure there were many more young victims of his predilection. We should thank the people brave enough to finally come forward and shame this man. Victims of sexual abuse are often met with suspicion. Sexual abuse is a crime needlessly tangled with sexuality, feminism and debates about gender roles when the most important question is this: was there consent?
The guilt of the Coronation Street actors, Max Clifford, Rolf Harris, Freddie Star and the other unnamed accused (undoubtedly there are more) is soon to be determined. I sense we are already tiring of the pattern that is emerging; if you are old, white, male and have been famous for a few decades, you fit this mould.
There is good reason the high profile natures of those questioned, arrested or charged are so consistent. The 60s, 70s and 80s were wretched times to be a woman in the UK. The “saucy secretary” culture was prevalent and women were still expected to be homemakers and uneducated. It is no surprise that these men thought they had power enough to fulfil any wish they pleased to fulfil.
Behaviour that was once acceptable is now unacceptable. The grotesqueness of the Jimmy Saville scandal has promoted Operation Yewtree to turn back the clock. Victims once feared the police as the police were made up of men cut from the same cloth as their attackers. Not anymore. They are now calling their helplines, visiting police stations and pointing their fingers. And the police are listening sympathetically to their pain.
Since the start of this scandal I have had two absolute thoughts. Firstly, I hope these victims get the justice they deserve. Secondly, when are we going to get the justice we deserve?
By we, I mean minority, ethnic British people and by justice I mean this: when will the police, supposedly no longer cut from the same cloth as our attackers – racist, violent and prejudiced – listen sympathetically to our pain?
The same culture that allowed women to be spanked on the bum and teenagers to be fondled, allowed our men to be murdered for waking the streets, our homes to be burnt down or our children attacked.
I read a review of Alan Johnson’s memoir, This Boy. In it, his mother witnesses the murder of a black youth. She doesn’t go to the police. The murder remains unsolved. In the final third of Caryl Phillip’s novel, In the Falling Snow, a first-person account from Earl, a West Indian emigrant, is harrowing. He recalls his journey from his home to Leeds with his best friend, only for his best friend to be murdered. It’s a story that strongly recollects the tragedy of David Oluwale. There is an article here if you don’t know who he is:
Though Phillips’ account is fictional, this country needs to have an emotional connection to his writing, because the story he retells is an re-enactment of this country’s truth.
I’m glad we’re revisiting the sexual crimes of the past. Because society has moved on we are in a position to ask questions of the accused. But I’m also sure the devotion to exposing these crimes is as much to do with celebrity as justice – victims have strong memories their attackers because they are famous and the police know where to find them because they are still on the TV.
What about our perpetrators? If we are going to have an appraisal of the wrongs of the past, we should be thorough, shouldn’t we? Stuart Hall got away with his crimes for so long because social conditions supported his rights over others. And white racists of the 60s, 70s and 80s got away with their crimes because their rights were supported over ours. Don’t you think it’s funny that no one denies that this country was filthy with prejudice for so long, yet no one seems to know what happened to the racists? Where did they go? Did they evaporate? There are people walking around today with blood on their hands. I guarantee it.
Where is our helpline? Where are our lines of investigation to lead us to elderly white men who have our questions to answer? Of course, this would never be possible. If one was set up it crash under a deluge of reports. This country will never be ready to revisit these crimes as vigorously for fear of reigniting even bigger racial divides in this country. Besides, the police have their flagship case of Stephen Lawrence to coo us with. That case is still open – what more do we want? A Crimewatch appeal every couple of years placates us.
There is a fervour to investigate historic sexual crime that race related criminals will never have to fear. I’m disgusted that still, with racism still alive, well and raw in our memories, those chickens will never home to roost.
Buy In The Falling Snow: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/franbrit-21/detail/0099539748
I have seen the Black Stars of Ghana play twice in England. The first time was a match against Australia that was played in Loftus Road maybe five or six years ago.
The second time was against England at the new Wembley stadium in 2010. It was the second time I had travelled to Wembley to watch England and I was especially hyped for this match as it was the first England friendly that had ever captured my interest.
I’m a comedian now but I’ve been a lover of cheeky banter all my life, so I enjoyed the jokes I shared with friends and colleagues as time approached for both friendlies. It was fun. It’s nice to connect with people. That is why football is so popular in the first place.
However, both matches were very different experiences.
Australia v Ghana: fun, joyous, loud.
England v Ghana: tense, frustrating and disturbing.
I remember a lot of singing and dancing at a freezing Loftus Road all those years ago, a lot of celebrating and a lot of entertainment, mainly provided by the Ghanaian supporters. I remember feeling glad they had an excuse to take their flags from their homes that day and wave them around in West London. The same goes for the Australian supporters; many local to the area, who got to do the same.
The match against England started off okay. It was a sell-out and Wembley Way was a sea of red, gold, green and white. It was a great feeling of exciting anticipation for the sport ahead.
It was turned sour by racial abuse.
A white England supporter, seated a few rows in front of me and my friends, was being incredibly loud and in some instances, crass. There was malice in his voice. My friend, who is of varied heritage but put simply, is half Kenyan, half English, decided to ask the man if he would tone down his vocal support/condemnation. The man in question was with his family, some members of whom were young. There were other children around us too.
The next thing we know this gentleman turns his back on the game to face our row, and in particular, my friend.
He then showers him (and invariably, us) with a tirade which included statements like:
“This is my country, not your country, I’ll sing as loud as I like”
“Eng-er-land, Eng-ger-land, Eng-er-land….”
This was the first time my friend had been to a football match. Do you think he’d ever return?
I recall this incident after the chanting directed and Rio and Anton Ferdinand last week because Rio Ferdinand didn’t travel with the England squad for last week’s matches.
The FA, even though they are taking into account ‘media commentary’ don’t agree that the chanting was racially motivated.
Their heads are so far plunged into the ground you can just about see their ankles above the surface.
If it wasn’t racially motivated, why did they insist on directing their feedback to Anton Ferdinand? He had nothing to do with Rio Ferdinand’s decision not to travel. He did have a lot to do with a high profile racial abuse trial.
If it wasn’t racially motivated, why did they sing about making a bonfire, upon which Anton and Rio are willed to burn to death on? It’s been a while since I heard of supporters singing songs about killing white footballers.
Racism is a funny old thing. You don’t actually have to mention words like ‘wog’, ‘nigger’ or ‘sambo’ to racially abuse me. My reading of insinuation, intonation, context and intent will give me reason enough to decide if something comes from your prejudices.
Racism is a funny old thing. When the England v Ghana match finished, the fat racist who goaded my friend approached him after the match and shook his hand. A bit of racism is just part and parcel of the beautiful game, isn’t it? They guy probably had mixed race kids or nephews/nieces. His neighbour might be Indian. But Wembley Stadium is his territory where he can do what he likes. That’s his reward for holding is tongue elsewhere.
It was the same with the England fans who went to watch San Marino. They probably have lots of meaningful and tolerant contact with people of all different backgrounds. But with the shirt on, in the stadium, they can say what they really think without reprimand.
When I was young I was sometimes beaten when I was naughty. My mum didn’t have a special switch for this, she would beat me with whatever she had to hand.
That’s what this kind of racism is. The supporters who harangued my friend and the Ferdinands don’t spend their days bemoaning immigration, they’re not in the National Front and they like their vindaloos. They attack us with race because like the slipper or wooden spoon, it’s the nearest thing they have to hand.
And whilst the FA does nothing, it always will be.
A panel of three, including one judge, after listening seven days of testimony and evidence from witnesses and defendants, concluded two senior managers in Camden Council were guilty of racial discrimination. Mike Cooke, Chief Exec of Camden in 2013 has decided he knows better than the judges and thinks it’s better to blame procedure. If I change interview scores and cheat to make sure a white employee gets a job ahead of a black employee, I’m guilty of racial discrimination. If I then lie about it under oath, as the judges found these individuals did, I’m guilty of perjury. And if my employers found out, I would be SACKED. In the very least, I would be investigated and disciplined. The seniors involved are not facing these consequences. White privilege in all its glory. Camden Council is not a place for minorities.
Who are our present day African leaders? Quotes from Nkrumah are below. Read them. Happy Independence Day.
“We prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility.”
“We face neither East nor West; we face Forward”
“Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. Thy claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.”
“A State in the grip of neo-colonialism is not master of its own destiny. It is this factor which makes neo-colonialism such a serious threat to world peace.”
“We have the blessing of the wealth of our vast resources, the power of our talents and the potentialities of our people. Let us grasp now the opportunities before us and meet the challenge to our survival.”
“In the era of neocolonialism, under-development is still attributed not to exploitation but to inferiority, and racial undertones remain closely interwoven with the class struggle.”
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: When we were children, we were told that we have a motherland, and that motherland was Spain. However, we have discovered later, in our lives, that as a matter of fact, we have several motherlands. And one of the greatest motherlands of all is no doubt, Africa. We love Africa. And every day we are much more aware of the roots we have in Africa. Also, America is our motherland. Africa, America–and Bolivar used to say that we are a new human race in Latin America, that we are not Europeans, or Africans, or North Americans. That we are a mixture of all of those races, and there is no doubt that Africa resounds with a pulse like a thousand drums and happiness and joy.
But, also there’s a lot of pain when you think of Africa. Yesterday, I met with the president of Mozambique, because fully aware of these roots and these realities, we have designed an agenda for Africa in Venezuela. And we have spoken to other South American leaders. Lula for instance, is fully aware of the African roots of brazil and South America, and I want to share the African agenda with other leaders in South America, but Venezuela has also it’s own African agenda. In the case of Mozambique. The life expectancy in Mozambique is 38 years old, and going down, because AIDS is causing havoc in the population. It’s terrible, it’s a tragedy, it’s a million Katrina’s hitting this country. The president of Mozambique told me the number of children, orphaned children, whose parents have died as a result of AIDS. The teachers are dying, the doctors are dying. That’s a tragedy, and it’s a disgrace, and that’s why it hurts. It hurts so much to see the U.N. opening its doors to listen to speeches and speeches and more speeches, while at the same time, every year a population equivalent to Argentina today, or Columbia die of hunger, or Venezuela die of hunger, and those deaths could be avoided. Most of them are children, little girls, little boys, and most of them are in Africa.
So, we need like a shaking of the world. To shake up the world. That’s why when people talk about my style— my style–that’s why the speech I delivered yesterday before the United Nations Assembly — because it doesn’t work! It’s not working. If we reduced the military expenses in 10 percent of the world, we would have enough money to save millions of lives in this world.
In Venezuela, with the little resources–few resources–we have initiated a program to bring food to feed the poor people in Venezuela, and we are covering today 15 million people in Venezuela–receiving this food distribution and assistance. And most of them receive this food for free, and others a percentage, they have to pay only 50 percent of the total amount for the food they eat. Of course this is possible only if the people themselves, participate and with a new awareness.
Racism is very characteristic of imperialism. Racism is very characteristic of capitalism. Katrina is — indeed, has a lot to do with racism–no doubt about it. Hate against me has a lot to do with racism. Because of my big mouth, because of my curly hair. And I’m so proud to have this mouth and this hair, because it’s African. So we need a new morality, a new ethic at this point. And from my Christian point of view, we need a revolution of the ethic. And in the political and economic fields we need to take back the flag of socialism, in my view–in order to be able to defeat–with the will of the people, with the participation of the people — to beat those ominous phenomenon such as racism.