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Why it hurts when they get our food wrong

June 11, 2014

When Marco Pierre White got chicken, rice and peas wrong it genuinely hurt me like racism. Accuse me of trivialising racism. I would not blame you. But there was something so offensive about that mockery of a cookery clip. Rice that looked like it had been regurgitated, the bizarre use of garden peas, the anaemic chicken, the 17 Knorr stock cubes needed to make the dish taste of something other than wallpaper paste – it was such a disgrace.

A jollof rice recipe has been doing the rounds of late. Distributed by Tescos.com it truly is a total bastardisation of the dish. The accompanying picture was shocking, looking as food tends to look when it’s been dropped on the floor and rescued for the homeless, or maybe the birds.

Why does it hurt so much? Why does Twitter and Facebook vent disgust at what is essentially just a misunderstanding. We can’t expect people to understand our food? Surely we should be glad they are just having a go.

No. We should expect more.

Food culture is an oft neglected yet phenomenally important part of our identity as black peoples. They took away our religions, even our names, but much remains. There is nothing more authentic that a steaming pot of palm soup, peppery, rich and tantalising. How satisfying is a plate of rice stained with the goodness of black eyed peas, sweetened with creamy ackee and finished with a sticky, spicy piece of fish or well cooked meat? When I feel dispirited I treat myself to thick slices of soft, plump fried plantains. When I feel OK I just boil them. When I roast aubergines stuffed with scotch bonnets and garlic then scoop out handfuls with roti, I find I run out of roti very quickly. Don’t get me started on the endless enjoyment of stews made with okra and shrimp, or pulses tenderised after slow heating with tomatoes and palm oil…even sardines on toast piques the interest of my taste buds.

All of the above and much more belongs to us, whether of African or Caribbean descent. And it tastes good.

When our recipes are taken, deemed too complicated, and transformed, it stings in the same way our names were taken, deemed too complicated and transformed. It stings in the same way our cultures were taken, deemed too complicated, transformed. It relates to the way our lands were taken and destroyed.

It stinks of disrespect. They would not treat a jalfrezi in this way. You might argue that tikka masala is not an authentic Indian dish, yet it’s Britain’s favourite dish, and Indian communities embrace this. That’s because Indian communities invented it. It’s authentically Indian. It’s an Indian response to the British palate.

Marco Pierre White’s “rice and peas” and the jollof disaster are not Caribbean and West African responses to this country. They are white English responses to us. Staples of our lifestyle, that connect our childhood memories with our adult selves have been taken and put on mainstream platforms in forms that are frankly spurious. Even more insultingly, those who don’t know any better are encouraged to imitate these flavourless offerings. Further misrepresenting our food, our culture, in a way we have no control.

Misrepresentation is the key to both these kitchen calamities. If you want an authentic Jamaican recipe, why not get a Jamaican? If you want an authentic jellof, just ask a Ghanaian (or Nigerian…). If a white face must be the person patronising the viewer, that’s fine. Just check with either of the aforementioned first.

Of course, that sounds too much like hard work. And this is where the real insult is. No Caribbean person on the planet would put bleedin’ Birds Eye peas in rice and peas. And no West African on the planet would produce jellof that’s the same colour as correction fluid. It’s pretty clear to me that not one black person was involved or represented either of those pieces. Not as a consultant. Not as an ingredient supplier. Not even as a taster. We weren’t even considered as an audience either. Black people were wholly absent from the inception to the delivery of those media pieces. We watch, from the outside, as our identities are interpreted on our behalves. If that doesn’t remind you of the racisms we still endure, I don’t know what else will.

AP McCoy quotes

April 5, 2014

I have a thing for sportspeople that win all the time. I like the way they think. I know next to nothing about horse racing but I know who AP McCoy is because he wins all the time. Below are some quotes from a short piece in The Guardian that stood out for me:

You need fear and doubt to drive you on. Without it, you end up living in the past and being happy with what you have achieved.

My parents taught me about respect. My mum said you should never look down on people unless you’re helping them up.

Private dreams are the most powerful. You have to dream of success to make it happen and if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. But that doesn’t mean you have to go around telling everyone about it.

 

Is the undercover policing debate overshadowing racism in the police?

March 7, 2014
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You know what annoys me? The way the issue is about now ‘undercover policing’ and not racism. Yes, there are convicted criminals who will have now be thinking about appeals due to the involvement of undercover policing. But the Lawrence’s and Duwayne Brooks were victims, not suspects.

The issue is not solely about technique of undercover policing, it’s the fact they were being investigated in the first place. Why? This question should be asked alongside a debate about undercover policing, and not be obscured by it. Much of the commentary I have read today seems to be doing this.

Why Make a Caricature of what are Complex Feelings for Some Black Women?

February 16, 2014
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Featured Image -- 1085

Originally posted on Media Diversified:

by Leona Nichole Black

A video has been circulatingmy Facebook news feed this week. It stages a scene in which a Black man brings his white girlfriend into a barber shop. A hairdresser who is a hired actress says a number of inappropriate things about the couple and the presence of this woman. The camera crew eventually interrupt the scene to question members of the public on their intervention, or lack thereof, in this so described incidence of racism. Normally I would not give too much mental energy to WorldStarHipHop posts, but the popular opinion that the scene is a visual representation of “everything Nelson Mandela stood for” was enough to provoke my response. This coupled with yet another disparaging characterisation of the Black female personality has given me cause to go on record about a few things.

Firstly, let’s stop applying the Black radical tradition as a…

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Why race is of complete relevance to THAT chair

January 22, 2014

A great many people will have at some point yesterday been greeted with an image of a white woman sat on a chair made of a mannequin of a black woman.

Further coverage on the issue made clear these facts:

Another chair, made with a white woman, is in existence. This was designed by a person called Allen Jones, in the 1960s.

The ‘black woman chair’ artist, Bjarne Melgaard’s, has a track record of being controversial for controversy’s sake.

A few people have said nothing offensive happened yesterday. I disagree. Racism and racial insensitivity reared its head on several occasions.

Its very publication, on MLK day, was offensive

If two chairs were in existence, why did Dasha Zhukova sat upon hers appear in print with no reference to the other one? It would make perfect, journalistic sense. Without context, the image of a wealthy white woman sat upon a black woman, is abhorrent. If you can’t understand why this would be, you are one of the many individuals who inspired the name of this blog.

This is the first appearance of racism; in the editorial process. The decision to be insensitive to historic and current inequalities between white women and black women comes only from the same kind of racism that sustains these inequalities in the first place. If you can understand the cultural tension of an Israeli sitting on a Palestinian, a white American sitting on a Native American or an Arab sitting on a Filipino, and I’m sure you can, why is it such a stretch to imagine how degrading this image is to us?

The idea that a white chair cancels out the black chair is ridiculous

The second appearance of racism came in defense of the image, due to the existence of a white version. This convinced some commentators to declare that ‘if one is racist, they both are!’

The existence of the white version does not make the black version any less offensive. If anything, it reinforces the impact of a black lady being sat on. Firstly, no image, that I could find, exists of a black woman sat on the white chair. This means the two are not equal. Secondly, racism isn’t mathematics. You can’t cancel racism out like you can cancel out fractions. Yes, both chairs are misogynistic. But only one is racist.

I hate to state the obvious but the ‘white woman chair’ is a representation of a white woman. As an occupier of the hegemony, (which is a real, tangible presence in society) and a recipient of privilege, this plastic lady gets to be a woman made into chair.

Black people used to be the property of whites. This photo is so demeaning because it recreates unapologetically a horrific past.

foot warmer

Whether we like it or not, the chair of concern is a BLACK woman made into a chair. This makes a difference. The black female form has been consistently and constantly appropriated and degraded by this hegemonic class. You don’t need to go back 50 years to find this cultural subjugation. I can revisit Lily Allen’s nasty music video or Miley Cyrus’s interpretation of Lil’Kim to reacquaint myself with the disrespect.

Context is everything and the existence of a black woman and a white woman in chair form doesn’t eliminate the different cultural realities both experience in the human world, and it’s insulting to read these images whilst remaining ignorant of these facts. This is what Stuart Hall refers to when he describes ‘cultural amnesia’ – a deliberate attempt to bury the fact that race is still a defining factor in the day to day lives of many people. Whilst black people occupy a different sphere of power to other races, an image of a white person sat on a black person is going to be unacceptable. You can’t silence the disgust of black observers because a white woman, in the same position, is racially neutral. That neutrality comes from the same privilege that makes the original photograph of Zhukova so horrible in the first place.

“Stop looking for racism!”

My social network feeds were populated with words to this effect. “It’s just a chair”, “It’s just a photo”, “It’s art” – so on and so forth. People who thought the image was innocuous accused people who disagreed of shoehorning race into something innocent.

It would be wholly unnatural for us to stop policing our image considering the liberties that have been taken in the distant and not so distant past. The cries of defensiveness stink of anti-racism, which preaches not sensitivity but the elimination of race altogether. That of course, is desirable when you conveniently belong to the race that pretty much runs the world. Not so convenient when you still have things you need to fight for.

The depiction of a black person functioning as a possession of a white person just cuts a bit close to the bone.  You don’t have to agree with me. But I find it staggering if anyone can’t at least understand where exactly, from a contextual point of view myself and people who think like I do, are coming from.

racist cake

earrings

An excellent documentary about the assassination of Patrice Lumumba

January 18, 2014

When I first learned of Patrice Lumumba, it was in a conversation about the brutality of the actions of Europeans in Africa. It was part of a conversation in which Africans were trading injustices with each other. “The British invented the concentration camp in South Africa!” “The Italians gassed Abyssians!” “The Belgians dissolved Lumumba’s body in battery acid”.

That stopped that conversation.

There is something extremely vile and disgusting about the manner in which Maurice Mpolo, Joseph Okito and Patrice Lumumba were executed but nothing will ever remove the nauseating callousness of the men who decided so powerful was Lumumba’s influence, his body needed to be erradicated too.

Is it comparable to genocide of tens of thousands of Africans? In meaning, perhaps so. The murders of Congo’s great hopes condemened a population of millions to suffer under the the imperialism Lumumba promised to free them from for decades to come.

Watch a documentary, which contains damning interviews from American and Belgian representatives, here:

Public campaign meeting in Tottenham, 30 January

January 18, 2014
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Originally posted on Justice for Mark Duggan:

flyer for #j4m public meeting on 30 Jan7pm, Thursday 30 January

North London Community House
22 Moorefield Rd, London N17 6PY
(round the corner from Bruce Grove station)

speakers include Carole Duggan and others to be announced

Mark Duggan’s family, friends and supporters believe that the inquest jury’s verdict that Mark was “lawfully killed” is terribly wrong. As the family solicitor said: “The jury found that he had no gun in his hand – and yet he was gunned down. For us that is an unlawful killing.”

The inquest has raised many troubling questions about the true circumstances of Mark’s death. We want answers to those questions. We will fight on to find out who was responsible for Mark’s death and hold them to account. We are calling on everyone to support us in this struggle.

Since 1990 some 1,476 people have died in police custody or following police contact (figures from inquest.org.uk). Yet not one…

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