When I first saw the Keith Vaz piece I felt the absence of the News of the World keenly for the first time. It has been so long since the last hidden camera scandal. It was a bit like smelling something you used to eat as a child that you hadn’t thought about in years. Gossip! I remember that. It used to taste so good.
Complete with totally irrelevant commentary (though the fact he had paid off the mortgage on his flat was the most obscene part for me), the blurry pictures of his rotund older body against the younger male’s (fully clothed of course) reminded me of how immovable these stories become once they are sensationalised. Vaz’s name is unlikely to be parted from from this.
For me, the most interesting part is the commentary. I have read mostly sympathy for him. It was not a sting – he had used the sex workers before – they went to the Mirror after recognising him – but he was still set up. He didn’t break the law. He clearly stated he didn’t take drugs. And he more than likely comes from a family and community that would have showed intolerance to his homosexuality, if he is gay.
Which for me is the most interesting part. Whatever he identifies as, he obviously had an urge to have sex with men that he felt the need to satisfy with sex workers. That doesn’t necessarily mean he loves his wife any less, nor has any less desire to engage in a hetero-normative family life. Let’s face it, you can’t get more hetero-normative than Stanmore. Incidentally, why does the MP for Leicester East have a main home in Stanmore?
In any case, I would suggest the picture of the long suffering, closeted Asian male may not be applicable here. Let’s not jump to culture bashing because we voted for equal marriage. In Vaz’s formative and adult years, British society would not have encouraged coming out either.
When I heard the audio, I heard a man who wouldn’t change a thing. He was having a great time! A high profile, a good salary, two properties, two cars, two children and, crucially, two lives. All enabled by his privilege.
I am reluctant to position him as a victim. Some people genuinely want to go out, engage in same-sex activity, then come home to their wife or husband to watch prime-time television and read stories at bed time. Why should living as an ‘out’ gay or bisexual man be his choice just because it was more available to him in a Western country? Is it not acceptable to decide you like both paradigms and create a life that allows you to engage in the two? The ‘undercover brother’ phenomenon is consistent with this.
The familiarity and charm with which Vaz handled the encounter makes it sound like he may be in that camp. I am not saying there are no victims of cultural prejudice – people forced into heterosexual unions because of the pressures of faith or family. But let’s not immediately place him as a victim because he’s brown. Our cultures are not that far behind western ones which are hardly trail-blazing on gay rights. I think he was a perfectly happy man in both worlds. We might call others liberated, why not Keith? His only crime was secrecy. And who isn’t secretive, on some level, about sex? I bet he is tormented only by the fact he has been caught.
Ken Livingstone, Azealia Banks, Boris Johnson and no doubt more people nobody was listening to, said words that were interpreted as racist recently. Disaster! What are the protocols? I’ve identified a glaring lack of them. Keep this guide handy in case your tongue slips. Stay out of the “I’m not racist…” quagmire of the damned that will inevitably haunt your twitter mentions for a day or so.
TIP 1: Listen
If your comment has generated a hashtag, a Comment is Free article and/or an appearance from Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight, you are in deep trouble! Do not panic and for goodness sake do not respond. Not just yet. The first thing to do is listen. Who is cricitising you? Why? Do they have a point? Keep your eyes and mind open to the idea that you might have made a mistake. If, after doing this, you think “yeah, maybe ‘sand ni**a’ is a racist thing to say”, proceed to tip number two…
TIP 2: Do not try to “prove” you are not racist
There is no evidence you can submit to prove you are not racist. I don’t care if your best friend is Chinese, your boyfriend is black or your dentist is Bengali. You might still think people from Pakistan smell funny. Your personal relationships do not say anything about your beliefs; your black boyfriend might hate black people as much as you do. We are still working through 400 years of extremely well taught self hate, dontchaknow?
Putting the brown people in your life up as ‘racism insurance’ is actually the next step up on the ‘racist behaviour ladder of dumbness’ followed only by telling me how you only sleep with [insert race here] men/women and how you buy your lentils from the ethnic food aisle and not the whole foods section. The former makes you sound like you have a fetish. The latter makes you thrifty, not open-minded.
You can only be judged on what you do and how you act at any particular time. Having a few black friends on your Snapchat won’t change or excuse the fact that you dropped the N-bomb instead of asking for nuggets. So if you do that, or something similar…
TIP 3: Own up
Saying something racist and being racist are two different things. Owning up isn’t a confession you’re a bigot. It’s an acknowledgement we live in a tricky world that was designed by racists in the purest form; where the privileged are dripping with the rewards of colonialism and the rest are trying to get to Lesbos. We absorb the inequalities of this world whether we like it or not. And sometimes those inequalities pop out of our mouths like spit spray.
Saying something racist and being racist are two different things. Owning up isn’t a confession you’re ignorant. It suggests you don’t want to be.
TIP 4: Apologise
Tips 1, 2 and 3 make sense? The word is ‘sorry’.
If all of the above fails, try to be right wing and definitely become a politician. You can say what you like because people will expect you to be a little bit racist. It doesn’t matter if you want to build a wall around Mexico, ban Muslims from your country or suggest the President of the United States is and always will be Kenyan. That’s just you, ‘doing you’. As you please.
Ever since that white woman in America decided to ‘identify as black’ there has been a slow trickle of a once unthinkable admission; that some women who are not black would like to try out afro hair. I think it is a fascinating trend; the appropriation of cornrows, dreadlocks and the sticking of hair to ones’ forehead. I personally welcome it. Especially as black women have emulated white hair for centuries. However, the question we have to ask is: is there a difference?
Yes. There is. And it is important that before Cosmopolitan interlocks Kiera Knightly’s barnet into a hot dready mess, this new found love of afrocentricity is tempered with consideration of the travails that afro hair, and the people who own it, have had to negotiate.
Hair straightening is not the preserve of black women; white women have sought to eliminate their curls with all matter of tools and products for centuries; straight tresses have been desirable for as long as irons have been heated. Neither are the use of extensions and wigs; it is a spurious and tiresome myth to think only black women wear hair that is not their own.
However, what white women do to their hair connotes social, historical and political realities far trivial in comparison to the realities that black women traverse. For centuries black women have altered their hair for pretty deep reasons. Sometimes to deny African heritage, sometimes to win respectability. Grooming that subdues afro hair has been handed down by generations of women denied knowledge of afro hairstyles in the same way they were denied knowledge of their names, languages and religion.
Today, when a black woman adopts a natural afro hairstyle, knowingly or unknowingly, it is done in defiance of such offenses. When a Kardashian does, it means nothing. It just looks cool. There is nothing like appropriation to disempower an act of pride or cultural dissent.
Appropriation is the ultimate cultural amnesia. Labeling trends as unremarkable when black but extraordinary when anything else is a perfect way of denying a problem ever existed in the first place; of denying that afros were ever politically charged, that dreadlocks where ever a symbol of faith, or that kids with canerows were ever marginalised.
Black women have had big arses since humanity began (seeing as humanity began in Africa), but they only became fashionable when Kanye West married one. I remember Alicia Keys’ cornrows. But even her brown hair and light skin failed to initiate the imitation that Kylie Jenner does.
When we wear Brazilian 33 inch wavy, we are trying, in some way, to lose ourselves and gain acceptance in a world that is not controlled by us. When a white person wears a canerow, they are already accepted so it is not through the same lack of confidence. It is through possession of far too much.
Which perhaps is the most galling aspect of this movement. Why do white influencers have to adopt something before industries cajole the public into wanting more? And why do we as black people require white endorsement in the first place? It’s a circle. We don’t see ourselves in popular discourse (“if you want to make a human being into a monster[…] deny them any reflection of themselves”). But when we do we see ourselves, it is diluted. Other people play our parts and wear our features. We are celebrated in bits and pieces, and never in whole.
From birth we are surrounded by messages that tell us that our looks are inferior, and the pursuit of a white European aesthetic is not only encouraged, but overly catered for. I can relax my hair in 100s of salons in London, but I have to wait four weeks to get an appointment at a good loctician. I can buy Dark and Lovely in my local Tesco Express, but when I asked for shea butter they thought I was sneezing. In many ways it is as challenging for a black woman to obtain and maintain an afro hair style as it would be for a woman of any other race.
So the journey a black woman takes towards embracing hair as it grows from her scalp is a journey that in reality, is centuries old. It’s a story of how we lost, lived without, then started to embrace what is our own again. Slowly but surely, we are rejecting colonial ideas of what we should look like. And, in the diaspora at least, we are doing it without role models. Yes, we had Lauryn Hills and Lupita Nyong’os, but they never told us what to do. The natural hair movement has happened as naturally as a child learns to walk.
This is why it is exhausting to see the celebration of afro hair on the pages of the same magazines that have been telling us to straighten them out for all these years. They should be celebrating the people from which the hair grows. The about turn smarts because the efficacy of their propaganda embarrasses us. All those products that polluted our pillows, all the scalp burning and all those hours spent in a dingy salon in Peckham, it was all because we bought into a principles that the oppressor doesn’t even believe anymore.
Now they are changing their minds like we hadn’t changed ours already. Put frankly, it’s annoying. Mostly, it is yet another example of our invisibility. It is not afro hair that is desirable in these pieces. It is the mimicry of it. One gym session and Kylie Jenner’s cornrows will return to their European state. As black women, we never just mimicked Eurocentric styles. We assumed them. We made them so much a part of our self-image it is possible Beyonce to advertise shampoo. We describe hair that looks like Tina Turner’s hair as Tina Turner hair. But it was never hers.*
We are not our hair, but we are our history and we for too long enforced definitions of what is and is not acceptable that were invented by Eurocentric powers. Until it is natural for us to see a newsreader with dreadlocks, a business man with a canerow or a president with a fade, afro hair, and the things we do with it, will be viewed through the prism of our oppression. What white people do, will be viewed with nothing more vacuous than piqued interest. So we are copied, as we copied them. But it is not the same.
We don’t eat too much sugar because we are idiots, we eat too much sugar because the food and drink industry is greedy. It loads food with sugar to make low grade ingredients taste good, something especially necessary as fat is removed from so many things.
Three things have annoyed me about the sugar bashing today. Firstly, the implied severity of a sugar free diet. The anti-sugar fanatics paraded on the news at ten are off-putting; mothers in hemp cardigans feeding their traumatised children rye bread and spinach are not going to reach us normal folk. There are easier ways to reduce sugar than becoming a food bore.
Secondly, there has been no explanation as to why sugar is bad. This is unhelpful too. If we can understand why something is bad, we can better motivate ourselves to find ‘good’ alternatives.
Finally, the way to encourage people to avoid sugar is to understand how the food industry has corrupted our food (and therefore palettes) by using too much sugar, and then using that education to help people make better food decisions. No responsibility in the reporting today was placed on manufacturers. There is a good reason for this; the food lobby is powerful and has an easy ride from parliament and the public. Life is easy if your products don’t give people lung cancer or hangovers. Put simply, apathy, lack of knowledge and the fear of the nanny state means mud does not stick.
Avoiding sugar is not hard work. He is some information that wasn’t really reported today. Which annoyed me. Hence this post.
Reducing sugar is easier than you think.
- Cook your main meals from scratch and try not to use convenience sauces like Ragu or Uncle Ben (but if you must use one, use Uncle Ben and support a brother). These sauces normally have added sugar to hide their blandness. Your food does not have to look like the below. There is only a tiny amount of sugar in a curry and roti and curry and roti is amazing.
- Read nutrition labels as much as you can. This is a chore, but we automatically place food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories based on perception and not fact. So, we think a bag of Haribo is ‘bad’ and a fruit smoothie is ‘good’. Actually, they are as bad as each other.
We need to start basing our categorisations on fact and that comes with being informed. Look for ‘carbohydrates which sugar’, divide the number by 5, and bingo, you have the number of teaspoons of sugar you are about to consume/change your mind about consuming.
- Sugar isn’t causing obesity. Sugar and inactivity is. The problem is that sugar turns to fat very quickly if it is not expended. If you really can’t cut back on sugar, change the times at which you consciously eat it. More sugar in the morning is great because you will spend your day (hopefully) walking up escalators, running for buses and sending emails, all useful ways to burn off that energy. Drink a can of Cola at night and you are asking for a cavities and high blood pressure.
- Look for reasonable alternatives. Instead of full sugar soft drinks, consume limited amounts of the diet versions. Drink more water. Boring, I know, but if the fluid that gave this planet life isn’t exciting enough, add some fruit cordial. Coconut water is brilliant. Dilute fruit juice with fizzy water (my personal trick). Swap confectionary for nuts, or popcorn (unsweetened of course). I am a big fan of rice cakes and peanut butter, (crunchy, not smooth). I eat this instead of Snickers and such like. Pretzels make for a good snacking alternative. I like nothing better than a Tupperware box full of carrot sticks. Join me.
- Understand how the food industry works. There is no legislation to control how manufacturers promote their products; a product can be marketed as ‘light’ based on colour and not on nutritional content! Again, the food lobby has a big hand in this.
Beware of the following versions of any food product:
Fat is almost always replaced with sugar which means you would be better off with the fatty version, which is more likely to be satiating and tasty, both qualities food used to have before profit got in the way. Don’t think for a second Amanda Holden eats pots of ‘greek style’ yoghurt with an inch of jam at the bottom. She’s just paid to make you think she does.
The bottom line is that the industry has got us addicted to sugar because the government lets them do what they like. Now the government is in a muddle because it wants us to be healthier, but not at the expense their industry mates’ margins. Then we get think tanks telling us we should be eating no more than 1.4. Kit Kat Chunkies a day if we want to stay alive, with no context and crucially, no practical information and advice.
Sugar, in excess, is not a good thing. But, positioning a reduced sugar diet as drastic and unattractive is misleading and unhelpful. Understand how corrupt the industry is, read the labels on food and slowly build alternatives for the sugary things you consume every day. Don’t forget to break into a sweat every now and again. And stay away from hemp cardigans. You can avoid sugar and still be cool.
dir: Michael Buffong
Upon finding my seat in Richmond Theatre I remembered the last play I had seen was A Season in the Congo at The Young Vic. Prior to that I recalled going to watch the all black production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Before this, I watched The Mountaintop with David Harewood. I started to realise that all black casts were fast becoming a prerequisite for me to consider watching a play. To satisfy the equality and diversity champion within, I made a mental note to myself to book tickets for Wicked. Or perhaps The Bodyguard, as a compromise.
Notwithstanding, there is nothing more satisfying than watching words, passively understood to belong to white people, emerge from the mouths of African and Afro-Caribbean counterparts. To enable a full reconsideration of narrative, history and culture through a simple change in casting is a worthwhile exercise. It helps to reverse inequalities of the times in which such plays were written, and the current times in which they are performed.
This Arthur Miller play is about hope, which turns into denial, love, which turns into truth and justice, which turns into tragedy. It’s about the choice between being practical and winning, and being honest and losing. Multi-faceted and complex, I can think of no better piece to contribute to the idea that the black American experience is more than one of civil rights and slavery – All My Sons is an American story, and a narrative, however damning, that belongs to African Americans too.
Kate Keller (Dona Croll) steals the show – a quick witted matriarch perfectly pitched so even in her attempts to manipulate and her more manic moments, she is still a loveable figure deserving of sympathy. The rest of the cast support powerfully, emitting the presence of unrequited love, disappointment and compromise in their lives with enough subtlety to no doubt remind the audience of the presence of the same in their own.
Watching black men play the roles of a successful tycoon, an astrologist, a lawyer, a doctor alongside women who are young, old, optimistic and fatigued is just the fresh air the diverse audience needed to breathe in. These were not black actors playing black roles, they were accomplished actors playing world famous roles. In an art world where whiteness is presumed if no other race is specified, productions like this are so important.
The play is about a family that moves towards the realisation of a wicked, horrid truth at the heart of it’s success. I’d argue All My Sons is about honesty and an all black cast cements the practicality at the heart of the play’s message. People of colour are ordinarily positioned on the right side of American history; as powerless, as victims. In reality, we also occupy positions that seat us on the wrong; side by side with our white counterparts too.
Last week Nigel Farage said ‘British jobs’ should be for ‘British people’. Greg Dyke said the Premier League was in danger of having ‘nothing to do with English people’ and announced restrictions to limit non-EU players.
Both statements are intrinsically linked to the idea that people who live within the borders of a country should have first refusal on the opportunities that exist within it. Frighteningly, people are buying into this. An idea full of ignorance, petulance and above all, entitlement. This rhetoric is a solution for a problem that doesn’t actually exist.
Asking employers to value ‘Britishness’ as an asset is bizarre. If you are legally entitled to work in this country, the criteria by which you compete for a job should be based only on the requirements of the role. If a British person needs positive discrimination to attain a position above a person who comes from a different education system, probably speaks English as a second language and didn’t have the privilege of a British ‘first world’ upbringing, perhaps that person isn’t suitable for the role at all?
UKIP argue that immigrants come to this country and don’t pull their weight. How can they be expected to do so if we legislate against their right to work?
English footballers don’t suffer because there are too many foreign players in the Premier League. They suffer because they are not willing to travel to play. The fact is players from the EU and beyond are trained to be bi-lingual and adaptable, so they will be able to play anywhere in the world in a sport where you can be employed anywhere in the world. We have one English player in La Liga and one more in Serie A. That is all.
Many young English players are content to get a contract, get paid and enjoy the lifestyle such careers afford to them (Scott Sinclair jumped into my mind as I typed this…). You cannot blame foreign players who had the drive and determination to get where they are for lack of opportunities for English players. Are you honestly telling me that if an English kid had the talent of Coutinho, a manager would ignore him because quite likes having to wait for work permits?
Jobs do not have a nationality. They exist broadly to allow an economy to meet supply and demand, and to allow business and government to function. It does not actually matter where a person is born when they are performing a role, as long as they perform the role adequately.
Therein lies the real problem. English footballers can’t progress from youth teams because they are not good enough, and English workers with more modest ambitions can’t get employment because they don’t measure up in a competitive market where migrants (within the EU at least) can travel freely to work.
The problem in both cases is inadequate education and insufficient training. After Farage and Dyke’s comments, to this list we can now add ‘denial’.
Before we start critiquing the migrant workforce, we have to question our own. We need to face up to the inadequacies in our own population that foreign nationals thankfully help us overcome.
In the New Year lots of people make positive changes in their life that aren’t sustained. A lot of this is down to confusing advice. Over the years I’ve come to realise a few things the fitness and diet industry keeps telling us aren’t quite true.
Industry myth: burn off more calories than you eat and you WILL lose weight
There is a health benefit from all kinds of exercise. But if you want to change your body shape or increase fitness, arbitrary exercise is not enough. It is very difficult to be successful if you don’t, over time, gradually increase the demands you place on your body.
Exercise works better when it increases in intensity. For exercise to be mor effective, aim to be able to do more as the weeks and months go on.
I have been running for years. But it took me almost two years to get a 5k time under 25mins. I was making the same mistake many other people who aren’t able to achieve their goals are making. I wasn’t pushing myself.
An example: you can jog 5kms, three times a week. At first, it may be hard. Gradually, this will become easier.
Once it becomes easier, its impact on your body will be limited.
This is the point at which you increase your load. You could make one of those jogs a faster run. Or make two of them 6kms. Add some sprints. But whatever you do, it must further the demand you place on your body.
This requires a bit of mind over matter.
We are used to getting out of breath every now and again, then congratulating ourselves. The truth is, we are all physically capable of doing more things than our brains will allow us to believe.
Starting to train is not enough. Make sure you plan ahead, push yourself and keep yourself out of the ‘sweaty rut’ – breaking into a sweat with no results because you’re working hard, but should be working harder!
Industry myth: BMI is the best indicator for fitness
Most people think getting fit is about losing weight, but there are slim people who are incredibly unfit and bigger people who are in great shape. If you know someone who stays trim, eats terribly and never does any exercise, it’s likely the fat you can’t see is simply collecting around their vital organs or clogging their arteries.
It is completely normal to want to trim some body fat as this does have undisputable health benefits but personally, I think the worst way to measure success in doing this is by using scales.
To lose weight in a sustainable and healthy way, health professionals recommend shedding about 3lbs/1.3kgs a week. This is painfully slow! Why monitor this slow progress on scales?
At first, you might not lose any, perhaps because you are new to exercise and you are getting used to the sensation of being epically out of breath, perhaps because you build muscle easily (muscle weighs more than fat).
Instead, measure your success using fitness indicators. Not only are you more like to achieve these goals, in reaching them you are more likely get what you’re really aiming for; that change in body shape.
So, take up running and aim to cover 10km within a realistic amount of time (dip under the hour if you can!). If you use a gym, jump on the rowing machine and aim to cover 2000ms in under 10 minutes.
Perhaps you’d like to be able to do 15 press ups, or 50 squats.
Whatever you aim to do, make it physical and don’t forget point number one, once you achieve your goal, set yourself a harder one.
Industry myth: exercise in the fat burning zone if you want to lose weight
The ‘fat burning’ zone that gym equipment likes to keep you in is misleading. Whilst you can maintain exercise for longer working at that rate, you use less energy to do so. Constant exercise at this level will eventually become unchallenging and as per point one, will have less of an impact after a while.
Try and incorporate sprints into your workouts. The purpose of these short, intense bursts of exercise is to raise your heart rate to its absolute limit. You don’t need a heart rate monitor to know you’ve reached this. You can tell by your ability (or inability) to talk.
Get to a point during every exercise session at which you would struggle speak. Work at a pace that you wouldn’t be able to maintain for more than 20-30 seconds. Then rest. Exercise like this increases your heart health. The healthier your heart, the harder you can exercise. The harder you can exercise, the more energy you can burn.
Industry food: eat low calorie foods to lose weight
Not all foods that are low in calories are good for you, not all foods that are high in calories are bad. It’s also important to look at how much sugar food and drinks contain.
Sugars can be really bad for sedentary humans. There is not a scientist alive who would dispute this. Sugar in all its forms is metabolised by the body incredibly quickly and converted into fat if not burnt off soon after ingestion. Since the food industry puts sugar into everything, you’re going to have to get used to reading nutritional labels if you want to avoid it.
All food labels will tell you the nutritional value of a product per 100gms. Look for the carbohydrates. Then look for the carbohydrates which sugars. This is your magic number. A teaspoon of sugar is 5gms. This is great news because it means you don’t have to be good at maths to work out the sugar content of your food. Did you know low fat yogurts can have four teaspoons of sugar in them (they tend to range between 12-20gms) and fruit smoothies can have up to six? If you wouldn’t put it in your tea, why put it in your dairy products and cold drinks?
Sugar is often added to low fat foods to make them taste good. Don’t look at the snazzy name manufacturers have given their products (like Special K, Muller Light etc.). Start looking at the numbers if you really want the truth about what you’re eating.
Since fruit contains lots of sugar, it helps to rethink their role in our diets. If you want to see results, aim for no more than two pieces of fruit a day (make up the rest of your five-seven a day with vegetables). This is still an awful lot of fruit (seven bananas and seven apples a week is plenty!) but it will mean you’re consuming sugars at a rate you’ll realistically be able to burn off.
The recommended daily allowance for sugar is 90gms. Try to avoid exceeding this, especially on the days you exercise. If you can start to reduce your sugar intake, you will see results more quickly and be weaning yourself off an industry inflicted addiction. It really is worth it.
Industry myth: swap carbohydrates for protein
The diet industry obessess over protein and carbohydrates and forgets about fibre. Make sure a third of your meals are made of green vegetables. This is a really easy way to reduce your carbohydrate intake and top up your nutrition. Green vegetables like kale, broccoli, green beans, spinach, collard greens, salads and brussel sprouts are full of vitamins, minerals, protein and most importantly fibre. Fibre fills you up, keeps you regular (ahem), and sustained intake is a known preventative of all sorts of nasty chronic illnesses associated with the digestive system.
If you don’t like the taste, experiment with seasoning like soy sauce, ginger, fennel, coriander or just grin and bear it! It really is worth it.
Industry myth: cut out fat from your diet
Saturated fats (from meat products and fried foods) aren’t great for you. Mono and poly unsaturated fats (from nuts, some fruits and vegetables like acovacods and coconuts and oily fish) are great. If you struggle to keep your diet healthy, make sure you include enough ‘good’ fats in your diet. Food that contains them tend to contain lots of other things that are good for you and will keep your satiated, meaning you miss the chips and bacon a little less.
This is just advice, if it helps, thank me later!