Finding yourself

13 Sep

One of the things that makes life more complicated for anyone, mixed race or not, is living up to the expectations of two families: that of your mother and that of your father. Now, both these families are YOUR family – and yet they can be wildly different from one another. For me, as a mixed race person, I find that having families from two vastly different cultures has often led to me feeling like I’m disappointing both of them, but that perhaps tells you more about my personality than about mixed race heritage!

I refer to this mismatch of family culture as living “cross-culturally”, and I don’t think it is an experience limited to mixed race people; firstly because a similar experience seems to be had by friends brought up in a minority religion or with minority traditions in the UK, and secondly because ALL families have their own “culture”. I like to think of a family’s culture as being at its most heightened around Christmas: do you all get together? Do you avoid each other? Are you interested in the religious aspect? Is it all about expensive gifts? Who gets offended if you don’t come for dinner? Who drinks and who doesn’t? Who cooks Christmas dinner? Do you watch the Queen’s speech? Do you watch the Dr Who Christmas Special? From what I’ve observed of friends, and family, no two families have Christmas in exactly the same way, and we all have our own little traditional rituals.

I imagine problems can occur even when things are as simple as having two Christian parents – if they are from different denominations do you go to midnight mass or church in the morning? I know friends who engage fully with fasting and tradition during Ramadan, but will also go carolling and have boozy Christmas nights out with work. For me: Dad’s family had no Christmas tree but when we were kids we were spoilt with gifts, Mum’s family had the tree and the decorations and when we were kids we were spoilt with gifts (fussing over the children was/is common to both families!) Nowadays my parents and siblings have a tradition of spending Christmas day together, having a breakfast Bellini, a massive dinner, eating too much chocolate, watching a film or two, and laughing all day. I know that one day if I end up with nieces and nephews these traditions will morph and adapt, and that those kids will have to connect our family’s culture with that of their other parent.

The challenge of trying to fit in with two family cultures is complicated further because some family members are sticklers for tradition, others couldn’t give a monkey’s earlobe, some you would choose as friends, and others you’re resigned to being related to, and to me this has sometimes felt like a special burden of being mixed race. Thinking about it these days I’ve started to see it as a separate, but linked, issue, because more and more mixed race kids in Britain have parents whose culture/religion/practises are closer in character, whatever colour the parents are. Of course, I’ve been thinking about this from the perspective of having parents who are together, I imagine it can sometimes get much more complicated when you have to consider the feelings and traditions of step families too.

I’ve been thinking about this not because Christmas is on the horizon (my work colleagues are starting to plan our Christmas party already) but because I’ve also been thinking about people from my parents’ lives and in my own who have made comments that amount to ‘having mixed race kids isn’t fair because life will be hard for them because they are mixed race’. Now I have no other experience than my own on which to draw, but I don’t feel that being mixed race is a burden in and of itself. In fact being mixed race has given me insight and perspective that I, someone naturally a bit stubborn, may not have had in another life. Having said that, I’ve faced some challenges that are unique to being mixed race, and others that are connected to living cross-culturally. As an adult, I’ve developed my own life traditions and I don’t feel that I live as a British Asian any more than I live as a British white, I live like me, and that’s that. As a younger person, however, it took me a long time to resolve my feelings about both sides of my extended family. For me the breakthrough came when I realised that living to make other people happy is like building castles out of soup – impossible, painful, and messy.

The trigger for this little thought-spurt of a blog was reading the story of a man brought up across two cultures so disparate as to make me look inbred – a researcher from the US and a tribeswoman from the Amazon. The story of this man’s journey to find his mother and reconnect with a heritage by which he was originally embarrassed and challenged is fascinating. I particularly like how, in the end, he is resolved to be his own person, even if it means disappointing both his parents. If you’re having trouble navigating the path of multiple cultures, being mixed race, or simply in knowing who you are for any reason, I suggest you have a read of this:
Return to the rainforest: A son’s search for his Amazonian mother

Let Freedom Ring

28 Aug

Fifty years ago today was the day of Dr King’s stirring, beautiful, and heartbreaking speech, the one we now call “I have a dream”.

When he gave this speech, he pointed out that 100 years earlier the constitution of the USA was written as a promise that all men would be “guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  He stated that the black and coloured people of America had come to Washington to cash that cheque, to demand the fulfilment of that promise, which had been denied through the subjugation, discrimination, and degrading treatment of African Americans in those 100 years.

Fifty years later, the balance of that cheque has still not been cleared.  The dream is not yet realised.  I am pleased that the speech is being remembered in so many ways today, by people who were there or who saw it on television, and by those of use who were born in the time since that day.  I was particularly moved by this recital of the famous words by a number of different figures – peace campaigners and human rights advocates in particular – recorded by the BBC: I have a dream – revisited

Not just in America, but throughout the world, freedom and equality are still out of reach for so many people of all colours, men and women, children.  I weep when I hear King say “I have a dream… that my four little children will one day be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” and my tears are not only for the past struggles of those subjugated under slavery or segregation, but they are also for those who struggle still, fifty years on, against the myriad injustices that the human race imposes on one another.

Still in this world people kill each other over arbitrary differences manufactured from superstition, fear, and ignorance.  So I wish that people would hear King’s speech, and truly hear his soul shaking final statement:

“Let Freedom ring… and when this happens… we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, jews and gentiles, protestants and catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual: Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Because until we are all free and equal, none of us are.

Inspirational

13 Jul

I don’t have much to say by way of introduction, Malala Yousafzai speaks for herself.

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the UN on her 16th birthday

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen, can change the world”

Warrior woman

13 May

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to blog and my word, so much has happened out there in the wide world.  I have had many rants in real life instead of in the blogosphere lately, and so I wanted to ease myself back in with a light bite – not so much food for thought as a ponderous amuse-bouche.

I grew up with the glorious action cartoons of the 80s, jerky animation, power ballad theme music, and the same sound effects in every series.  One of my favourites was She-Ra.  The woman rode a flying unicorn with a rainbow coloured mane, she totally rocked.  The first film I ever saw at the cinema was the She-Ra/He-Man cross over story “The Secret of the Sword“.  There is so much I could tell you about that film, but the key aspect is the *SPOILERS* fact that Adora and Adam (the mild-mannered alter egos of the heroine/hero) are twin siblings.  By the end of the film they both have magic swords which they can use to transform themselves into the super strong, super fast, super one-liner dropping, save-the-day, never-kill-a-baddie-just-send-them-away champions of their respective worlds.

That film came out in 1985, I was three.  I don’t remember going to see the film, even if it did get to the UK later than ’85.  What I do remember is that I watched both series, and that even as a small girl-child I was bemused by the relative physiques of the amazingly strong twins.  He-Man, even when “disguised” as Prince Adam, has the physique of a body builder – and a zealous one at that.  He has muscles popping out all over, arms the size of a female character’s waist.  This seems to make sense when He-Man does something requiring lots of muscle – lifting a boulder say, or throwing a futuristic flying car across the orange landscape.  But although Adora has an equally rare physique – hour glass and with lean legs wildly out of proportion – she looks a whole lot more ordinary than her brother.  My infant brain thought thusly: if Adora/She-Ra has a lean body, and He-Man is a bodybuilder… then She-Ra must be stronger than He-Man because she’s as strong as him without the muscle!

Now that is one sure fire way to start a playground argument in the 80s.  Almost as bad as the time I referred to a male schoolmate’s WWF Action Figure as a “doll”.

Anyway, She-Ra wasn’t the only super strong heroine to have a deceptively slight build.  I also grew up with the fabulous, kitschy, wonderful Wonder Woman – a WW comic bought for me when in hospital as a child is still one of my most treasured possessions.  Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has, throughout most of her portrayals, been slender rather than stocky and on occasion has had a figure of Barbie-esque levels of unachievability.  The most appropriate male counterpart to Wonder Woman is, in my opinion, Superman, and he has always looked muscular, although the level of definition of his muscularity has changed over time.

I have often wondered what She-Ra or Wonder Woman would look like if they had a bodybuilder’s physique, as their male comrades do, so I found this picture of a female bodybuilder, and got to sketching.  Female bodybuilders often combine displaying their muscularity with more traditionally feminine postures or mannerisms, so I chose this pose as it is more gender neutral, although you could read the turned head as demure.

So here is the bitesize fodder for pondering I promised you: is this what Wonder Woman should look like?  What should any superheroine look like if one of her powers is physical strength?  Should some male heroes with super strength look leaner?  Or even fat?  I’m sure there must be more representations like this out there – I’ll confess I haven’t really followed comics since I was a kid.  Answers on a postcard.  That is all.

Wonder Woman

Dead Pretty

15 Feb

The Sun is a tatty rag filled with half truths and hyperbole.  This is not new information.  What is new is that The Sun has actually managed to shock and upset me – I thought I was inured to its tactlessness and depravity, along with that of its tabloid shelf-mates.  I was wrong.

Her name was Reeve Steencamp.  She was a human being shot dead in the early hours of yesterday.  She wasn’t a character from some trashy Hollyoaks noir.  The Sun’s front page has reduced a whole woman’s life to a cheesecake photograph without a name.

I understand that Steencamp’s death (murder?) has made international news purely because her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, is an internationally recognised name, but the salivating tabloid pack have reduced her from a whole person, past being just Pistorius’ girlfriend, to the level of some dead chick readers can perv on.

Call that journalism?  It is one of the worst examples I have seen of the conflation of sex with violence in a so-called newspaper – selling a suspected murder story with ADDED TITS.  Fucking deplorable.

You would think that the press would have developed some sensitivity after Leveson, that they would be keen NOT to be seen being crass and sleazy after the hacking scandal.  There is a new campaign against Page 3, and yet today the Sun seemed to move Page 3 to Page 1 – probably assuming that Steencamp’s family live too far away to complain.

Well I’m going to complain.  Steencamp murder was reported in the early hours of Valentine’s Day – not just the day when many men are expected to bare their feelings for a partner despite being expected to repress their emotions throughout the rest of the year – but also the day of one billion rising.  A day when women and men worldwide joined a movement against violence against women and girls (VAWG).

A day on which I am sadly certain that Reeva Steencamp was not the only woman to lose her life to the violent actions of a partner.

Just one day after a tragedy for Steencamp’s family and friends and one day after a joyful protest against VAWG, The Sun presents the death of Steencamp as some kind of macabre soft-core.  I’m not saying that her death isn’t a news story.  I’m not saying that the papers should ignore the fact that she was a model – or indeed ignore the fact that she was beautiful.  I’m saying they should show far greater respect for her as a person than treating her as fridge-filler and an excuse to sex up the front page.

Her name was Reeva Steencamp.  May she rest in peace, and may her loved ones find peace, and justice.

Feminine and practical…

25 Jan

Like many ladies’ toilets, those at my work place have special bins for sanitary products – used pads and tampons.  Flushing these things is bad form, as it troubles the plumbing and adds to an already massive amount of (literal) crap being sent through the system.  So these bins are used to collect used menstrual goods and are then emptied by specialist companies focussing on hygiene.  I think because menstrual fluid is a biohazard, or something.

I could bang on here about how much better for the environment the mooncup is than disposable cotton wads of varying shapes and sizes, and how once you are used to a menstrual cup it is much more comfortable and it also makes you get over the whole “argh! period! I am a monster!” feeling.  But then equally I could bang on about how The Pill I’m on at the moment has stopped me from having periods and that no, I don’t miss them.  Not one iota.  No PMT (I was pretty much the stereotypical hysteric) no cramps (I used to have to go home from college take painkillers and lie on the sofa crying for two days a month) and no need for tampons.  So yeah, I could write pages and pages about how much easier life is without periods, but just know I am very, VERY smug about it.  Almost as smug as a man.

ANYWAY, none of the above is the reason for this post.  What I want to share with you is the following: the cute little paper bags hanging on the back of the toilet door for in which ladies may wish to deposit their used unmentionables, if you please, before putting them in the sanitary bin:

For your used unmentionables m'lady

For your used unmentionables m’lady

Well that’s very considerate, and I do like to package up most things that I soak in blood, especially that which comes from my vagina, it is only polite after all.   I do, however, find this helpful piece of paraphernalia to be most amusing, not because of what it is but because of the dainty one-legged lady-about-town printed upon it.  I wonder sometimes, when perched on the porcelain throne and facing the above image, what the designers were thinking:

“We need to do something to jazz up these disposal bags.  They look too sterile and useful.  Women might not want to use them – women may not even realise they should use them – if they look boring and functional and just say ‘disposal bag’ on them… come on people, think!”

“Ummm… we could put a flower on it?  Women like flowers”

“It’s been done – how about a kitten?”

“No, kittens don’t say “menses” strongly enough… let’s think about how women feel… what do women feel on their periods?

“Disgusting?”

“Fat?”

“Tired?”

“Miserable?”

“Fed up?”

“No no no… okay, let’s try a new tack.  What should women feel – all the time?”

“Oh!  How about pretty?”

“That’s good, but more…”

“More…”

“DAINTY!  Yes that’s it… we need a picture of a WOMAN being DAINTY… let’s make this happen!”

I imagine them all as male marketing execs in shirt sleeves sweating at the thought of uterine linings being shed across the country.  But I commend the sentiment: periods are a lady problem, ladies want to be feminine, let’s put a really feminine lady on the disposal bag!  It makes so much sense!  I’m assuming the one legged thing is an artistic accident… presumably the other leg is hidden somewhere in all those frills and skirts.  But something isn’t right… something just doesn’t make sense to me…

How is this woman going to reach her knickers, let alone a tampon string, past all those skirts?

Any attempt to even wee in this outfit is not going to be ladylike.  Even if she’s wearing a pad, it is going to be a mission to find it under her bloomers.  This woman looks like she is of an era where having a heavy period probably meant staying in the house and hiding from the rest of humanity.  Or is she rich enough to afford servants to assist with her feminine ablutions?

In summary: this daft image, on what is ostensibly a practical paper bag, is worth taking the piss out of because it shows the inability of some people to just let women’s things be practical.  It would work just as well for what it is without a poorly realised image of Lady Lah-di-dah on it, it is after all going to be thrown in the bin with a used tampon in it… why not supply a pretty ribbon to tie it up with as well?  Have another look at the Duchess of Disposal Bag, and if you have any suggestions tell me what you think would be a better design!

"Jeeves! Be a dear and yank this tampon out for me won't you?  Do mind the french lace - AND BRING ME A HOT WATER BOTTLE BEFORE I SACK YOUR WHINY ARSE!"

“Jeeves! Be a dear and yank this tampon out for me won’t you? Do mind the french lace – AND BRING ME A HOT WATER BOTTLE BEFORE I SACK YOUR WHINY ARSE!”

 

 

The Radical Notion

18 Jan

There is an old slogan from feminism that explains the movement simply as “Feminism: the radical notion that women are people”.

I’ve found myself thinking about that ‘radical notion’ as 2013 has rolled into motion.  I have often said that I’ve got one guiding principle in terms of sharing this planet with others – people are people.  It therefore follows that women, and men, and those who don’t fit in either category, are all people.

Now why is stating the obvious like this so important?  I think it is important because once you start to see another as less than a full person, you can start to treat them as less than a person.  You can deride them, you can dismiss them, you can deny them their rights.  This is a process called dehumanisation, and once a person or group of people is seen as less than human, it becomes easy for some to treat them very, very badly.

Historically this method of categorising other people as subhuman, lesser, or simply “other” has been the justification for despicable actions.  It doesn’t matter if you wipe out an entire group of people if they were not really people anyway.  Genocide, massacres, religious persecution, slavery, torture, conquest, oppression – all of these actions are reprehensible but they are made more sanitary or acceptable by portraying the targets as an inhuman threat or an aberration.

One thing that humans develop in childhood is empathy, and how their actions affect others.  I’m aware that different people feel different levels of empathy towards others and that some conditions can cause problems with social interaction due to lack of empathy, but empathy itself is a quality that allows humans to live and work together.  Yet we are able to lay this empathy aside, and as a species have done so again and again and again, allowing the kinds of atrocities against other people that I have already mentioned.

So it may be an obvious statement, that people are people, but I want this mantra to be at the front of all our minds, when we feel ready to slag off people who dress differently or eat different food.  I want this statement to be there, ready to reach for, whenever we start to feel violently towards “them” and the threat we perceive that “they” have to “us”.  Whoever “they” are, they are people, just like us.  What starts with cruel words is one end of the spectrum.  At the other end lies the unspeakable cruelty of which mankind is capable.

Coming back to the “radical notion” that women are people, I think that the rape apologism that oozes out even after such an horrific attack as that which killed a young woman in Delhi needs to be directly challenged.  There is a dark road that starts with “if she hadn’t been…” out after dark, out with a male friend, outside the house at all… and serves to focus on the victim of the attack as the problem rather than the attackers.  A woman, just as any other person, should be able to go and see a film and board a bus without being gangraped and tortured and beaten.  The perpetrators of the crime did not see her as a person, they saw her as a target, an object, a game.  They felt no empathy for her suffering or the struggle of herself and her companion against the attack.  They did not think of her pain or her dignity.  They had dehumanised her to the point of feeling justified and entitled to use and abuse her body however they wished, because her feelings and her response did not matter.  Perhaps it made them feel powerful, who knows.  Fine, we can all say that the perpetrators committed a terrible crime but I would like to add that those who seek to excuse the perpetrators from responsibility because of actions ascribed to the victim should not be allowed to do so.  No one, NO ONE, causes themselves to be gang raped and beaten with a metal bar such that their body falls apart and they fall into a coma and die.  NO ONE asks for that, not by where they go, how they dress, what they say.  Even in a violent case like this, there are people who wish to blame the victim, and that saddens me.

We cannot dehumanise the victim just because we want the crime to seem less terrible, less scary, and less of an indictment of the prevailing culture.  Apportioning blame to the victim is easy, and makes it easier to believe that it would never happen to us or our friends or family, easier to feel some sort of control – that by our actions we can prevent being raped or attacked.  But you can do everything ‘right’ and still be raped or attacked.  Victim blaming avoids the true cause of such crimes: the belief of the perpetrators that they could do what they wanted with total disregard for the humanity of the victim, and that is why they, and everyone in India and across the world need to get their heads round this ‘radical notion’ that women are people.  Women are not objects, their bodies are not public property, and raping women is a crime, as is raping any person.  There is no excuse.  It is perfectly possible to live a life without raping anyone.  It comes down to respect.  So I’ll say it again world.  People are people.

People are people.  Treat them well.