Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Lets talk about colourism

It is quite disappointing that in a supposedly “colour-blind” era, there is still a globalised preference for fairer skin.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Not me. It was never going to be me.
Because we live in a society that is rife with colourism, there is always stigma associated with darker skin complexions.
Growing up, I had some difficulty in accepting that I was just not one of the so called ‘yellowbones’. I was made to believe, both overtly and subtly, that fair skin equals beauty and sometimes even intelligence.  I remember a beauty contest held in class when l was 11 years old by a male teacher and somehow found myself among the chosen five. Out of the five I was the darkest. The plan was out of the five, the less pretty girls were to be voted out of the contest one by one until only the beauty queen was left. Weird enough I was the first one out. I asked later on what was the criterion used; I was told it was because I was too dark.
Looking back, I realise that the attitude towards dark skin colour limited some people during their childhood and still does and nothing has changed much.
I vividly remember one of my fairer complexioned friends telling me the reason behind her sister’s even fairer complexion was the fact that she had once fallen into a bucket of bleach. I remember how I actually seriously believed it and envied them at the time. But not anymore!
Of course not everyone’s experiences are the same. But for others, including myself, this issue often came up when talking to friends back then and even now. And like these women, I have heard many of the repulsive things people say to and about dark-skinned women. 
I once heard somebody saying,
 “It’s okay to be dark, but not very dark.” Really?
“She is pretty for a dark girl,” we often hear.
Two things came to mind when she said this – the pervasiveness of this belief and its implicit biases are still very much alive. And second, that young kids who are still figuring out the ways of the world are already being told that their brown skin is unattractive is NOT okay.
Yes – the media, of course, have played their role.
The emphasis on lighter skin definitely has an appallingly strong presence in the sphere of advertising and popular culture, but I feel the pressure to conform to these beliefs are rooted in our homes, school, workplaces and communities. 
Skin lightening is a despicable billion dollar industry. According to Latina.com, lighter-skinned Latinos enjoy substantial privileges such as lower unemployment rates and lower poverty rates than black Latinos. And research conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that skin lightening products are commonly used in African countries, with 35% of South African women using them on a regular basis.
Over-the-counter skin bleaching products containing mercury and hydroquinone are still being sold on the black market. Unilever’s infamous Fair and Lovely was introduced in 1975 and is currently marketed to 30 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 
I don’t want women to believe that there are products out there to act as a surrogate for their beauty. I want an 11-year-old to believe that “not too dark” is also beautiful despite what her classmates may want her to believe.
I want her to speak eloquently of her brown skin, and to understand that fairness as a virtue is nothing but a notion that has been preconditioned into a society and that we should not take it seriously. 
Expressing rage about the permeation of corporate exploitation are good ways of activism, but they are certainly not enough.
It is the innate internalised thinking in so many cultures that will continue to encourage a market for these products. Breaking down this innate consciousness is where sustained activism must begin.
(There are people who use skin lightening for eczema  and other skin problems on prescription, these I don’t have a problem with, but be careful what you wish for)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Black Women at Work

 Just Saying....

I’m not writing this as an angry black woman that likes to make everything about race. I’m writing as a disappointed black woman because most times it is about race. My BLACK is still not good enough. My BLACK constantly has to prove itself. My BLACK needs to work ten times harder to be seen as something. My BLACK is not being addressed. My BLACK is still fighting to be seen as important. My BLACK exists. Acknowledge it!

For as long as racism has been alive, black women have been policed about their image, their hair, their looks and their behaviour. Not just in social situations, but in the workplace too.

As a woman of colour, I can understand why BME women get frustrated. It’s a global problem.

Black women are sometimes silenced, denigrated and are constantly told to have several seats when they dare to speak out. Most importantly, people always assume they aren’t as qualified as their white counterparts. And when they are actually qualified, they are still not elevated to senior positions. BME are not given opportunities even in Africa. They are just expected to take orders and be followers with the exception of a few.

I remember working for an organisation that I shall not mention here some years ago. My team mates tried so hard to not sound patronising but statements like ‘It’s the first time we have employed a black woman’ and ‘I do have friends like you, you know’, were thrown at me on daily basis.  The one that annoyed me most was,’Your hair is so long now! Where did you buy it? Was it sore? How did /do they make it look like that? How long is your own hair? I wish I could change my hair like yours, you're so lucky." I’m not going to lie – It always felt like I was the queen of Sheba when I changed my hair and presenting it to my subjects.

The environment was not conducive and each day was a struggle as I had to prove to everyone that I was as good as them mostly by doing all the crap work that everyone in the office didn’t like or enjoy doing. We know it, there is always work in any office that people try and avoid if they can. So in the end I think you have guessed by now.  Needless to say, I did quit! That was the best decision I ever made. To make it worse if one dares to complain or even point out they are being sidelined, they are accused of being ‘too sensitive’, really?

There is proof that black women are being side-lined, pigeonholed and discriminated against in the workplace. Here are some few examples,

·         being told your natural hair is unprofessional and makes you look aggressive

·         When you’re mistaken for being the receptionist’s doctor when you are a Doctor

·         Being complimented for being so "articulate". Hallo I have a degree in English Literature.

·         If they're assertive then they're called Aggressive, if they're quiet then they're called Passive.

That being said, Lets embrace each other and our cultural differences for a better world.

This is about my personal experience and is not out to get anybody. I know how you guys love being offended by anything and everything that involves race.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Have women become the oppressors too?

I was still a pre-teen when I became aware of the battle of the sexes. I was a pre-teen when I saw a world where men were deemed as worthier than women, and where men were fine subjugating women. Having grown up in the 80s even educating a girl was not a priority in many families- the reason, women would always get married!

Fast forward to my late thirties, and I am realising that although there is a conflict between men and women, we as women have bought into the lie.
For example, I constantly hear women blaming the “other woman”, asking how the other woman could do such when their partner has cheated on them, instead of holding the man accountable.
I hear women talking about men cheating as if it’s something that is the norm and something that should be expected and accepted. I hear women being told by other women that they need to do everything in power to “keep their man”.

I hear about gatherings and events that have been arranged by women, for women, so that women can learn to be the woman a man wants the horrific female genital mutilation for example!. I never hear about men arranging or attending forums so that they can learn and understand women and stop antagonising us.

I constantly see articles telling women how to improve themselves so that they can “land the guy”.
"Perhaps after centuries of having these beliefs enforced on us it is now engrained. Have we become our own enemy? "
A lady friend mine used to tell me that I should be powerful but not too powerful as I might scare off men. So did most of my family members.
Even today, I still hear women telling other women to dress a certain way in order to attract the right type of man.
It's frustrating.

These are but a few examples of the oppressive words that women have said and continue to say to other women, but never to men. Most of us are aware of the double standards held in society but why is it the women who are perpetuating some of them?
Perhaps after centuries of having these beliefs enforced on us it is now ingrained? Have we become our own enemy?

It is sad that as women ,we are at war with ourselves. And this is not the way it’s supposed to be. We were not born a problem.
Or can you say that you have never said or at least thought “How could she stay with him?” after a man treated a woman badly? I have, and honestly not thinking about why the perpetrator is doing it in the first place!

Most women have, and it is not okay that we have allowed ourselves to think like this.
The realisation that we as women are consciously and subconsciously looking down on ourselves is saddening.
It is sad to see how we as women continually appease men at our own expense. We always try to justify men’s behaviours, but if it’s a woman, it is their fault. It is sad to see women holding themselves to high standards but allowing men to have no standards.
It is sad that as women,we are at war with ourselves. And this is not the way it’s supposed to be. We were not born a problem. We never became a problem and we shouldn’t see ourselves as a problem.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Watch out what you say on social media

Social media essentially refers to a range of websites that enable people to interact worldwide using discussion, photos, audio and video.Facebook was the first social network to exceed one billion registered accounts, according to the latest data by global statistics portal Statista. It’s become so quick and simple to offend thousands of people with a single click or even embarrass oneself using smart phones etc.  
In times gone by, if you wanted to send someone a rude message, you needed to find paper and a pen, sit and write down your thoughts, hunt for an envelope and a stamp, take the time to get to a post-box or post office, and finally wait for it to be delivered to your target. This lengthy process gave you plenty of time to have second thoughts, and then decide not to send the letter after all. Nowadays your smartphone is always at hand and with a flurry of agile fingers and a single tap, your message is out in the world. For me it becomes a war unto oneself if the world is made to know of family quarrels etc. In Shona we have a saying (Mombe haivhiyirwi paruzhinji). In English they say one should not wash their dirty linen in public.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying sharing is bad, for examples –religious articles, birthdays, campaigns etc, that’s not bad, but when it comes to things like heated family arguments, strong views that demean other groups of people , racism or sexism only to mention a few, that’s a step too far.
A more curious thing about social media is the way people have turned it to what has been called the “antisocial media”. Many people manage to hold two contradictory and highly inaccurate beliefs about these media. On the one hand they assume that the world at large is waiting breathlessly for the latest tantalising snippet of their everyday lives – so they photograph their breakfast or announce their arrival at the mall, as though thousands, all over the world, will exclaim with delight and rush to inform the masses.  
At other times, though, they behave as though these media were completely private, enabling them to vent freely and post wildly inappropriate things as if they were whispering into the ear of a sympathetic friend. They then express shock and horror when the public at large express dismay at the revelation of their inner ugliness.
Part of the problem is the reckless way people use social media, without really thinking about why they are doing it, what effect their words will have, and whether it will be of any use to anyone. Another snag is the way technology has made it too easy to spread your most trivial and unedited thoughts.
Such comments are like “dick pix” – other people are inevitably less impressed than you want them to be, and you can’t take them back, or hide them when a prospective employer or lover decides to explore your traces.
The more urgently you feel the urge to blurt out your opinion, the wiser it is to write a draft and leave it for a while before sending it. You might look at it an hour or even a day later and realise that it serves no purpose and should rather be deleted.
Facebook tips
  • Don’t befriend just anyone. A rule of thumb is to only befriend people you know in real life. Use Facebook as an extension of your existing circle of friends.
  • What you share electronically stays in cyberspace forever, therefore don’t share or post anything you don’t feel comfortable with
  • You can now ask to pre-approve or review photographs or posts you are tagged in (Privacy settings – Timeline and Tagging).
  • Be considerate of your friends’ privacy as well – don’t post anything about them or their photographs without asking them if they are comfortable with the post. Photographs that could potentially cause embarrassment should definitely not be posted. Be careful of how you and your friends portray yourselves – sexy and drunken photographs should not be on Facebook.
  • Don’t post anything such as addresses or cell numbers that make you easy to find.
    Remember some people lost their jobs because of what they post on social media!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Can the Film industry help end female genital mutilation?

Researchers frustrated by the deep communication gap between people trying to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and the societies that practise it, proposed a novel solution: film.

An unusual experiment in Sudan showed it was possible to alter people's attitudes with a mere 27 minutes of FGM messaging sneaked into a 90-minute movie, a team from Switzerland and Sudan wrote in the journal Nature.
"The movies significantly improved attitudes towards girls who remain uncut," they reported after two experiments involving thousands of participants.
The team said the findings suggested that "changing attitudes through entertainment could contribute to the abandoning of cutting".

FGM is a practice common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, in which a young girl's clitoris and labia are partially or totally removed.

The underlying belief is that this will reduce libido and keep a woman chaste.
The procedure – often performed under unsterile conditions – can lead to severe bleeding and urination problems, cysts, infections, painful sex and childbirth complications.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut. Over two million join their ranks each year.
The WHO has categorised FGM a violation of human rights. But efforts to convince traditional societies to give up the practice have run into difficulty mainly due to "incompatible attitudes" and "cultural conflicts".
Campaigns against FGM are often perceived as attempts by outsiders to impose their own values on communities whose history and culture they know little about.

Some groups which practice FGM believe they are doing it for the child's own good, as it is perceived to boost a girl's marriage prospects.

Changing attitudes

According to the study's authors, campaigners often err by not taking into account that there might be divergent views even within communities where FGM is practised.
In their experiment, the researchers sought to tap into such differences to stimulate debate.
They created several versions of a movie in which members of a fictional, extended family disagree about whether its girls should be cut or not.
The message was not the main plot, and was designed not to come across as judgemental or preachy.
It portrays, instead, how hard the decision can be for parents who want the best for their daughters in a society where the practice is an accepted part of growing up.

The FGM message comprised less than a third of the running time of the movies, which were screened at community buildings such as schools.
Tested afterwards, people who saw the films showed "large, robust and significant increases in positive attitudes about uncut girls," the researchers concluded, when compared to people who saw a version of the movie featuring the same characters but without the FGM sub-plot.

Something to think about!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

‘’Your hair feels like dry grass.” That was one of the first insults that someone hurled at my hair. She would touch my hair and repeat this sentence to all present.  I was furious and thus I started my journey into hair damaging at its best by constantly covering it with wigs and weaves and frying it with cream relaxers.

This is one of the first dilemmas that black people face: do I let people touch my hair and under what circumstances? The question, “can I touch it?” becomes one of the most awkward social moments and can break relationships before they even start.

This fascination with the texture of black hair is not new. During slave trade, white women would often hack off the hair of their enslaved female servants because it supposedly “confused white men”. On the other hand, white men themselves hacked it off to spite those they think were too big for their shoes.

Today, black women with nappy hair – that is, natural and chemical-free – are desirable despite the popular discourse to the contrary. It’s not just fashion or trends: throughout history, black women’s hair has fascinated artists and photographers and has been closely linked to radical political movements such as the Black Panthers.

A history of black hair myths

There are two main misconceptions that are worth understanding.

The first misconception is that natural hair is “dirty”. The second is that natural hair does/doesn’t grow (hence the obsession with hair length, hair extensions and braids).

Many black women and men who wear weaves and relax their hair will explain their choice by either saying that their natural hair is “unmanageable” or that natural hair is “dirty”. This is one of the most enduring stereotypes about black hair. Historically, the myth comes from images of the pejoratively named “fuzzy-wuzzy” that  British soldiers who were fighting Sudanese insurgents in the Mahdist War sent home. This war, from 1881-1899, popularised the image of the wild Afros that people now imagine when they think of black hair.

These images are misleading for the simple reason that they suggest these Sudanese soldiers did not “dress” their hair or wash it, since in the images it often looks unkempt. Nothing could be further from the truth. Across the African continent, techniques for dressing hair were as varied as the hairstyles that they produced.

The “Afro” therefore is not some kind of standard African hairstyle. It is just one of several hundred ways of growing and maintaining curly hair. So, when a black person decides to “dread” or lock their hair, they neither need nor keep “dirt” in it to make it lock. Our hair (as does all hair) locks naturally when it is left uncombed or unbrushed.

The association of locks with dirt partly comes from the Caribbean where Rastafarianism emerged as a subculture. However, even in this instance, the misconception is that dreadlocks equal Rastafarianism.

Policing black hair

The myths about how long black hair can or should be are as legion as the myths that natural hair is “dirty”. The misconception partly comes out of the concept of measurement. Natural African hair is curly and so to measure it, one would have to stretch out the coils. How would you know – without uncoiling it – how long a black person’s hair is? One black person’s coiffure will look very short because of “shrinkage” and another black person’s locks will look very long because of a loose coil.

The notion that long black hair is or should be cut or trimmed to an “acceptable” length is just ignorance masquerading as “neatness”. No two black people’s hair “grows out” the same.

Conservative institutions – schools, militaries, corporations and so on – have the right to prescribe a dress code. However, these should not be based on partial knowledge where these institutions simply don’t do any research into what some of their prohibitions actually mean and instead rely on “common sense especially on black hair”. Caucasians do dye their hair whenever they wish in so why it should be a problem for black brothers and sisters if they wish to have braids, afro or locs?

Unfortunately, when it comes to black hair, “common sense” is the least reliable tool for decision-making, since even black people are constantly changing their minds about what they want to do with their hair. As an expression of our culture, black hair is as malleable and plastic as our ideas about it. To attempt to fix such expressions in rules and regulations is to deny black people what the Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop called our “Promethean consciousness”. As black people, our hair is an expression of the infinite possibilities that emanate from this creative and daring consciousness.

You will be pleased to know I am done frying my hair with chemicals and started on a dreadlock journey. Needless to add my locs are neat, clean and very professional. Embrace whatever style you want but be true to yourself. Let’s learn to accept people as they are.


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Female Genital Mutilation and the new school year!

Female Genital Mutilation and New School Year


As school opens campaigners are as ever faced with the fear that some of the girls coming back from their summer holidays might have been victims of female genital mutilation. While this is a possibility, it is all our responsibility to look around us and if suspicious contact the right agencies. We all have a duty to play.  Having said that, because a family that one knows has been abroad for the summer holiday, doesn’t necessarily mean they took their kids for genital mutilation.  Recently a Muslim family genuinely going on holiday was accused of going to Syria to join Isis, so lets not throw unfound accusations!

Working with families from FGM practising communities since 2010, I have since realised that the practice is different from country to country and even within the same country people do things differently where this practise is concerned. For example, some people in the diaspora that I have been working with claim to only be as protective of what they call ‘culture from the homeland’ only in name but don’t actually perform these practices and rituals. Some are second generation and don’t feel close to either the African culture or the culture they have embraced abroad. Clearly this brings a dilemma to anti FGM campaigners.  This therefore means we need to exercise caution when dealing with people.

The people who feel so strongly about their ‘original roots’ hold on to these archaic practices because they feel they don’t belong in the diaspora. There are many reasons for this -from lack of an education to not integrating when arriving in foreign countries.  I have been working with a few women from Somalia and they told me they feel all alone, so to them holding on to those practices from back home seem to keep them close to each other and give a sense of belonging somewhere. To them therefore anything that is still being done or practised in their home country is worth keeping.

Integration is as important as ever and working with these communities can be one of the many ways of making sure the message gets across of how dangerous this practice is. The other thing I noticed was some of the Somali women could not even speak English and feels even more isolated and therefore hold on to what they know best- themselves and their beliefs. Lets be welcoming and help others understand what's right and wrong without being judgemental! Understanding different communities and what makes them tick can be a starting point.

I hope the recent racist attacks since Brexit are not going to isolate communities and push them further ‘little communities within communities!’