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I am Trayvon

Written in the weeks following the national outcry at this injustice and published in SLIK and No Bounds magazine earlier this year.

I AM TRAYVON

Millions worldwide have signed the petition to seek justice for the brutal and unprovoked murder of a 17 year old boy named Trayvon Martin. He was killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman a 28 year old self appointed neighbourhood watchman  who decided that he should play judge, jury and executioner of an unarmed child because he decided that Trayvon looked ‘suspicious’.

Trayvon armed with skittles and Iced tea, was walking through the gated community where he lived with his family when he was shot and killed by Zimmerman who initially walked free under the authority’s interpretation of Florida’s Self Defence Laws.

The news of his death, and how Zimmerman had not even been arrested sent shockwaves throughout America and beyond.  “I am Trayvon” was the rallying cry heard at protests organised throughout America. Various congressmen and celebrities donned ‘hoodies’ in protest standing in solidarity with the Martin family. Following the global outrage and weeks of empassioned campaigning, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder nearly 2 months after Trayvon’s death. However as Rev Sharpton said on the day the news of this broke out, ” Had there not been pressure there would not have been a second look. This is a not a night for celebration, this is not a night that should have happened in the first place.”

At a time like this it is vital to consider what can be learned from such tragic circumstances. What we learn from this, and the way we combat the racist discourse we are being assaulted with is crucial so that we can work towards change as we step out from under this canopy of injustice into brighter more hopeful days.

An rather myopic analysis of events is that Zimmerman was merely an overzealous individual whose ill thought out actions resulted in the death of a minor. Ulitimately he was responsible for his actions which were contrary to the instructions given by the Police Dispatcher he called whilst following Trayvon.

However as uncomfortable as it is for many it is important to throw the net of culpability wider and view this tragedy against a backdrop of wider societal prejudice and deeprooted injustice.Some have then tried to seperate his actions from the thought process leading up to this, condemning the vigilante act of shooting but legitimising the fear and suspicion upon which he acted. This is illustrated clearly in the attitude famously articulated by Rivera a Fox Commentator who urged black and latino young people to stop wearing hoodies in order to avoid Trayvon’s fate. Implicit in this paradigm is an uncritical acceptance of profiling and negative stereotyping.

This issue also goes way beyond gun control , or Florida’s interpretation of self defence laws. These were merely tools to facilitate this collective act of injustice.

And as Britain gets ready to point a smug finger of accusation across the Atlantic, it would be salient to highlight how events in America are being mirrored here in the UK. We are facing a huge problem with stop and search.  According to the London School of Economics and Open Society Justice Initiativ, black people are 30x more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 powers. This is linked to racial profiling.

Britain applauded itself for the recent convictions for the killers of 18 year old Stephen Lawrence to proclaim the fairness of our Justice system . However it took 17 years to achieve any sort of justice for Stephen Lawrence. More pertinently it would not have happened without the persistence and unrivalled determination of Doreen and Neville Lawrence who fought, and still are fighting for justice. The fact that 3 of the 5 killers are still walking free is a blight upon the justice system.

The numbers of death in custody remain at an unacceptably high level and we have witnessed in particular, a sharp rise in the numbers of black deaths in custody in recent years. The circ . The circumstances in which these men died are suspicious, and the reasons for death put forward by police lack credibility. The UFFC has been formed in response to this.

These acts of aggression are all on a continuum; from the police man who stops and searches to the one who kills the unarmed black male because he decides he is a threat, and to the Justice system that is slow and unwilling to bring justice. Each method of control, humiliation, and subjucation is held up by the other. Inextricably joined together in an ugly coalition of prejudice and fear.

The eyes of America and indeed the world, are closely following the developments in this case .

While Trayvon’s death received the media coverage that it deserved,  other’s have not. Ramarley Graham, a drug suspect shot dead in his mother’s apartment, and Rekia Boyd shot dead by an off duty police officer were both unarmed and black.

And 15 year old Aspergers Sufferor Stephon Watts was regarded as such a threat when he approached officers with a butter knife that they shot him dead in his parent’s house.

If this case teaches us anything it is that a guiltly until proven innocent approach is untenable. If someone is engaged in criminal activity, due process must be followed.

President Obama has urged that America does some ‘soul searching’ on this incident.

As MLK Jr said “Every step towards the goal of justice requires..the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals” As a rainbow coalition of people from all walks of society stand together action against this affront to justice and humanity, we have seen progress made in a short time. The journey has opened with dialogue but Trayvon’s legacy will be more than words alone.

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Natural hair revolution

This was originally published on an old blog of mine in 2010. My thoughts on this have evolved and developed but the fundamentals outlined in this post remain the same.

To fro, or not to fro..that, is the question..

I think I must have been born with a thick head of hair, in all my baby pictures it’s the same, a smiling little girl with an exquisite mass of black hair. My long suffering Ghanaian mother had a job on her hands, and it was a job well done, she painstakingly combed and braided my hair throughout my childhood and early teens. My crowning glory came with a price though, it hurt like anything. So when I reached 19 I thought I’d get it relaxed, so it would be straight, and pretty and easy. No more battling with my afro comb to unravel the inevitables tangles and clumps in my hair!No more sitting for hours upon end whilst someone braided my hair! And no more being envious of the girls who “swung” their hair behind them as they bobbed down the street!It was never about self hatred to me, or about fitting in, it was about what was convenient. And plus it looked good. This was just my preference..I think?

I‘ve grown to realise that there is a fine line between preference and prejudice, and it’s so difficult to unpick the almost invisible thread which seperates these two, or perhaps they are not two separate and disinct things, but rather prejudice is merely a more extreme manifestation of preference, therefore they are on a continuum. Perhaps we need to start rethinking words, and look deeper into meanings; is preference often just a socially acceptable form of prejudice?

That’s what I had to ask myself over the years each time I went to the hairdresser. I had read the bluest eye at age 16 and was moved by the story of racial self hatred within 1920s America, Pecola the main character wanted blue eyes. She was black. This was ugly, and was as distasteful to the author as it was to me. Ironically, having grown up in a very white town in Scotland I had never encountered this before,  so it was a foreign concept to me which I mistakenly put down to being a uniquely American experience. I was shocked to encounter it when I moved down to England and began spending more time with other black people here in Britain,and found so many of them enslaved by the white beauty myth and believing that dark skin, nappy hair and big lips were unattractive for women, and that somehow having light skin, light eyes and “good hair” was the beauty ideal for black women. In other words, the fallacy that black women who look more ‘white’ are beautiful.

It’s almost become an unspoken sentiment in the black community that if we have soft loose spiral curls or “mixed hair’ it’s okay to wear it out, any more afro than that and we need to straighten it, braid or it, or just hide it under Indian remi.

Perhaps now is the time for us to rewrite the rule books, be rebels, be radical, and challenge te accepted discourse on what is beautiful and what is not. So here, in my world I am trying to reignite some debate,passion and the revisiting of old ways of thinking, and to critically appraise and analyse the accepted discourse on beauty, the taken for granted assumptions and “truths” about what is attractive and what is not.

So what is the difference between prejudice and prejudice?The bottom line is, I’m still not sure how what the answer to that is, I’m not entirely convinced that these two things are anaethema to each other, and I would still contend that to some extent- the lines are blurrred. However, I will say for the purpose of this argument that the two can be distinguished by what they are informed by; preference will be wholesome and peculiar to that person for no obvious reason; for example I love the color lilac, I wasn’t brought up to think that, or taught this, nor was it particularly the main colour projected by the media. Conversely, prejudice will often appear to be something intrinsic to a person and therefore will lay masquerade as an inate preference, however under careful scrutiny and honest  reflection it will become evident that it has been formed and moulded by external influences.

So now ten years on from reading the Bluest Eye, I’m still not sure about how much I have been affected by the negative media images of black women, and the focus on white and European as beautiful. I’ve been reconditioning myself and my thoughts, both consciously and unconsciously.  I’ve began to hate the language surrounding natural hair, every time I visit the hairdresser they tell me I have so much new growth..new growth?Is my natural hair a tumour or a cancer? Is it something that must be removed or treated?

I give a loud and defiant NO in answers to these questions, my natural hair is beautiful, God blessed me with it and I should not feel that it is unprofessional or too ”out there” to wear it out in it’s pure and  unadulterated afro glory. So I eventually decided that I would relax my hair one more time, and that would be it for the foreseeable future..I began 2010 with a relaxer free commitment and hope to continue with this for many years..if I should go back to relaxed hair I will not feel I have failed. I am not against relaxed hair, and I certainly do not believe it is synonymous with self hate or self loathing, just as I do not believe natural hair necessarily is indicative of black pride.

However, what I am against is the unspoken yet accepted ideal that I must always hide my natural hair, that having relaxed is hair is not a style which I may or may not choose to adopt but it is obligatory. I’ve exercised my legitimate right to choose to use chemicals for the past decades; its now taken its toll on my hair, the volume and thicknes and length of my hair has reduced by about 50%, it’s still far longer than many girls but that doens’t take away from the fact that relaxer has done just that..taken away..so now I’m trying to add, to rebuild, to grow and to nuture by throwing away the chemicals for an indefinite time period. It will do all of these things to my hair,but more importantly.. to my life and to my identity as a young black woman, and hopefuly to everyone I encounter. I hope that the young black girls can look up and see at least one woman who isn’t sending the silent message that our hair must be modified and treated to be tolerated or accepted.

Indeed I would hope that women of any race know that it’s okay the way God made them.

Nothing about our culture, or anyone’s else culture should be toned down, or hidden and swept under the proverbial carpet to be accepted.

Let’s celebrate our differences, there is strength and beauty in diversity.

This was originally published on an old blog of mine in 2010. My thoughts on this have evolved and developed but the fundamentals outlined in this post remain the same.

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Hello world!

So after a 2 year hiatus from blogging I am back! The power of the pen is but mightier than the sword, so I am back wielding my power carrying words. Disclaimer:  this blog will not fit neatly into the category of hair and beauty blog or health etc

It is a nomadic blog, similar to it’s author (myself). It is on a journey and will explore different subjects and travel from place to place.

Be challenged, inspired and encouraged.
Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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