Writing I’ve done recently

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts, but here’s a collection of some of the writing I’ve done over the past few months:

Calling for a women’s strike on housework in the Telegraph

An interview with Dr Ola Orekunrin, CEO of Nigeria’s Flying Doctors service, in the Guardian

In the Telegraph, on YouTube’s sexual harassment problem

Reviewing Assata Shakur’s autobiography at OpenDemocracy

Challenging racist, sexist stereotypes on TV in the Telegraph

On interracial relationships and prejudice 

Defending N Dubz’ Tulisa in Vice

An interview with the American Journalism Review on twittering

On being femme and hairy

Why we need socially conscious pop stars 

Writing I’ve done recently

At openDemocracy, I spoke to comedian Aamer Rahman about race, politics and power.

Last month, I wrote at Feminist Times on the erasure of black women from the beauty industry.

Finally, I wrote an obituary for Maya Angelou at Dazed and Confused magazine.

Also- if you’re a tumblr user, I’ve recently joined! Find me at renireni.tumblr.com.



When you stop feeling things

They say that moving house can be one of the most stressful times of a person’s life. The anxiety started small. I couldn’t leave the flat. I would get ready to leave but then find excuses to procrastinate- got to grab this, I’ve forgotten that. It was mostly about putting off having to open the door. My other half would stand expectantly in the corridor, before realising that it wasn’t about forgetfulness.

Then it got worse. I’d be invited to things- social or work related. I would add the events to my calendar. But I wouldn’t go. I couldn’t go. Not sure why, just this heavy weighing anxiousness that wouldn’t let me.

I started becoming very concerned with housework and was doing way too much. I would complain about it but I think it might have been a subconscious way of the aforementioned procrastination- finding reasons not to leave the house, finding reasons not to do stuff.

That wasn’t the first time. I’ve suffered from depression intermittently throughout my life, often triggered by unexpected or disrupted life changes. When I finished uni, couldn’t find a job and had to move into my mum’s box room. I developed the depressive’s insomnia. You go to bed at a normal time but you wake up before 3am without fail. There’s no going back to sleep, you’ve just got to occupy your mind. It doesn’t end until the depression ends. I lost a lot of weight very quickly, my eyes felt like they were being propped up with matchsticks most of the time. In that fug of long term unemployment, there were sometimes days were there was no point getting up as the day wasn’t going to lead anywhere. Eating was a funny one too. I’d feel hungry but didn’t feel inclined to do anything about it. It wasn’t an eating disorder because there was no will power involved, just apathy.  Life’s basic tasks felt like a mountain to climb and I couldn’t face it.

Things have got better for me since the unemployed days, but the depression hasn’t wholly left. I think it’s something I’ll have for my whole life as I’ve been dealing with it since my teens. Depression as a freelancer is precarious. It kills your creativity, robs you of the ideas, inspiration, drive and passion required to pitch. I’ve had amazing opportunities that have been difficult to deliver on as I can go AWOL for a month. You lose income, but you could lose a lot more than that if you don’t have someone around who loves you enough to let you lean on them. I’m lucky that I have that.

You just continue on autopilot. I’ve experienced depression thus far in my life not as sadness, but lack of any emotions at all. There are low points when you feel awful and a failure and just want to cry, but they’re actually not the norm.

It’s upon leaving a bout of depression, when you feel the old you coming back, that you realise how bad things were. When I grab your keys and pop to the shop without a second thought, I have to stop half way down the street and reflect. When I start enjoying things again and get excited about ideas, events and opportunities, I’m compelled to reflect on why these feelings were alien to me for so long. It’s only then that I realise how far deep I was.

I’ve expressed my distaste for confessional journalism, with my stance being that if it doesn’t serve a transformative purpose, it’s just a public diary entry.  But I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think making public an issue that still so steeped in stigma serves a purpose. Discussing anxiety and depression is not a confession, because suffering from them isn’t a sin. The stigma around them suggests so, though.  The commonality of the problem suggests quite a few people are suffering in silence. What I have- mixed anxiety and depression- is the most common mental disorder in Britain.

There’s enough stereotypes about people with mental health issues to keep the stigma thriving. I know that I’m competent and talented, and I also know that if I apply for a full time job after this post goes up on my blog, it’ll go against my application.

We don’t speak about unemployment, we don’t speak about mental health, but I think I’ve broken enough taboos on this blog to break another one. I don’t have any grand solutions, or even a wholly happy ending, but if this post helps one person talk about what they’re dealing with- that’s progress.

Please don’t describe my work as ‘eloquent’

A lot of people read and enjoy my work- a readership I’m grateful for. But there’s one loaded compliment that jars me more than a thousand racial slurs.  It’s being told I’m eloquent.

This comment does not mean the same thing when directed to me as when directed to my white counterparts. Eloquence is loaded with racial implications. If you are a first, second or (like me) a third generation immigrant, you’ll be all too familiar with the coded compliment of ‘you speak so well’. Eloquence is the arbiter of British assimilation, with compliments such as ‘you speak so well’ offered to us immigrants as a marker of reluctant acceptance. If we’re not speaking ‘well’- perhaps with the thick, lilting accent of my grandparents- our intelligence is called into question. Complementing eloquence is part and parcel of the big British colour blindness project, with its efforts to ‘not see race’ by erasing our difference and heritage by demanding us to assimilate.

During London’s riots of 2011, BBC Newsnight held a discussion on the causes of the riots with novelist Dreda Say Mitchell, author Owen Jones, and historian David Starkey.  After expressing admiration for Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech and likening black culture to a contagious disease, Starkey earnestly said: ‘listen to David Lammy.  An archetypical, successful black man. If you turn the screen off, so you were listening to him on the radio, you’d think he was white.’

You speak so well. You’re very eloquent. You have a good grasp of our language. You’re an acceptable immigrant. You sound like you belong here!

The flip side of being deemed as acceptable or respectable is that the line has been drawn on who is an acceptable immigrant, and who is not. David Starkey made that point clear.I’m not interested in being some kind of model minority. Until none of us are unacceptable, we are all unacceptable.

I’m aiming to deconstruct and decolonise destructive constructions of race in the same language that created them and enforced linguistic violence on my home continent. There is a bittersweet compliment in being told that I have a great grasp of the English language.  Tell me that my work changed your mind. Tell me that it altered your world view. But don’t call me eloquent.

FURTHER READING: “You Speak Good English.”