All posts in Uncategorised

  • Talking to comic Aamer Rahman about race, politics and power

    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.

  • The myth of shared female experience

    On feminism and the myth of shared female experience for Feminist Times

    Why I’d rather you didn’t describe my work as eloquent

    And finally, on the phrase ‘not all white people’ derailing conversation about structural racism, for openDemocracy

  • 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.”

  • An interview with Dr Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

    I had the honour of interviewing Dr Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw last week whilst she was in London- her work has been instrumental in pioneering and honing black feminist intersectional thought, filling in the gaps where black women have been forgotten.

    You can read some of that interview over at The Voice Newspaper, and the rest of it over at Feminist Times.

  • Feminism and privilege at Women of the World Festival

    I wrote on the annual Million Women Rise march on International Women’s Day, for Feminist Times

    I was interviewed by Digital Women UK on all things related to gender, race, and digital media

    The Guardian listed me as one of the 30 people under 30 doing exciting things with digital media

    Finally, I took part in a panel discussion on feminism and privilege at Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. You can watch it below:

    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2y5B5br-UH8&w=560&h=315]

  • How to deal with being a black feminist

    A guide on how to deal with being a black feminist, for Dazed and Confused magazine

    On the difference between equality and liberation, for openDemocracy

    Finally, I’ve been neglecting this blog of late- it always seems that my blog gets shunted down my list of priorities in favour of paid gigs. But last week, a topic was playing heavily on my mind. I had to get it off my chest. Most importantly, it had to be published on this blog, free from anyone’s editing but mine. That piece was this – Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.

  • Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

    I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals like they can no longer hear us.

    This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is norm and all others deviate from it. At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are ‘different’ in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universalised. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do. They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white- so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact; they interpret it as an affront.  The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.

    Even if they can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave my mouth and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further.

    That’s the emotional disconnect. It’s not really surprising, because they’ve never known what it means to embrace a person of colour as a true equal, with thoughts and feeling that are as valid as their own.  Watching The Color of Fear by Lee Mun Wah, I saw people of colour break down in tears as they struggled to convince a defiant white man that his words were enforcing and perpetuating a white racist standard on them. All the while he stared obliviously, completely confused by this pain, at best trivialising it, at worst ridiculing it.

    I’ve written before about this white denial being the ubiquitous politics of race that operates on its inherent invisibility. So I can’t talk to white people about race anymore because of the consequential denials, awkward cartwheels and mental acrobatics that they display when this is brought to their attention. Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?

    I can no longer have this conversation, because we’re often coming at it from completely different planes. I can’t have a conversation with them about the details of a problem if they don’t even recognise that the problem exists. Worse still is the white person who might be willing to entertain the possibility of said racism, but still thinks we enter this conversation as equals. We don’t.

    Not to mention that entering into conversation with defiant white people is a frankly dangerous task for me. As the heckles rise and the defiance grows, I have to tread incredibly carefully, because if I express frustration, anger, or exasperation at their refusal to understand, they will tap into their pre-subscribed racist tropes about angry black people who are a threat to them and their safety.  It’s very likely that they’ll then paint me as a bully or an abuser. It’s also likely that their white friends will rally round them, rewrite history and make the lies the truth. Trying to engage with them and navigate their racism is not worth that.

    Amidst every conversation about Nice White People feeling silenced by conversations about race, there is a sort of ironic and glaring lack of understanding or empathy for those of us who have been visibly marked out as different for our entire lives, and live the consequences.  It’s truly a lifetime of self-censorship that people of colour have to live. The options are: speak your truth and face the reprisal, or bite your tongue and get ahead in life. It must be a strange life, always having permission to speak and feeling indignant when you’re finally asked to listen. It stems from white people’s never questioned entitlement, I suppose.

    I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get this message across, whilst also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role of perpetuating structural racism, lest they character assassinate me.

    So I’m no longer talking to white people about race. I don’t have a huge amount of power to change the way the world works, but I can set boundaries. I can halt the entitlement they feel towards me and I’ll start that by stopping the conversation. The balance is too far swung in their favour. Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo. I’m not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to. If there’s something like a media or conference appearance that means that someone might hear what I’m saying and feel less alone, then I’ll participate. But I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and frankly, don’t deserve it.

  • Skin bleaching and white feminism

    Here’s some recent work!

    On the political context of skin bleaching creams for Feminist Times

    Breaking down the definition of white feminism for OpenDemocracy

    I also had the pleasure of being featured in this write up on digital feminism in Dazed and Confused magazine. It’s a wonderful piece that interviews lots of different women- you can still grab the magazine in newsagents until mid February. It has 12 Years a Slave actress Lupita Nyong’o on the front cover and I’m a little bit over the moon to be sharing print space with her.

  • An interview with the Artist Taxi Driver

    Last week I took part in an interview with performance artist Mark McGowan, better known on the internet as the Artist Taxi Driver. I was was really keen to take part as I’ve been watching his videos for years. We chatted about privilege, power, politics and common ground. You can see my interview below: 

     

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5HO6Dc7Xsg&w=560&h=315]

     

    As always, don’t read the comments.