When I read the feature about Homegoing in Stylist magazine last year, I tore out the page as a reminder to get the book. I misplaced the page and months past… During a random clear out, the page floated down from my top shelf and in an act of spontaneity I went straight online and bought it! I think it was a sign, that the page came floating down from above lol.
I can’t believe this is Yaa Gyasi’s first book, the intricate research underpinning this novel is evident and impressive. Starting in 1700s Ghana, Homegoing travels the lives and lineage of two sisters (Effia and Esi) engulfed in the horrific mire of slavery, civil rights and freedom. This isn’t just another ‘slavery book’; Gyasi honestly depicts the role Africans played in the slave trade without diluting the brutality inflicted by Europeans.
Part of me wanted to read this book because it was set in Ghana, where my family is from. In 2004 I went to Cape Coast castle in Ghana which was one of the main slave ports of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even then I could feel the heaviness of the lead-filled air in the dungeons. The tour continued, and we were taken to the church which sat on top of the dungeons. I was speechless as I walked in…a church sitting on top of the chained slaves ‘living’ in their own excrement.
I was intrigued to see how the lives of these two sisters would unfold. The story flows onto dissect the complexities of amalgamated families; the love and damage they inflict upon each other. At one point both sisters ‘lived’ in Cape Coast castle in starkly opposite conditions. Inevitably there is a mixed-raced character, the son of Effia and James (a British slave trader stationed at Cape Coast Castle) – Quey. Trying to deal with his own conflicts, Quey takes his destiny into his own hands and convolutes the family tree even further.
Across the three hundred years the novel covers, psychological and emotional knots of slavery, the raging wars between the Asante, Fante tribes and British colonisers, then flows into the realities of black life in America. From slavery on the hot plantations of Alabama, to the jazz clubs and crack epidemics of New York. The beginning of the end occurs in swanky art galleries and elitist halls of higher education. Homegoing makes history palpable in the present and is a prime example of they saying [paraphrased] we do not know were we are going unless we know where we are from.
Despite the sombre backdrop of slavery, this book took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. From the subtle expressions of love in the ugliest circumstances that made me smile to the vivid descriptions of brutality that made my stomach churn. Homegoing is a profound read that can capture anyone of any background, among the various themes throughout the novel is a tale of family. Intricately and intelligently written by first time author Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, USA. Homegoing is a must read and is available on Amazon.
The family is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position Akan proverb
There was a lot of hype around this book by ‘Charlamagne tha god’ (yes, this is the stage name he – Lenard McKelvey – gave himself back in the day. That’s the way he spells it too!). Co-host of the hit New York based, radio show The Breakfast Club, which I occasionally listen to, it’s fair to say Charlamagne is an acquired taste. From his own admission, a lot of people don’t like him, but those who listen to him do so because of his brutal honesty. Not to say that he doesn’t make stupid, ignorant comments sometimes, but he is brutally honest in his opinions which I respect to an extent.
Whether you don’t care about him, like him, love him, dislike him, hate him, want to punch him in the face – I don’t think anyone can deny that Charlamagne can evoke emotion on even the simplest of topics! It’s this personality that probably helped drive his debut book –
Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It
The book is an autobiographical concoction of Charlemagne’s early days, convoluted career path and the pearls of wisdom he picked up along the way.
“I want to speak to you about the village that raised me…how the spiritual legacy of the African slaves can still be felt in South Carolina four hundred years later”.
The book is split into 8 principles, including “5: Put the weed in the bag” and “6: Live your truth”. When you live your truth, it can’t be used against you, I think that’s a way of him saying embrace your ‘flaws’… In the book Charlemagne states that he looks like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. “By embracing my egg-shaped dome I’ve taken the ammunition away from people…by laughing at those comments instead of getting uptight, I’ve replaced a perceived weakness with power”.
As he’s a hip hop radio personality, hip hop culture and the music industry features throughout the book, including some of the most controversial interviews he has done including that “Kanye Kardashian” one. Charlemagne’s early years are quite predictable he was a good kid that went bad due to peer pressure, sold some drugs and did some stints in prison.
“So many of the mistakes I made could have been avoided.”
As the book progresses it’s his work ethic and ability to see the glass as half full that kept me engaged. Along with his brutal honesty of course. He talks about being bullied, being a bully, getting beaten up and working for free to get valuable work experience. He appears to be negative in some parts of the book like in principle 3: “F**K your dreams” but I found it a bit refreshing. Not that I don’t have hopes and dreams but I’m also a realist and a firm believer in finding your purpose and not doing something because everyone else is doing it. Not every black person is going to be an athlete, singer, video vixen or rapper and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that even though the money is good IF it all works out.
“…the dreams you think are yours are actually somebody else’s. You’re only chasing them because you’ve seen them work for others.”
Charlemagne also talks about rising to fame and falling again, sleeping with his girlfriend / now wife’s cousin, the profound impact reading books have had on his life and criticisms of hip hop culture. For someone obsessed with hip hop culture the flaws of hip hop were probably difficult to admit. Sometimes you have to see something you love for what it really is. Various anecdotes are given, explaining how he has been able to push his way onto the screens of many.
“Exploring people and ideas outside your comfort zone is one area where hip-hop has been, unfortunately, very weak”.
The book starts well and gets you hooked, wanes a bit in the middle but has a consistent pace to keep you focussed on getting to the end. For his core audience the book is on point; for those who didn’t think it would offer much (like myself) the book showed someone who didn’t look like they had many prospects (no shade..), though faith, optimism and relentlessly pursuing his passion got to where he wanted to be. As the saying goes, “it takes years to become an overnight success”.
Speaking about the highs and lows of his early days, the virtues and flaws he realised in his parents are what humanised Charlemagne for me. Coming from living in a trailer in rural Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I can’t knock his hustle. Obviously, his story is from a young black hip-hop obsessed male’s perspective, which may put some people off. However, I didn’t expect much else because he is only speaking from his perspective. Some of his ‘pearls of wisdom’ may not necessarily be ground-breaking but described from his perspective introduces them in a new light that many can apply to their own situation – whatever it may be. Even those arguably outside his core audience (like me) who didn’t think would get much out of the book can get something from it – if willing to be open-minded.
As this was a book by an author that I never thought I would read, I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend this book. I’m a realist who admittedly who straddles the border line of pessimism (I’m working on this for 2018!). Reading this gave me the ‘elbow in the ribs’ reminder that the glass can be half full if I want it to be. This is not an endorsement of Charlemagne in general as I said he can say some stupid things at times. However, the book is a good read with the take home message, “embrace the concept that you are privileged [regardless of circumstance]. I believe in thepower and privilege of God.”
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol is one of the most famous British carols, so I’m listing 12 Christmas gift ideas for the whole family! The reason we give Christmas gifts is to remember those given to baby Jesus by the Wise Men. Despite buying Christmas presents every year, we all need a little inspiration.
For decades large companies have made millions during Christmas. As consumers we tend to stick with what we know. This makes it difficult for small businesses to break into the Christmas retail season. So this year, I’m looking to small businesses for some Christmas gift ideas for the whole family.
They say Christmas is really for Children, so let’s start there…
Finding diverse children’s literature has never been easy. But times are starting to change with authors creating diverse stories appreciated by all children.
1. Football crazy Clever Carmel
It’s the World Cup and like all football crazy children Carmel is very excited! But what country should she support?! Carmel is mixed-race and isn’t sure where her loyalties should lie…find out what she decides to do.
This interiors company create their own fabrics and print designs using Adinkra symbols. The origins of these symbols, each with a specific meaning, stem from the former great Empire of Mali which span across West Africa. More recently, the symbols are closely associated with the Akan tribes of Ghana. The handmade fabrics are used to make/decorate lighting devices, cushions, throws and men’s accessories.
Usually an afterthought during the hysteria of Christmas shopping is the wrapping paper! I discovered Bonita Ivie Prints at a Black Ballad event earlier this year. From printed wrapping paper to phone cases, notebooks and other Christmas stocking treats, Bonita Ivie Prints has you covered.
Another great stocking filler is the good old humble mug! Used by anyone who wants a hot drink during this cold festive season and beyond. Celisha Books has added a collection of ‘Superwoman mugs’ to their product line this Christmas.
Fashion accessories tend to look the same on the generic high street, but these businesses are adding something unique to the accessories market.
I discovered D-Jewelsus at a pop-up market in South London and couldn’t resist this choker. They have other designs and jewellery pieces that can compliment any Christmas outfit.
A designer weaving her Ghanaian and British heritage into her designs is Korlekie. Having designed outfits for various British celebrities, Korlekie also has a line of hand woven accessories. They have teamed up with watch brand Vitae for these watch gift sets.
Another small British business using quality craftsmanship is British accessories brand N’Damus London, producing classic leather goods for women and men. I’m focussing on the guys for this one! From backpacks to cufflinks and belts you’re bound to find something for any men in your life.
Beauty gifts are popular at Christmas and these brands are making their own unique offering to the Christmas market. While there has been an amazing rise in small business hair care companies, I’m going to focus on the skin for the beauty inspiration.
The Akoma “heart” adinkra symbol represents patience, goodwill, faithfulness, endurance and tolerance. When I was looking for natural soap that didn’t dry out my skin I was lucky to come across Akoma skin care. Along with soap bars, they have gift sets of African black soap, lip balm, moisturisers and much more, for men and women.
12. Bea Skin Care
I discovered Bea Skin Care at a Black British Bloggers event in October. This skincare range has been featured in Black Beauty and Stylist magazine and I’ve been using their vitamin infused konjac exfoliating facial sponges for my blackheads. They have a range of beauty products that can make for a nice cleansing gift.
So there you have it…some Christmas inspiration for the whole family from small British businesses. Merry Christmas!
I haven’t eaten much at Brixton Village; another corner of London being forced through the gentrification sieve but I think I’ll start going there more often on my quest to seek out good African and Caribbean eateries in London!
An impromptu Friday night meet up led me to Etta’s Seafood Kitchen. I didn’t have time to look at any reviews beforehand and went on the trusted recommendation of a friend who visited there 2 weeks before.
It’s a small eatery with around 5 tables inside 1-2 waiting staff and 2 cooks (one of them being Etta herself). As a small business I resigned myself to the fact that service would be slow, especially as the restaurant was packed inside and all but 1 of the additional tables outside were also full. Service was friendly, but I did have to nudge the waiter a couple of times when requesting extra hot pepper sauce.
We had saltfish fritters to start which were divine! For my main I went for the sea bass with coconut milk, which came with a vegetable medley, green plantain (or ‘green banana’ as some may say), yam and pumpkin.
I’m not a fan of fish head, but at least I was served the whole sea bass! I enjoyed the meal and washed it down with their rum punch which was OK, but I’ve had better (so probably won’t have again when I go back).
Portion size was OK-ish, I was in a good place when I left but thought there would have been more food on the plate as it was a Caribbean restaurant. But I guess if I wouldn’t hold European restaurants in London up to the same standard of large portion sizes, as this is not a cultural norm for such restaurants, I should be a bit more lenient on Etta’s Seafood kitchen!
I looked at the reviews afterwards and the ones I found were quite old (2012) and not great. I’m glad I made a spontaneous visit because if read the reviews first I probably wouldn’t have gone. Etta has made some improvements and for now I think I may have found a nice little seafood gem in South London. I’ll be visiting again to try out the rest of the menu. Watch this space!
Even though I’m writing this post during Black History Month in the UK, the Soul of a NationExhibition at the Tate Modern in London has been on since July. One of the first things I liked – black culture not relegated to Black History Month only. The interest in the exhibition was immense, I managed to go during one of the ‘Uniqlo Tate Lates’ sessions and was glad I booked tickets beforehand.
It was humbling walking through the white rooms of the Tate, transported back in time to the civil rights movement. I felt the fusion of emotions emitted from the vivid photos and colourful paintings. The artwork captured nuances in anguish, joy and triumph of black people in America up to and around the Civil Rights Movement.
The riveting exhibition is more than artists being subjective witnesses of a depressing and inspiring period of history. It’s an authentic capture of black history by those who could identify with the subjects emotionally, physically and psychologically (although the exhibition does have work from non-black artists too).
A black narrative by black artists.
It’s not impossible to for a non-black person depict a black narrative. However, expressing a reality that was yours or those of your family can only be most accurate through your own gaze. This gave the exhibition a different level of emotional authenticity that the work of black artists took centre stage. I was reminded that black people were standing firmly behind enemy lines during this period.
In addition to the art work, there were also televised speeches by prominent people of the movement including writer and activist Angela Davis. A Black Panther Party member, she came to national prominence after being sacked from her teaching post at the University of California due to her claimed communist associations. Her passion for prisoners’ rights goes back to the 1970 free the‘Soledad Brothers’campaign, which led to her own imprisonment. This caused a catalyst of events, most notably the ‘Free Angela Davis’ campaign, which helped drive her acquittal in 1972.
Through the Soul of a Nation exhibition…
I appreciated the tenacity of black people, who created a movement renowned globally without the use of social media and so profound that I and many others are still writing about it in 2017.
I appreciated the courageof black people, harnessing the strength to smile thorough oppression.
I appreciated the intellect black people exhibited when navigating a system that was setup to destroy them.
And of course, when there seemed to be no hope, when it looked like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, I appreciated the fact that black people didn’t stop, many fought literally until death, for freedom, for equality, to be considered human.
Sadly, the exhibition ends on 22nd October, so if you’re in London whatever your race, I recommend it! Remember black history is world history so it’s for everyone!
After the exhibition we were (of course) carefully led by the way the exhibition was laid out, to the dedicated shop. This was actually quite a nice surprise because there was so much black literature, some titles I’d heard of and others I hadn’t. It was like being in a sweet shop but it was a book shop lol.
You probably think the title of this post is wishful thinking! Like most forms of discrimination, the roots are firmly entrenched within society. This natural hair movement has been amazing and empowering but there are some split ends that need to be chopped off! If they are not dealt with…we all know what holding onto split ends can do for the rest of your hair.
It’s no secret all natural hair (of black and mixed women of African descent – there are other mixed race people who do not have African ancestry) is notseen as equal! This has been propagated in mainstream and ‘black’ media including the natural hair community.
This debate is not new. So why are we still talking about it?! We’ve gone over this so many times (I hear you say in your head)! Yes, there have been many blogs and vlogs about this issue but there hasn’t really been much change. This summer the debate was ignited again on Twitter.
The hair texture discrimination debate is entangled with colourism. I understand the connection but there are dark skinned women with loose curls and light skinned women with thick afro hair. I’ll just stick to hair texture discrimination in this post.
Debating hair may seem frivolous to those who think it’s ‘just hair’! However, the by-products of slavery, colonialism and current anti-blackness mean that sometimes it’s not ‘just hair’.
I’ve only relaxed my hair once and when I went back to my natural hair, I didn’t really know how to look after it. Living in NYC, I got talking to other naturals and discovered the YouTube natural hair world and the hair typing system. I understand those who denounce these systems, as they can be subconsciously divisive. They’re only really valuable for companies to target us with products. I can’t lie though, I was keen to know which category I fell into (which is 4c, in case you were wondering). Now I realise it’s important to knowmy hair and not put myself in a box created by someone else. Historically, when African people (this term will be used throughout this post, referring to anyone of African descent) have been divided / put into categories it hasn’t really been for our benefit!
This is me:
Hair like mine is still considered by many Africans and non-Africans alike as unprofessional, nappy, coarse, tough, messy, [fill in another negative adjective]. Rarely would you see hair like mine used in advertising by brands, even those who ‘cater’ for the natural hair community. On social media, a larger proportions of likes, followers and validation from those outside and within the natural hair community is given to, for example, ladies with textures below.
There are some kinky hair girls/women garnering substantial followings on social media, but it’s been a slow uphill struggle compared with their looser curled counterparts. It’s ironic that girls/women with hair textures furthest away from European hair were pushed to the back of a movement created to uplift and dispel the negative connotations associated with afro hair. The natural hair texture discrimination debate can rage for years, but we now need practical solutions! Sceptics out there may think that discrimination in general is part of life and will never disappear, but I have some faith in hair.
We used our power to make big brands lose money from chemical relaxers and force them to sell products that suited our hair. We used our power to encourage start-up companies to thrive in a sector of the beauty industry where they never stood a chance. We need to be the change we want to see. We’ve done it before and can do it again.
The steps below are actions for us to contemplate – the natural hair community.
Admit that hair texture discrimination exists It’s futile for us (whatever your skin tone or hair texture), to fight and segregate ourselves. We’ll never benefit from self-implementing divide and conquer strategies that were/are used to oppress us. However, if you benefit from a biased system without acknowledging it, you are part of the problem.
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King Jr
Despite your privilege, you can still speak up. It’s the denial or silence from African / mix-raced women (of African heritage), with mainstream ‘acceptable’ hair textures, that contributes to dissention about this issue. Yes, we all have struggles and insecurities, but it’s fair to say it’s not all the same. Just acknowledge that. It’s not your fault that society perceives certain hair textures (those closest to European textures) to be more beautiful than others, but dismissing the issue or saying things like, “women with afro hair should just be more positive” is a very simplistic POV.
2. De-colonise your mind (it’s not easy but is possible) We’ve all been conditioned to covet European beauty standards, for hundreds of years. There’s nothing wrong with complimenting women who have loose curled hair (compared to your own), but if you have tightly curled / kinky hair and dismiss women with a similar hair type, then you are also part of the problem. It indicates that you still aspire to European beauty standards without accepting or wanting to know about your own hair.
Words are powerful. Whether used in context, in love, in hate. Psychologically we’re already wired to associate certain words as positive or negative. Nappy, coarse, wiry, tough, messy. No matter how you try and spin it, using negative words about yourself, twists the knife a little deeper into your insecurities. You’re letting others know how you view yourself. Let’s try and use positive affirmations. I will never describe my hair as nappy! Despite the volume, it’s actually delicate and soft (when I moisturise it). Rather than focussing on what your hair can’t do… ‘no ‘defined’ curl pattern’ blah blah blah; focus on what styles look good on you and rock them with confidence.
3. Understand your healthy hair journey Along mine I’ve also learnt, just because someone has a similar hair texture to me doesn’t always mean we can use the same products. Yes, hair porosity is a good thing to know! It revolutionised my moisturising game and my hair thanks me for it every day with less breakage.
Don’t be lazy! Many naturals have told me, their hair is too hard to maintain and they just can’t handle it. Like most things in life, learning about something involves trial and error. YouTube was my saviour when I started, but I was also curious about my own hair, I bothered to make an effort to learn about one of my most prominent physical features. Treat your hair well and it will thrive inspiring you and others not to be low keyembarrassed of their own hair texture. Do it for the culture!
4. Hold brands to account In the social media age this is a lot easier to do. Shea Moisture and Cantu brands have encountered the wrath of the natural hair community this year, with the former making a public apology.
Remember, hair brands are businesses and go where the money is! If they see only certain hair types receiving validation and adoration, they will only showcase women with those hair textures in their advertising. It’s a logical strategy. However, if we continue to let them know we don’t like that they only show specific hair types, when women with kinky hair also make significant financial contributions to them they will start to show diversity in their branding. Also, fight for the ‘little guy’ who’s fighting for you! The natural hair movement has empowered many female-owned beauty product businesses to start up. These cater directly to us, keeping us at the heart of their ethos, so we should support them financially if we like being catered to and not regarded as an afterthought.
5. Teach those around you to love all textures It’s not far reaching to say that many African / mix-raced men (of African heritage) show contempt towards kinky hair textures compared to others. They have also been conditioned to admire European beauty standards. We should teach our fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, cousins and other African men and boys around us, by example that all hair textures are beautiful (if we believe that of course)! Last but least, constantly teach your mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and other girls/women around you to fall in love with their hair. One of my favourite Instagram accounts does with well in the video below!
Honest conversations are being had by the natural hair community, like in the documentary below by LAMBB, sponsored by Treasure Tress. However, hair texture discrimination will take some time to unravel, unless we are all determined to implement solutions rather than divisive strategies.
It was a couple of months ago when my friend sent me a text. It was a picture taken somewhere in Europe of a tote bag version of the ‘Ghana must go!’ bag with a TOPSHOP label on it. I wasn’t really bothered, until I saw the price! For a split second, I thought it might be fake, but deep down I knew it wasn’t.
Coincidentally later that week I had already planned to meet a friend in Oxford Street, London so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone 😊. I arrived a little early to investigate if these bags were actually being sold in TOPSHOP’s flagship store. I walked around the accessories but to my disappointment I couldn’t find them! But then…as I was walking out, I saw the chequered pattern glistening in my peripheral vision.
European fashion houses inspired by Africa There they were, in all their TOPSHOP glory, called the ‘MARTY check unlined tote bag’ with a whopping pricetag of £22! The original sized ‘Ghana must go!” bags can be found in markets (catering for African and Caribbean communities) across London for less than £5, but who knows what price they’ll fetch for now that they have the TOPSHOP stamp of approval.
The use of the ‘Ghana must go!” bag aesthetic by European fashion houses isn’t new. Louis Vuitton featured it in its Spring/Summer 2012 collection, and none other than Cristobal Balenciaga in their fall/winter 2016 collection.
So where did these bags come from? Apparently, originally proceed in…yes you guessed it…China by Zhejiang Daxin Industry. The original bags are big and generally used to store anything and everything. Laundry, shoes, pots, pans, anything you can fit in there. They were dubbed “Ghana must go” bags by Nigerians.
In a nutshell, during the 1970’s Nigeria’s economy was booming and Ghana’s was going in the opposite direction. Ghanaians (and other West Africans from Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon) immigrated to Nigeria in search of better opportunities. But all good things do come to an end and in the 1980s Nigeria’s economy took a nose dive. Suddenly Nigerians where competing with these Ghanaian immigrants for the few jobs that were left.
Ghana must go! In 1983, apparently the Nigerian government told all (illegal) immigrants to leave the country within two weeks. After the deadline Nigerians were allegedly told they could take whatever ‘action’ they wanted on those who they thought they were illegal and remained in the country. In a frenzy, with the little time they had, Ghanaians quickly packed as much as they could in these big chequered bags and left Nigeria as refugees camping at the Togo and Benin boarders on their journey back to Ghana. At the time, the mass expulsion of an estimated 1 million Ghanaians (out of around 2 million immigrants in total) was condemned internationally. But the shoe was on the other foot years before. In 1969 the Ghanaian government ordered all (illegal) immigrants to leave Ghana if they could not obtain a residence permit. Allegedly, up to 500,000 Nigerians left Ghana over three months.
You don’t have to be a ‘designer’ bag… There’s no doubt that these bags are famous; they have various names across continents. Germany “Tuekenkoffer”, = the Turkish suitcase, in America the bags are referred to as the “Chinatown tote”. In Guyana, more affectionately as the “Guyanese Samsonite”.
The concept of European fashion houses taking something heavily associated with Africans (and other ethnic groups), stamping their name on then selling it at high prices isn’t new.
(Another) lost opportunity I couldn’t help but think, what if Ghanaians turned a negative into a positive and made the bags more “fashionable” and sold them? But then I thought, if a Ghanaian fashion house tried to do what Louis Vuitton and now more recently TOPSHOP have done, would anyone think these bags were valuable or fashionable?