Blog

The topic of saying things and revealing yourself

                                                                     I

It was just the two of us, at intervals of kisses, trying to understand each other. Soon we began to foster the basics of politics and race into our conversation. Kisses had to share a room. Wait longer to shower. We were both black and British. But she was secretly ahead. Kept it from me because men grow uncomfortable when outsmarted, they told her. Across the road from us was the home-time flurry of private primary school kids and their parents. Both of us watched, part broody, part parading our youthful freedom with mid day drinks and the smiles on our faces. “other people's kids have an odd way of making you feel young if you don't have any, and old all at once. Like, I could be that little boy over there's child to be's granddad.” “I know, as they grow into youthful adults, you're bones are getting progressively brittle.” “I barely see my godson,” “oh, but you must. My goddaughter is a measure of how well I've done in life. In two years, she can now walk, talk and feed herself. Those are huge milestones. 'What did you do in those two years?' she asks me without even knowing.” We both laughed... Then I said, “those children are so cute in their 19th century uniforms... I really think white kids are the cutest. I look at pictures of me as a toddler and see this mesh of features not yet formed. I had to grow into them.” After a moment's thought, she replied with actual curiosity, “so white babies are cuter than black babies, you're saying?”

And there it was, a slice of self-hate revealed to the tiny world we were building. There was no going back. My head used it's furrowed eyebrows to nod at her question. The muscles of my neck – the splenius capitis – felt odd so I rubbed it. “I see.” She sipped tea and politely looked away as I dealt with my nakedness. There was silence.

 

                                                                      II

  We sat. A comfy sofa each; chatting, never minding the TV. In fact, she reduced it's volume as we were deep into pebble counting the rosary of race. We were on the age of social media and it's explicit portrayal of police brutality. “It's like watching road kills become road kill.” She said. “It's the only way the West can believe race issues exist”, I said. I meant white people. “It does raise awareness, but what about the more ubiquitous racism that happens just by wearing the wrong lens?” I took the high radical route. She took another. Explained, with slight torment, she has close friends who are white. How can she be so militant and stay friends? I say it is easy to be friends with someone who is racist unknowingly. Just like you can love someone who hates themselves unknowingly. But it's funny how we find it hard to befriend the knowing racist or the 'all-knowing' radical. She half attacks the growing number of 'militant' posts on social media and then, blended perfectly, went on to highlight the sort of elephant in the room in all the police brutality situations. “It's not just the police brutality, but the men not complying.” I responded, “so if all these men complied to the point of giving up their human rights, they wouldn't have been killed or brutally attacked?” She nodded then turned to the TV. The TV's volume seemed to increase of its own volition. She looked at it as one looked disappointedly at a reflection of their thoughts. I sat back and tried to think of things to say that the silence hadn't already had a handle on.

                                                                    III

I peddled hurriedly across the road to meet him and it came to me all at once, wearing baggy black tracksuit bottoms and a dark blue nondescript jumper, that the passing traffic may have discerned our handshake to be one between the dealer and the customer. He was stocky and brighter dressed. We laughed at the thought and it was perhaps this that spurred our next conversation. I saw a billboard of a white model less dressed and made a comment. Perhaps a sexist, male gaze one. He then brought into the conversation, “beauty is equal in all skin colours, but when it comes to average looks, white women are better looking. On average,” then he added pointedly, as in actually pointing at me, as if I were a part of his gut instincts about to put his summary to task; “and you know I'm right!” “I don't think, living in this country, we've truly seen the length and breath of beauty or averageness in black women. Perhaps go to sub-Saharan Africa and exploit the beauty there. The UK currency and your skin colour would make it easy. Many surprised white men do it.”

Written by Chima Nsoedo

A MONTH ON RACE: The Polish Tenant Stripped Bare.

stripped bare

                                                                                  I

She said, after peering down at my laptop screen, “you keep reading these things about race. You're letting it effect you,”   “whether I read or not, it effects me," I replied.

“People make fun of my polish accent, I don't take it seriously,” she added, still standing over me. “it's not the same," came my response, all too familiar with such comparisons, "and by the way, if you did take is seriously – I wouldn't be sitting here telling you how better to react.”

She sighed floating back to her cut of lamb on the stove. “But there's no racism anymore,” she seemed forced to add. “Beyonce and Kanye West rule the world!”

I turned to my screen. Not fully resigned, but not wanting to go on. For both of us the day was already long in the tooth. We needed to eat and have some sleep. Not this.

 

                                                                                        II

The meat sizzled on the pan at medium heat. She wondered around the centre of the kitchen, head down focused on her cradled tablet, one ear plugged, the other free and facing my sat down, flat pack posture. Both of us whirlwinds about the internet.

“Is Rihanna black?" She startled me with, still staring at her tablet. “Yes,” “fully?” “I think so,” “she's not mixed?” “I'm not sure actually...” I said looking at her, openly expressing my disinterest. In the silence my honesty created, I felt bad. “My sister shares the same complexion and she's not mixed,” “Hmm,” she utters, unconvinced.

...My sister is the same complexion. Or is it that my sister's nose and lips aren't as pointy and thin for the comparison to be made? Is it that my sister shows up to the world carrying her hair the way it grows? Then I look at the tenants nose and it too isn't as pointy as Rihanna's, her her lips not as full. She hadn't an accurate line of things you could attribute to a race except her skin colour.

“hmm,” she reused to turn from me and acrobatically open one of the cupboards. Out came a pan. No other questions followed.

During the fry up, I google Rihanna's ethnicity to found she did have mixed ancestry; from Scotland and Ireland. Then I thought; couldn't the tenant just have googled it herself?

 

                                                                                            III

Our final discourse. One that only I could perceive as having a thing to do with race. We had already stripped away social constructs of relationships in this conversation. We had pushed boundaries on gender differences – sort of. Then; at that slippery juncture where trial blazers sit too comfortably, she summed up her divine right to get the man and relationship she desired by pointing out her obvious attractiveness. Fingers bending back towards her, scanning from her head to her chest. “I-am-pretty.” As self assured as I-Am-Caesar. The drum of war that didn't com from a confidence within - I had thought - but from a handle gifted by societies trusted and epicurean staple. A society that pitched long blond hair and a tall slim body as the pass go to beauty. She bottled the hair and killed herself in the gym for the other.

'I-Am-Pretty', because hordes of men with money matched her on dating websites and lavished her on dinners. Pretty because those billboards she passed on the way to work were like mirrors held up for her so whenever she declared, 'I-Am-Pretty', the world would reply, 'Yes-You-Are'.

'Yes-You-Are'. Pretty enough to not ruffle the fabric of the work place and make her Eastern European accent incidental to herfabric matching looks.

I wonder how pretty she'd feel if such stabalising clarity was swept from beneath her.

Hmm.

 

A Month on Race: The Boyfriend

the boyfriend

THE BOYFRIEND

The Boyfriend was either hard working or perfect at maintaining a face that searched for chores. He had a performative chic coolness he brought to the workplace blended with the black and greys and trendy trainers he wore. He cared about those things. But it wasn't obvious, unlike my all too noticeable off centre self. I worked slow and sang the Bush, badly, and was reprimanded for both. Every reprimand was – I had to surmise – perfectly metered out. I deserved it. He deserved his almost immediate managerial role.

Then I would wonder how much work it might actually take if I was truly keen. Wondered; had I have gone up for the role alongside the boyfriend, would they consider equally all the hard work I did? Or go for what they know. I wonder into abstractions such as; is it me or is there an air of sycophancy for white middle-class men in the workplace. I wonder why they seem to shoot up so quickly in people's estimations. Would I have to have worked harder for longer or have been much more smart and tactical about it all?

But sometimes I get these congratulatory dreams where I pat myself on the back for my poor work ethic. My work ethic like a 'screw you' to the conveyor beltish - sci-fi upright - target hitting exemplary employee - all for what?

A memory of mine I kept from schooldays draws its curtains at around that point. A teacher of mine is telling me I would have to work harder than the white boy next to me also enduring detention – and me honestly thinking, 'what's the fucking point of working harder for the same outcome? It's bad physics'. I wonder if that train of thought has become the pick that burst every recent employment opportunity; responding to social norms with a 'what's the point' vibe. Then I snap out of it. It is 20 something teen after all. You get out what you put in. Yes, bias lives, but not in my situation. I have just never been good enough.


 

But how to be good enough? And is 'good' an equation? Or random? I binge on TED Talks for answers and feel more revved up than inspired. I also couldn't help but think; to be a cultural philosopher or to grace the dais in the public sphere these days all a person has to do is make some general but positive assumptions and more importantly promote productivity. I re-watch an Alain de Botton documentary about status and it calms me but I still desire deeply for a better status.


 

It was my mispronouncing of 'Zeiss' that made the Boyfriend call me a philistine at cigarette break. After, I went, in a passive mood, back to receiving and hanging up jackets. Beyond me was the tall concrete walls, the repetitive noise and the shit show. In my head played 'Hounds of Love' for some reason. That was the evening I met the boyfriend's girlfriend. She was a photographer with a silver crop top, a thin strapped, cute sized backpack and bags of rock star elements about her.

She took me, unlike most work colleagues, at face value. Later on that night, we and her friends went to their place. We took and drank stuff that played with my bladder. On my third trip to the lower-case-m-shaped toilet, the girlfriend barged in apologising yet still drifting towards me, checking for things around me. Immediately I thought; she's checking up on me? Why would I need to steal from the boyfriend's girlfriend? Can't a black man have an excited bladder?! 'Reactionary', I responded. In a bid to settle myself.

In my head again raged Hounds of Love; always from the 'shot gun' beginning. The moment I came back into the room she said veiled me from the awkwardness with the same speed she used to enter the bathroom. Plied me with compliments, said she'd love to take photo's of me and when a rock star says such a thing you forget the world you live in and begin to sanitise theirs. The toilet thing became; I would've done the same if it were my flat and I were a woman. It became; my third time at the bog was excessive and needed to be checked on. No shame on her part. No nothing on her part. In a way, it was brave of her.

Before the boyfriend took a job at another venue, work banta of sorts levelled at a point where he was able to affirm my 'fall guy' status at any given turn. And have new employees in on the joke. That was okay though. I thought. Wouldn't call myself a complete fall guy but I wasn't witty enough for quick rebuttals. Clap backs always came hours later when alone, just before I went to sleep. They were always cathartic in a way. Whenever I didn't act it out alone before I slept, I'd layered thoughts of whether all those hardcore, brutish clap backs I was capable of were kept for home time because I didn't want to intimidate the workforce. Or whether I was intimidated by the workforce. O whether I held back because I didn't want to be that guy. That 'black guy', maybe?

And then I'd wondered if I enjoyed being the guy I was presently being and If the only way to survive was to sometimes be that (black) guy. Not only black guys are like that, you're right. Standing corrected I then wondered; could I ever be balanced correctly? Was it too late? I wondered how people would take me if I adopted a new strategy. Might it be too forced? Make them laugh even louder. Is my status already sealed? Shit.

After tumbling down those thoughts, the dreams that follow come stretched out panicked. I am, for example, chasing something that is flying off into the distant horizon and behind me is a wall closing in. The wall is closer and faster. I would wake up from that avoiding the dream and it's subtext. I become pragmatic again. 'Change isn't instant', I would force myself to think. 'Respect isn't dished out equally. I'll have to earn it, and it'll take it's time'. Simple.

Then a few years later I bumped into girlfriend at a gig; single now and with a loose top that exposed her décolletage. A long and cloudy chat was had before I blew away the smoke to first apologise for sending her so many messages in the past about that photo shoot we were supposed to work on together. And then I asked, with both courage and a bit more fawning, why she'd never returned any of the messages.

'My Boyfriend didn't like me talking to black boys'.


 

WHAT!!!

 

Written by

Chima Nsoedo