VLOG: surprise birthday trip

So today is my friend Zoe’s 21st birthday. We have literally been friends since the first day of first year of University. We have lived together for the past 3 years and honestly, she is one of my closest friends.

Birthday’s are such a strange concept as it is essentially just a day just to celebrate you. So it can get a bit stressful trying to organise things for yourself. Therefore, I wanted to do something to make the day as special as possible without all the stress of having to plan it for herself.

She had no idea where we were going or what we had planned so this vlog was a lot of fun to film.

We had an amazing day in London on a boat cruise, eating LOTS of food and the Imax cinema watching Beauty and the Beast in 3D.

It’s just me, Dammy, making memories

xxx

Check your privilege

About a year ago, I took a Buzzfeed quiz called “how privilege are you?“. It was during exam season and fellow procrastinators, will know how enticing these quizzes can be when they pop up on your timeline especially when you’re avoiding writing that essay you’ve been working on all day.

So I took the quiz and I think I got approximately 47%  of the privilege in the quiz. Which is not particularly high but is definitely not that low either.

According to the Oxford dictionary Privilege is…

A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Therefore, when you think about it anyone can experience privilege in some shape or form.

For example, I experience disadvantages for not being white on varying levels everyday. Whether this is by not being able to find a single colour to match my skin tone at the make up counter at my local drug store, or wondering how “random” the random selection of my Dad at security in the airport was, or the fact that I even to have to consider “does he even like black girls though?” when talking to a guy I like.

If you do not have to consider the impact of your skin colour then chances are you have privilege. For example, I saw this premise encapsulated in its purest form in an instagram post of one of my friends a couple of days ago. It was a photo of her posing in the back of a police car, smiling from ear to ear with the caption: “Reading about the police force is more exciting when you’ve been to a police department and realised how uncomfortable the back of a cop car is”.

Wow. I had to sit there for a minute pondering whether this was real life. The post just screamed insensitivity and privilege. As a white female, her experience with police in America was exciting – just an opportunity for a good insta post. Yet, considering the political context of police brutality and #Blacklivesmatter…it’s easy to see the disparity in experience. What is a fun experience for a white female is as a scary reality for many black men. That is white privilege for you.

And what was particularly farcical about the whole post is that she would most likely identify as a feminist. So as a female she is aware of the disadvantage women face yet, as a white female cannot quite tap into the disadvantage others face for not being white.

However, that’s the wonderful thing about intersectionality, it means you can experience privilege in one area but be losing out in other areas. And it is so important we understand the muli-faceted layers of disadvantage others might face when understanding our own privilege.

Intersectionality is a word that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw and has recently become increasingly popular, especially within the context of femism. In a nutshell, it explains that all of an individual’s separate identities come together to create their overall identity. This overall identity includes things like gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability.

This just means that each individual has many layers of their life they have to deal with. Therefore, it is impossible to truly see each part e.g. race separately and it is important to look at these issues holistically. This allows us to examine the varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination people face.

I tend to think of it as a jigsaw puzzle to make it a bit easier to process the concept…

Intersectionality

As a black female, there are definitely opportunities that are unavailable to me because I am not white or male. So often I suffer from racism and sexism. Likewise, there are so many ways that I am privileged. For example, I am able bodied, I come from a good background, I am cisgendered, heterosexual….the list could go on into all the nuances of the ways I benefit merely by belonging to a certain group.

Yet it is important to note that you cannot have privilege in an area you are disadvantaged. For example, you cannot have black privilege or female privilege or poor privilege. As these groups do not have institutional power. Likewise, privilege is not necessarily special treatment but things you get as a right, things you are entitled to purely because you belong to a certain demographic.

Acknowledging all these things does not make me a bad person. For the longest time, certain peers in secondary school would make me feel bad because of the advantages they perceived I had. I never did, but I always wanted to explain to them the sacrifices my parents have made for me to have a the opportunities I have today. All the missed Christmases, the late pick ups from school and the endless stress. But now I realise I don’t have to explain or make excuses for my privilege, I just need to have an awareness of it. And use the privilege that I experience to bring others up.

It’s the realisation that some people have to work a lot more to get what I often take for granted. This doesn’t mean I’m not working hard, it just means others have to work harder. For example, I wrote the post University: to go on not to go, a while ago. I’m so pleased it was able to help so many people but retrospectively, the post oozes out with privilege.

I worked so hard for my A level results and to get into University in general so of course, if someone else insinuated that I did not get there through sheer determination and diligence, it would be easy to see why I would be offended. However, every single member of my family have gone to University so for me, going to University was an expectation. Yet, lots of people do not have this privilege.

I imagine this must be what it must feel like for some of the Trump voters in America who keep being told about their “white privilege” yet feel like they’ve been left behind. It’s hard to see the privilege gained from your race when you’re struggling to pay rent or buy food. And then you see these seemingly disadvantaged immigrants in better jobs. This “white privilege” rhetoric can be difficult to understand when coming from a place of poverty. Yet being oppressed by poverty does not cancel out white privilege.

However, there are multiple oppressions at work and not all discrimination is the same. You cannot do comparative suffering. For example, you cannot compare the experience of white women to that of black men. Both groups suffer in many ways but it is not the same. 

I feel as though the reason people are so reluctant to accept their privilege is because we live in a culture of “one-upping” where we always want to out-do the last person. So let’s stop with the game of “whose suffered more?” as the hinders progression.Whilst I’m not trying to create a hierarchy of disadvantage, clearly some have a greater impact on your life that others.

So whilst I am not trying to demonise every white middle-classed cisgendered able bodied man because of the advantages they were born with. But it is so important to check your privilege. And by that, I mean you need to have an awareness of it.

Then take that awareness and do something about it. Educate yourself, talk about privilege no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, challenge the systems that privilege some and oppress others and become an an active ally, call people out on discrimination. Be aware and take action.

It’s me, Dammy, advantaged and disadvantaged all at the same time.

xxx

I am not your maid

So it has been over a year since I wrote Don’t Trust a Black Girl and even longer since I wrote The Everyday Racist. Collectively, those have been my most read posts and I am constantly surprised that they are still getting so many views and shares so long after they were written. I think it is so great that sharing my personal experiences of “blackness” have garnered the most interaction, because those type of posts are always the ones I tend to be the most nervous about and I spend the longest time hovering over the “publish” button.

But honestly, I am tired. I am so done with needing to talk about being black. Don’t get me wrong, this blog makes me so unbelievably happy and the “big issues” I tackle are my favourites. Yet, it is so tiring having to constantly think about being black. I genuinely (probably a little naively) thought that since writing The Everyday Racist, I would be done.

I was of the mentality that I could just be like, “Yo friends, racism still exists, these daily microaggressions against black people are harmful. Please stop doing these things. K, thanks, bye”. And then I could go about my merry way and dance into the sunset (well, I wasn’t quite this idealistic but you catch my drift).

That was until exactly 12 days ago and I had one of the most eye-opening racial experiences I have had in a long time. And this was when I truly realised the importance of instigating dialogue and utilising this platform to discuss race despite how uncomfortable it can and does make me feel.

So, it was by sister’s birthday and my family had come together to celebrate over the weekend in London. I made a vlog of the weekend here, and as you can see we had such a great time. We are hardly ever all together at the same time, so occasions like this are always so special.

Yet this one white American man nearly tarnished the whole memory for me. We were staying at the Hilton Hotel on Edgeware Road and I had gone to knock on my parent’s room to see if they were ready for breakfast (lol, they weren’t, classic mum and dad). And then on my way back to my hotel room, I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by the aforementioned white american man.

I am met with two towels which are thrust in my face. He then mumbles something about needing new towels, blah blah blah…

I stare at him confused. He then proceeds to place said towels in my hand and tells me that I need to come clean his room and change the towels. It still takes me a while to process what is going. Surely, it could not be, could it?

So I tentatively ask him: “You don’t think I am the maid, do you?”

He stops in his tracks, looks puzzled and then begins to laugh. He laughed. In between his guffaws, with a shrug of his shoulders, he merely asserts that he just assumed I was the maid.

As I sit here a couple of weeks after the incident, I can still feel the echoes of the burning behind my eyes and the heat on my skin as this man continued to laugh in my face at this “funny” situation. A laugh that evoked images of colonialism and slavery. A laugh that whispered the memory of subservience and the diaspora of a nation.

I boldly responded, “what about me made you assume I was the maid? Am I wearing a maid’s uniform? Am I pushing a maid’s trolley? What made you think I was a maid in the hotel rather than a guest”.

He had no response. No shame. No apology. Nothing. He just stood ambivalent to the magnitude of what he had just done.

I am not your maid…

IMAG4442.jpg

My “maids” uniform…

The whole situation frustrated me and made me question how some people might perceive me. The issue was and is, what about seeing a young black woman approaching, made this white man jump to the conclusion that I could not be a guest at the hotel so I had to be the maid?

Interestingly, the following weekend it was my mum’s birthday and I met up in London with my family again (this time, staying at the Hilton hotel in Paddington) and in the afternoon we watched the movie Hidden Figures, about the black women who helped NASA send John Glenn into space.

hiddenfigurestheblackmedia2016

It was such a great movie which I would definitely recommend for everyone to go and watch.  In the movie, there was a similar scene where Katherine G. Johnson brilliantly played by  Taraji P. Henson comes in for her first day at NASA and is handed a trash can to empty by a white man. She poignantly whispers: “I’m sorry. I’m … not the custodian.”

Of course, this black woman could not actually work at NASA in an academic capacity. Surely, she had to be the cleaner. Hidden Figures was set in 1961, it is now 2017. Whilst so much has changed since the 60’s, the journey is not over. If equality is the destination, then we are definitely not there yet. Usually racism today is not as overt as it used to be, modern day racism is much more nuanced as I wrote about in The Everyday Racist.

Yet, how can a situation so similar to one that happened in 1961, play out in 2017? I may be allowed to use the same bathrooms as my white counterparts but that does not mean I am equal. Whilst assumptions are still being made because of a persons skin colour, equality will never truly exist.

So don’t be that guy at the hotel, do not stereotype people. Stereotyping is harmful because it leads to largely unjustified and discriminatory decisions being made about a person solely because that person belongs to a certain demographic.

Do not be lazy. Stereotypes are the cowards way out of thinking critically and actually being present in situations. People naturally categorise people all the time based on arbitrary factors. I am acutely aware that I sometimes mentally do the same thing myself.

But just because we frequently do something does not make it the right thing to do. Together, we must unlearn these biases we hold against one and other. Regardless of whether they may seem to be a superficially positive entity or not.

All that hotel guest had to do was open his eyes and look at me, look beyond my skin colour at the actual situation and it would have been so clear that I was not the maid.

I get it, talking about equality all the time gets tiring. Trust me, I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to write about racism anymore. I wish being black did not feel like a heavy load that I have to carry everyday. Likewise, I understand that being constantly reminded of your privilege can be a tough pill to swallow.

In some ways, I definitely experience privilege myself – not everyone has the benefit of having two supportive and loving parents or can have cute weekends away so I know I have a lot to be thankful for. But it’s 2017 and black lives still matter, so let us keep moving forward.

It’s just me, Dammy, and I am not your maid

xxx

Before him, there was you

So today is International Woman’s Day. What a time to be alive! I have loved seeing people posting all over my social media accounts celebrating all these inspirational women, sharing their own experiences and pushing for a more equal society.

I had been wondering if I had anything to contribute to the existing rhetoric and all day  these 2 sentences have been floating around in my head:

After all, before you there was a me, and she was okay.

So right now I will learn to love myself first. Because being on my own does not make me alone.

Those are actually quotes from a spoken word poem I wrote last year called “Closure” (by the way, if you are interested in listening to my poetry, then just hit me up and I’ll send you a link – they’re currently unlisted on YouTube)

So round and round, those sentences have been spinning  in my head which was was weird as they are from a poem I wrote so long ago and had completely forgotten about. In lectures, in seminars, whilst I was making lunch…I couldn’t push these words I had written out on my mind.

Before YOU there was ME and she was OKAY

As I sit in bed towards the end of the day, I consider the importance of these words in relation to International Women’s Day and realise that there is a lot that can be learnt from them.

It seems as though from a young age, women tend to be painted this idyllic picture of a husband, marriage and a family. Now, don’t get me wrong – I can see why this can be conceptually appealing to some. However, this can often lead to women prioritising the wrong things in their life and often their happiness is dependent on a man.

Michelle Obama once touched on this subject in an interview, she said: “A lot of times we slip pretty low on our own priority list because we’re so busy caring for everyone else. One of the things that I want to model for my girls is investing in themselves as much as they invest in others.”

I feel as though women are often expected to serve others and are taught to be nurturing and empathetic. These are all ostensibly positive traits. However, if they do not go hand in hand with self-love and empowerment, then I don’t believe a truly egalitarian society can ever truly exist.

Similarly, when “feminism” is depicted in the media, women are shown as these strong almost caricature super-hero type women. Whilst, this often has good intentions and can be great for empowerment but it can come at the expense of allowing women to be “human” and show weakness.

It can be tiring always having to consider others first and I can tell you from experience the “strong black woman ” mantra gets old after a while. Empirical evidence shows women’s mental health is deteriorating. Likewise, it also shows that women are more likely to prioritise their partner over themselves opting for the “mummy track”.

I do appreciate that not all women have the same ambitions (hey, would you believe that, not all women are the same. Shock, horror!). And I am certainly, not saying women who choose more traditional pathways are any less powerful. But in all spheres of life, it truly is important for women to begin to prioritise themselves.

I know for sure that my mother did not carry me for nine months so I can just be a shell of a woman or a ladder that others can climb up to boost themselves up.

So I guess this is just a call to action to all women. Whatever your situation. Your worth should not be dictated to you or be in relation to any man. Learn to prioritise yourself because after all, before him there was you, and she was okay. You are the key to your own happiness, no man can save you from your life and your worth needs to come from within.

It’s just me, Dammy, happy international women’s day!

xxx

VLOG: Rigoletto

So another week has come and gone – this week I went to see Rigoletto at the London Coliseum and I also met up with my family to celebrate my sister’s birthday.

I had such a great weekend and Rigoletto was a very enjoyable opera. If you are in central London this week before the 28th February when it closes, I would highly recommend a trip to see it!

It’s just me, Dammy, thinking of what show to go see next

xxx

VLOG: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

So this is going up a few days later than I would like as I’ve been super busy but last week I went to see the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. I was on an internship in London so decided to give myself a little after-work treat….

I had an amazing time at the theatre (as always!) and the play blew me away. It truly is an multi sensory experience and I cannot wait until I can go to see it again.

I love all things theatrical so it was great to review a play. Whilst musical theatre is my one true love, there is just something extra special about a well-done play. This weekend I’ll be widening the scope of my vlogs and going to see an opera.

I absolutely love operas and have been playing all my favourite arias on loop since booking the tickets. It’s also my sister’s birthday so we’re going to make a whole weekend of it which should make for a super fun vlog

It’s just me, Dammy, looking forward to the weekend

xxx

Talk less, smile more

I was recently in a seminar on company law at university when the seminar tutor told me to be quiet and let others speak. He said I should “give a chance to those who needed to spend more time thinking before they answered and did not want to impulsively put their hands up”.

Anyone in that seminar or who had subsequently spoken to me about it will know how much the comment offended me. Honestly, it really hurt me. I am the type of person that will spend hours pouring over the required reading, completely throw myself into everything I do and I genuinely love the law and all of its intricacies. So his comment cut right to the core of who I am as a person and every thing I stand for.

After a couple of weeks of feeling like I could not answer questions in lectures and seminars, I realised that as with all unpleasant situations, there was something that I could learn from it. Instead of being petty, I could use the experience to better myself!

So here is some advice for all my fellow extroverts and overly keen students:

Talk less, smile more

Bonus points for anyone who noticed the “Hamilton” reference in the title! Talk less, smile more – this is what Aaron Burr advises  Alexander Hamilton to do in the hit-musical.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should not talk at all. I do not think you should have to lessen yourself to make others feel comfortable. But it does not always have to be you talking all the time. 

This is not about being less, it’s about being strategic. Do not think of it as hiding your light under a bushel, it’s more like upgrading to super efficient LED light bulbs that automatically adjust to the setting. 

I actually really enjoy silence but I’ve written before on how I find awkward silences uncomfortable. So naturally, when a seminar tutor asks a question and they are met with a sea of blank stares and I know the answer – I feel as though I have to speak.

But in reality, I don’t. It does not not always have to be you. It does not always have to be me. This is the stark reality of life – it is a hard lesson but it is beneficial to learn.

Sometimes, it can actually be really good to take a step back and let others do the work. Often when you are the one who always takes on a leadership role and are answering the questions, others are able to learn from you. But what do you gain? Yes, of course explaining things to others can help to consolidate knowledge.

However, you miss out on the insight others might bring. We all think in different ways and sometimes other people can add value to a certain topic. Look at it this way – if you already know 10 things, person A adds 3 things and person B adds 2 more things – you now know 15 things! But if you are the one speaking all the time – you are constantly giving and never receiving.

For example, if you give away the 10 things you know but no-one else speaks and you don’t learn anything from others. Then person A now knows 13 things and person B now knows 12 things but you still only have your 10! So don’t be surprised if people around you start doing better than you if you are not taking the time to learn from them.

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

In addition, talking less can lead to people valuing your input more. When people get used to you always answering all the time then it can get taken for granted. Be it by your peers or your lecturers. Have you ever been in a situation where someone who usually does not speak adds a seemingly minute angle on something and everyone starts raving about it? Yep, sucks doesn’t it?

For example, in that same seminar another student was asked for an answer to a question and they told the seminar tutor that they had not done any of the work and had just come to absorb knowledge. And the seminar tutor offered him cookies and said he liked his response!

It’s basic economics – it’s about supply and demand. If there is endless supply of you and you are constantly offering your opinions then no-one will seek it out but if you speak less then it will generally have more weight.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” – Leonardo Da Vinci

So if you make sure everything you say is gold dust then invariably you will be able to add more value to all situations you are in. Make sure every contribution is of quality. We live in a society that equates speaking a lot with a lack of thought. In reality, I probably overthink everything I do and if I feel as though I have not conducted myself in the appropriate way or said the right thing then it can haunt me for months.

But recently in society, “extroverts” have been demonised and traits that are associated with this group of people are sometimes made to look like a negative thing. There is a new wave of appreciation for introverts, which is actually a positive thing, it’s about time people who prefer to be quiet got their chance to shine! However, this should not come at a cost to people who are just not like that. Celebrating the excellence of those who don’t like to talk should not come at the expense of making assumptions about those who do like to talk. It’s not one or the other.

TOP TIP: So this is something I started doing at the beginning of second year – I have a “word quota”. No, I am not suggesting you count your words- that would be ridiculous. But I do try to mentally judge the proportion of time I am spending talking and after a while a little voice in my head will say: “you have reached your quota” in a somewhat Gandalf-like “you shall not pass” type of voice. And then that’s it- I will stop talking and spend the rest of the time listening.

Just because other people do not know that you know the answer does not make you any less intelligent. Sometimes, I will even write the answer down on a piece of paper or internally whisper it in my head and then smile inwardly if I get it right. The fact no-one knows you would have gotten it right does not take anything away from you!

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”  – Plato

As a very enthusiastic person, when it’s a topic I am passionate about (which is most things!) it’s easy to get carried away. But when you get used to keeping track on how much you are speaking then it gets more intuitive.

 

Of course, all of this advice is contextual and you have to learn to judge each situation on an individual basis. There are times where you do need to show off your skill to get ahead and it might even be necessary to talk a lot. And in reality, most seminar tutors in the past have loved me as they usually find it nice that somebody has done the reading and has formed an opinion. But not everyone will like that! And that is not something you should take personally – just something you need to learn to adapt to.

Ultimately, university is a microcosm of what it will be like in the “real world”. There will be people who think confident or extroverted people are too full on or are arrogant. You will encounter people like this in the work place, they might be your colleagues or even your boss. You might find people like this in your friendship circles.

Sometimes you will need to justify yourself when people make unfair character judgements. Like when my seminar tutor spoke to me in a overtly harsh and mocking tone, I called him out for being rude. I am not saying we should all become passive and lay down whilst people walk all over us.

However, not everything has to be fight and you need to learn to play the game. Sometimes you just need to talk less and smile more! Perhaps if Alexander Hamilton had learnt to be a bit more strategic with this earlier on his career it wouldn’t have ended so…abruptly.

It’s just me, Dammy, talking less but always smiling

xxx