Race and Gender in Music

In the Guardian today is a short interview of a woman called Remi Nicole, a new ‘singer-songwriter’. I’m sad to say I know nothing about her music, but damn, do I love her attitude! A couple of choice quotes….

- on her new single, Rock’n’roll: “it was written out of frustration at people… saying that because I’m black I’ve got to listen to black music. What they don’t realise is that everything stems from rock’n’roll.”

- on race: “I’d like to see a mixed race crowd at my gigs, but I don’t care who listens to my music. I’m not making music for races, I’m making music for myself and for anyone who can and wants to relate to it.”

- on gender: “There are 100,000 boy bands out there and no one has a problem with it but you get pure grief if you’re a girl.”

And, my personal favourite…..

- on being compared to Lily Allen: “The only similarity is that we both have ovaries and breasts.”

I loved that quote, which made me laugh out loud on a crowded train and, not surprisingly, earned me some baffled looks from fellow commuters.
But any woman who is confident, and sarcastic, and funny enough to say something like that to a national newspaper (especially when that woman comes from a “minority” ethnic group, often underrepresented or misrepresented in the media) gets my respect.

As I understand it, she is part of the Indie music scene – which, while not quite to my taste (dedicated Metal girl that I am!), I can tolerate better than most other genres – and for that reason she is something of an anomaly in the celebrity world.

The photograph says it all. She’s perched on a pavement, looking straight at the camera, not smiling, just being – and she’s fully clothed. She’s wearing the skinny jeans that mark her out as Indie, rather than the lack of clothes that every other genre seems to aspire to, she’s not wearing that come-fuck-me smile that would mark her as ‘just another sexy woman in the media’.

After so many women like Beyonce, blithely singing songs about “independent women” whilst strutting about in their underwear, or tiny frilly skirts, Remi Nicole sounds like a welcome change.

Now, let’s see what her music’s like…….!

A Conversation With My Brother

The other day, I was sitting with my brother (who is 6), helping him with a jigsaw puzzle.

It was a cartoon scene of about five little boys in various positions of playing football, all copied and pasted so that there must have been a good forty children in the picture altogether.

He was grumbling because the fact that there were only five different faces meant that the puzzle was a lot harder. So, not really thinking about it, just making conversation, I asked him what he’d change, to make them different.

“Well…. I could make some of their tops different colours….”
“Or their shoes….”
“Anything else?”
“I’d put some black boys in,” he said earnestly. “And some brown boys. And some tanned ones.”

I sat and stared. I had honestly not expected him to say that – he could have changed their socks, or their shorts, or their hair, or…. well, anyway, he still had some clothes to go, is my point.

Yeah…” I said, thoughtfully, “because your school’s not like this picture, is it?”
“No,” he replied casually, “there are girls as well.”

Volunteering Information

I don’t normally do personal things here. Not really. It doesn’t feel appropriate. But this is different.

You see, I never set out to post about race. In this, as in other issues, like the LGBTQ scene, I often don’t feel “other” enough. I am occaisionally attracted to girls, but not enough to feel that I could identify as anything other than straight. Certainly not enough to post with any confidence about LGBTQ issues, other than where I feel that what I think might be of interest to people who identify as being part of that community.

Because I am so often mistaken for a white English girl, it seems reasonable to assume that at those times I have the white privelege that comes with it. So, often, it feels hypocritical to be mentioning race at the same time as taking that privelege. But I am not white. And that privelege comes and goes.

So this is to remind myself – and others – that while I may sometimes look like a white English girl, that’s not who I am. This is who I am, and it is likely to be the nearest anybody online will ever get to knowing what I look like. The man is my grandfather, and I love him dearly. He is the reason I feel so strongly that I am not English – because I do love him dearly, and it would feel disrespectful to ignore his part of my heritage.

(This is, of course, a fairly old photo.)

Another Memory

I’m sitting in the kitchen with Mum. I’m in Year 5, which makes me nine or ten years old. And we’re having “The Conversation”.

Except it’s not about sex, because I’ve got a book for that, and both my sister and I were told years ago that while it was fine to play with our own bodies as much as we liked, it was a pasttime best kept in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

It’s about racism. I don’t know to this day why Mum chose that time to talk to me about it. Maybe she’d had a bad day of it. Maybe she’d had a bad day a couple of days beforehand, and wanted to talk to me about it as soon as she could deal with having that conversation. Maybe I’d told her something about school that she’d identified as racism. Maybe she just thought that I was old enough to hear it. For whatever reason, she told me.

She tells me that some people have strange ideas about other people. She tells me that sometimes people use words that they shouldn’t. She tells me that sometimes they would use those words because they didn’t know any better, and sometimes they would use them because they wanted to upset me. She tells me that it was important to be able to recognise it.

Mum had great timing. Later that week, a boy in my class called me “Paki” as a term of abuse. It was the first time I’d ever had it directed at me. It was the first time I recognised it as racism. And it stayed with me. I’d heard of some forms of racism, of course. My headmaster was a wonderful man, who routinely did assemblies based on stories like that of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. As well as the Titanic and various Greek legends. But they were stories. I knew they’d happened, but Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks lived years and years ago in America – which was practically the moon as far as I was concerned. And they were fighting against slavery and segregation and White people being racist to Black people, which wasn’t the same thing as what had happened to me, not even a little bit. The boy that called me “Paki” that day was a black boy.

Since then, many other people of many different colours and races have used that word against me, or in my hearing. I’m lucky, in a way. If only one group of people had ever done that to me, perhaps I too would have become racist, shunning every person from that group. As it is, I would have to shun everybody who didn’t hail from my ethnic background. Since my ethnicity is a confusing thing, which encompasses Anglo-Indian (Indian, Portuguese, Dutch etc.), English and Irish, it would be something of a Herculean task to find anybody remotely similar. Except my siblings, of course!

This incident, the first that sticks in my mind, goes a long way to explaining why I am the way I am, in certain situations. That boy was probably acting on something he’d heard his parents say. He said it, very likely, because nobody had taught him that he couldn’t. And so I don’t feel I have the luxury of letting comments slide. Because a society that doesn’t act on comments like that, even throwaway comments, is a society that condones them. And a society that condones them is not a society that I wish to be a part of.

People need to speak out about these things. Because if you don’t say anything, you’re just like that kid at school, that watched the bully put someone down, without doing anything to help.
And it could be a remark as simple as

“I’m off to get my dinner from the Chinky”, or
“that Paki guy in the corner shop said…” or
“that’s gay” [to mean "stupid"] or
“don’t be such a girl” [to mean "weak, feeble, silly"] or
“urgh, you spaz/ retard” [to mean "idiot, silly person"]

but whatever it is, it’s still wrong. Somewhere, somehow, it will affect somebody, and they will be offended, hurt, upset, fucking furious.

To quote my father: “It’s not big, and it’s not clever.”

Mark Steel: A Slightly Odd Idol

I’m going to assume that he won’t mind me quoting his book, Reasons To Be Cheerful, which I have been reading to cheer myself up. One of the best bits?

“Listening to fruitcake views – that the firemen’s strike was organized by the Kremlin or that social security gives every Pakistani a new car – always feels like a two-pronged assault. There’s the depressing experience of hearing someon talk such rubbish. But just as exasperating is that the argument is so blatantly illogical, causing the same frustration as if someone insists it’s Tuesday on a Thursday.”

Go and read his book. Go on. Even if you’re not English and the politics means little to you. Even if you are English and the politics means little to you. Even if you already know more about the politics than you care to inflict on yourself.
Just read it. One, it’s funny. And two, he’s a sensible, normal person.

Albeit a sensible, normal person who got expelled aged 13 for eating a banana in a corridor, got fired from a job for sending a note to his boss explaining that he wasn’t a robot to be pushed in whatever direction his boss chose, went on the dole and lived in a legal squat with perpetually bike-less bikers and a hippy that smoked the plant he’d bought to make the place look more cheerful.

An Addition To The List:

The drunk man in the old-man pub in Surrey, who compounded my feeling that I do not ever want to live there. It was a reasonable discussion. Up to a point. Short version:

“I don’t want to live in Surrey”
“But… But…. But why?”
“There’s no diversity. It’s boring.”
“You could live in Woking,”
“Yes, but Woking’s grotty”*
“Ah, but that’s because of all the blacks and Pakis there….”

And something inside me just snapped. I’ve heard it before. Doubtless I’ll hear it again. But this time I felt a pure, blinding rage. It’s the nearest I’ve ever got to throwing a glass at anyone.

You see, mostly, when I hear that word, it’s because people are using it deliberately, aiming it at me. That’s a nasty thing to do, certainly. But it’s not as revolting as what he did. Because what he did was think “you look white. You speak the Queen’s English. Therefore, you are English. Therefore, you will not mind me using openly racist words and holding openly racist opinions.”**


This is why I love the summer. It’s why I love the sun, and why I’m never quite so happy in the winter. Because, you see, in the summer, I look dark. And I don’t hear so much of the insiduous racism. I only hear it if people are actually out to insult me, which, happily, is a rare occurrence.

Soanyway…. I was polite. I didn’t swear. I simply said – with the italics and the bold and everything, which is fairly hard to articulate! –
“don’t ever use that word in front of me.”

And, perhaps because he was drunk, perhaps because he was a knob, or perhaps because he’d been brought up to think that men are always right, he didn’t think to appologise, or even ask which word offended me. No, he just kept saying “but it’s true though, isn’t it? It’s true, you know it is….”
Eventually I regained the use of my legs, which had been locked in place (looks I veer towards choosing Fight rather than Flight, doesn’t it?!) and walked away. But bloody hell, it was hard. It was so hard to not attempt to kick the shit out of him. Even though he was about double my size and it would never have worked. I really, really wanted to try.

* Woking does indeed seem fairly grotty. But this is not for the reason Mr. Drunk put forward.
Because if that were the case, anywhere with a different ethnic make-up to ‘almost exclusively white’ would also be grotty.
We know this is not the case. Lewisham is not grotty. Certainly not my area of lewisham, which is terribly middle class. With nice houses and schools and parks and cafes that aren’t big corporate places and a transport system that actually works, give or take a bus or two, and yes, many people that don’t identify as “White, English” on forms.
And guess what? That’s part of what makes it nice. I liked the Turkish man who ran my old favourite cafe with his son and his son’s wife. I like the fact that when he gave it up it was taken over by some black people, who have made it look beautiful. I like the fact that there’s a woman in my new favourite cafe who hails from somewhere eastern European, and that her colleague is either Chinese or something like it. I like the fact that I can’t quite place them. They say variety is the spice of life. Let other people eat their bland roast dinners; I’m having Mum’s curry.

** The assumptions there are the scary things. My children, when I have them, will most likely look white. I don’t know if they’ll feel white. And I get very sad at the thought that they might have to experience things like this.

Oh, for fucks sake…

Here is the explanation.

“Oh, I think we’ve got a homosexual supporter on our hands”
You shouldn’t have “homosexual supporter”s. They exist. They are natural. End of. You wouldn’t say, “I think we’ve got a heterosexual supporter on our hands” because heterosexuality is accepted.

“I want that paki – looking bloke to win, but I don’t suppose you want me to say that”
The word “Paki” is an insult. It is a shortening of the word “Pakistani” and is often misused – relatively few “paki – looking bloke”s (or women) actually come from Pakistan, which is a relatively small country compared to India. Regardless of the stupidity, it is first and foremost a derogatory word and should never be used, rather like the word “nigger”. It’s also a term of abuse that has been used against me personally on more than one occasion.

“Hey, sexy, looking good, got a boyfriend?”
It’s bigoted because men can get away with it. Go and reread all of the posts about creepy guys, but really, if you still don’t get why it’s unacceptable, I don’t think it’s worth my time to try to explain.

“Shut up, you teenager
Because youth makes you stupid? Er…. no.

“Well, lewisham’s just full of blacks, isn’t it?”
One. Don’t call black people “blacks”. It has all the implications of racism without actually being an offensive word. So I don’t like it, because people who would shy away from using the word “nigger” or “spearchucker” would use this one. It’s still not nice. Two. Even if Lewisham was a predominantly black community, what difference does it make to anything? If you’re making this comment, you’re implying a negative difference. Three. Lewisham is not “full of blacks”, it’s actually incredibly multicultural and a fantastic place to live because of it.

“I tried to talk to your friend the other night…. she scared me”
See posts on creepy guys. Stalking someone is, well, stalking someone, and you lost your right to be scared when you followed her home along a dark road with nobody else around. Your choice. So just shut the fuck up, OK?

“Eastern Europeans are stealing our jobs… they’re all thieves, you can’t trust them”
Yeah, ’cause that’s not racist at all. Eastern Europeans coming to this country are being forced into the most menial and crappy jobs going, the ones that nobody else wants to do, the ones that they are, in general, massively overqualified for. They get a shit deal. And of course they’re not all thieves. It’s bloody ridiculous.

“Don’t be a sinner, be a winner”
You want to believe in God, fine. But don’t force it down my throat. I respect your beliefs. I don’t tell you you’re going to hell and are doomed for all eternity because of them. So don’t do it to me.

“That shirt makes him look a bit poofy”
What era do you come from? How insulting do you want to get? It’s a very derogatory word for a gay man. It’s not on. Regardless of his sexual orientation, or how fashionable his shirt is.

I still can’t quite believe that needed saying, but never mind.

What is so wrong….

…. About kicking society as we know it into tiny little bits, jumping up and down on them and then rebuilding it so that people don’t discriminate against anyone, regardless of gender/ transgender, sexuality/ transexuality, race, age, disability, religion…… etc. ???????

….. About kicking bigots into little bits, and rebuilding them so that nobody says to me

“Oh, I think we’ve got a homosexual supporter on our hands”
“I want that paki – looking bloke to win, but I don’t suppose you want me to say that”
“Hey, sexy, looking good, got a boyfriend?”
“Shut up, you teenager
“Well, lewisham’s just full of blacks, isn’t it?”
“I tried to talk to your friend the other night…. she scared me”
“Eastern Europeans are stealing our jobs… they’re all theives, you can’t trust them”
“Don’t be a sinner, be a winner”
“That shirt makes him look a bit poofy”

It makes me want to drown things. And kick the world……. etc!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.