TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!! ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’

Hello everyone!!!! Today’s book is one that I’ve had my eye on for a year or so, and finally I found it again at a feminist book fair I went to a few weeks ago and said to myself I CANNOT LEAVE WITHOUT THIS BOOK!!!! It is a collection of short stories, not a genre I usually dabble in but this was glorious; so, without further ado, I introduce to you ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’ by Kathleen Collins.

If you live for political activism and Love stories (all the best people do), these stories will fill you with a nostalgic delight so that you’ll wish you had a time machine to go back to the early 60’s, pick up a placard and march along (and fall in love with) the people who trail blazed the world’s progressing social justices we are still working on today. Collins hearkens back to the time when integration, interracial communities and ‘the melting pot’ were young American ideals still unsullied from failure. When young white people and black people still believed that simply living together would solve all the problems created by white ancestors. Of course, we know this idealism failed and that the benefits of multiculturalism often turn out in reality to contribute to the erasures and misunderstandings that it is trying to solve. But Collins is both nostalgic and critical- revealing a tense undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this periods’ short-comings whilst also celebrating it as a time of energy, of enthusiasm and hope- even if free love didn’t have such strong foundations as the political arguments that would come after. Collins shows the bad and the good of the time when people didn’t want their love to be confined by race, and these are stories of love- in all its complexities of heart-break, young love, marriage and friendship. Love and race, how the two interact with each other in the lives of young, vivacious black women.

That is one of my favourite things about this collection: all of the stories centre around black experience, and most specifically, the vast majority are focused on the narratives of black women. IDK about you, but I can hardly think of any main-stream romantic heroine/ hero of screen or fiction who is black, and not made into some mistress, sexualized beast or just generally chastised because of it (I am always open to being wrong, so if I am mistaken please let me know which rom-coms to watch which don’t make me feel like I am observing a Nazis dream of marital eugenics). Most romantic stories, in trying to please white male publishers and producers, have constructed stories of love that fulfil their notions of what it is that will complete them. Unsurprisingly, most men (whatever race) don’t want their meek beloved- who they will supposedly save from the cruelty of spinsterhood (yawn) – to outshine them; hence why so many female romantic protagonists turn out the same: white, ‘beautiful’ (read: able-bodied and skinny), alone and needing dick to rescue them from whatever it is women can’t possibly have enough brain to solve themselves- everyone KNOWS that dick is the answer to all life’s problems!!!!

But in these stories shine black women, from many different class back grounds, but specifically focusing on middle-class/ boujie black girls which I found refreshing opposed to the stereotype of all black people always being poor. Black Women (Collins often chooses to focus on lighter skinned black girls) who are exploring love on their own terms and are not afraid to break out of stereotypes white people and even their own well-intentioned family’s force upon them. There’s the girl who cuts her hair and lets it grow natural and falls in love on a summer French course (with her professor- I didn’t wanna give spoilers but that story was so sweet I couldn’t stop smiling); there’s the sophisticated, cultured and elegant black girl who doesn’t need white validation, or to demean other black girls to prove her worth; there’s painters, mothers, freedom fighters, violinists, and daughters. They may not always be ‘empowered’ as such, as in many stories the girls are wrangling with men emotionally distant, abusive and just generally immature- not leaving relationships as quickly as we may like with our more modern ways of thinking. But each woman is an agent of her desire, and all the stories speak of some awakening, whether it be realising what love is, or figuring out how your skin colour affects what love is available to you- these stories are beautiful in how they show emotion so fleetingly and yet so powerfully, without the breadth or scope a whole novel would have to use.

Collins also worked with film, and this influence can be seen in some of the stories. Because they’re so short, many of the stories don’t get their emotional depth from the coming together of plot, but from the overlapping of time periods and omissions of narrative that allow you to fill in the gaps yourself. One short story, ‘Interiors’, is a set of two monologues from a husband and wife; its 9 pages, but the way Collins’ fits so much story into such ‘little’ prose, so much heart into sentences that don’t reveal everything- it does as much work that a story triple its length may not achieve.

I will stop blabbering now, but honestly these stories do not take ages to read and anyone interested in race, relationships, civil rights, art or LUV would adore these stories! Collins has long been forgotten as a black woman playwright, director and author and reading these stories it is wonderful she has been rediscovered from the mire of history to enlighten us again!!!!!!!

“… The night I danced for you. Why am I recalling such a simple time? We were taking a walk and suddenly I started dancing. I don’t know why; it wasn’t like me at all. I just wanted to jump outside my coloured looks and make you laugh… Why am I recalling such a simple time? We said good bye. We never saw each other again. Once my father mentioned that you’d moved to Washington, become a doctor, married. But all that seemed beside the point. It took so well between us…

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’!!!!!

Hello and welcome to today’s Tomboy Book club!!!! I am going to be giving my humble opinions about Jeanette Winterson’s new feminist manifesto: ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’ (if you recognize the title- good. It means you are keeping up with your British feminist history).

At only 72 pages this compact but shining gem won’t take you long to read, but it will give you plenty of idea-seeds to plant in your brain for later reflection to keep your brain sap flowing towards gender revolution. Not only is this powerhouse concise, but Winterson has also kept it accessible in the vocabulary she chooses to use. Although it could be more informative in helping introduce people to language used in discussions of trans issues or intersectional feminism addressing race, I think for the size and scope of the book trying to be inspirational and punchy rather than in-depth and educational Winterson has done her best to keep the tone serious yet manageable for people just getting into the feminist spirit. I can’t lie though, I am a little surprised Winterson did not address more the future of transgender rights and gender deviancy away from the binary, considering how huge a topic these issues are ATM and how they will remain important into the near future. I was expecting some acknowledgement of transgender and queer rights, just because Winterson is so known for loving Woolf and the fluidity of gender created in Orlando. Not that loving Orlando makes you an expert on queerness, and Winterson can’t be an expert on everything, it was just a bit of a shame…

BUT- Winterson really does cover many other areas of feminism, and whilst focusing on British history with her celebration of the Suffragettes and Suffragists, her arguments are global in their concern and shouldn’t be limited to the problems faced by one country alone. Politics, domestic violence, social media and business glass-ceilings are all touched upon by Winterson, but her discussions of women in the future of technology, and thus the future of the world as it continues to develop technologically is the most interesting part to me. It made me shiver a bit when she talks of how there are barely any women in charge of making technology, and yet simultaneously many technological advances in the form of AI existing which seek to mimic- or even replace- women. Winterson confronts the issues of sexbots; their male creators’ world views which they program for posterity into non-humans (pretty much the status human women have been given for all of history anyways lol) for their own enjoyment and affirmation of fucked-up gender constructs. Winterson warns how without female input into these technological advances (arguable if sexbots are an advance-but that is another kettle of fish entirely), women will be excluded from the future again before it’s even fully begun. I wish she could go more in depth and quote more studies and people who have thought a lot about this issue of feminism in technology, but again- this isn’t supposed to be a textbook for all the answers, it is supposed to be emotive and punchy to make you wanna get of your arse and do something for humanity.

The only criticism I have is that of criticism, by which I mean Winterson hasn’t really criticised or taken issue with any of the problems internal to mainstream British feminism which it still faces. TBF, Winterson does talk about the problem of difference, criticising the investment many (mostly white) women have with existing governments; in that many feminists want to acquire and yield the same power that the patriarchy uses now to fuel its terrorism- which obviously isn’t gonna do shit. And that women must create new, differing and previously unknown modes of thinking in order to truly defeat the ills of white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy (white men sure have created a world where it is easy to subconsciously hate many people- how wonderful!!!!). However a problem I really do think she should have addressed is that of racism in British feminism, because as much as I adore my foremothers’ fighting and bravery, there can be no mistake who they were fighting for: themselves, not the black and brown women of other occupied colonies who supported white British women in their struggle. For modern feminism to progress, we must not only look for the successes of the past to replicate, but also the failures so we know what weakens us and what to avoid in the future. It really pisses me off that the racism of the suffragettes goes so unnoticed most of the time, because it really should be addressed in order for white women to realise that it’s not a real victory if your victory only serves to continue to hold others down- by ignorance, or wilful cruelty (for the record, ignoring the problems of other people is still cruel). Heck- Sylvia Pankhurst had to eventually abandon the Suffragettes because her mother, the sainted Emmeline (whose speech, ‘Freedom or Death’ is included after Jeanette’s work- pretty sick), said she could never support black people having the vote!!! That is not the sentiment a real revolutionary would have!!! People can revere and celebrate the Suffragettes as much as they want, but no sincere progress will be made until that racism is shown for what it really is: vulgar, with no place in the future of feminism. Especially considering all the racism Britain has been forced to confront recently with Grenfell, Windrush and the ongoing refugee crisis- a manifesto of feminism that doesn’t even mention racism really can’t be said to be that helpful at all.

Overall, this is a great book to fuel a fire for change already burning within, but won’t be the best place to start learning the real facts of ammunition to fight. It is emotive more than informative, and that is great if you’re needing some inspiration to keep fighting this fucked up world. In order to get the best out of it, interrogate each line, each idea, and make the 72 pages grow and grow in potential using your mind! I will stop blabbering on now, but I send my love to all Winterson and feminist enthusiasts out there!!!!! LET HER COURAGE BE YOUR OWN!!!!!

“Graffiti on a loo wall in Camden Town: Behind every great woman is a man who tried to stop her.

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!! Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire!

Hello everyone! With the recent descent of Trump and his white supremacist cronies in the US mid-terms ( may they sink ever lower) and the higgeldy-piggeldy MESS that is Brexit, Windrush and Grenfell swamping the UK with arguments over who is or is not allowed protection under ‘great’ Britannia’, it seems appropriate to talk about this book now. Today’s post is all about Akala’s first novel Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’- I know he has also released graphic novels- i REALLY wanna read them- but I mean in terms of non-fiction hardbacks.

Natives is clever, to say the least. It boasts pages and pages of educational anti-colonial, anti-racist facts and footnotes, and you can tell that it has been a passion long in the making, articulately put together to tackle some great issues of race and class for not only Great Britain, but the entire history of the world: Apartheid and segregation, education and prison systems, white supremacy and imperial history are amongst some of the topics Akala touches upon. His aim with this book is to analyse the way race and class both intersect and feed off each other in conflict with the white state and upper classes, and how these historically institutionalised concepts affect a singular life in the making.

Akala uses the story of his own life to examine the workings of history and politics around him, and how these forces have shaped who he has become. Some people may feel he is boasting by constantly asserting his own past and achievements into the narrative of global history, but I disagree. All the auto-biography included is relevant to the intellectual arguments he makes, his own experiences generating courses of study to analyse the fates of so many working class black boys in the country. Life shown in contrast against the statistical hardship of so many others (not that Akala himself has never known these struggles himself) only makes his achievements more commendable, and indirectly highlights the need to implement what Akala’s book is trying to equip us with and inspire: the knowledge and urgency to ensure that more such rigorous insights can be written by more people who know first hand the effects of state racism and violence onto a child’s future.

It reminded me of another book about race I read earlier this year, ‘Brit(ish)‘ by Afua Hirsch, in which she also recounts the difficulties of forming an identity as a mixed race child in the UK whilst unearthing and lambasting historical racism. However, I will say that though using the same method of analysis of auto-biography these two authors’ early lives could not be any more different. With Hirsch growing up confused, but ultimately sheltered in her posh Wimbledon neighbourhood, whereas Akala’s past is definitely not privileged in any sense of the word as we would expect in the UK; yet he has a surer sense of his identity with close ties to others from the Caribbean and to young boys in similar shoes as his own. Hirsch’s book is also amazing!!!!! It shows a different environment to Akala’s, which actually enforces the point which Akala is trying to make: it doesn’t matter how high up the ladder of capitalist achievement a black person can go or is born into, they will still be ‘Othered’, still be stereotyped somehow.

This definitely isn’t a book you can rush through, it’s one you have to think over before going to the next page; maybe that’s just me, but there’s so many facts and ideas about so many topics that it would seem negligent to simply graze over them without properly trying to understand the point at hand. This is a perfect book to start learning about key concepts and issues underpinning race in Great Britain- but Akala also uses his mixed Jamaican heritage and travels across the globe to give nuanced opinions about how race and class operate differently and arbitrarily for each country depending on it’s history and geography. I think his most powerful writing comes from critiques of the UK education and Prison systems, where argument is always founded on fact and long-meditated analysis fed by numerous theorists (who he references in the back- great for people looking for further reading once they’ve finished this book!).

The lens isn’t just focused on the effect of racism and classism on black and brown people though, Akala also turns arguments back on whiteness itself. Deconstructing what is the ‘default’ identity for governments and culture to build around, and showing its true nature: not ‘default’ at all, but a highly constructed, conceptualised and insidious weapon of Capitalism to pit man against man (or woman)  despite their similar material circumstances. This is a scathing attack, and a brilliant one. As the title may suggest, it isn’t the thugs or hooligans who we should be most worried about (still, fuck the bigoted scum bags) but the ‘powers that be’,  that create the ideas and conditions in which racism can grow unchecked. From teachers defending the KKK as America’s crime fighting vigilantes (the part where he talks about his teacher arguing that the KKK stopped crime by killing black people is horrendous, but when out against the backdrop drawn from history sadly not that surprising), Nelson Mandela as an upholder rather than complete destroyer of apartheid in South Africa, to the police who end up asking him for advice on how to tackle ‘black crime’ (his critique of ‘the idea of ‘black-on’black’ crime is unquestionably good) after trying to arrest him- no authority figure is safe from Akala’s most effective weapon: his brain.

To conclude, I am going to quote a section of the book where Akala is highlighting the double edged sword that is white supremacy; at once giving it’s wielders a sense of superiority, yet completely negating any sense of individual strength of mind they could have by centring superiority on the assumed, and false, inferiority of others.

If you care about ending inequality, this book is for you xoxoxoxoxoxox

“…The long and short of it is that the master makes himself a slave to his slave by needing that domination to define him… We talk about white privilege but we rarely talk about the white burden, the burden of being tethered to a false identity, a parasitic self-definition that can only define itself in relation to blacks’ or others’ inferiority…”

TOMBOY BOOK-CLUB!!!- ‘Please Mind the Gap’

At work recently, I have taken up a lunchtime habit. To walk outside towards St Paul’s Cathedral, plonk myself down on a bench either by the roses still hanging onto their plump colours or next to pidgins scratting around thinning grasses for crumbs or seeds, and I read. Also, I like to treat myself to some MacDonalds (but only on Fridays, so I don’t become enslaved to their global corporation of capitalist exploitation of animals, and also so I don’t become an actual potato) whilst I peruse the pages of my book of choice, exploring a whole other world contained, yet beyond the concrete noise of London. This week has been a delight, words mingling their power with the delights of tomato ketchup. I have been reading Sophie Sparham’s ‘Please Mind The Gap’.

I have actually met Sophie irl, and she is lovely. A bespectacled punk with red lips surrounding a smile, unmistakable with dreadlocks the colour of chilli peppers that hang down past her waist. She performed in Peterborough for a FreakSpeak poetry night in honour of Pride, and her poetry made me laugh and wipe away tears in equal measures that night. My slightly drunken appreciation fixed on her as she commanded the stage with a down-to-earth confidence that was not shy exactly, but was not too boisterous or forced. I spoke to her in the bathroom after she had read, we were both washing our hands. I told her how wonderful I thought her poetry was, and she thanked me with laughter and smiles, wished me luck when I said I also wrote then we went on our ways to watch the rest of the night’s wordsmiths.  Sophie is from up north in Derby, and her thick accent wasn’t difficult to listen though, it made the poems even more heartfelt and unique, evoking the places and people with whom her mind wrangled with to write these AMAZING poems.

Sophie’s poetry is the best ‘fuck you’ for days when you feel shit upon by the universe. Her work focuses on political and social issues- especially women’s issues, depression and LGBTQ+ rights. Her poems are about the mental impacts material suffering perpetuates on the mind. How anti-gay sentiments seep into the pavements of her childhood, how the rush and crush of ceaseless production wilts the heart to a hollow calculator of survival, unless we try to let the beauty in. I love her work, because the topics she talks about are serious and difficult to grasp, yet the way she phrases her work is so fluid and delightful to read I almost feel guilty sometimes for paying more attention to the control she has over rhyme and rhythm than on the crippling suffering she is trying to address and heal. It’s not only me who thinks her poetry is bomb either, in the edition I have, Benjamin Zephaniah, a poetry great, has written a foreword where he states: “I was very impressed with this fearless, compelling performer, who is unafraid to seek out the truth and comment on issues that others might shy away from“.

Her work flies above the country, and sets its visions to lands even further out to sea when imagining the unity fighting oppression demands. Her work spans the universal disappointments and difficulties of trying to be honest and happy in a world that cares more for profit and shallow popularity. But alongside these searing commentaries that I am sure Ginsberg would approve of, she also talks about her own life and memories with an intimacy that allows her point to be sharp without becoming too concerned with the details of life that she could include that would make the poems less lyrical, but more rich in specific moments. I’m not saying here that her poetry lacks imagery, it most certainly does not- but her talent and power truly does rest in the structures she can build out of rhyme and rhythm, the true gift of a poet whose work is most alive when read aloud. And, considering she tours her poetry with punk bands and at festivals, I hope many more people will be able to hear her songs, her battle cries for the release of old pain to help make concrete changes.

After first seeing Sophie perform, I expected reading her works would be the same visceral concoction of song and sadness and soul. I was not disappointed. This book is for anyone who cares, and who wants a book to pull out in fleeting moments stolen from the machine, as well as to curl up with for longer in reflection. Its style flows easily, but the issues Sparham writes about will make you want to slow down and think before rushing onto the next delicious rhyme. Her poetry will bring you eye to eye with the most confounding and saddening of injustice- social and personal- before bringing you back up to hope again and be strong against what potentially lurks behind each stranger; a smile or scorn. Her work makes clear the inevitability of our suffering, how unwittingly and silently it is committed by and against each other. But on the flip-side and more importantly, how we are all able to help each other overcome these problems we’ve made for ourselves. The words affirm that strength is not to be measured by the mainstream standards of clout or wealth or popularity: “Success means the paths we chose chose to explore/ not how high we climb”.

So, in this blog-post I want to include the first poem I heard Sophie read aloud, and the first in ‘Please Mind The Gap’. It is beautiful, and I will be damned if it doesn’t make you feel even one degree warmer inside after maybe wiping away a tear or two. Thank you for being such a wonderful and kind person Sophie, and I hope more and more people get the life-enhancing pleasure of reading and hearing your poetry!!!!

Introductory Gathering

Oh come all ye faithless, joyless and defeated
Come all ye washed out, ye chewed up and ye beaten
I want every loser,
As far as these eyes can see
To climb out of your corners and sit next to me.

Oh come all ye rejects, ye homeless, break out from your margins
Come all ye lost, troubled and drive no hard bargains
You’ll soon find that there’s no leader in this hoard
Worship yourselves
Christ, you fucking lords!

We are gathered here today to witness revolution
The coming together of our demons
As we learn the meaning of evolution
Our song birds will scream from the branches of burning trees
Not be left in their cages to sing peacefully

But they will create lawful reasons why we cannot rise together
They’ll tear us and they’ll beat us amidst this stormy weather
However, there are no exit signs here so I urge you, please don’t run
You’ll never leave this bus stop, if you’re waiting for the sun

And I don’t have faith in a god,
But I know everyone needs something to believe in
And you can build your own angels if you feel you really need them
But I would rather bow to your monsters
Put them on the committee intake
Our problems shouldn’t rule us
But it’s important to learn from our mistakes

And have you ever felt lost?
Are you lonely?
Are you the talk of the town for not buying the butchers baloney?
And are you hurt?
And are you hated?
Are you tired and wired, feeling wrong and exasperated?

Well, I’ll be your comfort in this darkened shade of blue
I don’t have faith in a god,
But I believe in you and you and you

And have you been wronged?
Are you conflicted?
By this bullshit we’re living in as long as we don’t get evicted?
And are you as tired of this everyday slog?
Did they use you and abuse you until there were no parts left to
flog?

Well bring what’s left to this table
And lets put together what we’ve got
Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not able
Your’e capable of a lot
Because blessed are the wicked, the weird and the truly despised
For allowing us to see the world through other people’s eyes

 

 

 

 

 

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!!- The Body Is Not An Apology

Hello!!Happy Sunday! I finished this book yesterday in the bath, and honestly it made me feel so jubilant afterwards I knew a blog post was waiting. This book is like a little explanation manual of why you feeling shit about yourself isn’t always your fault, how you hating yourself is actually the product of years of subliminal indoctrination into shame and how this shame builds divisions and inequalities that fuel ‘Body Terrorism’. Body Terrorism being, according to Sonya Renee Taylor, the ubiquitous bombardment of stereotypes, hierarchies and judgements we subject our own and other bodies to.These ingrained negative messages about ourselves and others ultimately being the energy powering every kind of ‘body oppression’, every kind of discrimination there is from racism, misogyny, fatphobia, abelism, ageism, homophobia and more.

I found this book so relaxed, yet so rich in potential ways of re-organising the brain away from inertia and hatred, that I found myself repeatedly rereading the same passages and dog-earing many of the pages for future reference. Sonya Renee Taylor is an activist and founder of the ‘Body is Not An Apology’ website and movement- so her book isn’t set out in a traditional format, with chapters for readers to get through without enquiry as to how the material they’re reading is making them feel or what they’re learning. She sort of makes it like a school text-book for emotional growth (and political empowerment), interspersing text with small bubbles of her ‘Radical Reflections’ and ‘Unapologetic Enquiries’ for the reader to engage not only with Taylor’s words, but with the brain of themselves that is processing and reformulating the book back in terms of knowledge their own brain can retain. Though this book covers some timeless and universal struggles that I’m not sure can ever be easily addressed or answered, Taylor makes the book manageable to read, without being condescending or reductionist in how she proposes her tactics for the eradication of body oppression and terrorism everywhere: radical self love.

The Body Is Not An Apology is split into sections. First examining the roots of our self-hatred and internalised stigmas against ourselves and others, excavating how those who tormented us ultimately aren’t the originators, but pollinators of hate and judgement they’d learnt from external forces. Second, it explains how we are subjected to ideas perpetuating body terrorism- via the media, culture, and intimate pollinators of shame- and how these ideas are made concrete, made real and painful by systemic and structural enforcement by governments, and more cruelly and baffling, ourselves. This book does not endorse a binary organisation of thinking at all, Taylor is not in favour of any ‘you’ VS ‘them’/ ‘He’ VS ‘She/ ‘Black VS ‘white’- she offers radical honesty into admitting when we were victims, and learning to write new stories for ourselves to live by. But, equally, Taylor gives us a mirror, questions to hold up to ourselves so we can realise how we are never purely victims or enforcers of judgement, but always simultaneously being harmed, and (unintentionally, mostly) causing harm to others.

Her argument is simple: if you treat yourself with suspicion and animosity, if your’e forever giving yourself a hard time for not being ‘perfect’, if you don’t afford yourself empathy and compassion then how can you begin to extend that to others? If you cant hold yourself accountable for who you really are, not who you are told to be, how can you honestly hold other bodies accountable without reverting to bias and cruel stereotype? Taylor cites a perpetual reluctance to accept difference and ‘not understanding’ as ways our inherent capacities for self-love are intercepted. If you constantly hold up a default standard of body which deserves more love, respect, and grace than any other type, becoming hostile and confused whenever bodies not conforming to your rules choose to be something the rules don’t allow, then how will the mysteries of life ever be anything other than fear? If you can’t come to terms with differences that have no ‘why’, with not understanding the various reasons people become who they are, then how can you truly try to love everyone without making your love hinge upon some category that must be fulfilled? Basically, by Taylor grounding oppression and injustice in the body, the physical homes which keep us ticking, she is making the political issues that seem beyond our grasp a literal part of our DNA- she brings the fight truly home.

Her book is about honesty, forgiveness, curiosity into the why things are structured the way they are; and how by becoming more aware of who we are, our true potential for love is the long-term revolution that will truly sustain the world for future days. By examining the intersections of our identities, we can become more aware of how our worst fears about ourselves are not isolated or arbitrary, but indoctrinated into so many other people there’s no need to feel alone or afraid. Equally, by being honest with how who we are impacts our thinking, we can begin to understand why we have absorbed negative messages about others whose ‘faults’ are different from our own. By seeing ourselves more clearly, we can more effectively see how  we treat others-regardless of whether we actually ‘understand’/know them- you don’t have to explain yourself or understand yourself to deserve love.

Sometimes it may seem that Taylor is being too idealistic, too lovey-dovey for her idea to actually be radical, but that’s why I think she is genius. Her revolution doesn’t propose us all to be sitting in flowery fields, congratulating each other on how beautiful our bodies our and how all corruption is finally gone. Her revolution is material, embodied and so close you can literally touch it: it is within each push of the lung as it heaves out more breath. Her revolution reaches to the poorest of neighbourhoods,to the richest of banks, because her argument is applicable to all: if you have a body, love it- and that love will spread like the best ever virus you could hope to catch. If you constantly try to organise humanity into tribes to be trusted VS targeted, you could have the best intentions in the world and still result in cruelty when you finally get the power that was held away, and use it to do to others what was done to you. Without loving yourself, and by extension all bodies, nobody is there to interrupt the infinite figure of 8 the devil has somehow spun hatred into the seconds with.

I know that I’m definitely going to be revisiting this book a lot. Taylor has included many tips and tricks for helping unclutter the mind from the shit-show named body hierarchies. If you’ve been feeling not enough/ frustrated with yourself and where the world has placed you/ hopeless at what you can do to make it better- just generally confused/ ugly/ worthless but forever glimmering with that shadowy dust of hope, then this book is for you!!!!! Sonya Renee Taylor has a big heart that we can all learn from, and I really hope you give this book a try! It is not tedious, too complicated or far-fetched. It is beautiful and necessary. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, and to conclude, I’ve decided to quote someone who I know would agree with Sonya and L.O.V.E the message of this book…. RU-PAUL!!!! ‘IF YOU CAN’T LOVE YOURSELF, HOW IN THE HELLLLLL YOU GONNA BE ABLE TO LOVE ANYONE ELSE??!?!?!?!’

“We are not simply good or bad; vessels of pure, divine light or mongers of hate; interrupters of body terrorism everywhere or singlehandedly upholding oppression of bodies across the planet. If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were the choices on a quiz about who we are, the answer would be ‘all of the above’. Humans (i.e., you and I) are doing and being all those things all the time… Binary thinking limits our possibility, squelches compassion, and reinforced narrow ideas of how we get to ‘be’ in the world. That marginalisation is a function of internalised body terrorism. If you recall, the practise of ‘I am not my thoughts’ prompted us to examine our thoughts from a place of curiosity and diminished judgement. The same is true for our behaviours. We can change our behaviours, but only when we see them as mutable- of us but not us. Honour that you will be many things throughout the course of your life. Sometimes you will be a phenomenal gift; sometimes you will get on someone’s damn nerves. There is gorgeous potential and heinous instinct in all of us. Singularity does not define us. Our instincts influence and shape us but do not define us. When we find ourselves in the land of either/or thinking- characterised by words like never, always, only, every time, mostly, rarely– it is a great sign that we may be off our path. Binary thinking is the antithesis of radical self-love…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- Rise Like Lions: Poetry for the many

Today’s post is in honour of national poetry day, grandma shouted it out up to me whilst I was washing off London muck in the shower. But also, this post is in honour of an even more important date to my grandma… today was my late grandads birthday. She never mentioned it to me before, and I was a bit annoyed (probably just feeling guilty that I didn’t know and never cared to ask) she didn’t make more of a fuss. But that is my grandma; straight forward, and never sulky, always lovely.

So, in honour of my grandad and national poetry day, I have chosen to write about Ben Okri’s compilation ‘Rise Like Lions’, a collection of poetry across British history of political activism and thought  (left wing, of course). My grandad was what some people would call a champagne socialist. He would sit and pontificate about the woes of the world with a glass of rose in his shaking hands (a rose socialist, is perhaps more fitting for him), and to my shame, I used to think in juvenile delinquency that he was  just chatting shit. But my grandad knew struggle, and how those who suffer from it aren’t to blame. He never had a dad, as my great-grandad died in a WW2 plane over the North Sea, and was left to care for his younger brother ( he brought a prostitute home one Christmas and grandad punched him in the face- happy families!) and alcoholic mother, Alice.  She was devastated by the death of my grandads dad, and tried to open up a care-home but lost all her money. She relied on an army pension in her old unemployed age, spending it all on toys for my dad and uncle… and of course on more than a few glasses of barley wine in the pub. I’m not saying that my grandad suffered immensely because of the government for who he was. But, circumstance did render him vulnerable- and circumstance is always beyond our control. He knew poverty, and he climbed out of it with his mother on his back, whilst supporting his wife (my grandma) and his kids (my dad and uncles) at the same time. My grandad was no revolutionary political prisoner, but he knew that caring matters.

Today’s book is in honour of my grandad for that reason: he cared. Ben Okri’s book is a celebration of caring. It is a collection of various verses, giving voice to their politics through angry indictments or lyrical odes; but all probe at the concept of truth and how poetry reveals it. From working class revolts, anti-racist rallying and women speaking out their truth- this book fights all battles of oppression.  The poems are organised into different sections- Ideas, Vision, Protest, Change and Truth- which each come with introductions by Okri that mediate on the theme of that section. The book uses multiple individual voices, all speaking at different moments to show how even though its expression may vary, truth always holds central place in a poets vision for language, whatever ‘truth’ may be to them.

One of my grandad’s favourite poets was Shelley, and we read ‘Ozymandias’ at his funeral. I asked my grandma why he loved that sonnet so much, and Chrissy said its because he probably won a prize at school for reading it out loud (haha). So again, I can’t pretend that my grandads devotion to Shelley’s ode on the inevitable fall of autocratic power is rooted in some blood-deep militancy, but it must be said, the man had taste. Although ‘Ozymandias’ is a political powerhouse, Okri has not included it in his collection, probably because he knew how popular it already is ingrained in the back of all our minds… “LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY AND DESPAIR!” So, instead I have chosen to put another poem by Shelley from ‘Rise Like Lions’. It is dedicated to those who go unrecognised for their struggles and pain in having to serve a country who doesn’t serve them. In my 21st century mind, I like to dedicate this poem to all working class people slogging it out for what feels like nothing. To migrants, immigrants, refugees and minority groups (whether they be oppressed by race, gender, disability or sexuality) who are the backbone of this country. We need to do better for you, and even though grandad isn’t here, I know he would agree.

Hopefully, grandad, if you can read my blog in heaven by some divine intervention where the angels help you work wordpress on a computer, you will like this poem and feel peaceful and happy to know that you are remembered and loved- not just by me me writing this, but every day and all the time. Chrissy misses you terribly and sends her love forever and ever. I am sorry I was so naughty, and would never be sweet and hug you before bed like you asked. But like always, good night and god bless. xoxoxxoxox

To the People of England, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

People of England, ye who toil and groan,
Who reap the harvests which are not your own,
Who weave the clothes which your oppressors wear,
And for your own take the inclement air;
Who build warm houses…
And are like gods who give them all they have,
And nurse them from the cradle to the grave…