Review: WigWamBam @ Queen of Hoxton

Poor, poor Londoners – we don’t have campfires or girl scouts or smores. But, luckily, we do have the Queen of Hoxton.

WigWamBam pops up at the Queen of Hoxton to make those winter months slightly more bearable. Boasting a tipi atop a rooftop overlooking the Shoreditch sky line, expect roaring fires, a meat-topped grill, buttered rum, mulled cider and a host of entertainment lined up.

Forced back out into the howling wind due to a distinct lack of food that DOESN’T include pork (the menu varies day-to-day and my Muslim friends were unlucky enough to venture upon the meat-topped grill on a day where pig was the serving) we unfortunately missed out on the nights entertainment.

Bar the food problems, seating was also a flaw. Hacked off treetrunks massively taking away from the comfort, cosiness factor that is the be-all and end-all of WigWamBam. Bean bags! Reclining chairs! A bed, perhaps? Come on WigWam! Didn’t you know it was a massive effort to pull ourselves off the above in order to get to you?

That said, anything that makes winter less daunting is my best friend. And the WigWamBam certainly does that.

WigWamBam is at the Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, and is open Monday to Friday 4-10pm and Saturday 6-10pm until March 2012. More information can be found here: www.queenofhoxton.com

The Perks of Being a Wallflower | Film Review

Thumbing through my heavily highlighted and dog-eared copy of Stephen Chbosky’s ‘Perks Of Being A Wallflower,’ it was with a mixture of excitement and dread that I took my seat at Fulham Broadway’s Vue Cinema to watch the film adaptation of one of my favourite books.

I recently lamented the forever inaptitude of films to portray the novel in a way that doesn’t take away from the magic of the printed word. That doesn’t mock your imagination for the way it pictured things. That doesn’t Hollywood-ify even the most beautiful of stories.

With ‘Perks Of Being A Wallflower,’ I needn’t have worried.

Directed and written by Stephen Chbosky himself, the film version of ‘Perks,’ remained true to the novel in a way very few feature length films have managed. Chbosky’s love for his characters evident in the casting, with the young actors successfully conjouring up a troupe of textured individuals, rather than archetypes.

Logan Legerman, aka Charlie, the protagonist, instantly endeared himself to the audience, magnificently and with undeniable aptitude bringing a much-loved character to life. To anyone who ever felt on the outside of things, unable to understand the seemingly easy-going lives of those around them and trying, but failing, to participate, Charlie holds up a mirror.

Ezra Miller, last seen in broody ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin,’ magnificently portrayed out-and-proud student Patrick, who’s effeminate touches added another layer of truth to this coming of age drama. Emma Watson, perhaps one of the biggest household names in the film proved slightly less remarkable. But passable. She got the job done.

But how did a tale with such a heavy storyline translate to a rated 12A Hollywood blockbuster? Surprisingly, very well. Although some themes such as teenage abortion and un-consensual sex were left out of the 102 minute production, others, like child molestation, homophobia, suicide and the trials and tribulations of teenage-dom were portrayed with unflinching honesty and openness. Facts that must be applauded when you consider the arguable culture of shame which so pervades us.

A perfect blend of happy and sad, the emotions of the characters manage to infiltrate the audience in a genuine way, no cheese-alarms sounding off, but rather leaking eyes, tugging heartstrings, and a peek into a mind that is not your own, but may well, once upon a time, have been.

Are certain moments in the film slightly over the top? Perhaps. But is that not what being a teenager is all about? Every rejection and every problem seemingly insurmountable and the end of the world as you know it?

If anything, Chbosky’s characters recognize this, dropping beautifully written and observed epiphanies throughout the course of the film. “We accept the love we think we deserve,” perhaps the most poignant, and important of observations.

Slavery’s Legacy Continues With Shadeism

Defined as a legacy of slavery; ‘shadeism’ is a form of skin tone bias, one that identifies groups and individuals on the basis of their degree of pigmentation. This distinction between shades of brown is thought to be much more pronounced within communities rather than between those of different ethnicities. To this end, shadeism is not particularly thought to be a form of racism, but rather a form of disunity; one that through mainstream ideals of beauty promotes self-hatred and low self-esteem.

“Going back to slavery and all that, if you were lighter, you were in the masters house, whereas if you were dark you’d be out in the field to do more work,” said Juliyaa, on how she believes these distinctions between shades began. “You’ve got a whole culture, three, four, five generations where shade is pivotal.”

Being judged on things such as the shade of your skin seems to have trickled down through the ages, resulting in ideals that are seemingly ingrained in individuals of all shades, cultures and nationalities.

These ideals are arguably forever perpetuated by the media, one that tends to – on the whole – embrace races which are predominantly white, or lighter. “It’s always the Beyoncé’s, the Halle Berry’s, the lighter versions of the black community that are portrayed in popular culture,” was the resounding argument made by every single one of the various shades of brown that were spoken to.

This is arguably further perpetuated by the beauty industry who have recognized people’s insecurities surrounding the colour of their skin and have been steadily releasing a multitude of products aimed at helping people to change this aspect of themselves.

Bleaching creams are, as a result, a phenomena that is by no means limited to the black community, but rather rears its head in a variety of countries across the globe.

“It seems to be an ingrained way of European beauty,” suggests Juliyaa, a half Ghanian, half Welsh woman who defines herself as light skinned. “I think maybe in ancient cultures a different form of beauty was idolized,” she added. “But now it’s very much European-looking people at the top – that’s probably why popular culture has shifted to European-looking black people or people of colour.”

Haris Adu, a man who defines himself as dark skinned suggests that this may be due to the fact that magazines “like that” are predominantly for the mainstream. “Mainstream being the white audience,” he went on to clarify.

“Not to say that black or Asians don’t pick up an ‘OK Magazine’ but the majority of people who read any of those magazines will probably be 18 to maybe late 20’s or beyond, and they’ll probably be women of a white, British nature. So obviously if that’s your target market then you have to appeal to them… and portray things in a way which they feel is not going to alienate any of their readers.”

“Maybe it’s a reflection of a more deep seeded, cultural, accepted racism that a lot of people aren’t aware of,” he concluded.

This is arguably inherent in the media, with Isha Victoria- a girl who defines herself as dark skinned – further advocating that the majority of girls who appear in music videos, films and magazines in general are often lighter skinned. She went on to add that although there does tend to be a dark skinned friend, in much of these instances she appears to be portrayed as more quiet and studious.

Juliyaa suggests that this may be due to the fact that even the word ‘black’ as a concept “inherently leaves us at a deficit.” She argued that ‘black’ is associated with darkness, with blindness, with evilness, while ‘white’ is associated with light, angels and happy things. “A lot needs to be expanded upon to really get us to a place where we can see black as a positive thing.”

This is something that author Marita Golden also picked up on in her book “Don’t Play In The Sun – One Woman’s Journey Through The Colour Complex,” in which she suggested that at its root, the colour complex is about words. She went on to cite the “Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary,” in which, among other things ‘black’ was defined as “soiled or stained with dirt, evil, wicked, marked by disaster or misfortune” whereas ‘white,’ among other things, was defined as “auspicious or fortunate, morally pure, innocent, without malice.”

This idea that the lighter the better is suggested to be ingrained from a young age, with Isha suggesting that low self-esteem based on the shade of ones skin often comes from childhood or playground bullying.

“I think from a young age if you hear ‘oh you’re so dark,’ or ‘oh let’s turn off the lights so we can’t find you,’ I think if you hear that for a long time from when you’re young you’ll start to believe it.”

This, for women, is arguably perpetuated by the images portrayed in the media, as well as the difficulty in finding make up to suit your shade – in particular items such as foundation or lip-gloss. “All that kind of stuff impacts on why people resort to skin bleaching,” she suggested. A solution that is often very easy to come across as a lot of beauty suppliers sell such products under the counter. “If you ask for it, they’ll give it to you,” she revealed.

Isha went on to add: “if you only see certain girls being held as pretty then you’re thinking ‘oh okay, I can’t possibly be then.’ And then if you combine it with simple things like make up I think it makes it a lot more difficult.”

This is made all the more so by the ideals of beauty that are portrayed in the media, ideals that are often very hard, if not impossible to reach. “I had a friend who felt she was fat,” revealed Thaniya of her size ten friend. “She thought she was fat because she didn’t have that gap that white girls have in between their legs.”

In addition to the ideas that people may have of themselves based on the shade of their skin tone, the stereotypes that surround each different shade also speak volumes.

“I haven’t heard any derogatory things about light skinned people like you would about blonde people,” said Thaniya, before going on to add that despite this, they’re often thought to be easier to get into bed than darker skinned girls; a stereotype that Isha is also familiar with:

“I’ve heard light skin girls are easy,” she said, “whereas dark skinned girls have attitude, they’re hard to get with.” She went on to give an example of the multitude of times she’s been told, “you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl,” adding that both guys and girls have been found to say and think things of that nature.

Thaniya, another girl who defines herself as dark skinned, as had similar experiences. “I’ve never been discriminated for being dark skinned,” she reveals, “but yes, the lighter girls do get a) more attention from boys, and b) more opportunities. I don’t know why,” she added. “That’s just been my experience.”

These stereotypes are often supported with real life instances, with black men such as Haris conveying that often they don’t find the darker skinned girls attractive. “To say that maybe myself and people I know would find more light skinned people attractive, that would probably be true, he said. Although he was unable to provide any concrete reason as to why that may be the case.

Isha sees this in a different light, however, arguing that often, when black girls say that black men don’t find them attractive, they tend to be talking about the musicians, footballers and basketball players who arguably tend to marry women of lighter shades.

“I don’t think that’s got anything to do with them going out and being like ‘I’ve just signed a five million dollar contract, I’m going to go scout for white girls,’” she said, but it rather being a case of where these types of men socialize. “They’re more likely to come across European women… strictly because if you’re in America or in the UK you’re a minority as a black woman.”

These distinctions between shades of brown are thought to be much more pronounced within communities rather than between those of different ethnicities, with many of the girls revealing that they were often complimented on their complexion by Europeans, rather than ever by African or Caribbean people.

“When I went to University quite a few people were like ‘oh my God your skin looks so good,’” revealed Isha, “and I was like ‘really? Nobody’s ever told me that before.” This is something that Juliyaa also experienced, revealing that her main difficulty has often been feeling accepted within the black community.

Representation in the media is argued to be an important facet in terms of shadeism and, within that, an individuals self esteem, with many, such as Juliyaa suggesting that it must be hard for people to see that they are not represented in mainstream culture.

This is an aspect that Isha also picked up on, suggesting that artists like Beyoncé are often role models to young girls, and that the fact that they are often thought to be lightened in magazines and advertisements is sure to have consequences on the youth who look up to them. “I think if people are going to cut their hair, or get extensions, or dye their hair red because Rihanna or Beyoncé did it, if they see them as lighter skinned they’ll also wish to follow suit.”

“It’s all to do with the media,” argued Thaniya. “What people want to see, or what they think people want to see. And also what they want to sell. Do they want to sell this big dark skinned person? I don’t think they really do.”

Juliyaa went on to suggest that this lack of representation of different shades is less pronounced in an American context. “I don’t think mainstream UK media know that it’s an issue within African and Caribbean communities,” suggests Isha. “I think it’s just like ‘oh you guys are all black anyway so it doesn’t really matter.”

The presence of black people of varying shades in the US media is argued to be much more prominent, with Juliyaa, Isha, Thaniya and Haris all suggesting that the US tends to give a much more balanced view.

“I think there’s probably more black middle class and darker women who are quite pro-blackness and stuff in America,” Juliyaa suggested, “but I don’t think that’s really happened here yet. I don’t think Britain has had its revolution yet.”

She went on to suggest that this may be due to the fact that colour is so enmeshed in American history, generations of fighting for equality and progression that hasn’t particularly occurred in the UK – “that’s probably why we don’t have a sense of blackness, a sense of heritage like they do,” she concluded.

But shadeism isn’t only an issue within the black community, but one that is prevalent in various cultures. The colour complex is arguably a massive concern within other cultures, such as the Asian community. Sahar, a half Iranian, half Kenyan girl explains how her Iranian mother remarried into a Pakistani family for whom shade was a massive issue.

“They believe fairness represents wealth and beauty, whilst dark skin tones do the complete opposite,” she revealed, going on to add that when her male step-cousins got married “all they looked for was skin tone… they would go for the fairest girl with the most ugly features, yet still deem her beautiful because of the shade of her skin.”

This just goes to show that the media aren’t the only ones responsible for people’s perceptions of themselves. This argument is supported by Juliyaa, who suggests that the shade of ones skin isn’t really an issue for those who have been “affirmed” by their families or by their cultures. She went on to add, “If your dad says that you’re the most beautiful girl in the world you will believe him, hands down… And then as the person grows up they become conscious of what the outside world is trying to project, but their inner being is comfortable with who they are.”

This, of course, can have the opposite reaction if families are the ones perpetuating the belief that the lighter, the better, as in the case of Sahar,

“The women of my stepdad’s family are unbelievably pale,” she revealed. “In comparison to that I am of course, seen as dark, and they’ve let that be known since I was a young age. My stepdad’s mother used to refer to me as “kaali” which means ‘black’ or ‘dirty’.”

Sahar went on to reveal that she was gifted ‘fair and lovely’ cream – a bleaching cream – for her 15th birthday. “[My stepfather’s sister] would scrub me with papaya and lemon juice then make me sit with the cream on for an hour every single day for about a month,” she revealed, of the measures the family would go to in their belief that the lighter, the better.

Arguably these ideals of beauty are thought to be changing, aided partly by the fact that we are living in an increasingly globalized world; one in which we are six times more likely to be of mixed heritage than our parents are. The United Kingdom in particular is said to have one of the fastest growing mixed-race populations in the world.

This is further facilitated by the advent of technology. “I think once Africa goes super speed broadband, fiber optic cables, we’ll all be changing all over the world,” suggests Juliyaa. Increased communication and with it an increased understanding for different cultures and beliefs sure to arise as a result.

Finding make-up to suit all shades of skin – a facet that was raised as an issue for those suffering from low self-esteem based on the shade of their skin – has also arguably become much easier over recent years, with Isha citing Mac and Bobby Brown as the top two brands who supply make-up for varying shades.

One question that requires some attention is; what could be done to speed up this process and give more people the belief that the shade of your skin does not comprise who you are as a person.

“Education in terms of enlightening people – that this is what they do to make you look lighter and stuff like that,” suggests Haris. “It’s not necessarily what beauty is, it’s just part of it – but if you’re not this, then don’t think you’re not beautiful or not attractive.”

At the end of the day “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” – but are these the far-reaching consequences when the beholder’s eye is tainted with a bombarding of images carefully tailored to suit a specific ideology and dynamic?

“I am a black girl in a culture that convinces even the white girls I once fantasized about being that they are never quite enough. White, yes, but never ever thin or pretty enough,” wrote Marita Golden in “Don’t Play In The Sun.” And, arguably, this is the whole crux of the problem.

Loving Home VS Ethnic Match?

There is no “more urgent task” for the government than speeding up the process of adoption and tackling the “absurd barriers” to mixed-race adoption, David Cameron recently said.

This comes hand in hand with new plans that aim to create a “fairer, faster” adoption process, following research that found that black children wait an average of twice as long as their white counterparts to be adopted.

“We want to make it clearer that ethnic matching should not automatically be an overriding consideration in the matching process,” said a No 10 spokeswoman.

But should it be one? Selina, a Jamaican born, London based woman who was raised in a variety of different foster homes when she was younger argues that the decision is a difficult one.

“In an ideal world it would be nice I guess,” she said, when asked if she thought children should be raised in a household with parents of the same culture and heritage as themselves. “But I think it’s more important that kids are part of a family being really looked after and belonging to something as opposed to on the sidelines, waiting to be picked up.”

This is particularly poignant due to research that shows that the outcomes for children raised in care remain shockingly poor, with 53 per cent leaving school without a single GCSE and only one per cent reaching university (as opposed to 40 per cent of their peers). It has also been found that adults who grew up in care comprise 23 per cent of prison inmates, despite the fact that they account for only one per cent of the general population.

This is something that came as no surprise to Selina, having been accustomed to it while growing up. “A lot of the children… especially black children that came in and out of the homes had a really tough time, and really went off the rails,” she revealed. “I can’t say many of them didn’t go down sort of bad paths really.”

This is something she suggests may be due to the lack of identity instilled in them from a young age. “I think it’s important for people…” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of children in the care system who have almost jumped on a race thing when they get to a certain teenage age because they want to be accepted and they want to identify with something. And the stereotypes that they then start trying to identify with aren’t necessarily the best ones”

“I think if you can consistently just let people know about different aspects of who they are or where they’re from,” she went on to say, “and then just let them decide who they want to become.”

This is something that Antonia’s adoptive parents made sure to do. Born to Colombian Christian parents, Antonia was adopted at the age of six months old to American Jews.

“Catholicism has always been spiritually an important factor to my life. I was born a Catholic, my birth mother was Catholic and over 80% of the people in Colombia are Catholic too. My adopted parents are Sephardic Jews and raised me to make my own decisions on religion and spirituality. They never forced me into a religion but educated me on various faiths.”

This was something they ensured by sending Antonia to two Church of England schools and a Catholic school during her youth. “As a child I would go to Synagogue with my family for all the major holidays. December 25th we always celebrate Christmas. My parents attend mass to support me and we only decorate our tree with angels. The angels that hang from the branches are all multi-racial and international.”

Instilling a sense of ones culture and faith when it doesn’t match your own isn’t always so easy, however. “In some ways, I can see how it would help,” said Selina on the importance of a child’s heritage matching that of their adoptive parents. “My foster family had all daughters with long glossy manes like the shampoo advert, but I remember them having to get my hair shaved at the barbers, unsure basically, what to do with it.”

Selina went on to reveal how she used to have to wait for a black member of staff to come on duty at the children’s homes in order to have her hair washed or combed or for the right cream to be used on her black skin. “But these days people are more exposed to things and everything should be more accessible,” she added.

This is particularly poignant as a study conducted last year by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Essex University revealed that ten per cent of children are now of mixed or multiple heritage, and are six times more likely to be mixed-race than adults.

“People mix more, and are more exposed to different cultures… it’s all more accessible,” said Selina on whether she believed this to still be as large a problem. “When I was younger, there wasn’t much representation. If you weren’t in a black family, you weren’t really seeing much of black people beyond the athletes.”

She went on to suggest that it would now be a lot easier for families of a different race to their adopted children to have contact and support as well as the increased ability to gauge what issues affect different nationalities or ethnicities.

This is reportedly something social services help with. “Culture and race are a very important part of the assessment process,” revealed the manager of Diverse Care – a small, independent fostering agency based in Leytonstone, East London. She went on to reveal that as well as training carers on diversity issues; monthly checks are also conducted to ensure that the cultural needs of the child are met.

In addition, the spokeswoman revealed that if a child is placed with a family from another ethnic group, provisions can and are made for their cultural needs. “We ensure that there are links within the community that will be able to provide the child with the proper food and language skills,” she revealed, going on to provide an example of an African child who was recently placed with Asian carers. “We looked at the community in which they lived. We found other African people, an African church… people who could help instill in him a sense of his own identity.”

This is, however, harder in some areas than others, as she went on to reveal -citing in particular the example of carers who live in predominantly white areas where there aren’t really any other ethnic groups present. “Then there is an element of isolation,” she explains. “But in places like East London where we are based, there are people of all ethnic backgrounds. So no one will stick out.”

But, regardless, identity will always be something an adopted child struggles with, regardless of whether or not their adoptive parents come from the same culture or faith as them. Diverse Care’s spokesperson supported this notion, suggesting that there are always identity issues – even in mixed race families where the children are not adopted. “A lot of them see themselves as black rather than white. There is no firm identity of ‘oh, I am mixed race’ – a lot of them don’t know what to identify themselves as.”

This is further evidenced by Antonia’s experience: “I had issues with identity as a teenager. I would stare at myself in the mirror and not know where I got what from. Do I have my mother’s eyes? Why are my ears so small? I definitely have my dad’s nose…”

This issue with identity and in trying to find out who we are is arguably something all teenagers go through, regardless of whether adopted or not. Selina, now a mother of two supports this, arguing: “even within families, as soon as we hit our teen years, we start forming our own beliefs and culture anyway.”

The extent to which this differs depends on the attitude of the parents, as well as the society in which the child is raised.

“He always felt out of place,” said Hajar on her half Saudi, half Phillipino cousin who had been adopted by her grandmother in Saudi Arabia.

“I think if he grew up in London he wouldn’t have faced half of the issues that he faced,” she said, on the cousin who now perms his hair and has changed his name in an effort to appear more Arab.

Having grown up in a Bedouin, tribal society such as Saudi Arabia, Hajar went on to explain the differences in adoption legislation in the Gulf. “All the rights they give the child in the west isn’t the same at all. Its just that they live under your roof, you take care of them, you raise them, they go to school,” she explained.

Adoptive legislation in the Gulf region tends to resemble more of a foster-parent relationship. This is signified in the term itself, with the corresponding Islamic term for what is commonly called adoption: “kafala.” This, essentially means, “to feed.” The rules surrounding this relationship specify that, among other things, an adopted child retains their own biological surname and cannot inherit from their adoptive parents.

Seif’s sense of identity was made all the worse by society’s exclusion of him. “When we used to go play in the playgrounds people would say to him ‘what are you doing here, Phillipino child’ to his face… Society especially made him feel like an outsider,” she recalled.

But this type of identity crisis is not limited to Gulf countries with strict legislation and societal standards. Diverse Care’s spokeswoman went on to reveal that such cases do also arise in more Western countries such as the UK. She cited the example of a black African boy who just couldn’t accept his identity or his culture; revealing how he had bleached his skin and changed his name in an effort to find his identity, before eventually ending up in counseling.

“If you’re going to adopt someone okay, but try and do it in the right way so that they grow up to be the best person that they can be. It’s up to the person that’s adopting the child to make sure of that. To make sure they’re growing up in the right environment so that their ethnicity doesn’t have to clash with the families,” Hajar argued.

But in taking into consideration the importance of the child’s identity and their sense of belonging, what can be done to ameliorate the plight of children in care? And will the new legislation have an impact on the actual process of adoption?

Many argue no. “I would imagine that it would come more down to budgets and things,” suggested Selena. “It’s just one less barrier to making sure they get the right family and getting children off the books quickly.”

The manager of Diverse Care doesn’t really think the new legislation will hold much weight, either. “Most agencies will continue to match carer and child because we believe that’s in the best interest of the child,” she explained. “We believe children’s needs come first, and culture and race play a very important role in the identity of the child.”

“At the end of the day, we’re all human beings,” argued Hajar. “Look at Angelina Jolie for example – she’s got the United Colours of Benetton… at the end of the day we’re all human beings.”

The lesser of two evils? A loving home. Every time.

Why do we care more about the Paralympics now than ever before?

Seventeen days after the country, and the world, were held enamoured by the 2012 Olympics, a peak audience of 11.2 million tuned in to watch the opening ceremony of the Paralympics; a massive four times the number that tuned in to watch its last opening ceremony. And although this is significantly less than the 26.9 million that tuned in to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, coupled with the fact that ticket sales for the Paralympics have also been extraordinary, its undoubtedly a massive improvement

But why do we care more, now, than ever before? And what effect will this have on attitudes towards disability?

The existence of Martine Wright, a Paralympic athlete who lost both her legs in the 2005 London bombings is perhaps as good an example as any in terms of why over 14 million people, who previously didn’t really care about the Paralympics, now do.

After all, what’s more heartwarming, uplifting and inspiring than the tale of triumph overcoming adversity? Of strength and persistence transcending misfortune? And, as is human nature, this is all the more so when it’s something that could happen to any one of us. As one of the presenters at the Paralympics opening ceremony said after speaking to Martine, “fate is what happens to us, destiny is what we do with it.”

But why do we care so much more than we did four years ago? And suddenly, it clicks. We need this. We are a generation that is being told we will be the first, ever, to live worse than our parents. We are a generation that is struggling to find jobs, to find housing, to fund the lifestyles that are more and more being hailed as imperative. We need this.

And so our fascination with the Paralympics? Undeniably at the least partially linked to one simple fact; that every story ever told centers around one truth; that good will overcome evil. That faith will triumph in the face of difficulty.

Little Red Riding Hood beating the big, bad wolf, Snow White triumphing over the evil Queen, Paralympians conquering adversity. We need this.

“The Olympic athletes created role models for non-disabled people…” said Ben Rushgrove – a sprinter who has cerebral palsy and is due to compete in the 100m and 200m during this years Paralympic games.

“…The Paralympics I’m expecting will create role models for both disabled and non-disabled people. If people are impressed by the running of Usain Bolt for instance they might say: “I could never be that quick.” But what about the achievements of an athlete with one leg for example?”

Will it change attitudes on disability? How can they not? After all the good is the handicapable, and the bad are simply all those who don’t believe in the power of strength, hard work and perseverance.

Use of the ‘n word’ in hip hop music – Does it perpetuate racism?

“A word is only harmful when used to intentionally offend someone,” wrote Jay Z in “Decoded” – a book that accumulated the lyrics of many of his most famous offerings, and the meanings behind them. “Words are only as powerful as the context you place them in.”

But does this apply to the use of words such as “n*gger?” One that for years has been used to denounce black people – in particular African American slaves? Many – shockingly perhaps – argue that yes, it does.

The prevalence of the use of the word in hip-hop music has arguably greatly increased over the years. And with the crossing over of hip hop culture into the mainstream, one in which the majority of its consumers are white, middle class kids who in attempting to sing or rap along will undoubtedly use the word their ancestors would have once used to castigate the proprietors of the music – the question of why and how and should it be so prevalent, is an increasingly important one.

KRS-One, an American rapper that prides himself on his brand of conscious rap supports Jay Z’s ideology that a word only means what you want it to. “You’re confusing ‘nigger’ with ‘nigga,’ he said at a recent debate in London which asked the question of whether hip hop, as a genre, enhances or degrades society. “Nigga in the dictionary comes from the word negus – which means King.”

But not all agree with his point of view. “The whole issue of the n word being a term of endearment is asinine,” argues journalist Chris Williams. “It is not a term of endearment. It is the continuation of a 500 year old racist ideology.”

Dean Atta – a London based poet who recently went viral with his poem ‘I am nobody’s nigger,’ – a piece inspired by the death of Stephen Lawrence – agrees. “I just think it’s regressive,” he argued. “Using that word I still think most white people will hear you and just think you’re stupid. Because you’re still referring to yourself in a derogatory way. And a lot of black people will hear you use it and think you’re stupid because you are disrespecting the pain and suffering that our ancestors have been through.”

Dean goes on to liken the word to “bitch,” or “faggot,” adding “if a woman wants to call herself a bitch, if a black man wants to call himself a nigger, if a gay person wants to call themselves a faggot, that is their choice… but I wouldn’t really think they understood the extent of the word.”

DJ Snips – a hip hop DJ who also hosts his own, supremely popular hip hop club night in London disagrees with Atta on this aspect of the word and its usage. “I think that essentially in anything if you try and demoralize somebody and are derogatory against them, eventually people take ownership of what you threw at them. For example if you call a fat person fat for so long, eventually she’ll come out and be like ‘ya fuck it I’m fat, I’m proud to be fat.’”

But the question of who is using the word and the intentions behind it is an issue that was raised time and time again. “I have white and Asian friends who grew up around black people – some of whom actually act blacker than me – so can we blame them for using it amongst their peers?” argued music journalist Joseph Patterson.

Fem Fel – an up and coming UK based rapper who often uses the word in his own music, argues the same: “If I was to meet another group of friends and be like these are all my niggers and that’s Tom… you can’t do that,” he explained, “… my niggers are my niggers in that kind of sense.” But how each individual’s intentions could possibly be assessed is a question that cannot be so easily dismissed. And if the doors are left open for the word to be used in every day language, where are the locks that can stop its progression into other realms?

This is particularly poignant in light of the case of Iggy Azalea – a white, female rapper and her use of the n word in “Hustle Gang.” “Obviously it’s not a problem for rappers to use the word,” argued Snips, “but to a certain extent you have to look at the industry and think well, what did you expect? If you’re going to use the word so freely and acceptably and then target a majority white audience to sell your music, you can’t really be that surprised when they retake that word and think it’s acceptable to use it.”

Snips went on to argue that when he was younger and listening to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest he would never even have thought of utilizing the word, “because the music itself educates you in a way that you knew the origin of certain words and why you couldn’t say them,” he explains. “Nowadays I don’t think the music educates people.”

In speculating on why the word is so inherent in todays hip hop music, Chris Williams suggests that for many rappers who grew up in some of the poorest urban communities in the United States, the word was being used “ad nauseum,” infiltrating itself into their natural vernacular, this then trickled down into younger generations of rappers who followed their lead.

“It’s just what we grew up listening to,” agrees Fem Fel, adding “we grew up listening to it when we were having good times, when we were in a club… and 50 Cent or whoever else is talking… it wasn’t used in a derogatory way.” The rapper justified its use in his own music, arguing: “I don’t know who it offends anymore… It doesn’t offend my peers, I don’t know how it could offend white people… so that’s why I use it.”

Chris Williams goes on to explain that understanding where most of these MCs grew up makes it easier to understand why they use the word… “I can see why it’s hard for them to break a bad habit,” he adds, “but it can and must be done.”

The lack of education that is a common facet of much of todays mainstream, commercial hip-hop is part of an issue that is arguably inherent in the society itself. “What people think as black, what they want to be like when they say they want to be like their black mates is being niggerish,” argued Akala – an English rapper, poet and journalist who is most known for his positive influence within hip hop music.

“They don’t associate it with anything positive,” he went on to add. “So when they want to be clever they don’t copy the little Nigerian kids who get straight A’s… when they say they want to be like black people they don’t want to be like Malcolm X… they want to be niggerish. And we have to be clear on that difference.”

This discrepancy between being black and being ‘niggerish’ is something that needs to be tackled from the root up. The fact that there even is a distinction between the two arguably makes it all the more important to reassess the use of the word in hip hop music, and the argument that its use is reclaiming a word which once had negative connotations. In particular as evidently, to many, it still does.

Having grown up in the Southern states of America, Chris Williams reveals that the word stirs up many negative emotions for him. “I’ve been called that word to my face on numerous occasions,” he explains, adding “feelings of anger, frustration and sadness come over me when I hear the word.”

Its use is argued to be all the more baffling by the fact that no other ethnicities that are known by derisory euphemisms have ever turned one of those colloquial terms into something that they refer to themselves by. “No people in history have spoken about their children like hip hop does,” argued Shaun Bailey – David Cameron’s advisor on youth and crime – at the recent hip hop on trial debate. This is a stance shared by Akala, who argues that black people talk about killing black people all the time, whereas if a white person were to do it, it would be considered shocking, wrong and immoral.

“White terrorism essentially makes people scared, it make them nervous,” he argued. “But black deaths are entertaining. Rap music shows that.” He went on to illustrate by explaining how while in the studio with young black boys they often write lyrics the likes of “nigga, nigga, nigga, I’m killin’ ‘em, I’m killin’ ‘em.“ He goes on to explain how he’ll often ask these kids what the word nigga means, and what its origins are, to both counts they’d reply with the same monosyllabic response – “dunno.”

To this respect, many argue education to be an important aspect in changing attitudes. In particular if the word really is to be reclaimed. But the extent to which not all believe in that stance is evident in the response Atta received for his poem. “In a day it was like 8,000 people had listened to it and now its come up to 40,000… I’ve been written about in the Guardian, the Huffington post and been featured on the radio, as well as contacted by the Stephen Lawrence trust.”

So if so many people feel so strongly about it, why is nothing being done? “The music industry in general is all about what sells,” explains Atta. “And if it keeps selling then they’ll keep saying it.”

To those that argue that the word has been reclaimed, Chris Williams says: “that’s a complete cop out and bullshit for those who aren’t strong enough to change the environment that perpetuates this nonsense… enough is enough. The madness must stop.”

Should artists have their music released after they die?

At a time where technology allows the resurrection of musics late, great artists, the likes of Tupac to reappear unblemished before us via hologram, and posthumous albums emerge seemingly from nowhere, is there anything left sacred? And should Drake – or anyone, for that matter – be releasing music on someone else’s behalf?

With the emergence of ‘Enough Said’ several days ago – Aaliyah’s ‘duet’ with Drake on the Noah “40” Shebib produced track – the interwebs erupted and divided into two very clear sects; those who believed the track is awesome, and those who believed that Drake’s Aaliyah super fan status did not attribute him worthy to executive produce her posthumous album, and that someone like Timbaland or Missy Elliott should instead be awarded the honour.

But, the question of who is the reverse grim-reaper aside, perhaps it’s more important to consider if it’s ever acceptable to release someone’s music after they die. After all, isn’t their music the gift awarded to them, and us in turn? Shouldn’t they be the ones to decide how to package and present it?

This question is all the more important with new information which reveals that Aaliyah’s family have denied any and all involvement in her posthumous album. ”There is no official album being released and supported by the Haughton family,” said the late singer’s brother, Rashad Haughton.

Having obtained some of Aaliyah’s previously unreleased vocal tracks, Young Money’s Drake added his own verse in which he brags about his watch, laments various first world pains and appears to further diss Chris Brown after their brawl in a nightclub several months ago.

The extent of or lack of Drake’s prowess is not something that particularly needs to be covered in this discussion but, who said Aaliyah wants any of that on one of her tracks?! (Who said she was happy with those vocals to begin with or that she wanted them heard by the world?) But more importantly – who is Drake to change the legacy Aaliyah left behind?

Music producer Flying Lotus appears to feel the same way, saying “When I’m dead, don’t mess with my music. Don’t be having whoever ‘finish’ my demos n shit. Fuck that.”

Someone once said: “art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in,”and as such, what emerges his wholly personal, and special, and private. That art and the people who bare their souls to provide this art become stars and phenomenons should not take away from the heart of the matter. Namely, that art is a form of expression, and as such, that the power, or the meaning, or the substance behind it should not be borrowed, or lent, or stolen.

Written for SB.TV