Posts Tagged ‘racism’

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london calling.

August 6, 2010

So I’m in London again spending the weekend with Toby, and already it’s turning out to be a sociable weekend. Toby left me in bed this morning to go to work (which felt half sad, half decadent) and since then I’ve been out to meet up with my friend Sarah for the first time in ages. She texted me impromptu, said she was free, was I free, and we took it from there!  Caught up on lots of gossip and exchanged stories about our lives, a lot has changed! After that I went to Oxford Circus, where I wandered around the shops, picked up Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis I: The Chase Suite and Vivian Green’s Beautiful albums, went to Selfridges for the first time and had to resist spending £30 on a Thierry Mugler book, and decided not to go anywhere for lunch there because all the cafés were ridiculously crowded.

So as the weather was overcast but pleasant, I decided to walk through Hyde Park to Knightsbridge, where I am now writing upstairs in a very crowded, cramped Starbucks while I drink a strawberries & cream frappuccino. After this, I intend to walk to the Saatchi Gallery (I’m doing a lot of walking in an effort to keep fit and also do some sightseeing along the way!) and have a cultural afternoon wandering around there before going to meet Toby at Gloucester Road once he finishes work.  I bank on a relaxed evening tonight eating something yummy and hopefully watching Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which I purchased last week on a whim and fell in love with (unnecessary racist caricature Mr. Yunioshi aside). Tomorrow Toby, Claire (his housemate), Nana and I intend to go shopping round Westfield before we have Toby’s housewarming neon-themed party in the evening. Then it’s back home Sunday afternoon!

This is basically an itinerary, but I wanted to jot it all down to show how exciting London is.  I’ve been here for 3 long weekends now, and although at first in the face of ‘real London’ (I’d only ever been to Leicester Square and Oxford Street in the past), I felt lost and swamped, I’ve grown to love its sprawling commerce coupled with quiet, sedate residential areas that make Bristol look like a grimy speck in comparison to LDN’s magnitude. Sure, I haven’t explored all of London and I haven’t yet been around any of the rougher areas, but I like what I’ve seen so far.  In addition, it’s refreshing to enjoy a speedy, reliable public transport system (the Underground) which makes Bristol’s bus system look pathetic, and I love bumping into my friends and being able to socialise at a moment’s notice, which to be fair I can do in Bristol.

Two other things I’ve learned:

  • Walking around London with a full bag carrying my laptop is agony after a while!
  • My love affair for Starbucks does not apply to London. The Starbuckses here are crowded and cramped, and I was refused my free filter coffee refill here.  On this count, Bristol comes out firmly on top, because the service is nice and friendly, and the cafés are relaxing, tranquil places to go rather than a fight over seating space. Nevertheless, I’ve manoeuvred myself into a nice corner and am happily typing away on my laptop, so it’s not all bad!

Could I see myself living in London in the future? It depends what happens; I’m not thinking about that right now as I’m about to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday 16th, and I intend to stay there for at least a couple of years; in a year’s time, I’m hoping to do the masters in Careers Guidance at UWE and hopefully gain an MA in Education.  I also appreciate that while London is exciting because it’s a big step up from Bristol in terms of its urban landscape, fast pace of life and shopping potential, I enjoy the fact that Bristol (although it’s a fairly-sized city) now feels intimate and familiar, and I have plenty of friends there as well as my family, whom I wouldn’t want to be far from (although they drive me mad on the regular). It depends how Toby and I progress as a couple too; where he sees his future is going to have a large impact on where I see mine.  I try not to talk about it too much because I don’t want to get too heavy and risk freaking him out, but I feel like now that I’ve overcome all of my initial neuroses about our relationship, I can see myself being with him for a long time. So I’m prepared to compromise to be where he wants to be, and I’m sure he’ll do the same for me.  Watch this space. But my priorities for now are car, move out into my own flat, tone stomach and allow my relationship to continue to grow. 🙂

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

I just got home from my nan’s.  For the second part of my journey, I took the number 6 from town to Kingswood, and while I was on the bus, a group of Somali women were having a conversation.  Suddenly, an English woman (I’m guessing about 55 years old; she was certainly older than my mother, who is 50) turns around and yells at them “Would you please shut up?!?!” After everyone looks up, shocked, she continues her diatribe: “Natter natter (with hand gesture), shut the fuck up or get off the bus.”  The women began to protest, but the woman just got angrier and nastier, and the Somali women ended up getting off the bus at that stop.  The English woman yelled after them “Fucking go home to your own country!” After a beat of shocked silence from all the passengers, the driver (who was mixed race himself) got up and challenged the woman.  “They are allowed to chat if they want, everyone here is just trying to get home, there is no reason to disrupt anyone else’s journey or otherwise YOU will have to get off the bus.” At this point, the woman went to get off the bus, and the bus driver said “Ma’am, you can take your seat, but please respect other customers because we all paid to use this bus, and please enjoy your journey.”  The woman sat back down, but then got off at the next stop (I wonder if she was not too bothered about getting off the bus if she was only getting off at the next stop anyway?), and the rest of the bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I was shocked that in 2010, such blatant racism still exists.  Well, I am shocked and I am not; I’m not naive and I know very well that racism is very much alive and well, but I was shocked to be present at such an outrageous and blatant display of it.  I was tempted to say something myself, but at the same time it was not my place to get involved; these women are old enough and strong enough to defend themselves, and quite rightly the driver made a stand for his bus and for the passengers on it; he is running the service, not me or any of the other passengers.  I wonder however, if the driver had not said anything, whether I would have been brave enough to say something? Plenty of things sprang to my mind; to challenge her and say that if her problem was with the volume at which these women were speaking, then instead of yelling at them and thus making herself a hypocrite, she should just ask them politely if they could talk more quietly.  If this wasn’t the case, it would have exposed her own racism without saying any more (racism she already exposed with her parting comment to them as they got off the bus).  I felt like saying that if her problem was with the fact that these women were not English (I know this woman was English just by coincidence, as I saw her loudly supporting England at Rewind when I was out watching the game with my friends from uni on Friday night – she had memorable cuts and grazes on her elbow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same woman), then should I get off the bus too as I am half-Italian, and I would not be here if my family had not come from another country to live here?  Until she knows the story of these Somali woman, who is she to judge whether they have (on a journey which they paid for, just like the rest of the passengers) less of a right to be on the bus and talk on the bus than her?  If I were speaking to my friends in Spanish, French or Italian, would I be less entitled to talk on the bus than if I were speaking in English? Does the fact that my skin barely looks any different to an English person’s (I am a tiny tiny bit more tanned, but it’s negligible) mean that I am not as mixed-race, or as ethnically diverse, as someone with a different skin colour? Am I entitled to the same rights as an English person simply because I speak native English, have an English surname and my skin is light; in return for these rights do I have to sacrifice my own ethnic background in the process just to fit in?

When I lived in Spain, if someone had spoken to me in that way because I was speaking English on the phone or to my family, I would have been utterly outraged.  Are we literally rewinding back to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in the USA, before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement? It felt like it.  Another thing I wanted to point out was that, as a result of my colleague Clare’s presentation on breaking down cultural barriers in guidance, I know that Bristol is considered a popular (if that is the right word) destination for asylum seekers and refugees coming from all over the world, because it is considered a racially-tolerant city in England. This is my hometown, my city, and I am proud of that fact.  By demonstrating such a racially-intolerant attitude, this woman is not only giving a bad example of herself, but of Bristol as a city and of England as a country; in actual fact, she is making herself look stupid and only propagating bad feeling for foreign people, whatever their reason or length of stay in England, which in turn only reinforces cultural barriers rather than breaking them down.  We’re in 2010; this should never have been happening, but it should certainly not be happening in this day and age.  And so I felt that if I didn’t speak up on the bus at the time (and it turned out that it wasn’t my place, nor did I have to – quite rightly, the driver did so), the least I could do was recount the event on here and spread more awareness that these attitudes still exist in our country and are very much alive in everyday life and situations.  This needs to change, and this entry is my little contribution; in my forthcoming job as a Personal Tutor at Cirencester College, one of the things I may well have to do in both interviews and group sessions is work on challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

Funnily enough, only earlier my nan and I were discussing the nature of football fans (topical considering that it is currently the World Cup).  English fans, deservedly or undeservedly, have a reputation for being violent, thuggish and neanderthal-like throughout Europe and possibly worldwide.  At the bar on Friday night, there was a fair amount of brainless chanting, stomping and cursing; but then, England did play poorly and I suppose that if so many people are passionate about this, it amasses a certain amount of volume.  I personally don’t like that kind of behaviour, but in itself it’s not racist; it’s only when it either causes damage or turns nasty against other ethnicities, races or against people of other countries that it’s inexcusable.  Nevertheless, I believe in conducting myself in a dignified way at all times whenever and wherever possible; by living up to hooligan stereotypes, England fans only propagate this image of themselves nationally and internationally; it’s not vogue and it doesn’t do the country or the sport any favours.  What’s more, my nan made a very good point that why do many England fans only support England during the football; if they really liked football, why do they not watch or show any interest in the matches involving other countries? Is it about the sport, or is it about the country? If it is about the country, why act so intimidating when watching the football (as opposed to other sports)? Surely this only sends out the wrong kind of message, a bad example to everyone – that this is how England fans behave, and that this country accepts that behaviour as tolerable and normal for football fans towards each other, and towards other people both from this country and from outside it?  I know that there are plenty of people who support England in the World Cup who don’t act this way – a lot of my friends fall under this category – and if I were them I would be somewhat embarrassed and angry that this reputation precedes me.  Everyone is entitled to behave in their own way, but I really wish we considered the feelings and cultures of others more than we do.

A final anecdote, in case I sound holier than thou – I’m not perfect.  When I was 12 years old, I once used a racial slur – I am ashamed to say.  Even more stupidly, it was towards a friend of mine whom I had known for 7 or 8 years by that time; he was acting in a very irritating way during a DT lesson, and out of sheer frustration and for pure shock value, I told him to “shut up you Paki”. Now, I am not racist nor have I ever been – so why portray myself in that way? Even though I was a child, I knew better before and after that event, and yet I did it. It had the desired effect, but I belittled myself by doing it, and my friend (to his credit) handled it very classily by laughing and saying in response to my immediate apology: “Um, no offence taken because I am Indian so that’s not what I am”.  His response made me feel all the more ashamed because not only had I attempted to use a racist expression in order to shut him up, I had used it in an incorrect context; it showed up my foolish behaviour for what it was.  Our friendship did not suffer for it; in fact I believe that the event was all but forgotten by breaktime, but it taught me a valuable lesson: that kind of behaviour is never acceptable, never appropriate, and never necessary.  I apologised profusely and he forgave me, but even recalling that incident makes me feel ashamed 12 years on; I was old enough to know better, and the lessons I learned as a result of that event are the redeeming factor; I have never thought or acted in that way since, and I am now in a position of responsibility to challenge others who do so. During a practice day, I successfully challenged one young person’s attitude to immigrants and the labour market; during my job at Cirencester, I anticipate doing this kind of thing more.  In this blog entry, I have also tried to challenge this behaviour.  Thankyou for reading.

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take off running.

April 4, 2010

Happy Easter everyone!  I am fast becoming a bit of a scrooge, dreading any kind of holiday because it means not that I will have to spend money (something that I have absolutely no trouble doing, as you should all know by now) but because there will be some form of family gathering. Today hasn’t been as bad as Christmas, because there are buses running and I have taken refuge in Starbucks after a quick dinner with my parents and grandmother – I’ve even accomplished some work (wonders never cease)!  But discussing my current relationship with my family yesterday with Davina and Frankie, and reminiscing over my historical experience of family gatherings with Hannah on msn earlier today, it’s not really a surprise that being in these kind of situations makes me uncomfortable.  So making a swift (but polite – I thanked my dad for a lovely Easter lunch and gave my nan an appreciative hug, promising that I would see her again soon) exit makes sense and allows me to preserve my own good mood and sanity.

When I was younger, every 27th December (roughly) we would drive up to London (or thereabouts) to see my father’s side of the family for a Christmas gathering.  The venue would rotate each year depending on who was hosting the gathering, and to be fair the food was nice enough and I don’t remember anyone being particularly nasty to me.  However, I do remember the competitive atmosphere between my father and his siblings – comparing families’ progress and ‘success’, wealth, partners and so on.  Being from Bristol, we were the “poor relations” in comparison with the other families who would pretend to be upper class right down to their accents, and my mother being Italian led to a sense of exclusion and some prodding jokes from certain members of the family (this is racism!).  Despite the fact that my father was largely absent during my childhood, and when he was there he was either drunk, argumentative and mentally / verbally abusive, or sleeping, my intelligence (which, much to their chagrin, undeniably outclassed all of my more “well-to-do” cousins – money doesn’t buy smarts, and I promise that in this case I’m not being up myself, it’s just the truth) and good traits were attributed to him rather than to my mother (who raised me more or less single-handed).  Because of this, and because of the fact that the other members of this family were largely self-absorbed to the point of being imbecilic, I didn’t really enjoy these yearly outings, because it seemed like a lot of chest-puffing and bravado for no real purpose.

My grandmother (the head of that side of the family, who seemed to portray herself as the Queen) died when I was 17. From the age of 17, we never had any more of those yearly gatherings. Nearly all of my father’s siblings’ marriages (and some of my cousins’ relationships) broke apart, one aunt declared she was a lesbian and moved her secret girlfriend in, and we never heard from them again.  In other words, all that competitiveness and fuckery had been for show, for my grandmother.  For what purpose, who knows? Interestingly, for all the dysfunction and stress in my family, we stayed together through thick and thin, and I had always got on better with my mother’s side of the family (though they are far from perfect), even though they were from another country – gasp!  But I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not, and that’s the same issue that drives me crazy now, but in a different way.

I can’t be an angel for my grandmother (the one who’s still alive, obv) – I never really was an angel, but I’ve gotten darker over the past year.  I’m 24 years old and I can’t be treated like I’m 12 by anyone – I am not on drugs, I don’t have an eating disorder or a gambling addiction and I find it frankly insulting to be accused of those things by my mother, the woman to whom I was so close during my childhood.  Shouldn’t she know me better?  Shouldn’t she credit me with more intelligence, show me more respect?  Has everything I’ve accomplished, the fact I’ve never gotten into trouble – does that all mean nothing?  It really hurts me when I have to suffer those things, even if they’re just jibes, coming from my family – the people who are supposed to be on my side more often than not feel like they are against me now, when I’m just being myself and having my own independent thoughts, opinions and life.  I refuse to compromise, I refuse to conform – I’m an adult, why should I? And shouldn’t my family be proud that I am my own man with my own mind? I don’t understand why I have to give itemised accounts of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve eaten. That’s why these days, given the slightest opportunity, I’ll take off running out the door, because my friends (the only family I feel I have these days), my sanity, my freedom is out there.

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caged bird.

September 17, 2009

“Right now I feel like a bird
Caged without a key
Everyone comes to stare at me
With so much joy and reverie

They don’t know how I feel inside
Through my smile, I cry
They don’t know what they’re doing to me
Keeping me from flying
That’s why I say that

I know why the caged bird sings
Only joy comes from song
He’s so rare and beautiful to others
Why not just set him free

So he can fly, fly, fly
Spreading his wings and his songs
Let him fly, fly, fly
For the whole world to see”

–  “Caged Bird”, Alicia Keys (Songs In A Minor)

I was listening to this song on the way to work this morning, and I remember I used to empathise with the lyrics so, so much.  I really used to feel like I was in a golden cage.  I was always very good at school, getting top marks, and I consistently made my parents proud.  Whether it was my perfect results, glowing reports from teachers, the fact I never did drugs or drink or really anything stupid, I was not an angel but I was a pretty good kid.  And yet I wasn’t happy.  My parents had a very tempestuous relationship, every time I ‘acted up’ (be it legitimately or just deviating from the strict guidelines of my family) I was reprimanded, and I felt effectively like the moment I put a foot wrong, despite all of my success and demonstrated maturity, I would have pleased those who wanted me to fail and let down those who told me I had a bright future ahead of me but secretly hoped, almost expected me to fall down at some point.  It wasn’t easy, and sometimes (though I’m glad to say, more occasionally these days) I still feel that way.  The friends that I had at school called me names because I was good at academic stuff, because I was gay, but in the end I grew a thick skin and somehow ended up popular – but it’s all nothing, because however people perceived me (particularly back then), it was rarely anything close to who I actually am.  Sometimes people just see a certain part of your façade and choose to put in you in a box that’s easier for them to understand, despite the fact that they may pigeon hole you incorrectly.  So I also felt “caged” in that respect, that my peers would look at me as having ‘everything’ (not being as wealthy as most of them, but having more brains in spite of that – as if the two were connected! Winning awards and positions of responsibility, having a fair amount of friends – even though in the long run they didn’t last – and being able to look nice in my later years only added to this perception that I was lucky.  And I was lucky, but not in the ways that they thought.) but in reality I was a different person and my life was not as easy and carefree as they perceived it to be (especially when they would try to make it more difficult!).

But listening to the song, I didn’t feel that it was ‘my song’ the way I used to, and I guess that is a very good thing.  I don’t feel ‘caged’ anymore.  I have power over my own destiny and have done since I left Oxford.  I may still live at home, but it was my decision this time to go back to university; it was me who got my new job at the BRI (something which was finally a breakthrough from retail); it is me who will decide to learn to drive.  I mean, my results and my decisions were always my responsibility, but now I am 23 I am old enough to say and decide what I want to do without family or friends influencing me or saying I should do this or that.  Well, they may still make plenty of recommendations, but I choose whether to listen and I don’t feel obligated to follow their advice anymore.  I guess it’s a sign of getting older, but people are finally accepting that I have common sense and I have my own reasons for deciding to do what I want to do and how I want to do it.  And those reasons are respected.  It’s a good feeling – although everyone enjoys feeling like they are the underdog in a perverse way, it’s refreshing to finally feel like I am in charge of my destiny (regardless what anyone says!).  Sometimes it is hard living up to people’s expectations, and sometimes I might breakdown, but I know that those expectations are primarily my own expectations.  I am hard on myself and I guess that I always with me.  But if I’m alright with me, then that’s the most important thing.

I love this song because it also reminds me of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, which I am still only midway through – once I finish American Psycho (which will be soon), I may try and finish it, though the book is so damn big it’s not practical to carry it around with me.  We’ll see.  But at the same time that our problems are always biggest to us whereas in the context of the whole world they may be quite small, compared to things such as racial injustice, rape, and other things that Maya Angelou went through that I have no personal experience of, there’s nothing wrong with me or my life.  It’s just a work in progress.  And I like to think that that is quite healthy.

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my favourite song – Mariah Carey – Outside.

July 17, 2009

The second song in this little feature that I’m doing is truly one of my ultimate favourite songs from my ultimate favourite singer Mariah Carey.  I remember for my 12th birthday, my nan bought me her new album at the time, the incomparable Butterfly, and I played it to death.  It was my first Mariah Carey album, I pretty much bought all her others as a result, and the way that I sing and my musical taste has been heavily influenced by this woman, and by this album.  My favourite song on this album is the closer “Outside”.

The song is a powerful, personal ballad which has a slow 6/8 time signature and a lush R&B backing (the ending of the electric piano is one of my favourite sounds/instruments) to compliment Mariah’s masterful vocals, which start off by emphasising the fragility of the lyrics and end up soaring over the gospel arrangement of the bridge, at once empowering both the singer and the listener.  I could rhapsodise about Mariah Carey and probably fill a book, but she is, IMO, the consummate singer/songwriter/producer of our generation.  She is a target of blame and a butt of jokes, but at the end of the day she has the best voice around, the most successful track record in popular music, a wonderful body and has no apparent vices or addictions.  On this song, I believe she is at her best.

Looking at the lyrics (included below), the song could be about a multitude of issues that cause people to feel alienated in their lives.  Be it homophobia, feeling insecure about your appearance or your intelligence, relationship troubles in either a romantic or a familial sense, the song encompasses a variety of situations and sentiments.  I believe the song is primarily about racism and the identity quest of being mixed-race, as Mariah has more or less stated this in interviews as well as being very vocal and open about her own racial identity and the prejudice she endured as a mixed-race child growing up in Long Island.  Although being gay I have endured some teasing and prejudice at both school and the workplace (though nothing serious, and I guess I handled it ok), the way I primarily identify with the song, and why it means so much to me (apart from the common sentiment that we’re all alone in the end etc.) is because I am mixed-race too.

Unlike Mariah, I have never endured any direct prejudice because of it.  In fact, to look at me, I am your typical white British male; except that’s not what I am. I am half-Italian and was primarily raised by the Italian side of my family (who came to live in Bristol about 45 years ago).  I’ve always felt more at home with that side of the family, and although I am gay and very in touch with technology, fashion and the media as popular culture, a part of me is still connected to the old-fashioned family values and Catholic traditions with which I was raised.  So there’s both a conflict and contradiction in my identity, and the fact that I fill in “White British” on forms (which quite possibly compounds the problem!) is purely because it is easier than having to explain to people my racial background every time someone raises an eyebrow at me.  After a short while, having to fill every single person in on my backstory and family tree gets very tiring, and I have to field questions such as:

“But you were born in England, so you’re English really.”  Um, I never said I wasn’t English, but if someone was half-Japanese and was born in England, you would probably still call them Asian, right?  Or Asian-British.  But because my mother is a blonde Italian who didn’t manage to bestow on me olive skin nor black curly hair, I must be exaggerating my background and be “English really”. No, not really.

“Wow, you don’t look Italian.” No I don’t.  Nor does my mother, but she was born there.  Appearances can be deceptive.

“Being half-Italian doesn’t make you mixed-race.” This is my ‘favourite’ misconception.  I don’t understand why so many people believe this, because if I were half-Spanish (another Mediterranean country, a very similar language, another very Catholic-centric culture – at least historically) nobody would dream of saying this to me.  I would be hispano-British or “Latino”.  But because it’s Italy, it doesn’t count.  Well, get real – in any case, Latin came from Italy not Spain bish bye.  Race is more than just the colour of your skin.  So rather than being discriminated against because of who or what I am, I’ve experienced a sort of “reverse prejudice” where people aren’t really ready to acknowledge who I am because they look at me and have already categorised me as someone or something else.

So that is why the lyrics of this song are so important and personal to me, and why I identify with it so much.  I used to sing along with the Butterfly album all the time, and time and again I’d tackle this song.  And out of all the songs on the cd, I found this one the hardest because the topics explored, the music and the vocal treatment were beyond my years.  Mariah Carey performs this song so perfectly that I don’t think I could ever do it justice, let alone better her treatment of it.  So I just listen and respect and let my emotions flow whenever I put it on my iPod or my CD player, and I hope that it touches you also.  Please listen to it, read the lyrics, and I hope you enjoy this song because it is very close to my heart.

It’s hard to explain
Inherently it’s just always been strange
Neither here nor there
Always somewhat out of place everywhere
Ambiguous
Without a sense of belonging to touch
Somewhere halfway
Feeling there’s no one completely the same

Standing alone
Eager to just
Believe it’s good enough to be what
You really are
But in your heart
Uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the
Outside

Early on, you face
The realization you don’t
have a space
Where you fit in
And recognize you
Were born to exist

Standing alone
Eager to just
Believe it’s good enough to be what
You really are
But in your heart
Uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the
Outside

And it’s hard
And it’s hard
And it’s hard

Irreversibly
Falling in between
And it’s hard
And it’s hard
To be understood
As you are
As you are
Oh, and God knows
That you’re standing on your own
Blind and unguided
Into a world divided
You’re thrown
Where you’re never quite the same
Although you try-try and try
To tell yourself
You really are
But in your heart-uncertainty forever lies
And you’ll always be
Somewhere on the outside

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the end of an era.

July 1, 2009

Obviously, with the recent death of Michael Jackson, a lot of people have been using the phrase “I feel like a part of my childhood has died”.  As a fan not of Michael (the only album of his that I bought was Dangerous, and I still play it but don’t feel any pull to purchase any of the others) but of his sister Janet, I didn’t echo the sentiment in that particular case (although obviously his death did sadden me), but the following news does make me reminisce.

VIBE magazine is shutting down next month.  For those who don’t know, this is a magazine from the US that covers R&B, hip hop and occasionally other genres of music.  There are also urban fashion spreads, and the odd political essay covering both American politics and the treatment of racism and sexuality in both the US and countries such as Cuba, Mexico and Jamaica (to name but a few).  In short, the magazine is aimed at “black culture”.  I bought my first issue when I was 13 and have been following it ever since (that’s 10 years! which has just struck me, as I think about it.  A decade is a long time!), buying more often than not, though occasionally leaving it on the stand if the cover story didn’t attract me and there weren’t any articles inside to pull my wallet out my pocket.  Here is a picture of that first cover:

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

I remember having just purchased TLC’s album “FanMail” (one of my ultimate favourites to this day!!!) and it had rocked my world.  Looking back, I always had liked R&B music but I was only becoming conscious of it, and therefore purchasing Vibe magazine allowed me to begin exploring the genre and fed my mind.  As I expanded my tastes and learned of new artists (some of whom I listen to on the regular now), I also appreciated the long interviews which were actually informative, as well as the more mature articles. And some of the clothes were ridiculous!  At 13, reading a magazine where profanity was used not purposely to shock, but just because that was how people spoke was an eye-opener to me (hence shocking me all the same, haha!) but also refreshingly honest and mature.  In short, it opened my eyes and became part of my childhood, my adolescence.  Of course, carrying around such a magazine at that age raised the eyebrows of some of my peers at school, who had never heard of most of the artists and had no interest (this was the time when indie was in, and most teenagers in the UK were more into the Offspring and Travis than TLC, Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey and Aaliyah) beyond Eminem, who had just come out and caused quite a stir!  (doesn’t that take you back!?)

I did get comments such as “Alan, you’re not black, why are you reading that?” “Who are they? Never heard of them…” “Is that a porn magazine?” (ok, that was one person who got excited by the bikinis but there was occasional nudity, though it was tasteful and could never be termed pornographic, not in a million years) To people who didn’t understand why I listened to the music that I did because I was “white”, I have two responses: a) I’m half Italian, so technically that makes me mixed race anyway (though to look at me I am very “white”-looking so I don’t usually tend to argue! I can understand the mistake and usually accept it). b) Though music is certainly geared towards certain demographics, there are no laws saying what I can and can’t listen to, what genres I can and can’t buy.  It’s a free country, at least in that respect.  Open your minds!

So this magazine did form a large part of my growing up, expanding my musical tastes well beyond Bristol radio and UK music channels (which have a pretty narrow selection IMO, excluding MTV Base), and opening my eyes to both decent journalism and fashion!  Without VIBE, I would be a different person, without a shadow of a doubt.  Music is so fundamental to me, and VIBE certainly fed my need to grow and to expand and to learn about music that I was becoming interested in.  And I am sad it’s closing, despite the fact that I can’t deny it has recently lost its allure.  The articles were more glossy and less probing, the magazine had become half the size it used to be, comprising both less adverts and less articles.  The editorial staff seemed to change every few months, and the variety of features that used to be present in the magazine when I first bought it had been rejigged and slimmed down so much … In a way I am not surprised at VIBE’s closure, because it’s become a diet version of the magazine it used to be (I don’t believe I’m wearing rose-tinted glasses on that one), but I am saddened nonetheless.  Here is a picture of the final cover courtesy of Toya’s World:

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

It’s eye-catching, but hardly iconic in the way that Toni Braxton and Foxy Brown’s nude poses, TLC’s cover dressed as firefighters, Jennifer Lopez’s see-through dress and Tupac’s strait-jacket cover were.  Nudity by this point is passé, and though Christina Milian is undeniably a hottie, for a last issue this cover comes across as a slightly bizarre choice.  Nevertheless VIBE will be missed, despite recent racist accusations by peeps such as Robin Thicke who deserved one cover story at the very least, being one of the best new urban artists to come out in recent years despite not being black!  When he was refused the cover story, his light skin was largely assumed to be the reason why and that was a big shock to me as a non-black reader who thought that as a magazine that very much fought for racial equality, this was backwards.  But for the R&B / hip hop journalistic arena to be reduced solely to The Source, that makes me sad because I’m not a black thug (the audience The Source exclusively seems to aim for) and the features are more geared towards a revolving-door cast of rappers (both washed-up and too new to have earned their stripes) rather than respecting true talent and people who can truly sing as well as spit rhymes.  But maybe that’s just me growing older, and all I can hope is that 13 year olds picking up that magazine are as inspired and intrigued as I was 10 years ago buying my first issue of VIBE.