Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

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born this way.

February 28, 2011

First of all, so that the title is not completely misleading, here is Lady GaGa’s new video:

I like this video, and as a result the song is growing on me. Sure, the song rips off Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, and the video for that song is iconic. But I like the various effects, I like the grandiose opening monologue (although “temporal” is not the opposite of “eternal”, and there were flashes of Janelle Monáe’s ArchAndroid inspiration hither and thither), and I most of all like what the song stands for. This will be the focus of my blog tonight, in a roundabout way.

I have a couple of friends on twitter who were really touched by Lady GaGa’s new song, and found it an anthem for them to be proud of who they are. For me, not so much – I think that the lyrics are at times clumsy and facile, and I don’t feel at this point in my life that I need a song to reassure me that “it’s okay to be gay”. Mariah Carey’s “Outside” did that for me nicely when I was 12. But just because I personally am past that point, doesn’t mean that the sentiment is not good – whether calculated or not, I commend Lady GaGa for her work against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, her promotion of AIDS awareness and safe sex, and her embracing of all fans.

Anyways, I was reading the latest issue of LOVE magazine this weekend while I was in London with Toby, and the focus of the issue is androgyny. In particular, I was struck by an interview with transsexual model Lea T, who is famous for being cast by Riccardo Tisci in the latest Givenchy campaign.

Transsexual models generally don’t make it into the mainstream; but Lea T has not only accomplished this, but has been more than upfront about her transsexuality. In the interview with LOVE, she says:

“From the start I want to talk about being transsexual… We have to be proud of who we are. I’m trying to change things, in my own small way… If you don’t tell people, you’re basically saying that there’s something wrong with it.”

I find this admirable, because in such a public arena it must be frightening, liberating, nerve-wracking and a hundred other emotions to expose such an intimate aspect of your personality, your sexuality, your self. And I got to thinking about myself and my sexuality. In my work, in my personality, in my day to day life, I don’t hide my sexuality, but I don’t go out and about to promote it either. I never wanted my sexuality to be the defining characteristic of who I am; I didn’t want people to focus on my homosexuality and put everything else as second best. Is this the right attitude? I would definitely say that I am proud of myself; I am proud of my boyfriend, I am proud of our relationship. I guess that would make me proud to be gay. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily want to embody the gay stereotypes of being effeminate, promiscuous, pink glitter and camp because I don’t feel that that is who I am. I’m not exactly butch, but I am just myself and being gay is a part of that. It’s not the whole.

Nevertheless, working in a college with teenagers, should I be more upfront about my sexuality? Would that set the right example? I have a picture of Toby and I on my desk that I don’t need to point out to anyone, but students can and do see it. I never lie about going to see my boyfriend at the weekend, if students happen to ask. Is there a difference between choosing not to actively broadcast your sexual preference, and denying it? I like to think so – I don’t lie about my boyfriend, about the fact that I like men. What for? I am not ashamed of it, and at this point in my life I feel more or less secure in my sexuality – so I am happy to identify as gay. I know that homosexuality is much more mainstream, much more accepted than it has been; a lot more remains of the journey towards accepting transsexuality as mainstream. So I understand Lea T’s desire to be upfront and bold about her sexuality – she is opening doors, and for that I totally salute and respect her. But what do you think? I believe that I am who I am and I don’t need to broadcast my sexuality, just as I don’t need to broadcast my religious beliefs or marital status. However, would it sometimes be beneficial to my students to have an older role model who is openly gay, but also embodies many other positive things? It’s a tricky one.

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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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quiet storm track walkthrough (part iv).

November 20, 2009

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

Okay, this is the final part of the stories behind the tracks on my album Quiet Storm.  Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be viewed if you click on those little numbers, and I want to thank everyone once and again for supporting my album and my blog.  I really appreciate it, and I hope that these behind-the-music notes have added a little to your enjoyment of my music.  On with the show!

18. Role Model (Interlude)

This was originally an entire song which was a rap song with a sung chorus. You can hear the original full version on my High Fashion mixtape but although the lyrics were kinda cool, I wasn’t too keen on my flow in places and I thought that I would rather not have the raps as part of my album.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the idea of the chorus and feeling misrepresented in society as a young person, a gay man, a singer, my music tastes, where I come from, my heritage… all those things are categorised and yet how many of us actually fit the stereotypes for those categories?  I felt that it led into the next song well, as it is about exposing who I am as a person, and not letting anyone’s pigeon holes or preconceived notions dictate who I am.  This is me, and this is…

19. The Truth

This song is probably the most heartfelt I’ve been in any of my songs recorded to date.  It discusses my relationship with my family, life and death, my emotional state and insecurities, my childhood, my education, and music.  It is the truth of who I am – sometimes we feel sad or hard done by, and other times we remember how happy we have been and whatever happens, we just have to keep going and get on with it anyway.  This song is a bit scratchy due to the fact that I have recorded myself playing acoustic guitar on the track (yes, that is me!) and it didn’t work perfectly, though I think it did the job.  I liked the guitar and the piano and the beat – it combined together well to be a midtempo R&B joint that was musically quite stable and almost sunny, yet anchored in place by some really heavy lyrics.  I thought it would originally have been the album closer, but then you’ll see I changed my mind about that.

20. Last Chance

I wanted the last song proper on the album to be a dance song – something that really went out with a bang! I decided this because sometimes (in keeping with the nocturnal theme of the album) you’re not ready to go home at the end of a night, until the DJ has played one final song that really gets you to annihilate the dancefloor and you can just let yourself go with the music before calling it a wrap.  This song is that song – I was inspired by “Work” by Ciara (sampled on the track!), “Get Me Bodied” by Beyoncé, “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas and just any song that really makes me want to move.  Other songs sampled in this are Paulina Rubio’s “Sexi Dance” (at the very end when the track fades out) which gives the song a late-night / early morning sensuous hue, and Beethoven’s “Für Elise” – just because it worked! I was crafting this track for a really long time, and between utilising the beat at the end of “All Night Long” to give the album a sense of circularity and closure, and trying to really fire up the beats and make them incendiary, I just tried to be as crazy as possible.  The rap, the off-kilter song structure with multiple hooks and instrumental at the beginning, the extended coda – it’s really going for broke! And that was what I wanted for the last song.

21. Close

To once again fit with the theme of closure and circularity, this is the “outro” of the album, to pair with the “Open” intro – again, I wanted to use the word “Close” in two different ways, both signifying the end of the album and also bringing in the idea of just wanting someone to hold you close, and desiring that intimacy (not necessarily sexually) at the end of the night, just before the sun rises and you’re feeling contemplative.

22. Lucky To Have You (Bonus Track)

My grandfather passed away during the creation of this album, and I remember being at Oxford and hearing on the telephone from my mother and grandmother that his health was really deteriorating. I wrote this song to comfort him (though he never heard it, and neither has anyone else in my family) as he passed away – I wasn’t allowed to go home and see him because it was in the middle of my finals, and he died and the funeral was held all while I was stuck in Oxford and expressly forbidden to come home.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget that – feeling so helpless far away and yet just glad his suffering was over (his illness was long and protracted).  This song is really personal and dedicated to him; it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, but I nevertheless wanted to include it somewhere so I thought a bonus track was the best opportunity.

That’s it!  Once again, please download my album if you haven’t already, and check out my blog! Thanks for all the support – I really appreciate it and I’ll keep the posts coming! 🙂

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

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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