Kissing strangers is overrated

On a recent trip to an unnamed country, I was standing on crowded bus and saw a woman who was seated, hand her handbag to another woman who was about to get off the bus. I thought nothing of it until I saw another woman get on the bus and nonchalantly hand two shopping bags to a young man who was sitting by the window. 10 minutes later, a young child was handed back to his mother by a woman who was seated on the bus. People were getting on the bus and handing their handbags, shopping bags or children to random strangers for safe keeping for the duration of their journey. This kind of blind trust was totally foreign for me, coming from a country where it is usual to sit next to someone for a half an hour and not even smile.

Ok sure, there are many reasons why people don’t talk to each other for many reasons. Maybe they don‘t look friendly, are busy listening to music, playing Candy Crush or occupied with their Kindle. I just find it slightly sad that in some big cities, people can have more desire to connect with someone via Twitter than a real person sitting next to them for half an hour. Because we hear of violent attacks, stabbings and verbal abuse on public transport everyday, we automatically keep ourselves to ourselves, often for fear that a simple smile will be misconstrued as a threat. Sometimes, a small step out of our comfort zones act can have results you can never imagine.

The video that went viral last week in which strangers kissed each other was interesting for many reasons. It showcased behaviour which totally goes against non-a-few-tequilas-too-many etiquette, as well as a well shot and edited video with fitting background music. The fact that the video featured models, actresses and musicians – people who for different reasons have generally less inhibitions than the average person, is irrelevant. What the video showed me was that we are all fascinated by the connection two total strangers (ok…we were led to believe that they were total strangers) can have. A connection that possibly many of us crave every day, our daily commutes being a perfect opportunity rarely taken.

I was on a short flight a couple of years ago and after offering to switch my ham sandwich for his cheese, had a great conversation with the guy sitting next to me. He was travelling to take part in an annual marathon but worked for the UN. He spoke about 5 languages and gave me some great advice about which languages are the most important to learn for communication purposes (English, Russian, Arabic, Spanish and Cantonese). I invited him to see a show I was playing in and we parted wishing each other a good weekend. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe we never meet again. Maybe he doesn’t even remember that conversation. I do, and now able to pass on some of what he told me, maybe someone reading this will learn something from this post.

‘…people can have more desire to connect with someone via Twitter than a real person sitting next to them for half an hour’

I’m not saying that we should all unplug, talk, and give our belongings to any and everyone we happen to sit next to. A pleasant word to a stranger on a train doesn’t have to reference the 1951 Hitchcock movie of the same name.  Maybe, just maybe, to have a small conversation with someone who makes you both smile can make the difference between an OK day, and a pleasant one.

And you don’t have to kiss them either…. because it really looks like this:

Peace and blessings

A Lesson in Reparations

Matt Kenyon for Seumas Milne on world war one

Learning history in school was pretty boring. I remember being in Year 6 and having to learn all of the Kings and Queens of England, from William the Conqueror all the way up to Queen Lizzie verbatim. We constructed model Tudor houses and begrudingly wrote our own Magna Cartas (burnt paper edges and tea stains for those who remember). In secondary school we learnt about World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights movement and the abolition of Slavery amongst other things. To be honest, most of the information wasn‘t so interesting and even up until GCSEs, didn‘t make me really think about how history had an impact on my own life. Maybe I was just too much into football and girls to think really clearly about the subject, and so for a long time, history was ‘history’ and wasn‘t going to let it affect my life.

One day, our teacher wheeled in the cumbersome Sony TV and VCR player (remember that feeling when you walked into class and saw that?!) and announced that we were going to watch a movie called Schindlers List. We started watching it and quickly grew bored. Maybe because it was in black and white or maybe because some friends and I were sitting at the back, but at any rate, we were talking and laughing about goodness knows what. At the end of class something happened that forever changed how I saw history. One of the Jewish guys in the class was crying and even though I didn‘t ask why, somehow I understood why. That movie had a special significance for him because maybe some of his ancestors were amongst those who weren‘t so lucky to survive The Final Solution. He had a personal connection to what some of us had just watched. That’s when history became real to me. All prior experiences in history involved the class turning to look at me when our teacher asked us a question about the Civil Rights Movement or the Atlantic Slave Trade, and me cringing when I didn‘t know the answer.


Fast forward to 2014 and I read that Caricom are now seeking reparations from England, France, the Netherlands and other countries. At first I was confused. Why after all this time? Wouldn‘t the best time to have asked been soon after many countries won Independence in the 60’s? There must be a reason why this is happening now as opposed to 10, 25 or 40 years ago. But it is happening. There will be a formal complaint by the end of April, with plans to take the cases to the International Court of Justice if rejected.  Whether or not reparations are granted, I think that this is a great oppurtunity to change the way we learn and teach world history.

I would guess that my year group was made up of about 45% from Asia (Subcontinent and East) 40% White (including Jews) and 5% Black. Roughly. This was my school on the outskirts of East London 10 years ago, but all over London, schools are fast becoming more and more mixed and maybe what is taught in history lessons should reflect this change.
First of all, there was no real sense of shame or embarrassment about what the British Empire actually represente when we were taught. The Empire raped, pillaged and destroyed its way through every continent on earth (save Antarctica) and left not only death and poverty in its wake, but religious ideologies, and divide and conquer techniques which leave us today debating good vs bad hair and people all around the world wanting to become lighter to fit in with a European aesthetic of beauty. Currently the way children are learning directly and indirectly about the Empire in schools, implicitly teaches students merely to accept it for what it was, and not bring into question what the legacy of the Empire still is.
Secondly, the history which we learnt was not mine or many of the other kids in my class. It was almost as though there was no modern day Bangladesh, Jamaica or Togo before the British invaded. We didn’t learn that calculus from the Kerala School of Mathematics in India predates European calculus by over a century. The city of IIe-Ife in Nigeria was paved with decorations that originated in America in 1000 AD (and they say Colombus discovered America?!). Mali was one of the most advanced and thriving cities in the world, with a population 5 times the size of London by the 14 century. Toilet paper was invented in China in the 1300‘s. All of the history of pre-colonial earth seems as though it was and still is reserved for those who choose to go and read history at university or educate themselves outside of formal education. That means that unlike my Jewish friends, in school (thankfully many of us were taught these things outside of school), we were never connected to our history; to learn that whether we were from St Lucia, Pakistan or Ghana, we come from rich cultures and wonderful histories which were either destroyed or simply archived until we decided to search for ourselves. We grew up knowing certain things but viewing our history as inferior and not important to be discussed in class, let alone write an exam on.

‘…accept it for what it was, and not bring into question what the legacy of the Empire still is.’

By Caricom asking for reparations, maybe we can all use this stand as catalyst for us not to simply accept the cards that were dealt us, but to ask to see what the dealer is holding behind his/her back. To demand that children are taught the whole grizzly truth about the Empire and teach them just how ignorant and unacceptable it is for people to demand for immigrants to go back to where they came from. After all, these attitudes start with what is taught in schools and is perpetuated through silence – by not showing dark side of the Empire and the civilisations it destroyed. Maybe if children are taught a wider range of facts, groups like the EDL and NF will slowly die out as children learn that Englands wealth and status was built on the back of slaves and should be held accountable by displaying its history for all to see. Winston Churchill once said that ‘History is written by the victors’. Perhaps it is time for the losers to start blogging, facebooking, tweeting and teaching theirs in mainstream society and not rely on the odd BBC documentary to provide us with knowledge.

I hope Caricom is successful but even if they are not, we shouldn‘t wait 10, 25 or 40 years before we demand that our Middle Eastern, Eastern European, African and Asian histories are taught, and the Empire finally held accountable.

Step up Mr.Gove.

Peace and Blessings

WhatsApp, Facebook and your privacy.


In the midst of this society where posting meals, workout videos and Selfies is the norm, I choose to distance myself a bit. It’s not because I harbour fears of MI6, the FBI or the KGB knowing everything about my pretty average life, it’s because I don’t feel a need to post everything online (even though the fact I’m writing a blog suggests otherwise). I’m sure if the powers that be wanted to find out everything, they could do so in a number of different ways.
So when Facebook bought Whatsapp for $18bn on the last month, I sat up and paid attention.
Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube in 2006, which it has been estimated, makes billions of dollars a year through advertising. It was very clear why Google bought YouTube from a revenue point of view, and from a market positioning viewpoint. The purchase of Whatsapp is not surprising in itself, it’s the amount of money which is puzzling
Apps generally make money in a few ways; either they charge a fee upfront, charge monthly or quarterly for premium services, or they allow advertising on their apps. Whatsapp is different because it is free to use for a year, and then $0.99 (£0.69) a year. Knowing that there are approximately 465 million users and 330 million daily users worldwide, it is estimated that Whatsapp rakes in about $225 million a year. Not bad for a company which employs only 55 people. Whatsapp is currently adding 1 million users per day and at this rate, it will have approximately 815 million users 1 year from now. An interesting side note is that it is rumoured that Google were willing to pay $10bn for Whatsapp, which has wiped $33 billion off SMS revenues in 2013.

What Whatsapp represents, is a free way to communicate with friends and family around the world in real-time, in groups and sending pictures. The pictures we send over Whatsapp can be very personal, too personal to put on Facebook but OK when we know it will only be seen by a close friend or family member. The way we chat on Whatapp is different to another media. Short messages to say where we are, checking if there is someone at the party you don’t want to see, or a simple message to say you are thinking about someone, Whatsapp has become so ingrained into our lives, that the verb ‘Whatsappen’ (meaning to send an electronic message) has been added to the Dutch dictionary.
Facebook has long since been at the centre of privacy issues, and the acquisition of Whatsapp is something to take notice of. It is no secret that Institutions have been hacking Facebook accounts to find out information about people, and companies have been allowed access to much information in order to talior its advertising to Facebook users. Don’t be surprised in a few months or years that privacy polices will start to change as Whatsapp becomes integrated with Facebook. Sure Whatsapp represents a good long-term financial investment, but maybe the most significant investment is in data. The ability to read your messages, see who is in your address book, and once the planned voice calling is integrated into Whatsapp listen to conversations, Whatsapp then becomes a key instrument in further chipping away at our privacy.

If you are a conspiracy theorist or not, maybe its time for all of us to become increasingly critical and more aware about how we use social media.

Why Lupita Nyong‘o doesn‘t matter as much as you think.

This post is a response to a blog I read:

Lupita Nyong’o doesn‘t matter as much as you think. This is not to take away from any of her accomplishments, the stunning dresses and witty way she shared with the world on Twitter how to pronounce her name. There is no denying her beauty and her being one of a few darker skinned leading women in Hollywood, but what does that all matter? There is no doubt that her presence in todays media is a ray of hope for all those women out there who feel inferior because of the colour of their skin (or even those who don‘t). but what is really happening here? Is the colour of her skin really the issue?

When Gabourey Sidibe was nomiated for an Oscar in 2009 for her role in the film Precious, there was not a big fuss made about the fact that she was dark skinned. She was not heralded as an icon for black women to look up to, or a sign that Hollywood was finally opening its doors to embrace more melanin. Instead, she was the object of ridicule over her weight, and the subject of a front cover lightening scandal in the 25th anniversary edition of Elle magazine. Whoopi Goldberg became the second black female Academy Award winner in 1990, and although there wasn‘t a large media frenzy and presence as there is today and back in 2006, she didn‘t and still doesn‘t come into the conversation as a successful dark skinned woman.

So maybe what we are looking at is a question of beauty. As soon as the media portrays a dark skinned woman as beautiful, everyone wants to be a part of it, jump on the bandwagon and hold Lupita up as the what women should be aspiring to, to love their own skin and for the black community to embrace whatever skin tone they have. Love the skin you are in, but don‘t wait for the media hype. Lupita Nyong‘o and Hattie McDaniel belong in the same conversation.

Aside from her skin, Lupita is (by media standards) aesthetically beautiful. Small dress size, full lips, enticing eyes and a winning smile. She wouldn’t look out of place endorsing the latest dress by Prabal Gurung or a de la Renta, lipstick by Revlon or jewelry by Avianne. Lupita is now a brand, and someone who will be exoticised simply because being different sells more, all at the same time as fitting into the Hollywood perception of beauty. Gabourey or Whoopi never achieved that.

Lupita is what Hollywood has been searching for. An good actress who is cultrally diverse, articulate, humble and dark skinned. The Gabrielle Unions, Taarji P Hensons and Kerry Washingtons of the world, all fall short in one or more of these catergories, but most notably by how dark/light they are. Therefore, the exotisicm which faces Lupita is to be expected. If you are in the minority, you will always be spoken about as the minority. Everything that sets you apart will be talked about and amplified. If you are in the majority, everything else is looked at as strange and fascinating. For all of the articles, round table discussions and documentaries about good hair and dark vs light skin etc, I fail to see the reverse; a plethora of white celebrities and personalities discussing the tanning culture or the recent white girl squatting epidemic.

When the media lauds over a newcomer, like in the case of Lupita, we all hope that she becomes a pioneer; that her presence in Hollywood will usher in a new age of darker skinned men and women in leading roles, and throw sand on the fire that is colourism. The same with Obama. Everyone hoped that it would be the dawning of a new age, that now colour lines have been shattered because a black man is the most powerful man on earth. George Zimmerman and the state of Florida proved us wrong. We hoped that now we would see more and more young black men in office, less stigma about Africa (alas not about specific countries) and its apparant inability to produce leaders of good repute, save Madiba. It is a possiblity that when it is all said and done, Lupita will be a token as opposed to a pioneer; someone who is allowed in merely to prove society wrong. Hollywood doesn’t favour non dark skinned women because we have just had a dark skinned female Oscar winner. I can’t be rascist because I have a black friend.

There have been beautiful dark skinned actresses, musicians, athletes and entrepeneurs before Lupita. Debates will be had and bleaching cream will be bought long after Lupitas looks start to fade. It must also be said that for all the comments about her skin, it seems as though we have forgotten that she does wear make up, she does have stylists and Photoshop CS6 is available to download as a torrent. Complete with crack.

That being said, being in the throws of globalisation, interracial marriages (if there is such a thing as race), skin lightening and excessive tanning, we will soon all be beige anyway (Parker & Stone, SouthPark: Season 8 Episode 7).