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We’re getting ready for Christmas. But we’ve abandoned the Christmas songs today and opted for a spot of happy Hip Life. And this song, which was introduced to us by my sister-in-law is bloody brilliant. I need a strong Ghanaian man to take things down off shelves for me…

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A cultural day in Hull

The fiancé urged me to write a blog post  about our day out and about in Hull yesterday. As you probably know, I grew up in the outskirts of Hull. I was always a home bird and lived in and around Hull from birth, throughout uni and in my first few post-uni years, with the exception of 10 months spent in Denmark at the age of 7/8.

I  grew up in a household where race never really seemed to be an issue. But then, we never really came across people of different races in our every day life.

Hull had long been a very white working class city. There has always been a plethora of invisible immigrants – white Europeans, Americans or Antipodeans. In fact, there are many Scandinavians living in and around Hull that they have a longstading community and their own church in the centre of Hull. Following that, most of the ethnic minorities in Hull have tended to be from China, the Middle East (wrongly considered ‘Kosovan’ by the majority rather than the Iraqi Kurds they often were), or Asia. There seemed to be very few black people.

Of course, we had a couple of Asian and black kids at our school. But 10 or so out of 2000 is pretty unrepresentative of the ethnic minority population of the UK.

In 2006 I started working at Humberside Police as Hate Crime Coordinator – running a hate crime reporting scheme. I was shocked at the amount of discrimination, in particular racism and homophobia, going on in and around Hull, East Yorkshire, North and North East Lincolnshire. Some of the incidents that stick out in my mind include a black guy getting beaten up and called n****r in Grimsby, an Asian taxi driver being verbally abused in Beverley, and a gay man having eggs, balls and abuse thrown at his house in Hull.

I also remember having to deal with a couple of phone calls from angry members of the public – primarily in Hull – complaining about (and I paraphrase) the “preferential treatment” minorities receive from the police when they “use” racism or homophobia as the reason for their broken window.

Come 2007 I’ve moved on from my job in hate crime and met the now fiancé, Jeff. In 2008 I moved down to London to spread my wings, hope for more opportunities than Hull could offer, and be closer to him. Now to state the obvious – London in very diverse. That’s one of the great things about it. According to the Evening Standard, more than a third of Londoners are now foreign born – that’s around 2.5 million people. London encompasses more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world.

In the past 3 years I’ve probably been back up to hull 15-20 times. In that time, Jeffrey and I have noticed a marked increase in the number of black people here. Hull has always been very white, working class and extremely insular. Sadly this has meant ethnic minorities have never really received the most friendly of welcomes.

Now, in case you don’t know, Jeffrey is black. His parents are from the wonderful West African country of Ghana, having settled in South London in the late 70s. He’s never experienced any outright racism, neither in London nor Hull. Though in our early days together I have had friends or colleagues asking me how my parents have taken to Jeffrey being black, with two friends saying their Dads “wouldn’t be able to handle it”.

But maybe I should get on to why our day was ‘cultural’ yesterday and how all this preamble ties in. As you may or may not know, Jeffrey and I are getting married in Hull in August this year. We therefore needed to find an afro barber so that he can get his hair cut before the wedding. Yesterday was the perfect time to try and find one and test it out before heading off to a wedding celebration for my friend Kirsty.

Of course, finding a black barber in Hull wasn’t easy. A Google search proved fruitless so a call out to all Hullians in my Facebook friends list was necessary. Luckily, thanks to an ex Humberside Police colleague Shona, we found Wright Choice Barbers on Beverley Road. So, off we trotted.

We got there at 10.30 yesterday to join 1 black guy, a mixed race Asian guy, and a white couple watch the owner (who I think might be a Nigerian guy by the name of Brian) giving a 6 year old white ginger kid a mohawk with intricate shooting star shaved into one side and zig zags in the other – freehand. A chat with his parents revealed that “he won’t get his hair done anywhere else… he lets the barber do whatever he wants to do… his aunty, who’s a hairdresser can’t go near his hair and neither can we.”

After that was the turn of an older black guy getting a fade, followed by the young mixed race Asian guy also getting a fade. Along came a mixed race Jamaican guy and eventually three other black guys, another black barber (this time Ghanaian), a black hairdresser, and a mixed race woman with her black 5 year old daughter – both the proud owners of strong Hull accents.

Out came the pool cues for one of the older black guys and the mixed race Jamaican guy to play pool in the middle of the barber shop while waiting for their fades. Then it was Jeffrey’s turn for the barber’s chair – this time no fade, just a number 1 all over and a tidy up of the goatee. So he sits in the chair and the Ghanaian barber who’s working on the Asian guy’s fade asks if Jeffrey’s Ghanaian. Apparently he can “tell by the head shape”. Out comes the Twi and excited discussion from the older guy playing pool all about Ghana. Turns out he was from Tema which is where Jeffrey’s mum has a house and where we stayed for much of our time in Ghana in 2009.

This led to conversations with him about Ghana and with an older guy from Tonga about Africa in general, and about life in Hull. I asked him how he finds living in Hull, to which he replied “better than it used to be”. He  came to Hull from Tonga in 2006, admitting it wasn’t his first choice of where to live. But he’s happy to see a larger black population in Hull now and says it’s much more friendly than it used to be. Indeed while we were there both black and white people would pop their heads in the door (when the white pigeon had got out of the way) to exchange some banter.

Sadly, after a great 2 hours in the barbers, it was time to leave this warm and fun social situation and head across the road to the African supermarket which proudly sported the Ghanaian flag on the sign. We had been talking the night before with my parents about drinks for the wedding and had said we ought to buy some Supermalt for the Ghanaian who love a bit of it. And if the Ghanaian supermarket didn’t sell it, where in Hull would? While there, out came the Twi again, with the two ‘aunties’ behind the counter asking where Jeffrey was from. Turns out one of them was also from Obuasi and both were disappointed to hear we lived in London, but delighted to hear I was (almost) Jeffrey’s wife. And here’s a plug for them. If ever you fancy some Supermalt, some plantain, gari or even West African cloth, head there and I’m sure you’ll get a warm welcome.

But what’s the point in this story? Well, I think it shows how far Hull is moving with the times. Jeffrey and I find it great to see more black people (and indeed people of other races) in Hull, as it can only add to the cultural elements of the city – which lets face it, has one of the Slave Trade abolitionists, William Wilberforce, to celebrate along with a rich cultural history of people passing through the city on to a new life in America, bringing with them new foods and artefacts. It was also great to see a hub of social activity involving people of all races and from different walks of life come and go from a little barbers on Beverley Road.

Plus, it makes me feel better to be around people from all over the world – noone wants to spend a lot of time somewhere where everyone’s the same.

Image – Wright Choice according to Google Streetview, address: 231 Beverley Road, HU5 2UT


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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

Ok, so this newest offering from Sophie Kingo’s Bits and Blogs is, again, not within the craft remit the blog has mostly tended to be. But, it does fit the ‘anything else I feel like blogging about’ declaration, so I’m allowed. And this post is much needed as it’s a culmination of my growing grievance at the growing intolerance in Denmark.

As you may know, I am half Danish – that is, my Mother is Danish. I was born in Britain, spent the majority of my eighth year on this planet in Denmark, and have pretty much visited Denmark’s third largest town Odense (with a population roughly the same as Rochdale, the UK’s 40th largest urban area) every year of my life. So I know a fair bit about the place. Now don’t get me wrong. I like Denmark. Maybe more because it feels somewhat like a home from home and holds a lot of memories for me. But I also know that people can be remarkably unfriendly – more or less no one holds a door open for you, and my Dad will testify he never sees any customer in the local baker say please, thank you or smile as they order their pastries – and that it’s also a little backward  – don’t even think about going shopping or to a museum on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday. Even in the capital city.

Over the last couple of years I’ve come to realise more so that Denmark isn’t the rosy, liberal, open-minded and accepting place that people from Britain tend to think it is. There’ve been several instances where it’s evident Denmark is fast becoming, if it wasn’t already, a county that is intolerant to change and to people of different backgrounds. Here are six reasons why.

  1. Back in 2008, Jeffrey and I went to Denmark for five nights to visit my family and have a short (over-priced) stay in Copenhagen. For those of you who don’t know, Jeffrey’s black (I’m white). Jeffrey’s parents moved over to London from Ghana back in the 1970s. Jeffrey was born in Britain. He has always lived in Britain and has only a British passport. (Even his parents hold British passports, unlike my Mum.) So why, when we stepped off our Easy Jet flight at Kastrup Lufthavn, did he have loads of questions thrown at him by passport control? Why did they need to ask him (and a woman who looked like she was of Somalian origin) and not me and countless other white British people stepping off the flight, questions including: Why are you here? How long are you here for? Where are you staying? As far as I’m aware, if you’re from an EU member state you are free to travel within Europe as long as you have a valid passport from your EU member state. There’s no need for the interrogation thanks.
  2. In 2009 my Mum had a job as a Danish speaking sales/client relationship person at a packaging factory in Hull. For this, she had to spend three weeks in Nyborg, Denmark. While she was there she noticed a growing negative feeling towards immigration and a growing intolerance.
  3. In February this year, Radio 4 broadcast a programme Driving on the right looking at the growing support for far right politics in Denmark and Sweden. The Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) wins less than 15 per cent of the national vote,  hasn’t entered government formally, and yet manages to influence mainstream politics massively. They hold the balance of power in the Liberal/Conservative coalition government and offer support in getting the government’s new policies through parliament in return for demands on immigration and economics. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if the DPP wasn’t blatantly racist. Pia Kjærsgaard, the DPP leader, believes there are too many immigrants in Denmark. In the report, Kjærsgaard throws about her scare tactics: “Denmark is a very small country…We have very many who hasn’t a job who just want money from our taxes.” Her supporters – both young and old, both typically traditional nationalists and younger people, put Kjærsgaard on a pedestal. They believe that she has, and will continue to, reduce the number of immigrants in Denmark by influencing government. A former bouncer, and a supporter of the DPP, said, “I don’t think anybody should come to Danmark…We have enough already”. Then you have Youth Politicians and young teachers: “many people  don’t like the country. If it was me I would go home…actually if you leave DK you can get DKK100,000.” A young Danish mother adds: “when I go into a mall and go…to nurse [my baby]… there are so few Danish mothers there…they are outnumbering us”. The DPP has managed to influence government policy on immigration, bringing down the number of immigrants from outside the EU being allowed into Denmark massively. The DPP has even influenced immigration policy which results in mixed nationality married couples being unable to gain a permanent resident permit for Denmark. One couple – a Dane and a Mexican –  have been living in Denmark for 8 years. Both are working graduates, both have been paying taxes and neither are in debt. But the Mexican woman cannot get a permanent resident permit. The Danish husband believes this is because they are “an acceptable casualty” in the political compromise. He goes on to warn people to “think twice before you marry a Dane”. Now, opposition parties are not willing to oppose to current immigration law in fear that they will not win power in the future. So this feeling, viewpoint and political stance will not go away easily.
  4. “Think twice before you marry a Dane” – well, maybe people will have to. It is increasingly difficult for a non-Dane to marry a Dane as a number of conditions must be met: both the Danish and the foreign partner need to be at least 24 (yes, 24!) years old; the Danish partner needs to post a bond of £7,200 collateral; the foreign partner has to pass a language and knowledge test; and both need to demonstrate a combined attachment to Denmark greater than to any other country. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12366676
  5. In 1958, the Nordic Passport Union was introduced fully to allow citizens of the “Nordic” countries – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Faroe Isles and Iceland – to travel and reside in other Nordic countries without a passport or a residence permit. Citizens from outside of these countries can also pass the borders without having their passport checked, but still have to carry a passport or other approved travel identification papers. However, this year, Danish police have been requesting black and “Asian-looking” Swedes to show their passports while on the train from Sweden to Denmark. Unsurprisingly, the DPP fully supports this new practice, in apparently fighting illegal immigration. It strikes me as odd that it’s only black and “Asian-looking” people that can be illegal immigrants. Racist, no? Source: http://politiken.dk/indland/ECE1238209/v-fint-at-kraeve-pas-af-farvede-svenskere/http://onlyindenmark.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/v-ok-to-ask-for-passport-from-coloured-swedes/
  6. Finally, I’ll close with another (semi) personal experience. When my sister Lisa and I were arriving in Billund, Denmark, for our Grandma’s funeral earlier this year, the Arrivals from the EU customs gate was strangely closed. This meant that everyone had to go through the Nothing to Declare or Goods to Declare gates. In front of us was a man of Asian-looking origin, about 22 years old and carrying a rucksack. My sister and I were both watching him as the Customs officer pulled him to one side to speak to him. We both looked at each other ready to exclaim “surprise surprise” to each other as it was absolutely no surprise to us that this one young not typically “Scandinavian” looking male had been pulled aside by the officer. And it certainly didn’t seem coincidental that no white people were being pulled over. Luckily, a few words in Danish from the young man meant the officer soon let him on his way. But I wonder how many other people weren’t so lucky. And what would have happened if Jeffrey had been with us this time…?

 

Addition – Saturday 2 April 2011, 23:41

After tweeting a link to this post on Twitter and to a few people who had recently tweeted about racism in Denmark, I received the following tweets. I think it’s well worth sharing these with you as they reiterate what I have outlined above:

@perritob – Sadly but true, the increasing racism in my land makes me cry, we used to be much more open to other people.

@moshebli – I experienced the same thing 4 weeks weeks ago when I went to Amsterdam. I have a european passport, but I look middle eastern

@moshebli – infact I got used to it every I travel now. Except @ my home eu country

@Idélaboratoriet – Denmark’s immigration policy is becoming a shame for whole of Scandinavia and country will continue to slide in the creative class index…

@Idélaboratoriet – …but today we will enjoy one of the immigrants that has made Denmark an interesting place: Rene at NOMA, the no1 restaurant in the world!

Previous tweets from @perritob on this theme include:

  • Where is the justice, when a foreigner gets punished more by the Justice system than a native citizen in Denmark, it shows our racist mindset
  • Danish minister of integration says harder laws toward throwing people out of our country will come, sir you are a racist.
  • But what to expect in a country like Denmark were the government is supported by a fascist and racist party Dansk Folke parti.
  • Humanity is one Race with different beautiful colors, each one more beautiful than the other, together those colors become even more pretty.
  • I talk alot about one race, the problem is, looking at my own country it does not at all share my view, Denmark for Danes is common here
  • And it means Denmark for Danes not Arabs/Muslims, this is sad but true, I talking to people to listen but most shake on there head at me
  • Free speech in Denmark means free speech to critisize people that are different or who supports openess towards people of other cultures.

Other tweets I’ve come across tonight:

  • @shukriadams – I love April 1st in Denmark, it’s the only day of the year when the news isn’t all about immigrants.
  • @shukriadams – Denmark seems to classify foreigners by one of three categories : “fit for labor”, “fit for fucking”, & “fit on a plane back home”. #dkpol
  • @shukriadams – Thinking of coming to work in Denmark? Well get ready to be double-taxed, because Danes want even more of your money http://bit.ly/hX3ofB


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A few songs

Ok, a know this blog isn’t about anything I’ve made. But as you’ll see from my ‘about‘ page:

Things about my blog:

  • I’ll be posting up things I make
  • I’ll be posting up anything else that I feel like blogging about

So tonight it’s the turn of blogging about something I feel like blogging about. And tonight it’s a few songs I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to tonight, courtesy of YouTube.

First up, and big thanks to my friend Nina for sharing this on Facebook, is some wicked Zulu House from Culoe De Son – Gwebindlala ft Thandiswa Mazwai. I LOVE it:

Followed by Portland Cello Project Covering Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” courtesy of Jeff’s half term YouTube surfing. I love the cello and have recently been kicking myself for giving it up as a post grade 3 14-year-old:

And finally, because I don’t want to overwhelm you on a Tuesday night, Craig David freestyling for Tim Westwood on Radio 1 a few years back. Got to love the Giggs cover to rival mine and just Craig David’s awesomeness. Massively underrated poor guy:


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Our holiday in Ghana

Well, as mentioned in my latest blog on Sophie Kingo Photography, I can’t quite believe it’s well over 10 months ago Projectbrownman and I were in Ghana. And all I’ve mentioned about it online is in my sorry excuse for a blog post back in February of this year.

Out trip to Ghana in August 2010 was my first. In fact, it was my first time in Sub Saharan Africa altogether. It took me a while to get there -25 years, but I made it. Something about Africa, granted primarily the natural element of the continent, has always appealed to me.

I think my interest in the continent started with my love for cats, big cats in particular, when I was little. This led me to watch hour upon hour of the BBC’s nature programmes. From Wild Africa charting giant mole rats in Ethiopia, Cheetah hunts on the savannah, and chimpanzees in the jungle, to Big Cat Diary following new lion cubs, cheetah and leopards finding their way in Kenya, I watched it all. Therefore it’s only expected that I’d always had a hankering to visit somewhere where these animals are, according to BBC TV documentaries anyway, in abundance.

Studying Sociology and Social Anthropology at Hull Uni, opened my eyes to the other side of  Africa – the people and cultures. And when the BBC aired Tribe with Bruce Parry, which featured a couple of African tribes and left many anthropologists reeling at it’s inaccurate ethnographic elements, I was overjoyed. The BBC were finally opening up your average Joe to a world very different to their own. To me, anything to widen Britons’ knowledge of different cultures and societies has to be worth it.

Then, there was that fateful night in November 2007 when I ended up at a hat party in East Dulwich, London.  There I spent many a minute treading on one Ghanaian/British Projectbrownman’s feet. One thing led to another and, well, by August last year we were 1 year and 9 months into our relationship and ready to pay a visit to the Motherland for PBM’s mother’s 60th and his Grandma’s 85th. We booked our BA flights, had our many jabs, I made some dresses, and off we went along with Marcia, Barry, Patrick, Phyllis, L1 and L2 for 10 days in Ghana. And what a wonderful place it is. The landscape, the culture, the hospitality, the people, and the spirit are just amazing.

Here are a few photos from our trip, with some background information to increase your knowledge of the beautiful Ghana:

Akosombo Dam and Lake Volta

Built between 1961 and 1965 under Kwame Nkrumah, the dam, which is 660m wide and 114m high now provides power to Ghana, Togo and Benin.

Lake Volta, the largest reservoir in the world by surface area and the fourth largest in the world by volume, has a surface area of c 8,502km2. The lake, formed from the Akosombo Dam, displaced approximately 78,000 people and 200,000 domestic animals.


Accra Centre for Arts and Crafts

One of the most important tourist attractions in Accra, this market is the biggest in the country for arts and crafts, including: wood carvings; traditional musical instruments; cane and raffia products; leather ware; gold, silver and bronze jewellery; beads; clay products; antiques; paintings; and ivory products from across the country and Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Senegal and Nigeria.

Umbrella Rock and Boti Falls

Located in the Yilo Krobo District, Boti Falls is a 30m high waterfall, whilst Umbrella Rock is a natural rock formation with beautiful views across the Boti Reserve.

Labadi Beach

Labadi Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Accra for tourists. This stretch of the Atlantic Coast features  cafes, souvenir vendors, and sometimes entertainment from drummers and performers.

Kakum National Park

Kakum is a rich moist rainforest covering 350km2 and located in the central region. The Park includes 40 species of mammals, including: elephants, buffalo, leopard, bongo, and primates, over 200 species of birds and 400 species of butterflies. It also includes a 40m high (rickety and scary) canopy walk.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle is a fortification built by Swedish traders in 1653. Seized by the Danes in 1663 and one year later the English, the Castle became the seat of the colonial government of the British Gold Coast and traded in timber and gold. Later, the Castle was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Obuasi

Obuasi, in the Ashante region in southern Ghana, had a population of 115,564 in 2000. Obuasi is known for its gold mine, now one of the ten largest in the world, with gold having been mined since at least the 17th century.

When can I go back?!


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Ghana

Having just downloaded Cadbury’s Big Swap Songs as part of their Big Swap for fairtrade fortnight I am now enjoying a good dollop of Hiplife. Last year Cadbury’s launched the news that their Dairy Milk bars would now be using fairtrade cocoa from Ghana with a fab song and video from Tinny – Zingolo. And now this. I must admit – I’ve never thought of Cadbury’s as my favourite chocolate and have always tended to be one to buy Galaxy instead. But since launching as fairtrade Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has gone up in my estimations.

And, of course, all this Hiplife is reminding me of my and PBM’s fab trip to the wonderful Ghana. So here are a few photos from the amazing country. Planning to get back there soon. Maybe Christmas 2011. It certainly has a wonderful feel to it and I can’t wait to see more.

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Slutlockerz

I’ve taken it upon myself to promote Slutlockerz. Whether it’s because their music’s cool as hell or because the vinyls are taking up space in our walk-in cupboard, doesn’t really matter. Either way the beats are cool and lyrics are wicked.

They’re on Facebook, Myspace and now Twitter. Buy their record, listen to their music, promote it on Twitter, enter the competition to win a signed copy of the record, or whatever you fancy.