Saturday, 2 December 2017

We need to recalibrate our moral compass when it comes to the sex industry

While the digital era may have eroded the adult entertainment industry’s traditional revenue streams, the demand for content has hardly waned. If anything, it’s increased. The shift from print and recordable media to the internet has made adult entertainment more accessible and sought after than ever before. According to Alexa Internet, Pornhub now even ranks higher than Microsoft search engine Bing in global popularity. Newer formats for the industry, like webcams and chat line channels, have also provided further platforms and avenues to quench the desires of their audience.

Elsewhere within the sphere of sex work, prostitution is considered the world’s oldest profession. The staying power of the sex industry is proven and as long as libidos exist, it’ll remain. Yet the stigma around it continues.

Sex is often the elephant in the room which reinforces the stigma around the industry. Granted, for many, sex is something that should be kept as personal. But that shouldn’t drive our judgement of those involved in sex work. Furthermore, when you consider what should cause our moral compass to point south, should that really include the sex industry?

Putting aside what might be legal in respective jurisdictions, ethically, what has anyone working in the sex industry done wrong? Sex workers provide a service for which there will always be demand. They barely rely on advertising so it can’t even be said that they’re influencing their client base to acquire a service or product that they didn’t really want.

I doubt anyone visits Pornhub after seeing a billboard en route home and remarking to themselves, “that reminds me, I should check out some porn this evening”. Similarly, no one decides to visit a strip club after getting a flyer in their letterbox. The customer base within the sex industry, regardless of the platform or service, need little persuasion. It can’t be said that their business and interest is sought aggressively or immorally either.

So why is the sex industry condemned and subject to such stigma? With adult entertainment, there’s arguably a taboo around masturbation that compounds this. But is it also because the basis of their business is sex and society isn’t comfortable enough to openly accept their product?
Jenna Jameson by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Have we allowed our discomfort to taint our judgement against those that work within the industry as we perpetuate the seedy image it’s been forced to assume? More importantly, why have we felt it necessary, and acceptable, to criticise sex workers who haven’t done anything wrong aside from working within a profession that doesn’t sit well with our own opinions?

Sex workers often can’t admit what they do without fear of judgement. Conversely, how many bankers have that same reticience or shame when announcing what they do for a living? It beggars belief that a banker can work in an industry void of ethics, celebrating the fact that what they do for a living facilitated a financial crisis and continues to polarise wealth in society, yet not be judged for it. Meanwhile, being an adult entertainer remains a taboo occupation.

Lisa Ann didn’t cause the subprime mortgage crisis but her (former) industry attracts a level of opprobrium and shame that would indeed be apt for the banking industry that actually did.

When a former detective claimed that thousands of thumbnails of porn had been found on the work computer of Tory MP Damian Green, it wasn’t a good look for him. That’s understandable on the basis of that much porn suggesting he was busy knocking one out when he should have been busy representing his constituents and fulfilling his role as First Secretary of State. However, it’s the porn that he’s experiencing shame for rather than the fact that he was viewing it at work.

I’m no friend to the Tory Party but if we’re judging Green and other Tories for their conduct, there are much worse activities that they should be censured for. We have a Tory government that presides over a country where food banks and poverty have become the norm alongside underfunded public sectors. At the same time, the 1% continue to thrive and aggressive tax avoidance and evasion is encouraged. Yet watching legal porn is what we’re judging a Tory MP for? What does that say about how skewed our own moral compasses are when it comes to adult entertainment?

There is a moral debate to be had around adult entertainment and the broader sex industry. The safety and treatment of those within the industry, and the promotion of distorted images of women, gender relations and expectations within relationships, calls into question much around sex work. However, that’s distinct from the stigma that the sex industry attracts.

Everyone is entitled to their views on the sex industry. And while it’s longevity is proven, it will always remain a divisive subject. Although that shouldn’t mean those who work within it should be subject to an unnecessary stigma based on the discomfort of others.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Money can’t buy happiness

I’ve always been fairly prudent with money and recognised its value accordingly. However, through circumstances beyond my choosing or control, I found myself taking out a number of loans in my late teens. While my peers used money from part time jobs for clothes and going out, I was instead supporting my family and now servicing the debt that came with the loans I now had to pay off.

At the same time, my struggle with depression meant I was fully acquainted with the dark cloud that hung over me. I thought the albatross of debt had caused me to feel this way and figured money might be the solution to banishing the immovable cloud that had long plagued me.

Eventually, I came towards the end of the loan and decided to pay it off early. I’d yearned for this day and was sure that I would feel better once I was debt-free. I vividly remember walking into a branch and announcing to the member of staff at the desk that I would like to pay off the balance of my loan. After years of repayments that I resented, this was going to be the beginning of life after debt and I would start feeling better immediately as money was about to solve my problems. Alas, I was wrong.
By Howard Lake and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
I walked out of the branch, free of debt, expecting that ominous cloud to have receded as soon as I crossed the threshold of the bank. But it had it hadn’t budged, and it wouldn’t for many subsequent years. I felt helpless and empty. I’d pinned all my hopes of feeling better on paying off my loans but it didn’t change things whatsoever. If anything, it made it worse because I was all out of ideas as to how I would ever address my depression. And I had now succumbed to the belief that I wouldn’t ever be rid of it.

Money couldn’t address my depression, and in effect buy me happiness, and I was ignorant and naive to think it could. Yet in an ever-materialistic society, we’ve been conditioned to believe to the contrary.

When many of us think of happiness, it’s generally linked to an image of materialism. Money and opulent lifestyles produce a narrative for what many of us perceive as a life of happiness. If only we were able to fund that lifestyle, without any constraints, surely our happiness would be secured and guaranteed, right?

We’ve become accustomed to our perception of happiness as a superficial concept. And as a result, we can’t see past or realise our folly in money being a weak, inadequate and hugely misleading gauge by which we measure it.

We can’t pretend that there isn’t a joy and contentment that’s derived from money. Being able to maintain a lifestyle that affords us the freedom to do what we enjoy, and to purchase whatever we desire, without feeling the need to monitor what we’re spending, is undoubtedly what most of us aspire to achieve. And it’s certainly a life I wouldn’t reject.

Although, what happens when we become jaded with what money can provide? When we need to make more and bigger purchases to replenish our levels of happiness? Or when we encounter desires that money can play no role in facilitating, yet run so much deeper than material cravings?

Good health? Companionship? Self-fulfilment? Money can’t buy any of them. It’s at this point that we realise money is a vehicle that will only get us so far in our pursuit of happiness. And like getting on the wrong bus or train, that you were nevertheless sure would get you closer to your destination, it often terminates at a location that makes it even more apparent how far you are from actual happiness.

Bob Marley’s last words to his son Ziggy were “money can’t buy life”. Money wasn’t something Bob Marley was lacking to say the least but he realised that it didn’t buy happiness. Although never more could it have been apparent to him, his family and friends as he died, a rich man who could buy much but couldn’t buy life.

In my lowest periods of depression, no amount of money or material possessions would have been able to shift that dark cloud. Money was a worthless commodity and a currency that wasn’t accepted in exchange for anything that would aid my mental and emotional health improving. Sadly, it’s typically at moments like this when we realise how ineffectual money can be in facilitating our happiness; when we’re already at rock bottom in our distance from achieving it.

It’s difficult to distance ourselves from the notion that money can bring us happiness when we’re bombarded by images that support that. Social media perfectly filters the lives of celebrities appearing ‘happy’ in all that they show us. So we attempt to project our own ‘happiness’ with similarly curated moments that have the same aim of showcasing our materialistic prowess. Because there’s no doubt of someone’s happiness when they’ve taken a selfie of themselves outside of a designer store.

We’ve sadly based happiness on carefully selected snippets from the lives of people we don’t know and assumed that if we had their money, we’d match their assumed happiness too. We don’t know what happens after they put their phones down and aren’t “doing it for the ‘gram”. Are they depressed? Are they experiencing personal problems that make what we see insignificant and shallow in contrast?

Not only are we linking money to a perception of happiness that’s based on someone else’s life, but we don’t even know if they’re actually happy. It begs the question how we’ve been able to make such a strong link between two entities without tangible and credible evidence to support this assumed connection.

How many people underpin their pursuit of happiness by money? Aggressively seeking a partner who’s rich? Or a job with good pay that they hate but feel will validate their self-worth? The assumed feeling of happiness that those decisions result in is typically short-lived as the denial associated with them can rarely remain repressed forever.

Good mental and physical health for ourselves and those around us, self-acceptance and connections to people that matter to us. None can be purchased with money yet all provide happiness to an extent that is unmatched by anything acquired in a store. We need to start redefining what happiness means to us and how we go about achieving it.

Our own path to happiness will always be subjective. Nonetheless, we’ve been made to believe that it’s driven by materialism as capitalism has permeated even how we define good mental health. Hence the narrative of happiness being linked to money. If we consider our own definition of happiness with honesty and introspection, we’ll realise that money isn’t a key to attaining it. It undoubtedly affords us tangible representations that certainly bring us satisfaction and joy. But in the truest sense, money can’t buy us a version of happiness that really matters.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Difficult conversations in the black community

When you compare black people to other ethnicities, we’re arguably one of the more open communities. Black culture is always apparent in the places that the diaspora finds itself within and we generally integrate better than other ethnic minority groups. By that token, both our successes and challenges are more visible and the latter is therefore viewable for those even outside of the community. Where other communities are very adept at keeping their problems in-house, our experience has meant the contrary.

Being from London, one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities, I feel qualified to say with confidence that I know we aren’t the only community with challenges. I’ve seen institutionalised misogyny, racism, drug use, domestic abuse and much more as stereotypical, albeit not consistent, features of other communities that never seem to get the spotlight on them due to their insularity.

But for the black community, we aren’t afforded the luxury of keeping our problems to ourselves. Consequently, the issues some sections of our community are faced with are exploited by the media and society and used to besmirch the majority of us, even within our own eyes. The latter is significant. We can’t perceive ourselves in such a negative way, let alone allow others to do the same, without realising it’s something we need to talk about. So why is this a conversation we aren’t having?
Three Men by Rennett Stowe is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The sad reality is that even as a black man, who’s been around black people my entire life, I will be more likely to be suspicious of a large group of black youths congregating than I would with a group of white youths. That’s only for me to have to check myself for what is essentially racial profiling of my own people. Rapper and activist Akala said the same of his initial thought of suspicion when seeing a fellow black male paying in a large amount of cash at the bank, again, only to have to check himself for succumbing to racial assumptions.

Despite both being black men, society’s successful racist conditioning has caused us and others to identify with a negative perception of those in our own image. What a win for racism and a failure on our part to recognise and stem it from happening.

It could be argued that the openness of the black community places us in a better position to address this and to have the conversations that other communities instead ignore. Though we aren’t taking advantage of that and we’re suffering in our denial that this is necessary dialogue for the community.

In a controversial but incredibly hilarious sketch from his Bring the Pain HBO special, Chris Rock spoke of the distinction between most black people and the minority that feed the stereotypes we face -
“Now we’ve got a lot of things, a lot of racism in the world right now, Who’s more racist? Black people or white people? Black people! You know why? Because we hate black people too! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people REALLY don’t like about black people. There’s some shit going on with black people right now. There’s like a civil war going on with black people, and there’s two sides. There’s black people and there’s n******. The n****** have got to go”.

Putting aside subjective views on use of the n-word, amidst my uncontrollable laughter I immediately identified with such a brilliant articulation of the frustrations I had as a black person with a few within my own community. There was us, the majority of black people who made being black a privilege and something to be celebrated. And then there was them; the minority whose foolishness and ignorance the rest of us have to suffer the stereotype for.

The sketch divided black people. Rather than being owned as an experience of most black people in distancing ourselves from negative stereotypes, some viewed it as airing our dirty laundry in public. Did those people not think it was bit late to be concerned with that given those stereotypes were already in the mainstream?

The fact is, every ethnicity has those bad-minded few that don’t reflect the masses but do push negative stereotypes. Yet rather than acknowledge the very home truths that we need to face and address in order to progress, we’re failing to reflect and act.

In countries where the black diaspora can be found, we make up a shockingly disproportionate amount of the prison population and are subject to disproportionate racial profiling by police. The US is another kettle of fish with not only institutionally racist police forces but that being accompanied by well documented police brutality that’s encouraged by the douchebag-in-chief. In the UK, the racial profiling similarly exists against a history of tension between the police and the black community.

Racial profiling by police in the UK can’t be denied. Like most black males, I’ve been stopped by the police (something many non-blacks have never experienced). Furthermore, if they’re looking for a suspect, surely we don’t all look the same. Yet what we also can’t deny is that violent crime occurring within the black community seemingly isn’t going away. And if the police wanted an excuse for their racial profiling, that’s given it right to them.

Again, it’s a minority of black people responsible. Nevertheless, it’s enough to warrant acknowledgement and urgent addressing when black youths killing other black youths happens to the extent that it is. White youths kill each other too in the same sad circumstances that are also against a backdrop of deprivation and a lack of education. But when you make up around 3% of the population, as black people in the UK do, it becomes a much alarming reality.

I’ve previously written about the legacy of slavery on the black diaspora and the aforementioned can clearly be traced back to this. Centuries of being dehumanised and perceiving ourselves as inferior has permeated the black psyche to an extent that even today, we’ve been programmed to see the price of our own black lives as cheap (while the establishment continues to push that narrative for us and everyone else). This isn’t said to justify crime within the black community but rather to explore its deep rooted causes that have worsened with deprivation. Nonetheless, this is a problem that exists now and needs to be addressed.

Sky Sports boxing pundit and boxing historian, Spencer Fearon, tweeted his support for stop and search as a tool to address the rising gun and knife crime within the black community. That’s despite black people being eight times more likely to be targeted than white people. However, his comments came following him attending two funerals of black youths in the past month, both due to gun crime.

The disproportionate targeting of black people being stopped and searched is a clear indicator of racial profiling by the police. Although in the context of violent crime in sections of the black community, Spencer Fearon acknowledges a pressing issue that can’t be ignored. Whether or not you agree with him, it’s a necessary conversation that we aren’t having and to the detriment of our community. Meanwhile, black youths are succumbing to our inactivity on the matter while bad apples are allowed to have such an adverse effect on the community.

The experience of the black diaspora around the world is similar. We aren’t having the difficult conversations necessary to progress as a community. We have successes to celebrate which we need to build upon but we also have to address the challenges that we face. Unlike other communities, our difficulties are already in the public domain which exacerbates how negative we look to others when we fail to address them.

Acknowledgment, dialogue, cooperation and action need to be forthcoming within the diaspora. Otherwise, we’ll remain stagnant as a people and continue to succumb to the actions of the minority. Every community has them, ours are just out in the open making it that bit worse for the rest of us.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The glorification of being busy

While some of us might not like to admit it, we usually prefer to be busy than bored. When we’re bored or idling, we lack stimulation and yearn the feeling of being productive that lends itself to our self-esteem. It’s why many people struggle with depression during unemployment, without having other activities to channel their time and energy into. Being busy staves off boredom and contributes to our feeling of self-worth as rightly or wrongly we feel we have something to show for our time.

Being occupied therefore isn’t a bad thing and it’s necessary for good mental health. But the notion of being busy has changed. It’s become glorified as a measure of success or Stakhanovite-esque ideals and efforts that have skewed our perspective on what really matters. Being busy has come to falsely represent who works harder, whose job is more challenging and more important and ultimately who arbitrarily and meaninglessly gets bragging rights for the aforementioned.

By Alan O’Rourke and licensed under CC BY 2.0
Indeed, we all want to acknowledge our efforts to ourselves, and for others to do the same, as it returns to the validation we all crave from being productive. After a productive and long day at work, I might feel tired but I feel good for what I’ve achieved and that shouldn’t be a feeling we deny.Though that isn’t where said feeling stops in today’s society.

Working a long day is increasingly celebrated as a barometer for how hard we’ve worked yet it’s a Pyrrhic victory if the opportunity cost was any measure of success in our personal lives and our mental health. Many ‘successful’ people have regretted how they worked relentlessly for years, devoting themselves wholeheartedly to their work, only to later realise that they’d done so at the expense of what really mattered. Failing to spend time with family and friends that were no longer around, not pursuing personal passions or finding companionship, even in the platonic sense, had evaded them as years of a tunnel-vision approach to work passed them in the blink of an eye. At which point, they couldn’t make good on what they’d already lost in those years.

A friend and former colleague commented how they felt bad for not continuing to work into the night, on what was a day off, where they’d nevertheless already worked tirelessly for the day since the morning. We’ve now been wired to assume that we shouldn’t give ourselves a break and to do so is to be lazy. Even with the context of clearly putting in work, we don’t warrant ourselves worthy of breathing space because to pause has become synonymous with being indolent. If you consider that ideal in its crudest sense, we’ve basically been programmed to work and remain busy until burnout.

Naturally, there’s something to be said for one’s commitment to a task and we all find ourselves constantly tipping the scales of work-life balance in favour of work to meet work commitments (which doesn’t make it right either). However, we’ve now become conditioned to assume that if we aren’t busy with work, we’re slacking and should consequently feel guilty. It’s a ludicrous idea, and damaging to our mental health, that we actively deny ourselves any modicum of respite. I too have constantly been guilty of the same mindset where regardless of how long my day has been or how much I’ve managed to get achieve, I feel like I’ve let myself down by not doing more.

And it isn’t just a work where we succumb to that mindset. I’ve lamented that in the past I never really valued my time to an extent that I now do my utmost to make good on that attitude. As a consequence, rarely will I allow myself down time to just ‘be’; instead filling any free time I have in trying to reclaim those lost years. I maintain that I’m making good use of my time, particularly in the context of what I see as my previous errors. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for allowing time to simply not be busy and providing our minds with an opportunity to unwind.

We all need to afford ourselves the mental capacity to manage our thoughts effectively and that’s only possible with an interruption in regularly scheduled programming. Although being in a constant state of preoccupation without any pause won’t facilitate that. So why are we denying such a crucial and easily attainable effort to achieve it?

The balance is there to be struck but society is causing us to fail miserably at achieving it. How often is being ‘busy’ used as an excuse for spending time with family and friends? Or a label for how fabulously ambitious one’s life is in contrast to their peers? Hard work and ambition shouldn’t be played down. On the contrary, they should be valued and celebrated but in the context of giving ourselves occasional and necessary respite. Otherwise, what are our endeavours for if we cannot enjoy them for ourselves and with others that matter?

When I die, I don’t want anyone attending my funeral who was too busy to make the effort to see me when I was alive. If your job was more important and too preoccupying then, don’t be taking the day off or finding an available evening to mourn me when we could have shared an evening together when I was actually here. Yet this is the stance we’ve adopted and it’s damaging our mental health, our perspective and our connections to people that matter.

Being idle is not the solution or the suggestion to counter the glorification of being busy. We need to achieve a balance and recalibrate our gauge on self-worth so that being busy isn’t erroneously interpreted as a contributory measure in allowing self-validation, or in receiving validation from others. It’s necessary to give ourselves respite; not only for ourselves but also for those around us.

Being busy has become a hollow trophy that society has designed to distract us from what really matters. We need to focus on ourselves, those around us and the things that matter to us rather than chasing a preoccupation that has become a distraction and a mistaken badge of honour for so many.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Mumble rap is the antithesis of real hip hop

Within any creative sphere, the new and avant-garde is often met with resistance from the established old guard. As any art evolves, many will lament what they view as an erosion of what was once cherished by the purists. Meanwhile, the new wave will transform that notion for a new generation in a cycle that repeats itself with every subsequent era.

Hip hop is no different. Like most art, it’s been subject to transformation between generations; each with a view on what the golden era of the genre is. And that’s often followed by disdain for the eras that came after it.

That opposition lessens with time and hindsight. But right now, even with the utmost objectivity, it’s difficult to say that I will ever be able to offer acclaim to sections of the current wave of hip hop. That isn’t me hating. It’s me objectively recognising that some of the current output from the genre is eroding the art and distancing itself from the essence of the culture. The sound, look and ignorance of ‘mumble rap’, or whatever label it attracts, goes against everything that is hip hop; a retrograde step for a genre that has increased its lyricism with every successive generation until now.

New waves within hip hop have long met resistance, with the biggest detractors coming from New York as the birthplace and longtime bastion of the art. Consequently, anything that didn’t sound like what was coming out of New York and the wider east coast scene was often not considered sufficiently hip hop (ironically, today New York has barely produced a fresh new artist in the vanguard of the culture for years, still relying on veterans for their glory days as the gatekeepers of rap).

The west coast was received that way and even more so was the south when rap from their respective regions began to migrate. Though the west coast gave us NWA, Snoop Dogg and latterly Kendrick Lemar. And when you look at the south, they’ve produced some of the hardest lyricists and legendary artists within the scene period. Just look at UGK, Geto Boys, Outkast and TI as some of the most iconic acts in music, regardless of genre.

Rappers with double time flows like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Twista were initially considered by some to be gimmicky. The same could be said for UK hip hop. It all sounded and looked different from east coast hip hop and therefore raised questions about how hip hop it actually was. Nevertheless, lyrically, it couldn’t be denied.

With the importance of lyricism progressing the art, lyrical prowess and content was the key that granted them entry and validation within the culture. It’s the same reason that for many within the culture, sub-genres like crunk could never really assume a permanent seat at the table of hip hop.

Indeed, lyricism is one of the biggest drivers behind why the new wave can’t be cosigned by the culture. Take an excerpt from Migos’ Bad and Boujee-

“Offset, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, rackings on rackings, got backends on backends, I’m ridin’ around in a coupe (coupe), I take your bitch right from you (you), bitch I’m a dog, woof (grrr)”

It’s hardly a case of subjectivity to opine that those bars are basic and straight garbage. And I don’t even hate Bad and Boujee. I appreciate that much of today’s rap is increasingly driven by melody, thereby making lyrics somewhat redundant to some listeners, but this goes beyond that. And when you consider DJ Akademiks publicly said Migos are one of his favourite groups (rhetoric Joe Budden, like many of us, couldn’t stomach), yet didn’t like Giggs’ verse on Drake’s KMT, it’s clear that DJ Akademiks et al represent a shift in perspectives within the culture.

As an aside, I’ve not seen any feature from an American rapper get the number of pull ups or response that Giggs’ verse on KMT receives since I saw an entire club in Miami throw their diamonds up for Jay Z’s verse on the Diamonds from Sierra Leone remix. Nor do I think any current American rapper is capable of effecting such a reaction with a feature either. Not to deny DJ Akademiks his right to an opinion, but his stance shows just how accepting many from the culture have become towards a sound that previously would have been derided. Meanwhile, he thinks Giggs’ verse was “wack”. Ok then, Akademiks.

Some of the old guard have defended so-called ‘mumble rap’ as merely the sound of a younger generation making music for their time. I can accept that but it shouldn’t mean that the content lacks the substance within its narrative that has been consistent and fundamental to the genre.

Detractors of early west coast gangster rap may have criticised its content as an abuse of freedom of speech. What couldn’t be denied was that gangster rappers were enthralling us with a tale of their existence, accompanied with vivid imagery and storytelling, that remains a cornerstone of hip hop. Yet that’s the crux of what’s missing today.

Take the drug dealer tales that have become synonymous with rap. Many of those tales have long lacked authenticity but at least the wordplay, imagery and lyricism gave audiences something to appreciate. Although today everyone seems to be in the trap (which begs the question, who are the customers?). Furthermore, the now familiar autobiographical tale of the (alleged) drug dealer is both trite and lacking the narrative that made it palatable. I’ve got no issue if these new rappers have a story to tell, just enunciate it so we can actually appraise and appreciate what you’ve got to say.

I can admit to some of today’s melody driven rap piquing the interest and ears of audiences; it’s the content and disregard for delivery and lyricism that I take umbrage with. Rap is an art of storytelling. However, when you’re mumbling your ignorant ramblings, you may as well not tell your story at all. Not to mention doing so under the umbrella of hip hop is damaging the legacy of the culture and betraying its roots as a lyrical artform.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Mums rightly come first during pregnancy but let’s not forget about dads-to-be

No matter how much empathy one can offer, being pregnant is an experience that no man can fully understand. Pregnancy presents both an onus and a privilege for the mum-to-be in carrying a child. Indeed, when you consider the favourable aspects of pregnancy, there’s much of the experience to be celebrated such as the bond you’re able to establish with your unborn child and the fundamental role you play in their life before they’re even born. However, for most women, pregnancy can also present challenges as they approach the birth of the baby.

During pregnancy, your body changing means you aren’t yourself. Simple tasks such as bending down or quickening your pace become frustratingly impossible. Not to mention the effect changes in your body may have on your mental health and self esteem (particularly if you’re struggling to mentally link it to the pregnancy). There’s also the discomfort, irritableness, mood swings and anxiety, the latter being an obvious experience for most first time parents.

As much as society rightly celebrates pregnancy, for mums-to-be it isn’t always easy. Consequently, pregnant women typically receive the kudos, compassion and support they deserve for undertaking such an important role. Yet what about dads-to-be? Sure, our bodies aren’t changing therefore we aren’t experiencing the by-products of that either. Conversely, the regard for the role of men as impending parents, and their wellbeing, is given little if any weighting. Mums rightly come first during pregnancy but we shouldn’t be forgetting about the role and wellbeing of dads-to-be too.

Society has a tendency to diminish the role of fathers. Even during pregnancy, the message from society is that fathers are secondary to the mother. I’d be inclined to agree that during pregnancy a woman’s wellbeing and needs are greater than that of a man’s but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Although sadly that’s the message that’s being disseminated to those about to embark on fatherhood.

In the UK, women can take up to a year of statutory maternity leave; a generous allowance compared to countries like the US where the lack of universal healthcare provision clearly indicates how they regard motherhood. For the stress pregnancy places on a woman’s body, it’s only fair and provides an invaluable opportunity to bond with your baby before returning to work. It’s also hugely important for a woman’s mental health in allowing her to mentally recalibrate from the emotional experience of pregnancy, childbirth and becoming a parent. Alas, that’s in shocking contrast to the paltry two weeks of paternity leave available. Two weeks. It is possible to share parental leave but as the default, the perception of a mother’s value greatly outweighs that of a father.

What’s not realised is that the same mental recalibration and regard for mental health is necessary for fathers too yet it isn’t given any credibility.

Mentally, emotionally and physically, pregnancy can take its toll on a woman. Physically, that isn’t the case for man. Though mentally and emotionally pregnancy presents its own demands for dads-to-be. The anxiety that comes with being a first time dad especially is expected. Just as for mothers, it presents a huge shift from the status quo as you embark on parenthood. Will you be a good enough dad? Will you know what to do with the baby? Will you be able to manage the imminent change to your lives?

Then there’s managing the manifestation of your partner’s emotions. The mood swings and irritability are par for the course during pregnancy and the dad-to-be is likely to be a prime target whenever it’s articulated. Nevertheless, that too can be an emotionally draining experience in itself as you take it on the chin and put said utterances down to hormones, not allowing it to affect how supportive you need to be.

There’s also a frustrating helplessness in knowing that while your partner is experiencing the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth, all you can do is offer support and encouragement. That support is undoubtedly valuable and appreciated but it’s hardly a substitute for being able to give birth yourself.

It’s only right that men step up their game during pregnancy and provide all the support that their partners should be able to expect. The wellbeing of mums-to-be needs to come first but amidst that stance, we’ve neglected to consider and support the wellbeing of fathers too. Instead, men are told in jest or otherwise that we don’t get a say in voicing any anxieties or frustrations because we aren’t carrying the child. All that does is lessen the role of being a father.

In some ways, perhaps men of yesteryear have caused this. Previously, men probably had less to be anxious about during pregnancy in a time when gender roles were much more rigid and the mental and emotional health of mothers was dismissed as a non-entity. Tending to the emotional needs of their partners wasn’t the consideration it is today and men themselves were more detached from the journey of pregnancy.

In contrast, men today are much more involved in attending antenatal appointments and classes, providing massages on tap, cooking whatever their partner’s cravings demand and generally doing anything their partner wants or needs. Not to mention picking up the slack on anything the mum-to-be is no longer able to do with the same ease as their pre-pregnant self. It might be to varying levels but modern men are much more involved than men of previous generations which is undoubtedly a positive.

That involvement requires the wellbeing of both parents to be acknowledged. Society has progressed for that to be the the case for women but it’s still not the reality for men.

Good mental health for both parents makes for better parents. If the wellbeing of mothers isn’t in tandem with the wellbeing of fathers, it continues to diminish the role of the latter in a disturbing message that has managed to permeate society throughout successive generations. If dads-to-be are supporting the wellbeing of mums, it begs the question who’s making sure they’re ok too?

We shouldn’t pretend that men have the same experience during pregnancy as women do. It’s a reality that the overall needs and changes that a pregnant woman is subject to will outweigh those of a man. But when it comes to mental and emotional health, there are bound to be some parallels. We might not be able to carry a baby but we do carry the emotions that come with becoming a parent. If we want to see mothers and fathers as equal entities within parenthood, we need to have the same regard and attitudes in ensuring that the wellbeing of both parents is supported to achieve that.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

What did we learn from Mayweather vs McGregor? Not much

In what was billed as one of the biggest sporting events in history, Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor has come and gone. It’s undoubtedly broken PPV records and generated a level of hype beyond that seen in either boxing or MMA thanks to all the casual interest. All involved with the event are also walking away with epic paydays. Indeed, as a friend put it, McGregor is walking away from his debut with a record of 0–1 yet with more cash than many fighters see in their entire careers. And Mayweather, who took the lion’s share of the revenue, of course walks away with his 50th W on his record complemented by 0 losses.

The fight played out largely as expected. That is of course if you weren’t a McGregor fanboy, or sections of the MMA media, whose skewed analysis and narrative were without doubt the most irksome aspect of the fight’s build up (that’s not referring to actual MMA fans who unlike the aforementioned actually took a measured and knowledgeable approach and analysis to the fight).

Most anticipated Mayweather would take a few rounds to shake off any ring rust, gauge McGregor’s game plan and establish his range. Consequently, he’d become more elusive to McGregor’s offensive, adopt a strategy of attrition and start landing shots at will to close the show. Despite McGregor being stopped in round 10, Mayweather could arguably have put those combinations together from round 6, when McGregor was now clearly fatigued, and with the same conclusion.

For his part, McGregor didn’t present himself as Mayweather fodder en route to a pay day. He came to another man’s sport and fought under Queensbury rules. He showed a solid chin and above all a self-belief that was second to none in contrast to Mayweather’s previous opponents. He really felt he could cause an upset and convinced many people of it too. Despite being immovable from a likely victory for Mayweather, I admittedly found McGregor’s self-belief and master salesmanship incredibly convincing. Nevertheless, he was fighting a pound for pound great in a sport that he had no professional experience in.

It would be remiss to dismiss his pedigree and success as a fighter, let alone to not expect some of that to transfer to his preparations for Mayweather. But this is boxing and like any sport there are levels. And a novice to the sport, just as a boxer would be in MMA, simply isn’t on the level of a pound for pound former champion, even in retirement. So what did we actually learn from this fight? The answer is not much that we didn’t already know.

Both fighters’ compelling promotion prevented logic prevailing for the deluded factions of the McGregor supporters who felt this was a 50–50 fight or worse still that Mayweather would fall victim to McGregor’s left hand. What they failed to appreciate was that the fight was on Mayweather’s turf of boxing. Aside from an unorthodox style that would require a few rounds to read, there wasn’t anything McGregor could bring to the fight that Mayweather either hadn’t already experienced or didn’t know how to neutralise.

To think otherwise was what caused the ire of so many of the boxing fraternity. They felt their sport wasn’t being respected by MMA fans insofar as the belief that a novice would be able to do what 49 others, who had dedicated their lives and careers to the sport, were unable to achieve.

As a result, many viewed this fight as boxing vs MMA, a notion as inequitable as sprinting vs long distance running or rugby vs football. Simply because the respective disciplines may present some commonality, that doesn’t make such direct comparisons viable. I’m sure McGregor knew this yet dared to dream for which he should be commended. Alas, many others did not.

The internet will be a better place without the fanboys whose comments, void of objectivity and full of ignorance, have littered comment sections and social media since this fight was announced. Unfortunately, still not convinced that their man was conclusively defeated, some still remain delusional.

The same goes for sections of the media. As boxing journalist Steve Bunce commented of the MMA press, some reports would suggest that McGregor’s training had transformed him “from raw novice boxer to some type of creation that is part Stephen Hawking and part Clubber Lang.” If anything, the subsequent result will perhaps in future inject some reality into such sentiments.

The dust has settled and both fighters are even richer than they already were. McGregor may not have achieved the unthinkable, in what was a lofty yet admirable aspiration. Although he has earned the respect of a boxing fraternity that has long held a chip on its shoulder with the success of MMA as a fellow combat sport.

McGregor was noble and gracious in defeat and showed respect to the sport that provided the landscape for his loss. His profile has also risen in the mainstream without an adverse effect on his stock within the UFC. Mayweather, who had less to gain besides the pay day, also leaves with his legacy unscathed and a 50th, yet meaningless (given the opposition), W on his record.

As for the spectators, they were provided with an event full of fanfare and an uneventful fight that could have been worse. And were they hoodwinked? Probably not. The outcome was there for everyone to realise from the outset. It just depends on what they chose to see.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

My first big fat Indian wedding

When my wife first told her family she was in an interracial relationship with a black man, it's fair to say it was met with some trepidation. Her community’s insularity had provided barely any exposure to black people beyond negative stereotypes and that in turn had served as the basis of culturally institutionalised prejudice.

But above all, their qualms were driven by a concern that relationships were difficult enough for a couple from the same community. To them, an interracial relationship meant espousing that commonality and not understanding each other’s culture. That meant an additional but unnecessary layer of challenge to a relationship.

In retrospect, they’d acknowledge all their concerns were unfounded. Although they were almost proved right when I was faced with my first big fat Indian wedding. I’d been to other Indian weddings. Yet this was the first where I was attending as a close family member and it gave an insight into an aspect of my wife’s culture that I just couldn’t fathom.

You see, this wasn’t just a wedding, it was an extravaganza. A series of events spanning over a week, both building up to the wedding and subsequent to the big day. None were on a small scale either. As a relative newcomer to the culture, it was sometimes fascinating to observe. Nevertheless, I just couldn’t get my head around what I was actually experiencing.

First, there was a ceremony where the bride’s family ‘officially’ invited the groom’s side to the wedding. This was despite the couple already being married (their civil ceremony, the only aspect of their wedding that was on a small scale, was weeks prior to the Indian wedding). Given the necessary planning, the fact a wedding was occurring wasn’t news to anyone either.

I was on the groom’s family’s side and there was a religious ceremony with our side prior to the wedding. It was quickly apparent that none of the groom’s generation (including the groom himself) had any idea what was going on and weren’t interested either. Meanwhile, the elders had no definitive version of what was supposed to actually happen either. As a result, it descended into somewhat of a palaver. The generation that cared couldn’t agree on what was supposed to happen and the generation that didn’t care became visibly nonchalant to what was happening.

There were more social and secular events, such as the mehndi party, that were a good opportunity to casually interact with guests from both sides and outside of the formalities of the wedding. But they also added to the layers of wedding festivities. With a big wedding, there was also increased wedding politics and increased stress for all involved with the planning. As the wedding approached, I’d never seen the groom, a jovial wind up merchant and happy-go-lucky chap, looking so stressed with the rigmarole of it all.

The week of festivities was enjoyable, as most weddings are, but tiring. As the number of events began to take their toll, still happy countenances, including those of the couple, were now tinged with and betrayed by fatigue.

I considered my own wedding as my main reference point and the contrast was stark. I don’t recall my wife or I ever being stressed throughout the planning and our wedding spanned one day. Ceremony, wedding breakfast and a party at the reception. Bish, bash, bosh. I felt we had a fair amount of guests (although my wife insisted that it was a small wedding by Indian wedding standards). Whereas the groom of this wedding jokingly conceded, as truth said in jest, that he didn’t know half the guests even on his own side. That’s unsurprising given one function had in excess of 800 guests in attendance.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t rationalise a series of events of this scale being a feature of a wedding of any culture. My wife largely shared my stance but being of the culture herself, she just accepted it; something I wasn’t able to do. Aside from my wife having to listen to my repeated incredulity, did it cause a problem? Not really unless you count her becoming fed up of listening to me.

It got me thinking about how these customs had managed to endure generations of the diaspora that were increasingly distanced from the land where they originated. There’s much of my West Indian culture that I cling onto, and will continue to do so, alongside my culture as a British born black man. I would support that for any diaspora community. Though within a traditional Indian or South Asian wedding, there doesn’t appear to be as much influence from British society and norms as one might expect. Which is surprising given how long the South Asian community has been present in the UK.

Any suggestion that the diaspora eschew their roots would be both foolish and culturally insensitive. But what of bridging the gap between British society, a culture that most are more au fait and wedded to, than that of their roots?

Take the duration. A week’s worth of wedding festivities is a huge imposition on a guest in considering leave from work and other commitments. Even with functions in the evening, that’s still an imposition on people’s time when it’s not just once but a repeated demand on one’s schedule.

The customary and expected effort made by wedding guests in just looking the part has to be repeated several times over for an Indian wedding. Ask any female attending a wedding of the endeavours that go into getting ready for a wedding of any culture and then multiply that several times. While my wife enjoys wearing traditional Indian clothes (as did I during the week’s functions), she and most Asian women can attest that wearing a saree doesn’t come close to the ease of wearing a dress or a suit so you can imagine the effort required when it’s for a series of events.

Then there’s the cost. In austere times, traditional Indian weddings are bucking the trend in pursuit of grand affairs but surely not everyone can afford it. Indeed, I’m sure many have provoked the ire of Indian Bridezillas in not sharing their enthusiasm for, or suggesting scaling back from, their ideal wedding scenario despite its accompanying spiralling cost.

I wouldn’t want to see the visuals and overall sensory experience of Asian weddings diluted and it’s important that it isn’t. The clothes, the colours, the music, the food and the nod to past traditions. They’re all part of the culture that need to be preserved and celebrated. However, as another generation of the diaspora are charged with taking these customs forward, I’m not sure how much longevity Asian weddings can experience in their current format.

While I would have been willing to have an Indian wedding had my wife wanted one, there’s no way I would have agreed to the endless number of guests, many of whom neither of us knew. Nor would I have agreed to the number of functions that has become standard practice. And I definitely wouldn’t have been happy with the bill for it all either.

As the Indian and wider South Asian diaspora becomes more removed from its roots and further connected to western ideals, I imagine Asian weddings will see a similar trend.

The next generation of the diaspora, whose then elders are now having weddings that they themselves are disconnected to, won’t share the desire for a big Asian wedding. And with a slow, yet visible, increase in interracial marriages within the Asian community, weddings are likely to reflect this too.

Preserving the diaspora’s culture is important and necessary. Though at what cost does manifesting that come when its conduit is a traditional wedding that’s out of step with everything else the couple know?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Let’s accept Mayweather vs McGregor for what it is

When Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor was announced, my first reaction was it was a mismatch; one that disproportionately favoured Mayweather but would have an entertaining build up and generate a lot of money. That isn’t to throw any shade at McGregor but he’s taking part in a sport that he’s never competed in against a fighter considered a pound for pound great. If those odds aren’t stacked against him, I don’t know what is.

Nevertheless, the fight presents some intrigue, less so around the result which is roundly expected to convincingly go Mayweather’s way, but in what it represents in potential commercial success and an analysis of the overall event.

Firstly, this fight needs to be accepted for what it is in a commercial endeavour rather than a sporting one. Indeed, aside from trying to generate further hype and anticipation, I expect the delay in negotiations was more about how they could generate the most income and deciding what each fighter’s revenue streams would be. Both Mayweather and McGregor have a well publicised penchant for money and as I previously predicted, post-retirement Mayweather’s lack of fight income means he has little to offset his gambling debts, apparent poor business acumen and financial management. That’s also now compounded by an IRS bill.

The fighters may argue otherwise but there’s little legacy to fight for here. A Mayweather victory means he beat a 0-0 fighter from another sport. This fight is about money first and bragging rights second.
McGregor in Bantersaurus Rex mode
Consequently, entertainment and generating interest is high on the agenda. The first presser was entertaining with Mayweather probably edging McGregor in the banter stakes but the subsequent presser in Toronto was a 10-8 round to McGregor who put in a bant-tastic display that echoed Muhammed Ali in his prime. As a fellow fight fan put it, McGregor had more zingers than KFC. However, after Toronto, New York and London were mediocre to say the least.

New York and London represented a pantomime akin to that expected from WWE but one that was crass and desperate. After Toronto, the world tour had run out of steam. It was gassed like a fighter in the championship rounds that had neglected their cardio in training.

I’d go as far suggesting the Toronto presser will remain the main event and high point but what of the fight itself? I can only see a Mayweather victory and all the evidence points towards it.

Combat sports aficionado and multi discipline participant, David Dennis, shared some of his thoughts on the fight and agreed that all roads lead to a Mayweather victory. A wide UD points decision where McGregor is toyed with for 12 rounds, made to repeatedly miss in a defensive masterclass from Mayweather, or a TKO, probably with McGregor walking onto a shot similar to the check hook that saw Hatton hit the canvas when he fought Mayweather, were both scenarios we envisaged. Furthermore, McGregor could even see himself disqualified if his muscle memory reverts to type as he forgets that he’s now operating under Queensberry rules rather than MMA where his fists are the only permitted tools.

Mayweather’s fragile hands probably won’t allow for any meaningful power punches and as the bigger man, McGregor may be able to use his size and grappling experience to rough Mayweather up on the inside. But the chances are Mayweather’s too smart to allow him to get close enough to do that. Anything can happen in boxing and if McGregor lands a big left, Mayweather could be in trouble. Although the likelihood of that is slim, albeit not impossible. As David put it, “Floyd really is as good as everyone hates to believe he is” and he gave McGregor a 2% chance of victory.

David added further insight into the commercial value of the fight with PPV buys perhaps being eroded by boxing purists who have shown much vitriol toward the fight, more than I previously expected. Oscar de la Hoya, promoting Canelo vs GGG as a genuinely epic fight only a matter of weeks later, has been very vocal against Mayweather vs McGregor (which will undoubtedly eat into his own PPV buys). Many of the traditional boxing press, who already felt Mayweather’s braggadocio was unwelcome in the sport, are similarly against it.

Boxing has admittedly had a chip on its shoulder when it comes to MMA, primarily UFC with its commercial success. For many within the boxing community, this is a fight that is not only boxing vs UFC but also one that they will turn their backs on as a brash Irishman attempts to hijack their sport.

That leaves the casuals, the intrigued and McGregor fanboys to make up the bulk of PPVs buys. Yet in McGregor especially, boxing and UFC’s premier salesmen and self promoters will certainly maximise those numbers to an extent beyond much else seen in either sport.

McGregor does provide some intrigue insofar as he presents Mayweather with a type of opponent that he’s never faced. Certainly more outlandish, a better self promoter, more braggadocious, void of fear of Mayweather and with a self-belief that he really can win, McGregor makes for a great rival. It’s just as well because that translates into promotional hype to sell the fight. It just doesn’t translate into fighting ability in a sport that McGregor’s never competed within.

Both fighters presumably realise this fight is a spectacle but one that will make gargantuan amounts of money. As spectators, we too need to realise and accept that. That means enjoying the inevitable entertainment that we’re likely to get, albeit outside of the ring, and appreciating the fight for what it is.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Is cheating subjective?

Within a monogamous relationship, cheating is generally considered a big deal. How many relationships have been terminated by one party who feels wronged by the other for their undermining of what was an explicit contract of exclusivity as partners? Nevertheless, the free will that allows someone to cheat is the same free will that underpins our decision to enter and remain in an exclusive relationship and to rightly leave a relationship when it isn’t working.

I’ve always seen cheating as fairly black or white. It’s taking part in intimate or sexual and physical acts, or establishing intimate relationships that go beyond platonic, that undermine your partner while in an assumed exclusive relationship. You’ve irrefutably acted in a manner that breaks the contract of your relationship. I’d argue it's not that complicated yet it’s often made to be.

There’s also an imbalance in how cheating is perceived. It’s certainly a transgression but there are more severe offences within a relationship such as physical, emotional and mental abuse. However, it’s seen by many as being on par with these or worse (although it can sometimes take the form of emotional abuse based on one party’s wrongdoing).

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ is even one of the ten commandments; managing to make the list above obvious omissions such as child abuse. On reflection, the origins of the perceived sin of infidelity is probably skewed and more to do with patriarchal control of women than preserving or promoting a sanctity of monogamy.

Millennials and Friends fans alike will be familiar with Ross’ protests against what Rachel perceived as Ross cheating because in his eyes, they “were on a break”. And while he perhaps showed some insensitivity in how quick he was willing to be intimate with another person, he was nonetheless a free agent as the basis of his defence.

Break or no break, in Rachel's eyes Ross had cheated. And in reality, cheating is perceived differently within many relationships. When I asked my wife if her stance on cheating was the same as mine, she articulated a much broader response. So much so that it made me wonder how many people might have inadvertently cheated based on her explanation.

In addition to my fairly straightforward definition, she felt cheating could depend on a given context. She opined that if a couple were having problems and one person had a rendezvous outside of the relationship, even without an intention of pursuing an affair, that would be considered cheating. I was pretty confused. If it was with the intention of cheating, then I could understand her stance. But why would it be cheating when you didn’t have the intention of an affair?

Her argument was that the act of meeting someone else was still facilitating infidelity when said relationship wasn’t in a strong place. Therefore you’d be inviting the opportunity to be unfaithful. “What if you aren't having problems? Would it be ok then?” I quizzically retorted.

“Then it's fine but you should still tell the person you’re meeting that you're in a relationship so there's no scope for any temptation or for anyone being misled. If you don’t, then you’re establishing a basis to cheat which in principle, is the same as cheating” was her response.

I was equally baffled and intrigued by her logic and presented her with a scenario of me innocently talking to a woman at a bar but without declaring I was in a relationship. Maybe we’d even exchange numbers because we had a personal or professional connection. Well, that was a definite no-no she said. “And what about the same scenario but with another man?”, I asked in preempting an answer that would likely highlight a double standard.

“Well, that would be ok because I know there isn't a chance that you’d be involved with them” she replied.

Like other women who've expressed similar views, hers is a stance that's likely to be more underpinned by insecurities, stereotypical depictions of men, emotionally led ideals of monogamy and probably hours of Sex and the City. Yet it’s one that other women seemingly share in a broader definition of infidelity than that shared by many men.

It reminded me of an episode of King of Queens where Doug confronts Deacon about his suspected cheating against his wife Kelly. Deacon, racked with guilt, tells Doug he's just been going to dinner with another woman and talking but nothing has happened between them. Doug’s relieved that his friend hasn't been unfaithful and assures Deacon that he’s not done anything wrong. Although when Doug excitedly tells his own wife, Carrie, she has a very different view that still sees Deacon’s actions as representing misdemeanour. And sure enough, my own wife agreed with her.

So why isn't there a universally accepted ideal of cheating? And how has it come to be so subjective? Do those of us with a narrower view of what it constitutes maintain that view because it subconsciously grants us more freedom within the constraints of monogamy? Or do others, regardless of gender, maintain their far-reaching stance because it provides an iron-clad defence of their emotions, even when irrationally so?

When you consider the social construct of monogamy, rightly or wrongly, our defence of our emotions and insecurities certainly lends itself to bolstering its validity. Furthermore, it makes relationships units that we can become insular within because of a fear that even innocent conduct outside of it could be considered a breach of the contract of our relationship. Deacon felt guilty because he'd been talking to another woman. Nothing more. And while he may have been tempted to take that further (which probably added to his guilt), he didn't. So what had he actually done wrong?

Cheating isn’t compatible with a monogamous relationship but where do we draw the line between innocence and transgression? Just think of how many couples have experienced jealousy and relationship problems because of interaction with a platonic friend. In an age of social media, where insecurities can be played upon in ways that were once unimaginable, the blur of that line is further exacerbated. The upshot is there is less trust within relationships because we allow modern society’s projections of what constitutes an infraction within a relationship to permeate our own relationships. That lack of trust can’t be a good thing but while cheating remains subjective, that’s unlikely to change.
© iamalaw

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