“If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim”

Whether it’s a career choice, a life choice, a decision to drink or not to drink, a religious choice, a new partner, a different hairdo or even a facebook status – far too often, we worry about what people think of our lives. We forget that, at the end of the day, people’s opinions are irrelevant. The secret lies in fighting for our dreams, for even if we don’t follow them, people will still criticise us. Happiness lies not in people’s perception of one but in the peace of knowing that you are pursuing your own dreams, your own wishes and the lifestyle you choose – in your own way, shape and style. And so, dream big. Dream outside the box. Dream fearlessly. Dream, dream, dream!

Margaret Thatcher knew this all too well. Blocking her ears to her critics, she retorted thus, “If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.”

This thought chimes true for many a dreamer…

No means yes and yes means…rollerblade bopping!

No means yes.

And no, I am not referring to the warped mantra of a Yale fraternity.

As I came home from a reunion-type bar-b-que in Essex with a high school friend, I passed through Stratford. I had to walk through a shopping mall to reach the underground and get back to Central London.

It was the most rad shopping mall scene I had encountered in a while. In the stillness of the night, a group of about twenty young teenagers had connected their i-pods to speakers and transformed the centre of the mall into a dance floor. At first they played something that sounded like Afro-Cuban rhumba but they also played a host of other music from B.I.G to classical music. The entire situation oozed coolness – skating rink meets America’s Best Dance Crew. With their tracksuits and multi-coloured roller blades they brought a seventies fad back to raving life.

I motioned towards the underground and adjacent to the exit of the mall was a sign that read “No Skating.” Well for these teens, no meant yes. Not in the sadistic bro-bible sense, but in an artsy, fun and alternative way.

Whether they got caught or not, rollerblade bopping is now definitely on my list of things to do before I turn thirty.

He flashed his ‘I-just-bench-pressed-the-world’ smile…

The lesson I’m taking from today is that, if I am serious about one of my million dreams which is to join the bench in Zimbabwe, I need to toughen up. I had a bit of a Boston Legal moment when a jury at the Old Bailey returned its verdict in court today. Two teenage ethnic gang members were convicted of a gun-related murder. As the jury foreman announced the verdict, two mothers wailed uncontrollably – the mother of one of the convicted murderers and the mother of the young teenager who had been murdered. They were sent out of court in the interests of public order.

I maintained my usual tough exterior as I sat next to the judge but my heart ripped into two. One part of me felt sorry for the young boy who is likely to face a sentence of life imprisonment. The other part of me bled for the mother who will never see her son again. Prosecuting and defending murder are some of the most daunting tasks any lawyer will ever face. One needs to balance one’s duty to his or her client as well as a countervailing ethical duty to the court. Negotiating a happy medium is never easy.

As I returned to the chambers of the judge with whom I marshal, I asked how he manages to remain dispassionate in view of his daily task of re-living episodes of murder, violence, prostitution and the crack-cocaine underworld. He flashed his ‘I-just-bench-pressed-the-world’ smile and admitted that it is not easy but it is a quality one develops over time.

“You just have to get on with it I suppose.”

Tough, but true. Now to work on my stone cold heart.

There is no such thing as “black culture”…stop blaming the black people…

It is fascinating to be black in Britain. In a society visibly stratified according to class and social standing, racism in the strict sense pales into arguable insignificance. One’s manner of speaking appears to be so important in this country that instant judgment is passed against those who speak differently. Posh accents are attacked for being posh. ‘Common’ accents are attacked for being common. Some are overly concerned with whether one comes from the North or the South of England. Prejudice, it would appear, transcends the bounds of race.

Yet race remains the pink, or black, elephant in the room. Well it did, until historian David Starkey appeared on Newsnight last Saturday.

Starkey hazarded an explanation for the recent riots in the UK. He blamed the ‘violent, destructive and nihilistic’ black culture that has corrupted too many of Britain’s youngsters. Tony Sewell, a British journalist, adopting a similar tone, claimed that the ethos of materialism — or ‘bling’ to use the street term — that pervades urban black youth played a major part in the widespread criminality perpetrated by rioters of all races.

By ‘black’, what do Starkey and Sewell mean? Afro-American? Black British? Carribean? West African? East African? Southern African?  Do we distinguish black Africans from white Africans?

Can we ever be so simplistic?

Black culture cannot be brought down to a single common denominator. For some, to be black is to be disciplined sternly by one’s mother for stealing guavas from the tree next door. For others, it is to have an evening job to enable one to fund living expenses during college. For others, it is to sing in the church choir. Yet other black people listen only to rap and are bankers, lawyers doctors and scientists. To be black is not something you can put into a box and hurl insults at, just because a few hundred kids, black and white, have engaged in a mindless bout of violence. Not all black people are yobs in the same way that not all white people are crackheads.

Martin Luther had a dream. It is a dream we ought to continue to strive for. The black man is not simple. He deserves not to be treated simplistically. Prejudice, in all its forms, takes us one step back.

Humanity is one, after all.

London riots: first world people, third world problems.

Image courtesy of Ibtimes

A discreet note was passed in court to the Judge I was marshalling with indicating that the Old Bailey, which is the Central Criminal Court in London, would rise early due to the unrest.

There were scenes of riot police, armoured cars, burning buildings and smashed windows.

A quick glimpse of the violence broadcast on television could have easily made one think that this was footage of an uprising in the Third World, perhaps Africa or the Middle East. And yet no, it all occurred in Britain, the land of sobriety and good manners. London is perhaps one of the most fabulous cities in the world. Culture, fashion, business and diversity all combine to create a little bit of something for everyone. Whether it’s a picnic in Hyde Park or speedboating on the Thames, it is generally difficult not to have fun here. But on this day, the tube was eerily silent. It was not the usual silence of politesse the English are famed for. Rather, it was silence characterised by confusion as to why, in England, people were rioting, carrying out arson attacks, stoning the police and looting shops.

As raindrops applauded themselves on the pavement to the backdrop of police sirens as I arrived home, I remembered the words of Arthur, a friend with whom I had studied at Cambridge who, when I had spent days searching for evening gloves for the white tie ball without success, quipped, “Fadzayi: third world people, first world problems…”

In the midst of rioting, arson and running battles between the police and hooded teens, I sent Arthur a facetious message on facebook, “Tottenham: first world people, third world problems.”