Digest #1, June 14th 2020
My cousin Kristeen sent me this wonderful recording of James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni in conversation. It was filmed in London, in 1971, for the PBS program SOUL!
Early in the conversation, while reflecting on Black survival in a white society, Baldwin remarks “you’re always scrubbed and shiny, you know, a parody of God knows what because no white person has ever been as clean as you have been forced to become”. I’m sure for some of you, these reflections are new, and timely. For those of us for whom these thoughts are very old, Baldwin expresses them so beautifully that it’s almost as though our own frustrated souls are speaking through him. Worth your time, all two hours of it.
A cropped screenshot from the conversation.
Yotam Ottolenghi is the Godfather of our family kitchen, in the sense that his advice and sensibilities find their way into most of the dishes prepared there. As anyone who owns Ottolenghi cookbooks will know (if you've never heard of him, SIMPLE is a fantastic entry point), flavourful and healthy Middle Eastern staples like preserved lemons, barberries, harissa, tahini and sesame seeds, combine to make some ridiculously mouthwatering meals. This sheet pan recipe (halfway down the page) from his first cookbook, for delicious baked chicken, red onions and lemon slices, topped with sumac, za'atar, parsley and pine nuts, is my go-to for both dinner parties and easy weeknight dinners.
Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay.
I’ve been building a Spotify playlist for a while, which is full of music that makes me happy. I don’t want to call it Afrobeats because it also includes reggae, dancehall, and other genres. Maybe we can stick with ‘talented Black musicians who aren’t played as often as they should be in the West’? Though I’d love to see that shift happen soon. Right now the song Mafo (Yoruba slang which means “don’t break”), by Nigerian musicians Naira Marley and Young John, is a big hit in our house. I don’t know what it is about this song that makes my son, who turns six months old on Thursday, so excited every time he hears it. But as teething kicks off, and his need for stimulation reaches high gear, I am grateful for any recreational activities we can both simultaneously enjoy. For now, that’s mostly walks outside and dancing in the house, with this playlist on.
A still from the Mafo music video, which my son won't be watching for a long, long time.
John Carter is the eponymous title of a 2012 movie about a Civil War veteran who travels to Mars and goes on wild adventures, based on a book series first published in 1912. I had never heard of it before. I saw the title on Disney+ and we decided to watch it. Turns out that this movie (that nobody else seems to have heard of either) cost $350 million to make, was panned by critics and lost a couple hundred million for Disney. The story behind this colossal failure is an equally epic case study in corporate incompetence. The CEO of Disney ended up stepping down over it. I am referring you not to the film itself, but to its Wikipedia page: it’s a real gem to read through. But did we enjoy the film? Yes, enough that my husband Alex and I are trying to track down the Barsoom novels to read for ourselves.
Theatrical release poster, from the film’s Wikipedia page.
No White Saviors, a Ugandan advocacy organisation most widely known for their popular Instagram account, has released some truly fantastic content on their podcast. I keep coming back to their episodes on Pan-Africanism. The first of two parts includes a discussion with Dr. Kanakulye Dickson from Makerere University, which I have now listened to three times because it is so insightful and includes a plethora of quotable lines I am continuing to bring into my own discussions. Unfortunately, in my own life it is rare for me to hear Ugandans having a thoughtful discussion about colonialism, eurocentrism, whitewashing, American Black identity, narrative control, and human dignity. I’m sure there are many other sources of content like this, but as a Westerner I am thoroughly ignorant of them. Please send me any recommendations you might have!
The No White Saviors podcast artwork.
This image (below), from the ever-brilliant Rachel Cargle (@rachel.cargle) on Instagram, deserves your attention. This is a from a "Saturday School" post, a format Rachel uses to create dedicated space to critically analyse the problematic comments that are left on her posts. You'll need to click through to read the caption in order to learn from her insight, and to fully appreciate the time and energy that has gone into this breakdown. It turns something very frustrating into a collective learning experience (AKA the most noble way to possibly respond to people on the internet). I can only hope to be this patient one day.
Rachel Cargle's "Saturday School" post from 13 June 2020.
I recently finished my April delivery from Book of the Month (I'm running a little behind), The Guest List by Lucy Foley. A murder mystery, set on a rocky Irish island, is told from flashbacks using multiple characters’ first person perspectives, interspersed with omnipresent current-moment action to drive forward the momentum. It is an enjoyable, easy read. A few plot elements are quite implausible, so I needed to suspend my disbelief a little, but that didn't stop me from furiously flipping the pages to conclude the story. I wouldn't call it intellectually stimulating, but it was fun. And we could all do with a little fun right now, couldn’t we?
Cover of 'The Guest List' by Lucy Foley.
The Seven is a weekly digest sharing a collection of seven carefully curated stories, articles, images, movies, books, songs and other content. Thoughtfully contextualised and passed along with consideration, for your mental nourishment.