New Statesman 2009

Shazia's Week

29 January 2009

People are so excited about Obama becoming president that they've started naming things after him, like a school and a mountain. My local bakery has named a Black Forest gateau after him. They've called it the Obama Black Forest gateau. It has four layers of chocolate, topped with Obama's face and surrounded by cherries. I asked the baker how he made the face. He promptly replied: "Would you like a lick? I'm letting everyone have a taste of the face; the ladies are loving it. I've sold 260 this week." I bit a part of his ear: it tasted great.

 

There are no end to the celebrations for the first black man in the White House. I don't remember anyone making a "Thatcher Irn-Bru gateau" to celebrate the first woman in No 10.

 

I took part in Obamalama, a celebration comedy show on the night of Obama's inauguration. The audience consisted of a hundred very happy black people wearing Obama T-shirts. Some wore T-shirts with Obama on the front, and Oprah Winfrey on the back. The pair are obviously the Cagney and Lacey of the black world - here to save us all.

 

How good does Obama have to be, to be considered good? Well, if that old man had won, the expectations would have been much lower; all he would have had to do is turn up and stay awake. He would have got a standing ovation for each Senate meeting he didn't fall asleep in.

 

I know from my own experience, I have to be twice as funny as my white male counterparts to be given half the credit. And any time anyone is racist to me, my manager advises me to keep a dignified silence. If we all kept a dignified silence, black people still would not be allowed a seat on the bus, gay people would all be in the closet and chefs would never have made it on television.

 

At least in America they're upfront about their racism. In England we are sly, conniving and cunning. We are led to believe that we can run police forces, be Mayor of London and win Strictly Come Dancing. But in reality we can only conquer Harrods.

 

I am going to do shows in San Francisco next month. I've been working in the US for six years and I am excited to go back now that my friends are no longer ashamed to be American. San Francisco is the only place in the whole world where I've never

 

been censored; it's enough to be funny and wear a flower in your hair; but even there I'm enjoying the freedoms that other people fought for.

 

One of my aunties is suffering from dementia. She told me she had heard so much about the film "Scumdog Millionaire" that we should go and see it. On arriving at the cinema, she demanded tickets for "Scumdog" only to be told there was no such film, and that it was actually called Slumdog. "It'll have to do," she replied.

 

The film was being shown in screen two of a parochial village cinema in north London. Everyone walked in quietly; nobody was really talking; then at the end of the film, all of a sudden, a hundred people started clapping, then people started standing up. I'd never experienced this before:, they were standing up to the screen, the titles were rolling and people were standing and clapping. Then an old woman started cheering and my auntie joined in, shouting at the top of her voice: "I'm glad we watched that and not Scumdog." I felt I should stand up too. I hadn't been to the cinema for a while. Maybe the etiquette had changed, maybe this is like theatre now. Everyone stayed till the end and as I walked out, all I could hear was: "Why was everyone standing up?" We all followed the crowd, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

 

The British may be reserved in certain instances, but when they want to show their gratitude they really go to town no matter which village they are in.