Sinem Bilen Onabanjo


This week was the week proud new parents, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have presented their new-born son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor to the world. Also the week BBC Radio host Danny Baker was fired Thursday after tweeting out a cartoon the day before representing the new royal baby as a chimpanzee in a suit, with the caption: “Royal baby leaves the hospital.”

Baker, an award-winning host as well as a comedy writer and journalist, initially deleted the tweet and apologized for its contents.

“Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up,” he tweeted first. “Never occurred to me because, well, mind not diseased. Soon as those good enough to point out it’s possible connotations got in touch, down it came. And that’s it.”

As the backlash kicked off on social media, in a desperate attempt to make amends, Baker tweeted,

“Once again. Sincere apologies for the stupid unthinking gag pic earlier. Was supposed to be joke about Royals vs circus animals in posh clothes but interpreted as about monkeys & race, so rightly deleted. Royal watching not my forte. Also, guessing it was my turn in the barrel.”

Then he tried yet again, relaying an exchange at his door with a Daily Mail reporter. Baker’s irritation was showing as the reporter allegedly asked him, “Do you think black people look like monkeys?”

“This was a serious error of judgment and goes against the values we as a station aim to embody,” the BBC said in a statement Thursday, as the broadcaster decided to let the presenter go. “Danny’s a brilliant broadcaster but will no longer be presenting a weekly show with us.”

Shortly after he had been fired, Baker turned on his former employer for making the decision to let him go.

“The call to fire me from @bbc5live was a masterclass of pompous faux-gravity,” he tweeted Thursday. “Took a tone that said I actually meant that ridiculous tweet and the BBC must uphold blah blah blah. Literally threw me under the bus. Could hear the suits knees knocking.”

In an LBC interview after he was fired, Baker told James O’Brien: “It was put up there as a joke about class. It was supposed to be preposterous about toffs leaving. The idea that there was any racial basis for it … it came out of my own ignorance.

“I curdled that I thought anyone could have thought that was the intent behind that photo.”

A whole 24 hours after the radio host shared the offensive post the backlash continued with many criticising Baker, including ITV News anchor Charlene White who said, “To claim ‘ignorance’, and give a half-hearted apology – again full of jokey ‘banter’ – despite people highlighting just how clearly offensive it is, is also unacceptable. That’s not the world we live in now. Those who live in privilege must be held to account” and writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch who tweeted: “Not only does Danny Baker post an image comparing a baby w African heritage to an ape, but he has the audacity to say problem is that those of us who point out how racist it is have ‘diseased minds’.”

Hirsch’s comment right here sums it all up For those still wondering what the brouhaha is all about – and there are indeed many of them still pondering all over Twitter and Facebook. One such today came across Mr O’s rant on Facebook and ventured to comment, “Pretty sure he meant it as ‘the kid is gonna become another royal monkey being controlled and pranced around by higher ups without proper freedom’ rather than anything racial. Completely unfair to fire him based on his post. From the statement also he didn’t mean it as some people understood it.”

What is perhaps equally as troubling as, if not more so than, Baker’s original tweet is the defence he offers for his actions, which is echoed by those who see no wrongdoing in Baker’s behaviour. And it can be summed up in two words: white privilege.

No need pointing out Baker’s race and privilege. Needless to add, the aforementioned clueless commentator is another member of the white privilege club where the colour of one’s skin and the privileges that naturally come with it make one blind to connotations and in fact blatant codes of racism, such as depicting the biracial offspring of the Duke and Duchess as a chimp.

White privilege is also the same disease that caused similar blindness in 2018 when H&M outraged its black audience with their ill-advised ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ hoody, incidentally worn by a black kid.

Also the same disease which made Heineken and its supporters equally deaf to the racial undertones of the tagline ‘sometimes lighter is better’ the brand used to market its light beer.

There are countless examples from the world of modern media and advertising to show just how rampant white privilege still is and how so many are blind and deaf to the connotations of certain imagery and words which struck a chord with a racially diverse audience. But to suffer from the white privilege disease and then accuse those offended of having ‘diseased minds’? So glad karma served up real fast in the case of Danny Baker.

Source: Guardian

The world in 2008 was a very different place, and methinks, much simpler. The worst kind of race argument you could get caught up in and viciously slated was debating Barack Obama’s biracial identity – and get caught up in a debate and viciously slated I did, when on a Facebook post I questioned why Barack Obama was always referred to by the mainstream media as “America’s first black president.”

Sad, how it’s been 11 years since “America’s first black president” was a reality and not a dream, and how 11 years on America seems to have regressed into Jim Crow era, but that’s for another day.

I don’t have a child yet, but one day when I am blessed with one, she will be blessed with Turkish-Nigerian roots. My argument in 2008 was that Barack Obama was no more black than he was white. As a biracial son of a Kenyan father and American mother, he was the “first biracial American president.” But alas, post after post, my Facebook friends and frenemies kept reminding me of the infamous one drop rule – a social and legal principle of racial classification, ironically, created by white Americans.

I had heard of one drop rule of course, but I refused for my then imaginary children to be defined by that one drop at the expense of half of their DNA, identity and heritage. “If someone calls my child Nigerian,” I remember arguing, “that may as well deny my whole existence in their creation, because, whatever happened to the other half of them that is undeniably Turkish?”

I even brought in my dual heritage into the mix, which has since become even more of a contentious issue in my native Turkey; for all the similarities on the surface, Turkish and Kurdish connote very different things in my ever polarised home country, where increasingly you’re having to pick a side. It may not be a case of the one drop rule just yet, but say out loud you’re Kurdish, and in the eyes of some, you might as well have admitted to having leprosy. In this melting pot of centuries old ethnic cultures, I was fortunate enough to have never had to choose, being born to a Kurdish father and a Turkish mother. To date, when talking about how dissimilar we are, my mother still reminds me I am the daughter of a Kurd after all, not in a derogatory way, but as a loving reminder of my late father’s heritage. Exactly as I would want my children to embrace both sides of their ethnic makeup, without being pigeonholed into one, or forced to pick side.

In the year 2019, while much has changed, some things remain the same as I was reminded earlier this week, when the new tennis sensation Naomi Osaka fielded a question from a Japanese reporter who wanted her to reply in Japanese and Osaka replied that she was going to say it in English before going into her answer.

Last year, upon winning the third round of the Australian Open, Osaka had to educate another Japanese reporter who wanted to know what her victory as a “very proud” Japanese means for her people.

“You moved to New York when you were two years old and lived in the United States for a long time, but you’re very proudly Japanese, obviously. What will this victory mean for the people back home, for both sets of fans who will be watching this for you?” asked the reporter, not knowing his mic would be handed back to him with the kind of sass we now know Osaka to be capable of.

“Actually, I live in FL now. But, I mean, of course I’m very honored to be playing for Japan. But my dad’s side is Haitian, so represent. But um, yeah. I forget the rest of your question. Sorry!” responded the tennis ace.

Following her latest win, USA Today called Osaka “the first Japanese player, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam trophy.” ESPN called her “the first tennis player from Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.” A story too similar to the French national football team made up of sons of immigrants who carried the country to the World Cup final who were relegated to the second class row behind the lily-white, pure-blooded French boys who went up to receive the cup, or the immigrant who was Malian one day but became French almost the next upon saving the life of a toddler dangling off a balcony, or men of African descent, footballers, scientists, politicians, who are defined by their country of adoption at the height of the success – how many times have you heard “American scientist of Nigerian parentage” or “British politician of Caribbean descent” – and dismissed by country of heritage at first sign of misdemeanour – “the terrorist thought to be Nigerian having gained naturalisation in 2015…”

So much may have changed in 11 years, but so little seems to have, if we are still debating the race of my still imaginary children. All I know is that I hope they will not be defined by the one drop rule, their non-black side erased, or whitewashed to make them fit into the success story that dictates all hint of colour should be removed. Above all, I hope they will have as much sass as Naomi Osaka in not letting anyone put their well-rounded selves into square boxes of racial tick boxes.



Credit: Guardian Woman, Sinem-Bilen Onabanjo

For the first time since 2016 I’m spending Christmas home in Turkey; for the first time in forever I get to spend a whole month home. A whole month calls for as many reunions with friends as one can fit in. As tricky as it might be logistically to get together a number of friends during the festive season, considering I haven’t seen some in almost 20 years and this is the first time I am home for an extended period of time it was a challenge I was willing to take on. Hence the tale of two reunions.

The first was a dinner date with three friends two of whom I hadn’t seen since our high school graduation – a whopping 23 years ago. The second a lunchtime birthday celebration with a group of friends from university some of whom I had seen since graduation or at least kept in touch with on social media. The two reunions couldn’t have been more different.

In hindsight, perhaps the first was no more than giving the past another shot, potentially an oversight. As my friends who’d since kept in touch and met each other regularly over the last two decades and some caught up with each other, deep in conversation, they also discussed mundane matters – the ever rising inflation and currency rates, different levels of credit cards, different levels of upper middle class folk we all went to school with… At one point, talking about a guy who was one of the jocks in high school, one of my friends mused, “We didn’t know he was that rich then, did we?” At which point, I was struggling to pick my jaw off the floor.

Granted we went to the top private school in Turkey and rubbed shoulders with some of the richest heirs in the country, those kids you knew were born with a silver spoon and raised to take over the golden key to Daddy’s empire. Regardless, I don’t think I ever contemplated ‘the rich list of Robert College’. To think that, 23 years on, some people were still hung up on high net worth, platinum cards and brand names, was baffling.

Incidentally, the jock in question years later married the sister of a friend I went to university with who happens to be the birthday girl of the second reunion. When I mentioned this conversation, she was equally baffled.

Then we thought of how our friendship circle was never defined by the money our parents made, the first car we had, the labels we wore or the holidays we took. As a friend pointed out, even in twenty years of friendship, none of us had ventured to ask another what their husband did for a living – not because we don’t care for those dear to our friends, but because it didn’t make a bit of difference whether their significant other was a prince or a pauper.

There were of course those who would boast about their latest designer buy or their last holiday skiing in Courchevel, but we quickly x’ed them out of our friendship circle. Labels didn’t define us but the bonds we had created over the years, built on love, trust, respect, nourished with shared experiences. Maybe it is for this reason when we meet, several months, years or even decades later, the conversation flows with ease, just like we’ve only see each other yesterday. Because what we see is what we get – the very same friend we’d made all those years ago, with no labels.

This is why when in the company of those who define themselves or others any other way, I struggle to see what the fuss is about. I am tempted to shake them up and ask: How do you define ourselves? What’s your label? What’s your price tag? Surely, it is more than our pay check, or the red sole of the shoe we wear, or our postcode. And if it is, perhaps it is time to rip these off and have a long hard look at your reflection in the mirror to find what really defines you.

Next time you’re tempted to keep up with the Joneses, or reach for the designer handbag, or obsess over the Os in someone’s pay check, Consider this, if you have a label, you have a price. What sets you apart from mere merchandise?



Credit: Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo, Guardian Woman

“Smile when that smile can be returned…” she said, barely containing her tears.

This was earlier in the week when Lydia, a Kenyan acquaintance shared with a number of us the story of her life. Married in 1998, and blessed with two daughters soon after, the first curve ball off left field came in the shape of meningitis. She found herself bedridden, with no brain functions, no sight, no mobility. “I was a cabbage,” she said, recalling over half a year in hospital spent with no improvement and no hope of recovery.

Eight months after her admission, with insurance payments running out, she had to be moved back home. “I knew I was in familiar surroundings, but not much else. I still couldn’t see my husband or my children,” she said of the time. Until one day praying with neighbourhood women who had come to support her, her vision came back all of a sudden. Then she realised, even with some difficulty, she could move. She called her husband to break the good news.

Then for months, she worked on rebuilding a broken life. Slowly she regained her speech, her mobility, her life. Once an eloquent speaker on international platforms, she had to go back to school to learn the basics of the English language.

Just when she was back on her feet, hard at work, in November 2002, she had another health scare where she spent two weeks in hospital. At this point, not certain whether she would regress, she had already started planning for her death. “I even had picked my husband’s next wife for after I’d died,” she jokes, “I told him, a year after my death, he should marry her. I also told him she had better treat my daughters well or I would come and haunt them from beyond the grave.”

Yet life had another card up her sleeve. She was blindsided just two weeks after, death calling at her door in a way she had not expected.

“It was a public holiday that day,” she recalls, “I’d woken up early to see my husband off. He was going to a village for business. This time around he didn’t tell me where he was going. He assured me he would be back in late afternoon and we could go out for dinner in the evening. I had an uneasy feeling, as if I wanted to run after his car and stop him, but I thought I was being foolish and went back to sleep.”

She woke up again at 9am with a bad headache and an even worse feeling in her gut, but it wasn’t until noon she would get a call from the police asking her to come to the mortuary to identify her husband. He was killed in a car crash soon after 9am.

“At 8am I was a wife,” she says, “At 9am I wasn’t.” Death had caught her unaware. It was another decade of building her life, raising her kids singlehandedly while shutting the outside world out, battling in grief and finding solace in long hours in the office, all the while questioning her faith and asking God, “Why me?” Today, she knows the lesson and she shares so generously.

“Smile when your smile can be returned. Give flowers when they can be received. Show someone you care when they are there. And ladies, appreciate your husbands when you have them.”

Isn’t there such power in those words? By the time she was finished telling her story, there was not a dry eye in the room. Not just because we felt her pain, but also because she was like any one of us. Any one of us could have gone to sleep on Friday, or a Saturday or any other given day a wife, and woken up an hour later a widow. A daughter, then not. A sister, then not. A mother… and in a spilt second not. Such is the threadbare line that is life, with death lurking in the nooks and crannies ready to jump on us and break that line, throwing into ricochet all the things we hold true about ourselves and our loved ones.

So, in Lydia’s words, “Smile when that smile can be returned…”


Credit: Sinem Bilen Onabanjo, Guardian Woman

Photo credit: Google