Mama Used to Say – a British Soul Playlist

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me occasionally post links to my morning Get Ready With Me songs. The songs are usually tunes from my youth that lift my spirits as I start my workday, but I am also a woman of a certain age who sometimes feels a disconnect and a tiny bit of auntie-ish disdain for modern music.

I was an inveterate Anglophile as a teen/twenty-something, and I’m also fascinated by Black people who make homes in places like the UK or Canada, where the Black experience is vastly different from my own Black American one. The other day I tweeted that I wanted a playlist of nothing but 90s British soul music and so I present the fruits of that labour. You’ll notice that the list isn’t limited to the 90s, nor is it limited to soul music/R&B. Some of the best Black1 music to come out of the British Isles wasn’t made by Black people.

Because I’m the Internet’s Auntie, and because I sometimes have a secret desire to show that I’m still cool enough to listen to new music, there are a fair number of newer British artists on this list. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did. Lists are available on Apple Music and Spotify because I can think of nothing better to do with my disposable income than to have subscriptions to two music services.


  1. Not all of the artists on this list are Black people, but they are all performing styles of music that are associated with Black cultures. I acknowledge that this is some messy-ass shorthand, but :shrug emoji: 

My Distraction Sickness

Andrew Sullivan’s essay for New York Magazine seems especially timely, given that a few of my friends are taking hiatuses from social media at present.

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.

This has been my reality for so long, I’m honestly not sure if I can imagine living any other way. I justify it by saying it helps me keep in touch with friends far and wide, but how in touch am I, really, when the majority of my updates come through the firehose of my Twitter timeline and are condensed to 140 characters?


A former romantic partner used to have a very active, very rich social circle that he kept in constant touch with through his laptop (and his phone, to a smaller extent). When I’d visit him in the Bay Area, his laptop was a third party in our bed. And I never felt like I could ask him to only focus on me, because those other people in his life were important too. What I eventually realized is that by taking advantage of the very limited time I had to spend with him and giving it to other people, he was showing me in no uncertain terms that I didn’t really matter at all.1 It’s now why I insist that current romantic partners put their phones away and silence any notifications while we’re together. As Sullivan writes:

Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully unplug. I want to get to a place where I can at least read quietly again, without sharing what I’m feeling at every moment with the ever-present dopamine injection that is my list of Twitter followers and Facebook friends. I want to hold hands, feel skin against skin, notice the way someone’s forehead furrows, and the way their eyes sparkle with laughter. But how can I do that in an unmediated way without being independently wealthy? But the distractions of my online life aren’t doing me any favours personally or professionally, and I think I could benefit greatly from sitting with the discomfort of quiet long enough for it to start to fit like a well-loved pair of slippers.


  1. I’m no saint here, either. The time I should’ve been spending with my spouse, I was spending it on the long-distance relationship and throwing my energies there. We live, we learn. 

#CharlestonSyllabus

A crowd-sourced collection of readings that can be used to start conversations around the Charleston massacre. I’m pleased to have assisted with collecting the readings into a list.

Distress Signals

a black and white double exposure photo of the US flag

It is a peculiar time to be a black American. Maybe there has always been tension in this relationship; maybe in the past I’ve been more willing to live within that tension, to use it to test my own limits of what I can endure. Those limits were pulverized into powder this week.

America is in distress. I am in distress. And I’m feeling like we are all beyond saving.

Lightning in a Bottle

Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders: for the fags; for the fat girls; for the broken toys; the shy nerds; the Goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky; for the rockers and the awkward; for the fed-up; the too-smart kids and the bullied. We were a community, a generation — in Nirvana’s case, several generations — in the echo chamber of that collective howl, and Allen Ginsberg would have been very proud, here. — Michael Stipe

The speech Stipe gave to induct Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought tears to my eyes. Since the 20th anniversary of Kurt’s death (and Marlon Riggs’), I’ve been in a very somber mood. Stipe’s words pushed the floodgates open and created the space for me — and so many others like me — to grieve and celebrate.

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way Of Holding Each Other Accountable

When confronted with another person’s mistake, I often think about what makes my relationship with this person important. Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?

I start “call in” conversations by identifying the behavior and defining why I am choosing to engage with them. I prioritize my values and invite them to think about theirs and where we share them. And then we talk about it. We talk about it together, like people who genuinely care about each other. We offer patience and compassion to each other and also keep it real, ending the conversation when we need to and know that it wasn’t a loss to give it a try.

A couple of people mentioned (on Twitter) that they couldn’t believe how calm I was in the intersectionality post and in the conversation that spurred it. I used a feminist twitter meltdown as a model of behaviour I didn’t want to follow, but it was the piece “Calling In: A Less Disposable Way Of Holding Each Other Accountable” by Ngọc Loan Trần that also helped me to keep my reactions in check.

(Also: Black Girl Dangerous should be required reading.)