To celebrate World Book Day, GGM UK blogger Olamide has written a review on a book you will all want to get your hands on asap.

The Vanishing Half is a fictional novel by Brit Bennett, an American writer who has two New York Times Best Sellers; debut novel ‘The Mother’ and ‘The Vanishing Half’. This book follows the lives of The Vignes twins, who are very much identical but grow apart and live drastically different lives as adults with no clue that their fates are intertwined. Many themes are heavily presented in this book, with this review focusing on colourism, survival and identity.

Both the Vignes sisters grew up in a small, southern black community in America called Mallard. The effects of colourism in the black community is heavily highlighted through the perspective of a town of people ‘who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes,’ so basically a town filled with light-skinned black people. When thinking about this I initially thought wow this would not be tolerated at all in some places today, especially if they explicitly discriminated against dark skinned individuals. This definitely had an effect on how they saw dark-skinned people and how others saw them too. Jude is a dark-skinned young woman whose experiences of colourism are shown within the book, and it juxtaposes with the experiences of those who perpetuate that idea. Yet even with this juxtaposition, all the characters of colour are placed under this umbrella of racism and colourism which harms them all and causes some people to harm others. There is so much to dive into with this topic and how it affects all the characters, but I do not want to reveal any spoilers.

The theme of survival and all that survival entails really resonated with me and is something I believe will resonate with others too. However, I genuinely believe the theme of deception and survival work interchangeably in this book so it may be hard to identify with the theme of survival initially, especially because we live in different times. Both twins are white-passing (when a member of one racial group can be accepted [‘pass’] as a member of another) characters. One twin decides to live her life as a light-skinned black woman while the other decides to take advantage of the fact that she is white-passing.

Despite the difference in time periods I think I did not realise how our own forms and ways of survival are quite similar to the actions done by the twin who decides to live as a white woman. Some of our parents who migrated to this country, or any western country, may have changed their names in order to assimilate and survive at said country. Changing your name and your whole race is drastically different, I agree, but I do believe they both stem from living in an unjust society and wanting a better life than the one society prepares for you.

In said environment and society, it is also quite difficult to find yourself because of the norms we are expected and pressured to follow. One character especially, Reese, faces this issue and decides to leave all he knows behind in order to truly find and be himself. Reese’s journey is a difficult one and I believe that is how Jude and Reese become a great couple. They both have had hardships with understanding their identity and coming to terms with who they are. Watching them (well reading about them) both grow into who they are is one of my favourite things about this book. It really depicts that not-so-straight path of finding oneself and finding people who are also on this journey.

I really do believe the stories that are told in this novel are amazing and the themes broached such as class, ideas around marriage, mental illnesses, to name a few, are interesting. Momentum built slowly -- I felt like it took a while to get to the depths of the story. However, this shouldn’t discourage any future readers, there is a possibility that starting university had a hand in the matter. Besides that, when I did find my momentum it was really difficult for me to put the book down.

AUTHOR: Olamide Taiwo

My name is Olamide Taiwo and I’m 19. I have always loved to write whether it be poetry, reviews, essays etc. Becoming a blogger allows me to write and publish issues that I see and go through. So I hope the readers hold on because this will be a pleasant but bumpy ride😊.

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There are an estimated 11 million people in the UK with an invisible disability -- a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, but can limit a person’s movements, senses or activities. I am one of them.

2020 was an unexpected and terrifying year. Nothing happened how we expected it to. For me, my 2020 began with an asthma diagnosis. My diagnosis wasn’t a surprise, it was a relief. I’d always had worries about my breathing (I even had an asthma diagnosis as a child), so it was reassuring to know there are ways to make my life easier. I, like many others, wasn't expecting to deal with my new diagnosis during a pandemic.

1 in 12 adults are currently being treated for asthma. I knew I wasn’t alone. In the first lockdown I only went out to exercise so I didn’t have any concerns for my health. I was almost certain that I was safe. I spent that time working out what my triggers were and speaking to other people with asthma. It was challenging trying to do that at a time where I didn’t leave the house because I didn’t know how my breathing would be when we were finally able to go about “normal” (or the new normal) life.

Difficulties began for me when wearing a mask was introduced. As an asthmatic and glasses wearer, it was incredibly challenging. I had to find a way to breathe properly whilst also stopping my glasses from steaming up. This created a lot of anxiety around leaving the house, and that anxiety made it 10x harder to breathe.

For a while, I couldn’t physically wear my mask all the time. I would always try to begin my outing (usually to the supermarket) by wearing one. I sacrificed my sight to keep it on because of how afraid I was. Part of that fear was definitely a fear of catching COVID-19 because I (like everyone) don’t know how COVID will affect my body. However, a huge part of my fear was the judgement of others. I look fine, like the only thing wrong with me is an unwillingness to wear a mask, when actually that wasn’t the case at all. When I needed to give myself a quick 5-10 minute break from wearing a mask, it was to get my breathing back on track.

I spent the summer of 2020 carrying my inhaler around like a security blanket so people would know that I wasn’t just trying to get out of wearing a mask. The dirty looks and stares were unbearable.

Thankfully I have now managed to find a way that is about 80% effective in allowing me to breathe efficiently and not steaming up my glasses whilst wearing a mask. I feel safer both in terms of the virus and in terms of the judgement from others.

However, judgment still prevails. Mask-shaming has turned to vaccine-shaming, particularly online. People feel the need to know exactly why someone who looks young and healthy has been offered the vaccine before older people. That mindset is completely disregarding those with incredibly serious underlying health conditions (such as cystic fibrosis).

Therefore, it is so important that we respect and show as much understanding to this group of people as we would any able-bodied person. Whether someone has a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask or they have a disability that means they are in a higher category for the vaccine, we should treat everyone with kindness and respect.

Asthma UK has loads of amazing resources for people like me who are trying to understand their diagnosis.

This month's GGM UK podcast is all about invisible disabilities, shielding and COVID. Please listen here if you want to find out more about how 2020 and COVID have impacted people with underlying health conditions.

AUTHOR: Orla McAndrew

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Reset is a short movie, documenting how eighteen year old university student Antonia blogged to improve her mental health during lockdown. Antonia’s quotes were the star of the movie. I was particularly fond of the phrase: “Not on treadmill that is life,” in reference to how her time in lockdown encouraged her to focus on herself and take a more leisurely stance day-to-day. She also noted that “self-care is not a privilege; it should be a mandatory part of your life.” It is easy to forget this when you have the opportunity to self-reflect continually, when others are suffering with their mental health, homelessness, unemployment and difficult home lives during this time.

The simplicity of the shots captured the simplicity of serenity and childhood. A close-up of Antonia’s wrist revealed a beaded bracelet which had her name on it. I had a bracelet like that when I was small and many of my friends did too.

The movie tugs at people’s nostalgia on many occasions. In the last shot when Antonia is leaving the park, she is wearing a backpack. “Swiper no swiping” from Dora the Explorer instantly played in my head. Backpacks are a symbol of childhood and growing up, at least for me. I had a rucksack for four years at secondary school and kept pleading with my parents for a Longchamp handbag, to be ‘like the other girls.’ My rucksack was big and bulky and added to the image of me as an awkward workaholic, with hair that could never be tamed. I did eventually get a handbag, but realised that the rucksack was not that bad after all. I look back and laugh about the ‘problems’ I had then. The movie intends on getting viewers to reflect on where they are in their lives, how they have grown and changed.

Lockdown has been a difficult period for many. Adapting to a world where physical connection is off the table is hard. However, Antonia implores viewers to see the benefits of lockdown. A negative event, especially one as big as COVID, has the power to erase the positives, but if we allow ourselves to take time out and reflect, we will see that we have done things worthy of note. “The digital space is infinite” and the way everyone has dealt with the migration to a digital world should be applauded. Natalia and the film team at GGM UK should receive the biggest round of applause for creating a film during lockdown. This is by no means an easy feat, but proves that the power to succeed will overcome even the most awful of events.

As Antonia embarks on her university journey, as well as the director, Natalia, I wish them the best of luck. The replacement of in-person seminars and mortar boards with zoom calls and bathrobes was completely unexpected. I feel sorry for all students, from primary school to university, whose time in education is altered beyond repair. These memories and growing years simply cannot be replicated in the future. I hope that the resilience shown by all of these individuals does not go unnoticed in society. There are better days ahead. For now, there are digital communities and hopefully, opportunities for reflection, self-care and self-improvement.

I was so impressed with the movie that I wanted to find out what inspired the director, Natalia, to make it. Natalia sat down with me for an interview:

Q: What was the inspiration behind the movie?

A: Initially it was a personal thing. Mental health is not something that people talk about easily. For my generation, Gen Z, we are more open to talking about it. This lockdown has been especially hard on this group. There is not really a place for young people to articulate how they feel. There is lots of negative press, with young people being called ‘super spreaders’ and A-level chaos. There is not much on how we are coping during this time. Stigmas we attach to mental health mean we don’t talk about it and we really should.

Q: How hard was it to make during COVID?

A: It was definitely difficult! We were planning it since June/ July. It was hard to get equipment and find subjects. We filmed in September, so there was a short window before Antonia and I had to go to university. It was challenging, but also rewarding to have created a resource for other young people.

Q: How long did it take to make the film and who was involved?

A: The pre-production stage happened between June and August, the production stage happened in September and October was the post-production stage. Ami from the film team helped with filming and camera equipment. Aisha was very involved with pre-production and post-production. I edited it all. Morisha was part of team in early stages, alongside Dami. We found unconventional ways of working on the project.

Q: As a young filmmaker, what tips would you give to other young filmmakers?

A: Just start! It is daunting and easy to compare. Don’t compare your beginning to someone’s end. Do something simple like videoing your daily routine. It is the perfect time to document what we are all going through. Try to attend free events e.g. Event Bright events, and use social media to reach out to your favourite filmmakers for advice.

Q: Advice and takeaways from the film?

A: Antonia’s quote: “Self-care is mandatory and not a luxury” is one that really stuck with me. It is hard to accept you are struggling and get institutional help sometimes. Take the time to appreciate yourself, but don’t feel like you have to talk about it with others. Focus on today and what you can do now e.g. baking a new recipe, go for a walk, and take yourself out for dinner. Improve and take care of yourself for you so you can look back and see how you have grown. Don’t let the pandemic define the remainder of your year and growth.

Pictures @ Natalia and the GGM UK film team

AUTHOR: Danielle Desouza

I am a 22 year old LSE Politics and Communication graduate, makeshift musician and aspiring political broadcaster. I am a staunch supporter of both gender and racial equality, being female and Indian. I want to edge closer to this goal daily by bringing to light injustices, through all forms of journalism.


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