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Alek Wek

awek1Alek Wek (1977- ) is a supermodel from Sudan. She is known for being dark-skinned with very short hair. She was at her height from 1997 to 2004, though she models even now in her early 30s.

She is a Dinka from southern Sudan, near the middle of Africa. Her father was a schoolteacher; she was the seventh of nine children. Growing up she did not know she was poor and black. Her family was together and she was happy. She did, however, have a skin disease, psoriasis, and thought she was ugly. The doctors could find no cure.

Then the war came.  She saw bodies on the way to the well. When soldiers shot out their front door one night, they knew they had to leave. Her father got hurt and went to Khartoum, the capital, for an operation.

At age ten she talked her way onto a military plane leaving for Khartoum, where her father lay. As she got on board she turned to look and saw the sadness in her mother’s eyes. Soon the rest of her family got to Khatoum, but then her father died of the operation.

Her mother just wanted her children to wake up every morning safe and be able to go to school. So she got Alek to London where one of her older daughters lived. Alek arrived in London in 1991 at age 14.

Soon after she got to London her psoriasis went away.

Four years later while shopping in south London she was discovered by Fiona Ellis, a scout for Model One. She did not take it seriously and, besides, her mother said she should complete her schooling first. She was going to the London College of Fashion at the time.

But Model One kept calling and Wek saw that they were serious.  She had some pictures taken and then offers started coming in. It changed her idea about herself. She talked her mother into it.

She signed with Ford in 1996 and became a fashion model. Whenever someone asked for black models she never went. She found that sort of thinking backwards and disrespectful.

Her big break came when she appeared on the cover of Elle in November 1997. The rest is history. That year MTV named her model of the year. I-D magazine went further and named her model of the decade.

Oprah said of Alek Wek:

If you’d been on the cover of a magazine when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was.

Although I am glad she is out there helping to stretch people’s idea of beauty, I do not think she is beautiful myself. She is striking  and hard to forget, has a great smile and looks like a work of art, but I would not call her beautiful: No, I honestly do not think it is her dark skin, but her eyes. They seem too squinty or something and for me eyes makes the difference between pretty and beautiful.

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Thandie Newton (1972- ) is a British film actress. She starred opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible 2″ (2000) and was Will Smith’s hateful wife in “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006).

Born in London to a white father (English) and a black African mother (Shona), she grew up in England and later came to Hollywood. She was shocked at how much her skin colour mattered there – more than in Africa or England. Tom Cruise had to fight for her to star opposite him.

She says that both whites and blacks in Hollywood thought she could only play a black woman and, not say, just a woman. It would be like limiting Lauren Bacall to parts for Jewish women.

But it gets worse.

For some parts she is seen as not being “black enough”. And yet in at least one case a white actress got a part that she would have been great for: in 2006 in “A Mighty Heart” the half-black wife of Daniel Pearl was played by Angelina Jolie (white) and not by herself (half-black).  (On the other hand, Newton did get to play Sally Hemings, who was only one-fourth black).

Her beauty and sex appeal:

  • In 2008 she was one of the most beautiful black women according to white people. In the lists that white English-speaking people make of the most beautiful women and put up on the Web, only Beyonce, Mariah, Halle and Tyra make more lists than she does.
  • In 2002 Stuff magazine ranked her as the 48th sexiest woman in the world.
  • In 2000 the readers of Black Men magazine picked her as one of “The 10 Sexiest Women of the Year”.

Some say she was born in Africa, but she says she was in fact born in London when her parents were there for two weeks. Her mother comes from Africa, from a country now known as Zimbabwe, but then called Rhodesia.  Newton says her mother was a Shona princess.”Thandie” comes from thandiwe, which means “beloved”.

She grew up in Zambia in Africa and in Cornwall in England. Growing up watching her mother dress as an African taught Newton to be proud to be black.

At 11 she went to London to study dance, but hurt her back and went into acting instead. While pursuing her acting, she got a degree in anthropology at Cambridge University.

When she first came to Hollywood she had a hard time getting parts in film – not only was she black, she had a British accent. But in time she got noticed.

Some of her films:

  • 2008: W (out now – she plays Condi Rice)
  • 2007: Norbit
  • 2006: The Pursuit of Happyness
  • 2004: The Chronicles of Riddick
  • 2002: The Truth about Charlie
  • 2000: Mission Impossible II
  • 1998: Beloved
  • 1995: Jefferson in Paris (plays Sally Hemings)
  • 1991: Flirting

Doing “Mission impossible II” meant giving up a lead in “Charlie’s Angels” (2000) to Lucy Liu.

In 1994 she dated Brad Pitt.

In 1998 she married a British television writer and director, Ol Parker. They have two daughters, Ripley (2000) and Nico (2004). Ripley is named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Alien” and Nico after the German singer who was once part of the Velvet Underground.

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Standard English


Standard English (1450- ), also known as proper English or good English, is the English you learn at school and see in books, the kind you hear on the evening news, like on CNN or the BBC. It is the kind you see in The New York Times and The Economist.

Few people speak it natively, so it is probably not what you speak at home or with your friends. If you ever had the experience at school of something “sounding right” but being told it was bad English, then Standard English is not your native language. Even in England only one person in six speaks it natively.

Each country has a slightly different form of Standard English. But the differences are so slight that most people cannot tell which country a given piece of writing came from.

Once you learn the Standard English of your own country, it is easy to understand that of any other country. For example, most Americans in Jamaica cannot understand the English they hear in the streets, but they have no trouble understanding the evening news there.

There are dozens of kinds of English. Standard English is just one of them. It is not better than any other form of English except for two things:

  1. It is understood all over the world wherever English is spoken.
  2. It will not make you sound like you lack education or intelligence, which almost any other form of English will when used in the wrong circles.

Standard English started in the middle 1400s in London. That was when:

  • The government made all its clerks write in the same kind of English no matter what part of England they came from.
  • Caxton began to print books in English.

Caxton wanted to sell as many books as possible, so he used the English of the well-to-do of London. It was the same sort of English the government was using. Standard English was born.

Here is Caxton as an old man in London in 1490:

And certainly our language now used varies far from that which was used and spoken when I was born.

All I changed was the spelling, nothing else. It still makes sense 500 years later. So, as much as English had changed since the 1420s when Caxton was a boy, Standard English has changed little in the hundreds of years since then.

The main changes since the 1400s:

  • The word “its” was added in the early 1600s, taking the place of all those whereofs.
  • The loss of “thou“, “didst” and so on.
  • The spelling became fixed in the middle 1600s.
  • A huge number of Latin and Greek words were added in the late 1600s and again in the late 1900s.
  • The grammar was partly modelled on Latin in the 1700s.

Standard English spread through the middle-class in the 1700s and then, with the rise of public education in the 1800s, to society as a whole.

– Abagond, 2008.

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Annie Ruddock

Annie Ruddock (1963- ), born Anne-Marie Teresa Antoinette Ruddock, was the lead singer of the 1980s British ska band Amazulu. They sang such hits in Britain as “Too Good to be Forgotten” (1986), “Excitable” (1985), “Don’t You Just Know It” (1985) and “Montego Bay” (1986).

In 1987 the band suddenly broke up. Ruddock and two others tried to carry on as Amazulu II. They got two songs in the top 100, but then nothing. Band mate and bass guitarist Clare Kenny went on to play for Shakespear’s Sister and Sinead O’Connor in the 1990s and is now a songwriter.

Ruddock herself appeared in the 1987 film “Straight to Hell” as Molly. She gets shot dead in that film. It is the last we ever see of her. She dropped out of sight.

Annie, where did you go!? I miss you!

I loved her: her voice, the way she looked, her stage presence, her long black dreadlocks. I loved her eyes and her thighs. Her smile and those cheekbones. Even her songs. Everything. Even if she was kind of thin.

I wonder where she came from. I know she grew up in London, but how did she wind up in a ska band in the middle 1980s? Ska was already old-fashioned music in Jamaica in those days – something your parents listened to – but somehow it lived on in Britain and she became a part of it.

I would guess she had a Jamaican father and a white British mother, but she has those three French names. That makes me think she is Catholic, that her family came from somewhere that was once under French rule but then fell under British rule. Like maybe Dominica in the Caribbean. And it is not just the names: she even looks Creole, like Lisa Bonet.

Amazulu was an almost-all-girl ska band in London that had been performing since at least 1982. Falcon Stuart, the manager of Adam & the Ants, discovered them in 1983 and got their song “Cairo” on the radio. They also appeared as a band on television shows in 1984 and 1985: “Top of the Pops”, “The Wide Awake Club” and “The Young Ones”. That helped to get them known. In 1986 they started to get airplay in America, but then a year later in 1987 the band broke up.

Amazulu is a Zulu word that means “the people from heaven”.

Word on the Internet has it that as of 2006 she was doing well, living in London, studying and working in computer software, having left the music industry long ago.

Annie, if you are reading this, drop me a line! Abagond at gmail.com. If you want to clear up any mysteries or facts, I would love to know! Or if you have any cool pictures of yourself to send. The ones on the Internet do not do you justice!

May God be with you in all you do!

Postscript: A commenter who says he is her cousin says that her parents both came from Jamaica, her mother being half Chinese. Another who says she is her sister said their father was Jamaican and their mother white.

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