‘Boring Immigration Literature’ and our Publishing Conundrum

Before my self-imposed exile from Twitter this week (inspired by threats of physical harm against my family and a story for another day), one of the last stories I read was an opinion piece written by Siyanda Mohutsiwa entitled I’m Done with African Immigrant Literature. Here she describes her frustration and angst about having toread one more story that ends with the African protagonist being whisked away to America”. Her article has sent the African literary community into a tizzy, with lines sharply drawn either in support of her view or in fierce opposition to it. I think it bears repeating that this is Siyanda’s view.

I read the article thrice in hopes of extracting for myself what was making so many people angry, and how they’d managed to conclude from it that she was:

  1. Unaware of other pieces of African literature set on the continent
  2. Attempting to drive a wedge between the continent and the diaspora
  3. Attacking the authors whose work she singled out as examples for the boredom she feels with treatment of main characters in those tomes – or rather the settings in which those specific authors place them. Which is this case, Any City in the West.

Expressing a sense of boredom does not translate into an assertion that a topic/item is unimportant. No one in his or her right mind could ever claim that either Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Teju Cole occupy a space of irrelevance in literature… nevertheless we must acknowledge that it IS down to the reader to form a reaction about the work presented. Writers rely upon it, and Ms. Mohustsiwa’s boredom is merely that: a reaction. And a valid one too. I (partially) read ‘We Need New Names’ and was bored stiff. But as tedious as I felt the work was, that in no way negated the kudos and recognition NoViolet Bulawayo deserved, and still deserves. It’s no mean feat to pen a book of that length while dealing with the heavy subject matter therein. We still have to acknowledge that it is the reaction of the reader that gives any literary work relevance. You really want to hurt an author’s feelings? Tell them that you had no opinion about their book, whatsoever. It will crush them! To experience revulsion or disdain for a work is at least something. It means the writing struck a chord, even if it was negatively. But for you to experience and express neutrality for the 50,000+ words and the 3 months – 3 years spent crafting those words? Gosh. It would be less agonizing if you were to rip out the writer’s guts and demanded they use the blood of their exposed entrails for a re-write, perhaps with a femur for a quill.

Though many have made it their personal quest to find fault with Siyanda’s unfavorable response to what she calls African literature of the “Afropolitan” variety, I find that I am grateful for her honesty. She has pointed out a very real problem in the African literary world: Specifically, what kinds of books get lauded for (international) recognition. Overwhelmingly, those books do tend to feature a person of African descent struggling to navigate the rigors of immigrant life in the Western world. They do tend to have been written by people who either don’t live on, or only live on the continent part time.

Perhaps this phenomenon is a function of writers choosing to zero in on our migration patterns as they exist in this point in history because it’s familiar and emigration is the proverbial African dream to exploit; or Western publishers’ paternalistic, voyeuristic curiosity about our African lives; or both… But there is no denying that there is a certain type of “marketable” African author – and the stories they tell- that captures not only the imagination of the global reading audience, but the lion’s share of the pecuniary rewards that audience offers as well. For me, that is the bigger problem.

In combating Siyanda for her declaration never to read immigrant lit again, several people have pointed out that there does exist wonderful literature that uses the continent as the setting written by authors who have never left the continent. I don’t see where she denied that there was.

Chigozie Obioma’s “The Fishermen” and Petina Gappah’s “The Book of Memory” were just some of the titles shouted at her…both of which, the crier informed, could be found at OR Tambo or Exclusive. They are also available on Amazon (I checked) and ebook format. But are they available at local bookshops in Accra or Ouagadougou or Monrovia? How accessible is African literature for the African on the continent? And what percentage of Africans have access to e-readers? We all know the answer to that: Not very many. And that’s a problem!

Publishing on the continent is a dismal affair. I know this struggle firsthand, because its something I’ve grappled with since I debuted my first book, Daughters of Swallows. What one discovers is that authors have very little in the way of options when it comes to getting their work in the hands of their intended (African) audience, and the consequence is many good works languish – and eventually die – in near obscurity. (Unless they can get their books in the hands of some white people!)

In my search for a printer in Ghana, I was astounded by the quotes I received. Printing presses typically require a 1,000 minimum run before they will even consider your request. Anything lower will be deemed “unserious”. If you’re lucky, you can find a press that will run a minimum 200 copies of your book, but then the price per unit increases incrementally (and astronomically) with the lower quantity demanded. This is a trend that repeats itself all over the continent, not just in Ghana.

And then there’s the issue of quality.

I was warned that if I did decided to print and distribute in Ghana, I must inspect each book individually to make sure it met my standards. I did not heed this advice. The result was an entire run of one of my books printed with the spine running across the top. Yes, you heard me. One of my books looks like a calendar. Why would a printer do? Why would he not clarify if this  was the intent? Of course I had to pay for the work, and I’ve chalked it up to “mistakes and new styles” if anyone asks.

Next, if you are successful in financing the production of your book, then there becomes the question of distribution. Bookstores in Ghana are not very friendly to emerging local writers (actually, they are downright hostile), and will favor John Grisham, any book where religion is the subject matter and text books for space on their shelves before they do the uncelebrated African author. Of course, all this anxiety and exclusion can be circumvented with connections. Having privilege and connections is the only way to get things done in Ghana.

(Note: I’ve attempted to work with only one African publisher in the past and got horribly burned for the effort, so I can’t speak extensively on the inner workings of that endeavor. I would love to hear from anyone who has had success with an African based publisher and how they did it.)

Finally, self-publishing in Ghana – and I suspect the majority of Africa – takes tenacity, but it also requires wealth, or at least access to it. I find myself fretting over the thousands of stories from slum kids, fishmongers, and vocational school graduates that are lost every year because they can’t afford the $3-5,000 it requires to get their book in print, or the class structures that exclude them from making connections with people who have the power and influence to bring those stories to market, continent-wide.

At the end of the day, if we want to see more diversity in what types of African stories make it to the tops of best sellers lists, it’s going to be up to the African reader to make that possible. We can’t wait for the nominating board of the Caine Prize to tell us what’s worth reading and/or celebrating. We have to do that for ourselves by promoting ourselves among ourselves. Until we do that, our literary appetites will continued to be dictated for us by the West, and African writers will continue to churn out more tried and true immigrant tales. Shoot. I’m thinking of writing one myself. I want to be on the cover of Forbes, too!

Africa Map with books

source: fredua.wordpress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all seriousness, that’s why I appreciate individual initiatives and efforts of Under the Neem Tree and Kinna Likimani, just to name a few. They have made it their mission to promote literature in Africa. If we could get corporate Africa to buy into literary culture the way it has invested in telecommunications or entertainment, we would certainly be able to give a bigger, better and higher platform for more diverse types of African writing. When that day comes, no one can rightfully claim to be plagued by boredom.

Beyoncé Has Completely Taken Me Out of Formation, and That’s Okay

There are certain givens that I have always assumed would remain givens. You know what I mean? Don’t you have those for your own life? Like, as a woman of faith, there are certain variables I have expected to remain constant for as long as I drew breath.

newtons-first-law

  • The sun would always rise in the east and set in the west.
  • An object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.
  • I would never care for Beyoncé.

It is that third given – that one constant that has remained unchanged in my universe since I first encountered Destiny’s Child in the late 1990s – that has been irrevocably altered as of February 6, 2016…and I’m not certain how to deal with it. It was on that day I was confronted with the reality that I like Beyoncé (or this Beyonce, at least), and that I’m elated about it. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with these new feelings!

No doubt you have seen Bey’s new video Formation. And if you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard about it. And if you haven’t heard about it, you will. It’s inescapable. Unless you have dedicated yourself to a life of perpetual hermitage, you will be touched by the power of Formation. It has literally changed everything, for millions of people, everywhere.

The entirety of my Monday was spent reading one think-piece after another about what the song, the video and the artist responsible means for Black people, expressions of Blackness and what it means to exist as a person of color in this country. I couldn’t get enough. My entire paradigm had been shifted – and shifted in a way that I had not anticipated – by an entity that I felt sure was completely incapable of such a feat: Beyoncé, the capitalist, the pseudo-feminist, this Jezebel of the music industry! But you know what? No matter how you may feel (or have felt) about Beyoncé, there is no denying that she is a powerful woman. And let there be no confusion: Formation – and the reactions that is has wrought – are indeed powerful. Because if Beyonce has garnered the freedom to express herself completely Blackly, then it means there are a lot more changes coming down the pike for the game. Expect unapologetic Blackness everywhere.

I have no intention of boring you with my personal interpretation of the song’s messaging in either the lyrics and imagery employed, as numerous writers have accomplished this coup more eloquently than I ever could. Formation is a celebration of a peculiar sort of Blackness/queerness/Southerness that I feel unworthy to try to explain, although I do feel a sort of distant kinship to. Like, if you don’t know the significance of carrying hot sauce in your handbag or understand the magnitude of being treated to Red Lobster for a job well done, then it’s okay to keep it moving and just appreciate these cultural dynamics. That may not be your lived Black experience. There’s still plenty in Formation that ought to connect with you as a Black person living in America, though.

Police brutality.

The politics of colorism.

Exposing economic disenfranchisement.

Unapologetic Black pride.

Eschewing respectability while employing the use of Ebonics to communicate with a particular audience….

…essentially, all of the things that have been anti-Beyoncé up until this point.

If Beyoncé had just eased us into this, I could handle this in-your-face barrage country drag Blackness with more composure. But she didn’t. She just burst through the gate with it; and that is what has taken me out of my own formation, so to speak. And guess what? I’m fine with that!

I don’t know if it’s because she’s had a baby or got out from under her daddy’s management, but she has grown – dare I say evolved – in ways I never expected. This is the first time in our ‘acquaintance’ that I feel like Queen Bey and I are speaking the same language. Like I said, I dig THIS Beyoncé.

Echoing the thousands of people who have already uttered this phrase this week, I have never been a Beyoncé fan. In fact, I have been downright dismissive of her in the past, dubbing her vacuous and plastic on more than one occasion. Beyoncé has always been a product – a brand. She has been held up as an ideal for public consumption and/or worship. But somewhere between Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday, she decided she had no more damns to give and made sure that the world knew it. And that has made people (and by “people”, I mean white people) really uncomfortable. Or angry. And in some cases, a little afraid.

Now, lets be honest. By the standards of Black Power Movement of the 60s and 70s, Formation is patty-cake fare. Icons of the arts like James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, and Eartha Kitt have delivered ‘harder’ messages to the mainstream. However, the frequency that those messages was carried on was narrow, deliverable only to a certain spectrum. What makes Formation so powerful is that this is Beyoncé,  and Beyoncé is not supposed to be this…well, Black. Hitherto, she could be relied upon to uphold Eurocentric beauty standards, pander to the ideals of capitalism and appear neutral in her approach to issues facing Black lives. Any work she has done in support of #BlackLivesMatter has been executed under a sort cloak, possibly so as not to offend the sensibilities of the mainstream.

Now here she was, on the whitest, malest, corporate American-est day of the year, clad in all black, syncing her all Black backup dancers in ‘X’ formation (ostensibly a nod to Malcolm X), singing about Afro hair, Negro noses and hot sauce swag! And we were all here for it. Save for conservative commentator Michelle Malkin (who gets paid to troll her own Blackness, poor child) and the odd Hotep, the reaction from the community has been one of universal delight, awe and pleasant surprise. Who WAS this woman?

30fb8cd400000578-3432666-image-m-248_1454906064915-e1454916991939

She’s unrecognizable… and that may account for all these white tears flooding these streets. My word, have you been on the Internet in the past two days?

It’s like a tidal wave of white tears outchea.

It’s like a monsoon of white tears outchea.

Like a tsunami of white tears outchea!

I’ve seen white people lose it before, but I’ve never seen y’all come unglued at the seams so completely. Not like this. This is some next level stuff. Calling for boycotts and turning your backs on the television like the woman could see you and reading into stuff that just ain’t there…

Here’s the thing white people who are uncomfortable with Brand New Bey may not understand: She wasn’t talking to you! Beyoncé, in that moment (and every time that video plays  or the song hits the airwaves), is a Black woman talking to Black people about Black circumstances. This is not about white people in any way, shape or form. I know it’s hard to accept, but we can’t spend the entirety of our collective Black existence worried about what you think, or how you feel, or how excluded you find yourself in this moment.

Save for the few tokens white supremacy has permitted in the past 412 years, Black people have been excluded from every facet of society and precluded from advancement since we got to these shores. Every aspect of our lives has been lived under and examined from the prism of whiteness.

How we’re educated.

What sort of housing is good enough for us.

What job opportunities we’re worthy of.

What constitutes “good hair”.

What our God looks like.

It’s endless! So forgive us – and Beyoncé – if this one time we chat amongst ourselves about ourselves in the public domain… even if that domain happens to be the Super Bowl, the last bastion of ‘Real America’.

I do understand your concern, though. It’s really disorienting when outsiders invade your space, ain’t it? Kind of an imposition? Kind of unnerving? Forces you to do some introspection and re-evaluate your interactions with the world as you knew it? Yeah… I know. But it’s going to be alright.

As Bey so aptly said, “You know you that b*tch when you cause all this conversation.”

source: business insider

source: business insider

I’d hand you a tissue, but I need it to dab the face of this queen when she’s reemerged from the depths after drowning this cop car.

I

Love

This

New

Beyonceeeeee!!!!

 

 

Pastor Chris, Plagiarism and the Pride of Life

Happy Friday, MOM Squad! Under normal circumstances, we’d be chatting about frivolous topics in recognition of Frivolous Friday; but there’s a disturbance in the Force that has to be addressed. I do hate it when folks won’t let the Force remain in balance. Someone is always throwing a monkey wrench into the Force!

I deliberately waited a few days before talking about Reverend Chris Oyakhilome’s (popularly referred to as Pastor Chris) arrival in Accra this weekend – or more specifically, the social media buzz heralding his arrival. I waited because for me, the issues of concern extend far beyond a man, a jet, a presidential delegation to greet said man at the airport, or even the plagiarized images that were used to conjure excitement about his arrival. My issues with watching this Pastor Chris Circus roll into town are centered on my worry for the body of Christ…or specifically, the Black/African branch of that body.

Last week, after I took on the role of the Poka Plagiarism Police, several people sent me a mashup announcing the reverend’s arrival that had been floating around on Twitter and Facebook, ostensibly with the hope/expectation that I would go berserk with indignation as I had before. But I am not indignant about the way the church that is hosting Pastor Chris (or specifically, the folks running their social media campaign) has used other people’s intellectual property for their own selfish purposes. Nor am I indignant about the manner in which the government of the land has diverted resources to accommodate one man and his team and held the rest of the city hostage. Far from it. Instead am grieved….and grieved down to the depths of my soul.

When political party stalwarts stole Poka’s work, I considered it a slap in the face of every artist who would eventually suffer the same fate. After all, should this party come to power, they would expect that all illustrators, musicians, etc. pay taxes on whatever profits they made from the sale of their work in order to support the agenda of the state. Yet on the back-end, they had the audacity to use that same intellectual property without the artist’s consent or knowledge, effectively robbing the artist(s) and then potentially taxing him/her on goods they had stolen once they came to power. This is robbery of the highest order…twice in broad daylight. It was important to speak up, so I did. Yet at the end of the day, we instinctively know that Ghanaian politicians and their cronies are uninventive autobots who pander to pedestrian sensibilities and recycle old ideas, enriching themselves in the process. Intuitively, we know we can’t expect much out of that batch. But when you’re a believer – a true believer – in the power and presence of God and all His mysteries, this sort of theft and behavior only produces consternation in those who call themselves faithful…unless you’re a religious zombie. And right now, West Africa is ripe for the Religious Cult Zombie Apocalypse.

There is a wave of anti-intellectualism that has swept through the Black and African church that is crippled us mentally. On a cerebral level, we are damaged that it WOULD take the power of God, dressed as Aristotle perhaps, to heal us of this plague. It is widely known that the average human uses less than or about 10% of their brain. That’s a lot of wasted potential. And if that doesn’t bother you, scientist have just recently discovered that the human brain has far more potential and power (about 10 times more!) than we previously thought, and can store information roughly equivalent with the entire internet. Yet somehow, when a “Man of God” becomes the topic of discussion, many cannot engage our brains at all.

So this becomes my question: If you call yourself a Child of God – daughter or son of the most High King – what in His holy name are you doing plagiarizing someone else’s work? Could you not tap into that same spirit that spoke the heavens and the earth into existence to create a phenomenal work for your church’s crusade? Did you spend any time in prayer, seeking revelation or inspiration for that cause…or did do exactly what your superiors kick against Sunday after Sunday? Did you imitate the world, instead of imitating Christ? Your actions and fruit say “yes”. Their silence on the matter says they approve of your inferior mentality. As the old adage goes: You know a tree by its fruit.

I don’t know anything about Chris Oyakhilome and the Chris-tians that follow him after apart from what I’ve seen in the news. I know he allegedly subjected his wife to physical abuse over a period of years. I know he has bleached skin and curly, processed hair. I know his marketing team knows their stuff. There are white people all over his website; which I have to add, looks like a virtual shopping mall for all things religious and not necessarily holy. In that regard, it’s really impressive. It appeals to the materialistic nature of desperate men. But did I get a sense of honoring God and pointing web visitors to either Him, His Son or the Holy Spirit? Not so much. But that was just my user experience on Pastor Chris’ e-real estate. Yours may be different.

Religion is a funny thing. Despite the fact that there are millions of people around the world who simply consider themselves “Christians”, there is little uniformity of belief or unity in the body of Christ. There is little consistency in terms of what is expected from a Christian. I know that my pastor would be horrified if he discovered that his social media team had stolen someone else’s work to promote his event and then ignored pleas to take it down and/or credit the work. (And before any of you ask or cast aspersions: Yes, I did ask Poka for his feedback and he informed me that this is precisely what happened: the guys at the Accra church have ignored his requests… I say motivated by an ungodly spirit of privilege and pride.) My pastor has always preached that the body of Christ must be an example to the world, that we must be more innovative, more hardworking, more loving, out-serving, seeking to “imitate Christ as dear children.” In short, we must strive for excellence.

I do not see this in the average Ghanaian who professes to love Jesus, many of who have abandoned their work posts, contractual obligations unfulfilled and diminished productivity because they are “expecting something from God tonight”. What about what God is expecting from YOU? Indeed, there are more “sinners” who are better Christians than the average Ghanaian Christian. ‘Christian’ means ‘like Christ’. Does a quick scan through scripture show a Jesus who stole other people’s intellectual property, or enriched himself through offerings and tithes? Was He a taker? No. Jesus was a multiplier. He was a provider. He was a good steward. He was an intelligent man who spoke in parables and reasoned in the temple. The average Christian and their pastors are incapable of reasoning – because of that spirit of anti-intellectualism that’s sweeping through the church! It’s all superstition and voodoo, quite frankly.

For example, what’s the first thing Kobina Church-Goer says if you criticize his Man of God?

“Touch not my anointed ooo, and do my prophets no harm!!”

In other words, the Man of God is never to be called to account for his sins; and if you dare, God will get you for pointing out Kobina Church-Goer’s idol’s faults. And make no mistake, men like Duncan Williams and Chris Oyakhilome are idols for people all over this region of the world.

Matthew 23

Matthew 23

There are so many things that are awry with the way Christianity is practiced in West Africa that it’s hard to see how we’re going to straighten the crooked paths without demolishing the whole thoroughfare. Pastor Chris’ arrival in Accra and the fiascoes that are bound to ensue are just a symptom of a larger issue.

It was announced this week that the municipal government has actually authorized that several of the busiest roads in the city be shut down in order to accommodate traffic to the Pastor Chris-tian event. Why? Because they have bought into the cult of personality and are pandering to the people’s superstition: A superstition that says that if we “honor the Man of God”, we will get jobs and running water and healing from cancer. It’s no accident that the government has made these accommodations for this “miracle worker”. In doing so, they can further absolve themselves from their responsibilities and mandate as the leaders of that corner of the world. After all, if GOD couldn’t heal your child of malaria, what can we (with our development budget allocated for sewer management and hospital equipment – ooops, now squandered on trips to Dubai and V8s – my bad!) do?

Selah.

We are headed for dark days if we continue on this path. We’ve seen this in history before, where British men of the cloth used their God-given authority to rape newlywed brides on the night of their honeymoon in order to “bless” the marriage; where the Vatican enriched itself from the sale of Black flesh and the amassing of African gold; where Protestant preachers in the American colonies burned women at the stake for being too mouthy. If Accra can shut down the city so one man can do a crusade, leaving the residents vulnerable to any number of calamities due to impassible roads, the government can authorize just about anything for the sake of these Men of God. What happens tonight to the child who gets knocked by a car and can’t get to the hospital in time because the fastest routes have been blocked? What is his mother’s consolation? Why was there no consideration for the citizenry– or intelligent thought – applied to this visit? Could Pastor Chris not have held his event outside of Accra? Could the organizers not have partnered with other churches in the area to have shuttles take attendees from designated parking lots to and from the event? What would Jesus’ PA do?!

Speaking of Jesus and roads: Did Jesus stop traffic on Palm Sunday? Absolutely. But the following week, He was crucified as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. What is Pastor Chris’ sacrifice when all this is said and done? If there is none, then the jets, the escorts, the road blockages are just vanity.

I hope that people will take the time to evaluate their relationship with these silk suit wearing master manipulators and ask themselves the hard questions. But they probably won’t. They will justify these self-serving acts and declare that God approves of them because these men are His “chosen and anointed”; And also because one day, they also hope to recipients of the low-hanging fruit…and they certainly don’t want the rest of us criticizing or making them feel bad about it when they do.

Over to you.

Verbal Denigration of Girls Begins Much Earlier Than We Admit or Acknowledge

*Warning: This post contains vulgar language… You know, the type of language women and girls are subjected to every day, several times a day.

Occasionally, women’s magazines, glossy journals and quirky BuzzFeed videos address the issue of gender-based harassment and violence against women using provocative imagery and devastating statistics that it sets concerned tongues wagging…for a while…until we all move on to the next thing. Suddenly, the bone chilling cover stories about a university student’s gang rape an public bus by a group of strangers are replaced with ‘How to Get Sexy Hair and Fab Boots NOW!’. Or worse, stories about depraved, serial raping police officers never make the covers or headlines at all.

Source: Fanpop

Source: Fanpop

If the editors of these publications were truly reporting the actual realities of the average woman’s life, those glossy covers, the women who grace them and the lead stories that hook readers in would look incredibly different:

 

Female Physicist Passed up for Promotion Thanks to Patriarchy

Mom of 5 Overlooked for Team Lead Position Based on Assumptions About her Availability and Dedication

High School Student Cornered, Groped and Molested by her  Classmates

9-Year-Old Girl Gets Called ‘Bitch’ for the First Time in Her Life… And It Won’t be the Last

 

But headlines such as these don’t sell magazines or garner clicks. No one wants to be reminded of or confronted with the harshness of those realities – in print or otherwise – while they’re going about their daily activities: While they’re on the train, or ordering a sandwich at Burger King, or waiting for the spin cycle to finish at the laundry mat, or at any of the other places that women and girls are likely to be harassed, assaulted or violated.

No.

You want to escape.

So you plunk down $1.50 for this week’s edition of US Weekly and pretend you didn’t hear the guy on the other end of the tram tell you what a “fat ass” you have and how he’d love to “tear that thang up”. You bury your head deeper into your magazine and pray that this is just male bravado talking and that carry out his sinister threat when you get off at the next stop. You know the statistics about violence against women and you’re just hoping that you won’t become another faceless “one in three”. You just want to get home/to work/to the movies in peace.

SHCard4

If you’re like me, at some point you have to wonder: When and how did these obnoxious, vulgar men develop this persona? And what makes them turn physically violent when a verbal assault isn’t enough? Is it something that switches on in their brains around 18-22 that turns them into such monsters? Do external factors like work, or the lack of it, contribute to this?

For a long time, that’s what I believed: That so many of the dudes who harass(ed) me and other women learn to become douche bags after some post-pubescent crisis they suffer as a species. Prior to puberty, ALL boys are gassy and dusty, but overall pretty sweet, right? Well, I believed that until two little boys did the inconceivable on two separate occasions.

The first incident took place about two years ago. Nadjah was 9 at the time and some little dreadlocked boy named Rafiq* from down the road used to come up and play with these two bad-behind-no-home-training girls who lived in our cul-de-sac. Eventually, Rafiq started playing with my kids too. He was about 12 at the time, and I wasn’t comfortable with so large a boy interacting with my children, but I reluctantly allowed it and would monitor their play from my window until everyone dispersed at the end of the night. This went on for a few weeks until I eventually got comfortable enough to step away from my post. How many of you know you should never leave your post?

One day, Nadjah burst into the house and tore into my room, breathless with eyes wide in disbelief.

“Rafiq said that I’m brown because when I was born I was covered in the ‘s-word’ and that I have a fat fragina! What’s a fragina?”

I wasn’t prepared for this. I explained what a ‘vagina’ was and watched her recoil in disgust that he had mad reference to its girth.

“What do you mean “the s word”. Go ahead and tell me what he said. You won’t get in trouble.”

“Shit,” she replied simply.

The impudence! Visions of my emergency C-section and Nadjah’s frail 3 lbs preterm, newborn body shot through my head like lightening. I was incensed!

Marshall was already out the door by this time as Nadjah had spoken to him first before coming to make her report to me. He informed me that he had spoken to Rafiq – respectfully – and advised him on how he should speak to women or some such other nonsense. This was not good enough for me. I raced out of the house in my boubou, afro askew and told the other kids to call Rafiq back to me. He was already making his way down the road back to his house. I gave him the tongue lashing of life before asking why he would talk about my daughter’s vagina.

The boy became a mouse, squeaking his humble entreaty.

“No…no! I can never use such language. I am a Muslim…”

Saa? This boy doesn’t know I was also a Muslim once? I told him to clear out of my area and not come back until he’s learned some decency. I haven’t seen him since 2014.

Foolishly, I thought I could shield my girls from this sort of treatment by monitoring who they play with, but the devil is always busy and sometimes his agents slip through the nets.

My son, Stone, who is 6 has been playing with an 11 year old boy named Curtis* since last summer. Curtis shows him how to dribble a ball and they talk about Legos with Castillo from ‘Cross the Street (age 5). Something about Curtis has always seemed off to me, but I let Stone play with him because there are hardly any boys his age in our neighborhood. I don’t care too much for Curtis, but I never had a reason not to like him…until Sunday night.

Aya and her friend Carmen were riding their bikes and chattering incessantly about nothing, as 8 and 9 year old girls are wont to do. Curtis was staring at them, so much so that it made them uncomfortable. They said something to him about it.

“You’re both snitches and bitches and I’m going to call the cops on you,” he spat.

Aya and Carmen came into the house to report it to me, informing me that Curtis had called them the b-word. Again, I asked the girls what they meant by the ‘b-word’.

“Bitch,” Carmen said, her 8-year-old mouth forcing the word out of her face like it was a hot coal.

Oh…Oh, NO. Oh heeeeck no!

By this time, Curtis was long gone from the scene. You think that saved him? I knocked on every door in the neighborhood until I found his house; my husband, Carmen’s step-dad and Carmen’s uncle in tow. I felt some way about how it looked for two Colombian men forming part of my search posse for a little Black boy, but the kid called my daughter a bitch. There’s consequences.

I was like a woman possessed. I  didn’t care that it was cold or that I was still in my church attire or that I was tired. I needed to find this boys parents. He is 11, for holiness’ sake! Just as we were about to give up, Marshall knocked on a final door and was greeted by a sinewy man in red basketball shorts, black socks and beach shoes who confirmed he was Curtis’ dad, a hard looking man. He had the appearance of the type of dude would blink at a 5-10 sentence and serve it with the ease of a woodland elf running through a mountain pass. Just unfazed by what he was hearing – that is, until Marshall said these words:

“We’ve been looking for your son throughout the whole neighborhood, and now everyone knows that your boy…”

It was like he didn’t hear anything else after that. What? The whole neighborhood knows about this? A fire lit behind Mr. Red Shorts eyes. He promised to get on Curtis later on that ni-… No. Matter of fact, he was going to find Curtis right now!

I recognized that unique parental glare and momentarily felt bad for Curtis… but the boy called my 9 year-old daughter and her 8 year old friend a bitch. There’s consequences!

Y’all. Guess who came strolling up the street in the midst of all this discussion and wandered into a waiting wall of aggravated adults? Curtis. And guess what this misguided soul had the audacity to do? You guessed it. Lie, lie, lie! Oh, he was wailing.

“No, Daddy! THEY were the ones who called me a bad word. I didn’t do anything!”

Aya’s face broke. She was on the verge of hysterics, explaining that the girls had told him he as acting like a ‘hacker’ (I believe they meant ‘stalker’) and that neither ever cursed at him. She couldn’t believe it! Here she was the victim – who had been victimized in her own space – and Curtis commenced to falsely accuse her of initiating a verbal attack against him in order to escape punishment? Does any of this sound familiar?

Eventually he was made to apologize to the girls before his daddy hauled him off to face his fate.

Yet again, I was left reeling with anger and disappointment. The die has been cast. I know now that Rafiq and Curtis are just the tip of the iceberg. They represent the first link in a long, oily chain of eventual men and boys who will feel they have the right and privilege to slur or verbally assault my girls and then shirk responsibility for it like cowards.

I’d hoped we were raising a generation with better mores and sensibilities than the one I grew up in; one that would think harder about violating others’ freedoms and whose first instinct would be to treat everyone with fairness and respect. But giving participation badges and trophies for attendance to these kids has done nothing to alter or address the real cancer in our society: the grotesque way women and girls are spoken to, regarded and often treated. And apparently, that psychosis starts hella early.

How do the young men and boys in your life treat or speak to girls? Have you spoken to them about it? Are we doing a good job of guiding them, or are we leaving the job up to Li’l Wayne n’ dem and hoping for the best in the end? Discuss!

The African Seductress: Wiyaala Invites Us to Explore “This Place”

source: Instagram/Wiyaala

source: Instagram/Wiyaala

“Are you sure you want to do a video chat? I’m only wearing my bra.”

“Girl. That’s okay. I’m about to take my bra off.

The tone for our conversation has been set: Hilarious, honest and real. After a whirlwind month of shooting, sneak peaks and promotion, Noella Wiyaala still made time to give us – the MOM Squad – the scoop on her latest project, Leno.

You know M.O.M. interests differ sharply from the rest of the flock’s, so go ahead and prepare yourself as we slip into…

****MOM Mode With the Young Lioness of Africa, Wiyaala!!!****

 

MOM: I saw in the video that you were standing in a swamp. Was it cold?

Wiyaala: It was freezing! At some point it got to 1°C. Just when we were done shooting it started snowing. I was outside in a sleeveless dress with my face like this. (She imitates a mannequin with bug eyes and chattering teeth.) And then the director would shout, “Here we go! Action!” So I had to relax my face and loosen up my body like everything was just fine! I had on Wellington boots, two pairs of long johns, trousers…so many layers. But my toes were like ice… they were freezing so much that I couldn’t feel them by the end of the shoot. And at the last shot, the water got into my boots! (She shudders.)

Oh! And the make up artist didn’t turn up, so I had to do my own make up myself.

MOM: Are you serious? The thing with the eye…you did that?

source: Wiyaala's Instagram

source: Wiyaala’s Instagram

Wiyaala: Well, I’m an artist. So I just drew an outline and painted it. Sometimes you have to improvise. And for me, I’m always ready to do whatever it takes, at any point, at any time.

MOM: Ei. This is very serious!

Wiyaala: Very serious! The cameraman and director were surprised I was able to do this myself. They said, “Are you sure you can repeat this for two days?” And I said “Yeah!”

For me, make up is always easy. Once my eyebrows are done and I have lipstick and powder, I’m good to go.

MOM: Was that your first winter?

Wiyaala: Yes! And we were in the north, and they told me it was going to be colder than the rest of the country. I met a little girl (the director’s sister’s child) that had never seen a Black girl in her entire life before. She was shy of me at first but I charmed her with “magic” and we became good friends. I don’t know what it is when I’m among children. Just give me 20 or 30 minutes and they want to show me all their toys!

MOM: Where was the video shot?

Wiyaala: It was shot on a farm in Yorkshire. The director’s sister and her husband owned the property and we shot there and also a few other places in the area, including St. Mary’s Abbey.

MOM: When I watched the trailer for the video, I thought the plot was reminiscent of the Camelot era, with King Arthur and Guinevere. Earlier you mentioned that your love interest was a “Viking.” What’s the story behind that?

Wiyaala: There were Vikings that had settled in the north of England long ago, so we were going for a medieval look. The story is he’s traveling through the forest and hears singing and eventually encounters this beautiful woman. He follows her around the forest…

MOM: Eiiii! So are you a witch???…or you are some spirit?

Wiyaala: (She laughs.) Well…all women are witches. Good witches! (She becomes serious.) No, I’m more like an enchantress or a seductress (with my voice). The last verse says “let’s go to this place where nobody knows us – just the two of us.” Then we go and have fun. (She makes loud, smacking, kissing noises.)

MOM: Eiiii Wiyaaaaala!

Wiyaala: …and people were surprised at how cool I was in this video. Normally, I’m known for jumping around the stage – but this time it’s a love song. ‘Leno’ is performed in Wale, Sisaala and Dagaare

MOM: Yes, it’s true! All of your performances – like Tinambaynyi, for example – are known for being very strong, high-energy spectacles with lots of muscles and theatrics. This is probably the coolest I’ve ever seen you. It’s very different.

Wiyaala: I’ve also realized that sometimes when I’m writing some of my (newer) songs, some of them come out sounding different from the ‘normal Wiyaala’ afro-pop…sometimes they come out sounding like ragga/reggae. So I said, “I’m not going to limit myself. If it sounds good, I’ll perform it and perform it to the best of my ability.” I won’t force myself to recreate the typical ‘Wiyaala sound’.

I want to add more lyrics in English to my music with the aim of drawing a wider audience towards my traditional music in my local dialect. Music is music! If I can sing any genre of music, I will sing it.

MOM: So if you hear a song in Chinese, will you perform it?

She laughs and asks why not!

Wiyaala: Even if it’s “Gangnam style”, I’ll still sing it!

MOM: I’m glad we got to this point, because we’re talking about singing in other people’s languages and using visuals from their cultures in your music. Are people usually open to that?

Wiyaala: I am an entertainer! Sometimes you have to sacrifice to please your fans. When you’re visiting a foreign country – even if it’s just two lines in their local language – you saying “Good evening” or “My name is…” – it means a lot. And I know the power in that. If I learn a new language and manage to include one or two lines in my song….wow. People love it!

(She pauses to think.) I wouldn’t mind doing a song in French.

MOM: You know, Beyonce recently came under fire for her portrayal of a Bollywood performer in ‘Hymn for the Weekend’? What would be your response to someone who says that you are appropriating English culture/history in this video?

Wiyaala: For me as a musician, I’m just trying to tell a story. In this video, the plot was very close to those medieval or King Arthur days. And they even used to have Black people living in England in that era, so I personally don’t see anything wrong with it. And in a way, I realized that in the north of England where we were shooting, there were a lot of similarities between them and the north of Ghana where I’m from.

They are both isolated from the main cities. They both have only one shop that everybody goes to and when it’s closed, that’s it! At the end of the day, we are all branches of the same tree. I don’t find anything wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with learning. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating each others culture. It’s supposed to promote togetherness. If we understood each other, we’d have less conflict and war.

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I was in Yorkshire on holiday as Wiyaala; but I had to opportunity to shoot this video and I wanted to do it to pay homage to the environment. I could have worn my African print, but I always do that. This was just something different to excite people.

MOM: Oh yeah. People LOVE your costuming for the video. The white hood, the headdress, the make up…

Wiyaala: But I do understand people’s concerns about appropriation…I think this happens when people go beyond. You can always tell when people are taking it too far.

MOM: Will you be shooting in other parts of the world?

Wiyaala: Oh yes – God willing. I’m full of vim this year. We have some locations we’re looking at. I’m just going to be shooting. *pew pew pew!!*

MOM: I could talk to you all night, but I have one last question. It’s about your upcoming film, ‘No Man’s Land’. How did you land that role? Did they approach you, did you approach them…

Wiyaala: Yes! The film comes out on February 13th at Silverbird Cinemas. It’s a Salma Mumin production about conflict in the Northern Region between two ethnic groups. I play an angry, vengeful girl named Dumuni who is trying to avenge her father’s death. In the midst of this conflict she wants peace, but at the some time she also wants to avenge her father.

MOM: So she’s torn…

Wiyaala: Yeah. And you know, I haven’t even seen the movie! I can watch myself on my videos because I’m singing…but talking? Oh no! It’s just different. I have butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it.

And some to find out that Salma Mumin and I are sisters…real sisters! Her mother and my mother are first cousins.

In the movie, there is a scene where I carry Adjetey Annan on my shoulder. Everyone told me I couldn’t do it, and that I should put him in wheelbarrow.

MOM: They didn’t know, eh?

Wiyaala: They couldn’t believe it! I had to do that take about five times. And when you look at my legs in that shot, you can really tell I used all my muscles. My ego wouldn’t let me put him in a wheelbarrow. He asked me, “Are you sure you can carry me?” And I told him, “Look, when I lift you, just relax. I’ll carry you!”

Scene from the film 'No Man's Land'. (Instagram)

Scene from the film ‘No Man’s Land’. (Instagram)

 

Noella, John (her manager) and I chatted for another 40 minutes afterwards. Our conversation concluded with them sharing a link to the full length feature of ‘Leno’ with me and listening to me loose my mind over the visuals and the story line. We talked a little more about beauty and race and of course – hair.

She made this humorous remark with regards to her tresses: “The day I see Brazilians wearing my hair is the day I will also buy their own!”

Somehow, I don’t see that happening.

 

Leno (This Place) is on Wiyaala’s self titled album, available on iTunes. Watch the official video here and share your reactions in the comments!

Marley Dias’ #1000BlackGirlBooks Campaign is a Gift to Authors of Color

Marley Dias is an 11 year old 5th grader who saw a gap in what she was exposed to in her literary world and decided to fill it. When the New Jersey student expressed her frustration about the types of books crowding her curriculum – books about “white boys and dogs” – her mother gave the sort of classically Jamaican/African Mama answer that you’d expect from a woman of her stature. If you’ve grown up with at least one African(ish) parent, her retort will feel familiar to you:

“What are you going to do about it?”

Now, depending on the level of frustration and fatigue the African(ish) parent was experiencing at the time the subject was broached, this query might have been followed by, or coupled with, the rhetorical question: “Eh heh. And what do you want me to do about it again?” This of course would have been followed by a command to read all the ‘white boy and dog’ books in the curriculum with the advice that the child “…add Shakespeare on top, while you’re at it!” Naturally, there would be an expectation that A’s will follow and a tearful speech at graduation expressing gratitude for the long-suffering African(ish) parent forcing the child to consume excessive classic literature in. After all, when the African(ish) parent was your age, they didn’t even have books, but they managed to analyze and explain the significance of the conical bra in Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino to peers and presidents!

See your life! You have books in this America I've brought you to, and still you complain!

See your life! You have books in this America I’ve brought you to, and still you complain!

Fortunately, Marley’s mother, Dr. Janice Dias Johnson’s response was more reasonable and measured… And the rest as they say, is history.

I first heard about Marley’s #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign from Rasheeda Sheers on Instagram. (*Plug: Rasheeda sells houses and condos, so if you’re looking to buy or sell, look her up! Rasheeda will have her contact details in the comments section later today! *End plug. ) She tagged me the GrassROOTS account where they detailed the motivation behind the campaign and its progress so far. Marley’s solution to what she identified as a very real problem was to source and read one thousand books that feature Black girls as lead characters. The response from the literary community has been overwhelming.

In reading up on Marley’s remarkable story, I came across a line in an article that posed a very serious question: ARE there a thousand books that feature Black girls as lead characters? The author then went on to gushingly surmise that if Marley couldn’t find them all, she would/could likely write them herself. The question reveals the struggle that many of authors of color grapple with  today: A lack of exposure.

There already exist a thousand titles with Black girl leads – we’ve just never heard of most of them! That’s why Marley’s project is such a gift to all of us. It gives us a chance to meet a whole new audience that we may have never had the chance with to connect before.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 10.27.45 AMIt should come as no surprise that I nearly broke my neck trying to get to the post office to mail off copies of Sally and the Butterfly and Yaa Traps Death in a Basket in order to get them delivered before the February cut off date when the campaign comes to a close. Girls like Marley – kids who yearn to see themselves reflected positively, powerfully, realistically and ethereally – in literature are the reason that I wrote both books. Their affirmation is the reason that sequels will follow! The idea that a  child in Jamaica – where my and several other authors works will eventually land – will be holding, enjoying (or hating. That’s always a possibility) and sharing my book is thrilling. The idea that they might look at Sally, or Yaa, or the girls from the Sugar Plum Ballerinas, or the unnamed dancer from Firebird, and identify her as a favorite or a future inspiration makes my heart so glad it could break.

You can tell from Janice Dias Johnson’s interaction with her daughter that she couldn’t be more pleased and proud of her accomplishments so far. Marley is an exceptional child who has surrounded herself with exceptional friends. She forms part of a trio called B.A.M. (short for Briana, Amina and Marley) who blog about pre-teen struggles, interests and observations on their blog We Love BAM. Did I crow when I discovered their blog? Yes I did. I love me some budding bloggers!

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Finally, I hope that once the campaign has reached its conclusion that a comprehensive list of all the titles Marley was able to amass will be made available to the public so that other kids can see the oasis of literary choices available to them beyond the mainstream classics. There is a generation hungry to see itself represented in a culture of reading. I’m honored to be among so many talented storytellers and illustrators that have prepared a table to satisfy this appetite.

 

Did you have a favorite character of color growing up? Maybe she was Chinese or Mexican or Kenyan?  (If you say Dora the Explorer, I will find you and beat you.) Discuss!

Are you looking for strong female leads for your kids? Copies of Yaa and Sally are available at StoreFoundry and Amazon.

Who Sent Stan? The Curious Case of a Vulture Attempting to Protect the Integrity of the Garbage Heap.

It is only in a country like John D. Mahama’s Ghana that two former Gitmo detainees will find themselves better housed, fed and with greater access to healthcare than the average Ghanaian citizen. After all, should some calamity befall these two, the government will have to answer and give an account to the international community. The millions of hardworking tomato, cocoa and yam farmers/sellers, street hawkers and part time prostitutes that dot the country’s landscape enjoy no such protections. Mahama’s government takes risks with their lives every day; there is no fear of repercussion, no oversight. It is therefore no surprise that a man such as Stanislav Dogbe thrives in such an environment. The corrupt and morally bankrupt are the greatest beneficiaries of President MaHaHa’s brand of “compassion”, and few people have found themselves better protected by the president than this unscrupulous cave dwelling mammal.

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I want to make it crystal clear that I detest Stan Dogbe. Let no confusion about my feelings for the man take root in your mind. He is a cancer…a cancer that represents the degenerative state of the NDC in general. A few years ago I ran a series on the M.O.M. called ‘Meet the Man Who is Ruining Ghana’, where I would feature religious leaders, politicians and merchants of industry who were bringing the country to its knees through their depravity. The only reason I never got to Herr Dogbe is because the Black Lives Matter movement drew my attention away.

I’m ecstatic that Stanislav has given me the opportunity to display my disdain for his presence on the Ghanaian political landscape.

When I penned my post about Poka Arts’ subjection to plagiarism in connection with the NPP and those individuals physically responsible for carrying out the two instances, I made mention that I was fairly certain that Nana Addo and members in the upper echelons of the party were mostly likely unaware of these acts. It’s not reasonable to expect that they would be, despite the fact that the act of plagiarism reflects poorly on the NPP’s brand. Several people contacted me privately with some concerns. “The Other Side,” they said, “might try to use this to attack Mr. Addo personally to score political points.” Some asked if I might consider taking the post down, which I declined to do, of course.I said we would cross that bridge IF we ever got there.

“NDC is not a party that is above reproach or blameless for the many livelihoods and lives lost over the past seven years. They are primed for a clapback.”

It’s only natural that one’s political opponent would see and seize the opportunity to use any object that they felt could be used as ammunition to damage the other. And  if my blog was to be used to score political points or empathy, I already had a ready reply for any NDC troll who would be foolish enough to do so. My contempt for the NDC in general is well documented, and as I’ve said numerous times before, they are a group that have earned their reputation as confused, witless, uncouth, thoughtless thugs. The fecal spattered laundry list of their offenses against the country is a mile long and racks up debts into the billions. In my mind, they’d be foolish to try to use my post to their advantage, given the corporate guilt of this political party and its members. I doubted anyone would be foolish enough to try it. Well, apparently, Stan Dogbe is a very foolish man.

That Stan Dogbe felt comfortable enough to publish the following tweet – without irony – is something right out of a stoner’s tripped out dream. Who sent Stan to do this? Whose bright idea was this? Assigning Stan Dogbe the job of standing up on behalf of “Integrity & Responsibility” is like sending King Leopold the murderer of millions of Africans to admonish Hitler on his treatment of the Jews.

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Stan Dogbe is a man whose existence is characterized and governed by controversy, which is why I suspect he is so valuable to Ghana’s sitting president. In matters of the state and public affairs, he reacts to everything viscerally. He is unprincipled, immoral, bestial and unrepentant about any of it. It is not useful to John Mahama for Stan Dogbe to develop or have a conscience, which is likely why this currish man remains in the president’s employ, despite the numerous grievances he’s caused both the state and individuals in the public. I believe the president lives vicariously through him. Stan Dogbe is Mahama’s Dick Cheney; his Josef Goebbels; his Stephen the House Negro from Django…and Stan has a long history of taking whatever he wants from whomever he wants. Suspicion abounds that he has been on many an impious errand on the president’s behalf, the latter who has decided that it’s safer keep him close and on his side than rogue and on the fringes with all the information that he has stored in that little brain.

For those who are unfamiliar with him, Herr Dogbe currently serves as the Director of Communications cum presidential staffer at the Flagstaff House and has been the originator of the some most asinine utterances that this government has had to bear responsibility for to date. Despite being a journalist himself, he has shown an incredible lack of respect for the profession…or anyone employed in the industry. He recently took to Twitter to castigate the BBC for its reportage of his government’s mismanagement of public funds to brand buses with his buddy Mahama’s face, calling the organization and the reporter who published the story “useless”. In mid 2015, he viciously assaulted Mr. Yahyah Kwamoah, a journalist with the GBC, snatching his recording device and dashing it to pieces while the journalist was reporting on his colleagues involvement in a vehicular accident that year. While a journalist for Joy FM himself, Stand Dogbe was accused of rape and was forced to part ways with the organization. His “alleged” victim was a KNUST student. He has been universally deemed unfit for the position he holds, and the responsibilities and professionalism requisite therein.

So for Stan Dogbe – a visibly violent man, an alleged rapist, and frequent demonstrator of a lack of decorum or home training – to hop in the driver’s seat of this crusade and begin to question anybody’s integrity or responsibility where media ethics are concerned isn’t just laughable…it’s mind bending. Like, this dude must be out of his God-given mind!

Is there an opportunity for NDC to use the plagiarism incident to their advantage? Sure. All is fair in love, war and on the campaign trail. Likewise, the NPP certainly have more than enough evidence to demonstrate that this current government is setting Ghanaians on the path to the Dark Ages or colonial rule. One expects there to be opportunistic mudslinging at this stage in the game.

But Stan Dogbe isn’t allowed to play.

Stan Dogbe is the mud itself.

His function is to remain filthy and silent, save for the squish-squish noises mud makes when pedestrians trod through it. He has nothing to say that carries any merit here. No one can put Stan Dogbe and integrity in the same sentence unless it’s for the purposes of satire.

But back to the point about Mahama’s Ghana: The news today is all abuzz concerning the shut down of two cocoa processing plants due to “operational challenges”. All this even after the President and his wife spent thousands of (some say state-funded) dollars to brand bars of MaHaHa chocolate as political party favors. The shut down has shocked the nation. More than the 1000 direct jobs have been lost (and 4,000 household members left adrift), and an estimated 10,000 independent street hawkers – and the families that depend on their sales – have been left with yet another question mark about how to survive hanging over their heads. All this from a president whose response last year to operational struggles that middle class entrepreneurs and large businesses found themselves grappling with was “smart businesses are not laying off workers”. Look what has happened to our national brand under his watch.

Stan Dogbe needs to go find a seat and figure out how he’s going to spin that and leave the talk of “integrity and responsibility” to those better qualified. *Hint: Ain’t nobody in the NDC qualified.