Author Archives: Malaka

What If We All Conducted Ourselves Like American Police on Our Jobs?

With the constant bombardment of images and videos depicting police brutality, it certainly feels like it is a trend on the rise. I don’t believe we will ever truly know how many people have died at the hands of the American police, since the force and the judicial system itself has staked their collective souls in shielding the institution from any sort of accountability. On the rare occasions that police officers do find themselves on trial for obvious human right’s abuses, the verdict frequently results in the officer(s) complete exoneration. It’s a never ending cycle.

According to the Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 where the term “law enforcement officials”, includes all officers of the law, whether appointed or elected, who exercise police powers, especially the powers of arrest or detention, these persons are required to adhere (but not limited) to the following:

Article 2:

In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.

Article 3:

Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

Article 5:

No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I’ve highlighted these in particular, because they demonstrate the contravening of these international laws by the American police force as modeled through homicides of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd and hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their lives to a bullet, beating or strangling in America.

The now-accepted explanation by those invested in the maintenance of this form of social lawful disorder – as it serves either to their benefit or because it affects their communities by a miniscule extent – is that because police officers interact with criminals and a “hostile public” all day, they themselves are prone to (re)act violently, depending on who they are interacting with. In other words, a series of bad days can lead up to the ultimate bad day for any American citizen, depending on how the boy in blue is feeling that day.

cops

Oh really? Do these people think police officers are the only ones who experience stress when interfacing with the public whom they are PAID to serve? Well, what if ALL the people who work with the public had the liberty to use force when we “deemed necessary” to bring about a speedy resolution to a sticky or unpleasant situation? What if those actions resulted in the same “repercussions” that the police typically face? I’ve talked to a number of people who have fanaticized about it. Come with me. It’s time for…

 

****MOM MODE!****

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon at America’s favorite place to buy shoes. A throng of suburban moms and their caffeinated teens mills through the aisles inspecting items, sometimes putting them in their right place, sometimes not. Store associates are working desperately to keep up with the pace of the mess that is being created in the wake of the back-to-school shopping weekend. Lisa has been working at the store for 6 months, after being transferred from another location for disciplinary issues. She looks across the store and sees a woman and her young son try on 8 pairs of shoes. They have left a pile of paper, boxes and plastic all over the area.

Lisa takes a series of meaningful strides and is at the mom’s side in moments.

“Who left this pile of trash here?” Lisa asks, already knowing the answer. It’s not a crime to leave trash on the floor, but it IS rude.

“What?” asks the mom. “There was paper in the boxes. We took it out to try the shoes on.”

Lisa is miffed. Her question has not been answered appropriately. She repeats herself.

“I said ‘Who left this pile of trash here?’ I didn’t ask you about the nature of the stuffing of the boxes! You left a pile of trash here and you’re going to pay for it!”

Indignant, the mother retorts. Never in her life has she been spoken to this way by a store associate.

“There’s no reason to yell!” she screeches. “You are making a scene, and you are frightening my son!” She points to the young boy for emphasis.

Feeling threatened and irritated, Lisa wrestles the mother to the ground and grabs her by the throat, demanding that she confess to putting the paper mess all over her store floor. But the mom can’t speak. She’s having the life choked out of her.

2 weeks later, there is an inquest and Lisa’s conduct has been ruled appropriate. The mother did pose a threat, since she raised her hand and became erratic during what should have been a simple Q&A session. Lisa has been transferred to the administration department where she will spend 9 hours a day off her feet enjoying donuts and water-cooler conversation.

 

****

John works at big box retailer in its tech repair department. His shift is unpredictable. Some days he works from the time the store opens until it closes. Sometimes he only works 8 hours a week. It just depends on how much crack the manager on duty has been smoking when he did the schedule. On this day, John has pulled a double shift. He’s been in the back of the store – an area the staff refers to as The Cage – for 16 hours already.

John doesn’t mind working with laptops and cell phones. They don’t talk back. It’s when he gets called to the front to deal with customers that gets him particularly irate. Today, a man in dark washed jeans, a pale blue buttoned down shirt and a silver bangle on his wrist is standing in his line. John already knows his type: high maintenance. He sighs and calls for the next customer to come forward.

The bangle wearing customer already has an attitude when he approaches John. He drops his Blackberry on the tech desk and leans in during his conversation.

“I brought this device in 2 weeks ago, and the problem hasn’t been resolved!” the customer seethes.

John takes a step back, decides he doesn’t like either his tone OR his attitude and picks up the Blackberry. He then smashes it into Bangle Boy’s temple. It’s been a rough week already, see? John is not to blame. There is an investigation and soon media reports are released to show that the bangle wearing customer had weed in his system. How was John expected to behave when the client had weed in their system???

 

*****

Pots are banging. The floor is slippery. None of the orders are coming out on time. Food is being served cold. When Alara took the job as a waitress to help supplement her income, she never thought it would be like this. She imagined a quirky life making frivolous conversation while serving meals to sanguine lovers in a dimly lit dining room. Sadly, there are no such eateries in her small town, and her big city dreams and demeanor have made her somewhat of a misfit in this diner where she works for tips.

Uninterested, she asks two men who are seated in her section about their beverage choices.

“What will you have to drink?”

The gentlemen are doubled over with laughter. Alara assumes they are laughing at her. She takes a scalding hot pot of coffee and tosses it into one of the men’s face. He screams in agony. His compatriot jumps to his feet and demands that Alara explain herself! What does she think she’s doing! How does is laughter pose a threat! Alara, feeling attacked, pulls a knife and threatens to stab the screaming man. When the sight of the knife only makes him scream louder, she plunges it into his chest.

There is an investigation and Alara is not only given a raise, but is promoted to manager. The customers should not only have been more attentive to her queries, but should not have engaged in any form of merriment in her presence. She was trying to carry out her duty, for crying out loud, and they were interring with that! (A GoFundMe page has also been set up for Alara so that she can retire on a million dollars whenever she’s ready. She’s earned it for her bravery.)

 

Oh. Laugh! Feel free. There is a certain irony to all this that warrants dark mirth. Of course, we can’t allow this sort of behavior to run rampant in American society. We would quickly fall into total anarchy, which is why I am a bit befuddled as to why state and federal officials aren’t doing more to curb the shenanigans of the police. The ideals of white supremacy must be protected at all cost, I suppose.

Have you ever wanted to slap the taste out of someone on your job? If you could get away with it, would you? Do you think the police continue to brutalize (certain sections of) the public because they know they can get away with it? And finally, should Obama be out there chastising African nations about human rights abuses when there are clear (daily) violations of those same rights on the nation that he presides over? Discuss!

Could Metadata Solve the Mystery of the Sandra Bland Mugshot?

At the turn of the century, in the early 1900s when forensics was a fairly new science, there was an trend in and aspect of forensic photography that I found unsettling. I’m being modest. It’s not unsettling; it’s repugnant. All too frequently, forensic photographers – and sometimes even news reporters – would restage a crime scene in order to elicit a desired reaction from the public be it shock, horror, thrill or indifference. These manufactured reactions all serve a larger anthropological purpose: a gauge to determine how far certain elements in a society can carry out specific actions.

The restaging of a crime scene, particularly if it has been done at the hands of a trusted agent of our society, like a photojournalist or a police officer, presents the worst breach of professional ethics I can imagine. Admittedly, my bias has everything to do with my field of study and less to do with the nature of the moral breach. But yeah, whatever. It’s pretty a pretty disgusting practice in my books. That’s why the entire question of Sandra Bland’s mugshot and the nature it was possibly rendered has me quivering with rage, loathing and yes…fear.

Three people copied me on a story circulating on social media pointing to wide speculation that Sandra Bland’s mugshot was taken post mortem. There are alternate pictures juxtaposing her side-by-side, analysis of her pupils, scrutiny of the direction in which her locks lay. If she was photographed after she died, it’s a macabre notion indeed and one very hard to stomach, but I put absolutely nothing past the American militarized police force, especially in the South. The official report is that Sandra Bland committed suicide in her cell, a few hours before she was to be bonded out. There was immediately suspicion about this claim because:

  • Sandra Bland was a Black woman

And

  • Sandra Bland was a Black woman

As she lay in handcuffs, belly down on the ground, her own recorded words were that she could not wait to get this officer to court. That was enough for me to indicate that she would not commit suicide in her jail cell. When a Black woman “can’t wait” to do something, she won’t rest until it’s done. I don’t care if it’s a new weave or taking a dude to court for failure to pay child support or finally getting that college degree…we live, eat and sleep a singular “can’t wait” goal until it has come to fruition. (You’re laughing, but I’m so serious.)

Even though it’s hard to imagine that she would commit suicide, and I certainly don’t want to rob her of the right to her agency over her own life and body by saying definitively that the thought mightn’t have crossed her mind. After all, stories abound of Black women who chose to kill their children and then take their own lives, rather than continue through the oppressive horrors of a life spent in captivity in white man’s America.

Secondly, and more importantly, the trend of Black inmates dying in cells across this country and those deaths immediately being ruled a suicide is a longstanding one. In a follow up conversation we had about the possibility that Sandra Bland’s mugshot had been digitally altered and/or taken after the time of her death, my sister sent the following text:

chrisYeah. You read that right. This was my brother-in-law’s grandfather.

In 1987, Assata Shakur wrote about this very trend in her autobiography.

Marc

So what do we do now? Fortunately, we live in an age where there are hackers to hack hackers and film editors with a keen eye for editing. Ava DuVernay quickly pointing out the obvious edits in the released footage of the Sandra Bland video, which only points to more attempts at a police cover up. Similarly, I am hoping that the coding community can solve the problem with the photograph and put all our fears to rest. I’m relying on you techy-smarty-pants guys to tell me if I’m off mark here.

Remember back in 2001, when digital cameras were somewhat affordable and we began to do away 35mm? There were, like, sooo passé. Digital cameras were great! If you didn’t like a shot, you could erase it immediately and not waste film. But the first digital cameras also time stamped everything, and that was annoying. You’d go to print your pictures, and there in the lower right hand corner of your shot was the date AND time of the picture when it was taken. Remember? Ugh!

Soooo…did that technology go away? Did cameras suddenly stop storing metadata? I don’t think so. From what I hear, the metadata will tell you the time, date and the model of the camera used to capture the image. Would it then be possible to compare the mugshot’s synchronized metadata with the official date and time of arrest for an answer to this riddle? Now, of course, this would require access to the police department’s official, unedited version of the jpeg (or whatever backwater file format Waller County saves its stuff on), which would mean they turn it over peaceably or Anonymous gets to doing what they do for cartwheels and giggles.

In other words, if Sandra Bland died (or was killed) at 10 am and the picture was taken at 2 pm that same day, what would that implicate?

When all is said and done, I want to believe that the police department did not take the battered, lifeless body of a Black woman, undress her from her street clothes, redress her in a prison jumpsuit, lie her on the floor, angle her head, hover above her and snap a picture in order to prove she was processed “properly”. I want to believe that there wasn’t some sick necrophiliac taking pleasure in every sordid second of that encounter.  I want to believe that although it is a vile system, that white supremacist law enforcement would have at least that much human decency left in it. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to believe this, because not only does history tell me different, Twitter tells me different by the nanosecond. If I had a nickel for every time “Real Americans” and their soft shoeing sidekicks uttered the words “if she didn’t have an attitude, she wouldn’t be dead”, I’d be able to afford to take the entire MOM Squad out for BBQ chicken and ribs at Big Lou’s. It’s not quite reparations…but hey. Those are some good ribs.

So, what do you think? Could metadata solve the mystery of the mugshot?

 

Rest in power and peaceful journey, sweet Sandy. Your life mattered.

 

See The World from The Bosom of Africa

My cousin died at the age of 56 about a month ago. My siblings and I went up to Detroit for the funeral, where we had a chance to reconnect with childhood friends and old folk who remembered us fondly. My aunt Cynthia, who outlived her firstborn child, was cooling herself with a fan and looking at old photos. A framed picture of her mother, my Aunt Clara, was sitting on the shelf behind me.

“I think about Aunt Clara often,” I muttered.

Aunt Cynthia gave me a look, as though she didn’t believe me.

“I do!” I reasserted.

Aunt Cynthia chuckled. “She was really sweet, wasn’t she?”

“Oh gosh, yes. SO sweet. And so…quiet. Was she always like that?”

Aunt Cynthia made a sound that resembled a small train warning pedestrians to clear the way. It was a half roar, part whistle.

“My mother would cuss you out in a heartbeat. She smoked like a chimney. Smoked them cigarettes they rolled before there were filters.”

I was incredulous. Not my sweet, sainted, fair-skinned Aunt Clara!

Aunt Cynthia was ruthless in her mockery. “When you meet my mother, she was old. She had done all that craziness and left it behind by the time you got here.”

My interest was now piqued, and Aunt Cynthia was only happy to let me in on a few choice family secrets and divulge some shocking details of her mother’s life. I wished there were pictures or footage of all the events she talked about. And then, that’s when it occurred to me – I should probably leave some footage for my (great) grand kids to browse through as well. Well, surely they’d be interested in their ancestor, wouldn’t they? Well then, I ought to do something about that!

I made a public declaration on Facebook about my intent to create a photo album of all the places I’d been and all the feats I’d attempted. Good Lord willing, I too will have the opportunity to meet great-grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews, and if they love me half as much as I loved my Aunt Clara, I would want them to know that I was more than some old lady with huge breasts who is plagued with a chocolate and coffee addiction. I want them to look through this album and know that neither weight, nor age, gender, nor marital status or childbirth should impede their ability to get out there and attempt the unimaginable. None of those things should mean you can’t properly live, despite what the culture tells us.

Now, this album I am building is a little self-serving as well, because building it feeds into my pipe dream of becoming a travel journalist a la Anthony Bourdain or that cute, bubbly blonde chick with the pixie cut on PBS. Not Rick Steves. Gosh, he’s so dull. I’d rather watch my toenails grow than listen to him narrate a trip through the canals of Venice.

I shared my vision with MX5, who immediately dedicated to praying towards its fruition. She even came up with a name for my show: See the world from the bosom of Africa.

Check it out. So my bra size is 36HH, right? This makes it the perfect place in which to conceal a camera to record my travels and encounters with the globe. Like “Ooh, look! I’m here at the top of this volcano and the only way to get down is to repel from its craggy edge. Won’t you join me and look at the world from the bosom of Africa?”

OR

“Hey! I’m out here in Petra, Jordan where we’re filming Akua Ananse and the Last Ball of Kenkey. Won’t you join me and look at this exotic location from the bosom of Africa?”

Because it’s my bosom, and I’m African and my big breastesses will capture every thrilling moment. See? Of course you do. It’s brilliant. And if you see this show/concept on the Travel Channel feature some skinny half-co chick with a weave, know that you heard it hear first chalk it up to discrimination against fat chicks.

Here are some of my favorite moments from my travels over the last few years. As I looked through these images, I realized (again) how very blessed and fortunate I’ve been to visit these places and do half the things I’ve done. I’m looking forward to doing much more…and if I could be so bold, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and create a precious memory for those who will follow after you. It doesn’t have to be cliff diving or shark wrestling (although that would be fantastic) but it should be noteworthy. Why should somebody else be your grand baby’s hero? Why shouldn’t your name be remembered with awe?

947064_10151457287187001_119208464_n 995725_10151457286957001_1437836622_n 10604692_10152880014006290_3267194159058689373_o 11713665_10152880014236290_4627595462347969790_o IMG_7964 Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 7.18.16 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.44.53 PM

If you know anyone casting for a new travel host, don’t be afraid to send them my information. I will now entertain any questions, the first of which I am sure will be “Malaka, what is WRONG with you???”

It’s So Hard to Say Her Name: Sandra Bland

 

Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted , and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And arn’t I woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And arn’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And aren’t I a woman?” – Excerpt from Sojourner Truth’s speech given at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, OH, 1851.

 

…and bear the lash as well.

I don’t remember the first time I read Sojourner Truth’s speech because it was so long ago, sometime in my teenage years. But that line – that singular line – has always resonated within me. For me, it sums up the condition of Black womanhood in America. It’s so perfect in its subtlety that I wonder how many folks have glossed over its implications and the truths it harbors.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with my 21 year old cousin, Sean. I used to look after Sean and his siblings when he was very young, but we were never particularly close. That afternoon, at his mother’s kitchen table, was the first time we’ve sat and talked without the presence of other family members. I wanted to discover what kind of man the little 4 year old boy I used to scold and make sandwiches for had become. What I found out both saddened and gave me cause for hope.

I asked him how he felt about being a young Black man in America. Sean told me – without using these exact words – that he didn’t really feel “Black”. You see, Sean (like Bruno Mars whom I have jokingly referred to him as) is mixed race, but could pass for anything; except white, of course. This has caused a bit of angst for him because he “feels just as white as his white friends, but doesn’t really feel accepted by them”. As our conversation came to a close, I asked him what he thought about police brutality and if he felt he would get fair treatment by the police. He made reference to some statistics about how more white people were killed by police than Blacks, and that he and his friends had concluded that the media was trying to stir up trouble.

Bill-OReilly

O_o

“Sean. The problem isn’t how many Black people are being killed – it’s the circumstances we are concerned about. We don’t know if those white folks were in the middle of a violent crime, or if they were returning fire on the police, or what they were doing to warrant being killed. If you’re in the middle of a shoot out like Cleo in Set it Off, then yeah…we expect you to get killed by the police. Our concern is when Black death happens while in the middle of doing mundane tasks, like walking through a neighborhood or standing on a corner selling cigarettes.”

My cousin is a quiet, pensive young man who nodded silently and chewed over what I had asserted before making an assertion of his own.

“Well, at least it’s safer for you as a Black woman out there, right? Black women aren’t killed as often as young Black men are.”

My heart dropped and my mouth went dry.

The faces of thousands of Black women, many of who went missing or were killed in his own state, shot through my mind in a flash. The lifeless bodies of lynched Black women swaying from Southern trees and on Northern lamp posts soon joined that mental image. My great shame is that although I could see their faces, I did not know their names. Few people do. I told Sean as much.

“No. That’s not true. Black women are victims of police and systemic brutality just as often as Black men are. They just don’t get any press.”

dailymail

And just think: there is an entire generation that has been brainwashed to believe this way. Who aren’t even curious enough to look at recent history to inform them of the truth! But never did I imagine that just a week after this conversation Sandra Bland’s death would prove to be the case study to bear this out.

It is an understatement to say that Sandra Bland’s death has shaken me. Sandra Bland IS me a decade ago. She was university educated, civic minded, empathetic and loved her people. She put herself out there and was honest and vulnerable with the public. In a Facebook post, she admitted that she was feeling depressed and now that admission is being used as fodder to insinuate that she took her own life. Her encounter with the police officer who wrestled her to the ground and arrested her has been justified because she became “combative and uncooperative”. When I tell you it is by the grace of God that I have not found myself on the cold slab her body now occupies, it’s not a melodramatic sentiment. If the right police officer had caught me on the wrong day, I too could have ended up dead…and that death would have everything to do with my Black womanhood and how I express it.

When a Black woman is irritated, angry or fed up, there is a tinge in her voice that excites a visceral reaction in just about anyone. That’s just how we talk. I experienced this just this Easter when I went to a local Atlanta church to participate in an egg drop. As I approached one of the street ushers, sweat dripping down my face and my 4 kids in tow, he asked why we did not take one of the shuttles from the other end of the park.

“Shuttle? What shuttle? No one told us about any shuttle.”

He took a step back and said, “There’s no reason to get angry ma’am! Calm down.”

I looked at this slender man, whose accent betrayed West Indian origin and snickered in retort.

“I’m not angry, sir. I’m fat, I’m sweaty, and I’m asking about a shuttle.”

His face relaxed and he directed me to the other end of the street and advised me to wait for the next car.

Many people – I included – believe Sandra Bland’s death was a homicide. She was killed to teach her the ultimate lesson. When she was approached by the arresting police officer, she did not exhibit the appropriate amount of anxiety and/or obsequiousness expected during police interactions. In fact, she was smoking a cigarette while the officer questioned her. It would have been “polite” for her to put out the cigarette, but it was not unlawful not to have done so. But as the average Black woman within a certain social strata will tell you, our impoliteness is (and always has been) a criminal offence. Remember when they beat up and locked up Sophia in The Color Purple for sassin’ the mayor’s wife? Mmmhmmm…

The awful truth about Sandra Bland’s death is that she is not the only Black woman to be killed (or to have died, for the benefit of the Negropeans and classic racist who scream ‘wait for the facts!!!’ in cases like these) while in police custody, and had it not been for social media, her death would have been tidily swept under the rug and hastily forgotten. The Fates have just deemed that her name has garnered a great deal of attention. It has been hard to find an accurate number of Black women killed by police or vigilantes, because many of them are not high profile names. Even when Black women and girls go missing, it’s hard to get public interest to focus on bringing them back home. Which missing Black child’s name is branded on your psyche the way Elizabeth Smart or JonBenet Ramsey were/are. The media won’t let you forget the name or the face of a missing white child or woman…but because Black lives don’t really matter to the mainstream, our lost (female) loved ones don’t enjoy these same privileges.

And this is what emboldens every person who preys on Black women’s bodies and polices our mobility in American society. In 2010, when 11 bodies of missing Black women were discovered in a Cleveland home, there was shock and horror. How could have come to this, so many wondered? Why did no one speak of these missing persons before? The answer is because we are invisible to American society, and worse yet, we as Black women KNOW that we are invisible. That is, of course, until the mainstream culture is looking for the next trend to coopt.

 

…and bore the lash as well.

Can I say one final thing? When Key & Peele did their Negro Town skit, I applauded them for their genius in brining humor in their portrayal of the difficulty of Black life in America. But there has always been one part that unsettled me. A trio of Black women come prancing by, singing about their ONE grievance that Negro Town has saved them from: In Negro Town where strong Black men are raining down/There’s light skinned, dark skinned, every shade/And there’s no white b*tches to take them away.

Bless Key & Peele’s little hearts. Neither of these young men was raised by a Black woman, so I wouldn’t expect them to understand Black female struggles…but damn it if that didn’t hurt. We are being KILLED out there, in every way imaginable. American food is poisoning us. When they talk about Black women’s “health” often times the industry is referring to an abortion and not finding a cure for fibroids, a condition that affects us in greater proportions than other races. We are more likely to be denied affordable housing. We are the “face of welfare”, even though white men are the majority recipients of federal aid. We watch helplessly as our children are carted away in the classroom to prison pipeline. And yes, we have fought, bled and died in the very fields and streets of the US of A with our fellow Black men. In all of this and more, do you really think our one and major concern is catching a man, Key & Peele? Puh-leeze.

 

Rest in Power, Sandra Bland. It hurts to say your name. Hurts like I’m speaking my own.

sandra-bland

 

The Ocean, Black in Belize

The only person I’ve confessed this to is my BFFFL: Going to the beach makes me sick.

One night, when we were sitting on the veranda of some James Town dive overlooking the ocean, I felt myself getting restless and queasy. Soon, I was just downright sick to my stomach.

“I don’t like coming to the beach,” I confessed.

Nana Darkoa, who I am convinced is an ocean spirit born into flesh, was horrified. She loves the beach.

“Why not?”

“It makes me sad. It reminds me of slavery. It brings to mind everything that was stolen and lost. It reminds me of families being ripped apart.”

She nodded pensively and said that she could see how I would feel that way. She looked out over the ocean from her seat and pondered what it must have been like for this to be the last thing Africans who were taken away from these shores would see.

“It wouldn’t look like this to them at all,” I said quietly, realizing this for the first time myself. “For them, the coast would be disappearing. They would be looking the other way.”

Sensing I was having a rough time, she asked me if I was ready to go. Does an Irish man like potatoes? I nodded and transported myself to the passenger side of her car particle by particle in nanoseconds.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a child, I could spend hours at the beach, carefree in my ignorance while my siblings and I chased translucent crabs from hole to hole and collected sea shells to make jewelry. Secondary school ruined all of that for me, of course. That’s when I learned that trade winds and ocean tides brought Europeans in search of resources that are scare (or nonexistent) on their native lands to Africa, Asia, South America and the Spice Route, where their relationship morphed from being based on trade to all out destruction. The once beloved ocean became a symbol of Black oppression and white supremacy for me.

So it would seem odd that I would chose to spend six days in a place surrounded by the ocean, right? God works in mysterious ways.

As I mentioned previously, Belize is a true melting pot. The country is only populated with 400K+ people, but they are from all over the world. They identify as Belizean first, no matter what their ethnic origin. You drill down to the specifics from there: Mayan, Creole, Garifuna, Italian, Chinese and so forth. When we visit an area, Marshall and I always try to make an effort to learn as much about a place as time will allow. It’s always a special treat when a perfect stranger takes time out of their day to stand and talk with you about their human experience. I am always curious about the Black experience whenever I visit a new country or locality. The narrative we have been fed and often shell out ourselves is that present day Black life was borne from colonialism and slavery and is under siege everywhere you go, anywhere on the globe, no matter what. Imagine my surprise when Cyril, a 33 year old hotel manager, told me otherwise.

“The first thing you gotta understand is that Garifuna people was never a slave. My people were warriors. We fought the Spanish. My people are proud.”

His almond shaped eyes stared at me, unwavering in their gaze. His gaunt face looked like it was carved out of brown marble. He didn’t say another word until we had let that sink in.

We told him we had been trying to piece together Garifuna history as much as we could, but because most of it seemed to be oral history, it was difficult to verify anything.

The Belizean flag was such a surpise to me. A Black man, tall and strong...on a FLAG? How!?  They don't put "slaves" on flags and offer them the benefit of dignity, do they? I didn't think so.

The Belizean flag was such a surpise to me. A Black man, tall and strong…on a FLAG? How!? They don’t put “slaves” on flags and offer them the benefit of dignity, do they? I didn’t think so.

“Of course,” Cyril admitted. “White man don’t want you knowing our true history. It don’t serve his purpose. You know how Garifuna came to this place? On boats made in Africa. We came to trade and explore. We never come with no shackles here and here.”

He slapped his wrists and his neck to create the illusion of chains.

“Sometimes, when I look at you Blacks in Mississippi… in America, I pity you. I feel so bad for. Them sell you all like them sell chicken! But we are African people. STRONG people. We are a great people…but them not want you all to know that. Today, the chains are here.” He pointed to his head.

Cyril was excitable by now. (He was also a little drunk, as he had just returned home from Dangriga and had a difficult encounter with his mother.) He told us about how Garifuna youth of today are rejecting their heritage and refusing to their native tongue because they don’t want to be associated with Blackness.

“Them (light skinned Creoles) trying to tell us Garifuna we used to be slaves, but it never true. And because of that, our youth wanna be Creole. They wanna speak Creole. They wanna live the life them see on TV. They wanna eat rice and beans and steak instead of ground food. Our food will make them big and strong. But instead they wanna eat…”

“Pringles!” I said with a half laugh.

I told him I definitely sympathized. The trend in Ghana amongst the youth is definitely similar. So few people see the value in our traditions and our culture is slowly being replaced by some strange Judeo-Christian-Muslim- Juju anti-Blackness, anti-woman mix sheltered under the porous umbrella called “African tradition”.

There was a long, rectangular house behind us on the shoreline, made completely of thatched palm leaves. Two different people (both of Mayan descent) had told us it was a “voodoo house”, and that they do rituals and sacrifices in there. It was approaching the time of year when all the Garifunas would come for their annual “pilgrimage” to participate in the voodoo ritual. I pointed to it and asked Cyril about it. He laughed, half amused, half sneering.

“Ain’t no voodoo in there, my sister. Ain’t no animal sacrifices and so forth. You know what them talking about? A family reunion. We gather here in this temple…yes, temple…to give thanks for all that we have. And then we party. But because we have not taken the time to explain it to these people, because we speak in our OWN language and not theirs, because the dancing too fast, the drumming too fast, and because people get swept up in the spirit, them call it ‘voodoo’.”

Cyril snorted before he continued.

“It a Mayan man who said this? Was it not them and the Aztecs who used to slaughter people for them-a gods? Garifuna never slaughter no human people before. But because of this (points to his Black skin) them call it voodoo.”

We sat in silence for a moment while I chewed over his words. In Larteh, my father’s hometown, there is a fetish temple I have never been allowed to visit. We hurriedly walk by it every time we visit the town. On my most recent visit home, my dad happened to mention that that matrilineal great-great grandmother all the way down to my grandmother (who gave up her role to become a devout Anglican) served as priestesses in the house. Of course I was curious, and wanted to go see immediately, but my father forbade it. He gave some excuse about the inconvenience of having to buy Schnapps, etc.

I know that deep down, his unwillingness to visit the place is because of fear and shame. Fear that his Christian God will condemn him for entering a traditional house and that shame that almost every African has of his African-ness.

After all, African-ness is hunger, ineptitude, greed and poverty, isn’t it? Oh sure, we make great music and are superb athletes… but an African is incurious, dimwitted and illogical, isn’t he? Therefore tapping into anything that makes him/her uniquely African would only serve as a detriment to progress and development, wouldn’t it? Why else do we allow Mallams and Pastors to pray for our president, but would NEVER allow a traditional healer/priest to pour libation for his tenure? Africans are ashamed to be African… because we don’t know our history and we’ve bought into carefully crafted lies, wholesale.

This is what the conversations with Cyril, our skiff captain Steven, and listening to the leader of the dance troupe that performed for us at the resort reminded me of: that Africans are a mighty, intelligent and above all, good people. We don’t see ourselves as good.

“You know what the problem with the African is? We too kind. When the Europeans got lost on our shores, we gave them food and gold. After all, it was plenty, right? We gave them trust. But what they give us in return?” Cyril pursed his lips as he asked his rhetorical question.

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As “enlightened” about Africa as I am, I began to form a picture in my head of things and events long passed from memory. I remember an elementary school teacher telling our class how the Gas were descended from a group in Nigeria that emigrated to present day Ghana on boats. Of course, I assumed they were canoes, since I have never seen a vessel crafted by Africans any larger than that…but surely we had boats much bigger (and faster) than that if Africans sailed across the Atlantic 700+ years ago? We developed systems of food storage and preservation for long journeys. Surely we knew how to use the stars to navigate. Why are we never taught these things about our ancestors; and more importantly, who is responsible for destroying that knowledge? I find this particularly troubling, especially since the Ministry of Education under the NDC government has sanctioned a social studies book to teach Ghanaian children about the “benefits of colonialism” to include how it “civilized” the African.

When I sat on the beach in Placencia the first day and I looked over the water, I didn’t have that same sense of panic and sorrow that I do when I look over the Atlantic in Accra or Cape Coast. It took me by surprise, but once I discovered that these waters in this particular area were governed by a different spirit it became clear why.

At the conclusion of our conversation, we discussed identity. Marshall’s answer was the most complex: he is Black American who acknowledges his genetic roots in Africa as well as Europe. I identifies as a hybrid. For Cyril, the answer was clear cut.

“I am an African.”

My heart skipped a beat.

 

A Week in Belize, Where it’s Always Sunny with a Chance of Beautiful

It requires a fair amount of hubris and cheek to go on vacation and assume that anyone anywhere would care to have you share the gritty details of how you idled endless hours in a hammock munching on fresh fruit and being lulled to sleep by the ocean’s waves…so allow me to express my gratitude to the many people who have sent messages expressing their anticipation of my doing just that. That you would want to participate in my experience, albeit it vicariously, means a lot!

Me and my hammock were like *this*!

Me and my hammock were like *this*!

MOM Squad. Man. There’s just so much to tell. I could write and vlog for weeks and still not properly convey the mix of sounds, smells, sights and emotions I experienced on this short trip. Still I must try so, I will begin by sharing my most immediate reactions and observations. Also, it is incumbent on me to advise that if you ever have the opportunity to visit Belize (or Placencia, to be precise), seize it! There’s no way you’ll regret it.

Marshall and I visited the country in order to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. We had originally planned to visit Greece, but changed our minds when Belize literally dropped in our spirits.

“Let’s go somewhere super exotic. Like Ibiza or Las Trampas (not a real place),” I said.

Marshall was Googling the earth and said, “What about Belize?”

And that’s how we ended up on its sunny shores instead of Greece’s debt-ridden coast.

The entire trip was fraught with excitement. After we landed at the international airport in Belize City, we took a much smaller aircraft to the peninsula of Placencia. The 10 seater plane, about the size of matchbox, was piloted by a handsome West Indian chap who handled the craft like it was a Hyundai taxi. Our landing strip at the Placencia airport – which was constructed to look like someone’s house – was the size of a postage stamp. A dog jogged onto the runway as we offloaded our bags. A shuttle driven by a stocky Mayan man named Cirilo took us to Robert’s Grove where we would spend the week.

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The first thing we both noticed about Belizeans is how friendly they are – and not in that trained, tourist tolerating way that you become accustomed to when you walk into a Hilton hotel or Five Guys hamburger chain. Belizeans connect with you on a human level. It’s amazing. Marshall and I spent the first 36 hours trying to ascertain whether they were putting on or if this was their demeanor as a culture until I finally put an end to the query.

“Let’s not question this anymore! This is the problem with Americans….always so suspicious! This is just the way life is here, babe.”

Poor Marshall. All he could do was nod and agree with his wife.

To be honest, this aspect of Belizean culture has proven to make my re-entry to the United States most difficult. Since I have been back, I have had to make a conscious effort to “unlook” passersby and people with whom I share public space. When I first came from Ghana to the US, I would offer a greeting or at least nod in deference if I happened to make eye contact with a stranger. I was greeted with hostile stares in return. Then I moved to the South (Atlanta) and continued with the practice. True Southerners will nod and greet in response. But since there has been an influx of Northerners to this part of the country, that culture has quickly died as well. Now, I have learned to stand my ground, continue walking in a straight line and coldly refuse to look anyone in the face in passing. The person coming in the opposite direction does the same. But in Belize? My word… I couldn’t say “hello” enough! Every who walked by offered a hearty “Good day!” or “Good afternoon!” with a smile. A real, honest from the soul smile. I looked forward to making my way to the street just so I could interact with people in this way.

The second thing that has been hard about returning to the US has been that you can’t see the stars at night. Do you know how devastating it is to look up at the night sky and KNOW the stars are there, but be unable to see them? All the night pollution and artificial light blocks their view. I’ve been back two days and still haven’t adjusted.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food. It’s absolutely incredible. We eat crap – actual, verifiable CRAP – in this country. Rafi, our tour guide told us as much. On our way to Nim Li Punit, we passed several cashew, orange and banana plantations. There were bright, blue plastic bags covering the hanging fruit of the banana trees. Marshall enquired about them.

“Oh that?” said Rafi. “That’s so that the pesticides that they spray from the airplane don’t get on the banana fruit itself.”

“Oh. Ok.”

“We don’t eat dat sh*t,” he continued. “That’s they stuff we ship to you all in de US. Our food is organic.”

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No apologies, no remorse. And why should he be remorseful? The FDA and grocery chains are the ones who request and approve the chemical covered and infused swill that we stuff into our bodies and call “food”. It’s not Rafi or Belize’s fault. They are just giving the customer what they asked for. But by God, you haven’t tasted a mango or a pineapple until you’ve had one in Belize, one grown in “good ground” as they call it. Rafi gifted us a mango from his yard which we ate on the morning of our departure. I had just gorged on fresh coconut and don’t particularly care for mango, but Marshall didn’t care. With a wide-eyed stare, he commanded me to eat this.

It wasn’t just a mango. It tasted like honey, nutmeg cinnamon and fleshy joy. It felt like pleasure sliding down my throat. It was divine. I never want to eat another mango after that. Every other mango will fall short.

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In my next post, I will tell you about the sea. In Ghana, to ocean makes me very sad. Apart from the fact that it is absolutely filthy and fetid, the ocean holds a particularly melancholy place in my heart. It’s deep and spiritual. I didn’t feel that when I looked over the beach in Placencia at all… and I was shocked (and pleased) when I unearthed why that was.

 

 

*Check out my IG @ malakagrant if you want to see a few pictures! My iPhone was acting up, so there aren’t that many.  :( Boo. I know!

HANDBOOK FOR AFRICANS 1: You see only the worst in you

Today, I am honored to feature another post from the inimitable Field Ruwe. Comments are always welcome and feel free to share and reblog.

HANDBOOK FOR AFRICANS 1

You see only the worst in you

By Field Ruwe

 

We, black Africans, seldom feel the urge to jump into the river and swim across, more so if it is infested with crocodiles. Yes, when we stand by the riverside, the first thought that comes to mind is the fear of drowning or being attacked by a crocodile. This mortifying psychological faintheartedness is in the majority of Africans. We are gripped with so much fear, we are afraid to make that most crucial jump out of the nest and fly into the challenging world. It is this feeling of inadequacy that affects our upward mobility, and allows non-Africans to condition us their way. They have managed to make us see only the worst in us.

For centuries we have been victims of a camouflaged psychological warfare, covert and overt racism, that have left many Africans mentally indoctrinated. The belief that Africans have low intelligence remains in the African psyche and is passed from one generation to another. This has resulted in low-esteem, loss of scholastic motivation, and lack of great imagination. Today, there is even a much more sophisticated and massive furtive effort by non-Africans to portray Africans as failures. As a result, many Africans continue to believe that all non-black people are intellectually better than them. This has contributed to the continued deteriorating image of Africa.

 

I am working on a handbook that’s meant to change this perception and bring the best in Africans. It is a psychological conditioning book for Africans that attempts to remove the devastating feeling of self-contempt, self-hatred, self-doubt, self-loathing, disunity, dislike of the other African, and instills self-confidence, admiration, respect, trust, and unity. It urges Africans to rid of negative pathologies embedded within them and turn their thinking around and look at themselves as a brave and intelligent people who deserve to be part of the cognitive elite.

 

Beginning today, once a week, I shall use this platform to confront our Achilles’ heels—the weaknesses that have resulted in the loss of our unity, racial pride, and educational aspirations in spite of our physical and mental strengths. I offer ideas, suggestions, and recommendations that can gain us the acceptance of the world. The benefit of reading this column will be a change from feelings of hopelessness and despair to an awareness of the most urgent issues of our time. We can no longer survive as Africans hanging on to intimidation and humiliation. In order to succeed, we need to engage in critical thinking, reexamine some of our most basic beliefs and prior assumptions.

My first task this week is to prepare you for the most provocative and grueling topics ahead. In doing so, I table ten self-development techniques to help build your self-esteem and self-confidence.

 

  1. Self-acceptance: Know that you will never be the color you are not. Accept who you are and display optimism and confidence. Realize that you can’t change the color of your skin or your features, but you can take personal responsibility and change how you think and feel about yourself. If you accept the way you look, your body accepts you. Always say to yourself: “I’ll not change the way I look to accommodate the people who hate me. I’ve been black all my life and will proudly live with it.” When you hate the way you are, you surrender your willpower to your tormentors. They will gladly kill you. Remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with black skin. It is beautiful. There is nothing wrong with your broad nose. It is no worse than the noses of many non-blacks. There is nothing wrong with your thick lips. In fact they are the admiration of many non-blacks. So, reject the senseless feelings of self-hate that have been forced on you.

 

  1. The Dominance Motive: Understand that the color of your skin and your appearance are tools of intimidation, oppression, and suppression, used by non-blacks to dominate you. The majority of non-blacks are driven by dominance motives because they have been conditioned from childhood. Many non-blacks have made a pledge that a black person will never be their equal or above them. Not because he is brainless, but because he possesses the two most vital qualities of dominance—power and intellect. Overcome by your physic, they have gone after your mind and reduced it to the size of a marble. Driven by their ego and dominance motive, they have managed to replace your self-love with self-hate. It is up to you. You either reclaim your self-love or allow self-hate to consume and kill you.

 

  1. Responsibility: God put you on earth for a purpose. You are responsible for that purpose. You are your own purpose. Teach yourself to shoulder the responsibilities of your life. You find yourself overburdened by self-hate because you have allowed other people to take control of your responsibilities. Develop the courage to be responsible of NOT your self-hate, but self-love. Take control of yourself and begin to love everything about you. God loves you.
  2. Positivity [the quality or state of being positive]. Believe in yourself. Begin to chip in your negative thoughts by filling your mind with self-affirming thoughts. Tell yourself “I’m happy with the way I am. I need not bother about other people’s thoughts and actions.” Fill your mind with black people who inspire you or those who have made it to the top. Put yourself in their shoes and emulate their positivity. They became successful against all odds, and so can you. It will take time, but it is worth it.

 

  1. Understand the psychological motive of your tormentor. Always bear in mind that your tormentor is waging a war against you; that his/her negative attitude toward you is meant to remind you that you don’t belong to his group/race. By doing so he is boosting his own self-worth. When in public study, even for a moment, the people around you. Know that not all have negative feelings about you. Those who do will display their prejudicial attitude through body language. It is their only way to maintain their self-esteem. Always remember that racism is the underlying motive behind the actions of your tormentor. He may not be a racist, but he/she truly thinks he/she is of higher social status. Don’t forget that bigoted behavior can be expressed through words, actions, body language, love or hate, knowledge or ignorance. Most of the non-black people in your presence have been told that black people are bad or dangerous. Don’t show anger or emotion when you encounter any of these attributes. Being angry or emotional gives your tormentor a sense of victory.

 

  1. Isolation: In isolation understand that the people who carry biases are shielding their failures. Take a look or a glance at anyone who is trying to bring you down. On public transport, ask yourself why they are on the same transport, going in the same direction as you; in class, is their intelligence exceptional? Look at their grades, judge their participation and contribution. At work, are they the company’s Einstein? What spectacular contribution have they made—that you can’t make? Let them not intimidate you because of the color of their skin. They could be worse than you. It is possible that they exude confidence in public and curl in misery in private. Remember, tormentors are tormented people. They typically inflict their torment on others. Bare this in mind, and in your seat, keep a smile on your face.

 

  1. Blame: Don’t blame God. Don’t blame your parents. Don’t blame your fellow blacks. It is not their fault that you despise yourself—that you think you are black, ugly, bad, mean, inferior, primitive, and intellectually deficient. Blame those non-blacks who work night and day to ensure you feel the way you do. They are the ones that have imprisoned you and turned you into an object of hate. They have succeeded in making you hate yourself. They have made you dislike anything and everything black—the color, culture, music, sports, and other talents. Understand that you have enough wisdom to realize that self-hate is not doing you any good. Begin to appreciate yourself and your own people.

 

  1. Outlook: Build your self-image by taking care of yourself. Always take a bath/shower, brush your teeth, and kill any unpleasant smell on you. Dress well – clean shirt, underwear, and pants. Remind yourself that your tormentors could be avoiding you because they, themselves, are not clean and do not want you to know.

 

  1. Hope: Always think that you will be much better as a black person someday; that the future is bright for all blacks on earth. Think about where you have come as a black to where you are now. Whereas before you were not allowed to be on the same bus with non-blacks, you are now separated only by a seat. Soon a day will come when all black people will enjoy life in all its richness.

 

  1. Love: Replacing self-hate with self-love is all about loving oneself, caring about oneself, taking responsibility for oneself, respecting oneself, and knowing oneself. You must go further than that and share the same feelings with others. Love them for who they are, respect and appreciate them for their effort and talent in class, sports, etc.

 

 

Remember: The psychological impact of racism and discrimination has long lasting effects. The enormous personal stress that you experience when you are shunned, ignored, snubbed, feared, discriminated against, creates a deep wound in your soul. It gets even deeper when you pay too much attention to what non-blacks are doing to you or saying about you. When in such a situation keep your head high and smile in the face of unpleasantness.

 

Please Note: The reader must understand that this is not an attack on a particular people or race, but an honest attempt to make Africans understand who they are, where they came from, what their history is, where they went wrong, when and why, where they are today, and what to do about their future. An African who reads this article and shares with another African, spreads the word one African at a time. Next week I tackle the history of the color black and why religion takes a chunk of the blame. Don’t miss it.

 

Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, author, and a doctoral candidate. Learn more about him on his website www.aruwebooks.com. On it you shall access his autobiography, articles, and books. Contact him, blog, or join in the debate. ©Ruwe2012