Category Archives: Madness

There is only one person who brings drama and madness into my life, and that is my douche bag baby daddy from a previous relationship, whom I am tasked to deal with, courtesy of the Georgia Judicial system. I hope he DOESN’T get hit by a bus this week…

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.

african-exploitation

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.

 

The Strength of Women Reexamined and Redefined

“Being a strong woman isn’t remarkable, it’s normal.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her address to the graduating class of 2015 at Wellesley College.

As she often does, Chimamanda drops these pearls of wisdom and leaves us sorting through the sand to figure out their true meaning or at least to determine if they have real world application. In the end, the majority of us find ourselves concurring with Chimamanda’s pronouncements because, well, they just make sense and they are grounded in much truth. So when Ms. Adichie – or anyone who commands as much influence as she – observes that being a strong woman isn’t “remarkable” because it’s normal, we are compelled to examine the validity and implications of such declarations.

There was quite a bit of buzz online after the transcript of the speech with accompanying video was posted online. By reflex, most people agree that women are “strong” with the primary reason being a woman’s ability or propensity to put up with crap. The depth and width of that crap depends on the economic and social space in which a woman occupies in the moment. For example, instead of working to end wage disparity based on gender, we laud poor women for their ability to raise and feed their families single-handedly on $0.78 to the dollar that a man earns for doing the same job. Similarly, rather than tackling the roots of gender based sexual and gender based violence, we congratulate women on being strong enough to survive, overcome and speak out against the same violence they found themselves victim to. Those who found contention with Ms. Adichie’s observation that the strength of women is normal did so for these reasons.

“Don’t you think this merely invites men to treat women in any way they want to; because it is assumed that women are strong enough to take it?”

Some think this is a very dangerous sentiment, and there is merit to their conclusions. The concept of “strength” – especially as it relates to women – is a very cold, callous one. A woman is considered strong if she shows little to no emotion in the face of injustice, if she is silent in her suffering, if she vows to pick herself up from the ashes like a phoenix without seeking revenge against those who have slighted her. These are false concepts of strength. They are brittle and with enough time and pressure, will crumble. Women are human…but even in the face of the need to crumble, we are denied our humanity. Strong women are not permitted to come apart at the seams.

It is for this reason I believe that we are sorely in need of new ideas of what it means to be strong. When I think of something that embodies the qualities of strength, it is not something I want to provoke or irritate. There are consequences for doing that. When we think of strong nations of the world for example, we do not think of dignified silence in the face of attack. For decades, other countries in the world would think twice before provoking America. This is because America has a “big stick” policy. Aggressors are stricken with equal, if not greater force. Somehow, that concept dissipates when it is applied to inter-gender human relations, with women expected to take the higher moral ground when she is confronted with obstacles like a cheating husband or being passed over for a promotion because she found herself in possession of a vagina at birth. She is expected to stay for the sake of the kids (or her religion) and/or be grateful she’s got a job at all.

Chimamanda addresses these widely accepted concepts when she said, “Victimhood is not virtue.” The ability to endure suffering does not translate to piety, and yet this is exactly the attitude women all over the globe have been conditioned to adopt.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s R&B era, when Whitney Houston and Black Street were ubiquitous. In those days, music spoke very much to the condition we found ourselves living on, or at least served as a portent of events for those of us who had yet to truly come of age. In the song “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”, Whitney Houston uncovers the shenanigans of a philandering mate. Clad in leather and bold makeup, she goes on to croon these words:

It’s not right
But it’s okay
I’m gonna make it anyway
Pack your bags up and leave
Don’t you dare come running back to me

It’s not right
But it’s okay
I’m gonna make it anyway
Close the door behind you
Leave your key
I’d rather be alone
Than unhappy

THIS is the strong woman trope we’ve all been conditioned to ascribe to: that we can banish the source of our pain without requiring him/her/.it to make admit wrong doing or provide restitution for their wrong doings.

Kelis takes a very different (and less popular) approach to the same issue when she encourages female listeners by saying:

Yo, maybe you didn’t break the way you should have broke, yo
But I break, know what I am saying, this is how it goes:

 

I hate you so much right now
I hate you so much right now
I hate you so much right now
Ahhh!!!!

So sick of your games, I’ll set your truck to flames
And watch it blow up, blow up, tell me (How you gonna see her now)
So far from sincere {I love you}, fabrications in my ear
Drive me so far up the wall, I come slidin’ down

kel

Kelis is unhinged, undignified and nearly crazed in her presentation of her pain. She forces the responsible party to acknowledge the monster they have created. She compels him to acknowledge that she is human – and therefore capable of fragility – and he must deal with the inferno of her hatred.

This is not what women and girls are taught to identify as being strong. We are conditioned to expect to be victimized and to operate as the perfect victim, to accept that certain concessions that patriarchal systems allow are enough for now. That’s not strength. That’s feudalism. We would do well never to confuse the two.

 

A Trip to America’s Heartland Helped me Accept my Life of African Privilege

I have lived a pretty good life, by most accounts. In fact, i wouldn’t have known (or thought) I was “poor” if I hadn’t gone to school with or lived in close proximity to so many people who were “rich”. Because of those factors, I have been labelled a dadaba (literal translation: Daddy’s girl; or someone whose parental wealth has afforded them a life of luxury) by association. As  children, my friends went to London for summer vacation, and today they go to Thailand and Dubai just to “check it out”. My summer vacations were spent in the small town of Larteh and now in basements/on sofas in Columbus, Ohio. Not exactly exotic, but family is there. Family makes everything fun.

My cousin died recently, and we drove from Columbus to Detroit to say our final farewells on this past Tuesday. I’ve seen the poverty that is rife within that once great city in pictures and on the news, but to be IN it was something completely surreal. It was disorienting. The funny thing about American poverty – for me, at least – is that it’s hard to believe that it CAN exist in America. This country grows and produces enough food to feed the world, most of which goes uneaten or ends up in landfills; but people are hungry. There is enough land to give every citizen a decent home and a place to live; but people are locked out of home ownership or can’t qualify to rent. Homelessness is an epidemic in every major city in this country. Analyzing America is like staring into the face of Janus.

I thought a great deal about American poverty as it threatened to close in around me when my cousin took a detour through The Bottoms, a crumbling, neglected and predominantly white neighborhood on the west side of Columbus. I was taken aback by what I saw. When my father visited Kentucky for the first time in the early 80’s, he expressed his shock by how people lived.

“Malaka, there are villages… proper villages….in Africa that are more advanced than that area,” he once said while reminiscing. “And you have this in America? Tweeaaa!”

Finally, I could identify with his perceptions. The Bottoms is not a place for human dwelling…but as one Twitter user told me, the people are very happy to be there.

Okay.

The irony of watching America crumble while the the Western Gaze is fixed on “Africa” does not escape me. Africa is a generic term for impoverished. You could post a picture of a starving child in Guatemala and folk would still associated it with “Africa”. (Insert monkey hoots.) I’ll show you what I mean.

On my Delta flight back to Atlanta, I was flipping through their in-flight magazine and saw this article/announcement:

photo 1Read the second paragraph and pause to think about what’s being said here. Got it? Ok. Now look at this:

photo 2

See the photo grid? See the Indian women, the South American looking man, etc? Why weren’t these areas highlighted or at the least, mentioned, in her tribute? Why couldn’t the article’s author(s) simply say this was a tribute to her work against “global poverty”? Of course we already KNOW why: Africa (and African women in particular) elicits a heightened reaction when your selling poverty porn. This is some bull.

You know where the Western Salvation Gaze needs to direct its glare? Inwards. America needs to start looking at itself, because there’s no reason on God’s green earth that white folk in this country or in Greece should live that way. That’s I’m appealing to all Africans to lend a hand in support of these poor souls. We have the resources and knowledge to give them a better life. We’ve been doing it since they made first contact 500 years ago. This is also why I have embraced my African privilege. I may never have nor still not have a lot, but at least I’m not “America poor”…

Sometimes, I wonder what it would look like if there was an Oxfam or Feed the World ad directed at white Americans. Hmmmm.

Just GHC 100 a month can help get a young woman off the streets or give a 40 year old stock worker suffering from malnutrition access to healthy, vitamin packed meals like plantain and spinach…something he’s probably never had in his LIFE. Don’t delay…give today!

 

Children of the Diaspora, Orphaned by Africa

In September, 2014, a New York Times   report highlighted how the influx of African immigrants is shifting the demographics of New York and the USA at large. The article’s author, Sam Roberts wrote:

“Between 2000 and 2010, the number of legal black African immigrants in the United States about doubled, to around one million. During that single decade, according to the most reliable estimates, more black Africans arrived in this country on their own than were imported directly to North America during the more than three centuries of the slave trade.”

It is inevitable that immigration of any population will bring change. Migration patterns not only affect the immigrant’s destination, but also have a profound impact on the point of emigration. One of the greatest laments of African governments in the 1990s and early 2000s was the rapid Brain Drain that many countries were experiencing as citizens with skilled labor went abroad to settle and work in search of “greener pastures”. Some people have described this as an act of betrayal, particularly in instances where the emigrant was the recipient of a robust education made possible by government/national funds. During Ghana’s CPP administration for example, primary school education for every child of school going age was free and compulsory. Under the Cocoa Marketing Board Scholarship Scheme, bright kids from lower income homes, could pursue secondary education thanks to scholarships provided from profits from the sale of cocoa, the country’s main export.

cocoa

Many of these scholarship recipients took their expertise and work ethic abroad and never looked back, save to come home and retire after their best years and service were given to their host nations. This is only one of numerous scenarios and circumstances that have been replicated across the continent and serve as the seeds of resentment and division we see between Africans in the diaspora and on the continent today.

Like the Continent itself, the African Diaspora is multifaceted and made up of diverse people and varying experiences. The singular element that unifies these people is an identifiable connection to Africa. They are either recent immigrants, the children of immigrants who have themselves done relatively short jaunts to the motherland, political or economic refugees, or perhaps are a hybrid result of African and non-African parentage. Diasporans come from a variety of cultural, religious and economic backgrounds, however there is one thing that virtually everyone who is a member of this group has heard from their counterparts on the Continent: You do not matter.

This message is not often conveyed so bluntly of course, but there is no mistaking that it is sent. Some common phrases that Africans living in the Diaspora – such as myself – frequently hear are that we are not allowed to comment or form opinions on social or political events in our country of birth or ancestral heritage because “we do not live there”. We are denied the privilege of fully commiserating with tragedies that take place as a result of failed government policy because either we or our parents “ran away” from the country. While interrogating why Africans on the continent feel that Diasporans should be excluded from discourses, I was flatly told that it is because Diasporans are only imagining the conditions and therefore it is none of their business.

“You are clueless and you simply can’t relate,” the responder said.

It is these sorts of pronouncements that have made Diasporans feel as though they have been orphaned by Mother Africa. The knowledge that although you care enough to think about – and in many instances finance endeavors to promote commerce on the Continent – it is not enough to earn you a place of acceptance. For some, this sense of abandonment runs deep.

“I am stuck in the worst kind of quandary there is, proudly Nigerian, proudly African, proudly British. I was born in the UK, it has been my home, not always a kind one but I still love it and yet I love my heritage, despite having never lived in Nigeria we went there frequently. If anyone walked into our flat growing up you would think you were in Lagos, all the music, the food, the bucket in the bath. Yet my friends laugh at me when I try to speak with them in Yoruba, even pidgin English…their laughter silences me. I stick to just speaking English now, I’m too grown to be laughed at…

They stare at me with admiration whenever I wear my gele and traditional attire more often than they do, the people who I love the most have been the most unkind. Dismissing my “African-ness” because my accent gives it away or the fact that I because I have not lived on the continent for longer than 2 months I do not have a right to speak on it and yet people I know who have never been back (and do not want to go back) since leaving can still claim to be connected. Whereas there are entire communities, Indian, Bengali, Turkish, Italian, who thrive on their diasporas, who support and encourage them, even those who have never lived in their countries of origin. It pains and saddens me though…to think I will have nowhere to really call my “own” if left up to the will of others…” – Ronke

 

The sense of belonging to two cultures/countries and being fully accepted by neither is one that many Diasporan Africans face. Some deal with the rejection by choosing to fully assimilate into their adopted culture. This is a loss for all.

The suggestion that geography determines one’s right to an opinion or to proffer suggestions or solutions to Africa’s problems is one that is quickly gaining ground. However, what cannot go unnoticed is that this limitation is one that is uniquely thrust upon people of African descent.

“A 44 year old Ghanaian born bank executive who migrated to the states at 6 years and  who works for perhaps JP MORGAN CHASE and has done so for 20 years of his life (never came home during that period ) cannot give accurate opinions on the risk and difficulties of starting a financial institution in Ghana. He cannot judge a system he doesn’t understand. But more often than not that is what happens.
African Entrepreneurs who have in-depth knowledge about our socio economic climate are adapting to “Africapitalsm”…. A form of capitalism only those living on the continent will appreciate and understand.” – Sarpei

“Some African’s immigrants should not be voicing opinions on what happens back home and think to be taken seriously. Sure free your mind, but they should know they can be hushed.”– Monique

Ahwi is a Ghanaian who has oscillated between living on the continent and America his whole life. He currently resides on the East Coast and holds a differing view of this limitation.

“If you can ‘sell’ your raw materials/ resources for pennies on the dollar, import foreign cars, or Jasmine rice; you got Chinese building Stadiums , mines… how can you make a straight face and tell people living in the Diaspora not to comment? YOU [are] taking instructions on How To Govern From The IMF and the World Bank, but I can’t comment?”

At the end of the day, it serves no one but the masters of the imperialist agenda for Africans wherever they find themselves to feel and BE divided. We need to embrace each other as allies and one body who are willing to work for the progress of the continent at large, rather than severing limbs and relationships. It is my intent to discuss how we can do that in my next post.