Category Archives: Thoughts raging in my head

What’s The Point of Learning a New Language?

When I was an elementary school student at Soul Clinic International School, a stout, fair-skinned woman was ushered into my sixth grade classroom and introduced. Her name was Madame Naomisi.

“This is your new French teacher,” the Headmistress told us.

She then went on to explain some things about how we were all required to study French, expectations about respect, and a host of other things that Headmistresses say to students that nobody ever really remembers unless it involved the promise of a prize or a whipping. When she was done prattling, she left.

Madame Naomisi stared at us and we stared back. You could see the boys in our class sizing her up. At 5 foot dead, most of them towered over her. I’m sure they thought they could overrun her for sheer virtue of their size, but we quickly learned she had a tongue that could shred steel.

“What are some of the reasons to learn French?” she asked.

I had no reason to learn another language, so I looked around at the smarter kids in class waiting to hear what their reply would be. We were forbidden from speaking “vernacular” – Ga, Twi or any indigenous Ghanaian language – on school grounds. Just a few weeks before a few of the kids from La had been lashed for speaking Ga on the playground. We were told we must speak English and English only at school. And now you wanted me to learn French?

No, no, no…

En Francais? Pardon! Non.

Eventually, a very short list of reasons was drawn up and put on the blackboard. The two that Madame Naomisi seemed the most adamant about were:

1)      Because Ghana is surrounded by French speaking countries and

2)      Because French was (at the time) the second most spoken language in the world

Since my travels only took me to America and occasionally, England, I felt very uninspired. I decided at that moment that I would only ever do enough to pass the class and not to master the language. What was the point?

It’s a decision I’ve come to regret in my older years. Jemila Abdulai, my co-sojourner in creative writing wrote something on her Facebook page about the importance of shared language. With her permission, I’m sharing an excerpt with you. She was out having breakfast when she had the following encounter with a stranger. He asked:

 

“Where are you from? I have a daughter who looks like you. She lives in London and works with Pricewaterhouse Coopers. My other daughter is a fashion designer.”

After I respond, Ghana, he goes:

“Oh Ghana! I’m from Benin. When I was in grammar school, we would do an exchange with students from Ghana at Achimota School, Tema Secondary School. One year they would come to Benin and the next we would go to Ghana. It was good for learning English and French.”

That’s great, I respond. Unfortunately I don’t think they do that anymore.

“No they don’t, it’s quite a pity. But they should. Do you speak French?”

Yes, I do, I answer.

“That’s good. It’s important and we’re right next door to each other. I’m a business lawyer and I did an internship in London; when my daughters were growing up I made sure they went to London every year for a month – now they are bilingual.

I tell them that because of them, I couldn’t change my car as often as I wanted. But I don’t regret it. The best investment one can make is in their child’s education. Everything else goes, but that remains.”

I answer, laughing: My dad says the same thing.

“He’s right,” the man responds.

She nodded in agreement and went about having breakfast.

languageHer encounter reminded me of several times when I’ve looked helplessly on as Spanish only speaking laborers have been yelled at by their American employers in angry English, or that time when an elderly Chinese woman missed her stop on the bus because she couldn’t explain to the driver where she was trying to go, or any of the other times when language has been a barrier to progress. If we were all better versed in other languages, perhaps we’d better at showing respect, kindness and love.

In recent years I have come to understand that there are two things that bond humans: food and language. You might not be able to relate to anything else in another person’s condition, but nothing solidifies a bond like a good joke and a great meal.

I think if Madame Naomisi had opened up our young minds to the possibilities of what the future may bring, we might have taken our French courses a little more seriously. Apart from those two aforementioned students, we all failed her class abysmally term after term. What was the point in learning this language?

Perhaps if she had told us we might find ourselves in America working one day with an Ivorian co-worker going through depression and anxiety, it might be useful to speak words of comfort to her in her own language.

Or she might have told us to imagine ourselves on an adventure in Monaco – perhaps as a Formula One racer – you would need to know French.

What about a career? You might find that you want to become a diplomat and travel the world. You can pick up several languages along the way!

These would all be better reasons than “Ghana is surrounded by French speaking countries.” She made it sound like a rash – some sort of imminent invasion in which we would all be swallowed up in a cloud of ‘r’ induced spittle. (I couldn’t stand the way she said cherchè…like her throat was going to rupture at any moment. She took it as a personal affront if we did not hawk phlegm when we pronounced our r’s.)

 

Is there a language you wish you had the opportunity to learn? Have you encouraged your children to learn your native tongue? Some people have shame surrounding their mother tongue. They feel it is not “genteel” enough. Discuss! ↓

 

Oh, and if you’re ever in the mood for a literary treat, visit Jemila’s blog at http://www.jabdulai.com. The woman is sick with the vocabulary. You will be amazed!

Susu for Ghanaian Writers

Say what you want to about Nigerians, but I don’t know of another group of people – as a collective -more driven towards success in our corner of the continent. And they love to flaunt it. They are ostentatious, extravagant creatures, and couldn’t care less how you feel about their unabashed display of their vibrant plumage. So renowned for their self-assurance that when Komla Dumor met Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance Minister for Nigeria and a woman whom he had at that time always wanted to interview, she addressed and greeted him as ‘Kola’ – a Nigerian name.

He corrected her politely saying “Excuse me, Ma, but I’m a Ghanaian.”

“Really?” she replied, her eyes apparently widened in shock as Komla re-enacted the events. “But you are so confident!”

He revealed at the TedEx event where he was relaying this story that he often got mistaken for a Nigerian for that very reason: he exuded confidence.

What is the trait that Ghanaians are noted for? If someone of a different nationality behaved in x way or exhibited a certain peculiarity, what would that thing be? (Hopefully no one says cowardice!)

In many ways, Ghanaians are playing catch up and second fiddle to Nigeria. They outdress us. They outspend us. They are shrewd businessmen and women, have virtually taken over Ghana’s banking industry. And the one that pains me the most, the area that caused me many a sleepless night in 2013 after Chinua Achebe passed from this world: they are known as the literary giants of Africa. How! How I say when Ama Ataa Aidoo is sitting in Accra!?!

No, no, no…

I can’t do a daggone thing about fashion or banking, as these are not my areas of expertise, but I can lend my voice and apply some pressure to the literary shortcomings that now beset the land of my birth. I humbly admit that our go-to-market strategies as Ghanaian authors is severely lacking, but I find that in that regard, there is no better time to Act like a Ghanaian, and Think like a Nigerian.

My friend and fellow young Ghanaian author, Boakyewaa Glover (The Justice) recently wrote on her Facebook page that it was increasingly “getting hard out here for a writer”. Her books have been stocked (and sold out) at SyTris and Sylverbird, two of the biggest bookstores in the capital for weeks. She wants to restock the books, however she can only do so if she agrees to what amounts to a 40% levy on the sale of each book. As she broke down what amounts to highway robbery, a violent beating and a “Dear Jane” letter left of the night stand, I saw the dilemma. Independent writers often spend more money than they make on the release of every work we do. There are printing and shipping costs, stocking fees at book stores, travel expenses for promotion, not to mention the dollars/cedis we spend in creative time. The time it takes to write something worth reading is not cheap. It requires sacrifice on several levels: sleep, time with family and friends, and in my case, time to exercise. I only know of one author who seems to have found the formula to independent success, eating right and exercise, and that is the inimitable Nana Malone.

All this is to say that we writers – and the people who love our work – have a unique opportunity with a new go-to-market strategy in Ghana. (Now, I’m going to say what I have to say and let it be known immediately that I have not talked to any of the people involved in the business aspect of this idea. I just told you I’m not a finance girl. I’m big picture.)

Many of Ghana’s authors are part of the country’s burgeoning blogging community. I took the foray into becoming a novelist after garnering some respect and success in the online space. So when I saw that BlogginGh had launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance new space in Accra for their offices, I was geeked. And then I saw Boakyewaa’s Facebook post and my head almost exploded.

It all made sense.

Why don’t we just cut out the vampires at the book store and have our books stocked at a space where writers (and therefore readers) gather? Why don’t we incorporate the idea of a Writer’s Alliance into the Ghana Blogging new physical space? They basically have the format in place with the Citi FM hosted events highlighting authors every month. What we need is ‘susu’ (communal donations for an individual or group cause) for writers. This is a natural progression! Of course we can work out the details of the susu, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point I really need to get to is that we really need to encourage our readers to give to this Indiegogo campaign. I’ve done my bit, and I’ll be having my brick on the wall when the project is done, but I and the 5 other people who have donated at the brick level can’t get a wall without the generosity of like-minded people.

And can I go ahead and tell you something? There is nothing more painful as a writer than having someone ask me where they can get a physical copy of my book.

“Oh! You can get it on Amazon.”

“Ah. I see…well, I live in Takoradi.”

Then there is that pregnant pause in the conversation. The conception that happens every time I have this conversation with someone on the continent. I calculate the cost of mailing one book from Atlanta to Accra and sheepishly,  I ask:

“Do you have a Kindle?”

We have 21 days left to fund this endeavor, and I KNOW we can do it. We saved the Rex. We raised money to fight jaundice. I know we can and will save (or create) a viable biblioindustry (yes, I just made up a word) in Ghana!

Hey…I just thought of a Ghanaian trait! Optimistic.

 

*Click here for a link to the campaign http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-ghanaian-bloggers-to-tell-more-stories–2/x/5297180

A Greener Ghana Is a Better Ghana

“Ghana was ‘green’ long before there was a Green Movement.”

That’s one of the expressions my Green friends and I have often smugly repeated to one another. Our pride is in a Ghana that just 30 years ago was so verdant and eco-responsible, it put Norway, Denmark and all those other northern European countries who now boast the top spot in the Earth’s friendliest nations to shame.

I took this picture about 50 feet from the beach

I took this picture about 50 feet from the beach

There was a time – and I’m only 36 mind you – that you could drive for miles without seeing a single piece of trash on the street. Truly, I promise you! Oh sure, there was a carelessly dropped newspaper here or a pile of dog crap there, but overall, people respected the environment. There was this understanding that we ALL share this space and that it doesn’t just belong to you or I; we are merely tenants of what God and the ancestors gave us to look after until the next generation comes. I vividly remember going to shop for groceries with a woven basket to put all our foodstuffs in. Canned goods were at the bottom, rice or gari in the middle, eggs and tomatoes were at the top. When you wanted a drink, a girl selling ice water would scoop it from the bucket on her head from a calabash and pour it into one of 5 or 6 cups dangling precariously from the side of said bucket.  Very rarely was there a need for any sort of plastic material to get ones food from the market to the house. And then suddenly, like crack in the Black American ghetto, plastic was everywhere.

And I do mean everywhere.

Now there is a plastic bag for everything. If you buy an egg, it’s robed in plastic. If you buy a bag of rice, it’s cloaked in plastic and then secured in yet another bag of black plastic. One has merely to look down any main street in Accra to see how much drinking water the metropolis consumes. Empty sachets of Everpure and Ahenfie Nsuo clog gutters and drains like opaque boils waiting to be lanced. Ghana embraced the benefits of the Industrial Revolution without the assumption any of responsibility. It’s been 54 years after the first plastic bag was used for consumerism, and we still haven’t implemented a plan for proper disposal.

I don’t need to rehash the problems that come with failed (or lack of) waste disposal policy. You can see the results for yourself on any given street in Accra, Tema or Kumasi, or simply take an hour’s drive in either direction of those cities to the villages where Ghanaians from big cities have their garbage dumped. What else are we to expect from a government whose Speaker of the House does not know that GMOs are obtained through genetic engineering or whose Deputy Minister for Gender, Women and Social Protection recent relevant job experience includes standing on the road with a tripod making B-movie Kumawood class films. Heaven have mercy, do we need new leadership in this country! Did you hear what John Mahama said in Davos about his government’s failure to implement a windfall tax policy on mining because the big mining companies threatened to lay off workers? Say what you want about Mugabe, but he would never brook such blatant impudence! You come to my country to mine gold and won’t “let” me tax you?! How ludicrous!

Okay, okay. That’s for another day.

Let’s talk about what Ghana can do differently. There are a few individuals who are making small scale impacts on the environment with green initiatives that I disgustingly proud of. Green Ghanaian (@GreenGhanaian on Twitter) regularly sounds the alarm about destruction of forests, rivers and lakes and lagoons that often go unmentioned in mainstream media until all the fish have died and the children have contracted unpronounceable diseases. Golda Addo  works tirelessly in the field of renewable energy development for Ghana, and has devised creative ways to repurpose discarded materials such as empty juice cartons and ice cream wrappers for practical uses. I recently discovered there was a bamboo bike manufacturing initiative going on in Ghana, although it’s hard to say how many people have embraced the idea.

These are just some of the small steps that can and will implement change and bring economic prosperity to many more Ghanaians if we have the right people leading the charge. Let’s take a simple problem and solve it here on MOM today. Are you ready?

Eggs.

How do we get eggs from the seller to our houses now? Some of you reading will send your house girl to the shop to buy for you, but for the rest of us who are forced to do our own grocery shopping, we buy them either in crates of singly in plastic bags. What if instead of cardboard crates (which I have no problem with because cardboard is biodegradable) and plastic bags, we each carried our own dozen or half dozen egg container to the market with us? What if that container was manufactured in Ghana, using technology implemented by Ghanaian polymer scientists who have studied how to reuse that discarded plastic in our streets and mold it into something useful? What if the government actually rewarded Ghanaian innovation, instead of begging Swiss and German contractors to fix our 18th century problems (i.e. how to dispose of our own poo)? Suddenly, we’ve got a new industry that can train and empower people, and solves the problem of ecowaste. Will people still litter? Of course they will – but their trash would eventually and inadvertently serve as the nation’s treasure.

You know what would make my nipples sit on edge? Is if parents and teachers would start talking to kids about creative ways to birth new industry in Ghana. Kids are full of wonderful ideas, and I daresay there are many primary 4 pupils who could run Ghana just as well as if not better than many of our sitting MPs. I know at least 3 dozen children who have told me they would harness the power of the sun to power all of Ghana’s houses, cars or bicycles if they could. Someone should look into that. Someone with some decision making power. Someone who is bloody fortunate enough to live on the equator…

Some of you reading are from Australia, Japan and other parts of Africa. You can’t hide. I checked my stats this morning. What green innovations have you seen in your countries? Are they working? And finally, what steps have you taken to make the earth a cleaner, safer place?

Could Lupita Nyong’o be the Face of ‘Errthang’?

Question: Would you buy a can of Pepsi from someone who looked like this? Really think about it, so we can talk about it.

Photo from People Mag

Photo from People Mag

It’s no secret that I am an unabashed fan of Lupita Nyong’o. She literally burst from obscurity to superstardom overnight. I’m sure she is absolutely brilliant in 12 Years a Slave, a film that has won critical acclaim for dealing with the heavy subject matter of slavery and man’s inhumanity to man as told by Solomon Northrop. I say “I’m sure” because I have not watched the film and have no intention of doing so. You all know how emotionally invested I get in – well – everything. So instead of looking at Lupita’s portrayal of Patsey, we’ll look at Lupita’s portrayal of herself. In real life. As the face of everything!

I asked this very question to a new e-friend of mine yesterday, i.e. did she think Lupita could usurp Beyonce’s place as being the Face of Errthang? Beyonce sells/has sold perfume, Pepsi, cable TV (as in Lemme Upgrade You to cable TV), hair color, cosmetics…the list goes on and on. There was a stretch in time for about 3 years where ALL you ever saw was Beyonce singing and selling something. She was overexposed and became an irritation, as far as I was concerned. But advertising agencies and corporations kept booking her and throwing her in our faces, whether we liked it or not. Is the world ready to receive Lupita in such a manner?

Let’s just state the obvious. Lupita and Beyonce are two very different looking women. However, there is no question in my mind that there are rivals in beauty, and certainly in style. While Beyonce is often overtly sexual in her dress, Luptia’s style is more demure and structured, and yet no less sexy. The story of her rise to fame is absolutely compelling. She got her start in show business as a production runner (the go-and-get-it girl) on the set of The Constant Gardner, and has been running towards her dreams ever since. She speaks eloquently, works with passion, and has been gracious in every interview I’ve seen her in to date. Did I mention she’s drop dead gorgeous?

Would I buy a Coke from her? Heck yeah! But I don’t think the rest of the world is ready.

Back to my e-friend to whom I posed this question: Could Lupita Be the Face of Errthang? Her reply shocked and saddened me. She said:

I fear this may be a phase. I don’t want it to be but it’s all too sudden. There is a tokenism about it that I’m not keen on.

I was shocked because we’re supposed to be living in a “post racial society” now. I was saddened because she is most likely right. I had taken deep gulps of Kool Aid and now this woman was forcing me to gag and spit it back up with her bloody common sense, practicality and truth-talk! All the same, we admitted it would be nice to dream; and so we did. We conjured a campaign through which Lupita Nyong’o would sell us all Malta, and we would like it!

It would be interesting to see how well African’s would receive Lupita as the Face of Errthang on the continent itself. On my most recent trip to Ghana, I was struck by how images of lighter skinned Ghanaians – and most noticeably, mixed race Ghanaians – were being used to sell everything from life insurance to Indomie. In fact, the only time I saw a dark skinned woman in an ad campaign was on a Guinness Black Lager poster in which she had been artistically molded into the liquid contents of the bottle.

What say you? Would you be willing to receive Lupita as the next overexposed starlet? Why?  Or do you like my friend think this is all a phase which will soon pass?

I for one hope she gets a Cover Girl contract. It would be nice if Procter & Gamble could mix up some nice dark girl foundation for once…The darkest paint they have gives me this weird Casper in Mexico ghostly glow. Ech.

 

At the Heart of it All/What Komla Might Want from Us

I feel strange writing this piece today. It’s been four days since Komla Dumor’s passing, and in this Western society in which I’m firmly planted, I’m supposed to be over the shock by now. But I’m not. When someone of importance dies, we talk about it for a few days (or in some cases a few hours), mourn for an “acceptable” amount of time, and then go back to talking about the antics of the rich and stupid on Real Housewives, or Vanderpump Rules,  or politics, or whatever one’s daily cup of poison may contain. It seems to me that the “acceptable” time of mourning is getting ever shorter with so many items competing for our attention.

This is why it feels so strange to write this post today. I can’t seem to move on or get past Komla’s death as quickly as some of the people in my circle seem to have done. I can’t conform to these new rules! But then I pause and consider: Maybe Komla might want me to?

I’ve spent the last four days poring over tributes that have poured in from across the world. It’s amazing to see that at just 41, Komla Dumor touched so many lives and affected people in such a positive way. Someone summed up what I have been struggling to conceive in my heart: He was the big brother you never knew you had, and just when you got a chance to meet and love him, he’s gone. I have yet to read any negative expression where Komla is concerned. None of us is perfect – and I’m sure he would certainly never claim faultlessness – but he is in my humble opinion an impeccable example of what the pursuit of perfection looks like.

I believe he would all have us do the same; that is pursue excellence and compete at your own best level in whatever it is you have chosen to do with your life. I think for those of us who are looking for ways to honor him, this would be the best course of action. They say Komla was a man of great faith, and this is borne out in his many motivating Facebook posts and tweets concerning his trust in God and his gratitude for all that he had been blessed with. Certainly he had much to be thankful for: an envious career, a beautiful family and the adoration of his many fans across the continent. But having lived with Black men my entire life, I know that none of these things came without some sort of cost. A man of his stature, build and coloring (and by that I mean big and black) living in the UK would have faced prejudice at on or many junctures, but you never got the sense that it got him completely down. I think Komla had love for his enemies, which is why he died with more admirers than he did adversaries. Matthew 5 says in part:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If those are the requirements for “perfection” then I’d say he got top marks. Again, I have yet to hear a solitary disparaging word spoken against him or that he had spoken against someone else…not counting primary school yard insults. Who can get through life in Ghana without screaming “Your MODDA!” at least once?

It was reported that Komla died of cardiac arrest in his sleep and that his blood pressure was a concern. Heart disease is the 10th leading cause of death in Ghana, and yet it is one of the least talked about and most neglected illnesses in the country today. With so much focus on “brand recognizable” diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease get swept to the side. I clearly recall several men dying of hypertension when I was young, but I don’t have a clear memory of any sort of media campaign to stem the flow of these deaths.

Studies have shown that before age 50, men of African descent’s heart failure rate is 20 times higher than that of men of European descent, yet they are least likely to pursue or receive treatment. On the continent the reasons are varied, and are fraught with problems including access, availability and affordability of decent healthcare. Living in the UK, Komla Dumor was in a better position to receive quality healthcare, but I get the sense he didn’t make the time to do so. The man was dedicated to his craft…was it that dogged dedication that was his undoing in the end? Only God and his doctor know for sure.

Komla-ftSo what might Komla want for us all who would seek to honor his memory and legacy? Each of us will make up our own mind about that, but I think he’d want us to find balance and honesty. Have an honest discussion about the real issues affecting people on the African continent; not just what’s considered “sexy” by the media. Let’s start talking about heart disease and high blood pressure, and how it disproportionately affects our people. Let’s continue to tell the African story as seen from African eyes and spoken through African lips. Let’s pursue excellence and perfection, yes, but let’s make sure we are assigning proper weight and importance to those things that deserve it.

It took you from us in the end, but we thank you for your big heart, Komla. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.

 

A ‘Black Star’ that Shone Ever So Bright

I certainly didn’t want this to be the news to pull me out of my writing funk.

I was in the grocery store an hour ago, thinking privately about how there hasn’t been a single event lately to motivate me to write. Nothing has quite called for my indignation. I spent the better part of 2013 being “outraged”, “indignant” or just plain old “pissed off” about something. I don’t want to spend 2014 waxing on about the latest cause de jour or ranting about what’s irritating the general public, so I’ve opted for silence, waiting for inspiration. How could I imagined that it would be Penthos – ancient god of grief and lamentation – who would spur my fingertips to carve out a note to the man I’d hoped to one day to call an acquaintance if I were so lucky, and “friend” if fortune ever smiled so brightly upon me.

So there I was in the grocery store, paying for my cheese and bananas when I got a message on my phone.

Oh did you hear Komla Dumor passed away?

I was stunned. The woman who had sent me the message was not in the habit of spreading baseless rumors. I knew before I asked her to confirm that it had to be true. No, she was not joking. (She never jokes.) Yes, it had been confirmed, but not yet made public on the media. (At the time, Komla’s father had not been personally informed.) Yes, she agreed, it is devastating.

I am utterly devastated.

There are very few public figures that I feel any sort of connection with. When Michael Jackson died, his passing touched millions of people around the world, myself included. The King of Pop was supposed to reign a while longer, we all thought. When Nelson Mandela passed recently, we saddened, but were all prepared for it in some fashion. We could accept it. He had lived a long and fruitful life, and done all that he was born to do. But now, now Komla Dumor has been snatched from us at just 41. This is much harder to accept.

I have only recently become acquainted with Komla Dumor a year ago when he did a Tedx event in February last year.

He talked about telling the African Story. I was an immediate fan. I went on to follow his work on BBC, whenever I could get a hold of it. He was personable, likeable, and relatable. He was the consummate journalist, weaving stories and relaying them in a manner that compelled you to care. His personal demeanor and professional conduct merged to make him a standard in his own right. Komla spoke with authority and clarity, and was always dressed impeccably. He was a son of Ghana, and more importantly, an example of what it means to be exceptional. He was a mentor to more people than he ever met in person.

Gosh, it seems so unnatural to refer to him in the past tense.

It was just a little over a week ago that Komla began following me on twitter. I was ecstatic!

komlatweet

Perhaps this would be the beginning, I thought to myself. If I worked hard enough, became important enough, maybe – just maybe – I would begin to move in circles that would allow me to touch the hem of one of his silk garments. He was always clad in the finest suits…

My last words to him on twitter are the only sentiments I have on my heart in this sad hour. I hadn’t envisaged that they would be our final interaction with one another.

sleep komla

Rest in perfect peace, Mr. Dumor. You will be incredibly missed.

 

#PrayForCAR

So this is it, huh, MOM Squad? We’re three days in to 2014. Three whole days already! I’ve been giving a lot of thought about what I want my first words on the blog to be in the New Year, and the only thing that has been consistent on my heart and mind since the end of December has been the plight of Central African Republic (CAR).

As you can tell from my hashtaged title, you already know where I’m going with this. You don’t? Oh. I thought it would be obvious. Well, I’m going to pray for CAR. Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask or invite you to either. I find that prayer is better performed when people are moved to do so, not beseeched. I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable like that.

My Politically Correct-o-meter (which hasn’t worked in years) tells me that I should not be blogging about prayer on a blog that isn’t “religious”. Prayer, after all, is meant to be personal…something between you and God – or whatever deity you serve. But since I’ve told you guys about everything from hemorrhoids to sucking milk out of my own breasts, I figure this shouldn’t hurt you that badly.

central_african_republic_smThere are some people reading today that have never heard of Central African Republic. That’s okay. The country isn’t a big news-maker. There hasn’t been any charismatic leadership  of note to come out of the country, it’s not a synonym for a natural resource (i.e. Gold Coast or Ivory Coast), and it certainly has not garnered any Hollywood interest. Perhaps if Angelina would condescend to visit the country, people might care more about CAR; but for the moment it gets a mention (via a link) at the bottom of the World section on CNN – if you’re lucky. Most of the news I’ve found on CAR has been on Reuters or lesser known news sources. And that’s why I’m compelled to pray.

There is another genocide potentially brewing in this landlocked African nation, and as far as I can tell, it has everything to do with matters that should not concern Africans: foreign religions. That’s right. The Christians and Muslims are at it again. Renegades and vigilantes are beheading children, raping women, and burning homes in the name of their respective Sky Gods, compelling me to pray to MY Sky God to intervene because humanity – once again – is about to conveniently turn a blind eye to death and destruction of people that they deem hardly human anyway. The aid group Doctors Without Borders has already said it has begun scaling back its work in the country because it has no guaranteed security for its members. What else can I do but pray? If people are too frightened to enter this hellscape, then yes, I must pray for angels to go! And after angels, men with bigger guns; and after them, men in nice suits and shiny pens to sign peace accords.

Of course, when you peel this thing all the way back, I’m certain it has nothing to do with religion at all. Warring over religion is merely a convenient façade. As with every religious war in human history, this is surely about resources – scarce or otherwise – and who has control of them. It is about one group’s presumed superiority over another, and an inability to share power, wealth and resources equally. There are probably some Chinese and Russian factions stirring up trouble and supplying arms to these vigilante groups in exchange for rice and diamonds.

Rice and diamonds…

Oh, Saint Rodney King! If you’re watching, bless these people with your profound wisdom. Whisper in the ear of each angry miscreant, and ask them as you asked America that day: “Can’t we all just get along?!?”

So that’s my prayer, Almighty one in Heaven. I try not to trouble You often, but I am compelled to do so today, and every day until peace and order are restored in CAR. Send a Get Along Angel to CAR. And send a We Should Run this Story Often Angel to the world’s newsrooms. And most importantly, send a I’ll Break Your Face if you Touch Another Child with a Machete Angel to dwell in the house of every mother in the country as well.

Amen.

 

What Was So Frightening about Justine Sacco’s Demise

I was there you know…when the tweet was first sent on December 20th. I saw the RT from @Reads4Pleasure’s time line:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Ah. Who was this fool who had said something so insensitive, classist and subversively racist? I clicked on her profile. She only had 228 followers or so. She was “nobody”, as far as I could tell. I dismissed her tweet as the ramblings of a silly, privileged “white girl” and then went on about my evening watching reruns of Tavis Smiley.

And then suddenly, like a bad case of scabies, #JustineSacco was all OVER my time line. For the next 18 hours, that’s all anyone was talking about. #HasJustineLandedYet was trending worldwide. This grinning, blond and obviously very self-satisfied woman had gone from having a mere 200+ followers to well over 8000 in less than 24 hours. Ah! I was puzzled. But who was this individual and why did we care so much about this silly tweet she had sent?

Fortunately (or unfortunately) the online world is an open oracle – a well of information, useless and otherwise. As we now know, Justine Sacco is/was a pretty big fish: and there is nothing humanity likes to do better than to bring the mighty low, to hunt for sport, to watch the once proud slither at our feet. Justine Sacco, the originator of the puerile e-pronouncement, was IAC’s Communications Director; the same IAC that owns About.com, The Daily Beast and Vimeo.

That’s right. Justine was the head of communications for ALL of that money.

And in 17 hours I watched her go from obscurity, to infamy, to unemployment… and it was scary. The world wanted blood and they got it. Within minutes of the tweet, her company distanced itself from her statement, and within hours of her landing in Africa, she had been fired.

I’m not here to shed tears for Justine Sacco. Her father, whom it was reported that she had gone to Africa to visit, is a billionaire white South African. It’s fair to assume that Ms. Sacco has a very soft place to land following her fall from grace. And the real truth is that despite the fact that she has been fired from THIS position for an unseemly faux pas, it does not preclude her from getting another within the same company. That’s the brilliance of privilege: what you know will never matter more than who you know.

And for the rest of us? Well, things are a little trickier for us 99%ers.

As we have seen in 2013, there is a blood lust prevalent in our culture. The days of Roman gladiators – when men thrust spears, swords and spiked balls into bone and flesh – are long past; but that mob mentality with an insatiable need to watch something die violently still remains. So when the world piled on Justine, I didn’t feel bad for her in particular: I felt dread for the next victim…

What if that victim turns out to be someone I care about? What’s worse, what if that victim turns out to be me? I would only have myself to blame, right? Sure, Justine Sacco said something that can only be qualified as absolutely brainless, and we have all come to the consensus that as a PR executive, she should have had sense enough to make her tweets private, particularly since she basically admitted that she is prone to making stupid statements “when drunk”, but did that mean she deserved to have her life threatened and menaced with the idea of being raped? She is not the only person to lose her livelihood over something stupidly said online. The girl who dressed up as a Boston Bomber victim for Halloween comes to mind, as does the idiot who dressed up as Trayvon Martin’s corpse. Were they idiots? Absolutely. But do we need to repay their feeblemindedness with violence? I don’t believe so.

The online world has evolved rapidly in the last few years, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Who knows what advancements 2014 will bring? For my part, I will be spending more time consuming online content, rather than creating it. I have had just enough troll attacks to know that people are absolutely crazy out there, and I don’t need to feed into the insanity. I will be more watchful of the things I say in the hopes that I will not offend. My apologies in advance if I do! I beg you o!

My resolution for 2014 is not to be the next #JustineSacco. I don’t wear rape threats and unemployment very well.

Oh. And Happy New Year!

 

 

Of Men, Women, Wants and Money

You know how it is when you’re on social media: People post and re-post memes and quotes meant to exemplify insightful profundity in 140 characters or less and the masses nod, “like” it, and carry on chewing cud, just as we’d been doing x number of hours before we logged on that morning.

But sometimes – every once in a great while- someone posts something so breathtakingly stupid in its essence that it brings all bovine behavior to a halt. For me, it was this post from a certain gentleman’s wall this morning.

struggle

Now, to put this in context, this was posted by one of those guys who fancies himself “more spiritual” than thou and therefore “more intelligent” than thou, and who believes Obama is the second coming of Satan. I usually ignore his posts, but I keep him as a friend because every once in a while he posts a good vegetarian recipe that I think I might try on a summer’s day. No doubt that when he posted this, it fell under his self-assessed segment of truth or “chu’ch”, as he likes to call it.

I upon reading it, however, was livid.

You might not understand why. The statement seems harmless on the surface, doesn’t it?

“Money attracts the females you want, but struggle attracts the woman you need.”

What’s the harm in that?

First of all, implicit in the statement is that there is only ONE type of woman who is attracted to money, and those are “gold diggers”, as hip hop has so fondly dubbed them. To indicate that only selfish women are after money is over-simplistic at best. Money is what puts food on the table, bathes our children and keeps the electricity on. Every human being, man or woman, wants money…unless they live in a convent, in which case their physical needs are provided for by alms or growing their own food and herbs. Very little of humanity resides in a monastery. We ALL want/need money. I want money as much as the next woman, and that does not diminish my worth as a human being, let alone a woman.

Second, it implies that only “good” women are attracted to struggle. What exactly about struggle is so attractive? Nothing! We are all struggling in this life. If I’m going to brave the ills of this world with a potential or actual mate, it’s not going to be even remotely based on the idea that we need to be struggling to prove my salt. That’s just nonsense. Struggle attracts no one! Ask the homeless man in the street or the guy who’s about to be kicked out of his home how many dates he’s been on in the last month. Not many, my friends, not many. Potential to do better attracts a mate, not struggle.

The part I have the most difficulty coming to terms with is the very first portion of the statement, and this has everything to do with me being the mother of a young boy whom I hope to raise into a good man. “Money attracts the females you WANT.”

The implications of the statement are that what men want in a woman – in totality – is a physically attractive being. They want the airhead trophy wife who smiles prettily for pictures and bears him equally pretty, racially ambiguous (or purebred White children). Is this what men say about themselves? Is this their faithful confession about their values? That if given all the money they could ever hope for, their WANTS in a mate would be packed up in the personhood of an airhead groupie? How were you raised then?! Why wouldn’t the desire of your heart be a woman who’s hardworking, dedicated, smart and compassionate? This is what all men should WANT in a mate, isn’t it? So why must it then be solely by trial of fire and ‘struggle’ that you come to understand this? If that’s you, then Momma definitely raised a fool.

I guess the most shocking (and I don’t know why I was surprised) thing I encountered was the comments from men who agreed vehemently and wholeheartedly with the statement, and offered to have me call them if I was “struggling to understand it.”

No thank you, I replied. I understood it fully and didn’t want any of these individuals debasing themselves in order to justify this sub-par, high school inspired prattle. When I probed further and offered the notion that most women might – just might – be looking at other factors in a mate beyond money to include talent, physical prowess or spirituality, I was hit with this reply.

nii quote

Un-freaking-believable.

Of course I asked him which women in his circle he would consider to exemplify this pervasive gold digger trope. He has yet to respond. This is what I find with men whom I ask these questions to… these questions that bring it home; they make broad generalizations about women like “they should keep their legs closed” or “stop being sluts” or “MOST women are money grabbing gold diggers”. They clam up when you ask them to name names within their own personal circles. So someone else’s sister is a slut but not yours? Niggro, please.

I’m not trying to create controversy where none really exists, I promise you I’m not… but this is my frustration with American thinking; Black American thinking in particular. There is no critical thought, no probing past the surface, no depth or consideration for what lies behind these seemingly innocuous statements!

What’s worse is that all the men thumping their chests saying “that’s right!” are barely employed anyway! The numbers bear this out. WE are still in the Great Recession. Guess what Black America: You are ALL struggling! You are better off contemplating the character of your mate than worrying about what he/she is going to do if you make the big time. The majority of us aren’t going to make it past lower/mid middle class in this country.

Does anyone else get why I’m so annoyed by this meme? What are your thoughts on it? If you’re male and you’re reading this, would you agree that the type of woman you want and need are not one and the same? What does that say about your values and how you were socialized to think about women? Discuss! ↓

 

 

A Caucasian Christmas Conundrum

*Disclaimer: I don’t how much of this is me or the meningitis talking (I contracted meningitis last week, hence the long silence. FYI.), but I have some things to say about White Christmas that need saying!

You see, Twitterverse? What did I tell you? No sooner had I gotten off the plane then there was “outrage”! I told you I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to America for THIS very reason. There is always something to spark “outrage” or “controversy” in the American media. And predictably, Fox News was at the helm of Controversy Cruise liner.

As you may – or may not – have heard, Megyn Kelly, host of America Live on the aforementioned cable news network, had a panel debating a Slate Magazine article that proposed that Christmas should be symbolized by something more inclusive -like a penguin- and not just the jolly White man we have all grown up knowing as Ol’ Saint Nick.

“Santa is a historical figure!” she bellowed. “And he is White!”

Well, Megyn is right. All facts point to the fact that Santa is White. He just is. He was a German toy maker who carved dolls and figurines for disadvantaged kids in his neighborhood and somehow between 1765 and today, he relocated from his Bavarian town, developed magical slimming superpowers and procured eight reindeer (nine if you count the one with a radioactive nose) and flies into the home of every child around the globe to deliver toys! Well, every home except African ones. All those kids want for Christmas is a sip of clean water to hold them until the next Yuletide season.

Why are we debating Santa’s skin color again?? Santa, as we know him, is a MYTH. Just like most of the Christmas “traditions” we hold dear, they were all created by some wealthy guy in politics or entertainment. Our Christmas traditions are aberrations of European pagan traditions. The Christmas tree is a modification of an Irish pagan tradition. December 25th was designated to celebrate Jesus birth after Western Christians first celebrated the holiday in 336, after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity “the empire’s favored religion”. Pagans were already celebrating their deities in the same calendar space, and the church commandeered it! Christmas is a fake holiday through and through. And now we have believers and non-believers debating over what color Santa was? Who gives a CRAP?!?

Behold! The face who preached racially equality!

Behold! The face who preached racially equality in South Africa!

The fact is Santa Clause is WHITE. I have no problems with that. If there ever comes a day when we celebrate Nelson Mandela or “Father of Freedom” as the news outlets have dubbed him, in 300 years I don’t want a picture of Hendrik Verwoerd floating around out there in an effort to appear more “inclusive”. Making Santa Black just to be “inclusive” is nonsense. We have Papa Bronia in Ghana for that. He wears kente and brings soup to your house.

Just when I ready to put the whole thing to bed, Megyn took her indignation too far. She added to her initial statement something so odious, so sinister, that it blew what little of my brain the meningitis had not consumed.

“Jesus is White. And that’s a historical fact!”

What in the name of White Supremacy…?

Ok. Let’s just break this down to its core: There’s only ONE way to make a White person, and that’s with TWO White people. There are about 145,000 ways to make a person of color, but only ONE way to make a White person.

Is Megyn Kelly saying The Holy Spirit – the spirit of Almighty God, ruler of heaven and earth and all that dwell therein, the Spirit that gives each of us life, leads us to kindness, conviction and repentance – is WHITE??? Because that’s what I’m getting if I hear her correctly.

Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and conceived of the Holy Spirit. This in turn means that in order for Jesus to get that pinky glow that 60% of India’s population strives to achieve with every purchased bottle of Ponds bleaching cream, Mary would have to be White and the Holy Spirit would have to (unquestionably) be White. You can’t mix White and Chinese and get White. You can’t mix White and Aborigine to get White. You can’t mix White with anything else to come up with a White kid, which means Megyn Kelly believes God is White!

You see? This is the same course of thinking that justified the transatlantic slave trade.

Keegan+Michael+KeyBefore I carry on, let me unequivocally state that I personally don’t care what color Jesus was. He blood was shed for me. His skin didn’t save me. Human blood, like goat blood, is red. Red, red, red. That being said, it’s my belief that it’s highly unlikely that The Holy Spirit is White.  I think He might look more like a Mayan Aztec. You know… Racially ambiguous. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say Jesus looked more like Keegan-Michael Key than Rush Limbaugh.

You should watch Key and Peele. Key man is just a genius! He’s mixed race, as you’ve probably guessed, and can play just about any character you present him with. He’s a master of imitation, and can play a gangster, a Mexican fry cook, an Indian Healthcare provider, an 80’s glam cop, whatever. These are just the kind of skills you need to survive in a world where Herod is trying to kill you. I presume Jesus/Yeshua possessed just such skills. You think a pale little blue eyed Messiah kid was going to be able to hide out in Egypt until the coast was clear? He’d stick out like a lily in the muck. And then Herod’s forces would have caught Him and then there’d be no salvation for any of us. Nah son. Jesus was racially ambiguous, which means the Holy Spirit is NOT White, which means Megyn Kelly was WRONG on that count.

I get really uncomfortable when people try to paint God as one thing or another, like they did in the Baroque period. Have you studied Baroque art? It’s European hubris at its finest. And then there was its half-bastard cousin the Renaissance which completely decimated common sense within the context of Christianity. Even David didn’t escape the imposition of White ideals in his portrayal. Have you seen the penis Michelangelo afforded him? It’s miniscule. Great warrior David has a tiny…rooster.

Here’s the hard truth. Jesus was NOT White. And He was NOT Black. White people want to make Jesus White to maintain their sense of superiority, and Black people want to make Him Black to contravene their sense of inferiority. Shame on both of you. What about the Inuits?!?

Can we all just agree that Jesus was born, he lived, he travelled, he preached, was tried and crucified for his pronouncements? All this extra debate is just noise. Now pass the pumpkin pie and go kiss someone under the mistletoe.