Do You Guys Want to Talk about Raven-Symone?

“Oh, girl. Don’t set up Twitter on fire. Oh, my lord. What did you just say?”

Did you see Oprah’s face as she muttered those words and readjusted herself in her seat? Classic. Classic, I say! Her reaction was spawned from Raven-Symone’s musing that she was tired of being labelled “African-American”, because she is an American: full stop.

Photo: ABC news

Photo: ABC news

I didn’t monitor Black Twitter for its response to Raven’s exclamations. There is nothing revolutionary about what she said. Frederick Douglass himself said something similar some 200 years ago when he looked into the future and proclaimed that through the magic of miscegenation, Americans would neither be primarily Black nor White, but would look more “like the Phoenicians”. (Who I gather from his description were bronzy, mixed race folk. You know, kinda like Raven.)

Of course we know 200 years on he was wrong. There are still very sharp class and color divisions in this country, but I doubt that Mr. Douglass could have foreseen and accounted for the hundreds of thousands of Africans who willingly migrate to these shores in the last 60 years and bolster the black count, thereby holding his fantasy “colorless society” at bay.

It’s not that Raven-Symone is wrong about how she identifies (or doesn’t identify) herself…it’s just that she isn’t right. More precisely, her views are not right for this time. This is America, circa 2014. Our census forms do not simply ask “if you’re an American”. They require you to tick one or more boxes to identify a race. They ask you to divulge how much money you earn per annum. They ask you your zip code. All these things are meant to categorize a human being in order to determine what type of American one is, and in Raven-Symone’s case, that would be a wealthy octoroon female. The only place an American’s race doesn’t matter is outside of America.

I’m sure I’ve told you all this story before. Last year when I was travelling to Ghana, I met a man while I was in transit in Frankfurt. He was from Detroit and we spent 4 hours of our layover chatting and roaming through the airport. We found ourselves in front of a stall that sold pastries and juice, people watching and commenting on what we saw. A white woman approached us with a mixture of perplexity and relief on her face.

Interrupting our conversation, she gushed “It’s SO good to hear American!”

We stood there looking at her – my Black male companion and I – waiting for her to expound on her statement, but she nodded, smiled and pranced off. Would she have approached us in Piedmont Park and told us how good it was to “hear American?” Doubtful. But we were obviously acceptable Negros who could afford airfare to a foreign country, which made us just Americans. The dynamics and interactions change when one is no longer on US soil, and that’s just the gospel.

Raven-Symone is not like the rest of us. Raven-Symone is famous and has made more money in her short life than 89% of the population. She can afford to be eccentric and define herself as “colorless”. Access to wealth and privilege allows her to navigate life in America in a way that many people of color can and do not. Poor and marginalized folk cannot afford such esotericism. That sort of independent thinking doesn’t translate well in our shift work, minimum wage paying society…the worker ant foundations of which allow people like Raven-Symone identify as just a (colorless) human being who loves (female) human beings.

My husband thinks that Raven-Symone is actually right: she should be able to identify as just human. However where her sexuality/love life is involved, he sees her definition as problematic.

“You just can’t say you’re a human being who loves other humans,” he said. “That opens the door for all kinds of other things.”

“Like saying you love your dad because he’s a strong male who provides?”

Eww. Let me not even finish that thought! You know where I’m heading. Basically, there need to be some better parameters around the category of human being we’re loving. Unfettered free love can lead to unruly chromosomes.


Self-identification is a huge deal, because the world is changing. Humanity is going through yet another shift. How we approach it could lead us to utopia or through another turn through the Dark Ages. Is there any such thing as a “colorless” human being? Should there be?”

The Day the Gift of Black Magic Deserted Me

The Magical Negro: The Magical Negro is a supporting stock character in American cinema who is portrayed as coming to the aid of a film’s white protagonists. These characters, who often possess special insight or mystical powers, have been a long tradition in American fiction.

Yesterday I was invited to be a guest at a local book club meeting. The ladies had selected my book Daughters of Swallows (the one you see in the toolbar over to the left) as their book of the month. They had nothing but praise and told me it was the first book they had universally liked. Of course I was thrilled – surprised, because these were all Southern white women – but thrilled nonetheless. I confessed that I was unsure how audiences outside of the African continent and diaspora would relate to it, or if they would relate to it at all. A woman named Allyssa* told me that she truly identified with Afosua, my main protagonist, and after a while she had forgotten that these were Ghanaian characters and that the setting was in Accra. This made me happy. If you’ve ever spent a day in African skin, all you really want is for the world to see you as a human being, and not some charity case or mythical creature from a far off land imbued with divine powers.

No, seriously. There are people who think all Asians can do Kung Fu and all Africans know how to work juju. Because of the portrayal of our race and  continent in film, there have been  times when even I thought I had Special Negro Powers accorded to me,  simply by virtue of my skin. I’m a lot older and a little smarter now, so I know this is not true. Ohhh, but yesterday I desperately wished it was!

There is an enduring persona  in American folklore and entertainment called the Magical Negro. Dave Chappelle spoofed this sorcerous being on his show in a skit called Migger, the Magical N*gger. This character usually materializes at the exact moment that the lead in a film or book needs their wit, encouragement or advice to set them on their destined course. It should be noted that ‘Negro Magic’ only works when the interaction is between him/her and a white protagonist. Negros are never magical towards one another. In American cinema, we only shoot each other.

Some of the most famous Magical Negros are Will Smith as Bagger Vance, Michael Clark Duncan as the dude in The Green Mile, Roc Dutton in Rudy, and Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. The Magical Negro does not only manifest in human form, mind you. They often also take the form of jocular critters, such as Rafiki and Sebastian in The Lion King and The Little Mermaid respectively. These beloved characters are just as important as the lead in any story: They make our hero possible.


But what does any of this have to do with this book club meeting? Just hold your horses and I’ll tell you!

There are certain topics that I do not discuss (in depth) outside of my very closest and most private circles. These include – in no particular order – the following:

  • Black people in the GOP
  • Anything to do with gay anything
  • Feminism
  • Fraternities and sororities

These are hot button issues and usually cannot be discussed dispassionately or objectively in the public arena. Imagine my surprise therefore, when this group of women brought up three of these four items as topics of discussion! I didn’t know the group well, so I sat back and observed mostly, or asked for clarification only when I needed to get a sense of what they were really trying to say. By the time they got to sororities, a petite blonde named Bethany* was beet red and her nostrils were as tight as a local school board’s budget.

The other women were deriding sororities, calling them controlling institutions that demanded unrequited fealty from their members. Having gone to an HBCU, I know the hold that sororities and fraternities have on their members. There are AKA’s that would sooner shank you than allow you to speak with anything less than awe and respect about their organization.

I have always believed that this grip – this fierce, relentless devotion – to one’s fraternity or sorority was a Black thing. You don’t often see successful, middle aged white women decked in their sorority colors on a random Friday or with a sorority decal screwed to the back of their car. As one of the members pointed out “White people do sororities in college, Black people do it until the grave.” (This comment came from Erica, who was African American and had come to the meeting later on.)

Not so fast! Bethany had something to say about that.

“I have to say I’m deeply offended by all the negative things that are being said about sororities here,” she said. Her vocal chords were straining for control.

Was she serious? Heck yes, she was.

She went on to point out that she was a member of Alpha Omicron Chi (or something), that she was a member of the Pan Hellenic council, that she also worked 40 hours a week and that her sorority made her the success she is today! The table was silent as she went on her tirade…well, except for Fran* who is approaching 69 and has allowed herself the right to say anything she pleases, however she pleases. Fran was talking, but only adding more gasoline to the fire.

This was it. This was my moment! As one of the two Black women at the table, it was time to come to Bethany’s aid and say something Negroid and Magical! I looked at Erica who was silently observing the entire scene behind her wide-rimmed sunglasses and Falcon’s pageboy cap. She was having no part in this. As the uncomfortable silence continued to weigh heavily on our table, I twisted my brow and pinched my lips, attempting to force an enchantment from my loins. What would Guinan say in this case??

I had nothing.

Bethany looked stricken. There was no Magical Negro to come to her rescue that day. I felt like a failure. I did the next best thing and signed her book with a note telling her that I thought she was an exemplary human being and gave her a big, bosomy GG-cup sized hug and sent her home to her lakeside home that was being remodeled, still feeling guilty.

Ah, ah. How did this become my burden??? Darn you, Black Magic. Darn you Hollywood!


Open Letter to Shatta Wale


Shyatta Waaaaaaaaleeeeee!!!!

Dear Shatta Wale,

I love you. There; I said it.

See how e dey look the camera inside!

See how e dey look the camera inside!

Oh please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t love you in that way…like I go born for you or anything like that. I will only born for Prince – and possibly John Dumelo – but I would never born for you. No, no. My love for you is of the quality of the typical area boy/girl order. Like when they see you passing on the road minding your own business and your bottos is shaking and they grab your hand as you are carrying your basket of tin tomatoes that your mother has sent you for and they say “Oh sista! I love you!” And then when you bounce them, the boys tell you to “Komot for der! You think you be some fine gehl, eh?”

Except I am the area boy and you are the fine girl, and your music is the nice bottos.

Oh Shatta, I wish I had known earlier. Let me name drop small, eh?

I came to Ghana last year to do a joint reading of my book with Boakyewaa Glover, author of The Justice. It was a very cerebral affair, as you might imagine. There was wine and Fanta, drinks of the highest quality. One of our guests – a man who is simply known in town as KK – asked if we had any music: Shatta Wale in particular.

“Oh Chaley, you guys no get some Shatta Wale for here?” he asked. He was crestfallen when we told him no.

“Who is Shatta Wale?” someone in the room asked. KK raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise.

“Herh? Herh! Who is Shatte Wale?” KK was sputtering. His anguish was palatable. After he composed himself, he concluded his statement with a secret chuckle. You know the type of laugh your father does when he sees you playing the fool in front of the relatives who have come to visit from Kwadjokrom but he doesn’t talk because he knows he’s going to beat you later?


That was the manner of KK’s laugh. A twinkle in his eye betrayed his private thoughts. Oh you wait! You gon’ learn one day!

Well, one day has come. I have learned. I have discovered your magnificence for myself. I know the song is old kraa, but Dancehall King is my jam. Ah! Do you know I sourced six qualified resumes  for my client in Amarillo, TX (some bush area bi) whilst listening to that song? It gave me such vim.

Shyaaatta Waaaaaleeeee!!!

shata-waleOh Shatta. I haven’t felt this way about a reggae/ragga/dance hall artist since Shabba. It makes sense though. A Jamaican is nothing more than a Ga far from home. You are the connection between two countries, two cultures and one spirit. I’ll say it again: I love you Shatta! In fact, my appreciation for you is so deep that if my social circumstances would allow, I would emulate you in every manner. I would undergo a nostril widening procedure and stop combing my hair. But you see, I can’t…because marriage and motherhood. I can’t arrive at my PTA meetings looking like Shyaaaaatta Waaaaaaleeeee!!!!

Ok my sweet. I will see you in the future okay? I’m sure our paths will cross. Remember me in your dreams, dreams, dreams, dreams….

Yours sincerely,


How American parenting is killing the American marriage


I wonder if this is unique to America, or does it manifest in other spheres of Western culture? As for African parents, they have no problem pointing out the flaws of their children. No problems at all!

Originally posted on Quartz:

Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.

In our recently published book, Sacred Cows, we took on our society’s nonsensical but deeply ingrained beliefs surrounding marriage and divorce. We often get asked whether we will next address the sacred cows of modern parenting, at which point we ask the speaker to please lower his voice, and we look nervously over our shoulders to make sure that nobody has overheard the question.

To understand the frightening power of the…

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Bionic Nostril Woman

In time, you and I must come up with a better name for our heroine; but for today, this one will have to do.

Beast-x-menHei! The world is clamoring for diversity in the comic book arena. They say we need more people of color and disabled heroes. I say we are just not looking hard enough at what we have. Beast is a person of color. Professor X is disabled. (With their combined intellectual powers, they can outwit us all. Damn them!) And even though Marvel has gone through several stages of execution in the visual representation of its universe on screen, one thing has remained consistent: all of the characters –save one – have maintained a sense of their national identity. Wolverine is unmistakably Canadian. Hank McCoy is American Charles Xavier is English. Who is that one character who has lost her identity you ask?

Storm! Storm who is an Igbo goddess! Storm who is played by Halle Berry. Halle Berry who didn’t even have the decency to accent her speech or add a “jor” or a “sha” to the delivery of her lines. The cheek… the very cheek, I say!

What I propose therefore, is that we need more African women super heroines, because let’s be honest, we don’t even have one. Now that Hollywood has gotten a hold of Storm, she is biracial and non-African, and that’s not fair. They have hijacked and neo-colonized and erased our goddess and I don’t like it.

But yoooouuuu, it’s okay.

As always friends, I never want to present a problem without a solution…which is why I want to propose a prototype for a new African Super Hero. She will have to tackle some of the major issues plaguing our continent. You might be tempted to suggest corruption, but that would confine our heroine. In order to fight corruption, she would first have to sit in her car, fight traffic, arrive at work in a tight skirt to get any sort of notice, and spend all her super hero time beating the mess out of her itching weave and filing papers.


Our lady will not fight corruption. She will fight a foe that ALL women across the world – regardless of race, nationality or socio-economic status frequently contend with and are highly sensitive to. She will fight against the tyranny of foul odors.

First we have to come up with a name for our heroine. I propose “Fiew!” or “Ugh!” (And yes, her name must be pronounced with an exclamation point.) Oooh! I know. Let’s combine the two: Fiewugh(!)

Hey look! We came up with a name for our heroine in just a few paragraphs. Look at us go!

Fiewugh’s(!) costume is all black, of course, but it’s not made of leather. It’s made of breathable cotton. She cannot fight foul odor if she reeks of it. Have you had the opportunity to sniff one of those London boys who come to Accra or Lagos cloaked in a leather coat during the Christmas season? Sweating like the Christmas goats that they are. Nonsense. This is Africa and you come here with leather jacket? Kwasiaba like your type…


This is an orange seller. Look at her fine face. Tsew.

This is an orange seller. Look at her fine face. Tsew.

Now that we have dressed our heroine, we must give her a secret identity. We could make her a reporter or a CEO, but that’s so predictable. Let’s make her someone that people see every day, but are hidden from our greater conscience. Let’s make her a street hawker. She can’t sell roasted plantain or kele wele seller, because they are highly sought after individuals. She will sell PK. Yes! PK, to combat bad breath. You can find Fiewugh(!) on any busy street in Dakar, Accra or Cape Town. You will know her by her steel bionic nose. However, she has covered it in Iman Cosmetics…so you might not know her by her nose. Besides, she’s supposed to be a secret super hero. Why are you so nosy?

Of course she has a tiny waist and perfect C-cup boobs that float atop her chest sans support bra. In fact, her boobs have their own gravitational pull. Why? Because action hero = perfect boobs.

Great! Fiewugh(!) is ready to fight crime! All over Africa, men are refusing to bathe properly, apply appropriate amounts of deodorant or get those back teeth. That in itself is not the problem. Poverty, poor public utilities and water shortages have ravaged the continent, and hinder good hygiene. Ghana doesn’t have a cholera epidemic for nothing! The problem is, these men do not recognize that they smell and yet STILL insist on macking chicks. This is where Fiewugh(!) swoops in and delivers a mighty blow by thrusting PK in the faces of the offenders. She could smell him from across the room, thanks to her bionic nose.

But wait! What is this? Hol muh Guld! (Slangs for ‘Oh my God’.)


A stench so foul has accosted our African Super Hero Princess that she can barely stand on her feet. Her flawlessly muscular thighs begin to quiver. It is the Korle Lagoon!

Crippled by the pong, she drops to her knees and nearly dies. PK can’t fix this one. What can save our heroine now? How can she level up and crush this foe? Tune in next week for the Adventures of Fiewugh(!): The Bionic Nose Woman!



Photo credit:

Wiyaala to drop new single for Peace and Unity in Africa

Wiyaala press

Wiyaala drops her new single “Africa” on the 29th September. The song was debuted live at “A Night of 1018 Laughs” to a wildly enthusiastic crowd in a performance described by critics as “immense”, “awesome” and “the Angelique Kidjo of our time”.

Following her knock-about antics in the hit songs, “Rock My Body” and “Go Go Black Stars”, Wiyaala turns her attention to more serious issues:

“I was partly inspired to write ‘Africa’ by Sherifa Gunu, who helped me during some difficult times. Like my dear sister, I want to send out a message for peace. Africa is blessed with huge natural and human resources, yet we refuse to live in harmony? I’m not just talking about wars and terrorism, I’m also talking about hatred and jealousy on a personal level where we fight as individuals, bear false witness and create enmity between ourselves.”

“Africa” is the first single to be released from the self-titled album “Wiyaala” due out in November. The song, on which the singer plays the acoustic guitar live, was produced and recorded by Jurgen Von Wechmar at Sunset Recording Studios in Stellenbosch, South Africa. A video for “Africa” is expected soon.


Leave your comments about how giddy with excitement you are about this here. I’ll lead you.

Indian Mom Introduces Herself to Me at the Bus Stop in the Most Epic Way

Our routine for dropping off and picking up our kids at the bus stop is concrete. My husband takes them in the morning, and I pick them up in the afternoon.


There is no finesse, no juggling of schedules, no wringing of hands and fretting about who has to leave work early to get to the stop on time in the morning and the afternoon. Thankfully, getting our children to and from school is one of the most unremarkable aspects of my day…but then, that it because I have never taken the outliers into account.

The bus usually arrives at 3:50. I sit in my car and play on my phone until the children hop into the backseat sometimes laughing, frequently frowning, always screeching. We all have the same routine – the other parents and I – we sit in our individual cars and wait for our kids to scramble off the bus and we drive away without a word to another adult. How was I to know that one of my fellow cultivators of loin fruit might be craving some adult conversation? It seems that was the case on yesterday.

A petite Indian woman, very round in the middle and swathed in a dainty pink head wrap approached my car moments after the bus unloaded our kids. She had a grave look on her face. I geared myself for a scolding on account of something my children had done to hers on the bus. Black and Indian relations in Roswell aren’t exactly what you would term “friendly”. They look down on us, and we treat them with the same ambivalence we accord other races (Mexicans included) who do the same. I took a sharp breath and waited.

She smiled.

“Every time I come to the bus stop you are always on your phone,” she said with shy laugh.

Ei. What was she accusing me of? Now I can’t be on my phone?

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s just something to keep me occupied until the kids come…”

Why was I justifying my being on the phone with a complete stranger?

“I wanted to show you something on my phone.” She pulled out her device and thrust it through my window. “See? It’s a boy being attacked by a tiger.”


She nodded her head and smiled a sad smile. “It happened in New Dehli. He was 16 years old.”

Indian Mom went on to explain how the boy was trying to get a closer picture of the tiger at the zoo and fell over the railing into the enclosure. The curious tiger approached him and gently pawed at the terrified boy for a long time without exhibiting any violence. Some of the other zoo visitors tried to get his attention to lure him away from child until some genius decided to throw a rock at it. That’s when the tiger grabbed the boy by the neck, crushed his gullet and killed him.

“That poor baby!” I gasped. “His poor mother!”

“Poor baby,” she echoed solemnly.

Then I started yammering about zoo reconstruction and how they should educate the public and why-oh-why didn’t the crowd just wait for the zoo keepers to come…

Her face had drawn a blank. Obviously, she had no interest in discussing architecture or things that will never be or behaviors that are not likely to change in the short term. This is New Dehli. Hadn’t I heard what she said? I was probably ruining her high.

Her son ran over to my car and yanked on her arm, desperately begging to see the video.

“Ok, ok! I’ll show it to you,” she said with the same exasperated tone I’ve used several times myself.

We smiled at each other and I waved as she walked away without telling me her name. If she had been a less interesting character, I would have been content to keep referring to her as ‘Indian Mom’ and carried on with life…however, I think I have made a new friend. Any woman who introduces herself with a gruesome video of man versus nature has the potential to be a good friend of mine. I can’t wait to get to the bus stop this afternoon to find out her name!

What’s the oddest way you’ve ever made a friend? Did it involve gore? Did it involve ponies? Did you do a Masai dance at their desk when they revealed that they were Kenyan? (That’s how I met and became friends with ‘Nanny McPhee’)Has that friendship endured?