Author Archives: Malaka

How Do Our Vets Feel About Seeing Nazi’s Thrive on American Soil?

My grandfather (may he party in eternal peace) served in the United States army for 3 years. He was stationed at an air force base in Georgia where he worked as a cook and received distinction for his prowess as a thespian. (Now I know where I get my flair for the dramatic from.) He was discharged as a sergeant, but never saw combat overseas. World War II was after all a “white man’s war” – and though Great Britain and France reluctantly conscripted soldiers from their colonies in Africa and India to serve among their ranks on the front lines, America was even more reluctant to do so. America has a long and well-documented unease with arming people of color, Negroes in particular. It fact, it had taken 25 years of effort before the first Black military pilots, now famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen, would be activated in 1941.

A copy of my grandfather’s discharge certificate, issued in Indiana, 1946

That my grandfather served in a menial capacity does not surprise or shame me. He was a farm boy, a strong man and a hard worker. However, in numerous studies sponsored by the United States military, Blacks were classified and deemed unfit for combat. They said we were cowardly, unruly, couldn’t swim and lacked the cognitive abilities required for soldiering.

Source: fdrlibrary.org

I doubt these long-held attitudes had changed by the time of my grandfather’s honorable discharge from the 2109th Army Air Forces base unit in 1946. The majority of enlisted Black men at the time served in support capacities like this and when they did serve overseas, it was in racially segregated combat units. Jim Crow was very much alive, well and the order of the day in 1946, so I imagine that it must’ve been difficult to understand what his role as a Black man was fighting a war to end fascism and xenophobia in one continent when the country of his birth was entirely wedded to those same ideals where he was concerned. Given that his base- the 2109th – was just south of Albany, GA, there can be little doubt that he witnessed (and very possibly experienced) the very finest that Southern racism had to offer. At the end of WWI, fewer than 30 Black people were registered to vote in the city. If Montgomery, AL was the “cradle of the Confederacy”, Albany, GA was its play yard, a city that took pride in controlling its Negro population.

Albany was important as a shipping port and later became an important railroad hub in southwestern Georgia. When the war ended, it was a major disembarkation point for service men returning from overseas. About 500 German prisoners of war were kept in Albany, and whether my grandfather encountered them or not, I will never know. What I DO know for certain is that many people of color, men like my grandfather who served faithfully in the armed forces and many of whom were discharged with honor, were treated with less respect and more contempt than captured enemy combatants from a nation that the USA had expended thousands of lives and millions of dollars to vanquish. The contemptible Nazi (and ideologies to match), in effect, was certainly not as detestable as the law abiding and long-suffering African American citizen; whiteness being the only ‘virtue’ that separated the two and gave societal preference to one by default.

Source: Pintrest

 

The film Hart’s War highlighted the bigotry that was rife in American culture during WWII. Arnold Krammer is a historian at Texas A & M University who has written several books on the prison camps in the U.S. He said:

There were numerous occasions when German POWs, especially from the many camps located in the Jim Crow south, were allowed in stores which denied access to black Americans. When buses filled with German POWs went south, the occasional black MP guards had to move to the back of the bus, while the German prisoners remained in the seats of their choice. German POWs, debating with their guards, regularly used the issue of segregation in America to defend their treatment of the Jews. How tragic.

A handful of Black American soldiers have documented their experiences in memoirs following the Second Great War. The details are damning to the values of equality and brotherhood that to United States has long espoused over the centuries. So hypocritical was the United States position on race and racism that Albert Einstein was compelled to address the scourge in a scathing essay entitled The Negro Question. He called racism America’s ‘worst disease’.

 

Looking at the events in Charlottesville, at the sitting president who refused to condemn the acts of neo-Nazi fascists and avowed white supremacists, and the responses from online commenters who comfortably side with the idea that “both sides” are responsible for the unrest following the horrific events that took place in Virginia over the weekend, one has to wonder just how much has changed in America over the last 71 years. There can be no denying people of color have made significant advances in American society, but fundamentally, America remains a nation that abhors the presence and existence of Black people. From perceptible micro-aggressions to flat out discrimination, we are made to feel a sense of spurning, daily. Still, I had to wonder what veterans might feel about seeing the flags and emblems of an eternal adversary proudly marching through a historic American city.

 

As you might expect, there was outrage among some in their ranks.

Excerpt from an interview on the CBS News

Nevertheless, there are some who feel that these neo-Nazis have a right to express their “opinion”.

This is the heart of the matter. These are the people ought to be the most horrified by what unfolded in Charlottesville (and will continue to unfold in the coming weeks) as those we have entrusted to uphold America’s truest values. But when citizens – such as Harvey Lentz and the current POTUS think that demonstrations of racial bigotry that inspire and call for violence in the form of extermination are mere “opinion” that has a right to be expressed- how America ever cure itself of this disease? The short answer is, it can’t. I cannot explain it, but too many people are comfortable living with this bane. Like King Henry and his festering wound, America is not yet ready to have a serious and honest look at wait ails it. It stinks. It’s too horrid a sight. But we are forced to ignore it because America has anointed itself the “shining city on a hill” and like that mercurial British monarch is (supposedly) above reproach.

But there’s no hiding from this. There’s no denying that this cancer is eating away at the body of the country. Loving and wishing it away is not going to solve a centuries’ old sickness. The sad part is, none of this surprises people of color. It’s what Dara Mathis called the nightmare we never woke up from, a thousand yesterdays on loop, always reoccurring.

America, the America that has chosen blissful oblivion, you should know that your slip (or sheet, rather) is showing.

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Patriarchy Killed Okonkwo

Until this weekend, I was among the few Ghanaians who had never read Chuninua Achebe’s critically acclaimed work, Things Fall Apart. I was familiar enough with the title and the name of the main character – Okonkwo – but much like those village-bound JSS students who made flatulent claims about going abroad for the long vacation and gorging themselves on McDonald’s and watching all the new Will Smith films, I would lie and switch the subject when queried about my impressions of the work.

“Things fall apart! The center cannot hold!” I would exclaim exuberantly, as though familiar with the forward and theme of the book. In reality, I was merely parroting my sister’s favored phrase from the work and not one that I had seen written with my own eyes. Not to worry! That error has been remedied and I have absolved myself of this great disgrace.

Books like Things Fall Apart are unique in a singular sense: They do not lead the reader to any conclusions, but rather meet the reader in the physical and spiritual space they occupy. Achebe does not judge his characters. He merely serves as the narrator and leaves us to analyze their deeds for ourselves. This is a difficult task for a writer, as we are lords and creators of the beings that populate the worlds we create in fiction and can influence the reader with our personal biases. Many writers are seduced into judging their characters, a lure Achebe masterfully avoids. After I concluded the work, I wondered what my impressions of Okonkwo and the mores that governed his homeland, Umuofia, might have been if I’d read them in high school. It’s no secret that I was chauvinist while I was growing up. (Most African women are.) And if I wasn’t a complete chauvinist, my sympathies were certainly chauvinistic leaning. I have had to unlearn that way of thinking, and now having finished high school 21 years ago (when I should have first encountered the book) I shudder to think about what kind of defense my 18 year-old self might have offered for Okonkwo and his pervasive perniciousness.

However Things Fall Apart has met me as a 39-year-old woman and assessing Okonkwo (and his contemporaries) at this juncture in my life can only lead me to one conclusion: that patriarchy killed Okonkwo… and needlessly so.

Okonkwo was a man raised by a father who was deemed a failure by all standards set by his society. He had no titles, he was lazy, he was an unapologetic debtor, and raised Okonkwo in perpetual poverty. But his father was a man who also had a certain joie de vivre. He loved music and mirth and was not a violent man. Okonkwo resented the father who raised him, the one fellow villagers called agbala (trans: woman/ man who has taken no title) and vowed to be as opposite as he could in every aspect.

Okonkwo grew to regard kindness, remorse and gentleness as feminine traits, and therefore demonstration of weakness. He never learned to reconcile these valid (and necessary) expressions of humanity within himself, so much so that they served as a torment when circumstances provoked a confrontation with those feelings. He was not alone in this. This was how most men in Umuofia (his friend Obierika being the notable exception) operated. Indeed, his life was ruled – and ultimately taken – by the same toxic masculinity that was the eventual undoing of his entire clan. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the way the men of Umuofia treated and related to their women.

“Okonkwo was inwardly pleased at his son’s development, and he knew it was due to Ikemefuna. He wanted Nwoye to grow into a tough young man capable of ruling his father’s household when he was dead and gone to join the ancestors. He wanted him to be a prosperous man, having enough in his barn to feed the ancestors with regular sacrifices. And so he was always happy when he heard him grumbling about women. That showed that in time he would be able to control his women-folk. No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man. He was like the man in the song who had ten and one wives and not enough soup for his foo-foo.” – Things Fall Apart, chapter seven.

Umuofia’s traditions, like many patriarchal traditions today, placed women, the disabled and the effeminate/gentle hearted on the fringes of society. It robbed them of their right to full expression of abundant human life. It often oppressed them. But as that great philosopher Akeem once said, “It is also tradition that times must, and so change my friend.” It is unfortunate for the citizens of Umuofia and the surrounding clans that this change comes as a result of a siege; a siege in which the oppressed were used as pawns of a wily enemy to further its selfish gains. That enemy was Western Christianity (in the form of the church cum imperial government) and White Feminism (in the form of an English queen), both which used, and continue to use, Black bodies and Black suffering as catapults for their own ambitions.

As Efe Plange notes in her piece Heritage Africa: A National Assignment:

“In an oppositional reading of Chinua Achebe’s well acclaimed “Things fall Apart,” you will discover that in the land of Umuofia, things couldn’t have fallen apart as the society was not entirely one, or together. The existence of the Osu caste system, the heavy losses of mothers whose twin babies had to be sacrificed at birth, boys and girls ridiculed for their non-gender conformity, and the gross display of male to female violence created certain imbalances in the society. Therefore, if you notice, the first people to convert to Christianity (the otherwise foreign intrusion) were these “social outcasts” who were warmly welcomed by priests who had been literally tasked to be “fishers of men.” A theory can therefore be derived, that a society divided and riddled with various forms of injustices, is very prone to division and would not be able to hold its center for long.”

Had the men of Umuofia learned to value all members of their society and striven to create a more egalitarian system, the British invaders would’ve found it much more difficult to divide, conquer and overrun their land. However, like the soldier who slaughters the innocents of war, the men of the clan defer to their Oracles and medicine men for the poor decisions that they take. They are merely men “under orders”, never questioning and leaving no room for doubt or introspection. It is because of this failure to interrogate the aspects of culture that clearly are not working and/or seem evil that Okonkwo’s own eldest son, Nwoye was lured in by the teachings of a theocracy that decimated the culture that his father loved so dearly.

Anja Ringgren Loven gives water to Hope, 2, after finding the emaciated boy wandering the streets. He was accused of witchcraft and abandoned by his family. Anja Ringgren Lovén/Facebook

Okonkwo’s legacy lives on. It lives in our politicians, in our pulpits, in our classrooms, by the gutters from which men spew lurid words and threaten to beat women who dare to answer back. Incidentally on the day that I finished the book, a man that I follow on social media alluded to as much.

His assertion was met with dismissal and incredulous laughter. That mockery is (in part) why things in Africa continue to fall apart.

 

 

Have you read this book? Were you shocked by the ending? Did it make your blood boil as much as it did mine? Discuss!

Edem Kumodzi is the Hero We All Need

If you’ve ever been stopped by a member of the traffic division of Ghana’s police force, you know you’re in for a loss. You will lose precious time and you will likely lose more than a few cedis in the wake of the encounter. The police delight in harassing particular motorists; taxi drivers, women and soft-spoiled looking men – easy targets who would rather shoo away an officer with a quick bribe than to go through the tangled, malignant process that is Ghana’s judiciary.

The police know this. The courts know it. It’s how the force and the courts supplement their paltry incomes. Bribery is the norm in Ghana.

Well, Mr. Edem Kumodzi, web developer, online entrepreneur, Father of Dragons and Holder of all Doors and no Dambs was having none of that. This is the simple story of how one man took on corruption and triumphed by obeying the rules and thrusting them right back into the oppressor’s face. Edem, in his own words, ladies and gentlemen:

 

 

This is the month of August, the days wherein hold Ghana’s “Day of Destiny”. *eye roll*. While a certain political party is sitting somewhere trying to revise Ghana’s history, the party and its supporters would do well to recognize the achievements of the country’s real heroes: Men and women like Edem Kumodzi whose souls are not for sale to  neither commerce nor corruption. Join me comrades. Join me as we anoint August 3rd as Automobile Owners Autonomy Day! Hail the victorious vehicularist!

Thank you for standing tall(ish), Edem. You have done the nation and all who will follow your example proud!

Intrigued? Confounded? Amused? You can follow Edem at @edemkumodzi and check out his e-commerce site (where you will find fabulous offerings, including copies of all my books) at www.storefoundry.com

I Spoke With a Frightened Afrikaner the Other Day…

“You do know it was the English who brought apartheid to South Africa. Everyone thinks it was the Afrikaners, but it was the English!”

I raised my eyebrows in mock amazement. I did this for my inquisitor’s benefit. Generally, men feel more at ease when they feel like they are in a position to teach you something, and I wanted this man to feel comfortable in my presence. After all, this opportunity is what I had asked God for just a few hours before at dusk, wasn’t it?

“Really? Yes…yes I read something about that somewhere,” I replied.

Of course I knew the British were responsible for bringing apartheid to South Africa. Anyone who has read closely on the subject knows the role that Rhodes and Churchill played in laying the foundations for the unholy regime. But we also know that the Boers built on that groundwork and took it to unparalleled heights. I attempted to make this point.

“But what about Verwoerd and…”

“No, no, no,” the man said patronizingly. “The English.”

You may at this point be wondering what the substance of my prayers was on the night in question. Having just come from the Walter Sisulu and Hector Pieterson Memorials two days before, I wanted to have the opportunity to speak with a South African of Dutch decent – to ask them to give account and defense for the Bantu Education act (which one older Boer once told me was of great benefit to the native blacks because it gave them a “trade”), for the level of force employed by the police at quelling upheaval and what could be done to bridge the gap in wealth and opportunity that 50 short, but grueling, years of apartheid had thrust upon the country. Now before me stood a mountain of an Afrikaner man, who is at least a foot and a half taller than my husband’s 6’2”, who had a voice like a disturbed pool of water, and who – despite vowing never to speak the English language a day in his life (so proud was he of his heritage and so great was the contempt he had inherited for the English) – had deigned to do so for the benefit of the “American girl”. This was my gift horse, and I was not about to crank open its jaws and inspect its molars. I let him talk.

“The thing about apartheid is that both sides were responsible – both black AND white,” he continued.

Now I was genuinely shocked. This, I had never heard before. I steadied the beat of my quickening heart before I whispered my next question. I felt he was about to tell me some horrible secret.

“How?”

“Both sides were wrong,” he said as he made to touch my shoulder, but came centimeters away from doing so.

I looked at him quizzically as an image flashed through my mind. If unprovoked, you put your boot on my neck and I manage to slap your balls in order to free myself, how do I share blame in the wrongdoing? He could see my mind racing and offered me a little smile.

“You know that picture of the guy carrying the boy?”

“You mean Hector Pieterson?”

“Ja, ja. HIM.” His tone was not kind. “Do you know how the shooting happened?”

“All I know is what I’ve read. That the students were protesting because…”

He interrupted my speech before catching himself. I must’ve said something out of the ordinary.

“Tell me what you read.”

I told him that the students were protesting because hitherto, their instruction had been in English, and that not only did they have the task of mastering their mother tongue, but they had to be proficient in a foreign language that was generally adopted already. Now the law said that all study must be in Afrikaans. (Which was ironic because it was the British who first attempted to force English on the Boers, who rebelled against the effort.) It proved to be too much. Black teachers (or their pupils) couldn’t speak Afrikaans and therefore couldn’t instruct their students in it. Matric rates fell to all time lows as did morale in education over all. The students of Soweto decided to march and deliver their mandate for education reform to the local police station where they were fired upon by officers.

He seemed satisfied with my answer. And a bit smug.

“Ahhh…but what they didn’t tell you is that those students were also armed.”

This was nonsense.

“What?”

“Yes! “ He said triumphantly. “The history books will not tell you that there were weapons found among the students. They were not so innocent. The history books will never tell you the whole truth.”

Then perhaps the history books need to diversify their sources, I thought. Because on Wednesday, my family spent the evening with a woman who is an active member of the PAC and was present when the massacre took place. The PAC supported the student march and its members did indeed carry firearms and weapons as it flanked the students. I’ve seen no stats on how many officers lost their lives in the uprising, so no one in attendance went there with the intention to shoot to kill, obviously.

As I contemplated all this, he must’ve taken my silence for a concession of defeat, because he repeated himself on the one point that I found (and still find) utterly repugnant.

“As I said, both sides were to blame – both black and white. The history books only show you the faces of white police officers, but there were black officers who shot at those kids as well.”

“Yes, I know that. In any system of oppression, you will always find members of the oppressed group who will betray their communities for their personal benefit.” (Cue KRS-One)

He became adamant.

“But you can’t revolt for everything you want! Anytime these…workers or students want something, they toitoi and that’s not democracy.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

“But the French might say that is the only way to achieve democracy. Remember when the working class stormed the Bastille and…”

“Ja, but you can’t replicate everything you see and think it applies to where you are.”

Y’all. He actually SAID that to me.

Since we were at a ministry conference and he was clearly not going to convince a woman who’s read far too many books that her race shared equal responsibility in its own demise (something I can actually accept, because if Black South Africans had given the Boers the same medicine they administered to the British, they’d be better off), he switched topics to something he thought we might both agree on: religion and its role in the abysmal state of South African education. I was ready to engage, because education is very important to me.

“Do you know! They are teaching my son – my 12 year old son – about forefather worship in school?”

“Yeah…my daughter had to study that as part of social studies last year. Along with Hinduism and some other things.

“It’s nonsense,” he declared.

“I don’t think…”

“No, no! Nonsense! You know ZUMA does forefather worship? That’s why he and Mugabe are thick as thieves. In fact, they go to the same fetish/voodoo/spiritual woman. She sits out under a tree with her bones and leaves. That’s how Mugabe has been able to stay this long. Because of HER spiritual influence.”

I asked him the question he must’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but dreading.

“Do you think Zuma will be able to maintain control as long as Mugabe?”

He gave it something before he answered. “I don’t know. All I know is that the ANC is a mafia and Zuma has a lot of dirt on top people. That’s why they won’t confront him and that’s why he kicked out Gordon…because he wasn’t able to corrupt him.”

 

And then I looked into the eyes of this mountain of a Boer man and saw that he was afraid…that he was actually afraid. We’re human, so we all harbor ours fears. It’s only natural. What I saw was a man who despite declaring his position as an anti-racist, was too afraid to allow his child to learn about the cultural norms of the racial majority around him. That though he may be a Christian, perhaps neither he nor his white Christ was not strong enough to mitigate for his child the spiritual influences of a 500-word blurb in a history book. I saw a man who is afraid that history will judge his race and his Afrikaner culture as they deserve, which is fairly. Because if the truth were to be told, it would condemn them in the eyes of generations to come. I saw a man that despite his efforts to portray the contrary, was afraid of change.

But I also saw his efforts.

In the hundred or more people who gathered at that conference, he was the only white male, and a proud Boer to boot. That certainly counts for something: That he was able to overcome his myriad fears and place himself in an uncomfortable situation…the sort of situation that is not so unfamiliar to Black people: That of “token”.

In my reading, I’ve known the Afrikaner to be many things: Greedy, stubborn, subversive, passionate and proud. But I’ve never known them to be described as frightened. They’ve always seemed (and portrayed as) incapable of possessing that particular trait. Knowing that the mountain of a man harbors fear comforts me; not because I would seek to use it against him, but because it assures me that his is an Afrikaner, yes, but he is human first.

 

I Can Guarantee You That Blessing Okagbare Was Far From Embarrassed About Her Wig Falling Off.

Blessing Okagbare is a much-decorated Nigerian athlete who competes in in sprinting, long jump and triple jump. She’s competed in the Olympics, Common Wealth and All Africa Games, and most recently, in the Oslo Diamond League in Norway. It is here where the world became acquainted with Okagbare, not for her prowess on the field, but because of her hair. As you probably well already know, she and her wig parted ways during the long jump.

 

 

Are you finished laughing? Please let me know when you’ve composed yourself so that we can continue. Ahaaa. Let’s go!

One of many headlines declaring Blessing is embarrassed. Has she told you she is embarrassed? You dey lie bad.

In the wake of this gravitational wig snatching, headlines and commenters from around the globe have bandied about the idea that Blessing Okagbare must have been embarrassed about her wig falling off during her event. There’s no way she couldn’t have been, right? I mean, your hair (or in this case, some Chinese manufactured form of it) literally separated itself from your body on an international stage. Mortifying, yes?

No!

Let me say it again: No! This will not get you down. Not if you’re a Nigerian woman, or a Black woman in the Diaspora of a certain caliber.

Let me tell you something about Nigerian women: They have bigger concerns than worrying about feelings of embarrassment, despite what the western media would have us believe. Though I do not share their nationality, I have had the blessing (pun fully intended) of calling many Nigerian women sisters and friends, and have shared sacred space with them online. One of those spaces is FIN – an acronym for Female In Nigeria. It is a closed group with strict rules about disclosure, so I certainly will not betray the group’s trust or risk my privileged access to the site by going into specifics. I can say this: There is no woman – no person – who suffers like Nigerian women. Between the Church, the in-laws, some random Honda Accord-driving bozo who demands wife material (and service) on the first date, Boko Haram and your random lascivious Senator, the things that are done to and said about Nigerian women’s bodies create an incredible amount of pressure on this group. Nevertheless, they persist and continue to excel.

Look at Luvvie.

Look at Chimamanda.

Look at Folorunso.

Their accolades and achievements did not come without sacrifice, hardship and ridicule. Chimamanda has spoken about an essay that she wrote while she was in college. It was apparently the best essay in class, and the professor wanted to acknowledge the student. When she raised her hand, he looked at her in disbelief before repeating his inquiry…As if how could a woman from Darkest Africa produce such excellent work? This is just one of the myriad indignities women of color are continually made to suffer. The abilities of our minds and potential of the body are frequently downplayed and suppressed, unless it’s in the service and for the benefit of someone else.

Ahaaa. Let’s continue.

I don’t know why Blessing Okagbare chose to wear a wig in Oslo this week, but I can hazard a guess. Despite India Arie’s postulation to the contrary, Black women are and will continue to be our hair. There is a fair amount of handwringing from the New African and Hotep crowd online who have shamed Okagbare for her choice to wear a hairpiece. The most vocal have been men. Female critics have taken to sniggering, rather than perform outright criticism.

“She looks better with her natural hair!”

“It is an embarrassment for an African woman to go and look for some dead Indian woman’s hair to tape on to her forehead. This is not QUEEN behavior.”

“When, oh WHEN will African women release their minds from this mental slavery!”

And yet when a dark skinned woman with 4C hair shows up at the club or for an interview for a receptionist’s position, she is routinely passed up and overlooked for either a) a lighter skinned woman or b) a dark skinned woman who has sense enough to straighten her hair. I am here to testify that I have seen it myself with my own two Ghanaian eyes. When you add to that matrix the strength of body that a woman like Blessing Okagbare possesses, the comments and stigma outside of the safety of the sports arena is nothing short of bestial.

In an interview conducted a few years ago, Ghanaian pop singer Wiyaala discussed how growing up with a “strongbody” affected her. Wiyaala is an incredibly strong woman with lean muscle mass. She described how walks about her hometown would invite taunts from local boys who would shout for her to raise her shirt to prove she was a girl. She responded by embracing her androgyny and opting for a high-top close crop.

Image source: Music Unites Africa

I suspect that Blessing Okagbare – who, like Wiyaala has been active in sports since high school – has faced similar taunts. It’s probable that the hurtful words of strangers (perhaps even choices) have had some level of impact on her sartorial choices, including how she wears her hair.

You might well recall how the Black community savaged Gabby Douglas during the 2012 Olympic games over how she styled her hair. Douglas made history by becoming the first American gymnast to win gold medals in both the team and individual all-around. That vicious attack was the direct result of centuries of conditioning, and it’s something we’’re yet to be healed of.

Female athletes (Black women in particular) have added pressure of performing femininity on the field while in the midst of competition. One will have to give way to the other, because you can’t have slayed edges and slay the hundred-meter dash. The 4-6 hours required to sit in the salon while you wait to get your sew in or cornrows done is valuable training time lost. Any serious female athlete would forego the salon in pursuit of that extra second on the clock. But I can just see some pastor or some too known auntie coming to ‘advise’ the Nigerian team:

“Eh ehhh… You know you are representing the whole kontry. When you go there, don’t go with that unruly hair, eh? Let os pray…”

I’m telling you, I’ve sat at dinner with the son of a Ghanaian mogul who nearly spat his whiskey in disgust over the idea that the Pretoria High girls who were fighting to wear their natural hair and locks.

“There is no way in Ghana that we will ever allow a girl to come to class with that BUSHY hair!”

Look: Any woman who wears a wig knows that there is always a hazardous risk with making that choice. There is ALWAYS a chance of it getting blown off, snatched off or simply slipping off. It’s a fact of wig-wearing life. But you can’t let a little bit of synthetic stop you from putting in that work. Blessing Okagbare responded to losing her wig in the same way generations of Black women who have felt compelled to cover their natural hair for social acceptance have for years: She simply put the mask back on and went about her business like a BAWSE CHICK. To get to this level, she has been through greater trials than her hair falling off. We should all just stop forcing her to feel embarrassment that she’s not experiencing.

And now: A short video representation of other notable African women who have (or nearly) lost their wigs while putting in that work. Honorable mention to my girl Gloria of TFH, who routinely tests the adhesive integrity of her wig glue while in the midst of praise and worship.

 

Kiki Sheard: Nothing, not even the separation from my wig, can separate me from pursuing the love of Jesus

 

Queen Bey: A fan is not a halo, but it tried it.

Kim Z: I’ll give you my wig why you pry it from my cold, icy head.

Why Are White People Pushing the ‘Two Parent Household’ During Slavery Narrative So Hard?

There is a push by both liberal and conservative white circles to reimagine – and now, to rewrite – the devastating effects that slavery had on the Black family unit. I first became aware of this trend (one that is part of a larger effort to whitewash horrors of the Trans Atlantic slave trade) when a University of Tennessee student named Kayla Parke posted a Facebook live rebuttal to the assertion that Black families held in bondage were led by two parent families. In a quiz administered by now retired (or fired, depending on who you ask) professor Judy Morelock, the ONLY question regarding slavery asked, “Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that…”

Parker answered “C”: “Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners.” Professor Morelock marked the answer as wrong, stating that the correct answer – according to ‘research’ revealed that the correct answer was D: Most slave families were headed by two parents.

Anyone who’s read slave narratives published the Federal Writers Project, or read Frederick Douglass’ account of his years spent in bondage (from which he eventually escaped), or read Booker T. Washington’s ‘Up From Slavery’, or hell, spent time talking to an auntie over the age of 70, you’d know that answer D on this multiple choice quiz was some mayonnaise slathered BULL. It is not unlike that time McGraw-Hill referred to African American slaves as “workers” under its 9th grade textbook discussing patterns of migration.

To refer to a person restrained by the bonds of generational chattel slavery as a ‘worker’ gives room to reimagine that that person had rights and more importantly the capacity to decide whether or not he/she put their efforts towards labor. The word “worker” allows the student to imagine that the laborer had the freedom to determine the conditions under which they worked. None of this was the case. Slaves – human property – were roused for work well before the sun came up and toiled until long after the sun went down. They were not “immigrants”…they were people kidnapped from their native lands and forcibly displaced across the Atlantic. To call an African slave an immigrant is about as accurate as referring to the Trail of Tears a cross-country marathon.

And yet, adherence to these sorts of historical inaccuracies (read: lies) is what separates students from a passing grade and possibly, graduation.

A quick search on slavery’s effects on the strength of familial bonds and how the institution and Jim Crow contributed to the creation of a welfare state will yield some interesting results. I came across at least five right-wing outlets (none of which will I link on my blog) that advance the idea that the institution of slavery honored and fostered strong filial bonds among African Americans and that surge in single parent households is largely due to misguided liberal policies. Did FDR’s New Deal have unforeseen consequences for the poor and Negro populations? Absolutely. But to place blame for the plight of the African American family today solely at the feet of Democrats is ludicrous and disingenuous. The institutions and laws that have contributed to the erosion of the Black family are not linear and are tentacular in nature.

So why this push by the white majority to repaint the scarred image left on the Black family by slavery? The question is rhetorical, of course. History shows Europeans as the conquering victors over almost everywhere they invaded (Ethiopia a noted exception), but it also reveals them to be inhumane barbarians who meted out unspeakable human rights atrocities during their conquests. This truth flies in the face of the romance that white people have told themselves and sold to the people that they’ve dominated over the centuries in the process. ‘Whiteness’ equates to purity, goodness, niceness, heroism and holiness. How therefore could one be white and then separate a child from his mother at the auction block and then go home to nurture one’s own children? How is that goodness? How could one rape a woman while her husband stands helpless outside, privy to every agonizing moment of the attack and still deign to call oneself heroic?

Said George Wallace in his first inaugural speech as Governor of Alabama,

“It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

Notice the language. Southerners, Anglo-Saxon southerners in particular, are referred to as the greatest people that have ever trod the earth. This is a theme that repeats itself throughout the teaching of white history. Let us not forget that President Woodrow Wilson – a staunch supporter of the Ku Klux Klan – referred to the portrayal of completely fictional events in the film The Birth of a Nation as historical fact. Said Wilson, “It is like writing history with lightning.” In the film, Black men were portrayed as lascivious, rape-driven brutes while their white, male Klan counterparts were genteel and valiant. The thousands of unprovoked and documents lynchings, church burnings and rapes of African Americans do not reconcile this portrayal.

Of course, it is easier to deny that any of this ever took place and to rather craft a story that suits the agenda of the oppressor. This tactic is one well adopted by cowards who are unable and unwilling to face the gravity of the sins of their forebears, sins that have benefited them socially and financially. Thomas Jefferson, master of Monticello bears this out. Historians have described him as a man ‘trapped’ in the system of slavery, however any ambivalence he was feeling about the institution and his role in it was soon tucked away in the wake of the exorbitant profits he made as the owner and driver of human chattel. In his book ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’ he says:

Jefferson, a respected statesman and businessman was a revered subject matter expert in his day. His notions about race and observations about human behavior helped inform and shape the future of slavery in the antebellum South. He has been credited with conjuring the idea of the African as both superhuman and subhuman, as a being that is power but whose power is a danger unto himself if not contained and controlled. The Black slave is ‘helpless’ in this way, and it is the white man’s burden to ‘guide’ the African. Jefferson needed to believe this to justify his role as jailer to several generations of families. The language of this narrative may have changed today, but idea remains the same. (See Donald Trump and his repeated references to Law and Order on the campaign trail.)

The white need to believe that slavery did not destroy the familial bonds of an entire population of people who did not request residence in the United States is understandable. The moral obligations to repair what was lost are heavy and the spiritual ones more so. And so it becomes imperative for a professor like Judy Morelock to refer to Frederick Douglass as an “articulate man” when confronted with the reality that he was separated from his mother in his infancy and only saw her 4 or 5 times thereafter than to deal with the meat of that real trauma. The casual observances of a privileged white male concerning disparity and injustice in America carry more weight than the testimonies of those who have had to endure. Because again, in whiteness there is imputed truth and honesty, whereas people of color have the burden of proving that truth. It’s easier to dismiss the anecdotal evidence from slave narratives about husband and wife discovering that they are brother and sister precisely because their parent(s) were sold away to another plantation and they grew up with little-to-no knowledge about their genealogy. Its easier to pretend that the Vagrancy Act of 1866 did not exist because African Americans were desperate in their search for displaced families following the Civil War, but rather because Black people are given to idleness and truancy. And then of course, there is my personal favorite from America’s newest Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, who must’ve been in a coma during conversations about Plessy vs Ferguson and the unique challenges children of color have faced in education from Reconstruction to 3 o’clock this afternoon.

In a White House statement to HBCU presidents, she says: “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

She’s exactly right.

…And then Ma and Pa left the plantation with their earnings from agricultural work and paid out of pocket for the tuition(s) of their 2.5 kids (family planning y’all!) without ever having had to take out a student loan. And then the Daughters of the Confederacy served everyone tea. (Insert quip about white lies here.)

 

 

 

 

RompHims Are the Next Logical Step in Men’s Fashion

Let us be honest with one another: Where men’s fashion is concerned, it’s been a race to (and in many cases, from) the crotch for a very long time. I don’t generally keep a keen eye out for male fashion – primarily because it’s so repetitive and boring – but I did note when hemlines on men’s trousers began to shrink and raise about 3-4 years ago. The look raised many eyebrows, but seemed fairly innocuous.

It’s not as though we expected the look to go from the runway to the mainstream, right? So few of these trends actually make it from the glitz of Fashion Week to the racks of Old Navy.

And yet…this one DID.

Your younger brother’s trousers are now considered “formal” wear.

Nevertheless, we ignored what was up until 2014 considered a faux pas in men’s fashion. The hem of a man’s trousers ought to fall on the bridge of his shoe and that was the end of the discussion! If a few men wanted to disgrace themselves by tossing out this hallowed rule of professional presentation, we’d let them. They were probably slackers who didn’t deserve society’s concern anyway. Now, look! They’ve upped the ante and made as an addendum a close cut to these suit pants. They are called “skinny suits”.

It went mainstream, y’all!

This look was crossing the line of what is acceptable presentation of the male body in public, but we have endured the presence and penetration of the saggy jean for a quarter of a century or better, so perhaps we could make an allowance for this overcorrection in terms of fit.

And then – while we eschewed diligence – along came men’s jeggings…commonly referred to as “meggings”. I have nothing intelligent to add to this point of discussion. Does “GAH?!?!?!” count as an intelligible remark? The picture speaks for itself.

I mean. Really. This is just BEYOND.

Still, the denizens of fashion were not through with us yet. The spring/summer season of 2016 was dominated by the chino: those crotch-hugging trousers with elastic in the ankles. Not to be confused with the utility of a sweat pant which can also feature elastic at the ankles, the chino affords the wearer the respectability of a coffee filter sales man, coupled with the carefree whimsy of a professional skateboarder. When my son’s luggage was lost in transit last year, we were obliged to purchase this item of clothing in several colors including khaki, camo and grey. These were the only cut of trouser available for boys his age, the only other alternative being school uniform pants. However as a boy of stocky build, these booty-hugging trousers made him look more like a frustrated Musketeer than a happy-go-lucky ramp rider.

These “baggy” chinos only work of you have no butt.

And that brings us to the RompHim: rompers for men. People are conflicted about how to take this new sensation, primarily because unless you’re a rock star named Prince, or a tiny English prince, or a dude named Mr. Brown, there’s really no protocol for grown men in rompers.

On one hand, a group of people wholeheartedly reject the idea of RompHims (or BropHims, coming in LV and Gucci print in a ‘hood near you) because it represents the next wave in the deterioration of what many consider definitions of masculinity. On the other, there are many who are excited about all the thigh meat and man bubble that will be on full display as the weather warms up. While we may not be able to agree on whether or not this trend is to be embraced, I think we can all agree that we are all intrigued. And by intrigued, I mean utterly mesmerized. Have you been able to stop thinking about BropHims since you first heard about them? No. Me neither!

So yes, given what has been happening in men’s fashion under our very noses for the past few years, it makes perfect sense that your uncle and/or prospect boo would aspire to show up at the family reunion or graduation in a onesie. This is metrosexuality run amuck. Gone awry. It’s gobbling sixteen different types of steroids. And I am here for it.

Next time we convene, we will discuss what’s new in men’s grooming. In anticipation of that conversation, check out this video of a brother sealing the cuticles of his beard hairs with a flat iron.

I know you *think* you’re ready but you’re not. None of us is.

 

So! What colors will you be wearing your RompHim in this year? I hear there are already ankara prints available. You know Nigerians will never carry last…