There is a Long History of the ‘Nakia Ideology’. I Have Come So That We Might Honor It.

It’s another thought piece centering on Black Panther, y’all! Just ride with me for a sec. I think it will be worth your while.

 

Since the release of Black Panther last week, there have been many conversations (and on certain Sci-Fi fan pages, outright diatribes) about who deserves the title ‘hero’ and ‘liberator’ in the comic epic. The choices are between the violent and despotic Killmonger, and the egalitarian and democratic approach that T’Challa adopts. Lazy and false comparisons between Malcolm X and MLK generally abound. Foes of the film (wryly) point to CIA Ross as the film’s true hero.

“How is a movie named ‘Black Panther’ going to have a CIA agent portrayed as the hero?” they bellyache. “In Oakland, Black Panthers were hunted and dismantled by the See Ahhh Eiiii!”

I have grown weary of pointing on that Agent Ross Baggins was less a hero and more Shuri’s tool than anything else. He only got in on the action after 1) The Wakandans healed them with their tech; 2) Nakia released him from the office where she’d locked him to keep him out of the way and 3) once Shuri guided him through how to maneuver the remote controlled aircraft she ‘dumbed down’ for his use. Being rescued and reluctantly performing a task do not a hero make.

People see what they want to see.

It’s unfortunate that more people have yet to recognize (or acknowledge) whom the film’s true champion of liberation is: Nakia. It is unfortunate, but it is not surprising. Misogynoir and chauvinism are the two most enduring and recognizable pigments that color Black folks’ fight for freedom. All over Africa, we have no “Founding Mothers” because we have yet to honestly honor the labor and blood expended by our Mothers. There has been no Black liberation movement in Africa OR in the Americas that has been successful without the myriad contributions of the Black woman. Yet while the names of MLK, Malcolm X or Kwame Nkrumah are rattled reflexively as people synonymous with the civil rights and de-colonization, the names Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker or Septima Poinsette Clark are not so easily recalled. Key members of the SCLC have admitted that the role of women in the chronicling of the Civil Rights Movement was purposely downplayed or erased. Presenting a nearly exclusive body of men as leaders of the movement would give it more “legitimacy” in the eyes of the white mainstream. Fortunately, Black women have kept all their receipts; centuries of receipts.

One of the consequences of Black Panther has been a rejuvenation of the possibility of bilateral dialogue – and more cooperation – between Africans on the continent and the Diaspora. In our hubris, we consider these conversations as something new. In reality, this was a dream shared by Malcolm, Maya, Nkrumah, Toure & Co…one that fizzled after the crack and coup epidemics took over communities on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a dream that dates back to wistful imaginations of the captives on the first ship carrying away human cargo from West Africa’s shores. There has always been a fantasy (and by Western powers, a fear) of what we could all achieve if we worked together. We’ve flirted with the idea, but never had the opportunity to put hope in unity to action. This is what I’ve seen on Twitter described as the ‘Nakia Ideology’.

Whereas T’Challa felt duty bound to carry out Wakanda’s tradition of isolationism and Killmonger was hell bent on global domination and subjugation, Nakia proposed the more pragmatic path of cooperation through mentorship and cultural immersion and exchange. In fact, we are introduced to Nakia disguised as a kidnapped girl in a Boko Haram hostage situation. In doing so, she has an intimate peek into the lives of every person in the caravan and ultimately steps in to save a young boy forced into war from an encounter with T’Challa’s claws and an early demise. She later tries to make the case to T’Challa that this is course in one that Wakanda ought to commit to: To receive refugees and mentor marginalized and exploited nations on the Wakandan system of government that has kept them stable and prosperous for so many years.

 

Kobby Graham was the one who got me thinking more deeply about Nakia…and more specifically about how little the significance of her contribution to this conversation is.

I have seen people dismiss Nakia because she “asked” T’Challa about considering her approach, rather than choking out and skewering elders like a Real King ™ would.

I was inspired to look up which historical figure I might make Nakia analogous to (since everybody else was doing it) and was pleased – and shocked – to discover that as part of their feminist work, African American women sought to broaden their understanding of international affairs as well as the living conditions of black people in Africa and the Carribean. Beyond understanding, they also sought to influence international affairs. By 1920 the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) formed the International Council of Women of the Darker Races as an adjunct. The stated purpose of this council was to assist in the disseminating information about people of color and to instill racial pride. The group invited speakers from Africa and the Caribbean to tour and give lectures all over America with the aim of educating and dispelling anthropological myths.

Adelaide Casely-Hayford, a Sierra Leonean woman of British, Fanti, and Jamaican Maroon decent was one of the group’s foremost partners. The NACW funded scouting and fact-finding missions in Africa and the West Indies, using that information to galvanize financial support for causes and/or individuals overseas. These women also pressured school superintendents in the US to order books about people in the diaspora. They formed sub-committees to study the shared problems – educational, social, religious and industrial – that Africans Americans and Africans faced.

On both sides of the Atlantic, women were fighting for the concerns and welfare of colonized and marginalized people. After coming to understand the true horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who was herself once a slave trader became a ferocious opponent of all forms of slavery and used her influence to try to eliminate the practice in her region.

Fannie Lou Hamer, who is said to have spoken with as much authority and spellbinding capabilities as MLK taught rural African Americans in her purview to read that they might stand a better chance at registering to vote when confronted with arbitrary literacy tests aimed at blocking their right to do so. For a Negro to exercise his/her right to vote meant that s/he was equal to the white male…an idea that the champions of Jim Crowism merely could not abide.

Like Nakia, the list of women who have shaped history in silence and stealth, often from the shadows is long. They rarely seek out glory. There are some names we will never know, though we will benefit from their influence. Maybe one of them lives in your neighborhood. Maybe you are one such yourself. I beg you to keep a record of those deeds, not for the sake of pride, but so that our descendants will give equal honor to the work of our Mothers. (Looking at you, Nana Darkoa!)

Is there a little known woman who has fought for equality and higher standards? Please share her name in the comments. Tell us all what you love so much about her and why!

 

There Is Dignity In All Work

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

                                                                         – Martin Luther King Jr.

Three days ago I was privy to a conversation that a pair of men in my community were having about a middle school aged boy. He was a sullen, despondent slip of a thing, and became even more so as the discourse about him carried on. He stood motionless, keeping his eyes fixed on the floor.

Finally, the two men stopped talking about him when the more rotund of the pair deigned to address the boy.

“So you want to stop schooling, eh? Why? Do you want to become a flagger by the road side?”

The boy shook his head no, as the men laughed in light mockery. This – I suppose – was some form of male “tough love”: inducing shame as a panacea for a multi-dimensional problem. The boy had confided that he wanted to drop out of school now, rather then return at begin his first year of high school this week. Neither of the men had bothered to investigate how they might resolve the reasons for that decision.

“You are stupid.”

“You will never pass.”

“You are wasting everyone’s time here!”

These were the constant messages that had been drummed into the boy’s head for as long as he could remember; a verbal assault so relentless that it had caused him to give up hope on a future in education. There are very few choices available to a young Black man in South Africa, even with the benefit of an education. The unemployment rate hovers at 26.6%. Without a matric certificate, one’s prospects become even grimmer. Becoming a casual day laborer, a parking attendant, and yes, a roadside flagger in order to earn a wage is a reality for many people in this country.

Is this something to be ashamed of?

When the current president to the United States made his controversial comments about narrowing the number of immigrants from what he called ‘shithole countries’, a fair number of Africans were quick to jump to his defense, eager to demonstrate their rabid endorsement of his statement. A common line of reasoning was that the statement had to be true, because after all, it is only Black Africans and people from other “shithole” countries that travel to the US with all their credentials (or none at all) in order to clean toilets for a living.

One woman – who later admitted that she has never lived or travelled anywhere outside of Ghana – brazenly declared that no American “has ever left their country to go and do menial labor (i.e. clean toilets) in another country. That is not just categorically false, it’s hilariously absurd. But then, that’s the way it generally is, isn’t it? The people who are least informed are the most confident in the space of public discourse and give their uninformed opinions liberally and without hesitation. The aforementioned woman’s uninformed opinion – that an African who travels abroad and for whatever reason is compelled to work in sanitation in order to make ends meet is a lesser person – is not one that exists in a vacuum. In fact, most people harbor similar thoughts about work and wages: That there is an established hierarchy to the type of work one performs for a living, replete with a direct relationship with the respect one ought to be given. In other words, the “lower” the perceived significance of one’s job (like a street sweeper or a flagger), the less respect society affords the people who hold those positions.

This is why the question “What do you do for a living?” is such an uncomfortable one for many people to answer. The sum of our human existence is often judged by three main factors: What we do, where we live and how much we earn. These three things determine our worthiness in the eyes of others. This is why when a confused and disheartened boy confesses a desire to drop out of school, our visceral response is to present him with the horrific notion that the worst consequence of that choice is that he eventually gain employment as a man hired wave a red flag to caution motorists about construction up ahead. That the wage he may earn doing that job offers him enough money to meet his basic needs is inconsequential. He ought to seek to be better than that.

What we often forget while dispensing this type of damaging messaging is precisely what Martin Luther King (and Gandhi) says about labor.

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

The simple and indisputable fact is that we need sanitation workers. We need people to clean toilets in public spaces and sweep our litter-filled streets. We people to wash windows, and haul our garbage – and * gasp * – swing a red flag to warn of dangerous driving conditions ahead. These people make civilized life possible. Can you imagine how your local bus terminal would look without them?

And yet…

How often do we advise beggars, loafers and deadbeats to “Go get a job… Any job!”. And as we admonish them to get off their butts and do something, we impute a sense of shame about accepting jobs meant for unskilled workers. It certainly explains why so many graduates are lounging at home, waiting for something “better” to come along. As a society, we do not encourage the idea that there is dignity in all work, and no one willingly debases himself or herself without extreme cause.

Speaking as a parent, I would like to see a shift in the way we hold these conversations with our children. We can’t continue to shame the honest toil of others as a means of a cautionary tale. I don’t know what will become of this boy. Before that day, I had never seen him before and I doubt I will see him again. I do hope that he receives different messaging about his intelligence and his capacity. I do hope that he begins to earn a sense of self-worth. I hope that when he is grown and begins to take responsibility for his personal welfare, he will somehow come across this quote by Dr. King and perform his duties with a spirit of excellence and pride.

 

 

10 Great Gifts For Tween Boys

Is your little man tired of receiving khakis, hoodies and socks for Christmas? Has exhaustion from exerting yourself all year depleted your creative capacity? Do you want him – like his father- to just be grateful for the gift of refined cotton?? If the title of this post caused your pulse to quicken, knowing that you’ve held off shopping for the perfect gift for that enigmatic group known as “tween boys”, you are not alone. I bid you welcome! Welcome to the Perpetual Procrastinators club! We’ll get you a seat in just a moment.

To answer your unasked question: No. Stone is not yet a tween. He’s (still) 8, and just as mercurial and adorable as the day we brought him home from Northside. All he wants for Christmas is Legos, so I was able to finish his shopping in a record 10 minutes. However, we do have a tween boy staying with us, and it is his presence in our home that has inspired this post. I’ve been at my wit’s end trying to puzzle out the perfect gift for him, working myself into a sweaty frenzy on many a night over this mental exercise. Finally, ‘it’ occurred to me. If you have found yourself in similar, fretful circumstances, I come with good news! There is no perfect gift for tween-to-teen boys. It doesn’t exist. In general, they are beings whose interests and moods shift as frequently as the sandy fields of the Sahara, which means that whatever gift you get today will eventually find some relevance in their life. To quote Peg (of Peg Plus Cat fame), “The problem is solved!”

We’re all trying to raise curious, introspective, responsible young men, right? (That boys just wanna have fun is a given.) The following gift ideas will aid them – and you – in that endeavor without them even knowing it. It’s the equivalent of hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes. Your young man has probably asked for an iPhone or a new tablet, but let’s give ‘em something else to consider. Let’s expand their horizons. Expansion is fun.

A car wash kit

Almost every boy wants a shiny new car. In a few years, he’ll be asking for driving lessons. One day, he may even attempt to “help”you by backing the car out of the garage sans your knowledge or permission. He’s just showing initiative! Initiate him into that carwash life. Give him the tools to help him get his gloss on.

Lord of the Flies

Boys get so many cues that inform them that having/showing emotion somehow demonstrates weakness. William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, is the antidote to that poisonous thinking. If you want to show your tween why empathy is so vital for human survival and success, have him read this book. The cover art alone ought to stir his interest. *shudder*

 

A wallet

By now, all of your relatives have probably stopped trying to figure out what to get the boy for Christmas and have converted their indecision to cash. He’ll need somewhere to store his loot. A snazzy leather wallet is a good place to start.

His Own Grooming kit

You know why? Because No One ever knows where Somebody put mom’s toe nail clippers.

His Own Lotion

Boys and ash go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like ham on burger. And since you probably still have Bed, Bath & Beyond and Body Shop baskets from 2009, there is an abundance of floral, peach and gingerbread in moisture form scattered around the house. It’s no longer ‘cute’ or acceptable for a growing boy to reek of oven baked goods, delectable as they may be. It’s time for Man Mint to take over.

Personal Popcorn Maker

Every boy should know how to cook something. He’s mastered eggs. Now he can feed the family on movie night, too. Pressure’s off of you!

His First Drone 

Drones are controversial – what with highway patrol using them to track speed and swell municipal revenue from issued tickets – but darn it if they aren’t fun to fly! At $35, this TOZO is a great beginners option for any kid fascinated with the world of aviation…and worrying the neighbors.

Protection From The Tundra Outside

You’re always telling him to cover his head before he goes outside. Well, now he actually might if he thinks he can give someone a fright in the process.

Portable Bike Repair Kit 

Somebody got a flat? He’ll be the hero of the cul-de-sac!

Virtual Reality

I admit: I initially scoffed at this gift when I saw it trending online. If *EYE* have to be confronted with the horrors and rigors of reality on a day-to-day basis, why should any kid get to escape? But then, that’s the point. They’re kids. They ought to be able to retreat into a world of fantasy, and slipping into their own virtual reality may just let him do that.

Don’t let him hang out in VR too long, though. There’s a car that needs washing. 😉

 

Did these gift ideas help guide you to your next last minute shopping dash? I hope so! They provided a breakthrough for me. I think our tween will be very happy come Christmas (or Kwanzaa, depending on the delivery schedule) morning. Click on the images for links to where you can purchase these items on Amazon. If you have Prime, shipping is free! 

For My Kids: Develop Your Own Safe Space By Interrogating the Truth

‘Bullying’ isn’t just a 21st century buzzword that is strewn about like bunting at a state fair – it’s a real social scourge that affects millions of children worldwide, every day. Bullying has measurable and serious consequences, including diminished self-esteem, depression and suicide. It’s not something any one of us should take lightly, either as the parents of the perpetrators, or the victims. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what many stakeholders in various segments of our society do: make light of the complications that come as accessories with bullying.

Children are routinely given mixed messages about bullying. On the one hand, schools fling open their doors for anti-bullying campaigners, equipped with colorful stickers and slogans to aid with imprinting their message in the minds of young learners. On the other, children who find themselves victimized are told to “get over it”, with some adults going as far as to suggest that bullying may in fact be beneficial to victims.

“I was ‘bullied’ when I was a kid, and it made me tougher.”

“The real world is hard, and the earlier kids learn how to deal with it, the better it will be for them!”

One has only to take a quick glance at the world around us to know that the status quo and the old way of doing this have not been a big help to us. The crises in Libya, Syria and in pockets of the United States are all a result of people investing more time in denigrating one another, talking at each other instead of to each other. If we called bullying what it really is – verbal abuse and physical assault – we might take it more seriously. That this behavior is exhibited by children as young as 7 or 8 ought to alarm us further.

When we moved to South Africa, I was comforted by the knowledge that some of the staff at our new primary school do recognize that there is a culture of bullying in portions of the student ranks and committed to me to watch out for my kids. It was one of the first conversations I had with a member of the administration, and on the very first day of school.

“Some of our kids can be vicious bullies,” she said. “I will look out for your kids. They must come to my office if they are made to feel uncomfortable.”

As a family, we were not unfamiliar with the theme of bullying. It’s something that was regularly tackled (almost worn out) in our Girl Scout meetings, during school assemblies and on television. I feel lucky that our children were able begin their formative years in environments that fostered respect for one’s self and others. At the same time, it may have also served as a disadvantage. Such a “soft” environment did not prepare them for what the Auntie at the school tried to warn me about.

Over all, the kids have been lucky not to have been picked on at school. Early Aya was picked on for not having “proper” school shoes by some 4th grader. She was wearing black Calvin Klein ballet flats instead of those gawdawful inky, clunky clogs the kids are made to wear. That a boy would take such interest in her shoes was…odd…it said much about his upbringing, but we bought the ugly clogs to keep his unwanted attentions at bay. (There’s a sad lesson in that.) The other girls have had no incidents at school because of the swiftness of their clap back game. Stone, has not been so lucky. He has been the subject of repeated bullying. The cause? His weight.

My son outweighs every kid in his age group. As a 2nd grader, he is just as big as some 5th graders. Despite his size, he is a gentle giant. He helps kids carry their belongings to class. He was constantly taking gifts to his teacher. When he feels courageous enough, he appeals for calm on the playground. He’s not a perfect kid, but he’s a good kid with a soft heart. This also makes him a target. There have been a number of afternoons where I’ve picked him up from carpool when he’s narrated stories of another kid calling him “fat boy” or telling him that he’s “so big that he can’t even fit in a garage”. A first grader pushed him down the hill and yelled, “Get up, fat boy!” as Stone lay stunned on the ground. We’ve always taught the kids not to respond violently to a provocation, but Liya is not a good student. The pushed the kid back and screamed at him for touching her brother. I have never been so happy as to have raised such a poor student.

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One afternoon, I had to take the kids on a drive and level with them. The truth is, I said, there are always going to be people who say cruel things about you, who try to take advantage of you, who will try to use you. That’s not just something that happens now. It’s going to happen when you get to high school. It will happen when you go to college. It will definitely happen when you become an adult and enter the workplace. People are going to try to make you feel like you don’t have good ideas, that your clothes aren’t as nice as theirs or make you feel bad for the things you don’t have or the way you look. They’re gonna say things like “You’re so fat you can’t fit in a garage.” What YOU have to do is ask yourself if any of that is true. If it is true, then you have the power to fix it. If it’s not, then you’re dealing with an idiot. Most times, you will be dealing with idiots.

They nodded when I asked them if they understood. I know this is a lesson we will have to repeat again, because even as adults get trapped by this snare. Failing to interrogate the truth of a matter, particularly about ourselves, is a common let down. We can all do better.

There’s a quote that my friend Nanny McPhee used to have on her email signature:

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself “Is it true?”

At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

~ Rumi

 

For my children: If you ever have the opportunity to read this one day, remember – Let our ears also serve as gates to interrogate words before we allow them into our soul. Ask yourself if what is being spoken about you is true; and if not, discard it. For in truth, there is freedom… and that is is safest space of all.

 

 

I’m Terrified That My Daughters Will Identify With a Hashtag like #MeToo One Day

I’ve been sitting on this post for a week or better. The subject matter is one that people like myself – empaths – would much rather leave to our darkest imaginations than speak about, the risk being that the undesired event may come to pass. But if you’ve lived a day over 20, you know that refusing to speak about something does not guarantee its preclusion; and so it is with unease that I write about the hash tag #MeToo and all the sentiment surrounding it.

#MeToo has been trending online for close to two weeks now. The brain-child of Tarana Burke in 2006, Me Too was created to re-empower victims of sexual assault with their own voices and to let them know that they do not suffer alone in the face of this specific tragedy that so many women and girls are forced to carry silently. The hash tag went viral when Alyssa Milano encouraged all women and girls who had been victims of either assault or harassment to demonstrate the numbers simply using #MeToo. Many women went further by sharing harrowing stories of being assaulted by driving school instructors, relatives, co-workers, managers…essentially men that occupy the same spaces we do on a regular basis.

There is a misconception that the majority of rapes and sexually assaults are committed by strangers…some spooky man hiding in the bushes or behind a dumpster, waiting to attack hapless victims. The reality is far more sobering. 3 of 4 rapes is committed by someone known to the victim. A fair number of cell-owning teens (12–17) say they have received sexually suggestive nude/seminude images of someone they know via text. An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors.

In short, we need to invest just as much time – if not more – instructing our children about the possible dangers those familiar to us pose as we do ‘stranger danger’. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant to imagine that your favorite wise cracking uncle/cousin could do anything to debase your child, but the proof is in the statistics. And as shocking as they are, they only tell part of the story. Many incidents of molestation go unreported for the fear of “tarnishing the family name” or for the sake of the perpetrator, who may have a family of his own. We must consider his wife and children and what they would endure, should uncle be sent to jail after all.

I have three daughters with three very different personalities. I don’t know which of these an abuser would find most ‘attractive’ and therefore attempt to exploit. Is it my shy, sweet girl? Is it my fearless wildling? What about the unrelenting smugness of the third? Already my eldest child has experienced street harassment (while at her school, no less!) when a passing man hurled suggestive obscenities at a group of her friends through the chain link fence on the playground. No surprise when she cussed him out so severely that her friends had to pull her back and hush her. I think I still owe her ice-cream for her response. It’s the way I would’ve responded, but it does not come without its dangers. A man with a frail ago would easily follow her after school, or return with his friends to teach such an impudent young girl a lesson, when he was in fact the instigator. God, I detest toxic, fragile masculinity.

Stats say that 1 in 6 American women been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. In South Africa where we live now, an average of 110 people are raped every day, a number that includes a significant number of men. It was reported on SABC that South African men are raped at a rate five times that of the global average. Naturally, this makes me anxious for my son as well, and as he gets older, our conversations will certainly center on sensitivity to male victims of rape and molestation and how to show compassion and support for men/boys in his circle who have a diminished degree of separation from assault.

I worry, but what can I do?

Well, for one thing I can prepare my children by talking to them. I confided my fears in my friend, Lydia, who has “raised” younger cousins and who advised this:

“Make sure your children feel like they are safe to talk to you about anything. (How cliché, I retorted!) Demystify sex. Tell them about your own experiences and prepare them for the kinds of things men will say to lure them. Flattery is a powerful tool, and whether we like to admit it or not, we all enjoy that kind of attention at some point. But whatever they are feeling or are going through, they MUST feel secure in talking to you about it.”

It was sage advice, but it was good. Perhaps if this sort of advice had been dispensed a century or so ago, we might have lower numbers of assault today. Perhaps if our forebears had been more intentional about protecting victims and punishing perpetrators who abuse their power, authority and position, we might’ve mitigated the rates of assault. I ponder on these things because as I scrolled through my timeline, it nearly broke me to see #MeToo simply posted on the statuses of two women I adore, both in their 70s. It was a sobering reminder that the prevalence of assault has a long, enduring history, affecting those whom you might never expect and shudder to imagine having to endure such trauma. Yet another friend who’d also posted confided privately that though she did not share the details of her repeated assaults, posting #MeToo was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. That too was a sobering reminder that for all the thousands of stories that were shared, thousands more were not.

Still, I hold out hope that we are doing better by this next generation of girls, at least in this corner of the world. The other day, my son came home looking very self-satisfied. I asked him how his day was at school.

“Ugh. The bullies were really acting up today,” he said with the air of man who’d been fighting fires for 12 hours or better.

“Oh really? What happened?”

“This kid named Johan* was bothering all the girls. Hitting them and calling them names. I told him to stop because it wasn’t nice. I tried to stop him. One of the girls he was calling names was just minding her own business, and she went over to him and hit him back. Then all the girls hit him. Then he ran off.”

“Wow! I see! Did they get in trouble?”

“No,” he said. “Because it was after school anyways. It’s Johan’s fault. It’s like when you poke a beehive while the queen bee is making eggs and all the guard bees come out and attack you. Why would you do something so stupid? Bother the hive while the queen is making her eggs? What’s for lunch?”

Why indeed?

 

How did you react to #MeToo? Do you think the viral hash tag will make a difference in policy, advocacy or real life relationships? Discuss.

 

What Playing Monopoly With My Children Taught Me About My Own Mother

In late January we moved the TV from the game room upstairs to the bottom floor in order to accommodate guests who would be occupying the suite where we once gathered as a family. When I say “we”, I really mean “they”: my children. The soft glow emitting from the television has long been a comforting presence in my children’s life. Unlike their mother, television doesn’t tell them that they’re talking too loudly or ask them if they heard what it was saying. Television makes no demands of their time and talent (like taking out the trash or picking up their toys), and yet they have always been willing to devote more and more time and energy to it. I am not ashamed to admit that there was a brief stretch in time when PBS and later, Cartoon Network, babysat my four spirited kids. It is what it is. But something happened when the set got moved to a different location in the house – a crossing of some wires, perhaps – and then one day, without warning, DSTV floated out of our lives like Mary Poppins drifting slowly, steadily and permanently away by the power of her magical umbrella.

(Speaking of umbrellas, have you read my hilarious book ‘Madness & Tea’? If not, you should.)

Looking for ways to find this book? Click ME! I know the way!

Now that cable is no longer a fixture in our lives, we are forced to interact with one another. We are compelled to find different ways to entertain ourselves. My husband has indicated no inclination that he’s willing to sort out the problem (probably motivated by the R500 we’re saving a month) and so it’s often left to me to contend with the oft-repeated phrase, “I’m booooorrrred!!!!” from little lips and doleful eyes. I kid you not it’s in those moments I’d rather be convalescing, post brain surgery.

We’ve just come off of a long holiday weekend in celebration of Worker’s Day. In those five days, the kids discovered an unpacked box of board games in the garage. They asked if they could bring them into the house.

“Why not?” I replied, watching them scurry off with two playmates in tow. A smile played about my lips. It was almost like watching my own childhood unfold in front me all over again. Ahhh, those simpler days when kids were kids, rather than programmed consumers of lurid pop culture and whatever it is that supposed to pass as food these days. Soon they re-emerged from the garage, arms laden with games we’d either purchased or inherited a decade or more prior.

“Yoh! Many of these games are brand new,” exclaimed a boy named Jordi, one of the kids’ generally more enthusiastic friends.

“That’s because we rarely get a chance to play board games,” I explained. Which was not entirely true, but I saw no reason to explain my aversion to interacting with my children on that level to t a 14 year old.

“Can you teach us to play, Auntie Malaka? I’ve forgotten the rules.”

I smiled benevolently at the six sweet faces staring expectantly at mine.

“Of course I can,” I trilled.

As the kids unpacked the brand new board and accessories, it suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten the rules to Monopoly as well. The last I played the game was in 1997 during a church retreat. A crazed girl named Cecily was such a ferocious shark at the game that it put me off Monopoly completely. I swore I would never play it again. Shuddering as I recalled the memory of that particular spring afternoon, I shook off the vestiges of that vow and read the rules aloud for the edification of all.

As the two oldest kids distributed $1500 in Monopoly money to each of the players, a more pleasant memory took the place of my earlier negative reaction. My mother had taught my siblings and I how to play Monopoly when we were all still relatively young. The sight of green, yellow and white ‘dollar’ bills brought to mind the sound the sound of my mother’s soothing voice encouraging us each to buy property. (My mother’s voice was always very soothing whenever she was talking about the acquisition of property and money. Alternatively, it took on a more shrill quality whenever there was waste or loss.) The little deeds printed on cardstock brought back flashes of exited laugher elicited from my siblings and I felt whenever we announced that a player had to pay us rent for landing on our property. I imaged that my children and I would share similar moments as we settled down to play this game that required shrewdness and savvy.

Yes, dear reader, you may begin smirking now.

“I want to be the dog!”

“No. EYE want to be the dog!”

“Okay. Fine. Fine! You be the dog then. I’ll just be the horse. …Who took the horse?”

“Ugh!”

“Wait. Why am I in jail? How do I get out of jail?”

“No fair. I don’t want to pay her rent!”

“Oh my GOD! You have to move six spaces! 5 plus 1 is SIX!”

“Stop rolling the dice onto the floor!”

“But I don’t have any more 50s. I can’t pay the taxes. If I give the bank this 500 bill, I won’t have any more money! (You’ll get change back…) Really? Yay!!! I get $450!”

20 minutes. That’s how long I lasted. 20 minutes! It was in those moments and those following that I discovered something about my mother: In this regard, she is a much better woman than I.

My mother played many rounds of Monopoly with us, some bouts stretching for hours. Monopoly is the never-ending story. The only way a game of Monopoly ends is when one or more players eventually goes bankrupt, all the players eventually lose interest, or that ONE player brings the game to a jarring end by bursting into tears. I left the game by handing my second born all my cash and deeds, and as I should have anticipated, the game ended a 15 minutes after I bowed out when my youngest burst into tears.

To quote Donald Trump, it was a disaster.

It takes a peculiar sort of parent to guide her children through the crucible that is this Parker Brothers creation. Monopoly requires the player to develop a ruthlessness bordering on sadism. These are not traits that we look to instill in children, and yet my mother patiently and methodically made sure that we understood and enjoyed playing this game. And for that, I thank her. Without saying it, it was her way of informing us that this capitalist world we inhabit is a cruel, unjust place. There are always going to be people who try to screw you at every turn. Some of those people may be your family. Be unswindleable. Stay ready!

Had I been a better student, I would have had the stamina to train my own kids in the dark arts of Monopoly. But I am weak and I fear I have been defeated by those first 20 minutes. When I am braver and ready to strip them of their childlike innocence, we shall revisit the endeavor.

I tip my top hat to you, mother.

 

 

Have you cried during a game of Monopoly? It’s okay to admit it if you have. Go ahead…admit it in the comments below. We won’t judge you. Okay, we WILL, but it won’t be  too harshly.

How Do You Cope With People Walking Out Of Your Life Without An Explanation?

Friday nights are when Nadjah catches up with her friends back in Atlanta. As her mates are preparing to finish up sixth grade, she has just started the second term of seventh. This is a hard time for all of us, but Nadjah most especially. We’re dealing with puberty, popularity and what seems to be a never-ending cycle of parting ways with people whom we’ve held dear for years. It is that last concern that disquieted my daughter enough for her to come and seek my advice this Friday evening. It would appear that certain ones of her friends no longer wanted to have any contact with her, and she was distraught. Now that my daughter is a preteen and therefore less inclined to speak to me and more inclined to seek sullen solitude, I wanted to make the best of this rare opportunity. When she walked into the room, inquiring whether she could ask me a question, I sat up and smiled broadly, careful not to appear too eager.

“Have you ever had anybody walk out of your life without any explanation?” she asked. Her voice was earnest and shaky.

I laughed. Not because the question was silly or amusing, but because laughter is the reaction that is often elicited from me when I recognize the irony of a situation.

“I have people walk out of my life without any explanation all the time.” I tried to be measured and serious in my response. Losing friendships is a new sensation for her, whereas for me, it’s old hat. It’s like the first time you have an menses induced accident in math class and have to walk around school with your friend’s cardigan tied around your waist for the remainder of the day. You’re mortified and embarrassed. However, by the time you get to my age, you’re threatening to free-bleed all over public transportation, office chairs and the steps of City Hall. Some events no longer faze you after you’ve matured past a point in your life.

“As a matter of fact,” I continued, “I will probably have someone walk out of my life this week!”

Her question caused me to reflect on the numerous friendships I’ve lost in the last six years in particular. I have had relationships broken off with me without a word and also have discarded a few wordlessly. I draw the same conclusion from either circumstance.

“How did it make you feel” Nadjah asked. “How did you feel when someone you were so close to just stopped talking to you for no reason?”

“In the beginning, it was hard,” I admitted. “It hurt a lot. But by the time you get to 40, you kinda get used to it. People are going to walk in and out of your life all the time…and so will you.”

“But you’re not 40 yet,” she pointed out.

“Hush up and learn the lesson,” I retorted.

The conclusion I have drawn about people walking out of your life without an explanation is this: If you are willing to break a relationship with someone whom you’ve called a considered a friend without taking the time to seek reconciliation, then that person probably wasn’t a true friend anyway. If the effort of making a call or sending a text to say, “What you said/did really hurt me and here’s why” is not worth the kinetic energy to you, then that was never a friend to begin with.

We all go through seasons with our relationships – be they romantic, filial or cordial – that go through storms. Because we care about the people with whom we share some form of intimacy, the first reaction to a perceived slight is to say, “Hey! What you did wasn’t cool.” And if that person values those bonds of affection, their general response will be to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

We do this not because human beings are good, but because we’re selfish. We like how having that other person in our space makes us feel. We like to feed off of their skills, the banana they never seem to want in their lunch box or tingly feeling the thought of them elicits long after we’ve left their presence. All friendships are based on a need that the other person meets and therefore are all selfish endeavors. When that person stops meeting a specific need for you, or if you’ve determined that that gift is not requirement enough to maintain your affections, it is that same selfishness that will motivate you to break fellowship without a backwards glance or a single word.

Like I said, I’ve perpetrated this dastardly act, but I’ve been on the receiving end with far more frequency. When someone whom you’ve loved – genuinely loved for who they were – decides that you’re no longer good enough to be considered a sister/friend, it can have a devastating effect. But as I told my daughter, you get used to it the older you get. In a sick way, you come to expect it…especially when friendships are formed in their 30s and beyond. Unlike those bonds that are formed in first grade, the ones that you think are going to last forever, you have an understanding that these new friendships are provisional. Remember when you thought you were going to marry the first guy you dated? Yeah…We’re 30+ now. We know that most dating endeavors are not going to culminate in marriage unless he’s a really special guy who’s really committed.

There’s a big word: Commitment. Kids my daughter’s age are usually fiercely committed to each other. It’s why they form cliques and alliances, because everyone wants to belong to something/someone/some cause to believe in at that stage in their lives. That changes when you’re older. Yes, we believe in causes, but most of us aren’t going to wed ourselves to some newfangled ideology. That’s why young people are always out there marching on the frontlines, while the over 40 crowd is sitting at home watching the revolution on Google. We’ve had the commitment wrung out of us.

But back to friendships.

My favorite example of commitment in friendship is the one shared between Frodo and Sam. Samwise Gamgee was without a shred of doubt a far better friend than Frodo was to him. Through Frodo’s One Ring induced mood swings where he put a knife to Sam’s throat, almost let him drown, told him to bugger off when Gollum framed him for eating all the lembas bread and beat him in the face when he refused to throw the One Ring into the fire, Sam stood by him because he’d made a promise to do so and was committed. And you know what Sam’s reward was after all that? Frodo left him. Left him and went with the Elves to whatever distant shore they needed to go to in order to live eternal Elvish life. Unreal! But as Madea said in one of her numerous movies, “Chile, when somebody is ready to walk out of your life, sometimes you gotta let ‘em. You just gotta let folks go!”

What my daughter has to decide is if she’s going to be a Frodo or Samwise in her relationships. Personally, I prefer the Gandalf route. All these annoying little Hobbits running around here breaking my fireworks. Humph. I’m just going to jump into a fire pit and DIE on you. Maybe I’ll see you in the next life, but Imma be someone else when we next meet!

I ain’t running through no more caves and ish with y’all. BYE!

 

Beyond Otiko: Thoughts on Rape, Responsibilities and Roles

In Matthew 11:15, Jesus spoke to the multitude of all the prophecies concerning John the Baptist and the fulfillment of the law. He exhorted those who had gathered in his presence saying, “He who has ears, let him hear!” I interpret the tone of the phrase as coming from a man who was weary of repeating himself on an issue that should have been done and settled, given the remarkable life John had led…the fruits of which the people had had the opportunity to witness. Nevertheless, and despite the signs and wonders and evidence, there were still those who doubted the word of the Lord regarding his mission to fulfill the law and John’s mandate to prepare the way. They rejected the call to repentance. The people did not have ears to hear because they were wedded to the old information they had been indoctrinated with. They were dumb to the truth for no other reason than they could not bear to open themselves up to the possibility that their belief system was flawed.

So it is with many philosophies that guide our lives. So it is also with our beliefs about rape. Who has an ear to hear?

Fresh off the heels of her troubling remarks at a Speech and Prize Giving Day at an all girls’ high school, Otiko Djaba Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection went on to double down on her position wherein she drew a correlation between attire and incidents of rape, despite the fact that research and evidence show the contrary. Studies show that the cultures with the most rigid views and laws that police women’s bodies have the highest incidents of rape, globally. Furthermore, a 2013 United Nations-funded survey of more than 10,000 men, the most common reasons for rape included sexual entitlement, seeking of entertainment and as a punishment. Masculinity, dominance over women and participation in gangs were noted as associated factors in the report. This is in direct contradiction to the to the advice was giving as mother to her children and that she was speaking to her “sisters and children”.

I’m a mother as well, and this is neither information for advise that I would ever give my children – male or female – because it reinforces stereotypes about a woman’s worth and the clothing choices she makes day by day. It is “advice” that serves as an excuse to absolve men of their responsibility for the crime that is rape and sexual assault. And thirdly, it ignores the real reason men…and women prey on victims. They do it because they CAN.

This matter goes beyond Otiko Djaba, a woman who won early praise for her confidence and her unbending position on issues under her purview. The world needs more confident women in positions of power; however there is a point where confidence becomes conceit. Otiko Djaba is teetering dangerously close to the latter, and there is no room for vain gloriousness in a ministry charged with the protection of children. If one has erred, one must seek wisdom, regroup and be prepared to do better in the future. Otiko Djaba has shown no indication that she’s prepared to take any of these steps, the consequences of such failure will have negative repercussions that ripple throughout the culture. She says she is pleased that her utterances have “sparked a conversation about who we are”, but that’s where her imagination stops. Ghanaians are always talking about who we are. At what point do we begin talking about who we want to become?

Really, do we want to be a nation that raises weak-minded men and timid women neither of whom can trust themselves or each other, or are we going to strive for a time where we grow in strength, character and co-operation? At some point, we must eschew this dogged pursuit of mediocrity that is guiding the nation – and its citizens – to ruin, and pursue a course of enlightenment. That begins in large part with listening…something as a culture we fail abysmally at.

In preparing to write this post, I was compelled to review global statistics on rape, as well as the myriad circumstances under which rape occurred. I also took the opportunity to talk to a few members of a demographic that goes largely ignored whenever the topic of rape and victims comes up: African men.

Contrary to what those in moral authority would have us believe, rape seldom has anything to lust or failure to control it. Rape is a weapon – a tool to exert dominance and control over a person whom one considers inferior. It’s been an effective method to demoralize one’s enemies during times of war and unrest. When the Janjaweed went on a violent genocidal rampage through Darfur, part of their strategy included rape with the aim of ethnic cleansing. It was methodical and intentional and had nothing to do with the length of the skirt of any woman in the region. South Africa currently holds the record for the highest number of reported rapes (an average of 500,000 cases a year), crimes that include corrective rape (i.e. a sick attempt to turn same gender loving women straight), gang rape, baby rape and rape of the elderly. Consider also the case of Theo, the Black youth worker in France who was violently sodomized with a baton during a police baton…a rape that the unit deemed an “accident”.  Rape is about humiliation and control, not lust and desire. Let those who have ears hear and understand that rape is a very black and white issue. Without the element of consent, any sexual contact with another human being is considered an assault, and using “provocative attire” as an excuse is no excuse at all. Do you know how many drivers provoke me on the road with their incompetence? Is a failure to yield then an excuse for me to get out of my car and grab ‘em in the crotch?

The frustrating part remains that there is no definitive demarcation for what falls under the category of rape. There is no uniformity. Under federal definitions of rape, Brock Turner would have received a much longer and harsher sentence. However the jurisdiction in which he was tried defines rape as penal penetration. Turner violated his incapacitated victim with his fingers and was released within mere months. There needs to be uniformity in the definition of rape if we are to get true justice for victims. Having a standard will also eliminate confusion for those people who cannot wrap their heads around the idea of consent.

But back to the Gender Minister and Black and African men.

There is a group of men who live with silent and suppressed guilt and shame. They are fathers and husbands and by all accounts live normal lives. You know them. You may even be one of them. They go to work, maintain relationships, discuss current events with bravado and so on. But if you have the opportunity to have an honest conversation with these men, a fair number will admit that their first sexual encounter(s) were not consensual or that they had an acquaintance whose first encounter was coerced in some way.

“I would not say the first time I had sex, ‘I’ was having sex,” one man explained. “I would say sex was being done to me.”

“My mother used to leave me with the house help when I was 7 or 8 years old. As soon as my mom would leave she would pull my pants down and start sucking my penis,” said another.

“I know several of my friends who used to have sex with their baby sitters.” He continued with a smile, “But you know…when you’re 10 years old, you think that’s great!”

“By the time I was 12, all of my friends had had sex…and it wasn’t with someone our own age. It was usually an older woman.”

*source apa.org

My son turns 8 in May, and I can’t imagine someone touching him this way. It moves me to violence just to think about it. So what makes the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection’s utterances so shocking is not the content itself, but rather the source. To be so willfully obtuse about an issue that has so much breadth and depth – an ignored portion of which can be uncovered in the span of 30 minutes if you would just take the time – is not befitting of someone in that role. Madam Djaba likes to talk a lot about rights and responsibilities, but I think it would behoove us all if she spoke more about her responsibilities in her role. The misogynist in the street can almost be forgiven for his ignorance. She cannot be. Her statement that girls attract unwanted attention and rape is one laced in violence, and we cannot have a ministry guided and staffed by people who permit and excuse violence against any segment of society and then advocates that victims look inward to see what part they played in their own victimization. That goes for Ghana. That goes for anywhere.

People (men) often ask why rape is such an “emotional” topic for us. Invariably, someone will patronizingly advise us to calm down during the course of the conversation. This powerful scene from the Netflix series Luke Cage accurately depicts to sort of baseline rage that survivors of sexual abuse carry with them. See what happens to Cottonmouth after he accuses his cousin of “wanting it”.

 

 

A true “mother and sister” would recognize that there are a lot of injured people of both genders walking around in broad day light, trying to do the best they can while managing the burden of violation. They would listen, and then take than information to implement real solutions. A true “brother and father” would do the same. It’s time to start addressing perpetrators of rape and stop diverting responsibility onto the victims because it’s easier and those charged with protection are too lazy to do otherwise. We need someone who is going to be a voice in the wilderness, who will speak to those who have an ear to hear and carry a fresh word into their communities. And if that task too difficult for her, then Otiko Djaba is not the mother we need.

Everything About Jung-a Kim Hitting the Deck Screamed “Mom”. And It Is Hilarious.

By now you’ve most likely seen the hysterical video of Robert Kelly being interrupted by his two cherubian children in the middle of a very serious interview with the BBC. If you haven’t, you absolutely have to watch the video of the incident before we carry on.

 

 

The man being interviewed by the BBC is Robert E. Kelly. He is a political science professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University. The woman who came crashing into the room like a Looney Toons character is Jung-a Kim. She is his wife and mother to the two little children. The video is a testament to the very real – and often dismissed – hazards of working from home when there are small children present.

If you’ve been following this story, will also have seen that the warmth and glow of the unanimous amusement we shared in globally was quickly doused by a healthy deluge of shame. It appears that many people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, mistook Jung-a Kim for the nanny. It was an unfortunate misnomer. Of course (and I say ‘of course’ because the average understanding of what racism is and how it works is about as accurate as Donald Trump’s understanding of how the presidency in a democracy works), these people were quickly labeled as racists. That’s what it takes to be a “racist” these days: To see an Asian woman in the presence of a white male and children and (wrongly) assume she’s the help. To do so certainly betrays a level of unconscious bias, and it certainly demonstrates that anyone who would leap to that conclusion needs to get out of the house with much more frequency, but it certainly doesn’t betray a sense of sinister superiority that oppresses one group for the benefit of another. I think it just merely shows how unobservant we’ve become as a society in general.

Any parent who has worked in the home, or functions as the primary caregiver for their children in the home can probably identify with Jung-a in that moment. We all know what she was thinking because her body language was screaming her thoughts at us. I’ve seen some people defend their position for mistaking her for the nanny due to the clumsy way that she extracted her children from the room, followed by her graceless exit. They said that she was likely crippled by the fear of losing her job for allowing the children to interrupt the broadcast. These people either don’t engage with the real world because they 1) spend too much time on their mobile devices or 2) don’t have a diverse group of friends that includes stay-at-home moms/dads or 3) have hired help in their homes that they treat very poorly. Jung-a Kim’s bodily motions were not driven by fear, but rather by a matrix of passions that included embarrassment, panic, disbelief, urgency and humility.

Here her husband was, an invited guest on THE British Broadcasting Corporation to discuss the political upheaval in Korea. He was brought on to provide an expert’s voice and perspective on an issue of international importance. There was probably a discussion the night before about how the day was going to go for the few minutes that constituted the duration of the interview.

Robert: Bae, you’re going to make sure the kids are quiet during my interview with the BBC, right?

Jung-a: Oh yes. Of course! It will only be 15 minutes long at the most, right? I can make them some snacks and put them in front of the TV/Legos/Whatever Tool Mom has handy to distract her kids.

Robert: Perfect. Hey! Do you think you can help me position the camera for the video? The office is a little drab and I want to give the best impression.

Jung-a: I think you should have the map of the world as your backdrop. It makes you seem professorial.

Robert (laughs): That’s good, because I AM a professor.

Jung-a (giggles girlishly): Tee hee!!!

The two drift off to sleep, clinging to each other in a warm embrace. What a lucky family they are…two healthy children, a happy home and a father who is sought after by a huge international news organization for his opinion. Jung-a goes to sleep, swelling with pride and dreams of the great feats her family will accomplish.

And then, the next day, to her absolute horror…in burst the children… to interrupt her knowledgeable husband in the midst of his erudite delivery on a very serious topic. The family’s honor and dignity is at stake! She’s failed to keep her end of the bargain and keep the kids out of sight and earshot. Just as a nanny (or any other adult) would have done, she rushes in to rectify the situation by grabbing the kids and extracting them from the room. But that wall slide and drop to the floor? That was a TOTAL mom move. I’m cracking up just thinking about it. Give me a moment. AHAHAHAHAA!

This can only end badly, but I gotta pull out all the stops to catch these here kids!

I’ve observed nannies. You see, a nanny would have simply walked out and closed the door behind her, dignity in tact. Mothers in the presence of their children are different creatures. Jung-a was trying to make herself disappear from the camera frame, so as not to take away her husband’s shine in the moment. I’m telling you what I know, because I’ve been there are before and have watched my stay-at-home friends react in similar fashion when the kids provide sideshow entertainment. You haven’t tested the limits of your professional demeanor until you’ve had to negotiate contracts from the confines of your coat closet; or organize a national event from the obscure blackness of your garage (I see you, MX5!); or hit that mute button so you can hiss at your children TO. JUST. SHUT. UP! only return to your conference call with pre-hiss professional demeanor, as though nothing had happened.

And video conferencing is even worse. Video conferencing from home – from any unregulated environment, really – has no guarantee of control. Jung-a Kim’s presence was supposed to be that guarantee, and she failed in the discharging of her duty. That’s why she turned into a puddle of good on the floor and tried to flow away. Hilarious!

 

*****

What do you make of this whole “You’re a racist because you thought the wife was a nanny” narrative? Do you agree with it? Have you ever had to save your family’s dignity by sacrificing your own? Discuss!

What If Rashida ‘Black Beauty’ Is Exactly What Her Parents Raised Her To Be?

The topic of Rashida’s sudden and meteoric rise to Internet fame is not something I’d planned to discuss, but a handful of people reached out to me and asked me for my thoughts privately and asked when I’d share those thoughts publicly, so here it is. I beg you not to take this as the final word on the issue, as there are 1001 ways to discuss Rashida’s rise (some people think that it will be her eventual demise) and it’s good that we listen to all points of view….Or at least to those views coming from persons who honestly have Rashida’s best interest at heart.

For those unfamiliar with the 15-year-old Internet sensation, she’s a junior high school graduate who made a diss video dedicated to her ex-boyfriend, Kushman. She describes – in graphic detail – how she got him open, as Kushman was apparently a sexual novice, while she served as his skillful tutor for however long they were dating. As fate would have it, he took that newfound skill and began to apply it to his latest paramour, Abigail.

imagesArmed with only her cellphone and a data bundle, Rashida responded in one of the myriad ways that the gender does when faced with heartbreak. Clad in all black and a pair of blinged out flip-flops, Rashida stood in a compound with her camera raised above her head so that Kushman – and anyone else watching – could get a glimpse of what he had stupidly let go of. Judging from the number of kwasia’s (translation: foolish/idiot/stupid) dropped during her tirade, Rashida surmised Kushman to be the worst deadhead dolt she’d ever met indeed. After all, she is THE Rashida ‘Black Beauty’.

Let me remind you, she’s 15 and only has the equivalent of a 7th grade education.

Her videos were so widely watched that some area boys seized on the momentum and sampled a portion of her tirade, turning it into the background for a new song called “Malafaka.” (Yes, I’m aware of the close resemblance it bears to my name, thank you very much.) It’s a mispronunciation of the English words “mother” and “shut yo’ mouth.” In fact, Rashida’s videos were viewed so many times they earned her a Jigwe Award… which is equivalent to The Onion handing out plaques to those who made their most outrageous headlines possible.

For that, Ghanaians – specifically the Moral Middle Class – are furious. That’s right: The very people responsible for her rise to fame are incensed that she is being recognized for the very same fame they facilitated. The working poor – who vastly outnumber this class – can’t afford the apparatus needed to stream these videos, so it’s down to the offended ones to look to themselves for making Rashida relevant. But they have yet to.

“Why don’t we reward true artists who spend time, effort and energy to honing their craft with these awards?” they wonder.

Why indeed. Obviously, there is a limited appetite for whatever form of art and enlightenment this group seeks to peddle to their peers, and that’s not Rashida’s fault: That’s society’s.

You might be reading this thinking that this is an African issue. Not so. Even if you don’t know our Rashida personally, you’ve known a Rashida at some point of your life. If you live within 3 miles of Any Hood, you’ve seen her getting on the bus, meandering down the grocery aisle in the top ramen section, or talking too loudly on the phone on a corner. Rashida has served you a cool drink at a local dive. There are millions of Black Beauties all over America, the UK and Africa. The problem with Rashida’s rise to fame isn’t with Rashida: It’s with the millions of other people who found so much glee in a young girl’s visible pain that their fingers couldn’t wait to hit the share button. The problem is that the communities that churn out one Rashida after another go ignored and unaffected by focused investment until an outlier shines the spotlight on the community. In this case, that spotlight was Rashida’s video diary. She put on a brave face, but any girl or woman who has been unceremoniously dumped by a guy they truly cared for or felt betrayed by recognizes that tinge to her voice, colored by disappointment and fury. Whether you’re familiar with the language she speaks or not, you get the spirit of what she’s experienced, and it connects us all.

One of the favorite pastimes of the Moral Middle Class (MMC), populated with its patriarchal princesses and ethical earls, is pretending. This group of people loves to pretend that the world and everyone else in it operates by the same rules that govern their existence. They think all children ought to be raised the same way, all women need to dress a certain way, there’s ONE way to achieve success in this world and all behavior ought to be guided by the mores of this class. These are generally the people who begin sentences with “It is unAfrican to….” before denouncing whatever behavior they find intolerable in the moment. To them, Rashida is a disgrace who ought to be silenced before she pollutes the mind of a vulnerable youth who may find themselves seduced into emulating her behavior.

The Moral Middle Class preaches responsibility, but manages to eschew it where they are concerned. There is no greater influence on a child’s life than that of their parents and family nucleus. If you abdicate responsibility for raising and inspiring your child, then you have cause to worry. Only THEN does a Rashida become “dangerous”. If not, your children will understand that like the Wallaba You?! girl, Rashida is a fad and a passing fancy.

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The MMC does not understand the types of environments girls like Rashida come from. I lived but a five-minute walk from the hood, and I barely understand it. The things my neighbors confided in me were unimaginable. The things that children – girls in particular – have to do to survive and cope will make your head spin; be that getting a meal, affording school fees or navigating matters of a broken heart. We who are privileged have our blogs and our forums and international conferences to discuss and make sense of these things. We get to hit the club a pair of expensive heels with the girls to get over a painful breakup. All these moments will be documented on Instagram under #NewLifeNewMe #LiveItUp #150lbLighter #HeThoughtHeCouldBuryMe #YASSSS. This is an acceptable, “classy” way to mourn. You’ll earn no mockery there. But a girl from a humble background speaking undiluted Twi is a novelty and one too good not to make fun of. Even the recently heartbroken socialite can’t pass up the opportunity to watch Rashida and laugh.

About that background: With this level of sexual experience and confidence, you have to wonder with whom and under what circumstances Rashida was introduced to sex. There’s no way that she’s having sex in a vacuum, and this should raise a red flag to the people who work in public health. But again, no one thinks about these communities until a girl like Black Beauty ends up with a viral video that betrays “good Ghanaian morals”. The folk wringing their hands are too concerned with the symptom (Rashida) rather than the causes (failed communal sex/health education).

Given that her parents could only afford a JSS education, I don’t doubt that they’ve laid out what her future might look like for her. She is likely destined to become a petty trader turning tricks for a few extra cedis on weekends. This is not uncommon in the class she comes from. Of the thousands of Rashidas that populate the nation, how many become the Minister of Finance? None. If they’re really lucky, one of the two major parties will bankroll them in the position of a serial radio caller whose sole job is to hurl insults at the ruling government. THIS is the world she comes from. This is the world her mother, father, and everyone she’s grown up with come from. To them, Rashida – and her rant – is probably quite normal. I’m sure she’s seen her fair share of women chasing philandering men down the street, calling them every name in the book. Is anyone willing to consider that Rashida is the way she is because this is the way she was raised?

So when I hear people saying things like “She’ll regret it in 10-20 years time because it will preclude her from future opportunities”, I have to laugh. What opportunities has a country like Ghana provided for a girl like Rashida that should cause her to worry about the effects of social shame? Very few, if any at all. There is no Harvard ending for Rashida, unless Aseshi or some charitable organization comes calling first. And even if they do, so what? What about all the other Rashidas we walk by on a daily basis?

I think Rashida’s parents have raised her to be tough. Given how fierce her tongue is, I don’t think she’s been instructed to hold it. I imagine she’s respectful to her elders, but fierce with her peers. She would have to be in order to navigate her world, which is not genteel and comfortable. You’ll get eaten alive if you’re soft.

There are some people who have said privately that they want to fund her education, since she’s expressed an interest in completing high school. They want to “mentor” her. That’s wonderful. However, mentorship can’t be done over the phone. If you want to change a person’s life, you have to take them OUT of the environment that shaped them. Your once a week chats – when you remember to call – are not going to be effective. This is not some grand experiment, like My Fair Lady. This is a young girl’s life. Anyone with designs of “saving” Rashida will also have to bear in mind that this is a girl whose sexual appetite has been awakened quite early, which presents itself with a whole host of challenges that extend beyond the cessation of making diss videos and rap tracks.

As we do in such cases, we implore people to be guided by empathy with hopes that doing so will persuade the empathizer to support our view of an issue. I’m not asking you to support my position on the matter, which is that everyone needs to let Rashida and her family alone. They didn’t beg anyone to watch her videos.

I have a daughter who just turned 12 and has started to develop little crushes and who also likes to publish YouTube videos, so if we were truly a ratchet family, I could see this happening in my house, unpleasant as it is. If Rashida were my kid, I’d say:

My dear. My beautiful little girl. I’m sorry that this boy hurt you. I hate to say it, but he’s not going to be the last man to break your heart. At 15, you still have two more heartbreaks to go before you learn to guard that thing beating in your chest. You will continue to trust men until you learn that trust is something to be earned, not offered freely.

It is unfortunate that you didn’t feel like you could come and talk to me about this, but I understand that too. Sometimes, young people forget that we older ones were once young too. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget the days of our youth and the wild things that we did.

There are going to be those that claim that this video is going to signal the end of you. Don’t listen. In a year, no one will remember. Wisa whipped out his penis on stage and no one thinks about the event with any real angst anymore. It’s sad, but it’s fortunate for you. You have a chance to build your life on a new foundation. People are offering to help you. Take that help, but take it on your own terms. Don’t let your poverty and lack shame you into doing anything that you’re not comfortable with or that betrays your true self.

Image source: Viasat 1
Image source: Viasat 1

Above all else, I want you to live a healthy and happy life. Define success for yourself and enjoy these fleeting moments. I see you have a Jigwe Award? We’ll treat it like it’s a MOBO until you earn one.

Now… come and help me pound this fufu. We still gotta eat.