Category Archives: Motherhood

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.

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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.

I’m Supposed to be Writing about Frederick Douglas, But Here’s My Audio Book Instead.

I’m not doing a year end review this year. 2016 SUCKED, and there’s nothing more to add. I don’t understand how one year – not even 365 days as yet – could harvest the souls (and minds, in some cases) of so many favored creatives, artists, thinkers and healers. I mean, really. Take Mos Def, for instance. Mos Def ain’t dead, but 2016 decided to sacrifice his craft on its bloody, brazen altar for no apparent reason at all. Lets just be DONE with 2016, already.

Now that that’s out of the way…

I just finished reading Frederick Douglas’ Narrative of an American Slave 4 days ago. It was phenomenal. Have you read it? Douglas’ Narrative was not required reading for me in school, and it was one of those books that slipped through my bibliographic net after I aged out of the classroom. There are so many parallels between the world he describes and the one we inhabit today – few of them good –  and my hope is to finish writing the piece and to publish it on this side of 2016. However if I don’t, there is something else I had on my to-do list (read: overdue) that I am pleased to announce that has been crossed off the itinerary at long last.

TADAAA!!!

After a long struggle, I have finally put my second children’s book on video format! This is great for several reasons; reasons which I am sure that a handful of people will allude to in the comments section. *strong hint*

‘Close to Home’ was released in print earlier this year, and if you have early readers who need a guide to read along with/to them, the book-on-video provides an amazing companion for that purpose. It’s available on Amazon.com. *strong hint part 2*

'Close to Home' is available on Amazon

‘Close to Home’ is available on Amazon today!

No, but seriously: I hope you, your little ones or someone else’s little ones you’ve co-opted enjoy the images and identify with the story. ‘Close to Home’ is about finding courage and I pray that it inspires compassion for children who are adventurous in spirit but may be a little more timid in person.

Reviews are welcome, likes are appreciated. 🙂

A Lesson About Success

My son’s class conducted a life skills practical in their fourth term. Each student was given a bean, a shallow metal dish and some moist cotton in which to plant the seed. The goal was to connect the bean’s growth to the story of Jan en die boontjierank (Jack and the Beanstalk). Stone is a born botanist, and has loved plants since he was a toddler. He brought his bean home and made sure the cotton was kept moist and frequently moved it all around the house in an effort to always keep it in the sun.

In time, a shoot broke through the bean’s outer shell and a fragile root system began to develop. Stone kept watering and moving the plant.

One weekend after his bean turned into a seedling, we had to go out of town. The seedling had no water, too much exposure to the elements and appeared brown and dead by the time we got home three days later. Stone quickly took it over to the sink and moistened the cotton, and his father advised that now might be a good time to put the seedling in some soil. I advised that he stop moving it from place to place all around the house and allow it to get adjusted to one spot and the conditions in that particular area. That’s how the bean ended up on the ledge of our front porch, where it rebounded. The old, dry leaves dropped off and new green shoots began to emerge from its tiny stalk.

“Isn’t it cool how new life can emerge from something you assumed was once dead?” I mused to my husband.

A man of many words, he replied, “Mmm hmmm.”

My conversations with Marshall are so deep…

It’s now been two months since Stone’s bean was planted, and it’s about 3.5cm high. Ecstatic that his seedling had achieved some semblance of an actual, viable plant, he asked if he could take it out of the tin and plant it in the garden bed next to the garage. He dug a hole, tipped the plant out and dropped it in. The next morning when he came to check on his plant, it was dead…Really dead this time.

The summer sun and gale force winds that gust around our house at this elevation killed it in 24 hours. Distraught and disappointed, Stone dug up his seedling and put it back in its makeshift pot to see if he could revive it. It’s been over a week now, and it doesn’t show signs of recovering. We are still holding out hope, however.

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Come back to us, bean plant!

Why do I mention this story to you? All of us has a dream; some sort of ambition that we harbor deep within ourselves. The bravest (or more foolhardy) of us will sometimes take the step to put flesh to that dream. It may be a business idea, or a talent, or a philosophy you’d like to see incorporated into the culture. If it’s a particularly unique or good idea, or if you have people who support you because YOU are unique and think you are particularly a good person, you may find yourself pressured to put your idea, talent or skill in the sun before it’s had a chance to develop deep roots.

The function of the sun is to sustain life, but the sun’s rays can also be fatal, as we learned from the demise of Stone’s tender plant. You may be looking at other people in your field of interest and ponder over their achievements. Their success must surely come from full exposure to the sun, whereas your growth has only been gradual because you’ve gotten those rays in smaller measure. This may inspire you to think you’re ready to launch yourself into the same atmosphere, but if your gift is not developed, it will kill not only the gift, but its potential as well. When the winds of criticism, negativity and hostility come, your potential will be shaken loose from its roots. There is nothing wrong with a little caution.

This is written to encourage those who are looking around at your circumstances after putting in whatever effort and asking yourself “Why am I not further along?” The answer may simply be as simple as it’s not your time. Your growth – or lack thereof – is not for lack of trying: It’s because everything and everyone develops at his or her own pace.

We live in such an exhibitionist culture nowadays that people expose their talent in its infancy and the culture consumes and disposes of it quickly. The music industry provides the most visible manifestation of this. We cycle through more rappers and crooners annually than Rob Ford did needles and pipes. (RIP, Mayor.)

Take the time and care to hone your craft and build your core. Sure, there are times when you can drop a seed in a harsh environment and it will not only anchor, but dominate that environment as well, crushing all in its wake. Those are called anomalies…like Beyoncé. Most of us are not anomalies. Most of us are Solanges; or at least we should be trying to be. There’s only room for one Beyoncé in the world at a time, maybe two. However there are plenty of seats at the table for a dozen Solanges or more. (See how I just did that? You like that? Of course you do.)

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Be encouraged. Be glad for other people who have established their roots and have found their place in the sun. When your turn comes, you’ll want others to be glad for you too. Don’t give up, but more importantly, don’t force your success. Build upon yourself, and it will come.