Do you make New Year resolutions? I don’t. Not any more. I don’t even make goals. Murphy’s Law operates in my life with the efficiency of a bicycle and the ferocity of Eddy Merckx on the pedals. Whether horrific or splendid, every event in my life is a surprise. It’s all very New Age – this living in the moment thing. I don’t recommend it for everyone, however.
Now that we are four days deep into a new year, you may have put down as one of your goals/hopes a desire to eat healthier. Making better financial decisions, travel, and going to the gym are among the top resolutions made by people who have been blessed to see the beginnings of a new solar cycle. As you know, most people fall off the proverbial wagon by the time the first 30 days are up. Changing one’s eating habits is one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake, as it requires unlearning decades of indoctrination on how to feed oneself. For instance, I’m on my second salad of the year, and I’m already over it!
The conversation around food has taken dynamic turns over the last few decades. With the introduction of GMOs, aquaponics and the shrinking of arable land upon which to farm, there is less talk about what we eat and grow and more about WHO determines what we consume. The food supply chain has been taking on an acute pyramid shape, to the benefit of a core group of providers. The merits and impact of this model is something better debated platforms like the Journal of Agricultural Economics. What I really want to talk about is the aftermarket aspect of your trip to the market: what got onto your plate and how.
On SABC’s radio program today, there was a social psychologist that spoke about the manner in which human beings eat. She noted that we are the only beings on the planet who eat not just for nourishment, but for posturing and show as well. It’s true. A bear doesn’t forage the undergrowth of his woodland home looking for clusters of berries defined by perfect symmetry, nor does the bat reject a mosquito because its not the right hue of black. They eat because hunger drives them to. Aesthetics form no part of that equation. To boot, neither the bear nor the bat is concerned about what other bears or bats might think if they were seen eating fruits that looked like they came off the back of a turnip truck rather than the glossy aisles of Trader Joe’s. We are the only species that consumes food with the judgments of other humans in mind.
Food is a very powerful tool. What one has on their plate has the ability to speak volumes before one has the chance to utter a word. Those hasty projections, whether negative or positive, are often heaved on the shoulders of the poor and economically disenfranchised. Sometimes, these groups will take the burden of ‘posh’ eating upon themselves for myriad, personal reasons.
What does your plate say about you? Well, if you start your day with a bowl of yogurt and rye toast, it might say that you’re cosmopolitan, health conscious and upwardly mobile. If you began your day with a cup of amasi and brown bread, it connotes poverty. In reality, both amasi and yogurt provide the same nutritional value but only one has an aura of prestige around it. In this same radio program, the psychologist noted that there were subjects in her study who after moving into the city from the rural farm areas admitted that they loved amasi, but would never drink it in their new urban areas. They would rather save money and buy yogurt instead, so as not to be perceived as inferior in their new environment. Amasi – for them – is negatively associated with poverty and backwardness.
Upon reflection, this is not a peculiarity that is unique to South Africa. When I reached a certain age of awareness living in the United States, I understood that eating watermelon in public (meaning wherever white people were likely to pass by) was ill advised. A Black person slurping down watermelon was associated with slavery and/or coonery.
We still can’t eat fried chicken in peace, despite the fact that literally every race, creed and culture of bipedal humanoids prepares and consumes chicken in one fried form or another. But see, there is a difference between putting a flat wing in your mouth and pulling out a clean bone, and slicing into a garlic and herb infused chicken breast. They’re both chicken, but only eating one will earn you the label country & coon before you can say, Pass the Durkee’s.
Take a look in your cupboards and refrigerator. What – if anything – has changed about the types of food you’ve bought over the years? Have the changes in location or earning altered what you eat and what kind of food you seek out on shelves? For instance, now that I’m firmly middle class, I won’t touch baloney…despite the fact that fried baloney sandwiches kept me full on many an after school afternoon with their salty bouquet and springy texture. I have a friend who won’t go near a can of soup because they trigger memories of extreme poverty. (Which is odd because at today’s prices, a single can of Progresso will set you back $3-4, taking it out of the category of “poor people’s food. You can probably get more fried chicken at those prices.)
What are you going to eat this year? Are you going to let the judge-y eyes of others prevent you from eating that plate of pig’s feet/quinoa/beets or are you gonna dive right in? Discuss!
The year is drawing to a close and we are in the homestretch! 2018 is peering back at us over the horizon. 2017 has been a bizarre year, much of it in a good way. After the horrors that 2016 wrought upon us, it was good to catch some semblance of a breather over these past 12 months.
I know quite a few of us sustained heavy personal losses with friends and heroes passing away, many in their prime. I’ve had to console myself with the theory that Prince once espoused in the ballad, Gold and trust that if they’ve lived a good life heaven will take their soul. I’d rather live with the hope that I will see their faces again than to dwell on the cynic’s supposition that this Earth is the end of the line for all of us. With the passing of these loved ones, I am reminded that whether we are entering this world or taking leave of it, pain is an integral part of the experience. That we are left behind to mourn them is a testament to their positive impact, and one can find joy in that, albeit rueful.
2016 was such a relentless series of horrific events that I made a conscious decision at the beginning of this year to make one resolution and one only: To abstain from bad news wherever possible. For the most part that meant straying as far away from politics and the absolute dumpster fire that is the entirety of the Drumpf administration, and I admit: that was hard. I didn’t do a very good job of it the first 40 days of the year. The discovery of the golf-ball sized tumor in my brain forced a shift in my focus, another misfortune for which I found myself grateful. It was in those moments and the months that followed that I was shown extreme kindness and generosity from friends and strangers and had the opportunity to meet denizens of my Facebook feed (shout out to Monique!) in real life.
2017 was the first time in seven years that I had not written or published a book. It was an unsettling sensation…beyond that. Not producing any tangible work felt like I was sacrificing a limb, but I knew that the longevity of my health necessitated a break from extensive writing. I read a lot this year, all of it for pleasure; an indulgence I hadn’t partaken in since I was a sixth grader. Some of the work I read was transformative, magical and lyrical. Others were just a tad better than mediocre. Each of them provided their own instruction on what makes for interesting, compelling composition.
Reading aside, the one extravagance I gave myself over to was watching for and celebrating the wins of others…wins that unfurled like the sails of an ancient armada. Since I had committed myself to looking for good news, you can imagine I found it at every turn. For the benefit of time, I will list my picks for the best moments of 2017, in no particular order.
The release of ‘Get Out’
Jordan Peele’s first film as a solo director tapped into a peculiar fear that most Black people keep hidden and shut away from the prying eyes of the mainstream: Being kidnapped by white people. The possibility haunts our collective subconscious -because although we know that Europeans can no longer legally pack us onto 100 foot long death traps made of wood for their economic benefit, we all know that the imaginations of whypipo know no bounds when it comes to Black destruction. In the era of 45, this movie was an important reminder of that fact. I’m looking forward to the sequel, ‘Stay Woke’.
Daixy makes soap
Maame Aba Daisie (@D41XY) is one of the few virtual friends I have a tangible, 3D connection to. That makes her a real person, with real emotions and real dreams. One of those dreams was to make soap for profit. Maame Aba Daisie is a talented woman, and like many talented people suffers from the occasional bout of self-doubt. She overcame her uncertainties and launched a line of organic soaps this year. She was good enough to mail me some from Accra and boy, are they yummy! You could cut her excitement at launch like a bar of soap. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.)
Josh is one of my favorite people in the whole, wide, wonderful world. We’ve only met twice in person, but I knew he was my spiritual twin the instant we met. He reminds me of a young Mr. Miyagi. He is an entrepreneur who grooms other entrepreneurs to be better entrepreneurs. And he’s also the CEO and co-Founder of iSpace, which is this dope hub in Accra. This year, he launched a tech a women-centered initiative to push women into untapped avenues in the tech space. He realized that tech needs African women, so he provided a platform to give them entry into the space. Not all heroes wear capes… or have a full head of lustrous locks.
You all know Tosinger, the voice behind the hit single Ile and Atlanta’s original Naija flower child. When I could get the night off, I used to run the ATL art/music scene with Tosinger and whistle encouragingly from the audience as she would belt Afro-folk songs to crowds who often didn’t get her music or style. She never let a tepid reception get her down though. She would work the crowd, handing out her demos and smiling like she was Nefertiti come to life. Sometimes she would struggle to get stage time at a venue; and my girl is too big for that kind of struggle. So guess what she did? She built her own stage. Boom.
Naija never, ever go carry last!
Reading The Shack and The Alchemist
These are the two most impactful books I’ve read this year. I return to the Author’s Note of ‘The Alchemist’ at least once a month for encouragement, and since I don’t own a copy of ‘The Shack’, I tap into the memory of those written words to experience the sensations of forgiveness and awe whenever the need arises. The lessons in each book are very different and very necessary.
Ronke Lawal is the founder of Ariatu PR. She’s represented dozens of brands and helped pushed them to prominence in the UK and beyond. When I was a new novelist and had no clue about marketing or the power of social media, Ronke would amplify any tweets I published about my book (The Daughters of Swallows) to my utter confusion. Why was she re-tweeting ALL THE TIME? This was back when we were fairly new at taking a shot at each of our dream disciplines. I’ve never forgotten that. I am so pleased that her heart of gold and penchant for hard work is paying off with new clients and dividends!
Baba God! You have given this woman a gift eh? See her soup. See her stew. Like a bubbling pot of triumph and jubilation. From the stove in her flat to this? 2017 has been a banner year for my friend, Tokunbo. She’s been featured on BBC, she’s fed multitudes with rave reviews, she’s earned all her accolades for bringing West African food to the fore. It’s been my pleasure to watch the Universe open up new doors for her. Very soon John Boyega will be begging for seconds at your table, wai? *Seals this word with a broken egg*
To call it an ‘accident’ is a gross misnomer, but that’s what this whirlwind felt like. The fact is, everything in Kristin’s life looks chaotic in the beginning, but makes perfect sense by its conclusion. Her first book, Love Letters From Abba is the beautiful result of a tumultuous year spent in Plett and chance meeting with a Bishop from Mississippi. Stemming from a conversation with a ‘stranger-angel’ over ostrich burgers to a series of road trips all over the Garden Route, Kristin took a bit of advice and turned her pain into a page-turner.
Abynnah Sekyiamah is named best female entrepreneur for Clean Eats
Also known in the house as MK, this is the little sister I never had. (Whereas my actual little sister is a slightly more manic version of myself.) After struggling with her weight her whole life, MK made a radical decision 3 or so years ago. She took up yoga and started watching what she ate. This is not easy for African women to do. First of all, yoga is ‘demonic’ and if you’re not cooking with copious amounts of oil, are you really cooking? So profound was her physical transformation and so passionate was she about her new lifestyle that she opened up an eatery called Clean Eats, where she only serves fresh fruits, veggie and organic fare. She’s been a guide to many women who just didn’t know where to start in their health journey, and for that – and so much more – she deserves all her accolades!
The Conversation started by Pepper Dem Ministries
You may not like them, but you’re certainly going to listen to what they have to say. PDM burst onto the social media landscape and dominated the conversation on gender and equality in Ghana for…well…they’re still dominating! These women galvanized those of us who exist in the activist space and spiced it up by encouraging us all to interrogate the (often toxic) narratives that govern our thoughts and mores. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in 2018!
Lydia Forson fixes her career
This is one of those moments where you had to be there.
Ruby Buah opens Kua Kids: A Salon & Spa for the Wee Ones
Ruby Buah is a powerhouse. She is an idea mill and a things-make-it-happener. There are few people who have the gift and knack for taking an idea from concept to execution with such flawless perfection as Ruby. If there is a woman who ever had the Midas touch, she’s it. Her Kua accessory line has been an international hit for years now, with a dedicated clientele. Now she’s bringing a new generation into the fold with her spa for kids. Look at the joy on these babies’ faces. Don’t you wish you were six all over again?
Michael Dapaah goes Skraaa…
Hol’ tight Asnee!
Michael Dapaah, popularly known as Big Shaq, is the embodiment of every kubolor boy’s dream. He has shot to fame and monetized tomfoolery. From Fire in the Booth to now representing a line of fleece, fur and bubble jackets, Michael is setting the world of music and fashion ablaze.
But it is we who will burn.
Because man is not hot.
Man can never be hot.
ALL THE TIME?? The release of the Black Panther trailer and the reactions from the Culture that followed
I have unfortunately become the official delivery service of every idea that people want to share with #RyanCoogler since he’s not #onhere. I can’t possibly share them all. It’s a lot! But this one I actually texted to him because truth… xo pic.twitter.com/deyIvM0fVI
Obviously, there are other great highlights that presented themselves in 2017 (like the day I discovered the wonders and efficiency of an epilator or that you can buy your kids used Legos for Christmas and they will never know the difference), but we would be here for another 2 hours dissecting those moments and I have a sunset to go watch. I’m sure you have some New Year’s Eve traditions that need attending to as well. Thank you for being a part of the MOM Squad and for being a part of this community for so many years. I wish you and your family great health, happiness, peace and the space and means to make your dreams come true.
Unless your dream is to hinder someone else’s destiny. In that case, fiya bu’n you. Fiya bu’n you well-well!
Happy New Year, and may we look back on 2018 with similar gratitude!
In the movie Selma, there is a scene during which the members of the SCLC couldn’t agree on which obstacle to voting rights (and all civil rights, by extension) to tackle first. They deliberated hotly among themselves.
“It has to be the poll tax,” said one.
“No. It’s education,” said another, citing the literacy tests the precluded many black, brown and poor whites from exercising their franchise.
They listed the various techniques employed by a society governed and created to protect white supremacy and capitalism, to the exclusion of everyone else, giving reasons for why each man felt his agenda ought to take priority. In the end, it was Dr. King who decided how they ought to proceed.
This is the way it is with all movements with the aim of disrupting the status quo. There is disagreement and then there is consensus. Booker T. Washington, WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey each felt they had the ‘right’ solution to lifting Black people out of poverty and despair. Use the technical/practical skills you acquired during slavery to feed and house yourselves adequately. Demand full integration into white/mainstream society and the benefits therein. Screw it all and move back to Africa. Though these men (and their supporters) could not agree on a definitive solution, they each strove for the same thing: the uplifting of their people and a flinging away of the boot that had kept them down for centuries. Whether you ascribe to socialist/self-help beliefs of Washington or the more bourgeois leanings of DuBois, you are right. There is no ONE way to achieve an aim.
And so it is with the African woman’s liberation.
Over the previous two weeks, you may have noticed an uptick in the conversation around feminism and the struggles that Ghanaian women face. You will probably noted that that conversation has been punctuated with the hashtag #PepperDemMinistries. In the coming days, you will see comments seasoned with emojis of red jalapenos. Depending on your politics, this will annoy or delight you. It’s all good, but you have an obligation to interrogate within yourself why.
There are many, many indignities and ills that plague the African woman. But for the purposes of this blog and this movement, we’ll narrow our focus on Ghana. It is true that Ghanaian women do not suffer the same type of top down restrictions that mark women’s experience in certain Arab countries, but that is not to say that we are free from the same consequences. That the methods of subjugation differ from one society to the next does not eliminate the existence of that subjugation. Portia Asantewaa Duah was a paying customer at Kona Café in Accra.The establishment’s bouncer demanded that she and her friends vacate their table, and naturally, she refused. For her “impudence”, he slapped her so viciously that her eye was left reddened.
It really wouldn’t have mattered what she was wearing, because Ghanaian women live always under suspicion of peddling vagina. (Or the assumption from men that they are owed unfettered access to it.) In 2015, 5 female doctors sued Movenpick hotel for violating their rights. Movenpick has a documented (and well enforced) policy of refusing access to any women who come to their bars and restaurants unescorted by men. The only reason we are privy to these stories is due to the privileged positions that these women hold. They have access to blogs, media outlets and powerful friends that allows their stories to be told and received with some level of seriousness. This is not a privilege that is extended to the poor, unconnected Ghanaian woman who has no recourse but to give her problems to God or hope that someone will one day take interest in her plight. Barred entry to entertainment establishments ranks very low on the problems Ghanaian women face, but it is a valid one nevertheless. At some point – if unchecked – this mindset of barring women from any public space that is deemed ‘unsuitable’ without a male escort will take root in other areas. Again, ask the women of Afghanistan if that’s an impossible possibility.
This is why the work of #PepperDemMinistries is so important. What these women do is take toxic, ridiculous narratives that been applied to women and turned them on their heads. Imagine in Rita’s incident, if the club owners and bouncers refused unescorted men entry to their establishment because ‘a man out at that hour of the night with his shirt unbuttoned MUST be there to sell his penis’. You’d laugh. But replace ‘man’ with ‘woman’ and somehow the idea gains credence. It makes no sense. The work and aim of this group is to change mindsets by changing the narrative and flipping the script. They haven’t gone out with placards, rushed into parliament, bombed their opponents or employed any of the violent measures men have used to stage coups or gain power, and yet they are met with derision. All they have said is “think about what you are saying this way”, and people are shook. They’ve been called bourgeois and had their campaign reduced to a cry for attention.
Well…DUH. Of course you want attention drawn to your cause. When has a closed mouth ever gotten fed? When you need paper for the copy machine at your office, don’t you seek attention? Or you sit there and hope the paper dwarfs show up and fill the machine for you? So be it, if you believe tarrying for dwarf’s is the most effective approach to getting the job done.
The Pepper Women may be ‘middle class’, but that doesn’t make their contribution to equality and liberty any less valid or important. Feminism, like all social movements, requires a multi-pronged, multi-layered approach. Ghanaian women (even the patriarchal princesses) need #PepperDemMinistries in the same way we need Gifty Anti, Lydia Forson, Sionne Neely, Esther Ocloo and the many women and men who worked for equality across various sectors in our society. No movement was ever sustained by keeping all its efforts concerted at the grassroots or at one level. For those whose work is to abolish witch camps, let them do their work. For those whose work is to abolish the mind set that led to the creation, sanctioning and acceptance of witch camps, let them do their work too.
Eventually, the two will meet in the middle and the patriarchy WILL be crushed.
You can learn more about Pepper Dem Ministries wherever there is Internet.
I have the worst luck flying into OR Tambo Airport. Since I began flying to South Africa in 2011, I have had my bags broken into 100% of the time. There is no margin of error with regard to that statistic. No matter what flight/airline I’ve traveled on – be it Delta Airlines, or Virgin Atlantic, or South African Airways, or FlySafair – I am guaranteed to have some item lifted from my bags.
I have tried stowing ratty looking luggage to make it appear as though a poor woman was flying and therefore had nothing worthy of lifting.
Nothing has worked.
In the past, the theft has amounted to little more than a few trinkets or personal items: shoes for needy kids I’d befriended in Bossiegif, a pair of head phones. One time, baggage handlers even stole my pack of sanitary napkins. Regardless, I at least always got my bag at the end of the conveyor belt. However during our transition from Atlanta in 2016, I became one of the thousands of people who have had their luggage either delayed or lost for perpetuity during air travel. I wrote extensively about this last year. Long time readers of MOM will well remember my angst. You don’t want me to rehash it and I don’t want to relive all the angry tweets (especially with Virgin’s twitter account!) so we’ll move on.
I am an unabashed shoe whore, a condition I developed as a result of growing up shod in the secondhand shoes of other people’s secondhand shoes. Getting new shoes was a rare and wonderful occasion for me as a child, so when I finally began to earn an income of my own, I set aside a monthly shoe budget. I love the variety and creativity of footwear. But more importantly, I love how shoes make me feel. Shoes are the one logarithmic constant in my wardrobe. No matter how thick my waist or hips may get, my shoes will always fit. I spent years investing in shoes, working my way from Pay Less brands to Cole Haan, commensurate with my salary. (And then the kids came…so you know how that goes.) By the time we relocated to South Africa, I’d stocked up an impressive arsenal of unique footwear . Footwear that was taken from me by devious agents operating in the aviation industry. Footwear that I could not find in my new home on the Garden Route, and sadly, not even online. It was a stormy time in my life.
No, literally. We moved here in winter when there were constant rainstorms and now I had no boots.
But as with all storms, there is a silver lining and an eventually burst of light that breaks up the dense nimbus. After many nights spent fretting and silently cursing, an idea occurred to me. If could not buy cute boots, maybe I could create something to make these basic Garden Route boots cute! That’s when I began toying with the idea of an interchangeable boot accessory that I now call FlashStraps.
FlashStraps are made with 100% cotton shweshwe (pronounced shway-shway), South Africa’s iconic fabric. Favored by the late anti-apartheid fighter and eventual president Nelson Mandela. shweshwe is fast gaining global recognition and popularity.
Shweshwe forms the basis of traditional Xhosa attire, and has a long and complex history stretching back 2,000 years to trading activities with Arabs and Indians who are rumored to have bartered indigo cloth with the Xhosas in exchange for local goods. The fabric was re-introduced to the region in the 1800s by German settlers who imported it from India as a trade stable. It has been a part of ready to wear and couture fashion ever since.
I coined the motto ‘Informed by the past, inspired by the future’ as a nod to the trials that often inspire creativity – like the birth of ragtime and jazz – and our very human penchant for trusting in destiny.
The inaugural line includes four colors, each representing and named for the character traits of my children:
Nadjah: Green and gold, representing wealth and success.
Aya: Blue and silver, representing tranquility and tenacity.
Stone: Earth brown and slate, representing stability.
Asantewaa: Red, named after the warrior Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa, representing an indomitable and fierce spirit.
Newton’s third law says that For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every interaction in our life elicits some response parallel in power and energy. Out of my intense pain of loss (and if you’ve ever shopped in the limited size 10/wide calf section of the shoe store and watched some trollop skip away to the counter with the LAST PAIR of suitable shoes, you know the pain of which I speak) came something as intensely beautiful. At least, I think so!
This is the moment where I pause in my reflections and thank the thieves over at OR Tambo Airport for their greed and dishonesty. Though they were instruments used of Satan, their nefarious deeds presented an opportunity for me to stretch myself. And beyond that, I would like to thank my initial investor for believing in FlashStraps, both as a sartorial accessory and for their historical significance. (She wouldn’t want to be named publically, so let’s allow her an air of mystery.) Her response was not only benevolent, but also necessary. It brought balance to a adverse situation, and I am grateful.
Aren’t they pretty? You can see yourself sporting these at the next Zuvaa Pop Up, can’t you? Of course you can. You can leave your review of FlashStraps in the comments section and check them out here on Etsy as well. And while you’re at it, talk to me about something that was a severe negative that you turned into a positive!
Many years ago, I had the honor of hearing Leymah Gbowee speak in Accra as she gave an introduction to the film ‘Pray The Devil Back to Hell.’ The documentary covers chronicles social unrest in the West African Republic of Liberia, where civil war has torn the nation apart and left hundreds of thousands dead or displaced. The film reconstructs the way this tragedy galvanized a coalition of Christian and Muslim women to rise up and, through nonviolent tactics, put pressure on their government to pursue peace talks. In her opening statements, Leymah said something so profound that I have been unable to shake it from my memory till this day. She said (paraphrasing), “Women bear the stories of war upon our bodies.” She went on to describe a series of atrocities – gang rapes, mutilations and violent kidnappings – that would cause even the most stoic of persons extreme consternation. The somber scene now set, the audience went on to watch the film.
As statues, monuments and emblems created and erected to honor the Confederacy come tumbling down one after another across the US, I find my mind cast back to that statement. The choice to dismantle these symbols erected to honor men who fought to rip asunder America’s union, terrorize and hold in bondage a peculiar group of people and dishonor God by debauching His word and claiming it as “truth” has not come without opposition. There are many who argue that removing these tokens in recognition of the Confederacy is tantamount to ‘erasing history’…an idea that is only credible if we willfully deny the existence of history books, journals and museums. Their defense is that the Confederate states merely fought to preserve their way of life and that the Yanks were little more than infidels and invaders, contraveners of God’s natural law at best. I have to ask myself – have any of those who howl in opposition spent time interrogating what the Confederacy’s aims were? How can a person who espouses “American ideals” support the notion that any of these men and women deserve the privilege of esteem in American history? Have they seen what the bodies of Black folk say about the story of the Southern slave holding states?
It is well established that the Civil War was fought over the preservation of slavery. Slavery wasn’t just “part of” the way of life for the South, it was the foundation on which the economy and civil society were built and attitudes towards which mores were judged by. In his Cornerstone Address, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said as much:
This is the story of the “peculiar institution” as told from the vantage point of the conqueror: One who witnesses and processes the scourge of war and devastation in terms of pins in a wall or lights on a screen. But again: what stories do the bodies of those seeking to escape this ‘natural position’ tell us? If you’re curious, you can find out the details from enslaver him/herself.
These descriptions of what white supremacy – a system that BUILT America – did to Black bodies is horrifying. It’s haunting. And each of these acts was perfectly legal. A Black life was a tool – like a shovel or oxen. You couldn’t rape a Black woman because she wasn’t a person. You couldn’t murder a Black man because he was property. If a Black person lost their lives in service any compensation owed was paid out to his/her owner. This is the misery that the Confederacy (and now its modern defenders) fought to uphold and perpetuate. It’s a legacy that lives on through police brutality, land and property dispossession and failing schools…repulsive, but all very legal.
If there is any history that is endanger of being erased, it is the vestiges of slavery that were literally etched into the skin of the oppressed. Stonewall Jackson’s face has been blasted and chiseled into the side of a mountain in Georgia. Streets and schools bear the names of the generals who presided over the whipping and lynching of children. Their personhood – their humanity, despite their wicked deeds and depravity of mind – will endure. Whiteness will see to that.
Confederate emblems are toppling and good riddance too. It was recently asked, “If someone kidnapped, beat and raped your kids, where would you like us to erect their statue?” Fair question. If we are to honor the enemies of the idea of a UNITED States of America, perhaps it’s time to look into designing parks and naming schools for Kim Jong Un and Osama Bin Laden.
As America continues its attempts to veneer its shameful past and sanitize its history, we can take dark comfort in the fact that the real story will forever remain etched in the bones of the disenfranchised and departed.
In conclusion, screw your rebel monuments and the tractor-trailers you rolled them in on.
I know we don’t like Joel Osteen. I know! We hate the way his face breaks into that peculiar goofy half smirk, like he’s always primed to play a game of peek-a-boo with his audience. We hate that curly shag he sports just above the nape of his neck. We hate that there is always a sheen and an aura that seems to surround him, no matter where he goes. We hate his made to order First Lady of the Congregation bride, the one with the wild eyes and gesticulates even more wildly when she speaks. We hate Joel Osteen for delivering – week after week – his prosperity gospel, and we especially, emphatically hate him for being prosperous.
I get it. I do. Which is why I hope that you will not read what I am about to say as an implicit defense of Joel Osteen and/or Lakewood Ministries, because it’s not.
Criticism about Lakewood’s apparent eschewal of its Christian values came started about 3 days ago when a Twitter user wondered aloud if Lakewood would open up its doors for people needing shelter during the storm. A flurry of tweets soon followed, each espousing platitudes like “the church should be a refuge and a shelter for all” and “if you can’t find shelter in the house of God, where else can you go?”
Look. I’m a Christian, and I believe in the house of the Lord being a safe space…but I also believe in planning a preparation. I just lived through the Knysna Wildfires – a natural disaster that ravaged miles and miles of the Garden Route, so it is no longer in my nature to think in terms of whimsy and romanticism where disaster is concerned. Preparing to take in refugees goes a lot further than “open the doors of the church”. Deep inside – somewhere deep in the recesses of their minds – people expending time in their day to express their disgust with Osteen and his ministry know this too.
There is a LOT that goes into getting ready to function as a shelter – possibly a long term one – prior to the advent of any catastrophe. We learned this (or should have) from the devastation that Katrina caused. We know that not everyone is able to evacuate during a storm, yet people still insist on blaming the poor and disabled for not saving up the finds needed to cover their care/transportation in the event of a rainy day (or hurricane). Likewise, we know that when hurricanes like Harvey or Katrina make landfall, thousands of homes will be lost and it is prudent to ensure that there are enough beds, clothing, medical supplies, food and potable water provided for people who have lost everything in a moments’ notice… yet we insist on criticizing a megachurch for locking its facility when it has failed to do just that. I know! I understand! It’s fun to bash the pastor, and Joel makes a glitzy target; but can we shift our focus from wanting to knock his perfect veneers out to the people who actually need the help? Remember…the Houstonians who now have no homes?
Putting people in an environment that is only suitable in the sense that it is dry is thinking in shallow, binary terms. We saw this with the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. It was a nightmare for the storm survivors who found “refuge” there. The sewage system untenable. Security was a joke. Dozens of children reported being molested or raped by people – strangers – who became part of a teeming mass of humanity stuffed inside the arena. The air was reportedly thick, humid and fetid. Someone rolled Barbara Bush in to survey the relief efforts, and she said that the evacuees were better of here because they were “underprivileged anyway”. Do we REALLY need a repeat of this suffering, just for the temporary satisfaction of shaming a pastor?
I posed the query on Twitter and was criticized for it. I was informed that megachurches have the staff that are “trained” and have the “resources” to handle crisis like this, that there was no reason that Lakewood couldn’t open its doors. As I have heard it, Lakewood did just that. They directed those in need to partner organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, who have dedicated staff trained for these specific sorts of crises. As someone who has worked in ministry, I can tell you to now assume that Lakewood has a stand-alone staff trained just for natural disasters is pie in the sky thinking. Yes, they may staff who knows where all the food is and where to get it, but that staff person pulls double (possibly triple) duties in other areas of the church. Oh, and they likely have a family of their own as well. Perhaps these trained staff chose to evacuate ahead of the storm. Who knows? And now we have a situation where after 48 hours of media onslaught and caving to pressure, Lakewood has opened its doors as a shelter. How vetted are the people in charge of looking after the welfare of these evacuees? As a mother, I would want to know. What safety measures to protect people within the confines of those walls? Have you been to the toilet after one football match at your local high school? Who’s going to be cleaning the toilets on regular rotation in the House of Lord? These are real questions that need real answers!
I jest, but I’m serious. I speak as someone who was only barely prepared to serve during a storm, and I consider myself as someone who has reasonable access to resources. During the Knysna fires, we hosted 16 people in our home. One of the families we were hosting asked if we could shelter a mother and her 4 kids. Of course we said yes. She in turn asked if we might open our home to a husband and wife – total strangers. It was an uncomfortable night for all. The power was off and every time the wind blew, the man jumped up and dashed for his electronics…as though we might steal them. Sometime just after midnight, I asked my husband if he thought the unknown couple might murder us in our beds. We slept fitfully the whole night. The next morning, it was my task to make sure that 16 people could be fed adequately. We made it through, but just barely. Our home was only a “refuge” because it was not on course to be affected by fire. The couple left the next morning, but the mom and her kids stayed for nearly 3 weeks, though only her yard was damaged by fire. How long are the evacuees supposed to stay a Lakewood? How long would satisfy the wrath of the masses? Why isn’t our fury directed at Hilton and other hoteliers? After all, they have only donated to the Red Cross. Why haven’t they opened their doors to house evacuees right now. Today. Immediately!
The criticism against Lakewood simply isn’t/wasn’t valid, and I hope that those who have accepted Osteen’s (coerced) hospitality will not find cause to regret it. In addition to traditional shelter locations, many mosques and churches in the Houston area are functioning as temporary sanctuaries. I’m sure that many individuals will open their homes to their neighbors as well. That is what the house of the Lord is – you and I. It’s people, not a megachurch that used to be an arena. And that is why it is my fervent hope is that all the people who drove off the Lakewood in the rain to get a picture of locked doors found a route to a group of strangers with the aim of hosting them in their personal abodes. You know…since the only suitable requirement to function as a sanctuary during a hurricane is that your property be dry.
The idea that “Africans sold each other” into slavery is not a new one, but it is one that is generally advanced by the poorly educated or those wishing to shift the bulk of the blame from European participation and place it on the shoulders of the Mythical African. Mythical because before a person born in Africa is anything, he/she is Ewe, Fula, Mende, etc. No person of African descent responds to the question, “Where are you from?” with “I am from Africa” unless they are i) outside of Africa and/or ii) in conversation with someone who is unfamiliar with the concept of ethnicity with the continent. (Most Americans fall into the latter category.) This will then beg the request from the inquisitor to say something African, after which it will be painstakingly be explained that there is no such thing as a language called ‘African’.
Africa is not a cultural monolith. No one knows this better than the native children of her lands. So it was with great disappointment (but very little shock) that I read comments from a supposedly seasoned Ghanaian journalist voicing his support for the idea that the Trans Atlantic slave trade was a ‘choice’, in concordance with a 2015 article featuring a Confederate flag waving Black woman making that very assertion. He says:
As is often the case where Manasseh Azure (the journalist in question) is concerned, many lesser read and worse informed people came out in support of his comments. Like Trump and the poorly educated he professes to love so deeply, these people form the bulk of his fan base. One blogger took the time to take him to task, and provoked a collective sigh of relief from those of us who cannot stand to see ignorance – and the damage it can cause – go unchallenged and unchecked. In his post Manasseh Azure-Awuni and the Fallacy of Africans Selling Their Own Into Slavery, Umar the PhD Candidate diligently explains why this is a false narrative and how foolish it is to continue to advance it. Umar says that the idea that slavery was a ‘choice’ is about as accurate as saying that the Holocaust was a ‘choice’ for the Jews (and Poles and persons with physical and mental disabilities) that perished as a result of Hitler’s manic genocide. Umar echoes my thoughts precisely, and I hope that you will take the time to read his article.
But for the people – like Manasseh – who are averse to in-depth reading, here is a crash course on how what we have come to know as ‘race’ has functioned over the past four centuries.
“We” did not go North to capture our brothers and sisters in exchange for booze. The system of the slave trade was a well-organized machine. When the Europeans eschewed trade in goods for trade in flesh, a new class of ‘merchant’ emerged from the hinterland. Two of the most infamous of these were Samori and Babatu Zato, slave raiders who swooped in from the north and made captives of people as far down as the Akuapem range. They then sold their captives to Fante and Ga middlemen on the coast who traded them to the British. This system replicated itself all over the Slave Coast in what would become French, Portuguese and Belgian held territories.
2. Like Pan Africanism, whiteness is a novel construct. In the formation of the colonies in the New World, Anglo Saxon Protestants brought with them deeply xenophobic sentiments for other Europeans – Catholics (Irish and Italians who tended to adhere to the Catholic faith) specifically. In the founding of Georgia, for instance, it was written in the colony’s by-laws that freedom of worship was to be granted to all prospective colonists “except papists. Remember, these New World colonizers were escaping religious persecution from the Catholic Church; persecution from their “white brothers and sisters”. These xenophobic attitudes did not change for centuries. Despite the fact that there are few people more pale in complexion that those of the Gaelic Islands, advertisements regularly discouraged Irishmen from seeking employment therein. In order to advance socially, some Europeans took on Anglicized identities in order to be accepted by the (white) mainstream. Anthony Dominick Benedetto – for example – is widely known as Tony Bennett. He was born in 1926.
Likewise, ‘blackness’ is a new idea necessitated by the slave trade. After being shorn, branded and baptized, captives were stripped of their identities. No longer were they Igbo or Akan. They were the property of the Dutch East India Company, assigned a number, sold on a black and delineated as a buck or breeding wench. The homogeneous (manufactured) black identity did not exist until it encountered violent whiteness.
3. It is treacherous to assert that the enslaved were complicit in his/her own oppression. Though there were some groups who readily participated as sellers in the slave trade, there was always resistance to the enterprise both in Africa and abroad. Some resistance took place in the form of violence, where family members of the captured made gallant – but often failed – efforts at rescue attempts from forts and dungeons. Other forms of resistance took shape by relocating entire villages in hard to reach places. It is believed that Nzulezu, Ghana’s “stilt” village is an example of this. The use of chains and tethers to keep the enslaved shackled to the ships that ferried them to their prison plantation was necessitated by the frequency with which captives leapt over the edge of schooners to a watery grave. It is not in the nature of any human to accept the conditions of forced bondage. Many Africans fought tirelessly against the slave trade. Queen Nzinga of Mbundu (now Angola) fought the Portuguese against the expansion of the trade in her realm.
She waged a 30-year way against their invasion, as her weakling brother was too placid to do so.
4. Individual or clan participation in the slave trade was never about ‘booze’;It was about power. It’s sexy to try to convince oneself of that the idea of the ingenuous, narcissistic, hedonistic personification of the African mind is a valid one. My, wouldn’t it all be so simple to explain away the poor decisions Africans have made – and the disastrous generational effects – on the fact that we are just plain stupid? After all, who kidnaps and sells their neighbor for a shot of Jack Daniels? To propose this would be to give credence to the foolish idea that clans and federations traded a foothold in their nations in exchange for ‘beads and rum’, when we have anthropological evidence that gold and cowries were a widely used medium of exchange and used to adorn the bodies of young girls for something as seemingly mundane today as the advent of menses. The process of exchanging ideas, trading in guns and finally in the sale of flesh is not one that happened overnight. As they have done wherever they have conquered, Europeans decided that trade no longer suited their best interest and ownership was the preferred course. This would only happen by deception and force. After being bullied about for centuries, clans and societies with weaker military forces saw an opportunity to gain real power and threw their support in with the invader, doing his bidding in exchange for what would hopefully be bigger and better crumbs. Perhaps a job as a clerk, a messenger, a chance to fight and die in an imperial army, or to rid oneself of any traces of the frailty associated with your clan’s name. Why be Quarcoe when Quayson was so regal and rolled so much more sweetly off the tongue?
That there was any alcohol involved was merely in celebration for finally ‘winning’ against one’s enemies, and not the end goal in itself.
In conclusion: The study of the trans Atlantic slave trade is one that scholars devote their entire careers to. An evil enterprise spanning 400+ years cannot be summed up in 4 bullet points. It is appalling that anyone who considers himself part of the intellectual class would ever dismiss that factors that contributed to is rise and success as a result of Africans looking to get drunk. The sentiment smacks of self-loathing, and should be exercised from the mouth and minds of anyone harboring such thoughts.
Until this weekend, I was among the few Ghanaians who had never read Chuninua Achebe’s critically acclaimed work, Things Fall Apart. I was familiar enough with the title and the name of the main character – Okonkwo – but much like those village-bound JSS students who made flatulent claims about going abroad for the long vacation and gorging themselves on McDonald’s and watching all the new Will Smith films, I would lie and switch the subject when queried about my impressions of the work.
“Things fall apart! The center cannot hold!” I would exclaim exuberantly, as though familiar with the forward and theme of the book. In reality, I was merely parroting my sister’s favored phrase from the work and not one that I had seen written with my own eyes. Not to worry! That error has been remedied and I have absolved myself of this great disgrace.
Books like Things Fall Apart are unique in a singular sense: They do not lead the reader to any conclusions, but rather meet the reader in the physical and spiritual space they occupy. Achebe does not judge his characters. He merely serves as the narrator and leaves us to analyze their deeds for ourselves. This is a difficult task for a writer, as we are lords and creators of the beings that populate the worlds we create in fiction and can influence the reader with our personal biases. Many writers are seduced into judging their characters, a lure Achebe masterfully avoids. After I concluded the work, I wondered what my impressions of Okonkwo and the mores that governed his homeland, Umuofia, might have been if I’d read them in high school. It’s no secret that I was chauvinist while I was growing up. (Most African women are.) And if I wasn’t a complete chauvinist, my sympathies were certainly chauvinistic leaning. I have had to unlearn that way of thinking, and now having finished high school 21 years ago (when I should have first encountered the book) I shudder to think about what kind of defense my 18 year-old self might have offered for Okonkwo and his pervasive perniciousness.
However Things Fall Apart has met me as a 39-year-old woman and assessing Okonkwo (and his contemporaries) at this juncture in my life can only lead me to one conclusion: that patriarchy killed Okonkwo… and needlessly so.
Okonkwo was a man raised by a father who was deemed a failure by all standards set by his society. He had no titles, he was lazy, he was an unapologetic debtor, and raised Okonkwo in perpetual poverty. But his father was a man who also had a certain joie de vivre. He loved music and mirth and was not a violent man. Okonkwo resented the father who raised him, the one fellow villagers called agbala (trans: woman/ man who has taken no title) and vowed to be as opposite as he could in every aspect.
Okonkwo grew to regard kindness, remorse and gentleness as feminine traits, and therefore demonstration of weakness. He never learned to reconcile these valid (and necessary) expressions of humanity within himself, so much so that they served as a torment when circumstances provoked a confrontation with those feelings. He was not alone in this. This was how most men in Umuofia (his friend Obierika being the notable exception) operated. Indeed, his life was ruled – and ultimately taken – by the same toxic masculinity that was the eventual undoing of his entire clan. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the way the men of Umuofia treated and related to their women.
“Okonkwo was inwardly pleased at his son’s development, and he knew it was due to Ikemefuna. He wanted Nwoye to grow into a tough young man capable of ruling his father’s household when he was dead and gone to join the ancestors. He wanted him to be a prosperous man, having enough in his barn to feed the ancestors with regular sacrifices. And so he was always happy when he heard him grumbling about women. That showed that in time he would be able to control his women-folk. No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man. He was like the man in the song who had ten and one wives and not enough soup for his foo-foo.” – Things Fall Apart, chapter seven.
Umuofia’s traditions, like many patriarchal traditions today, placed women, the disabled and the effeminate/gentle hearted on the fringes of society. It robbed them of their right to full expression of abundant human life. It often oppressed them. But as that great philosopher Akeem once said, “It is also tradition that times must, and so change my friend.” It is unfortunate for the citizens of Umuofia and the surrounding clans that this change comes as a result of a siege; a siege in which the oppressed were used as pawns of a wily enemy to further its selfish gains. That enemy was Western Christianity (in the form of the church cum imperial government) and White Feminism (in the form of an English queen), both which used, and continue to use, Black bodies and Black suffering as catapults for their own ambitions.
“In an oppositional reading of Chinua Achebe’s well acclaimed “Things fall Apart,” you will discover that in the land of Umuofia, things couldn’t have fallen apart as the society was not entirely one, or together. The existence of the Osu caste system, the heavy losses of mothers whose twin babies had to be sacrificed at birth, boys and girls ridiculed for their non-gender conformity, and the gross display of male to female violence created certain imbalances in the society. Therefore, if you notice, the first people to convert to Christianity (the otherwise foreign intrusion) were these “social outcasts” who were warmly welcomed by priests who had been literally tasked to be “fishers of men.” A theory can therefore be derived, that a society divided and riddled with various forms of injustices, is very prone to division and would not be able to hold its center for long.”
Had the men of Umuofia learned to value all members of their society and striven to create a more egalitarian system, the British invaders would’ve found it much more difficult to divide, conquer and overrun their land. However, like the soldier who slaughters the innocents of war, the men of the clan defer to their Oracles and medicine men for the poor decisions that they take. They are merely men “under orders”, never questioning and leaving no room for doubt or introspection. It is because of this failure to interrogate the aspects of culture that clearly are not working and/or seem evil that Okonkwo’s own eldest son, Nwoye was lured in by the teachings of a theocracy that decimated the culture that his father loved so dearly.
Okonkwo’s legacy lives on. It lives in our politicians, in our pulpits, in our classrooms, by the gutters from which men spew lurid words and threaten to beat women who dare to answer back. Incidentally on the day that I finished the book, a man that I follow on social media alluded to as much.
His assertion was met with dismissal and incredulous laughter. That mockery is (in part) why things in Africa continue to fall apart.
Have you read this book? Were you shocked by the ending? Did it make your blood boil as much as it did mine? Discuss!
There is a push by both liberal and conservative white circles to reimagine – and now, to rewrite – the devastating effects that slavery had on the Black family unit. I first became aware of this trend (one that is part of a larger effort to whitewash horrors of the Trans Atlantic slave trade) when a University of Tennessee student named Kayla Parke posted a Facebook live rebuttal to the assertion that Black families held in bondage were led by two parent families. In a quiz administered by now retired (or fired, depending on who you ask) professor Judy Morelock, the ONLY question regarding slavery asked, “Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that…”
Parker answered “C”: “Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners.” Professor Morelock marked the answer as wrong, stating that the correct answer – according to ‘research’ revealed that the correct answer was D: Most slave families were headed by two parents.
Anyone who’s read slave narratives published the Federal Writers Project, or read Frederick Douglass’ account of his years spent in bondage (from which he eventually escaped), or read Booker T. Washington’s ‘Up From Slavery’, or hell, spent time talking to an auntie over the age of 70, you’d know that answer D on this multiple choice quiz was some mayonnaise slathered BULL. It is not unlike that time McGraw-Hill referred to African American slaves as “workers” under its 9th grade textbook discussing patterns of migration.
To refer to a person restrained by the bonds of generational chattel slavery as a ‘worker’ gives room to reimagine that that person had rights and more importantly the capacity to decide whether or not he/she put their efforts towards labor. The word “worker” allows the student to imagine that the laborer had the freedom to determine the conditions under which they worked. None of this was the case. Slaves – human property – were roused for work well before the sun came up and toiled until long after the sun went down. They were not “immigrants”…they were people kidnapped from their native lands and forcibly displaced across the Atlantic. To call an African slave an immigrant is about as accurate as referring to the Trail of Tears a cross-country marathon.
And yet, adherence to these sorts of historical inaccuracies (read: lies) is what separates students from a passing grade and possibly, graduation.
A quick search on slavery’s effects on the strength of familial bonds and how the institution and Jim Crow contributed to the creation of a welfare state will yield some interesting results. I came across at least five right-wing outlets (none of which will I link on my blog) that advance the idea that the institution of slavery honored and fostered strong filial bonds among African Americans and that surge in single parent households is largely due to misguided liberal policies. Did FDR’s New Deal have unforeseen consequences for the poor and Negro populations? Absolutely. But to place blame for the plight of the African American family today solely at the feet of Democrats is ludicrous and disingenuous. The institutions and laws that have contributed to the erosion of the Black family are not linear and are tentacular in nature.
So why this push by the white majority to repaint the scarred image left on the Black family by slavery? The question is rhetorical, of course. History shows Europeans as the conquering victors over almost everywhere they invaded (Ethiopia a noted exception), but it also reveals them to be inhumane barbarians who meted out unspeakable human rights atrocities during their conquests. This truth flies in the face of the romance that white people have told themselves and sold to the people that they’ve dominated over the centuries in the process. ‘Whiteness’ equates to purity, goodness, niceness, heroism and holiness. How therefore could one be white and then separate a child from his mother at the auction block and then go home to nurture one’s own children? How is that goodness? How could one rape a woman while her husband stands helpless outside, privy to every agonizing moment of the attack and still deign to call oneself heroic?
Said George Wallace in his first inaugural speech as Governor of Alabama,
“It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Notice the language. Southerners, Anglo-Saxon southerners in particular, are referred to as the greatest people that have ever trod the earth. This is a theme that repeats itself throughout the teaching of white history. Let us not forget that President Woodrow Wilson – a staunch supporter of the Ku Klux Klan – referred to the portrayal of completely fictional events in the film The Birth of a Nation as historical fact. Said Wilson, “It is like writing history with lightning.” In the film, Black men were portrayed as lascivious, rape-driven brutes while their white, male Klan counterparts were genteel and valiant. The thousands of unprovoked and documents lynchings, church burnings and rapes of African Americans do not reconcile this portrayal.
Of course, it is easier to deny that any of this ever took place and to rather craft a story that suits the agenda of the oppressor. This tactic is one well adopted by cowards who are unable and unwilling to face the gravity of the sins of their forebears, sins that have benefited them socially and financially. Thomas Jefferson, master of Monticello bears this out. Historians have described him as a man ‘trapped’ in the system of slavery, however any ambivalence he was feeling about the institution and his role in it was soon tucked away in the wake of the exorbitant profits he made as the owner and driver of human chattel. In his book ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’ he says:
Jefferson, a respected statesman and businessman was a revered subject matter expert in his day. His notions about race and observations about human behavior helped inform and shape the future of slavery in the antebellum South. He has been credited with conjuring the idea of the African as both superhuman and subhuman, as a being that is power but whose power is a danger unto himself if not contained and controlled. The Black slave is ‘helpless’ in this way, and it is the white man’s burden to ‘guide’ the African. Jefferson needed to believe this to justify his role as jailer to several generations of families. The language of this narrative may have changed today, but idea remains the same. (See Donald Trump and his repeated references to Law and Order on the campaign trail.)
The white need to believe that slavery did not destroy the familial bonds of an entire population of people who did not request residence in the United States is understandable. The moral obligations to repair what was lost are heavy and the spiritual ones more so. And so it becomes imperative for a professor like Judy Morelock to refer to Frederick Douglass as an “articulate man” when confronted with the reality that he was separated from his mother in his infancy and only saw her 4 or 5 times thereafter than to deal with the meat of that real trauma. The casual observances of a privileged white male concerning disparity and injustice in America carry more weight than the testimonies of those who have had to endure. Because again, in whiteness there is imputed truth and honesty, whereas people of color have the burden of proving that truth. It’s easier to dismiss the anecdotal evidence from slave narratives about husband and wife discovering that they are brother and sister precisely because their parent(s) were sold away to another plantation and they grew up with little-to-no knowledge about their genealogy. Its easier to pretend that the Vagrancy Act of 1866 did not exist because African Americans were desperate in their search for displaced families following the Civil War, but rather because Black people are given to idleness and truancy. And then of course, there is my personal favorite from America’s newest Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, who must’ve been in a coma during conversations about Plessy vs Ferguson and the unique challenges children of color have faced in education from Reconstruction to 3 o’clock this afternoon.
In a White House statement to HBCU presidents, she says: “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
She’s exactly right.
…And then Ma and Pa left the plantation with their earnings from agricultural work and paid out of pocket for the tuition(s) of their 2.5 kids (family planning y’all!) without ever having had to take out a student loan. And then the Daughters of the Confederacy served everyone tea. (Insert quip about white lies here.)
Have you ever been watching a sci-fi series or flick and thought to yourself, “Man, it would be great if we had a tablet that held all of my books and personal information?” And then poof! 15 year later, Apple comes out with an iPad and a portion of your geek dreams come to pass? Or how about this one: What would it be like to ride on a hover board like Marty McFly in Back to the Future? We didn’t have to wait a century to find out. Within a generation, we were able to experience the sensation of hovering from one point to another, thanks to innovators who dedicated their time and talent to making pipe dream a reality. It’s not an unusual sight to see a kid in high top sneakers hovering in malls all across the world. Perhaps – if you share an interest in science fiction, that is– you may have gazed upon Counselor Troy (Star Trek: TNG), or Princess Leia (Star Wars), or Trinity (Matrix) in the midst of their badassery or their most vulnerable moments and spared the following thought: Gosh. I wonder what technology they use to manage their periods? What kinda pads they got outchea in Deep Space 9? Do they manage to eradicate periods in the future? Because no one ever spots; no one ever craves chocolate; and no one ever has to excuse herself from the comm in order to switch out a tampon or sanitary napkin.
You ever wonder about that?
Oh. Maybe it’s just me.
When it comes to managing menstrual cycles, innovation seems to have stopped well over a century ago. There have been more upgrades and improvements in the device you’re holding in your hand than there have been in the pad that’s currently situated betwixt my legs. That’s pretty sad, when you consider the fact that there are 9 ways to experience your period and only half as many ways to make a phone call. Kotex’s first advertisement for sanitary napkins made with this wood pulp appeared in 1888, while the modern tampon and applicator was patented by a physician named Earle Haas in 1929. Since then, there has been no real change in the way women experience and manage their menstrual flow. The biggest innovation to come along with sanitary pads has been peel and stick technology – and, oooo – wings! But outside of that, my great grandmother and I have used the same sad methods to stay “dry”. We’ve abolished slavery, ended Jim Crow, attained Civil Rights and achieved the impossible feat of living under America’s first (and probably last) Black president…but the sanitary napkin hasn’t evolved in 130 years.
May the Force have mercy on us all.
You know what the problem has been, don’t you? It’s because we’ve left the task to men – men who never have or never will experience what it’s like to have a massacre scene between the knees month after month. The self-same men who have the audacity to recruit lithe women draped in white to frolic through fields of daisies in insipid ads that encourage us all to have a “happy period”. How am I going to have a happy period with struggle sanitary napkins between my legs? Huh? How, Sway?!?
But there is a (not so) new hope, my sisters. As in these and all matters of women’s liberation, it is to feminists that we must look for answers. And boy, have they delivered! Thanks to these Three Bold and Blood Obsessed Feminists, I bring you glad tidings and news of our freedom!
Well, spit it out, Malaka! What is the good news?
Just let me tell the story first! As I was recovering from my brain surgery, I took the opportunity to ride the Metro around different parts of DC as I felt up to it. Whenever I was on the Red Line (and the irony has not escaped me), I kept noticing ads that featured women in black underwear and flesh toned tops. They were all faceless. There were no clues about what these ads were about other than the words “She Thinx” and a $5 off coupon when you type in the code ‘DC’ at check out. I had a pretty long ride ahead of me that day, so I Googled Thinx out of curiosity. There was no way what I was reading could be true.
So, what are Thinx???
Basically, Thinx are panties that catch your period, safely. No. For real. Basically, it works like this:
You get your period
You put on a pair of Thinx
You change your Thinx on the same schedule as you would your regular tampon or sanitary napkin
3b. But you don’t feel like you’ve been invaded by a little cotton alien, nor are you walking around with a butt bulge all day.
I know, right? I was a skeptic too. There’s no WAY that this could be possible. And yet, my dear sisters, IT IS. It’s not just possible, but totally pleasurable.
Did you try them?
After a long deliberation (about two days), I ordered a pair. I had just had my period the week prior, so I had to wait for my next cycle, which began today. At $34 (minus the $5 and free shipping as a first time customer. Woohoo!), I was wary about my purchase. $34 is pretty steep price point for a pair of panties. Still, the lure of not having to soil my fingers in the process of extracting soaked cotton/gel was not one I could easily resist. Today, I put the panties through their initial paces. Being Saturday, it was a busier day than usual. There was a long ride to Sedgefield to attend the weekend market, then a hop over to George to watch a movie, and finally the long(er) ride to Plett to end the day. We left the house at 9am and got back at 4pm.
So…yeah. Thinx are pretty amazing! I didn’t feel like I was having a period. There was no alien presence between my legs, and that’s huge. I don’t care how thin your ultra thins are; they can’t achieve this level of comfort. Now, for the benefit of full disclosure, I did leak through the panties on the first try, but this is not the fault of the product. They are designed to hold the equivalent of two tampons worth of blood, and as a heavy bleeder, I would have otherwise changed tampons at least once during the 7 hours I was wearing the panties. Still, the leaks weren’t high school walk of shame bad. (I wore dark denim today as a precaution.)
Are they comfortable?
You don’t even know. They mold to your curves like a perfect lover.
Are they cute?
They’re better than cute. They are grown woman panties. The panties of success and progress.
Are they absorbent?
Dude. They’re like Brawny for your bloody booty.
Is there anything you DON’T like about Thinx?
I can’t think of one thing, to be honest! I love their messaging, their packaging and their marketing campaign. I love how they take they shame out of menstruating. More women and girls than not will have periods over more than half of their lifetime. It’s a part of what makes procreation possible. Healthy periods mean healthy humanity…and yet global society has made women feel filthy, condemned and judged for having periods. Thinx messaging makes you feel like having your period is a light, funny and normal process. I’ve saved all their emails and packaging for that reason.
I regret that I did not trust the makers of this product more and opt to purchase the package deal, which offers 15% off if you buy 3 or more pairs of panties. As it stands, I have to alternate between my regular sanitary napkin regime and my Thinx because I only have to one pair. That makes me sad. So very, very sad… (Visit https://www.shethinx.com/ to check out what pair might work best for your lifestyle.)
What do you think, ladies? Are you ready to take the plunge or are you still a skeptic? Discuss!