#PepperDemMinistries is the Movement We Need For This Hour

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.

The women of Pepper Dem Ministries

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.

Rita Nketiah ventured out alone to Badu Lounge (ironically named in honor of Erykah Badu) in order to meet her date for the evening. After scanning her clothing, the bouncers at the club decided that she was there to “sell pussy” and told her she could not enter the establishment.

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.

A simple diagram representing the squishing of patriarchy.

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. 

How Pilferage On An African Airline Inspired A New Accessory

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 locked them.

I have zip-tied them.

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!

 

 

The Story of Your Beloved Confederacy as Told on the Bodies of Black Folk

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?

One of the many ways Black bodies were mutilated as punishment for pursuing freedom or breaking plantation law.

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.

Runaway ad. Source: American History as it is

List of published runaway ads in various newspapers around the country. Source: American Slavery As It Is

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.

Stone Mountain, Georgia

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.

A witness account by James K Paulding, Secretary, US Navy 1817

 

In conclusion, screw your rebel monuments and the tractor-trailers you rolled them in on.

Can We Pause And Think Critically About Lakewood? Please?

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.

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston HARD. (Alliteration!) Morgan Stanley says if media reports about the damage ranging between $30 billion and $40 billion are correct, Harvey would rank as fourth worst storm, when adjusted for inflation. The death toll as a result of the storm now sits at 31 and an estimated 30,000 people are taking refuge in shelters. In the midst of all this, one story has managed to nearly eclipse the headlines that we ought to be focusing on. That story is whether or not Joel Osteen’s ministry, Lakewood Church, would open up its doors to receive hurricane refugees. That question has managed to captivate the minds that reside on social media, throwing Osteen into a proverbial maelstrom of his own.

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?”

Please.

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?

Katrina aftermath at the Superdome. Photo source and credit: Pinterest

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!

This statement from Hilton does not satisfy! Your giving is not enough! Open your doors!

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.

 

Discuss.

 

Race and Slavery: A Crash Course for Journalists Who Refuse to Read

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.

  1. “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.
Source: Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies
By Sylviane A. Diouf

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?

Source: Erik Byberg

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.

Patriarchy Killed Okonkwo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/05/immigrant-workers-or-slaves-textbook-maker-backtracks-after-mothers-online-complaint/?utm_term=.95c718349c53

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:

Source: Smithsonian Institute http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/?no-ist=&preview=_page%3D2_no-ist&page=7

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.)

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Thinx! Now We Can All Finally Have That “Happy Period” Male Advertisers Are Forever Going On About.

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.

“I sense you are worried about your period. Like poverty, we eradicated those concerns over a century ago.”

You ever wonder about that?

No?

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:

  1. You get your period
  2. You put on a pair of Thinx
  3. 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.

You actually get that meadow fresh feeling with Thinx!

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?

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.

Any regrets?

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!

 

80s Pop Culture Reared Me to See Myself as a Monkey

My husband says that my vast knowledge of obscure cartoons is evidence of my latchkey upbringing.

“I had parents who loved and nurtured me, and made sure they were home with me after school. Whereas as YOU had television.” He was joking, but there was an element of seriousness to his assertion. Marshall (my husband) truly is horrified that I consumed so much TV as a child.

On the other hand, I pity him. My husband has no working knowledge of the Gobots or their mission; has never heard of the Street Frogs OR the Tiger Sharks; and prior to this particular conversation, was oblivious to the existence of the Get Along Gang. That’s a lot of quality 80s animation to have missed out on, so I am compelled to reflect on his childhood with sadness on his behalf. Besides, I wasn’t a latchkey kid all the time. Some days I would be taken to Mrs. Scott’s house after school. She was a septuagenarian widow who would feed me Spaghetti-O’s and instruct me to watch Scooby Doo while she reclined in the sun chewing and spitting tobacco juice in the company of her faithful dog, Queenie. So yeah, I had adult supervision.

Sometimes.

Naturally I was curious if any of my friends remembered the Get Along Gang and as expected, my nerd friends did not disappoint. I’m proud to announce that two other people besides me harbor fond memories of Montgomery Moose and his merry band of do-gooder sidekicks. And naturally, as these conversations tend to do, another query sent us down a separate path on memory lane.

“What about that racist little cartoon called Monchichis?” (This was the Woke Nerd asking. Artist Nerd had bowed out of the conversation at this point.)

“I actually liked the Monchichis,” I replied. “I liked them because they had afros that looked like mine. I connected with them.”

Woke Nerd was aghast. I completely understood why.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Monchichis, they are a race of anthropomorphic monkeys who live in Monchia. They were a completely autonomous race of beings that developed their own technology and functioned under an orderly societal structure based on birth order. In other words, the oldest was in charge – and as the eldest child in my family, that power structure and hierarchy appealed to me. The Monchichis were frequently disturbed by another race of blue/black monkey anthropomorps who were less technologically – and therefore mentally – advanced.

Nowhere else on television was there a community of animated beings that shared traits and features similar to mine that had complete autonomy over their lives. In every other cartoon I watched, there were no brown/Black girls in positions of leadership.

  • Jem
  • Rainbow Bright
  • She-Ra
  • Nobody

Furthermore, all anthropomorphic characters were, by default, patterned after white characteristics, features and behaviors. The only time an anthropomorph exhibited Black characteristics if there was a deliberate attempt to depict that particular character was “Black”.

For example: In Thunder Cats, Cheetara is obviously a blond bombshell, while Panthro is portrayed with what would generally be considered “Black features”, down to his wide nose, reverberating voice and bald head. Furthermore, Panthro – like his human counterpart Roadblock on GI Joe – is a loner…A little unhinged and unpredictable, never completely integrated into the group but dedicated to the cause nevertheless. He has freedom to make decisions, but it only extends so far: Specifically as far as his garage or wherever it is he keeps the Thunder Tank. And as excellent as Panthro, Roadblock and Shana Elmsford (Jem) may be at their individual tasks, they will never be free to lead the multi-ethnic/ majority white group that forms their community/clique.

In response to my question about where else on 80s television one might find examples of totally isolated Black animated characters that had complete sovereignty over the affairs of their lives, Woke Nerd offered Fat Albert and his friends. But even he was quick to admit that they hung around Fred Sanford’s junkyard and wore ski masks in broad daylight, and therefore weren’t really positive or powerful examples.

This only supported the reasons for my unfortunate partiality to the Monchichis. They were the closest things I could associate with a normal, non-dysfunctional society of color. Freaking monkeys.

This is the sort of subtle every day racism that white people of my generation don’t get. There are certain indignities that they will never know, and it would take too much time and too much emotional labor to unpack to paint even a partial picture. They’ve never had to look far for representation that made them feel ‘normal’. The characters that looked like them were conquerors. They were multi-dimensional and had depth. You got a sense that they were in control of their destiny and that you could depend on them (or someone who LOOKED LIKE THEM in real life) if you were ever in a pinch. Beyond the images, the very language surrounding their whiteness spoke to their power.

He-Man was the leader of Masters of the Universe.

She-Ra was the Princess of Power.

Freddy from Scooby Doo could lead you in solving a mystery.

Inspector Gadget’s niece, Penny, was the real brains behind each crime solved.

Rainbow Bright and her noble (white) steed had the power to make any problem go away simply by putting little glittery stars in her belt and pressing a button.

Every powerful/smart/enterprising person in the 80s cartoon world is white and usually blond. Even Dottie Dog from the Get Along Gang was a blond cheerleader. Add to that, every other girl in the Gang had blue eyes, just to reinforce that these may be animals, and we can’t make them ALL blond, but daggonit, these are WHITE animals!

One could argue that Mr. T bucked this trend on the cartoon named for him, but I don’t accept that. If we apply the same character and plot development standards to his show as say, She-Ra, where every member of the Rebellion living in the Whispering Woods is white, 80s television might have imploded. It still might. Can you imagine a team of all Black gymnasts lead by a Black man in a cut off shirt and a Mohawk flying around the world solving crimes and subduing people with their physical prowess? It would result in cartoon TVs first police shooting.

But back to the monkeys, cultural representation and how I saw myself.

When you grow up in Africa or around Africans in the diaspora, there is a 99% chance that you will hear tell of a “monkey” story. My primary school teacher told us about how a young English boy stopped him in London one day and asked if he had a tail…and if he’d allow him to see it. When I was a child, an airport worker in Europe once referred to all the Africans in transit as a “bunch of monkeys”. The Lebanese woman who lived next door to my best friend could be heard screaming, “You f***ing monkey!!!” at her maid as she hurled household items at her.

Nevertheless and no matter what the world said around me, I never saw a monkey’s reflection staring back at me when I looked in a physical mirror. But what was beinf reflected back to me on a subconscious level was something else entirely. When I discovered the subliminal perceptions I held about myself– and my continent – it startled it me. It shook me. It shamed me.

One day, many Monchichi years later, I was at home when someone (I can’t remember who because folks were always dropping by in those days) brought over a printed piece of paper with an AT&T ad on it. They were angry and demanded we look at it. Horror and shock erupted from the adults around the room. I kept staring at it, trying to work out what was so awful about this whimsical telephone advertisement.

“Look at Africa.”

I looked and didn’t see anything wrong. Africa was the right shape, the geography seemed in order…

“Malaka. Look at everyone else on the globe with a phone in their hand!”

I still didn’t get it.

“There’s a monkey sitting in Africa. Every body else on the planet using the phone is human, but they got a MONKEY in Africa!”

An AT&T ad from 1993 depicting the company’s coverage around the globe.
Of course I didn’t see it.

Monchichis ‘look like’ me.

Monchichis have technology.

Monchichis also happen to be monkeys.

Monkeys are live in Africa.

Monkeys look like me.

Oh my God.

*****

Fortunately, my children’s generation and those beyond will (hopefully) be spared this sort of cognitive disjoining when confronted with racist art/advertising. We still have to fight against the effects of colorism, body dysmorphic disorder and hair texturism (a plague in the natural hair community), but I am confident that they will never subliminally associate their physical features or their personhood with a monkey. We have Doc McStuffins and Li’l Bill to thank for that. So when people ask ‘WHY do we need more characters of color on TV’, let my Monchichi story provide further evidence for why more – and better – representation is necessary. Not that that matters so much at our house now. In my absence, Marshall has cut DSTV, so television plays a lesser part in raising his children than it would if I were home. I suppose that’s a good thing.

 

Have you ever had a moment where you discovered that pop culture influenced you on a subliminal level? Was it a positive or negative experience?

In Defense of the Cowardly Marwako Employees Who Stood By As Their Co-Worker’s Face was Pushed into Pepper

Note: I will tell you all about the brain tumor that’s kept me from writing, but let’s table that for now so we can talk about this.

On the 4th of March in the year of Lord, two thousand and seventeen, it was widely reported that a 26 year-old restaurant manager named Jihad Thaabn grabbed Evelyn Boakye by the neck and rubbed her face in blended pepper while hurling abusive words at her. Ms. Boakye is employed as a member of kitchen staff at Marwako, a restaurant in Accra owned by Mr. Thaabn’s brother-in-law. The attack went on for 10 minutes before she was released from Thaabn’s physical grip. As she stood washing her face, Thaabn’s anger was reignited for reason’s that have yet to be explained. The attack continued. He grabbed her again and locked her in a room for 6 hours, refusing her medical treatment while forbidding her fellow employees from offering her assistance.

Marwako

It’s reported that Thaabn warned that if anyone tried to intervene, he’d have their job(s). All these men and women could do was stand by and watch “helplessly” as their co-worker was physically tortured and held against her will on the premises of their place of employment. Upon her release, Ms. Boakye alleges that she was warned not to report the matter to the police. It took her two days to gather the courage to report the matter, still not having recovered from the chemical effects of having pulverized scotch bonnets rubbed into her eyes.

index

As one would predict, there is a healthy dose of outrage expressed all over the country. There is also no small amount of indifference, with people very eager to move on from the incident because there are “bigger issues” plaguing Ghana than one Lebanese man abusing his subordinate. After Ghanaians have argued about whether Marwako should be boycotted/who really suffers in the wake of a boycott/whether we all shouldn’t just leave this to karma and God, we will spin in circles until nothing is actually done to address the root causes of employee abuses in the nation until the next horrifying event. Such is the Ghanaian’s cycle. We know it, and most importantly, foreigners know it as well. There is a reason that Ghanaians have a reputation for being “friendly”, rather than “proud”. Friendly in our context is a polite euphemism for push over. There’s no point in denying it.

Nevertheless, keyboard courage has been exhibited in profuse abundance. I have yet to see a single individual express solidarity or empathy with the other employees who watched Evelyn Boakye suffer through her 6-hour-plus ordeal.

“So what were her co-workers doing while she was being attacked?”

“If it was me, I would NEVER let that man put a finger on me!”

“Oh, if I was there, I would have intervened. Damn these Lebanese to hell! Can I come to their country and behave this way?”

We all would like to think that we would behave heroically in moments such as this – that we would muster all the gallantry of the ancients and right a horrible wrong in that moment. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we all exhibited the kind of courage we do while behind the glare of our screens, we wouldn’t let managers get away with sexually harassing the new hire; we wouldn’t sit by while a man beats a street kid to a pulp for scratching his car; we wouldn’t stand by while a trio of men walks into a chop bar in order to slap and punch two women for the crime of being lesbians…allegedly. In fact, we walk by atrocities committed in our communities every day because it’s none of our business.

Second to that, all this haughty talk is the privilege of those who have the benefit of financial security. If it’s one thing dependency robs you of, it’s the license to exhibit courage in the moment. Notice what Jihad Thaabn threatened his sympathetic subordinates with in the midst of his terrorism: the loss of their livelihood if they dared to intervene. The choice between dignity and paying school fees is not an easy one when you have so many people depending on your income. As I sit here and type, I can see the mental wheels of those Marwako kitchen staff turning. I understand why they where rendered inert. I’ve been there myself.

When I was 23, I worked at an organization that sold conferencing solutions. I was only there a short while before I was promoted from office admin to account manager, the direct result of a pending merger with a larger company. A week before the promotion was to take place, there was a brouhaha that I was drawn into between two other AMs and the operator, whose job was obsolete but spared because she was a friend of the CEO. Somehow, I ended up in the CEO’s office finding myself on the receiving end of a verbal assault. She cursed me and the other two account managers who’d gotten me embroiled in an issue that I had no stake in at all. The woman used language that my own father had never spoken to me with, and if the man who was responsible for my earthly existence and education up unto that point had never cussed at me like that, then there was absolutely no way in Satan’s hottest hell that this white woman was going to.

I cleared out my office and quit that afternoon.

This, of course, looked bad for the company (the accounts had already been divvied) and over the weekend I got half a dozen calls from managers and co-workers asking me to reconsider and come back. I refused to listen. I called my father proudly to tell him what I’d done.

“Why would you do something like that?” he asked incredulously.

“Because she CUSSED me, Daddy. How can I work for someone who would treat me like that? Even YOU’VE never cursed at me before…”

Less than impressed with honorable stance, my father said, quite sardonically:

“You should’ve waited until you got another job before you quit.”

Now, as a 23-year-old woman with no children, no car note and minimal bills, there was no reason for me not to have walked away from that toxic environment and say screw it all. What my dad was saying – without saying – is that I was a 23-year-old Ghanaian who had a family to help support back in Ghana and that they could not wait the requisite 3-6 months for a new job to pop. Doing so would stem the flow of that support. My personal suffering….and dignity, by extension…was of lesser consequence.

Three days later, I was loath to return to that job, but return I did.

“I knew she would come back,” my immediate line manager was reported to have said.

Whore.

Until Ghanaians get to the point where our dignity is worth more than a position frying rice or creating new customer accounts, there will always be a Jihad Thaabn, or an Obinim, or the myriad of powerful-yet-unnotable people at liberty to abuse their staff on a daily basis. The Marwako assault exposes yet again how privation robs a people of more than the things that readily come to mind when we think of the working poor and middle classes; like access to social services and utilities. It also has the capacity to rob one of the ability to express compassion.

Isn’t it scary to think that one day, someone will be too frightened to save you when you’re face is being ground into the proverbial pepper?