Category Archives: Musings

Seven Lessons in Seven Days

Somewhere along the way in late 2016, I (apparently) uttered the words “I desperately need a vacation from my family!”

Now, I don’t recall ever saying this aloud – but as the old Negro proverb goes, “From your lips to God’s ears!!!” That is how I ended up being banished to Tsitsikamma National Park for seven days and seven nights. It was my husband’s birthday gift to me: Solitude. Ostensibly, solitude to write, as I have also professed aloud that I want to go on a writer’s retreat at some point in 2017. (That I DO remember saying.)

It was a sweet gesture from a man who dotes on me, so I have tried my best to make it work to my advantage. Unfortunately, that attempt was in vain. I have discovered in these past seven days that though I often crave silence, I am terrified of it when bestowed to me over long periods of time. There is a silver lining, as luck would have it. My solitude forced me to pay attention to everything around me, as I had little to no access to the Internet (a cumulative one hour over the course of seven days) and only one DVD to keep me company in all that while. That DVD was Graffiti Bridge, starring Prince. I’ve owned Graffiti Bridge since 2006 at least, but have never watched it until this week. I watched it for four consecutive nights until my family came to see me on Sunday with more movies. As he always does, the Purple One taught me something special about this thing we call life.

 

Lesson 1: Divine Providence

“What God has for you is for you.” That is a saying I used to repeat in worship because it was cute, but after watching Graffiti Bridge, I firmly believe it. Did you see how many times Morris Day & The Time blew up the Glam Slam, or set a fire, or destroyed Prince’s equipment? The answer is LOTS. And STILL, no matter what, new instruments always appeared in time for the next battle or the Glam Slam was restored to its industrial splendor just in time opening hours; as though it had gone through a modest renovation rather than a demolition attempt. If something is meant for you, all the pieces will eventually line up for you to have it.

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Lesson 2: Effort

I opened my hut window to let some air in, which always runs the risk of letting other things in. On this particular occasion, a fat horsefly buzzed its way into my room. I was content not to bother it as long as it didn’t bother my food or me and as fortune would have it, it eventually got bored and decided it would leave. It buzzed its way back toward the window. Instead of following the breeze and flying out, it flew toward the pane of the adjacent window, desperately trying to fly through it.

Y’all.

I watched this dumb fly climb up the pane, ram its head into it, fly to the base, climb up it again, and ram its head into the glass – repeatedly – for 15 minutes. It did this until it DIED from exhaustion. The fly entered my room full of loud, buzzy piss and vinegar but would have died in silence if not for the undignified “thunk” of its corps hitting varnished wood.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-3-42-27-pmThis taught me two things: a) If you’re dumb to get yourself into an unfamiliar situation, be smart enough to plan your way out. b) Effort without strategy can have fatal consequences. Sure, the fly could see its goal – the woods outside – from the clear glass, but that barrier was there for reasons. Just because something takes on the appearance of your success doesn’t mean it’s true to form. If you keep running into the same clear glass wall, maybe it’s time to shift course just a bit.

Or else you gon’ die.

Lesson 3: Vanity

Vanity is often regarded as a negative characteristic, but I believe it can be put to good and positive use. Embodying vanity can be healing. An albatross showed me this.

With miles and miles of beach available at its disposal, this particular winged sea rat chose to waddle in the one rock pool formations that was closest to me. It bathed itself with thoroughness and surprising attention to detail. The albatross made a big fuss about making rings and waves in the water that was still and peaceful before its aggressive arrival. After its ablution, it then chose to preen itself on the singular rock that was directly in my line of sight. Every once in a while it would stop fussing with its feathers to check if I was checking it out. After we made intermittent (and sufficient) eye contact, it continued its grooming.

To the world, the albatross is an unattractive nuisance with an irritating bird shriek. But in its own eyes, it is a siren of the sea, the peacock of the waves. How else can a seagull gain the effrontery to assume its presence is a desirable one? In this way, I learned that we must all shine and glory in our own light; Yes, even we who qualify as winged rodents.

Lesson 4: Perfection

Have you ever spent the day in a perfect environment, where someone else has thought of EVERYTHING? Well in this case, that someone happens to have been God. As I said, I went to Tsitsikamma to write, but most of my time was spent in reflection and contemplation. Why? Because perfection does not inspire creativity. There’s nothing of value you can add to perfection. It’s as futile an act as gilding the lily.

Can you imagine throwing extra muscles on Indris Elba? No. No you can’t. Because what’s the point? See how perfection robs of you the very desire to take a creative risk?

Lesson 5: Honesty

Piggybacking off of perfection is a lesson in honesty. And if I’m truthful, sitting out in the woods alone was not the course to successful, productive writing…at least for me. This is because the woods, the darkness, the perpetual crashing of the waves and the very pine planks that housed and protected me from the elements invoked sheer terror within me. That leads me to…

Lesson 6: Courage

Most of our greatest fears begin in the mind. A lot of us don’t even get a chance to fail, because we won’t take the shot(s) needed to experience failure nor success. And even though I did not succeed in writing the Great African Novel during my sabbatical in the forest, I did at least walk away with a new understanding and appreciation for the part our cognitive framework plays in overcoming doubt and fear. In my case, I overcame my fear of being overridden by cockroaches.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-3-40-51-pmLook at these walls. Tell me these walls don’t look like cockroaches! Every night, I kept vigil with the light of my cell phone to make sure that the knobs in the walls did not come to life with beetle like pestilence with the sole aim of crawling into my ears and inhabiting my brain. *Shudder!!! *

I could’ve let courage fail me and insist that my husband pick me up long before the seven days had come to a close, but instead, now I get to boast to you all about how brave I was in my insulated cottage with plumbing.

Lesson 7: Trust…with Caution

A doe and her fawn came to nibble on the tender shoots that sprang up all around the campsite at the park. Although I was in striking distance of either on two occasions at least, I made it a point to keep a respectful and wide berth. Although the animals were somewhat comfortable in the presence of their human neighbors, I believe everything NatGeo tells us about animals and wildness. I can hardly think of a dumber way to die than a head-butt to the gut from Bambi’s mom.

This analogy works in the human world as well. It works for virtually any situation. From credit card sharks to the lady offering “free” samples to bonbons at the mall, it always pays to sprinkle your trust with a little bit of caution. Because one minute, you’ve lost yourself in the blissful delight of gourmet chocolate and the next, you’re $5,000 in chocolate branded credit card debt.

 

And there you have it! I turned my mess into Muesli. Have you had any impacting lessons come your way this early in the year yet? Do share!

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The Rejuvenating Power of Creation

In the summer of 2009, I paid a drop-in visit to my cousin in Ohio. She’s an extroverted introvert, so I knew my chances of catching her at home were pretty good. And home she was, just as I’d predicted.

Her house was exactly as I recollected, punctuated by the same accessories and scents that nestled themselves in memories from my previous visits. There were the beige suede sofa and love seat that she’d recently purchased to replace her old furniture, a color chosen because she’d raised 3 kids, who I suspect that though now fully grown, had robbed her of the confidence to commit to white. The beige suede matched the beige color on the walls and the beige carpet on the floor. The kitchen smelled of microwaved popcorn, and the guest bathroom in the hallway of potpourri. Upstairs was the “chill room”, where she bade me to follow her. It still carried the dank, earthy fragrance of weed, which she tried (unsuccessfully) to mask by opening the window and spraying Febreze after I’d informed her on arrival that I was not alone; Marshall was with me. To this day she is convinced that my God-adoring, deacon husband would judge or think poorly of her for harboring this ‘vice’. He doesn’t.

Amid all the familiarity, there was something visibly different about her house – or this room, rather – on this particular visit. My cousin pointed to a desk that used to house a laptop, a teacup and stacks of files.

“I make jewelry now,” she said proudly.

My eyes widened. “Really? Like…for real? You? Make jewelry?”

“Yeah, li’l nigga,” she laughed. “Come over here. Let me show you my stuff.”

You have to know my cousin to fully appreciate my surprise. She’s nothing if not analytical. Every job she’s ever held, for as long as I can remember, has been in accounting or payroll. She works with numbers. She went back to school to get her degree so that she could work with numbers in greater detail. Even when she worked with one of the country’s biggest fashion brands a few years ago, it was so that she could work with their numbers, not their clothing design team. Her idea of “freshening up her wardrobe” was to slip a silver necklace over her beige blouse to bring out the bling in the rivets of her mom jeans. So this new interest in jewel tones, baubles and jump rings came as a total shock.

The table was covered with all the trappings accessory creation, as well as some of her completed work. Some were really good; others not at all. In every piece, you could see the evolution of her new craft, not yet perfected, but getting much better with time. She tried to slip a beaded bracelet over my wrist, measured to fit her anatomy, but she’d lost a lot of weight since I’d last seen her and I’d gained far too much. It would be a shame to destroy the fruits of her hard work and send beads flying all over the room so soon upon arrival, so I told her to leave it be.

“What got you into this?” I asked with genuine interest.

“Girl! It’s therapeutic as fu…It’s therapeutic.” (Remember, The Deacon was in the room.) “It just helps me take an edge off, you know?”

I did not know, but I nodded as though I did, nevertheless.

She sat down to show me how she chose her beads, how she strung them together, how you have to make sure you tie knots securely with the whatchamacallit “so that your shi… errr…stuff don’t go flying everywhere.”

When her demonstration was completed and I had appropriately ooo’d and ahhh’d, we popped some popcorn, turned on Snapped, and caught up on family business.

I have only just begun to appreciate what ‘edge’ my cousin was referring to on that visit so many years ago. At the time, she was 42 and as I prepare to celebrate (or survive) the final year of my 30s, I see for myself how essential, how powerful it is to create something beyond what you believe is to be your scope of ability. I see this not only in myself, but in women whom I share a common generational experience with as well. I’d hazard that most women who reach their 40s are inspired to stretch their limits creatively, if they have the privilege to. By this time, life has knocked you about in myriad unforeseen ways, and it becomes natural to want to strike back.

Although I am a writer – and therefore a member of the creative arts – I have never considered myself a “creative”. Perhaps if I were a singer or a spoken word artist I might deserve the mantle…certainly if I were a visual artist…but I’m just a writer. It’s like being a daffodil in a field of sunflowers. Sure, I add color to the landscape, but even you will admit that the word “novelist” does not form an immediate association with the word “creative” in your mind’s eye. (Shhh…it’s okay.)

As a writer, I have to depend on words to create a vision, and lots of words if my inner thesaurus shuts down. But folks who are sculptors, photographers, tailors! Ahh…those are the creative arts. There’s something about conceiving a thing and seeing it manifest from raw wool, ink or cloth into item that is not just useful, but striking, that makes a part of your soul come alive. This is especially true if you’ve never seen yourself as capable of such a skill. Extending yourself beyond the norms of what you are most known for, what people would consider as “your thing”, is therapeutic as fu… It’s therapeutic.

This is how I know: On December 29th, 2016, I developed a tension headache that progressed into a full-blown migraine; my very first. It lasted twelve days. I thought I was going to have a stroke, my head was going to explode and then I was going to die. I couldn’t do much writing in that time – because I literally couldn’t THINK. But I knew I had to do something besides lie on my bed and wait out the pain. Sitting still and doing nothing for 12 days would kill a part of me I couldn’t do that. I discovered that what I could do was keep my upper body very still and use my hands to create something, even if that something wasn’t a string of coherent sentences. It was in those 12 days that I conquered my fear of the sewing machine and made fabric necklaces. Concentrating on something other than my affliction was essential to my survival. Some of you will be the fortunate recipients of the fruits of my anguish.

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These are my migraine inspired neck pieces: Purple Pain (L) and Scatter Your Brain (R)

See more of Elom's work at elomayayee.com

See more of Elom’s work at elomayayee.com

I discovered something else in that time. When I could bear the light emanating from my phone, I traveled around Instagram to see what my IG Tribe was up to. Everyone was ringing in the New Year creating. Nimi was knitting and Elom was taking phenomenal portraits…better portraits than she has in the past. (By the way, both women hold degrees in rocket science or volcano exploration…or something. I’ve not known them to be visual artists or craftswomen until lately.)

Nimi makes whimsical handmade scarves, booties, cute things. She's also a writer:www.nimisword.com

Nimi makes whimsical handmade scarves, booties, cute things. She’s also a writer:www.nimisword.com

Similarly, my sister (who is not on IG and who will probably fly to South Africa to beat me for sharing these images without her permission) had designed, drafted and built kitchen and living room furniture from scratch.

Not “assembled”. Built.

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She has a Masters in physics, and apart from those wood-planing sessions in JSS, has no formal training in carpentry. But this was IN her.

Unauthorized photos of my sister's work.

Unauthorized photos of my sister’s work.

If you look around your circle of friends, you will likely discover that any number of them has some hidden, untapped talent waiting to burst forth and give them new life. You may be tempted to encourage them to sell their creation(s) once discovered, but quell that encouragement if you can. Some of us create with the intention of selling our productions, but most Secret Creatives won’t. For the latter group, the profit is in the making of the item, not in making a profit. It is my personal belief that because we’ve been so wholly programmed as a culture to monetize everything – every act, every skill, and every thought! – that the sweetness of infant invention loses its savor and we abort creativity before it has a chance to live because our first thought is “What if it doesn’t make me money?”. As though if it does not offer a pecuniary return, it’s worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a wind of fresh life that fills and rejuvenates you when you create something new; and that oxygen – that feeling – is far more precious than money.

This weekend, I was having coffee and a cry with a neighbor and our conversation took an unexpected turn to the creation story. We pondered over what God could’ve possibly been thinking when S/He made crazy stuff in the beginning. Things like water moccasins and lungfish and those little electric jellyfish that live at ocean depths that will crush you if you venture there without the right equipment. What were you thinking, Lord? Why make any of that? Now I imagine God’s answer would be: “Because I CAN.”

That’s good enough for me.

 

What hidden treasures lay inside of you? What CAN you create?

Query: Is Pumpkin Spice Supposed to be the New Watermelon?

The election is over, thankfully. We’d all hoped for some normalcy to return to our lives (Trump’s repeated threats to rip apart families and unleash his Gestapo on communities of color, notwithstanding) but things have only gone on to get more and more bizarre. Now, in post-racial America, we have white people who are convinced that they number among the racially oppressed. They have termed this phenomenon ‘anti-white bigotry’.

I have yet to find anyone who has been able to explain what anti-white bigotry actually is, how it has adversely affected white communities, or robbed them of their humanity or one way or another. If anyone from the Reddit community could do this without referring to me as “nigger” or “cunt”, as so many who wandered here after my Tomi Lahren piece did, it would be much appreciated. Because as it stands, many people are uncertain about how pointing out white delight for Sperrys, roller derby, fresh fruit and now – pumpkin spice – equates to having to navigate voter disenfranchisement, redlining, police brutality, stigmatization, and so on. Inquiring minds want to know!

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I have come to the conclusion that white Americans are only oppressed in their minds. All of the angst and fear they’re experiencing is the same as the anomalous effect described in Michael Crichton’s book, Sphere. Native Americans are not rallying to chase you off their land, Black people are not gathering up arms to murder you in your beds, Mexicans are not building a wall around Buford Highway to keep you away from authentic food or fresh, affordable produce at the farmer’s market…even though these would all be natural and justified reactions to the way these and other marginalized groups have been cheated, brutalized and dispossessed by mainstream white America. In the absence of that retaliation, certain factions of liberal and alt-right America have identified how marginalized groups are now exacting revenge through reverse racism (which is not a real thing, by the way). Behold! We the Committee for White Tears puts to you that Pumpkin Spice is the new watermelon!

I like watermelons. Everyone does. There is a reason every fruit salad bowl made available at Public is 70% watermelon. In fact, I consider anyone who does not enjoy a sweet watermelon suspicious. However, watermelons and the Black community have a turbulent relationship. Says William Black of the Atlantic:

“…that African Americans are excessively fond of watermelon emerged for a specific historical reason and served a specific political purpose. The trope came into full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War. Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom. Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure. Few Americans in 1900 would’ve guessed the stereotype was less than half a century old.”

On the other hand, the elements that make up pumpkin spice have a far less noble beginning. It is comprised of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Much like sugar, pumpkin spice was initially available to only aristocratic families. Because elitist tastes always dictate middle class fashion, the proletariat in both New World and the Old soon also developed a taste for the aromatic goodness of cinnamon. To feed this new demand, the Spice Trade went into full gear. It devastated natural habitats, cost human life in the thousands, robbed nations of their sovereignty and changed the balance of power.

In that regard alone, watermelon and pumpkin spice sharply differ. The proliferation of one is rooted in economic freedom and the other in colonial, imperialist oppression.

pumpkispice

I can understand how a group of people who have never known extensive oppression – or whose ancestors were given preference and opportunities to lift themselves from subjugation, like the Irish – can suffer confusion about what makes a stereotype and what constitutes racism. As I told the bearded twitter user who made the stretch in asserting that pumpkin spice is a racist trope: Denying people jobs or housing because of their ethnicity is racism; Not allowing a Black doctor to help an ill passenger on a plane because she’s Black is racism. Saying white girls love pumpkin spice…is just a fact. And it’s certainly not rooted in bigotry.

Look. I can pick up 15 glossy magazines today, from Marie Claire to Teen Vogue – and I can guarantee you that there will be dozens of mentions about pumpkin spice, boots and wooly mittens. There will be hundreds of thousands of dollars of ad dollars spent to attract white, female consumers to try out pumpkin spice Oreos and/or cream cheese, or participate in a Pumpkin Spice 5K run to support a charitable cause. The simple fact is, white women respond more urgently to pumpkin spice than they do to the sight of a black child gunned down in the street. And this perception – and twisted reality – is not the fault of any person of color. This is an idea fueled and created by white people working at white owned and controlled ad agencies.

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Before you proffer the idea that pumpkin spice is a symbol of white oppression or a tool of Black antagonism, as yourself how many white people died violently in the procurement of pumpkin spice. Has pumpkin spice been used as an emblem of shame? How does the image of a happy white woman in an autumnal glen inhaling its sweet aroma lend to the oppression of an entire group?

107725159_girl-eating-watermelon-black-americana-retro-tin-signI would love to see watermelon themed fun runs, 5Ks, camping events or birthday parties, but we as a race still haven’t been able to overcome the stigma that is attached to the wonderful, sweet summer fruit. That’s the difference. When a white woman clasps her venti Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, she’s considered artistic, determined even. She’s getting fueled for her day or taking a break from it. *If I sit on my porch, swinging my legs, twisting my pigtails and spittin’ seeds in a cup, I stand a real chance of some douchebag making hooting monkey noises in reaction to my presence. Both substances are used as agents of humor, but only one affords the persons closely associated with it humanity.

Conclusion: It is absurd and obscene to compare the warfare and violence that has dovetailed with the cultivation and consumption of pumpkin spice with the entrepreneurial spirit behind the cultivation and consumption of watermelon.

 

*Imagery borrowed from Rasheeda S. who, like me, loves a good piece of watermelon.

 

Reflections on Language

Damon Young, editor in chief over at VSB, has curated a list of things Bougie Black People (BBPs) love. Among the litany are unnecessary hashtags, Solange and full beards and Jesse Williams. (I think it’s fair to say that ALL Black people love Jesse, bougie and otherwise.)

If there were a published list of things loved by progressive (read: dadabee) Ghanaian women, Nana Ama Agyemang’s podcast ‘Unfiltered’ would certainly be chief among them. It will be a while before the industry catches up and begins to reward this canon of work with awards and recognition, so let me be one of the first to say that ‘Unfiltered’ is award-winning, way before it has won any awards. The show is consistently well produced, is delivered on time and features some of the brightest female minds in Ghana today. Oh, and my cousin Poetra Asantewa is the voice behind No Panties, the podcast’s musical score.

Nana Ama closes each episode of Unfiltered with a question for her co-hosts for the day.

“What have you been reflecting on?” she asks.

The responses have been humorous and sobering, with women confessing to reflecting on anything from grief to Ghana’s wrecked economy/individual buying power measured in procured balls of kenkey. I often ask myself what my response would be if I ever had the opportunity to appear on the show. I generally come up blank, since I spend most of my days mulling over the backlog of writing I have yet to attack or ways to keep my kids away from the TV and focused on their books. None of this is particularly interesting to anyone but me and the people who take school fees from us. However this week, I found myself in a discussion that has refused to release me from its grip. It was about language, and I’ve found myself reflecting on it deeply.

A friend of mine was looking for a name for a new venture she’s undertaking. She wanted a Twi word for something avant garde, svelte, funky…You know? I told her that I was not the person from whom to seek advice, since my Twi is dismal and getting worse by the year. I can barely ask for water, let alone conjure up an adjective that would excite the imagination. She assured me that I could not be that far gone, and I assured her that I most certainly could.

“In fact, I think that you will find that many Twi speakers are unable to convey their thoughts in pure, poetic Twi. We speak so much Twi-glish in Ghana these days that we’ve almost ‘un-interpreted’ our language for ourselves. Our language is so diluted now. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said for Ga, Fante and the dozens of other languages spoken throughout the country.”

For instance, I told her about a Twitter friend of mine whose Akuapem name translates as “a glow”. When she wrote about her name – her early disdain for it and eventual struggle to embrace it – I connected with that. As Ghanaians, we’re all indoctrinated to understand that our Ghanaian names have meaning…however Western/Anglo names give you access, a certain privilege that meaning can’t. I believe the same can be said for language.

Anyone who’s spent anytime in an academic environment will tell you how speaking English, and the more fluently the better, provides a certain distinction among your peers. Perhaps you may be called upon to read in front of the class more often, perhaps you’ll be given a seat in government and eventually become president because you communicate well; in English. The same deference is not afforded to the pupil or professional who has mastered a local language – any local language – to the same degree. Indeed, there are some who have written entire theses about the impossibility of expressing oneself completely in a Ghanaian language, because they do not provide the “breadth and depth of thought” in order to do so. And yet a word for ‘glow’ exists. Someone had to be looking up at and studying the properties of the moon in order to create a word for the halo around it. Naturally, other words would be created to describe the modern societies we lived in, prior to the invasion of the European.

What are the Twi words for luminescent, philosopher, glabrous or entrepreneur? Is ‘kpakpakpa’ now the official vernacular for entrepreneurship, or will the original word (which I’m certain existed) be lost forever? Do we even care?

Former palace of the Asantehene before it was ransacked and burnt by the British in 1874

Former palace of the Asantehene before it was ransacked and burnt by the British in 1874

Long before English infiltrated our linguistics, we had architects, blacksmiths, mathematicians and apothecaries. Much of the knowledge about to build, maintain and advance our society has been lost, along with the language to define it. Perhaps this is why Ghana finds itself constantly in a position to beg for development loans and favors from other nations who’ve done a better job at preserving their traditions, like the Indians and the Chinese. We’ve lost the ability to define ourselves, which is why a statue of Ghandi is sitting up at on a university campus and not one of the many heroes who resisted colonial oppression and subjugation, Yaa Asantewaa aside.

Image credit: mg.co.za

Image credit: mg.co.za

I understand that language changes with time and events. The English spoken in the 15th century is not the same language spoken today. It is only natural that African languages would follow the same trend. But since we’ve failed to preserve the old, I do worry that we are not creating new words to express ourselves fully and uniquely in this modern age. We are increasingly becoming reliant on English to define our thoughts, to our own detriment. We give more honor foreign languages with our mouths and minds, and there is no denying. Who will honor ours?

That’s what I’ve been reflecting on. What has captivated your thoughts and imagination recently?

 

*You can listen to Unfiltered on Soundcloud every week when you click HERE.

 

 

Announcing a Week of ‘MOMvertising’ Here on M.O.M!

On early Monday morning, a member of the Plett health and wellness community published a request for bloggers to bid on a writing position he had available for his organization. The opportunity to write for a genre I’d never focused on before – drug rehabilitation – intrigued me. Unfortunately, I was thinking (and quoting) in terms of dollars and summarily out priced myself from the running. But that’s okay. I think my loss was to someone else’s gain…specifically to the gain of the five companies I’ll be featuring on Mind of Malaka in the coming days.

In submitting my bid, I did a quick Google search for my name and up popped several links to articles I’ve written for various media outlets and blogs. I have fixtures on plots of e-real estate all over the place! I believe this somewhat pervasive (and positive, for the most part) online presence is what piqued the seeker’s interest in my skill set. I was able to point to numerous examples of my work and demonstrate value. There can be no denying that in this digital age, online penetration is its own form currency. I didn’t get the job, but what if I could use my blog – my OWN e-real estate – to give other people the kind of boost I’ve worked to procure over the years? So that’s what I did.

I woke in the early hours of the morning the next day and tweeted to my followers, asking them to send me a synopsis of their projects, passions and/or products. I would promote them here on the site. Mind of Malaka has a strong and loyal reading, and I know that this community doesn’t exist to boost my ego alone. I truly believe God and Google have allowed this space to grow for the purposes of giving back in some way. I try to use my blog to do social good whenever the opportunity presents itself, and now WE – as a community – have the chance to use it to provide an economic edge for entrepreneurs coming off the starting block.

Advertising is expensive. Exposure doesn’t come cheap. And in this age of aggressive capitalism and quid pro quo, it appears that everyone is looking for what they can get out of the most mundane interaction…some sort of return on investment. While M.O.M. isn’t Marie Claire or Humans of New York (Brandon has singlehandedly driven record sales for dozens of small business owners via his blog), I would humbly like to offer this space in a broader effort to provide publicity for these passionate men and women you will see starting next week.

Image Credit: aimadverstising.com

Image Credit: aimadverstising.com

I wanted to give the venture a catchy name… like Pimp Your Product™ …but then that brought to mind all sorts of unsavory images. MOMverstising was the next, safest thing. It’s okay. You can laugh. 🙂

Are you excited? I am too! As these entrepreneurs and creative are featured, I’d beg you to share their profiles on your personal social media platforms. You never know if someone is looking for just the thing they have to offer. Plus, with the holidays and Libra season upon us, you may be the conduit for a fabulous the gift idea or your new favorite brand. We’ll all find out together come Monday!

 

 

T.I. Joins Exclusive Group of Visual Artists With Release of ‘Warzone’

Nina Simone once said that it is “the artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” Ms. Simone was many things all at once: an enigma – an undisputed musical genius whose unpredictable mood swings made her a polarizing figure. These elements were often a volatile recipe for calamity in her personal life; but they were also responsible for the creation and unleashing a melodic hurricane that spoke of the anger and frustration of a generation. With provocative and haunting performances like ‘Strange Fruit’ and ‘Mississippi God Damn’ in the days of fire bombings, lynchings, and acquittals by all white juries, Ms. Simone indeed “reflected the times and the situations” in which she – and thousands of people of color all over the nation – found themselves in. There was a general sense of prevailing injustice where Black lives were concerned in America. I wonder if it would grieve Nina Simone to know that 50+ years on how relevant her music still is today for the very same reasons.

Music has always played a crucial role in story telling and the preservation of our history. We have long looked to musicians to play both comforter and chronicler of our pains and joys. Acts like Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival wrote the soundtrack of the protest era of the 1960s. When my generation saw a resurgence of social apathy, corporate greed and police brutality we had no musicians cum socio-political stalwarts to look to. Ours is a generation that values profit over protest, and so it was with gratitude that we eagerly embraced D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ at the end of a tumultuous 2014, while the Black Eye Peas have been compelled to re-release ‘Where is the love’ (2009) because the world is so jacked up.

It is seldom that we turn to visual art as a political provocateur, as the most visible depictions of Black bodies in art are often seen oscillating between positions of contentment or suffering. As a tool for the purpose of protest, Black bodies in visual art have been employed to appeal to the soul and consciousness of the white mind, pleading for mercy and ascribing camaraderie where none generally exists.

Josiah Wedgewood, an English potter and abolitionist, commissioned one of the most recognized images in contemporary art history. The seal of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art. The art is framed around the narrative that one must do unto others what you would have them do unto you. After all, are we not all human? It would set the tone for future depictions of our bodies in art, a desperate attempt to humanize us to a group who has long seen people of African descent as pitiable, exploitable or little more than a curiosity. The art always in the service of the white gaze.

am_i_not_a_man

In recent years, there has been a dynamic shift from that approach, and this is where T.I. “Tip” Harris makes his mark and joins a peculiar set of artists who have disrupted this old narrative. Using ‘sacred’ American symbols and white bodies, these artists are no longer asking mainstream America to look inward for compassion. Rather, they have forced that gaze onto a mirror to see themselves in an alternate reality where white privilege no longer exists.

mv5bmti2ody1odcwml5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzyznzuxmq-_v1_uy268_cr30182268_al_The first time I saw this done was in a movie called White Man’s Burden starring John Travolta and Harry Belafonte. Released in 1995 and 89 minutes long, it makes for very uncomfortable watching and would therefore not be surprised if you haven’t heard of it. Naturally, reviewers rated it very low. It unflinchingly shows a complete role reversal, where white people are ignoble savages, predisposed to committing crime and utterly unsalvageable as far as the Black elite are concerned. Think “If he had only followed the officer’s orders, he might have lived” from callous, unsympathetic Black lips munching on green bean casserole in response to watching an 11 year old white kid lies dying in the street.

 

Laurie Cooper, Black Man in America.

Black Man in America

Black Man in America

Cooper is a Philly based artist whose work showcases the special qualities of Black features. The image of an unmistakably Black man being strangled by the American flag makes a salient point: To be a Black man in America is to slowly have the life drained from you by a system and entity that has identified itself as a paragon of freedom, liberty and life. The juxtaposition is arresting, and if it looks familiar, it’s because Nate Parker borrowed the concept for his marquee art for Birth of a Nation.

 

Tyler Shields’ photo series ‘Historical Fiction’ (2015)

Lynching

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When Tyler Shields began to share the controversial photo of a naked black man hanging a white Klansman from a tree branch, his friends expressed dismay. It was “too much”. Indeed, it is a lot to process. Harkening back to a time when men in white robes could and did execute Black men, women and children without fear of repercussion, to see a Black man refuse to conceal his identity behind sheets like a coward in order to execute the same murderous treatment undoes everything we have been indoctrinated with about race and power. ‘Historical Fiction’ walks viewers through the daily injustices that African Americans face with white bodies on the receiving end.

 

Beyoncé

Formation

Formation

Think pieces have been written in abundance about the song and the video that police unions have denounced as “anti-cop”. At the conclusion of this video Queen Bey drowns a cop car with her body, calling to mind the ultimate sacrifices that Black women have made throughout history in the fight against oppression. But perhaps the most pivotal moment in the video is when a carefree Black boy in a hoodie – a garment that Geraldo and his gaggle of co-horts on Fox & Friends believe renders the wearer worthy of street execution – dances in front of a row of police officers in riot gear lifts his arms and compels them to do the same in surrender. Folk did not like that at all. And by folk, I mean Bill O’Reilly n’ dem.

 

T.I.

Warzone

“The new racism is to deny racism exist”. In a brilliant response to the insipidness that is the ‘All Lives Matter’ mantra, T.I. uncorked his bottle of dambs and poured out every last one of them. The man responsible for bestrewing the tragedy that is Iggy Azalea on the world of hip-hop and the world at large has re-earned my respect with this offering. I have to admit, I was concerned for Tip for a moment.

There’s a lot to say about ‘Warzone’, but I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t already seen/heard it. Viewer discretion is advised.

 

*Are you comfortable with witnessing white bodies experience Black pain? Discuss.

From Tyler Shields' Historical Fiction

From Tyler Shields’ Historical Fiction