Category Archives: Thoughts raging in my head

Europeans Never Came to Africa for Slaves

In our Junior Secondary School (JSS) history books, we learned about names, dates and places on the African continent that were so distant that they might as well have been on the moon. We learned about the importance of Fernando Po, the Bight of Benin and our own Cape Coast castle in Ghana – all essential to European trading activities in West Africa. We learned that the first Europeans to come to West Africa were the Portuguese who were quickly followed by the Dutch. They came to trade guns and beads for gold and ivory. A few centuries later the rest of Western Europe joined the fray, only now they needed a new commodity to trade in order to satisfy their labor needs in the New World. So we learned that the Europeans traded (and raided) for slaves.

 

They began to trade in slaves.

 

The more I meditate on that statement, the less I find that it is true. The Spanish, Portuguese and the Dutch (and the British, and the French, and the Belgians, and and and…) didn’t come to Africa for ‘slaves’; they came for People.

 

They came for men, women and children.

They came for men with deep belly laughs and high-pitched caterwauls when they mocked the women they loved.

They came for crafty little girls who liked to do cartwheels when they thought no one was looking.

They came for 10-year-old boys who raced around the village in contests to determine who was swiftest.

They came for women who loved to eat cocoyam and hated the sight of snakes.

They came for youth who were in the middle of courtships, who had stolen kisses and risked forbidden touches at sunset.

They came for grandchildren who were the pride of the elders, the blessed fruit and the evidence of their years of dedication to the values that their clan upheld.

They came for artisans, metal workers, weavers, hairdressers, midwives, farmers, fishermen, noblemen and noblewomen.

They came for both the princess and the pauper.

They might have come for the drunkard too, but he wouldn’t have survived the middle passage so they spared him by putting a bullet in his head and/or chest.

They came for friends who were on the cusp of settling an old quarrel.

They came for architects who designed and oversaw the building of magnificent cities in the Songhai Empire.

They came for scholars and they came for griots.

They came for the holders of ancient history.

They came for the warriors and they came for cowards.

They came for shy little boys and brazen little girls who grooved to the rhythm of drums that could imitate the sound of water.

They came for the drummer.

They came for the spiritual and those who mocked the afterlife alike.

They came for women who loved nice things and men who loved to compliment women wearing nice things.

Europeans never came for slaves. They came for people like YOU and ME.

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But because our worldview of Africans is so completely Eurocentric – that we can sit in classrooms and learn about these events as if they were just events and not the horrific lived experiences of people we all have a kinship to – we can confidently and comfortably rattle off dates and the names of forts for a passing grade. Has it ever occurred to any history student in our Ghanaian schools (if they even still teach history any more) that the people who were captured during the genocide and kidnappings were never slaves to begin with? How do you ‘trade in slaves’ from the African coast when these men, women and children all lived free? Africans that were abducted from the continent did not become slaves until they set foot in Europe or the New World, where they (and their descendants) would be become chattel. It is when that slave owner in Charleston or Kingston stripped an African of his/her identity, swapping the name Mansa for a meaningless appellation like Platt. The process of becoming a slave is not complete until a person’s humanity is completely ripped from them. The terrors unleashed in so-called seasoning camps in the Caribbean where men and women were broken to insure compliance and the horrors of torture cells on Butler Island and plantations all across the Deep South are what produced generations of slaves. To quote a line from LeVar Burton’s reproduction of Roots ‘You don’t buy a slave. You have to make a slave.’

Malachi Kirby portrays Kunta Kinte in 'Roots'

Malachi Kirby portrays Kunta Kinte in ‘Roots’

What we learned about – what the Europeans did when they forced millions of Africans onto floating death traps and what we continue to refer to in common parlance – was a brutal, mass forced migration, not a ‘trade in slaves’.

Our ancestors and abducted kin were people whose lives mattered. Lets honor them as such when we discuss their plight.

Several Ways in Which Black Lives Matter is Nothing Like the Ku Klux Klan…And Why That’s a Good Thing

This week, in yet another stunning display of utter ignorance, Tomi Lahren went on Twitter to compare the Black Lives Matter Movement to the KKK.

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The tweet has since been taken down, but taking down such a divisive, ignoble and quite frankly idiotic position such as this one is tantamount to setting a house on fire and then throwing a cup of water at the burning visage with hopes of dousing the flames. You can’t make incendiary statements like this and think that erasing them changes the effects. It’s just ludicrous.

As foolish as Lahren is, she is neither the first nor the only person to make the comparison between BLM and the American terrorist organization known as the KKK. Both Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have attempted to draw parallels between the movement and the Klan. And once Sean and Bill have formed an opinion and made a decree, it becomes doctrine, worming its way into the conservative psyche were it incubates until it manifests as right wing “fact” on forums with burning crosses and silhouettes of men hoisting rifles. You know…micro-sites that ‘Real Americans’ like Joe Walsh frequent.

In any case, the entire comparison is absolutely asinine, and one has to wonder if people like Hannity, O’Reilly and Lahren are really that uneducated OR are simply pandering to the sympathies of a population that they know to be unenlightened about the horrors of American history in order to pay their own bills. I find it hard to believe that the man who researched and wrote Killing Lincoln would lack the ability to do honest research about the myriad atrocities that the KKK have meted out against communities of color for the past 150 years. I know Bill O’Reilly is a widely read man and I therefore am compelled to assume the latter. I know he is not ignorant, so that can only mean he is unscrupulous.

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There are thousands – if not millions of ways BLM is nothing akin to the KKK, and those differences are counted in Black lives lost at white supremacists’ hands. For the sake of brevity, let’s just focus on these six:

The Klan is highly organized and efficient

In as much as it hurts to admit, we have to give the Klan props for its organizational skills. They are and always have been a well-oiled machine. When you come from the dominant class and majority race that controls resources, this is easy to do. It’s difficult to get the Black Lives Matters organization to respond to an email, but then they haven’t had 151 years of training, organizing and recruiting talent for their cause to facilitate the sort of efficiency the Klan has long exhibited.

Now, this may seem like a soft comparison, but it leads to the next point of differentiation which is…

 

Control of Resources

Structural economic oppression has been one of the KKK’s most effective tools in their terrorist agenda. Historically and repeatedly, Black American businesses and enterprises have been bombed, burned and sabotaged by white supremacist agents. Greenwood Ave, Chicago, Atlanta, Rosewood and even the nation’s capital, Washington DC have all been subjected to race riots and calculated destruction, reducing aspiring neighborhoods to rubble and blood. These are just a few examples of white destruction of Black property on a grand scale. Across the country, countless Black business owners would find themselves driven out of business or killed if their enterprise posed a threat to white prosperity.

Thomas Moss, grocer and friend of Ida B. Wells was lynched with two other men when their business posed a competitive threat to a white grocery store owner in the vicinity. Again, this is only one of numerous examples.

In order for BLM to be anything like the KKK, every white business owner MUST feel that they are under attack. They must feel that members of the Black community can and will harm them fiscally and physically at any moment…and will do so confidently and with impunity. The BLM chapter in New York would literally have to fire bomb 5th Avenue, the New York Stock Exchange and all of Wall Street to mirror the Klan.

That’s not what BLM wants. The group and all those loosely associated with it want equitable and fair treatment from financial institutions and gatekeepers, but this is not going to happen, realistically. The real truth is that until Black people begin making it a policy to spend exclusively (or primarily) in their own communities and supporting Black owned businesses, we will never have the power to neutralize the effects of this oppression.

Premise and policy of racial supremacy

The KKK was founded on the belief that white lives (where ‘white’ means Anglo-Saxon and Protestant), white culture, white religion, white hair (you get the picture) are superior to any person of color. This belief then became policy, affecting not just Black people, but Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans and even the Irish who were considered ‘Europe’s niggers’.

Every group of people feels that there is something inherently special about them…some differentiation that makes them better in one way or another. We can use the jollof wars as a harmless example, if you like. However it is only whiteness that has historically had the power to turn that belief into federal or state policy.

Not too long ago in America’s history, a Black person of either gender could find themselves scourged or maimed for looking a white person in the eye when addressing them. As an inferior, unequal being, you did not reserve the right to eye contact with your betters. Black people were restricted from using public amenities, shopping in particular establishments, and even had their clothing policed. Klan members and the silent, complicit white majority ensured that these codes were strictly enforced.

BLM has no such policy-making abilities. As a Black woman, I have no right to walk up to a white guy and snatch their Sperry boat shoes off his feet because wearing them constitutes a violation of Pig and Jim Crow laws.

Furthermore, all white men/women/children would have to be conditioned to not just fear Blackness, but to understand that offending Black sensibilities could result in the loss of life, property or liberty. There would never be justice because white folk would be too afraid to speak up against atrocities. Intimidation would be the order of the day. A culture of silence and relying on the supernatural to intervene where the law has failed would become the order of the day.

How did the Klan assist with this conditioning? Because….

The Ku Klux Klan, especially in the South, was the beneficiary of state funded financial and political support. In fact, the Democrat party was run by the KKK in the early part of the 20th century. Political kingmakers like Leander Perez (who infamously quoted as saying, ‘The best way to hate a nigger is to hate him before he is born.”), Senator Robert Byrd and David Duke are just a handful of state and federal legislators who were active members of the KKK. I know of no BLM member who enjoys such clout and even if they did, I doubt they would condone, order and facilitate the type of devastation this Good Ol’ Boy network exacted against communities of color. And before you say it, one lone wolf sniper in Texas maketh a policy of widespread terror not.

Which leads us to the final distinction:

The KKK’s policy of employing extreme physical violence

Until BLM protesters begin firebombing white establishment homes, dragging white men from their beds and hanging them in the town square, raping white women and girls, some as young as 12, or mowing down entire neighborhoods under a hail of gun fire, even as residents flee… Until that becomes not only policy but an actionable plan, this comparison is disingenuous. It’s actual BS. The KKK is a terrorist organization, tolerated by the majority of liberal white America because it has never affected them. That tolerance has allowed them to morph and reorganize like a cancer. You can’t compare a couple of unarmed kids with placards and slogans to men on horseback, pick up trucks and nooses to the latter.

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All Black Lives Matter protestors want is for the state sanctioned and murder of Black people to stop. How is this hard for such a large population of the country to understand? White people should all be grateful that African Americans have been so longsuffering and forgiving this far. Trust me, you don’t want the tables turned and the shoe firmly affixed on the other foot. Neither do we. It takes too much effort and energy to oppress another group. In the words of Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for that.

I Moved to South Africa Because I Couldn’t ‘Call in Black’ in America

“Can I ask you a personal question? It’s one I’ve been dying to ask you since you guys walked into the office that first day.”

I braced myself for an inappropriate query before chirping an apprehensive “Sure! Go right ahead.”

“Why did you move to South Africa…when so many people are leaving?”

This is proving to be a difficult question to answer, as she was not the first (and certainly won’t be the last) person to ask it. I faltered and offered an unintelligent, canned response. Something about exposing my children to a “new culture” and providing our entire family with a “change of scenery”. Her tone was saturated with such utter shock and disbelief, as if our decision to relocate to this country was a tragic mistake that needed irrefutable justification that I desperately wanted to give her an answer that would satisfy her incredulity and curiosity. This paltry attempt was all I could muster.

“I just feel very much at peace here,” I concluded.

She responded with a flat “Umph.”

The inquisitor was the admin at what is to be our children’s new school. Even though she and I have only met on two occasions, we’ve established a mutual respect for one other. She’s a straight shooter who calls it as she sees it; my type of woman. Ordinarily, I would have responded with the same sort of directness that we both embody…but how do you begin to explain to a stranger that the impetus behind the decision in question is fear? And specifically, the fear of becoming prey – carrion for a militarized American police force? The real truth was shrouded in much more gloom. The peace I described wasn’t so much as me running towards something positive in South Africa in as much as I was running away from something far more frightening. And though our family’s mission web page is chockfull of flowery prose about our emigration being spawned from a desire to encourage Godliness, entrepreneurship and the like (which would have been the more inspirational response and the one my husband would have given), my personal motivation is and has always been rooted in a desire to escape a feeling of latent terror. Was she – a white South African woman – ready for that level of truth? How uncomfortable would that make her? I couldn’t be sure, so in providing this saccharine coated answer I instinctively did what Black people in America have been trained all our lives to do: Make white people feel safe.

A year or so ago, Evelyn from the Internets created a video in which she suggested that Black people ought to have the option to “call into work Black”, the same way people call into work sick. She performed a hilarious – but poignant – sequence of morning rituals to illustrate her point. Before we get out of bed, almost everyone in this modern age does the same thing: we check our phones for the time, the weather and the news. When you’re Black, that news seemingly always involves the death of an unarmed Black man, woman or child at the hands of the police. Then comes the predictable chorus from the majority population admonishing the dead for refusing to “obey authority”, effectively pouring salt in our collective gaping wounds while blaming the slain individual for their own tax-payer funded murder. This is sprinkled with the insidious insistence that Black folk are imagining that race and racism are factors contributing to any of these events.

This cycle has been on rinse and repeat for the past 500 years, and the load doesn’t seem to get any lighter.

In the days leading up to and following our fairly successful transition to the southern hemisphere, I have noted the absence of the dreaded Hash Tag. You know the one: the one that announces the identity of the slain youth/college kid/activist/jay walker/loosie cig seller/what-have-you on Twitter. The hash tag that carries the weight of the details of this person whose life has been cut short because (s)he “looked suspicious” or “resisted arrest”…even when there is no indication of what they were being arrested for in the first place. The hash tags that are permanently seared into your consciousness like the molten metal of a slaver’s branding iron. The hash tag tweeted and retweeted like a death knell.

I knew that they were out there – the unnamed and killed – but there was no evidence of it online or anywhere else. I tried to convince myself that maybe I HAVE BEEN overly sensitive. Maybe 2016 was different and the police had learned how to do their duties without taking life, and taking it violently and wantonly. Maybe the nightmare I was running away from in America was actually over.

Maybe…But even my instincts told me that this was neither true nor possible. The absence of these names and faces from the public consciousness were more likely due to media suppression than the police’s sudden ability to do their job humanely where Black bodies were concerned.

And then it happened. This morning I awoke to the news of Alton Sterling’s sidewalk execution on July 5th. Before the dawn’s early light had filtered through my bedroom, I saw him wrestled to the ground and heard a series of shots that silenced Mr. Sterling’s questions. “What did I do? What the f— did I do?”

Then I heard the officer pause his gunfire before shooting him three more times. That old, familiar shroud of grief cloaked itself around me again. That white-hot pain that I’ve learned to anticipate every year threaded its way through my heart. I was crestfallen, but today I experienced something different.

I experienced relief.

I experienced gratitude.

I experienced an indescribable bitter sweetness, one that I imagine must be similar to survivor’s guilt.

Because for the first time in my adult life – and more specifically since becoming a mother – I don’t have the same sense of fear that is dovetailed with the experience of raising a Black boy in America. I don’t worry that once he’s grown and barely out of the house (or playing in the park), his name will be this summer’s dreaded hash tag. In watching Alton Sterling die, I feel the grief that follows yet another Black life lost – this time because he was selling CDs and had a gun in an open carry state – but I don’t feel that same ancient weight…the one where I seriously have to wonder if I or someone in my immediate family could be next. I don’t feel like I’m living under a terrorist’s threat any more. I feel sad…but more than that, I feel free.

The Guardian keeps a tab on the number of people killed by police in the USA. Alton Sterling is Number 558 in 2016. That’s more lives snuffed out than calendar days thus far. And we all know Number 559 is not far behind. We can feel it. He/she could be lost and needing directions or failing to use a traffic signal right now. There is no ultimate guide for keeping yourself safe and Black in America. Ours is the struggle of the pine tree, pleading with the axe to find a new purpose at Christmastime. There’s no way in that equation that the pine tree comes out the victor and every day is Christmas.

As far as South Africa is concerned, perhaps this is still the honeymoon phase of my new arrangement, but I don’t feel “Black” in this country – at least not in the way I did in the States. I don’t feel like my children or I have a constant bull’s eye on our backs. I’m not naïve. I know that the safety and acceptance we’re experiencing now is because we’ve been ‘othered’. Sure, we may be Black, but we’re Americans above all. This makes us a novelty and that sort of discrimination benefits us now, but as we adapt and adopt more of the customs of our host’s society those perceptions could change.

I’ll deal with that when the time comes. For the moment, I’ll happily trade exoticism for a sense of safety. And because calling in Black is never going to be an option, this is the next best thing I could have done for my peace of mind.

 

Stop Saying “Africans Sold Themselves Into Slavery”. Dig a Little Deeper.

If you happen to find yourself in Savannah, GA during the tourist season, you may also find yourself on one of the many trolley services that offer historic tours of the city. Each tour is unique, as guides pepper important facts with tidbits of information from their own lives or offer their own opinions of the impact of historical events on themselves, the city or the region. On one of our recent visits to Savannah, we decided to try out the Confederate version of these trolley rides. Actors dressed in period garb hop on and off the trolley, portraying Eli Whitney, Mary Telfair and other of the city’s most famous residents.

Our driver that day was a jovial Black man who went by the name ‘Hollywood’ and peppered his monologue with high pitched groans – attempting to imitate the sound of a woman at the peak of a pleasurable (possibly sexual) experiencing. He had his Sambo act down pat, which in itself made me uncomfortable. He was proud of Savannah’s confederate past, replete with its importance as a commercial cotton and slave trading center. But when he went full on Pharrell, I was overtaken by an unsettling desire to leap from the moving bus and my torment at Hollywood’s hands.

“I want to tell all the white folk on here that slavery is not your fault. Oh yeah! Yuh-yuh-yuh see, the Kings and Queens of great African empires sold their own people into slavery. Africans sold themselves into slavery! Slavery was around in Africa long before white people got there. You don’t need to feel no guilt about that.”

It was an awkward moment for all of us, white and Black alike. Inherently, we ALL knew that this was an oversimplification of events, but since Ol’ Hollywood had sold his soul to the Confederacy and its Trolley Service for a pittance, it was his duty to propagate this half baked – and now increasingly accepted – aberration of the truth.

“Africans” didn’t sell each other into slavery. Traders, warlords and snitches from distinct and unrelated tribes did.

I know that in this age of anti-intellectualism and cognitive sloth that it’s easier to lump all of Africa into one massive monolithic society, but we must resist the urge to do that. Africa, its people, its cultures, languages and customs are diverse. And diversity often provokes tension. A part of that tension is a sense of superiority. Superiority feeds tribalism. And so when the Dutch, French, Belgians and British (and everyone else who participated in the Scramble for Africa) decided that they were no longer interested in congenial trading with Africans, desiring instead total control of their resources – slave labor being one of those – they instituted a tactic known as divide and conquer, exploiting ancient tensions between these tribes and ethnic groups. There were no “Africans selling other Africans”. The distinctions among whom we now think of as the homogeneous African were in those days very clear. For instance, there were Fantes allying themselves with the British in exchange for protection from their stronger northern foes in the Ashanti Empire, who found their capital burned and their citizens marched through to forest to waiting dungeons and ships all along the coast as a result of that alliance. Divide and conquer was replicated all over the continent – all over the world! – treaties were made and broken, the tribes who allied themselves with the French/English/Portuguese assimilated to their culture, assisted their allies by feeding, fighting for and procreating with them, and the real work of colonial expansion could begin.

To say that “Africans sold each other into slaver” is about as accurate as saying “Africans invited Europeans to colonize them”. There are as many documented examples of resistance to the never before seen brand of chattel slavery that the French, British and Portuguese had introduced to the continent as there are for support of the venture. Queen Nzinga fought fiercely against the ravages of slavery and all of the fallout that came along with it. She understood how destructive slavery was for her people and her neighboring kingdoms. At the same time, the Kings of Dahomey enriched themselves by inciting wars and trading the human lives of their captors, like flesh at a butcher’s shop, in markets. These people would later be marched and sold down the coast to dungeons likely never seen by these greedy kings.

In 1807, Britain declared all slave trading illegal. The king of Bonny (in what is now the Nigerian delta) was dismayed at the conclusion of the practice. He (in)famously said:

“We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.” *

 It is important to understand that these slave raiding and trading kings, seduced by the wealth offered to them in guns, butter and whatever other trinkets the Western nations were peddling, did not see their captors as fellow Africans. They were Hausa, Dagaare, Ewe, Wolof, etc. They were others. In the timeline of the African continent’s existence, the concept of the unified, unilateral African is barely 20 seconds old, if that. It’s sexy, but it’s equally damaging to think that Africans have always thought of themselves as African first. It is for the sake of this flawed concept that people think that ‘African’ is a mother tongue, or that Africa is a country, and why American celebrities and philantrpopists can stand in the midst of captivated crowds, extolling the virtues of ‘African culture’ and how it reenergized their spirit. You went bungee jumping at Lake Victoria, then on safari and a Black boy brought you a Grapetizer. What about that particular experience denotes African culture? Eh?

I’m getting off track.

In the coming days – and as these things always do in the summer months when the streets in underserved communities all across America turn into killing fields – Black people everywhere will be asked to look inward, reflect upon their current state and ponder how THEY are to blame for their current condition. Invariably, some sanctimonious genius will piously assert (on Twitter, likely) that the Black man is to blame for his misfortune because we’ve been “selling each other (out) out since Africa”. That this is the curse of the black condition.

The tragedy is that globally – regardless of your race or ancestry – we have all been lured into accepting the idea that Black people are identical in our Blackness. That’s not because this idea supports or furthers our well being, but because it makes the work of white supremacy and/or black disenfranchisement easier. Before the one-drop rule became the standard to determine one’s Blackness – and destiny, by extension – there were about 200 racial classifications to describe blackness based on hue, hair texture and facial bone structure. This caste system and the classifications that accompanied it were replicated all over the New World. In Argenita, people of African heritage were categorized as:

  • Mulatto: Black and White parents.
  • Morisco: Mulatto and White parents, although in the early phase of Spanish colonization the term “morisco” also denoted a Muslim who had converted to Catholicism.
  • Albino: Morisco and White parents.
  • Quadroon: one-quarter Black ancestry/three-quarter White ancestry.
  • Octoroon: one-eighth Black ancestry/seven-eighth White ancestry.
  • Tercerón: White/Mulatto mixed, an octoroon.
  • Quinterón: fifth-generation Black ancestry/one parent who is an octoroon and one White parent.
  • Hexadecaroon: sixth-generation Black ancestry.
  • Zambo: Black/Amerindian mixed.
  • Zambo Prieto: Black/Amerindian mixed with predominant Black.

You can imagine how complicated this was…which is why eventually we were all loped into the category of ‘Negro’, regardless of how mixed ones ancestry may be. Similarly, it requires too much effort and investigation to identify one of our best-known pop performers as a Sisaala singing woman from Funsi in Northern Ghana. To the rest of the world, Wiyaala is an African singer, and it’s just that simple. Because as we’ve stated before, Africa is a country.

What I want people to walk away with is an understanding that 1.111 billion people, the population of this chicken leg shaped continent, though similar in some respects, do not identify universally as one thing. Recognize our diversity and individuality. Recognize that it wasn’t “Africans” who sold each other into slavery, but rather unscrupulous men partnered with other equally morally bankrupt men. There were no Ghanaians selling other Ghanaians. Ghana didn’t exist. Africa as we understand it today didn’t exist, either.

 

This post is dedicated to one of my favorite high school teachers, who always made room for my insanity, Chriss Tay. Thank you for contributing to the woman and thinker I am today. Thank you for making history classes fun and relevant. I hope to make you proud, always!

 

*Source: The Story of African Slavery/bbc.com

A Beginner’s Guide to Steamy Sex in African Literature!

I’ve recently begun getting into podcasts and This Afropolitan Life (TAL) has become an early favorite. TAL is “a blog that inspires Afropolitan women to live stylishly, adventurously, conscientiously, and confidently—by a woman who’s trying to do the same. “ Clarissa Bannor hosts each show (or at least each episode I’ve listened to thus far) where she catches up with influencers in the arts, entertainment and the table. You thought “politics” was going to take the last category eh? No! I think we Africans are probably more invested in what we eat than who runs our respective democracies/dictatorships.  (See the Jollof Wars for reference.)

So as I was saying, I tuned into this week’s episode because Clarrisa was interviewing Zahrah Ahmed, curator of Book Shy Books about what books should be on our beach/summer reads for 2016. @bookshybooks and I recently began following one another on Twirra, and it’s always nice to place a voice with a handle. I listened in with a smile playing about on my lips for the full 28 minutes. ( Click HERE to listen to their amusing conversation.)

Clarissa and Zahrah ran down an impressive list of authors and titles from varying genres; Genres like sci-fi, young adult and horror that don’t readily come to mind when we think of “African literature”. Ben Okri, Chimamanda No-Last-Name-Needed, NoViolet Bulawayo, Nnedi Okorafor and Buchi Emecheta made the list for obvious reasons. These are all brilliant African writers. NONE of these authors write steamy (African) romance, however. When it comes to sex in the African context – or between two African partners particularly – I think the perception that the sex is primarily (and unavoidably) awkward, messy, cumbersome and/or forced or violent in literature still persists.

Perhaps this perception is what prompted Clarissa to ask earnestly:

“African sex scenes…who does that well? I’ve heard Boakyewaa Glover does a good job in The Justice. Do we typically do good sex scenes?”

…to which Zahrah earnestly replied:

“Well, Ben Okri won the bad sex in fiction award.” Then she mentioned Ankara Press.

…which had me screaming at my iPhone:

“Ladies! Sisters!! Africans write loads of steamy, panty sopping, abeg let me get a drink of ice-water before we continue, sex!”

They couldn’t hear me outchea in the ether, so there was only one thing to do: head over to Twirra and take the conversation there. After much playful banter, Zahrah suggested that I put together a list of steamy African literature for beginners. Never one to back down from a challenge, to scooped up the gauntlet and will now introduce to some and present to others

Ten Books to Get you Hyped about African Romance/Sex/Erotica.

 

  • The Justice – Boakyewaa Glover41bL63TB3pL._SY346_
  • TOWGA (The One Who Got Away) – Sharlene Apples41tYggH9tjL._SY346_
  • Destiny Mine – Nana Prah

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  • Chancing Faith – Empi Baryeh51L-icIpXKL._SY346_
  • Africa Hot: West African Stories of Sex and Love – Nnenna Marcia514l-iNDhlL
  • The Daughters of Swallows – Malaka Grant
  • malaka-book-ad
  • Keeping Secrets – Kiru Taye (Kiru also writes fantastic period drama/historical romance.)D1BnJK4eu8S._SL250_FMpng_
  • Everything Nana Malone has ever written – Nana Malone (Seriously. It’s hard to pick ONE title!)D1okM2PqbGS._SL250_FMpng_
  • Lover of Her Sole – Malaka.51FPn2KcxsL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_
  • Novellas from Ankara Press – Various AuthorsxQdIUpwY

 

The content in each of these titles is diverse with the heat ranging from PG-13 to R. Read your blurbs and choose books according to your steam tolerance wisely! And don’t worry: there aren’t any doe-eyed women strolling wistfully in meadows contemplatively reflecting on whether their paramour would’ve fought harder for the longevity of the relationship if only she’s pounded her fufu a little harder and made it a little softer. What I like about each of these books is that the heroines are relatable and realistic. This is contemporary African romance!

You’ve probably noticed that few of the names of the authors on this list are “big in the industry”. That’s because African romance – with its themes and scenes and reactions they illicit are enjoyed privately – does not have the benefit of broad-based support publicly. That’s a political discussion for another time. Nevertheless, these authors produce great work filled with rich plots and multi-dimensional characters.

 

Have you read any of the books on this list? Is there a title or an African author who you would recommend to someone who’s curious about the genre? Leave the details in the comments below!

 

 

 

Can Beyoncé Wear Another Woman’s Skin and Still Be a Feminist Icon?

“If it’s what you truly want … I can wear her skin over mine. Her hair over mine. Her hands as gloves. Her teeth as confetti. Her scalp, a cap. Her sternum my bedazzled cane. We can pose for a photograph, all three of us. Immortalized … you and your perfect girl.” – Beyoncé, Anger from the album Lemonade.

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If that isn’t some creeped out Silence of the Lambs ish, I don’t know what is. (Don’t worry if you’re too young to catch that reference. Someone will do a remake in about 15 minutes and you’ll get caught up. Heeeey Roots!)

In the coming days, there will be an avalanche of fawning think pieces penned in well-deserved praise of Beyoncé’s much anticipated and recently released visual album, Lemonade. I have not come to fawn nor genuflect, but to ask a question that has been troubling me since I devoted an hour to consuming Lemonade on Friday night. That question is: can Beyoncé be considered a feminist while occupying space as a face of violence against women? And if so, how so we propose to reconcile that?

At its core, feminism – and its derivatives womanism, afrofeminism, etc. – is about protecting the rights of women as a group subject to systematic discrimination. That discrimination manifests in many forms and to differing degrees depending on geography. In 2014, a list of the 10 worst places to be a woman in the world was compiled for Marie Claire magazine. Among them were Pakistan, the DRC (no surprises there) and the United States of America.

While the reasons that it sucks to be a woman in America on the list are pretty bad, one can’t help but notice that the issues raised are fairly one-dimensional. For example, guaranteed maternity leave is a middle class issue. Socially disadvantaged people have to first worry about getting a job before they can worry about leave. The economically disenfranchised who make minimum wage and are known as the ‘working poor’ face a whole hoard of different issues that stem from their immediate surroundings, violence chief among these. Women and girls in America’s inner cities are particularly vulnerable to acts of sexual and physical violence from police, in their schools, at social gatherings and so on. As a result, gender based violence has been normalized in American culture. Women are taught how ‘not to get raped’, rather than rapists being held to account for their actions. It is has been present and prevalent in our societal fabric for so long that few hardly take notice anymore…which is why Beyoncé can whisper a few verses about flaying and dismembering another woman and the entire world manages to gloss over it.

I wrote (and never published) a post called “When Women are the Face of Violence Against Women” wherein I explored the many instances where women perpetuate and condone violence against other women. I focused on examples from Ghana that were making headlines at the time. The women I looked at would never call themselves feminists – because it’s such a dirty ‘f’ word in the country – but if you asked them if they believed that women’s rights are human rights, they would likely say yes. And then they would go home and flog their teenaged maid for burning rice, or cheer after receiving news that a college student had been raped for having the nerve to trust certain ace broadcasters at their word that they only wanted to go up to their hotel suite to talk and have a drink. During my exploration, I forgot to remember my sisters in the States who suffer similarly, and have done for years. I forgot because violence against women in America is just as prevalent and insidious but not as overt as it may be in say, India.

The use of violent language to sell records is not a new phenomenon. Artists craving a reputation for being “edgy” have employed lyrics that warn potential adversaries that it would be a bad idea to cross them. Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, Axl Rose welcomed you to the jungle, Michael Jackson told you he was bad, Bob Marley shot the sheriff and so on. All the time, you got a sense that there was a righteous retribution attached to the mugging or murder, right? We were made to feel like the Little Guy was finally getting his comeuppance against a bigger, meaner foe who had finally met his match. But then something changed. Gradually – until it looked like it was a sudden event- it wasn’t enough for our hero musician to earn his stripes by establishing himself as an equal among men. Now lyrics had a new, weaker – but just as loathsome target: women. Subjugating women was just another tool to demonstrate power. And the use of misogynistic, depreciating and threatening language against women, with the sole aim of selling albums has netted the industry billions of dollars over time.

Do you remember the first time you a man threaten a woman with physical violence in music? I do. It was on House of Pain’s single “Jump Around”:

 

I’ll serve your ass like John McEnroe

If your girl steps up, I’m smacking the ho

 

And then the lyrics in the 90s and early 2000s just got progressively worse until I had to stop listening to rap and abandoning hip hop culture altogether. There were only so many promises of a choking, beating, pimping and/or skeeting on I could take. People of like mind accelerated our love for R&B and pop, which have traditionally been safe spaces for women in music. We were in the minority obviously, because hip-hop as an industry has a trillion dollars in spending power and revenue per annum, according to Forbes. Who’s going to stand up for women when trillions are at stake?

Enter Beyoncé. And if she has to use Becky’s “sternum for my bedazzled cane” to make this album a hit, it should surprise no one that she uttered the words with such unflinching ease.

I imagine that Beyoncé must pose a quandary for established, old-order feminists. Having Beyoncé as one of the loudest voices for new wave feminism must be a bit like making a deal with the devil. As a new(ish) disciple of feminism- a concept that is both political and religion for some – Mrs. Carter’s unparalleled reach in terms of diversity of audience and exposure makes her a powerful ally for the movement. She reaches more people in a day than a Ted talk on feminism ever would. However, because she does have such high visibility, there is also an expectation (or hope) that she get feminism right. And that’s the conundrum. As a professed “feminist”, Beyoncé’s relationship with Becky with the good hair is out of step.

By the end of Lemonade and the couple’s imaginary feud, we see Bey cuddling with Jay Z, all sweetness and light, full of forgiveness. Never mind that Becky’s body is still hanging in a closet somewhere. If feminism is about sisterhood, the hard truth is that Jay Z’s severed hands should’ve been serving as gloves, not Becky’s. It was theoretical Jay who did the theoretical cheating. He’s the one who violated his vows to his wife. He’s responsible for breaking up his family, not this other woman. The video ought to have ended with Bey and Becky cuddling (or yodeling to the ancestors while throwing confetti into the bayou…or whatever our version of Eat.Pray.Love is) if Beyoncé were actually a feminist. But she isn’t. She’s a capitalist using every and anything at her disposal – even the destruction of another woman’s body – to hawk her wares.

(Furthermore, by killing Becky and giving the Mothers of the Black Lives Movement a place of honor on the visual album, she reinforces the idea that some women’s lives are worth protecting and others are not. That’s another discussion on its own.)

It will be difficult for me to give Beyoncé a pass on this score despite the many other feats Lemonade accomplishes. Just a few days ago, Amy Joyner-Francis, a sophomore high school student from Delaware was beaten to death in a bathroom over a boy.

A boy.

She was fighting with another girl when a swarm of other students joined in the fray, knocking her head against the sink and eventually costing Amy her life. I have not read if any of these young women have expressed remorse as yet. And why should they? Even their fave, and her devoted Hive, would have done the same.

 

 

*By the way: If you like my blog, you’ll love my books! Click here to find all my titles from a resource near you.

Success is Coded in Your DNA

A year ago, a good friend of mine was going through a course with the aim of becoming a certified life coach. He asked me if I would be willing to be his “guinea pig” and participate in mock coaching sessions. Unfamiliar with the nuances of coaching and totally unimpressed with these “white pipo tinz”, I reluctantly acquiesced…though you wouldn’t know it by my response when he first made the request.

“Oh yes! I’d looove to work on this with you!”

I wanted to help out a friend, and if faking my enthusiasm for this new endeavor is what it took, then I would do just that! But then a strange thing happened in the weeks and months that followed our mock coaching sessions. I began to become more productive. I began to more carefully consider what types of food I put in my mouth and I even lost a bit of weight. I was more focused on what type of messages my writing was conveying. Every time I found myself about to embark on any activity, no matter how mundane, I’d hear Kobby’s voice in my head: “And how does eating the pizza help you reach your weight loss goals?”

Eventually, he got his certification and our sessions ended. He took on clients and had less time to shoot the breeze with me. I grieved for a while, but I never told him. I only gushed about how proud I was of him and never let on that I was now feeling adrift. I had managed to survive without him before, and I could do it again!

But can I tell you how happy I was when we had the opportunity to reconnect again yesterday? It was like being hit with a blast of fresh sea air after being trapped in a murky tunnel. I had originally reached out to him to ask if he had the bandwidth to assist me with a project, but in the end our interaction left me with something much deeper and more meaningful. I want to share that with you today by paraphrasing a portion of his monologue. (And Kobby can monologue o! Like a super villain explaining his dastardly plan and why you will never stop him from succeeding…)

“There’s a baby I’ve seen grow up in my church. I witnessed his mother’s belly swell over the course of 9 months; we were present for his christening;  I’ve heard him cry during service. Recently, he started to walk. He came tottering down the aisle and kept falling and falling after every few steps. Do you know this baby didn’t give up once? Every time he fell, he smiled and got back up and tried again. Falling for him wasn’t ‘failure’. It just gave him the opportunity to get up and try again until he mastered it. He wanted to walk, and of course, he eventually did.

Now, why didn’t he just lie on the floor and give up after the first time he fell? It’s because success is coded in his DNA. Success is coded in the DNA of every person living on the earth! The mere fact that you’re alive means that you are meant to be successful. The probability of human life is so slim. There are too many perfect scenarios that have to align in order to create human life…so your mere presence is a success story!

But back to the baby and his ‘failure’: The same principle in our adult lives. Any time you attempt something for the first time…or the sixth, until you’ve mastered it, you are going to have set backs. But instead of being like the baby and re-attempting, we often listen to these voices in society that convince us to give up before we try, or rehash our failures. It makes us scared. It diminishes our capacity for success…and that’s why we have so many people content with their mediocrity strolling around here.”

source: 123rf.com

source: 123rf.com

Why didn’t the baby just lie on the floor and give up after the first time? Man.

Can you imagine the state of the human race if we all just stayed on the floor well into our sixties because we never gained the confidence to tray again at twelve months of life? We’d literally be crawling to work. I think about all of the projects and dreams I’ve abandoned because they didn’t work the first time out of the gate and I feel humbled. If only I’d had the tenacity of a toddler!

Like you, I’ve heard all this before, and if you’ve ever sat in a self-help seminar or read ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, this is not new thought. But lawd, was it refreshing to have it restated!

Success is defined in many ways, often left up to the individual to determine what that looks like and from where to draw the power to attain it, but this is the first time I’ve heard success as being explained as coded in your DNA.

Success is a part of you. Whether you believe it or not, you are successful – right where you sit, right now.

 

You may leave your offerings at the door as you exit.

 

PS: Mother’s Day is coming up! Please listen and share this exciting new promotion heading your way! https://soundcloud.com/malaka-grant/mothers-day-mother-load-sale