Category Archives: Thoughts raging in my head

A Response to the Reponses to Nana Agyemang-Asante’s Public Decision to Leave the Church

Amnon and Tamar

In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.

Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”

“Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. 11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate[a] robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

2 Samuel 13: 1-20

 

That’s probably more of the Bible than y’all have read on a Monday morning. Intense; I know! Why is this scripture important? Because it speaks to the experience and relationship that so many women have with the Christian Church…a relationship that is toxic, destructive and worst of all, ignored.

Two weeks ago, Nana Ama Agyemang- Asante penned a post titled: Sex, Sermons and Submission: Why I left the Church. She can correct me if I’m wrong, but this particular post has garnered the most comments of all the blogs she’s written this year. Ms. Agyemang-Asante is a radio personality and cultural/political critic on Citi FM. On her personal blog, she writes about issues she’s passionate about: governance, food, sex, religion and at times the intersection of all four. This post was one of her strongest, in my opinion, because she took a stand that so many women – not just in Ghana, but globally – are afraid to make for themselves. She left an organization that she examined and concluded as harmful to her as female AND human, and more importantly, was vocal about it. It is for the latter part of that process – speaking up about her decision – that folk have attempted to shame and goad her into silence using pseudo-Socratic thinking and a flurry of rhetorical questions that do nothing to address (or resolve) the issues she raised. And THIS is the frustration that many women face in the church. Those who don’t face it are just refusing to acknowledge it.

The Church at large is notorious for treating women like Tamar. Women bring their gifts, their offerings, their talents and their time into the house of God in good faith. When you look around your church, who’s doing most of the work? The women. They’re organizing events, they’re cooking food, they’re up all night praying, they’re fasting. Meanwhile, men “sit at the gates and boast” of their Proverbs 31 wife. When young/single women enter the church whether through salvation or obligation by proxy of family ties to that church, they are eager to give themselves to the Body. And what does the Church do? Gobble them up; use them; spit them out…just like Ammon did to Tamar. This cycle goes on rinse and repeat, year after year, century after century.

Have you ever found yourself wondering why women who are SO invested in church life are the surliest of creatures? Why Obinim’s wife can sit at the high seat of the church altar and smile while two teenagers are whipped in her presence? It’s because they have become a desolation, just like Tamar. All the love, light and hope that they brought into the church body has been raped out of them by patriarchy, tradition and men’s presumed right to treat women as they will.

This is not Nana Ama’s first time speaking up about the harmful shenanigans that take place in churches all over the country. Likewise, I have also written about the abysmal things said about women by Ghana’s favorite preachers who earn their wealth by shaming and hurting women. Other women in online spaces have spoken up in reaction to these harmful messages as well. It’s not as if, like Tamar, we don’t offer alternative suggestions on how to get along in the house of the King. Could men be kinder? Could they show more charity? Could they consider how their words affect us as their sisters in Christ? Are these suggestions so outrageous that the only natural response is Amnonic in nature – you have to force your will?

And on the other side of these events, the reaction from Bible thumping men, church attending is usually the same:

To shout us down.

To tell us to expect the wrath of God to be visited upon us for touching “His anointed.”

To tell us we’re overreacting because it’s “really not that big of a deal.”

To tell us to shut up.

In short, these Brothers in Christ are doing the very same thing Absalom did to Tamar by telling her to be quiet and not take it to heart. And you know what? It’s easy to advise someone who has been violated physically/emotionally/spiritually to ignore their anguish because you’re not the one who has to live with the trauma day in and out. It’s the path of least resistance, and it never ends in triumph. Tamar lived out her days as a desolate woman in Absalom’s house. Does a single chauvinist understand what that does to a person? I know it’s hard for people to understand what desolation looks like in a woman, so here’s a picture of a city. I hear analogies about rape using jollof, tea and hair cuts are all the rage. Maybe this architectural juxtaposition will connect with someone who just. Can’t. Get. It.

Tamar before, and Tamar after. See? See the difference?

Tamar before, and Tamar after. See? See the difference?

I’ve heard folk counter Nana Ama’s choice to exit the Church with analogies of their own. Do you leave a job because everyone is a hypocrite? Do you stop going to a hospital because sick people are there? The answer is simple: If an organization refuses to clean up its act, then no one has an obligation to utilize its services. Would you continue to work for a boss who slapped you every time you showed up for work? Would YOU continue to seek treatment at a medical facility that washed its tools in feces before administering treatment, despite your protestations and pleading suggestions that they disinfect? Hell nawl.

Nana Ama chose not to live her life as a desolate woman in the house of the King. She broke free. This limb was poisoned and she cut it off. Was it drastic? Perhaps…but it was necessary. Necessary because we live in a time when the Church is still operating in the Dark Ages where relationships between the Holy Ghost and men are concerned. If we’re honest, there are many more women who look at their relationship with their house of worship and know in their heart of hearts that it’s BS. However, fear of a predictable renders them immobile. There’s something about a woman exercising her right to chose that sets chauvinists teeth on edge, sends them careening off the edge of sanity, howling at the wind. Who can reason with someone like that?

I'll cut you with my words before I even THINK of respecting you!

I’ll cut you with my words before I even THINK of respecting you!

There are definitely more subtle ways to fix male-female relationships in the Church that don’t require a total break, but that would require men to do some real work in their own hearts first. But right now, too many are not willing to acknowledge that there is a problem. Like Amnon, they are guided by their desires and presumed right to hurt women in any way they deem fit. In the midst of all this pain, women are expected to keep this family secret. After all, Muslim women are supposed to be the ones who are oppressed, not US Christians. We’re supposed to be ‘free’. What Nana Ama did was expose an ugly truth about what goes on in ‘houses of God’ and like racists who are more invested in controlling reactions of oppressed people of color, Christian chauvinists would have women be silent if they can’t stick to the script. You are more invested in managing the response to being injured than the injury itself!

I hope the Church will reach out in love to Ms. Agyemang- Asante and other women who have left in pain and/or for self- preservation. I hope, but I wouldn’t put money on it. If the comments on her blog and the other sites it was published on is any indication of what’s being taught in Church, it’s not the love of God.

 

 

 

I Haven’t Been Writing Much Because I’ve Been Depressed

I suffer from infrequent bouts of depression. This should come as a surprise to no one. I’m an almost 40-year-old African American woman who is living in a time of state sponsored violence against Black people, a possible Trump presidency and Super Gonorrhea for which there is no cure. So yeah, I have dark days.

This most recent bout has lasted for two weeks or better. I don’t really count the days anymore. I just wait for the depression to lift. As a woman who suffers from a mood imbalance, I consider myself lucky, oddly. I know a handful of people who have to live with clinical depression. For them, there is no “waiting it out”. Medication is the only way forward for them. They have to follow a dedicated regimen of therapy and pill taking…just to function. It’s difficult to admit, but for some, depression HAS no cure, because it often exists in tandem with other mental infirmities that require their own special attention. As evidenced by the presence of my 4 children, 2 of whom were conceived while I was on The Pill, I am not very good with following a prescription regimen. So yes, even though I go through these phases several times in a year, I do consider myself fortunate that I suffer the sort of “mild” depression I have endured since I was 12. Are thoughts of suicide considered mild? I dunno…

source: favim.com

source: favim.com

I’ve never seen a therapist for my depression, because Black people and Christians don’t need to seek the assistance of therapist. All we need to do is draw on our reserves of Ancient Black Strength and Jesus and the problem should disappear on it’s own. If your depression persists, it’s probably because you’re not praying hard enough or spent enough time considering all that the ancestors have gone through to bring you to this comfy point in your life – a life where you get to while away your days in front of a PC, listening to people opine about how and why reverse racism is actually a thing, or if women didn’t want to get raped they wouldn’t be outside after 8pm. We have a (half) Black president and a tax-free back to school shopping weekend coming up. What in the world is there to be depressed about, Malaka?

What indeed?

As I am always compelled to do, I searched for reasons for the depression I was (and still kind of am) experiencing. I tried to call to memory the causes. The screwed up thing about my sort of depression is that there often is no cause, at least none that should be big enough to warrant my staying in bed all day and sullenly stabbing at my dinner, but this time I was able to pinpoint a few. The most immediate one was loneliness.

In moving to South Africa, I completely underestimated what a negative impact being severed from physical relationships with my friends would be. I knew coffee with MX5 of Tuesdays was important, but in these 3 months without her have revealed that those dates were vital. I miss cackling with Frances for brief moments after church. I miss kickin’ it with Tia. I miss the exciting world of art that Tosinger ensnared me in. I miss my friends. I especially miss my sister. Acquaintances are great, because this awkward politeness has gotten old really fast. I wasn’t made to exist without strong, meaningful, female relationships. The husband and kids can never be a substitute for that. The time difference between our two continents has only helped with the isolation I’ve been experiencing.

Because I was feeling so isolated physically, I turned increasingly to social media for a panacea. This backfired, horribly. There is a direct relationship with increased twitter use and the chances of encountering codswallop in the form of the Internet troll. The trolls then found my blog, and my comments section, naturally. YOU don’t see the mean, senseless and hateful things people write in the comments because I don’t approve them anymore, but I have the unenviable job of scanning and trashing their disposable rumblings. A colleague suggested I just disable comments altogether, but not wanting to cut off a link between myself and the readers with whom I have an actual relationship, I cut the comments off automatically after 24 hours. It usually takes that long for a troll to gather his reinforcements. I then cut back on my social media use.

Funny thing about that. There is also a direct relationship with my social media use and book sales. Because my voice was largely silent on Twitter (RTs do not count as a “voice”), my book sales plummeted. And by plummet, I mean do not exist. I haven’t sold a SINGLE book in August on any of my retail platforms. This did not help to alleviate my depression.

So by now, I’m convinced that anything I write is either going to inspire a hateful comment or be a waste of time because it’s not earning me anything…so I just stopped writing altogether. Instead, I baked.

I baked cookies.

I baked cakes.

I also read books; some amazing, some not so much.

I bought fabric and a glue gun and watched YouTube DIY accessory videos.

And then I had to eat all the deserts I’d baked which led to rapid weight gain, which made me what? Come and claim your prize if you said: ‘More Depressed!’

Then I started comparing myself to other people. People are always trying to knock down Lydia Forson. Why didn’t I have her grit and tenacity? Why doesn’t my middle finger function as quickly as hers? Or Serena Williams. Look at all the hate she gets from all angles. What is the writer’s equivalent of an EAT THIS clap back twerking video? And WHY don’t MY thighs look like that?

index

Another cookie.

The more I fretted, the less I wrote and the more convinced I was that I was a crap writer anyway. Me? A crap writer? Had I actually thought this thought? This had to be the devil! Did Jesus hear Satan say this? Why hadn’t He come to deliver me by now?!?

The good thing about God is that even though S(H)e never shows up when you expect S(H)irm to, the timing is always right. For me, God showed up in the person of Sharlene Appiah, who called me on Tuesday out of the blue. We didn’t talk about anything that should have particularly made my depression lift…but it did. Something in her voice just broke it for me. And then I wrote about Usain Bolt and fried plantain.

I don’t know how long this good feeling will last, but I’m grateful for it. I don’t know if I’m back on a writing streak or not. All I know is that for today, #AmWriting. For today, that’s going to have to be enough.

Do you ever suffer from depression? Is it difficult for you to open up about? If it is, you should check out Bassey Ikpi’s Siwe Project on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You’ll find an embracing, supportive community and resources there.🙂

FW6ooh7X

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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 3.47.10 AM

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
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  • 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!