Category Archives: Thoughts raging in my head

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

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

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

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

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

am_i_not_a_man

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

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

 

Laurie Cooper, Black Man in America.

Black Man in America

Black Man in America

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

 

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

Lynching

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

 

Beyoncé

Formation

Formation

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

 

T.I.

Warzone

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

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

 

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

From Tyler Shields' Historical Fiction

From Tyler Shields’ Historical Fiction

Education: The Missing Piece of the Reparations Conversation

The topic of reparations is never far from the minds of most people in America. Even if it’s not a subject dominating the conversation, it is always niggling at the subconscious of the population, and just about every one has a strong opinion on the matter: Either reparations is owed to the descendants of slaves or it isn’t. It’s tempting to assume that race primarily plays a factor in attitudes for or against (the most vocal opponents of any reparations initiative are frequently white), but there are quite a fair number of people of color who oppose the idea that the descendants of African slaves in America are due any sort of pecuniary redress because “slavery was a long time ago” and we’ve had ample opportunity to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. In his book Enough, Juan Williams paints those who pursue the cause as those looking to exploit the blood sweat and tears of slaves and the current suffering of Blacks in inner cities and impoverished pockets of the nation as wanting to line their own pockets. He calls the reparations conversation ‘dead’.

As long as there is racism in America – as long as violent racial tensions exist in the country – the reparations conversation will never truly die. I say this because the topic is far more complicated (at least in my mind) than ‘for or against’; because the idea of reparations, like the successful institution of slavery, requires deep thought, much effort and a clear vision about desired outcomes for the future.

Every once in a while, an event from America’s ugly past makes headlines and necessitates a conversation about reparations. Earlier this year, a story revisiting the 272 slaves that were sold by Georgetown Jesuits in 1838 in order to pay off a debt (briefly) took over the national conversation about what the descendants of slaves are owed, if anything at all. Esther Armah discussed the Georgetown incident with her co-hosts for the day on her podcasts The Spin in a refreshing look at the topic from the both the African and African American perspectives. It is here that Christina Greer explores her complex feelings on the topic, particularly where Georgetown is concerned. For her, the idea that naming a building after the ill-fated slaves in the 1838 purchase, or giving university applications of their descendants a “closer look” does not even begin to mark redress for the tragedy their ancestors endured. Yet it seems this is where Georgetown has begun and ended their monologue. It was a ‘monologue’ because the descendants were never brought to the table to discuss reconciliation or acceptable steps moving forward.

The great-grandfather of Rochell Sanders Prater was a slave sold by Jesuit priests to help keep Georgetown University afloat. Source: OEA

The great-grandfather of Rochell Sanders Prater was a slave sold by Jesuit priests to help keep Georgetown University afloat.
Source: OEA

I’ve recently had similar conversations with Chriss Tay, one of the most brilliant academic minds I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. Mr. Tay is of the opinion that the key – and missing – element of the reparations conversation is not money, it is education.

He says, “Should there be monetary compensation to the descendants of slaves? Absolutely. But that alone is not remedy enough for the ills that the Trans Atlantic Slaver Trade unleashed globally. Monetary reparations won’t stop a cop from shooting a child playing with a toy in the park or from choking a man selling cigarettes…but education WILL. There is something that this man has been taught about Black people to see them as a threat and a menace first, rather than human.”

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As a professor of history himself, he asserts that the history and horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, the Flint water crisis and so on must be taught accurately and beyond platitudes. This history – poorly taught – affects current attitudes, and not just in America, but globally. How does he know this?

“Look. If you put a big ship at the harbor today in Ghana and wrote ‘Slave Ship – Destination: America!’ indigents would be fighting among themselves to get their spot on that ship. They have no concept or understanding of the types of things African slaves went through on board and after they got off of those ships in the New World. This is because of a lack of education.”

He and I had this talk in June of this year. If I had any doubts about his assertion, they were all put to rest when I saw this video of African migrants jubilating at their first sight of the Europe after they were rescued from the coast of Libya on BBC:

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If only they knew what they were in store for, eh?

The reasons why these migrants and all minorities are little better than second class citizens go back to the systems that were erected to keep them there; and I believe it is those systems that need to be eradicated, rather than having money thrown at them.

We know that money has never really solved a problem. Not at its root cause. It is integrity and intention that brings about true change. Giving Black and brown people in America 40 acres and a Hyundai today are not going to resolve the issues of chattel slavery. Why? Because most people aren’t going to know what to do with those types of resources…because harboring this level of ignorance has been by design. Furthermore, Black people and communities who have historically shown themselves to be entrepreneurial and self-sufficient have had their work and efforts destroyed, forcing them back into positions of need.

I am against any sort of lump sum pay out per head for slavery. I believe it would be a disaster from both ends of the equation. First, I believe that for white people it would signal the end of the conversation. America declared itself “post racial” with the election of Barack Obama, something the news and interactions in your WalMart parking lot tell you is nowhere near the truth. Can you imagine what a payout of $xxx would signal to them? “Well we’ve already given you money you didn’t earn. What more do you want”  The second problem is what to do with the money itself. I can’t say with confidence that an individual payout will help communities of color if there is no plan for community re-investment.

When Hurricane Katrina happened, we were all privy to the number of victims who ended up in Lennox Mall with their emergency money in hand buying Luis Vuitton bags or scheduling cosmetic surgeries. These people had never been taught the value of investment and long-term thinking. They have lived hand to mouth with moments of mirth sprinkled in, just as their predecessors had. This was not an accident. From Reconstruction to Second but Equal, the creation of a second-class citizen and a blunted mind was intentional. And if white people in general and the elite in particular want to throw off the shackles of the White Man’s Burden – his self-appointed directive to ‘civilize’ the world – then this corps is going to have to do just that. They will have to put in the same effort that made slavery and the many forms of effective subjugation that followed successful into the effort of demolishing these old systems and the erection of new ones with the partnership of people of color. Probably more effort. Everyone knows it’s more difficult to undo a knot than it is to tie one.

Let me give one example. The DeWolfs – a prominent family in Rhode Island – made their fortune in the shipping and selling of slaves. James DeWolf (1764-1837), was a U.S. senator and a wealthy merchant who was reportedly the second-richest person in the country when he died. In the 1790s and early 1800s, DeWolf and his brothers virtually built the economy of Bristol.* In reading about the DeWolfs, I discovered that their wealth generation was not a straight line: it was a web. People from all walks of life in their New England community invested in DeWolf slave ships for a handsome return on that investment. Blacksmiths, bankers, even preachers earned capital from those investments. So when folks use the excuse that their ancestors never owned slaves to absolve either themselves or their family from the great stain of slavery and its aftershocks, it simply doesn’t wash. We see here that you didn’t have to own a slave to be a beneficiary of slavery.

This is just ONE community that invested its time and resources into making the institution of chattel slavery a success; efforts that went on for hundreds of years. The Civil Rights Act was just passed into law in 1965. That was only 51 years ago. Do you think slavery was the efficient monster it grew to become after its first 51 years? No. African folk were still running away, talking back and thinking their ideas counted for something. The enslaved mind had to be made and that inheritance passed on to their descendants. The undoing of that effort is the new White Man’s Burden. Teachers, the TSA and Theresa May will need to invest their resources into revolutionizing not just the minority mind, but “mainstream” thinking as well. If Black people could have done it alone, we would have done it by now. But we’ve been appealing to white consciousness with very little effect for centuries. See the ease with which people blame the Trayvon Martins of this world for their own deaths.

am_i_not_a_man

Unlike Juan Williams, I do not believe the reparations conversation is dead, but I do believe it’s time for it to evolve. I suggest that the conversation move away from reparations to restoration. What financial compensation can be offered for the fracturing of families? How many dollars is displacement worth? Can you put a figure on what it means to have your identity ripped away from you? And yet, that’s what’s required to bring this quarrel to a close: a restoration of what was lost in those centuries of colonization and slavery. Put back what you stole. Give people back their dignity. Give them freedom over their affairs. Stop cheating, experimenting and poisoning whole communities. Commission effective programs that will give people a real world skill. Allow people to feel safe in their own communities. Restore the humanity that was and is still being siphoned away today. And just like the triangular slave trade, this must be a global effort. The aftershocks of slavery have not affected North and South America alone. Everyone from Cape Town to Copenhagen has a part to play in this process. Whether for pain or pleasure, we are all the heirs of our ancestors’ actions and have a responsibility to work towards righting any wrongs for the sake of our progeny.

 

Let’s here from the scholars. What are your thoughts?

 

*source PBS.org

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.

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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.