There Are No ‘Bro Code’ Discounts in Entrepreneurial Families

My husband and I are entrepreneurs. He writes code for a living and I sell any and everything. I’m not saying that to be funny. From essential oils to smutty books (and I think I just came up with an idea for a combo pack!), I am a basically an e-market queen. It is just remaining tomatoes and my portfolio will be complete!

Any entrepreneur will tell you that though this life is rewarding, this life is not for everyone. We live project to project, from one sale to the next. Entrepreneurship requires much mental dexterity (and a sprinkling of magic) in order to be successful. You have to be an actor, a counselor, an expert (or at least be able to BS the façade of expertise), a quick decision-maker, a pensive decision-maker, a soothsayer and a prophet in order to turn a profit. Oh, and a product – tangible or otherwise. This bizarre matrix of skills is why women – and a subset called ‘mompreneurs’ – make such good entrepreneurs. In common parlance, the endeavor is called a hustle.

There are no guarantees in the world of employment. 28 years at a “stable” company can suddenly cumulate in an unexpected lay off and a decimated 401K. Your job could be outsourced to China or Vietnam. Inflation could necessitate a cut in your salary and/or benefits. These are all very real possible perils when working in a structured (read: comfortable) corporate environment. Working for yourself is no less perilous, which is why entrepreneurs, more than anyone else live by this ONE code: Leave no money on the table.

You would think that other sole proprietors and small business owners would honor this code, this one rule that binds us all. But in a little country called Ghana, at the confluence of business and gender, protocol flies out of the window. Read the experience of Naa Oyoo Kumodzi in a recent interaction with a would be client.

Sounds crazy, right?

Like, could you ever see yourself negotiating salary – for instance – and having the HR rep or interviewer pause the interview and ask if they could get your husband on the phone.

“What? What for?”, you would certainly ask.

“To see if I could get him to talk to you about taking a smaller… more “reasonable” salary, of course!”, the rep says with a benevolent laugh.

Your next actions, up to and not excluding throwing his/her Stellar Award against the wall would be completely justified. Table flips are acceptable in this scenario.

There’s not a way that this interaction concludes peaceably; without someone’s feelings getting hurt. Oh, you’re gonna make a call alright, but it’s not to your husband. It’s gonna be to the EEOC and then there’ll be real hell to pay. Essentially, this is Naa’s potential client was asking her to do: voluntarily take a cut in salary after she’d determined her worth and set her prices.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with negotiating and bargaining for a better price. That’s the other paramount rule of entrepreneurship: Get as much as you can get for free and turn it into income/a profitable asset. But we aren’t talking about knocking off a couple of bucks on a service. We’re talking about erasing the service provider from the negotiating process merely because she is in possession of a vagina and therefore, limited capacity and wit and an excess of “difficulty” as a woman. A man would be better suited to negotiate with.

I relayed Naa’s story to my husband for a reaction. His reaction was, of course, to burst into hollow laughter.

“There are no bro code discounts in entrepreneurship,” he said flatly. “If that had happened in our house, I would’ve increased the asking price. You always sell yourself too short anyway.”

(I ignored the rebuke in his short tirade because it is true. I can’t resist giving something away, which violates another cardinal rule of entrepreneurship: Heaux! You ain’t arrived yet. You making Orpah money yet? Then you can’t be giving all your products away!)

As bizarre as all of this sounds, it should alarm you, yet certainly not surprise you, to know that men – and only men – are going out of their way to defend this wayward prospective client online. The circular reasoning ranges from “it’s just a part of our culture” to “he wasn’t being sexist, you are reading too much into what was said”. It is true that is a repugnant part of our corporate culture for men to dismiss women in powerful positions and bypass them in favor of interaction with another male, particularly in male dominated industries like tech, waste management and publishing, but I dispute that this is an acceptable part of Ghanaian culture…to sidestep a colleague in order to parlay with their husband/wife/father in matters of business as has been asserted.

I welcome anecdotal evidence to the contrary. A number of people have tried to spin this incident as consequence of traditional customs, and you know how disappointing it is whenever an African woman abandons her traditions.

Sir. Please. Sit down. We are talking about making money, not whether to salt your plantain with pink sea salt before or after frying.

In conclusion: Asking to speak to the husband of a female entrepreneur can only backfire on you. You know why? Because they share bills, that’s why. And if she can make more money it takes more pressure off of him and helps the entire household to prosper. Don’t do it. Whatever devil inspires you to make such a misstep much be exorcised immediately!

Out, simple sexist! Out in the name of common sense!

 

Have you had or known anyone to have a similar experience to Naa Oyoo Kumodzi’s? How did you handle it? And since it’s cuffing season and I mentioned that combo pack early on, you should really feel unashamed about picking up some lavender and lasciviousness. Check out these online bargains on both!

How Pilferage On An African Airline Inspired A New Accessory

I have the worst luck flying into OR Tambo Airport. Since I began flying to South Africa in 2011, I have had my bags broken into 100% of the time. There is no margin of error with regard to that statistic. No matter what flight/airline I’ve traveled on – be it Delta Airlines, or Virgin Atlantic, or South African Airways, or FlySafair – I am guaranteed to have some item lifted from my bags.

I have locked them.

I have zip-tied them.

I have tried stowing ratty looking luggage to make it appear as though a poor woman was flying and therefore had nothing worthy of lifting.

Nothing has worked.

In the past, the theft has amounted to little more than a few trinkets or personal items: shoes for needy kids I’d befriended in Bossiegif, a pair of head phones. One time, baggage handlers even stole my pack of sanitary napkins. Regardless, I at least always got my bag at the end of the conveyor belt. However during our transition from Atlanta in 2016, I became one of the thousands of people who have had their luggage either delayed or lost for perpetuity during air travel. I wrote extensively about this last year. Long time readers of MOM will well remember my angst. You don’t want me to rehash it and I don’t want to relive all the angry tweets (especially with Virgin’s twitter account!) so we’ll move on.

I am an unabashed shoe whore, a condition I developed as a result of growing up shod in the secondhand shoes of other people’s secondhand shoes. Getting new shoes was a rare and wonderful occasion for me as a child, so when I finally began to earn an income of my own, I set aside a monthly shoe budget. I love the variety and creativity of footwear. But more importantly, I love how shoes make me feel. Shoes are the one logarithmic constant in my wardrobe. No matter how thick my waist or hips may get, my shoes will always fit. I spent years investing in shoes, working my way from Pay Less brands to Cole Haan, commensurate with my salary. (And then the kids came…so you know how that goes.) By the time we relocated to South Africa, I’d stocked up an impressive arsenal of unique footwear . Footwear that was taken from me by devious agents operating in the aviation industry. Footwear that I could not find in my new home on the Garden Route, and sadly, not even online. It was a stormy time in my life.

No, literally. We moved here in winter when there were constant rainstorms and now I had no boots.

But as with all storms, there is a silver lining and an eventually burst of light that breaks up the dense nimbus. After many nights spent fretting and silently cursing, an idea occurred to me. If could not buy cute boots, maybe I could create something to make these basic Garden Route boots cute! That’s when I began toying with the idea of an interchangeable boot accessory that I now call FlashStraps.

FlashStraps are made with 100% cotton shweshwe (pronounced shway-shway), South Africa’s iconic fabric. Favored by the late anti-apartheid fighter and eventual president Nelson Mandela. shweshwe is fast gaining global recognition and popularity.

Shweshwe forms the basis of traditional Xhosa attire, and has a long and complex history stretching back 2,000 years to trading activities with Arabs and Indians who are rumored to have bartered indigo cloth with the Xhosas in exchange for local goods. The fabric was re-introduced to the region in the 1800s by German settlers who imported it from India as a trade stable. It has been a part of ready to wear and couture fashion ever since.

I coined the motto ‘Informed by the past, inspired by the future’ as a nod to the trials that often inspire creativity – like the birth of ragtime and jazz – and our very human penchant for trusting in destiny.

The inaugural line includes four colors, each representing and named for the character traits of my children:

Nadjah: Green and gold, representing wealth and success.

Aya: Blue and silver, representing tranquility and tenacity.

Stone: Earth brown and slate, representing stability.

Asantewaa: Red, named after the warrior Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa, representing an indomitable and fierce spirit.

 

Newton’s third law says that For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every interaction in our life elicits some response parallel in power and energy. Out of my intense pain of loss (and if you’ve ever shopped in the limited size 10/wide calf section of the shoe store and watched some trollop skip away to the counter with the LAST PAIR of suitable shoes, you know the pain of which I speak) came something as intensely beautiful. At least, I think so!

This is the moment where I pause in my reflections and thank the thieves over at OR Tambo Airport for their greed and dishonesty. Though they were instruments used of Satan, their nefarious deeds presented an opportunity for me to stretch myself. And beyond that, I would like to thank my initial investor for believing in FlashStraps, both as a sartorial accessory and for their historical significance. (She wouldn’t want to be named publically, so let’s allow her an air of mystery.) Her response was not only benevolent, but also necessary. It brought balance to a adverse situation, and I am grateful.

Aren’t they pretty? You can see yourself sporting these at the next Zuvaa Pop Up, can’t you? Of course you can.  You can leave your review of FlashStraps in the comments section and check them out here on Etsy as well. And while you’re at it, talk to me about something that was a severe negative that you turned into a positive!

 

 

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

Many years ago, I had the honor of hearing Leymah Gbowee speak in Accra as she gave an introduction to the film ‘Pray The Devil Back to Hell.’ The documentary covers chronicles social unrest in the West African Republic of Liberia, where civil war has torn the nation apart and left hundreds of thousands dead or displaced. The film reconstructs the way this tragedy galvanized a coalition of Christian and Muslim women to rise up and, through nonviolent tactics, put pressure on their government to pursue peace talks. In her opening statements, Leymah said something so profound that I have been unable to shake it from my memory till this day. She said (paraphrasing), “Women bear the stories of war upon our bodies.” She went on to describe a series of atrocities – gang rapes, mutilations and violent kidnappings – that would cause even the most stoic of persons extreme consternation. The somber scene now set, the audience went on to watch the film.

As statues, monuments and emblems created and erected to honor the Confederacy come tumbling down one after another across the US, I find my mind cast back to that statement. The choice to dismantle these symbols erected to honor men who fought to rip asunder America’s union, terrorize and hold in bondage a peculiar group of people and dishonor God by debauching His word and claiming it as “truth” has not come without opposition. There are many who argue that removing these tokens in recognition of the Confederacy is tantamount to ‘erasing history’…an idea that is only credible if we willfully deny the existence of history books, journals and museums. Their defense is that the Confederate states merely fought to preserve their way of life and that the Yanks were little more than infidels and invaders, contraveners of God’s natural law at best. I have to ask myself – have any of those who howl in opposition spent time interrogating what the Confederacy’s aims were? How can a person who espouses “American ideals” support the notion that any of these men and women deserve the privilege of esteem in American history? Have they seen what the bodies of Black folk say about the story of the Southern slave holding states?

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

It is well established that the Civil War was fought over the preservation of slavery. Slavery wasn’t just “part of” the way of life for the South, it was the foundation on which the economy and civil society were built and attitudes towards which mores were judged by. In his Cornerstone Address, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said as much:

 

This is the story of the “peculiar institution” as told from the vantage point of the conqueror: One who witnesses and processes the scourge of war and devastation in terms of pins in a wall or lights on a screen. But again: what stories do the bodies of those seeking to escape this ‘natural position’ tell us? If you’re curious, you can find out the details from enslaver him/herself.

Runaway ad. Source: American History as it is

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

These descriptions of what white supremacy – a system that BUILT America – did to Black bodies is horrifying. It’s haunting. And each of these acts was perfectly legal. A Black life was a tool – like a shovel or oxen. You couldn’t rape a Black woman because she wasn’t a person. You couldn’t murder a Black man because he was property. If a Black person lost their lives in service any compensation owed was paid out to his/her owner. This is the misery that the Confederacy (and now its modern defenders) fought to uphold and perpetuate. It’s a legacy that lives on through police brutality, land and property dispossession and failing schools…repulsive, but all very legal.

If there is any history that is endanger of being erased, it is the vestiges of slavery that were literally etched into the skin of the oppressed. Stonewall Jackson’s face has been blasted and chiseled into the side of a mountain in Georgia. Streets and schools bear the names of the generals who presided over the whipping and lynching of children.  Their personhood – their humanity, despite their wicked deeds and depravity of mind – will endure. Whiteness will see to that.

Stone Mountain, Georgia

Confederate emblems are toppling and good riddance too. It was recently asked, “If someone kidnapped, beat and raped your kids, where would you like us to erect their statue?” Fair question. If we are to honor the enemies of the idea of a UNITED States of America, perhaps it’s time to look into designing parks and naming schools for Kim Jong Un and Osama Bin Laden.

As America continues its attempts to veneer its shameful past and sanitize its history, we can take dark comfort in the fact that the real story will forever remain etched in the bones of the disenfranchised and departed.

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

 

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

Can We Pause And Think Critically About Lakewood? Please?

I know we don’t like Joel Osteen. I know! We hate the way his face breaks into that peculiar goofy half smirk, like he’s always primed to play a game of peek-a-boo with his audience. We hate that curly shag he sports just above the nape of his neck. We hate that there is always a sheen and an aura that seems to surround him, no matter where he goes. We hate his made to order First Lady of the Congregation bride, the one with the wild eyes and gesticulates even more wildly when she speaks. We hate Joel Osteen for delivering – week after week – his prosperity gospel, and we especially, emphatically hate him for being prosperous.

I get it. I do. Which is why I hope that you will not read what I am about to say as an implicit defense of Joel Osteen and/or Lakewood Ministries, because it’s not.

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

Criticism about Lakewood’s apparent eschewal of its Christian values came started about 3 days ago when a Twitter user wondered aloud if Lakewood would open up its doors for people needing shelter during the storm. A flurry of tweets soon followed, each espousing platitudes like “the church should be a refuge and a shelter for all” and “if you can’t find shelter in the house of God, where else can you go?”

Please.

Look. I’m a Christian, and I believe in the house of the Lord being a safe space…but I also believe in planning a preparation. I just lived through the Knysna Wildfires – a natural disaster that ravaged miles and miles of the Garden Route, so it is no longer in my nature to think in terms of whimsy and romanticism where disaster is concerned. Preparing to take in refugees goes a lot further than “open the doors of the church”. Deep inside – somewhere deep in the recesses of their minds – people expending time in their day to express their disgust with Osteen and his ministry know this too.

There is a LOT that goes into getting ready to function as a shelter – possibly a long term one – prior to the advent of any catastrophe. We learned this (or should have) from the devastation that Katrina caused. We know that not everyone is able to evacuate during a storm, yet people still insist on blaming the poor and disabled for not saving up the finds needed to cover their care/transportation in the event of a rainy day (or hurricane). Likewise, we know that when hurricanes like Harvey or Katrina make landfall, thousands of homes will be lost and it is prudent to ensure that there are enough beds, clothing, medical supplies, food and potable water provided for people who have lost everything in a moments’ notice… yet we insist on criticizing a megachurch for locking its facility when it has failed to do just that. I know! I understand! It’s fun to bash the pastor, and Joel makes a glitzy target; but can we shift our focus from wanting to knock his perfect veneers out to the people who actually need the help? Remember…the Houstonians who now have no homes?

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

Putting people in an environment that is only suitable in the sense that it is dry is thinking in shallow, binary terms. We saw this with the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. It was a nightmare for the storm survivors who found “refuge” there. The sewage system untenable. Security was a joke. Dozens of children reported being molested or raped by people – strangers – who became part of a teeming mass of humanity stuffed inside the arena. The air was reportedly thick, humid and fetid. Someone rolled Barbara Bush in to survey the relief efforts, and she said that the evacuees were better of here because they were “underprivileged anyway”. Do we REALLY need a repeat of this suffering, just for the temporary satisfaction of shaming a pastor?

I posed the query on Twitter and was criticized for it. I was informed that megachurches have the staff that are “trained” and have the “resources” to handle crisis like this, that there was no reason that Lakewood couldn’t open its doors. As I have heard it, Lakewood did just that. They directed those in need to partner organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, who have dedicated staff trained for these specific sorts of crises. As someone who has worked in ministry, I can tell you to now assume that Lakewood has a stand-alone staff trained just for natural disasters is pie in the sky thinking. Yes, they may staff who knows where all the food is and where to get it, but that staff person pulls double (possibly triple) duties in other areas of the church. Oh, and they likely have a family of their own as well. Perhaps these trained staff chose to evacuate ahead of the storm. Who knows? And now we have a situation where after 48 hours of media onslaught and caving to pressure, Lakewood has opened its doors as a shelter. How vetted are the people in charge of looking after the welfare of these evacuees? As a mother, I would want to know. What safety measures to protect people within the confines of those walls? Have you been to the toilet after one football match at your local high school? Who’s going to be cleaning the toilets on regular rotation in the House of Lord? These are real questions that need real answers!

I jest, but I’m serious. I speak as someone who was only barely prepared to serve during a storm, and I consider myself as someone who has reasonable access to resources. During the Knysna fires, we hosted 16 people in our home. One of the families we were hosting asked if we could shelter a mother and her 4 kids. Of course we said yes. She in turn asked if we might open our home to a husband and wife – total strangers. It was an uncomfortable night for all. The power was off and every time the wind blew, the man jumped up and dashed for his electronics…as though we might steal them. Sometime just after midnight, I asked my husband if he thought the unknown couple might murder us in our beds. We slept fitfully the whole night. The next morning, it was my task to make sure that 16 people could be fed adequately. We made it through, but just barely. Our home was only a “refuge” because it was not on course to be affected by fire. The couple left the next morning, but the mom and her kids stayed for nearly 3 weeks, though only her yard was damaged by fire. How long are the evacuees supposed to stay a Lakewood? How long would satisfy the wrath of the masses? Why isn’t our fury directed at Hilton and other hoteliers? After all, they have only donated to the Red Cross. Why haven’t they opened their doors to house evacuees right now. Today. Immediately!

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

The criticism against Lakewood simply isn’t/wasn’t valid, and I hope that those who have accepted Osteen’s (coerced) hospitality will not find cause to regret it. In addition to traditional shelter locations, many mosques and churches in the Houston area are functioning as temporary sanctuaries. I’m sure that many individuals will open their homes to their neighbors as well. That is what the house of the Lord is – you and I. It’s people, not a megachurch that used to be an arena. And that is why it is my fervent hope is that all the people who drove off the Lakewood in the rain to get a picture of locked doors found a route to a group of strangers with the aim of hosting them in their personal abodes. You know…since the only suitable requirement to function as a sanctuary during a hurricane is that your property be dry.

 

Discuss.

 

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

The idea that “Africans sold each other” into slavery is not a new one, but it is one that is generally advanced by the poorly educated or those wishing to shift the bulk of the blame from European participation and place it on the shoulders of the Mythical African. Mythical because before a person born in Africa is anything, he/she is Ewe, Fula, Mende, etc. No person of African descent responds to the question, “Where are you from?” with “I am from Africa” unless they are i) outside of Africa and/or ii) in conversation with someone who is unfamiliar with the concept of ethnicity with the continent. (Most Americans fall into the latter category.) This will then beg the request from the inquisitor to say something African, after which it will be painstakingly be explained that there is no such thing as a language called ‘African’.

Africa is not a cultural monolith. No one knows this better than the native children of her lands. So it was with great disappointment (but very little shock) that I read comments from a supposedly seasoned Ghanaian journalist voicing his support for the idea that the Trans Atlantic slave trade was a ‘choice’, in concordance with a 2015 article featuring a Confederate flag waving Black woman making that very assertion. He says:

As is often the case where Manasseh Azure (the journalist in question) is concerned, many lesser read and worse informed people came out in support of his comments. Like Trump and the poorly educated he professes to love so deeply, these people form the bulk of his fan base. One blogger took the time to take him to task, and provoked a collective sigh of relief from those of us who cannot stand to see ignorance – and the damage it can cause – go unchallenged and unchecked. In his post Manasseh Azure-Awuni and the Fallacy of Africans Selling Their Own Into Slavery, Umar the PhD Candidate diligently explains why this is a false narrative and how foolish it is to continue to advance it. Umar says that the idea that slavery was a ‘choice’ is about as accurate as saying that the Holocaust was a ‘choice’ for the Jews (and Poles and persons with physical and mental disabilities) that perished as a result of Hitler’s manic genocide. Umar echoes my thoughts precisely, and I hope that you will take the time to read his article.

But for the people – like Manasseh – who are averse to in-depth reading, here is a crash course on how what we have come to know as ‘race’ has functioned over the past four centuries.

  1. “We” did not go North to capture our brothers and sisters in exchange for booze. The system of the slave trade was a well-organized machine. When the Europeans eschewed trade in goods for trade in flesh, a new class of ‘merchant’ emerged from the hinterland. Two of the most infamous of these were Samori and Babatu Zato, slave raiders who swooped in from the north and made captives of people as far down as the Akuapem range. They then sold their captives to Fante and Ga middlemen on the coast who traded them to the British. This system replicated itself all over the Slave Coast in what would become French, Portuguese and Belgian held territories.
Source: Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies
By Sylviane A. Diouf

2. Like Pan Africanism, whiteness is a novel construct. In the formation of the colonies in the New World, Anglo Saxon Protestants brought with them deeply xenophobic sentiments for other Europeans – Catholics (Irish and Italians who tended to adhere to the Catholic faith) specifically. In the founding of Georgia, for instance, it was written in the colony’s by-laws that freedom of worship was to be granted to all prospective colonists “except papists. Remember, these New World colonizers were escaping religious persecution from the Catholic Church; persecution from their “white brothers and sisters”. These xenophobic attitudes did not change for centuries. Despite the fact that there are few people more pale in complexion that those of the Gaelic Islands, advertisements regularly discouraged Irishmen from seeking employment therein. In order to advance socially, some Europeans took on Anglicized identities in order to be accepted by the (white) mainstream. Anthony Dominick Benedetto – for example – is widely known as Tony Bennett. He was born in 1926.

Likewise, ‘blackness’ is a new idea necessitated by the slave trade. After being shorn, branded and baptized, captives were stripped of their identities. No longer were they Igbo or Akan. They were the property of the Dutch East India Company, assigned a number, sold on a black and delineated as a buck or breeding wench. The homogeneous (manufactured) black identity did not exist until it encountered violent whiteness.  

3. It is treacherous to assert that the enslaved were complicit in his/her own oppression. Though there were some groups who readily participated as sellers in the slave trade, there was always resistance to the enterprise both in Africa and abroad. Some resistance took place in the form of violence, where family members of the captured made gallant – but often failed – efforts at rescue attempts from forts and dungeons. Other forms of resistance took shape by relocating entire villages in hard to reach places. It is believed that Nzulezu, Ghana’s “stilt” village is an example of this. The use of chains and tethers to keep the enslaved shackled to the ships that ferried them to their prison plantation was necessitated by the frequency with which captives leapt over the edge of schooners to a watery grave. It is not in the nature of any human to accept the conditions of forced bondage. Many Africans fought tirelessly against the slave trade. Queen Nzinga of Mbundu (now Angola) fought the Portuguese against the expansion of the trade in her realm.

She waged a 30-year way against their invasion, as her weakling brother was too placid to do so.

4. Individual or clan participation in the slave trade was never about ‘booze’; It was about power. It’s sexy to try to convince oneself of that the idea of the ingenuous, narcissistic, hedonistic personification of the African mind is a valid one. My, wouldn’t it all be so simple to explain away the poor decisions Africans have made – and the disastrous generational effects – on the fact that we are just plain stupid? After all, who kidnaps and sells their neighbor for a shot of Jack Daniels? To propose this would be to give credence to the foolish idea that clans and federations traded a foothold in their nations in exchange for ‘beads and rum’, when we have anthropological evidence that gold and cowries were a widely used medium of exchange and used to adorn the bodies of young girls for something as seemingly mundane today as the advent of menses. The process of exchanging ideas, trading in guns and finally in the sale of flesh is not one that happened overnight. As they have done wherever they have conquered, Europeans decided that trade no longer suited their best interest and ownership was the preferred course. This would only happen by deception and force. After being bullied about for centuries, clans and societies with weaker military forces saw an opportunity to gain real power and threw their support in with the invader, doing his bidding in exchange for what would hopefully be bigger and better crumbs. Perhaps a job as a clerk, a messenger, a chance to fight and die in an imperial army, or to rid oneself of any traces of the frailty associated with your clan’s name. Why be Quarcoe when Quayson was so regal and rolled so much more sweetly off the tongue?

Source: Erik Byberg

That there was any alcohol involved was merely in celebration for finally ‘winning’ against one’s enemies, and not the end goal in itself.

 

In conclusion: The study of the trans Atlantic slave trade is one that scholars devote their entire careers to. An evil enterprise spanning 400+ years cannot be summed up in 4 bullet points. It is appalling that anyone who considers himself part of the intellectual class would ever dismiss that factors that contributed to is rise and success as a result of Africans looking to get drunk. The sentiment smacks of self-loathing, and should be exercised from the mouth and minds of anyone harboring such thoughts.

How Do Our Vets Feel About Seeing Nazi’s Thrive on American Soil?

My grandfather (may he party in eternal peace) served in the United States army for 3 years. He was stationed at an air force base in Georgia where he worked as a cook and received distinction for his prowess as a thespian. (Now I know where I get my flair for the dramatic from.) He was discharged as a sergeant, but never saw combat overseas. World War II was after all a “white man’s war” – and though Great Britain and France reluctantly conscripted soldiers from their colonies in Africa and India to serve among their ranks on the front lines, America was even more reluctant to do so. America has a long and well-documented unease with arming people of color, Negroes in particular. It fact, it had taken 25 years of effort before the first Black military pilots, now famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen, would be activated in 1941.

A copy of my grandfather’s discharge certificate, issued in Indiana, 1946

That my grandfather served in a menial capacity does not surprise or shame me. He was a farm boy, a strong man and a hard worker. However, in numerous studies sponsored by the United States military, Blacks were classified and deemed unfit for combat. They said we were cowardly, unruly, couldn’t swim and lacked the cognitive abilities required for soldiering.

Source: fdrlibrary.org

I doubt these long-held attitudes had changed by the time of my grandfather’s honorable discharge from the 2109th Army Air Forces base unit in 1946. The majority of enlisted Black men at the time served in support capacities like this and when they did serve overseas, it was in racially segregated combat units. Jim Crow was very much alive, well and the order of the day in 1946, so I imagine that it must’ve been difficult to understand what his role as a Black man was fighting a war to end fascism and xenophobia in one continent when the country of his birth was entirely wedded to those same ideals where he was concerned. Given that his base- the 2109th – was just south of Albany, GA, there can be little doubt that he witnessed (and very possibly experienced) the very finest that Southern racism had to offer. At the end of WWI, fewer than 30 Black people were registered to vote in the city. If Montgomery, AL was the “cradle of the Confederacy”, Albany, GA was its play yard, a city that took pride in controlling its Negro population.

Albany was important as a shipping port and later became an important railroad hub in southwestern Georgia. When the war ended, it was a major disembarkation point for service men returning from overseas. About 500 German prisoners of war were kept in Albany, and whether my grandfather encountered them or not, I will never know. What I DO know for certain is that many people of color, men like my grandfather who served faithfully in the armed forces and many of whom were discharged with honor, were treated with less respect and more contempt than captured enemy combatants from a nation that the USA had expended thousands of lives and millions of dollars to vanquish. The contemptible Nazi (and ideologies to match), in effect, was certainly not as detestable as the law abiding and long-suffering African American citizen; whiteness being the only ‘virtue’ that separated the two and gave societal preference to one by default.

Source: Pintrest

 

The film Hart’s War highlighted the bigotry that was rife in American culture during WWII. Arnold Krammer is a historian at Texas A & M University who has written several books on the prison camps in the U.S. He said:

There were numerous occasions when German POWs, especially from the many camps located in the Jim Crow south, were allowed in stores which denied access to black Americans. When buses filled with German POWs went south, the occasional black MP guards had to move to the back of the bus, while the German prisoners remained in the seats of their choice. German POWs, debating with their guards, regularly used the issue of segregation in America to defend their treatment of the Jews. How tragic.

A handful of Black American soldiers have documented their experiences in memoirs following the Second Great War. The details are damning to the values of equality and brotherhood that to United States has long espoused over the centuries. So hypocritical was the United States position on race and racism that Albert Einstein was compelled to address the scourge in a scathing essay entitled The Negro Question. He called racism America’s ‘worst disease’.

 

Looking at the events in Charlottesville, at the sitting president who refused to condemn the acts of neo-Nazi fascists and avowed white supremacists, and the responses from online commenters who comfortably side with the idea that “both sides” are responsible for the unrest following the horrific events that took place in Virginia over the weekend, one has to wonder just how much has changed in America over the last 71 years. There can be no denying people of color have made significant advances in American society, but fundamentally, America remains a nation that abhors the presence and existence of Black people. From perceptible micro-aggressions to flat out discrimination, we are made to feel a sense of spurning, daily. Still, I had to wonder what veterans might feel about seeing the flags and emblems of an eternal adversary proudly marching through a historic American city.

 

As you might expect, there was outrage among some in their ranks.

Excerpt from an interview on the CBS News

Nevertheless, there are some who feel that these neo-Nazis have a right to express their “opinion”.

This is the heart of the matter. These are the people ought to be the most horrified by what unfolded in Charlottesville (and will continue to unfold in the coming weeks) as those we have entrusted to uphold America’s truest values. But when citizens – such as Harvey Lentz and the current POTUS think that demonstrations of racial bigotry that inspire and call for violence in the form of extermination are mere “opinion” that has a right to be expressed- how America ever cure itself of this disease? The short answer is, it can’t. I cannot explain it, but too many people are comfortable living with this bane. Like King Henry and his festering wound, America is not yet ready to have a serious and honest look at wait ails it. It stinks. It’s too horrid a sight. But we are forced to ignore it because America has anointed itself the “shining city on a hill” and like that mercurial British monarch is (supposedly) above reproach.

But there’s no hiding from this. There’s no denying that this cancer is eating away at the body of the country. Loving and wishing it away is not going to solve a centuries’ old sickness. The sad part is, none of this surprises people of color. It’s what Dara Mathis called the nightmare we never woke up from, a thousand yesterdays on loop, always reoccurring.

America, the America that has chosen blissful oblivion, you should know that your slip (or sheet, rather) is showing.

Patriarchy Killed Okonkwo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Edem Kumodzi is the Hero We All Need

If you’ve ever been stopped by a member of the traffic division of Ghana’s police force, you know you’re in for a loss. You will lose precious time and you will likely lose more than a few cedis in the wake of the encounter. The police delight in harassing particular motorists; taxi drivers, women and soft-spoiled looking men – easy targets who would rather shoo away an officer with a quick bribe than to go through the tangled, malignant process that is Ghana’s judiciary.

The police know this. The courts know it. It’s how the force and the courts supplement their paltry incomes. Bribery is the norm in Ghana.

Well, Mr. Edem Kumodzi, web developer, online entrepreneur, Father of Dragons and Holder of all Doors and no Dambs was having none of that. This is the simple story of how one man took on corruption and triumphed by obeying the rules and thrusting them right back into the oppressor’s face. Edem, in his own words, ladies and gentlemen:

 

 

This is the month of August, the days wherein hold Ghana’s “Day of Destiny”. *eye roll*. While a certain political party is sitting somewhere trying to revise Ghana’s history, the party and its supporters would do well to recognize the achievements of the country’s real heroes: Men and women like Edem Kumodzi whose souls are not for sale to  neither commerce nor corruption. Join me comrades. Join me as we anoint August 3rd as Automobile Owners Autonomy Day! Hail the victorious vehicularist!

Thank you for standing tall(ish), Edem. You have done the nation and all who will follow your example proud!

Intrigued? Confounded? Amused? You can follow Edem at @edemkumodzi and check out his e-commerce site (where you will find fabulous offerings, including copies of all my books) at www.storefoundry.com

I Spoke With a Frightened Afrikaner the Other Day…

“You do know it was the English who brought apartheid to South Africa. Everyone thinks it was the Afrikaners, but it was the English!”

I raised my eyebrows in mock amazement. I did this for my inquisitor’s benefit. Generally, men feel more at ease when they feel like they are in a position to teach you something, and I wanted this man to feel comfortable in my presence. After all, this opportunity is what I had asked God for just a few hours before at dusk, wasn’t it?

“Really? Yes…yes I read something about that somewhere,” I replied.

Of course I knew the British were responsible for bringing apartheid to South Africa. Anyone who has read closely on the subject knows the role that Rhodes and Churchill played in laying the foundations for the unholy regime. But we also know that the Boers built on that groundwork and took it to unparalleled heights. I attempted to make this point.

“But what about Verwoerd and…”

“No, no, no,” the man said patronizingly. “The English.”

You may at this point be wondering what the substance of my prayers was on the night in question. Having just come from the Walter Sisulu and Hector Pieterson Memorials two days before, I wanted to have the opportunity to speak with a South African of Dutch decent – to ask them to give account and defense for the Bantu Education act (which one older Boer once told me was of great benefit to the native blacks because it gave them a “trade”), for the level of force employed by the police at quelling upheaval and what could be done to bridge the gap in wealth and opportunity that 50 short, but grueling, years of apartheid had thrust upon the country. Now before me stood a mountain of an Afrikaner man, who is at least a foot and a half taller than my husband’s 6’2”, who had a voice like a disturbed pool of water, and who – despite vowing never to speak the English language a day in his life (so proud was he of his heritage and so great was the contempt he had inherited for the English) – had deigned to do so for the benefit of the “American girl”. This was my gift horse, and I was not about to crank open its jaws and inspect its molars. I let him talk.

“The thing about apartheid is that both sides were responsible – both black AND white,” he continued.

Now I was genuinely shocked. This, I had never heard before. I steadied the beat of my quickening heart before I whispered my next question. I felt he was about to tell me some horrible secret.

“How?”

“Both sides were wrong,” he said as he made to touch my shoulder, but came centimeters away from doing so.

I looked at him quizzically as an image flashed through my mind. If unprovoked, you put your boot on my neck and I manage to slap your balls in order to free myself, how do I share blame in the wrongdoing? He could see my mind racing and offered me a little smile.

“You know that picture of the guy carrying the boy?”

“You mean Hector Pieterson?”

“Ja, ja. HIM.” His tone was not kind. “Do you know how the shooting happened?”

“All I know is what I’ve read. That the students were protesting because…”

He interrupted my speech before catching himself. I must’ve said something out of the ordinary.

“Tell me what you read.”

I told him that the students were protesting because hitherto, their instruction had been in English, and that not only did they have the task of mastering their mother tongue, but they had to be proficient in a foreign language that was generally adopted already. Now the law said that all study must be in Afrikaans. (Which was ironic because it was the British who first attempted to force English on the Boers, who rebelled against the effort.) It proved to be too much. Black teachers (or their pupils) couldn’t speak Afrikaans and therefore couldn’t instruct their students in it. Matric rates fell to all time lows as did morale in education over all. The students of Soweto decided to march and deliver their mandate for education reform to the local police station where they were fired upon by officers.

He seemed satisfied with my answer. And a bit smug.

“Ahhh…but what they didn’t tell you is that those students were also armed.”

This was nonsense.

“What?”

“Yes! “ He said triumphantly. “The history books will not tell you that there were weapons found among the students. They were not so innocent. The history books will never tell you the whole truth.”

Then perhaps the history books need to diversify their sources, I thought. Because on Wednesday, my family spent the evening with a woman who is an active member of the PAC and was present when the massacre took place. The PAC supported the student march and its members did indeed carry firearms and weapons as it flanked the students. I’ve seen no stats on how many officers lost their lives in the uprising, so no one in attendance went there with the intention to shoot to kill, obviously.

As I contemplated all this, he must’ve taken my silence for a concession of defeat, because he repeated himself on the one point that I found (and still find) utterly repugnant.

“As I said, both sides were to blame – both black and white. The history books only show you the faces of white police officers, but there were black officers who shot at those kids as well.”

“Yes, I know that. In any system of oppression, you will always find members of the oppressed group who will betray their communities for their personal benefit.” (Cue KRS-One)

He became adamant.

“But you can’t revolt for everything you want! Anytime these…workers or students want something, they toitoi and that’s not democracy.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

“But the French might say that is the only way to achieve democracy. Remember when the working class stormed the Bastille and…”

“Ja, but you can’t replicate everything you see and think it applies to where you are.”

Y’all. He actually SAID that to me.

Since we were at a ministry conference and he was clearly not going to convince a woman who’s read far too many books that her race shared equal responsibility in its own demise (something I can actually accept, because if Black South Africans had given the Boers the same medicine they administered to the British, they’d be better off), he switched topics to something he thought we might both agree on: religion and its role in the abysmal state of South African education. I was ready to engage, because education is very important to me.

“Do you know! They are teaching my son – my 12 year old son – about forefather worship in school?”

“Yeah…my daughter had to study that as part of social studies last year. Along with Hinduism and some other things.

“It’s nonsense,” he declared.

“I don’t think…”

“No, no! Nonsense! You know ZUMA does forefather worship? That’s why he and Mugabe are thick as thieves. In fact, they go to the same fetish/voodoo/spiritual woman. She sits out under a tree with her bones and leaves. That’s how Mugabe has been able to stay this long. Because of HER spiritual influence.”

I asked him the question he must’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but dreading.

“Do you think Zuma will be able to maintain control as long as Mugabe?”

He gave it something before he answered. “I don’t know. All I know is that the ANC is a mafia and Zuma has a lot of dirt on top people. That’s why they won’t confront him and that’s why he kicked out Gordon…because he wasn’t able to corrupt him.”

 

And then I looked into the eyes of this mountain of a Boer man and saw that he was afraid…that he was actually afraid. We’re human, so we all harbor ours fears. It’s only natural. What I saw was a man who despite declaring his position as an anti-racist, was too afraid to allow his child to learn about the cultural norms of the racial majority around him. That though he may be a Christian, perhaps neither he nor his white Christ was not strong enough to mitigate for his child the spiritual influences of a 500-word blurb in a history book. I saw a man who is afraid that history will judge his race and his Afrikaner culture as they deserve, which is fairly. Because if the truth were to be told, it would condemn them in the eyes of generations to come. I saw a man that despite his efforts to portray the contrary, was afraid of change.

But I also saw his efforts.

In the hundred or more people who gathered at that conference, he was the only white male, and a proud Boer to boot. That certainly counts for something: That he was able to overcome his myriad fears and place himself in an uncomfortable situation…the sort of situation that is not so unfamiliar to Black people: That of “token”.

In my reading, I’ve known the Afrikaner to be many things: Greedy, stubborn, subversive, passionate and proud. But I’ve never known them to be described as frightened. They’ve always seemed (and portrayed as) incapable of possessing that particular trait. Knowing that the mountain of a man harbors fear comforts me; not because I would seek to use it against him, but because it assures me that his is an Afrikaner, yes, but he is human first.

 

I Can Guarantee You That Blessing Okagbare Was Far From Embarrassed About Her Wig Falling Off.

Blessing Okagbare is a much-decorated Nigerian athlete who competes in in sprinting, long jump and triple jump. She’s competed in the Olympics, Common Wealth and All Africa Games, and most recently, in the Oslo Diamond League in Norway. It is here where the world became acquainted with Okagbare, not for her prowess on the field, but because of her hair. As you probably well already know, she and her wig parted ways during the long jump.

 

 

Are you finished laughing? Please let me know when you’ve composed yourself so that we can continue. Ahaaa. Let’s go!

One of many headlines declaring Blessing is embarrassed. Has she told you she is embarrassed? You dey lie bad.

In the wake of this gravitational wig snatching, headlines and commenters from around the globe have bandied about the idea that Blessing Okagbare must have been embarrassed about her wig falling off during her event. There’s no way she couldn’t have been, right? I mean, your hair (or in this case, some Chinese manufactured form of it) literally separated itself from your body on an international stage. Mortifying, yes?

No!

Let me say it again: No! This will not get you down. Not if you’re a Nigerian woman, or a Black woman in the Diaspora of a certain caliber.

Let me tell you something about Nigerian women: They have bigger concerns than worrying about feelings of embarrassment, despite what the western media would have us believe. Though I do not share their nationality, I have had the blessing (pun fully intended) of calling many Nigerian women sisters and friends, and have shared sacred space with them online. One of those spaces is FIN – an acronym for Female In Nigeria. It is a closed group with strict rules about disclosure, so I certainly will not betray the group’s trust or risk my privileged access to the site by going into specifics. I can say this: There is no woman – no person – who suffers like Nigerian women. Between the Church, the in-laws, some random Honda Accord-driving bozo who demands wife material (and service) on the first date, Boko Haram and your random lascivious Senator, the things that are done to and said about Nigerian women’s bodies create an incredible amount of pressure on this group. Nevertheless, they persist and continue to excel.

Look at Luvvie.

Look at Chimamanda.

Look at Folorunso.

Their accolades and achievements did not come without sacrifice, hardship and ridicule. Chimamanda has spoken about an essay that she wrote while she was in college. It was apparently the best essay in class, and the professor wanted to acknowledge the student. When she raised her hand, he looked at her in disbelief before repeating his inquiry…As if how could a woman from Darkest Africa produce such excellent work? This is just one of the myriad indignities women of color are continually made to suffer. The abilities of our minds and potential of the body are frequently downplayed and suppressed, unless it’s in the service and for the benefit of someone else.

Ahaaa. Let’s continue.

I don’t know why Blessing Okagbare chose to wear a wig in Oslo this week, but I can hazard a guess. Despite India Arie’s postulation to the contrary, Black women are and will continue to be our hair. There is a fair amount of handwringing from the New African and Hotep crowd online who have shamed Okagbare for her choice to wear a hairpiece. The most vocal have been men. Female critics have taken to sniggering, rather than perform outright criticism.

“She looks better with her natural hair!”

“It is an embarrassment for an African woman to go and look for some dead Indian woman’s hair to tape on to her forehead. This is not QUEEN behavior.”

“When, oh WHEN will African women release their minds from this mental slavery!”

And yet when a dark skinned woman with 4C hair shows up at the club or for an interview for a receptionist’s position, she is routinely passed up and overlooked for either a) a lighter skinned woman or b) a dark skinned woman who has sense enough to straighten her hair. I am here to testify that I have seen it myself with my own two Ghanaian eyes. When you add to that matrix the strength of body that a woman like Blessing Okagbare possesses, the comments and stigma outside of the safety of the sports arena is nothing short of bestial.

In an interview conducted a few years ago, Ghanaian pop singer Wiyaala discussed how growing up with a “strongbody” affected her. Wiyaala is an incredibly strong woman with lean muscle mass. She described how walks about her hometown would invite taunts from local boys who would shout for her to raise her shirt to prove she was a girl. She responded by embracing her androgyny and opting for a high-top close crop.

Image source: Music Unites Africa

I suspect that Blessing Okagbare – who, like Wiyaala has been active in sports since high school – has faced similar taunts. It’s probable that the hurtful words of strangers (perhaps even choices) have had some level of impact on her sartorial choices, including how she wears her hair.

You might well recall how the Black community savaged Gabby Douglas during the 2012 Olympic games over how she styled her hair. Douglas made history by becoming the first American gymnast to win gold medals in both the team and individual all-around. That vicious attack was the direct result of centuries of conditioning, and it’s something we’’re yet to be healed of.

Female athletes (Black women in particular) have added pressure of performing femininity on the field while in the midst of competition. One will have to give way to the other, because you can’t have slayed edges and slay the hundred-meter dash. The 4-6 hours required to sit in the salon while you wait to get your sew in or cornrows done is valuable training time lost. Any serious female athlete would forego the salon in pursuit of that extra second on the clock. But I can just see some pastor or some too known auntie coming to ‘advise’ the Nigerian team:

“Eh ehhh… You know you are representing the whole kontry. When you go there, don’t go with that unruly hair, eh? Let os pray…”

I’m telling you, I’ve sat at dinner with the son of a Ghanaian mogul who nearly spat his whiskey in disgust over the idea that the Pretoria High girls who were fighting to wear their natural hair and locks.

“There is no way in Ghana that we will ever allow a girl to come to class with that BUSHY hair!”

Look: Any woman who wears a wig knows that there is always a hazardous risk with making that choice. There is ALWAYS a chance of it getting blown off, snatched off or simply slipping off. It’s a fact of wig-wearing life. But you can’t let a little bit of synthetic stop you from putting in that work. Blessing Okagbare responded to losing her wig in the same way generations of Black women who have felt compelled to cover their natural hair for social acceptance have for years: She simply put the mask back on and went about her business like a BAWSE CHICK. To get to this level, she has been through greater trials than her hair falling off. We should all just stop forcing her to feel embarrassment that she’s not experiencing.

And now: A short video representation of other notable African women who have (or nearly) lost their wigs while putting in that work. Honorable mention to my girl Gloria of TFH, who routinely tests the adhesive integrity of her wig glue while in the midst of praise and worship.

 

Kiki Sheard: Nothing, not even the separation from my wig, can separate me from pursuing the love of Jesus

 

Queen Bey: A fan is not a halo, but it tried it.

Kim Z: I’ll give you my wig why you pry it from my cold, icy head.