Barack Obama, villain or hero?

breakfast with barack Barack Obama, villain or hero?

When it comes to places, the affection that I have for my hometown, Lagos, is matched only by a sort of nostalgia that I harbour towards Tampere, the Finnish city I’m from, which shapes many of my memories but in which I’ve never lived.

Yet, my being Scandinavian feels like a secret. Not from anyone, I write about it here quite often, for instance, but from Finland itself. When I am in Tampere I take pleasure in my visit inwardly. I go for long walks alone. During such walks, I imagine my feet kissing the earth which is “mine” and I wander in the echoes of Finnish poetry. Without Finns meddling into my “Finnishness”, or lack of it for that matter, I can appreciate Finland for what it is – a country of wondrous natural landscapes, exciting mythology and a palpable sentiment of kaiho (longing).

What I am doing with my Finnish identity is bargaining. If life were a services contract mine would say Finnish** (**terms and conditions apply). The same goes with my Nigerian “contract”, of course. Bargaining. Negotiating. Winning here, loosing there. I quite possibly find myself in London to avoid too much haggling, it’s hassle-freer to be Scandinavian-African here.

Obama is bargaining too. It can’t be easy being the first black president in a traditionally, stubbornly white-patriarch empire.

In a sense we all are bargaining with our identities and it’s a complex, messy business full of paradox.
However, paradox, as I wrote on my facebook page a few days ago, leads to discussion and dialogue is always progress.

Yet, much of the commentary on Barack Obama is black or white, no pun intended, and this is dangerous. It disengages with paradox and therefore progressive conversations. It views Obama either as a warmongering imperialist villain or as a heroic symbol of racial hope and equality. We need more nuance in our conversations about this historical character. In return, a holistic approach gives validity to both the work of Obama’s that we may appreciate and that which make us shudder.

Who knows what the next four years of Obama’s presidency will bring. Of course it’s reasonable to predict continued hegemonic, military advances around the globe. It’s simultaneously also plausible that Americans will see stricter laws on gun ownership, forward-thinking action on gay rights, fairer immigration laws and dare one hope for engagement with racial and ethnic injustices? What do you think the major issues in American foreign and domestic policy will be?

More than anything, I think it would be great if Obama’s second term reveals much more of the bargaining that he has to do to fulfil his role as US president. No doubt it’s that precise negotiating that awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize and that also enables him to sleep at night despite US drones killing innocent people. We should avoid a one-sided narrative so that the complexities can emerge. We should aim to make the best of the historicism in his presidency, after all who knows what in the world we might need to deal with next.

 

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photo by: jurvetson

My feature in (1)ne Drop – dialogues on racial politics and identity

1Drop Sembene My feature in (1)ne Drop –  dialogues on racial politics and identity

Being black is not a matter of pigmentation being black kis a reflection of a mental attitude  - Steve Bantu Biko

I am participating in an upcoming collaborative project by Africana Studies scholar Yaba Blay, Ph.D. and award-winning photographer Noelle Théard.

(1)ne Drop, as the documentary is called, is going to be a thought-provoking look into the “other” faces of blackness. Using the historical “one-drop rule” as a reference, Blay and Théard’s project seeks to challenge the narrow, yet popular perceptions of  blackness through one-on-one conversations and personal insights with people world over, who will be sharing stories about racial identity in a photo essay book format and intimate videos of our journeys on the 1drop website.

The conversation will explore the experiences of people of African descent from around the world, from Jamaica to Brasil to London and further to discuss with people who identify as black (or some version of black), yet have had their blackness challenged, whether through their skin color, hair texture, the color of their eyes, the shape of their bodies or any combination of physical characteristics, where something about their particular appearance causes other people to question their identities.

I am taking part because I believe that we need to keep talking and thinking about the confusion that has been created by racial categories. Somehow the term “post-racial” has slipped into mainstream reporting, suggesting that we have “gotten over race” or that we no longer have racial issues to tackle.(1)ne Drop demonstrates that concerns about race and what box people fit into are as important now, as they were when the US first instituted the one-drop rule.

How do you define blackness?
Does this sound like something you would like to see?
If so, support (1) Drop by visiting the Kickstarter page to find out how you can help and donate.

Images courtesy of Noelle Théard.

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My channel 4 interview on mixed race identity

IMG 0005 NEW My channel 4 interview on mixed race identity

My dear parents in the 60s

How can someone who propagates themselves as a chosen messenger of god advocate such divisive, confused and love-lacking opinion as Pastor Tapiwa Muzvidziwa?
“God”, he says, disapproves of mixed marriages as these are “wrong” and detrimental to the children born of such relationships. Doesn’t he understand that the whole idea of banning interracial and interfaith relationships is deep rooted in racist doctrine to keep the white race “pure”?

I feature in the same Channel 4 4thought series Should we raise children in mixed marriages? this week. My segment airs on Sunday evening but will also be online for readers based outside of the UK who would like to tune in to the debate.

I’ve written about how I grew up in an interfaith and interracial family before and about issues interracial children might face in the Mixed Race series. So I’m not denying that there are complexities that people like myself must deal with, but the fact is that everyone has to come to grips with who they are, even our dear pastor who as a born again Christian assumedly hasn’t always had all the answers available in this beautiful kaleidoscope of experience that we call life.

BBC 2 is also running a mixed race season starting today. Britain in 2011 has proportionately one of the largest mixed population in the Western world, and the season explores the mixed race experience in Britain – and around the world – from the distant past to the present-day, to analyse the mixed race story.

Here are seven stats from the BBC programme website about Mixed Race population in UK that you may not know and that I’d love you to discuss:

Minority ethnic men mix more than minority ethnic women
Minority ethnic men from all groups are more likely to be in inter-ethnic relationships than minority ethnic women. The exception to this are Chinese women who are more likely to be in an inter ethnic relationship than Chinese men. (Source: Lucinda Platt: Ethnicity & Family Relationships within and between ethnic groups. Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex).

Full “Mixed” category was first introduced ten years ago
Categorisation for the full ‘Mixed’ group was introduced for the first time in 2001, before which there had been no reliable estimate of the size of the mixed race population (Source: Peter J Aspinall 2000)

Mixed Race are considered most beautiful
This was the conclusion of a major research study, the largest of its kind, undertaken by Dr Michael Lewis, (School of Psychology, Cardiff University) in March 2010.(Source: http://www.perceptionweb.com/abstract.cgi?id=p6626)

Legislation to prohibit race mixing has only recently been abolished in some parts of the world
In several parts of the world, including South Africa during the apartheid era, governments introduced legislation to prohibit race mixing. Laws against “miscegenation” were still in force in 16 American states until they were declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court’s verdict in the Loving v Virginia case of 1967. (Source: Loving V Virginia).

Mixed Race is one of the fastest growing minority groups
Growth between 1991 and 2001 for mixed-race was 150% making it the fastest growing minority group. Currently the largest group is the Black Caribbean/White group, however the fastest growing group is Chinese/White. (Source: NS 2001).

Black Caribbeans most likely of Minority Ethnic Groups (BME) to be in inter-ethnic relationships
Black Caribbean men and women were the most likely of any group to be in an inter-ethnic relationship (48% of black Caribbean men and 34 % of black Caribbean women were in inter-ethnic relationships) (Source: Lucinda Platt: Ethnicity & Family Relationships within and between ethnic groups. Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex).

Mixed Race at greater risk of violence
In 2002/03, adults from a Mixed Race or Asian background were more likely than those from other ethnic groups to be victims of crime in England and Wales. Almost half (46 per cent) of mixed race adults had been the victim of a crime. (Source: ONS 2003).

Thoughts on any of these or on mixed race in general?

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Multicultural in London

6169095547 4b0e4019b8 Multicultural in London
Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached – Simone Weil

When I think of London my thoughts float lightly because I feel detachment.
Scandinavia is an abandoned home. Whenever I spend a long time (one week +) there, I’m reminded of why I moved to New York from Sweden after ten years. It suffocated me. My intuition told me to get away from there, to be wary of what lies buried underneath the shiny pavements. Yet I miss it; the modernity of mind and matter; the woody scent of a finnish sauna; the gender equality…
Then there is Nigeria, the place that harbours my soul, whose scent cradles me to sleep, whose history haunts me in both my conscious and unconscious states. If I live with so much pain for Nigeria when I’m away how will I bear to move back? How will I swim in its bleeding waters and not drown?
When I was a child often times we had no water or electricity so in the evening when indoors became unbearably muggy, my mum and I would sit on the balcony listening to the crickets and gazing at the star-filled sky.
“Can you see that star?” She would point. “It’s your great grandma, your namesake, shining at us.” Immediately I knew which star she meant. The one that I am now, that travels to those same skies at night whilst my mind and body rests elsewhere. The one that is illuminated by worry; with love and amazement; that wants the women and the children to stop watering the earth with tears. That wants those men to remember how.

Multiculturalism in itself is meaningless because culture is overrated. Every human being is a culture, we all have our own way of interpreting the world. At best one ‘lives multiculturally’, meaning with an objective curiosity of other people’s interpretations of the world.

I know that the cultural palette in London dams up the throat of its river, we don’t really want to address cultural tensions nor race relations. I see that and I think it’s dangerous. Yet I dive into the Thames like a mermaid. I feel that I should love Scandinavia, Africa, this way too. Detached.

cc Multicultural in London photo credit: Ella (local colours)

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Is Halle Berry’s daughter black?

 Is Halle Berry’s daughter black?The world of science has on several occasions declared that race is biologically meaningless, but yet accepting this idea as general knowledge seems curiously hard to accomplish.

The sooner we can understand the fallacious construct of race, the sooner we might begin to speak about multi-racialism with the kind of sensible thinking that it requires.

However, the prospects for that remain remote. The issue of whether a biracial individual should deny or embrace their other half began in 1937 when Everett Stonequist wrote his famous work ‘The Marginal Man’ (thanks for that!). Recent events proved that we have not made much progress; biracial people are still an uncomfortable thorn in the side of the social experiment called race. Following actress Halle Berry’s declaration that her daughter is black in Ebony magazine last week, people got very emotional and all these articles about biracialism surfaced. Such as Sonia Poulton’s moving but naïve piece, which again referred to dated racial terminology such as DNA and white inheritance when debating biracialism. The one drop rule was up for discussion, US journalist John McWhorter wrote in Let’s Stop Being Angry at Biracial People that black people inflict a sort of reverse racism on mixed race people by forcing them to label themselves black. Bene Viera responded to this with an article in Clutch Magazine asking that mixed race people Stop Bringing the Biracial Issue to the Doorsteps of Blacks. Again they all approached race as though a biological fact, thus resulting in a segregating conclusion.

Maybe this is as good a time as ever to say that in accordance with president Obama, Berry and countless other mixed race people I refer to myself (amongst other labels) as black. I do so even though my genetic make up is European and African, Finnish and Nigerian to be precise. The reason I am black is not unclear to me in any manner. I appreciate that although flawed, the theory of racial difference is one that continues and in all likeliness, will continue to shape society for a while. Secondly, people like myself have the same history as any other black person. We were slaves, oppressed and colonized in the same fashion and on the same grounds. Third, and most importantly, it’s one out of many cultural labels that I’m able to identify with.

The only cultural racial label, which applies to me but that I can’t claim to have experienced, is the one of ‘white’. This is not due to my denying my whiteness as some accuse Halle Berry of doing; rather it is a result of how society is constructed. If you don’t believe me, try stepping into my shoes at a western airport and watching all the white people with the same passport as I have, waltz past you as you get stopped and possibly detained. Or, if you want hard evidence there’s the study conducted at Harvard University, which found “that individuals who were a 50-50 mix of two races, either black-white, Asian-white etc, were almost never identified by study participants as white.”

It’s sad somehow, but I have to live with the fact that it would feel absolutely farcical for me to see myself as white.

The topic of ‘mixed race’ and the ‘one drop rule’ can bring out the worst in people and understandably so; we are seen as a problematic group. Whereas we previously were problematic because we were considered a hindrance to ‘white purity’, now we are the elephant in the room called ‘post-racialism’, arguably also a white construct. Black patriots often see us as a challenge too; are we traitors to our ‘race’ or compatriots?

Whether Berry’s daughter Nahla will choose to label herself white, black or biracial, people in a rigidly aligned world will want her to choose. My perception of the world is not rigid, nor aligned, and in my opinion and depending on her surroundings Nahla can identify herself as all three, simply because she is all three.

Thoughts?

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Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?

tumblr lf6udt00sR1qfa5zko1 500 Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?Returning to the race topic, not because I love talking about it but because it makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is good.

I also do think we have become too p.c. in how we tackle racial tensions. I agree we should be speaking of them delicately, but honestly. And like I already touched on in my last post, I also think that white people should talk about racism more because the discussion seems to be dominated by other races. I should clarify that I don’t mean that white people should be talking about racism from an angle of  guilt, because why should anyone take the blame for something they themselves are not guilty of, and perhaps also feel victim of. What I do mean, is that the racism conversation cannot be one-dimensional or it’s not going to go anywhere but round in circles. Where concerning race, white people should be engaging in conversations of what it means to be white, and to have white privilege and/or white guilt, the way other racial groups engage in what it means to be black/brown/Asian etc. In a sense, we cannot heal unless we do it together.

Writing this reminds me of a conversation I overheard the other day whilst in a grocery shop. I was by the till and ahead of me in the queue was a white couple.

“Grab some chewing gum also please,” the woman said to her partner who was standing nearer the gum section.

“Which one do you want?” He asked.

“The black one over there,” she replied pointing at a black chewing gum packet.

“Feeling naughty eh,” her partner teased to which she side-glanced at me and punched his ribs.

Make of that what you will, but it made me reflect over sexual and racial stereotypes. Of how just hearing the word black (or blonde or mixed race or Latin) can bring sexual images to people’s minds.

I started to wonder, what are the sexual stereotypes out there? And well, I’m just touching on this topic for now, and focusing on female stereotypes to start with but I’ll no doubt be elaborating in future as I’m curious to explore the topic further. Not through physical research so no need to send any offers, thank you icon wink Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?

 Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell? Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell? Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell? Mixed race femme fatale, or blonde bombshell?There’s the mixed race femme fatale, who like the original femme fatale, Eve, is beautiful and exotic but also vulnerable, unattainable and troublesome. Or the archetype blonde bombshell, who is tempting and independent, but uses her innocent beauty to lure men of all races into her nest, only to manipulate them to cheat and lie often to their own detriment. Or the black beauty, whose ethereal symmetry and amazonian figure resembles the beauty of earth itself, and just like earth she is wild and motherly and may be abused and loved simultaneously. Not forgetting the Latina, passionate like a volcano to start with, but once you have her, as loyal as a dog.

These are my (incomplete) impressions of racial stereotypes of women, and many are missing, (list in comments if any come to mind), but when I think about the people I know in these particular categories, they might physically possess these qualities but the rest has absolutely nothing to do with reality.

When you think of sexualized racial stereotypes as described above, do similar images come to mind or is your perception different?

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What being mixed race has taught me

4981422414 11084bc9cc b What being mixed race has taught meIt’s a shame that we black people are the ones that analyse and debate race and racism the most. If society was as post-racial as some try to claim, then I believe that it is white people that should be analysing and debating the effects racism has had on the world, whilst black people should be discussing how to heal from the effects racism has had on us.

Anyway, here goes – another discussion about race from this side of the coin.

First of all let me say, in the simplest of summaries, that I think that race is a fallacy, a social and scientific construct, developed by mid-century europeans to justify a financial venture.

Nevertheless, racial profiling is now part of our culture so there’s no use denying it. Although I would argue that mixed race people who want to constitute another race are adding another layer to the madness. After all we may accept that racial divides exist, but we can’t build new truths from something that was untrue to start with. But as I’ve said before, mixed race folks have issues. Either way, racial constructions may now appear to be fact, but that’s because people of similar melanin count share similar social experiences.

And it is in this light, not in the ‘one-drop-rule’ light, that I am black. That is to say, people with my particular skin tone and genetic make up share the same ancestral history with those with two African or diaspora parents. We share the history of slavery, oppression and colonization. This history is a shared legacy of the black experience.

The difference is that by having one white one black parent, I have a visceral understanding of both the white and black experience. And that’s also where things get messy.

That’s where those (ignorant) people who warned my parents against reproducing, have a point. I hint at their ignorance because having a point does not mean that something is undesirable. People can go through difficulties and develop into stable individuals, shoot, we all go through trials and tribulations. But okay for the sake of argument, a mixed race person might suffer an identity crisis at some point in their lives. Maybe more so than others, although I’m not entirely convinced about that. Then again, perhaps I’m partial as one of the ‘lucky’ ones, in the sense that my parents raised me colour- but not culture blind. But I’m not so convinced about that either. I think somehow life in general is an identity crisis for everyone, we all in our own ways are always searching for that true essence.

This ‘crisis’ has however taught me something very important, namely that black and white aren’t opposed to each other but immersed in each other. The same way we all have some masculine and feminine in us, or a sense of right or wrong, or any other pairs of opposites that can make us a walking battleground if we let them. On that primordial level, we all have black or white in us whether we are black or white.

Agree/disagree?

If you would like more thoughts about race as a social construction check out this clip with Jennifer Lee


cc What being mixed race has taught me photo credit: chrisdevaraj

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Mixed race girls have issues – part 3 of 3

mixed+race Mixed race girls have issues   part 3 of 3Mixed race girls have issues because when we define ourselves ‘mixed race’, we refer to race.

I’m trying to pay attention to how many times I say ‘race’ whilst talking about myself. This past week I’ve used the word at least five times. (Note, I’ve just used the word race 4 times already)

Inevitably using the word race to define your identity, makes you repetitiously aware of the concept of race. This awareness just might be part of the reason why many mixed race people deal with the polemics of whether they are black, white or mixed race.

Maybe the solution is to drop the word ‘race’, or call ourselves mixed only, or black, like many well-known mixed race people do, Obama, Berry etc. Personally, I’m not consistent with how I label myself, most of the time I call myself black, but I’m also mixed, biracial, multiracial and so on.

As mixed race people are expected to be the largest UK minority by 2020, some argue an all-inclusive word is worth having.The options are not great. Mutt … Coloured…Half-caste…Mixed-blood. There seems a hole in the English dictionary for a word describing the millions of people who are, well, mixed race.

In Finnish, a mixed race person is ruskea, which means brown, in Swedish and Spanish, he/she is a mulatto. Mischling in German was the same word used to denote people who were not from the Third Reich…do you know the word in other languages?

For me, the term Afropolitan defines me better than anything else. It explains who I am culturally and helps me identify people who share similar cosmopolitan African experiences.

More on this topic in What being mixed race has taught me

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pixel Mixed race girls have issues   part 3 of 3