The sacred is political

Religious text1 The sacred is political“You can’t not be religious!” is a reaction I often receive when someone asks me first whether I am Muslim, as my name implies, and then (when I say no) whether I am a Christian, which I am not either. Having found out that I’m neither Christian nor Muslim, the inquirer then often proceeds to say, shaking their head in grave concern, “You have to choose O! [They are usually Nigerian] You can’t not be religious!”

I damn well can. And I find it odd that people feel such freedom to judge my religious status. If I were to express an equivalent disdain and say, for example, “You can’t be a Muslim!” I’m quite sure I would be accused of a violation of code of conduct.

Don’t get me wrong; people have every right to be astounded by my not being religious. To be frank, I am equally astounded that anyone finds spiritual guidance from texts such as the Old Testament, which is a violent and misogynist book in my opinion. What is not OK is a culture where such interlocutors are open to express their views and I can’t state mine. Let me also say by the way, that, of course, religious beliefs are complex and deserve a nuanced approach. So while the Old Testament is a macho, patriarchal text, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the globalisation of indifference, for instance, is in contrast highly relevant and humane.

Lest I be mistaken for one, I am not an atheist. My spiritual background is as hybrid as my ethnic one. I am a daughter of both Oduduwa and Kalevala and any other gods or goddesses who will have me. In my view, spiritual development is introspective and does not need naming. By that same token – everyone should have the right to practice her or his faith (or lack of it) freely and I don’t raise this to judge but rather to encourage a discussion about how religion is shaping African society in modern times.

We live in times of increasing religious fanaticism and a subsequent conservatism spreading across Africa and the diaspora. The consequences are dire: from conflicts in Central African Republic to Nigeria to Somalia to Sudan, religious factors are destabilising societies with rapid effect. Also, issues such as the passing of discriminatory anti-gay laws as well as the control of women’s bodies (e.g. through female genital mutilation, anti-abortion legislation, controlling what women wear and so on) are anchored in the politics of religion.

Yet despite growing fanaticism (of varying degrees) few public intellectuals are speaking out about the dangers of this trend. This is unfortunate because the less critical debate about religion there is, the more the fanatics are able to shape the discourse. Religion is a colossal part of public life and it should be subject to public debate like any other topics that we all-consumingly analyse such as pop culture, identity politics and so on. I am not suggesting that we establish a bashing marketplace of ideas between the religious and the non-religious. Also, for god’s sake, don’t conflate critical religion analysis with criticising people’s religious views willy nilly. However, it is unacceptable that religion is so sacrosanct that we don’t dare approach it.

Africans, generally speaking, are a deeply spiritual people, venerating the part of human minds, bodies and souls that has to do with the divine. I want to live in a world where this is perfectly OK. However, I also wish for a world where justice prevails, and the truth is that organised religion is a major cause of many of the world’s injustices. Questioning religion is not only discouraged in our societies, it is often interpreted as a blasphemous attack on sacredness. But there’s simply too much at risk to avoid critical analyses of religion in the name of political correctness. It’s time to stop pandering to this culture of silence and to put religious life under the microscope.

Or what do you think? Should or should not religion be up for debate? Share your thoughts below!

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Let 2014 be a year of emotional awareness

 

20140102 154756 Let 2014 be a year of emotional awareness

@ Olumo Rock, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Welcome to 2014. It’s going to be a special one coming up to the 4th anniversary of this blog, and especially as we are going to have the fearless African femme fatale energy present.

But before settling in to the new year: if you could sum up 2013 in one word only, what would it be?

In my case it would be ‘learning’. Especially gaining knowledge through experience. It was a year of change for me; I lost my grandma on my mum’s side. She was my only link to Finland (where my mum is from) so her passing felt like my ties to Finland lessened also. Romantically, my relationship of soon three years went through difficult but necessary changes. My attitude towards my work changed, I started to trust myself more and to feel more confident about the path that I’ve chosen. I lost and made friends. And I began to heal old wounds. For instance, I wrote about being raped, an experience that had silenced a part of me for too long.

Amidst changes and self reflection, the deep feelings that makes our emotional lives; the joys, anxieties and yearnings, I learnt something that I’m taking with me into 2014 and beyond. Namely that emotional awareness is not only knowing how you feel about the world but valuing your emotions as the ultimate source of learning.

We live in a world that encourages reason over sentiment but emotions are the most logical tools we have for self knowledge. Life is an embodiment of emotion. Intelligence itself is a feeling not a fact. Yet feelings are seen as inconvenient because a person who is in tune with themselves is difficult to control. Women who express their true feelings are especially disruptive because women’s preconceived roles keep up so many of society’s facades: the falsehood of harmonious nationhood, of “pure” family (also the source of racial prejudice), of war as justice, would all be severely threatened if women revealed their true feelings about these institutions.

Emotional awareness is not wearing your sentiments on your sleeve but it is you (rather than everybody else) knowing exactly how you feel about everything happening in your life. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Emotional awareness means looking at ourselves honestly. Not just the nice things, our generosity or friendliness or smartness, but also the feelings that we are less proud of: resentment, bitterness or competitiveness. It is love without the frills: unprocessed, unpackaged humanness and it’s a beautiful way to live. In fact it’s the only way to be alive.

So if you make one resolution in 2014, let this be it: to be emotionally aware.

Wishing you a fantastic 2014 and one of raw, expressive feeling.

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The African Femme Fatale

femmefatale The African Femme Fatale

Via weheartit.com

As the year comes to an end, I thought that I would like my last post of the year to be about something exciting, a feminine energy we could do well channeling more of in 2014. Scrolling through old posts and comments, I recognised an energy brewing, one not yet defined but one which can put an end to the erotic famine that has caused women a sense of powerlessness – namely the femme fatale.

So I am dedicating 2014 to her. La femme fatale. Why? Well, simply because her no bullshit modus operandi could bring about radical change. Hers is an archetype that is simultaneously disobedient, powerful, serious, troublesome, wise, playful, tough, kind, seductive and sensual saying “Fuck you” to anyone who attempts to diminish her sense of self. Qualities which could be useful for African women, for women everywhere, don’t you think?

Also, while she certainly exists, the African femme fatale is absent from cultural production at large. Most of us can name women such as Marlene Dietrich, Mata Hari or mother of all femme fatales, Eve, but their African counterpart is not as well known. Yet as a cross-cultural study about the female archetype found, the femme fatale is incredibly popular in sub-Saharan African folklore.

The African “Fatale” has a lot in common with Fatales all around the world but I suggest that a few things distinguish her.

Firstly, the African Fatale lives – and has for very long lived – in a world, where much like the continent from where she comes, her existence has been equally mystified and condemned. As the feminine proprietor of the torch-shaped treasure grove which is Africa, she has been exploited, abused, adored and praised in tandem with it. In ancient times before christian mythology was misused to justify slavery, declaring black the colour of evil and of the devil, dark skin was a symbol of beauty, of earth and of divinity. The African continent was in those days also seen as a place of esteem: of knowledge and wealth. This was long before fellas like Sigmund Freud nailed Africa and women into the same casket with declarations such as, uhn, “the sexual life of adult women is a “dark continent” for psychology.” The modern African femme fatale knows that her early worshippers had good taste. To her, “female freedom always means sexual freedom” (as Toni Morrison said), and she is indefatigably proud of her heritage.

Unlike her western counterpart, to whom history can seem unfashionable, to the African Fatale, reflecting back is reflecting forward. Due to the proverbial hunter-historian obscuring her continent’s magnificence, rediscovery of women like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Nzinga, Winnie Mandela and deities like the Mami Wata and Oya, connect the dots between the modern African Fatale and her ancestors like a string of pearls.

Which brings me to glamour, for you cannot talk about the femme fatale without mentioning glamour. Whether she is diabolusly charming or eloquently seductive she uses glamour like a magician uses a deck of cards. The African Fatale’s existence is enriched by luxuries of the senses: powerful colours, waist beads, lush fabrics, indigo, henna, patchouli, nipple tassles, you name it. Glamour is her uniform as she fearlessly and “irresponsibly” navigates the edges of her world.

As for the men of her continent, they are equally frightened and seduced by her power. They sing songs, write stories and make movies about her. The myth of Moremi, NedjmaKarmen Geï… They accuse her of witchcraft, they murder and adulate her. Her insouciant wilderness threatens the status quo and precisely therefore she, the Afro-fatale, ignores the rise of conservative values. She knows that their primary goal is to make her extinct and the priority above all for the African Fatale is to avoid extinction.

The Fatale – wherever she stems from – is not necessarily feminist, at least not in the academic sense of the term. But she is most certainly a feminist archetype especially because of her determination not to let anything – nothing at all: not men who sit mightily on power, not traditions that are afraid of her sexuality, not white supremacist fantasies about racial hierarchies, not religions that dictate that women should obey men, not ideas that negate the life giving act of mothering, not media that obsesses with depicting women weakly, not even the inevitability of ageing, let alone the mortifying mythification surrounding it – compromise her appetite for life. She is her own boss and she runs her enterprise with zest.

So are we ready for the brave new world of the Fatale in 2014?

What does the term ‘femme fatale’ make you think of?

 

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What makes African women’s art feminist?

Picture 10 250x250 What makes African women’s art feminist?

Peju Alatise, Release (2010) Acrylic on oil

It has been said that artistry in Africa is an intrinsic part of life rather than a commercial or careerist enterprise. I’d say that this notion is not only applicable to African art, all across the world art has explored the sensitivities of life and the social environment.

However, it is in this process of examining life and society through art, that African women artists are prone to, wittingly or unwittingly, explore concepts of feminism.

Feminism in an African perspective

Let me explain. Whether African women’s art is feminist in nature has not necessarily to do with whether African female artists identify as feminist, but rather with the way that their art might be interpreted.  Think about it: what do you feel when you observe a piece by Wangechi Mutu, Otobong Nkanga, Lalla Essaidy, Peju Alatise, Suzanne Ouedraogo, Tracey Rose, Zanele Muholi or Michelle Magema? What story of womanhood do their brushes paint and their lenses and hands sculpt?

Also, to understand the feminist nature of African women’s art requires that we shy away from the narrow understanding of feminism as an “unAfrican” framework. Rather, and simply defined for the purpose of this post, feminism is resistance to patriarchy.

The question thus becomes, to what extent does African women’s art stand up to the patriarchal paradigm?

It should be noted that to challenge age-old patriarchal establishments in African societies can be a risk resulting (at best) in social exclusion. It takes courage to challenge, for example, practices such as FGM or the institution of marriage, which is *yawn* seen as the pinnacle of a woman’s life. Tensions between men and women as well as between race and ethnicity are depicted by artists who are willing to produce not only aesthetically compelling but also socially pressing work. Regardless of criticisms that may be directed at them.

And yet, as Zimbabwean writer and “shero” Yvonne Vera might say, African female artists continue to produce art in which they take upon themselves the role of the confident historian, the adept raconteur and the griot whom silence will not swallow.
I agree. Well, I should do since those are my words (sort of). I am under the intoxication of reading Vera.

The artist as witness

African women artists create art which reminds you what it is to be a woman not a striking sexual object so often – sure, brilliantly –  illustrated by African male artists, but a woman-being in all her contradictory nuance; vulnerable, afraid, beautiful, ugly, delicate, crude, angry, oppressed, complacent, defiant, sorrowful and empowered.

Most of all, in the art of a multitude of African women there is a voice that shares a quality of telling what it has witnessed – the good and the bad. It is an unapologetic voice. It is a tired but yet tireless voice. It is a voice that cherishes its source. It is a voice that is screaming at the top of its chords that it must be heard, that it mustn’t be silenced. It is, a feminist voice.

Over to you, what do you think -is African women’s art feminist? Should art have a message or should it simply be visually pleasing? What kind of art do you like? Favourite female artist? Let’s discuss.

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What I like about African men

cyclist tan What I like about African men

Let me start by saying that there are desirable traits in men from all corners of the world. From the Ken-ish charm of a George Clooney type to the Jesus-like gentle features of many Arab and Asian men, our diverse world contains a smorgasbord of likeable men.

Yet there is something about African men that evokes in me a particular appreciation of the masculine. What I value about men of African heritage is, however, not what the culture – popular or otherwise – seems to like about them. You know: muscular. Athletic. Spiritual. Good rhythm. Creative. Bold. Tough. Straight-forward. Luxurious skin. Well-endowed; which is not to say that such features are undesirable at all; but they are problematic generalisations and they are far from all there is to African heritage masculinities.

Actually, what fascinates me in African men is an unrehearsed type of manliness: the kind of graceful and genuine poise which has nothing to prove nor deny but that strives to be just. Such masculinities may or may not be physically strong and robust but they are energetic, passionate yet simultaneously vulnerable and open. They are also men who see women as equals without feeling intimidated.

Yet this type of masculinity seems to be vanishing. Thanks to male-supremacist ideology within Eurocentrism, Judeo-Christian as well as Islamic influences and precolonial patriarchal mindsets, ideas of masculinity in African heritage societies have become increasingly marked by chronic machismo. Machismo is everywhere, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not without reason that Africa and the Caribbean have some of the highest levels of gender inequality in the world.

Despite the divisive influences and traditions, here and there are glimpses of a masculine archetype that seems to stem from a history of appreciation for intimate camaraderie and that is not at ease with the control of women. Again, such can be found in all corners of the world. But I believe that if we dug deeper into African history with the intention to encourage a more harmonious society, we would find an especially wealthy resource of masculine ideals in African indigenous systems.

After all, since Africa has some of the oldest and largest matrilineal societies such as the Akan and Tuaregsome of the oldest legacies of female leadership and rituals to curb male abuse of authorityit means historically there were men who took part in honouring mutual understanding. And in African religion we find stories such as that of the Yoruba Orisha Osun, the goddess of the oceans, a feminine archetype under whose worship, woman and man strived to live amicably. Osun’s domain is water, as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang, “Water no get enemy”. Osun does not exclude gays or lesbians as their sexualities present no threat (or enemy) to her environment.

These stories reveal a history not only of female power but of male commitment to balance. In modern times we can see it in literature; for instance, in books by Njabulo Ndebele, Elechi Amadi and many others. We see it in the fact that male students outnumber female students in Gender Studies in some African universities and, online, in blogs like the New African Man or organisations such as Engaging Men.

I cherish African men, among other things, for continuing this legacy of love.

How about you, what do you like in African men?

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photo by: dno1967b

Meditations with Lorna Simpson

Lorna Simpson Meditations with Lorna SimpsonWhy do I like pictures that seem ghostly? I’m not religious and I am no more spiritual than any one else. I’m not an atheist either but I cherish rational argument. I spend quite a lot of my time upside down, in Adho Mukha Svanasana and occasionally Urdhva Dhanurasana and so on, and yet despite my fondness for these poses, I prefer taking the world upright. I don’t watch horror movies because although I mostly find them silly, they cause me nightmares.

So, why am I attracted to phantasmal images? I reckon it’s because the ghost is humanity’s alter-ego and, this, intrigues me.

A few days ago I became transfixed with this photo of Lorna Simpson’s titled Corridor (Night) that I stumbled upon in a new book with the eponymous title “Lorna Simpson”.

More specifically, I was glued to the image on the right of Corridor (Night). There’s a woman in the photo, Wangechi Mutu, although she is not being Wangechi Mutu in the photo. The photo, by the way, is also part of a beautiful video installation.

Corridor%20(Day) Meditations with Lorna Simpson

Corridor (Night), Lorna Simpson

At any rate, the woman is in her bathroom that has no bathtub or shower. She is wearing a terrible pink gown but it looks great on her. She is applying Shea butter on her collar bone where she is sunburnt.
That’s what I imagine is happening although the sunburn is unlikely since the trees outside of the bathroom window are deprived of their green jewels. But because it seems to me that the woman is an apparition, it doesn’t matter why she is doing what she is doing. Why do I find her ghostly? Because her presence in the room is bare; she has no reflection in the mirror in front of her, there are no drops of water in the sink, her side of the bathroom does not have a toothbrush mug.
It’s not an image of a Blackwoman in a  bathroom, it’s an image of a bathroom with a Blackwoman in it, her presence conspicuous yet unassuming.

Would the image have the same effect on me if the woman wasn’t black or if a man was in the room instead? Perhaps, but I don’t care to imagine those scenarios. Lorna Simpson’s art may speak volumes about race, gender and identity; it’s undeniably subversive and political, but what stays with me is not academic, but rather a personal memory, as if I were observing someone in an old family album. (And who looks at someone in their family album through a race/gender lens?) The woman is not a problem to be solved, she – the ghost – is affirmed and aware.

I turn the page and and on page 140 I find a man in a suit standing in a cloud. It’s lovely! Like much of Simpson’s work, it’s haunting, mysterious and beautiful all at one. But more on his ghost some other time.

Do you like this? What does the picture say to you? would love to hear your thoughts!

 

Lorna Simpson is published by Prestel Publishing

 

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The unusual relationship between religion and modernity in Africa

cross in chinatown The unusual relationship between religion and modernity in AfricaTwo things are growing faster in Africa than anywhere else – religion and the economy.

Africa is the most devout continent in the world with 89 percent of participants in a 2012 WIN Gallup survey saying that they were religious, compared to 59 percent in the world at large. In Ghana, the country with the highest number of religious people in the world the total was 96 percent, with Nigeria following closely at 93 percent.

Simultaneously, African economies are growing at unprecedented rates and although fragmented, modernisation across Africa is experiencing a boost. Foreign investors are pumping African economies and international retailers and factories are setting up on the continent: Guinness, Zara, Smirnoff, Nestlé, Wal-Mart and many more. The mobile phone industry has exploded and it is pushing innovation in technology. Wired Magazine reports that “Africa’s hackers are today’s world class innovators” and according to an article (Britain’s Surprise Shopaholics: Nigerians) in Bloomberg Businessweek, Nigerian shoppers are the fourth-biggest contributors to overseas tax-free shopping in the UK (behind only China, Russia, and the Middle East).

The combination of economic growth and modernization on one hand and the rise of religion on the other is a uniquely complex nuance of African existence. In most parts of the world, modernisation and economic growth have tended to go hand in hand with secularisation but in African societies the trends suggest otherwise. On one end modernity and technological innovation are growing but so is religious commitment.

Increased religiosity is bad news for gender equality. From FGM to anti-abortion legislation to controlling what women wearto homophobia to accusations of witchcraft, many issues that cause feminist and humanist concern are rooted in religion. Yet, while we we must strive towards a society where miraculous mythology, however spiritual, is independent from decision making bodies, solutions to problems of injustice that have to do with religion must be situated in the reality that religion is important to most Africans.

In other words, truly progressive discussions need to oppose the misuse of religious doctrine to support injustice in African societies without closing space for dialogue with the many variations of religious life.

 

 

 

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photo by: Franco Folini

Valentine’s Day Give-Away – My free poetry e-book

cache jpg Valentines Day Give Away   My free poetry e book

 

I don’t consider myself a poet but that’s an odd thing to announce given that I am next going to offer you to download cache, my poetry book. And for free too in the spirit of Valentine’s day and love!

Poetry is a form of writing that I’m compelled to engage in when I’m at a threshold in life, in between endings and beginnings, however subtle, as I was when most of the poems in cache were written.Life, as we all know, is full of enchanting thresholds and writing poetry is something I will probably always do in between other writing. So I’m excited and proud that cache is my first book! I hope you’ll like it as much as I do! Let me know what you think! Did I say that I’m excited?

Visit the cache page to download it or find it directly here.

Oh, what’s cache about? Here’s an excerpt from the the blurb on my publisher’s site:

Weedmark Publishing is proud to present Minna Salami’s first collection of poetry. This collection invites the reader to witness the simple magic and myth in life, love and the journeys along memory and identity.

Enjoy, share the love and thoughts!

 

 

 

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International Women’s Month event for your diary: FRIDA – Female Revolution In Dance & Art

FRIDA International Womens Month event for your diary: FRIDA – Female Revolution In Dance & Art

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.” 
― Frida Kahlo

To celebrate the forthcoming International Women’s Month 2013, join us (Pia Cabble, Bumi Thomas, CRE8 LIFESTLE CENTRE & MsAfropolitan) for a spectacular multidisciplinary art project inspired by the legacy of Frida Kahlo.

This gallery event is all about celebrating female liberation and revolution through dance and art. The experiential, interactive showcase consists of multiple art forms including live music, performance art, live painting, spoken word and dance to ensure a memorable experience.

Witness a modern interpretation of Frida Kahlo through the reflections of her work as a historical female figure, feminist icon, human rights activist and pioneering avant-garde artist.

The proceeds from this event will go to support art workshops that are created to uplift, empower and engage with women.

Artists exhibiting: Bojana Knezevic, Linda Aslaksen, Pia Cabble, 
Deanna Tyson, Helene Champaloux, Elise Buddle Amanda Holiday

Spoken Word artists: Sifundo Manzini, Ebele Ajogbe, Tolu Agbelusi, Zakia Carpenter, Seyi Awolesi

Musicians: Bumi Thomas, Luzmira Serpa, Kay 


We look forward to seeing you there!

Visit the Facebook page and get your tickets here

 

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On Vagina by Naomi Wolf and the reviews that followed

 On Vagina by Naomi Wolf and the reviews that followedThe release of Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina: A New Biography” was met with scathing criticisms from feminists like Laurie Penny, Ariel Levy and Zoe Heller. These influential writers all bring up some valid arguments about problematic ideas presented in the book. Vagina is indeed a book that in many ways feels unfinished and often naïve.
It is in a sense two parallel books in one: The first part tests the validity of the obvious idea that the brain and the vagina are connected while the second – if still incomplete – is much more interesting and true to the title looking at historical ideas about female sexuality.

However, frankly what is even more frustrating than Naomi Wolf’s tendency to draw premature conclusions based on incomplete research and then furthermore present platitudes as though they were revelations, is that even though she doesn’t fully succeed, her attempt to honestly and critically discuss female sexuality is met with reviews that take it too far with their vitriolic and personal criticism.

As a black/African feminist, I find myself in familiar territory reading the reviews. The gatekeepers of mainstream feminism’s underlying message is still that firstly, there is just one kind of feminist dialogue and women who don’t fit into this box may not contribute to it and, secondly, that the conversation should be of the type of Cartesian, unemotional writing that is held above all other types of social discourse in western society.

While the hole-as-goddess language that Naomi Wolf employs is over the top for me personally, what’s laudable is the endeavour to connect women’s erotic and sensual lives with their creativity and power.
However, it is therefore important to emphasize that this is a discussion that feminists before, especially those from the south and black feminists around the world have been having for decades. Black feminists have necessarily sought women’s own re/interpretations of sexuality in creative, erotic and spiritual realms of painting, pottery, poetry and so on because heavily male- dominant and often racially oppressive worlds of academic and historical “truths” do not account ‘herstory’ or African heritage reliably.

In 1978, Audre Lorde for example urged women to find our “internal erotic guides” and explore the erotic as a source of power. In African Sexualities, Nkiru Nzegwu describes that unlike the dominant ideas in 20th century sexology, in Osunality (or African eroticism) the penis is not in charge. Instead, the vagina is seen as the dominant organ as it swallows the penis, it pulls it and makes it disappear during heterosexual sex. (This is comparable to the ‘upsuck theory’ that Naomi Wolf discusses.)

In other words, there are much better resources that attempt to connect intimacy with a form of female knowing (as in the links above) than Naomi Wolf’s

Apart from continuing to reject the idea that cerebral thinking is more of a guarantee for profundity than is knowledge that has its seeds in emotion, soulfulness and creativity, I hope we will continue to explore connections between women’s creative and erotic lives as an antidote to woman-bashing in our hypersexualized society. I also think that we should seek counter-narratives of the penis as an erotic symbol of maleness and explore how that is psychosexually related to ideas of male power. Oh, I wrote a post about that a while ago - male genitalia and ideas of power. I also wrote about somatic approaches to psychology (which is really what we are dealing with here,)and of how prejudices against African spiritual philosophy for example, continue despite evidence that there is knowledge available in this field that modern science is only just beginning to understand.

Have you read it? What’s your take?

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Huffington Post: Meditate Your Way Through Negative Articles About Black Women

gabbydouglasONC 082712 400se Huffington Post: Meditate Your Way Through Negative Articles About Black Women

oprah.com

I submitted the below post to the Huffington Post editors before the racist and sexist cover image of Michelle Obama as a nude slave appeared in one of Spain’s biggest newspapers, El Mundo’s, supplement. This morning an interview with Gabby Douglas went live revealing that her teammates called her a slave. Unfortunately, the constant tending towards destructive representation of black women in media is highly  alive.

It is important that we find ways to tune out the cacophony of negative media messages and tune into our feelings of self-worth.

One way to foster such compassion for ourselves and for each other is to learn how to meditate. Through meditation we wake up our hearts and minds, which enables us to connect with our inner voice. As a result we feel more relaxed as we carry out our daily lives. We find it easier to manage anger, insecurity, stress, and depression and we become more capable of detaching ourselves from any negative perceptions cast upon us.

Read the rest here

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7 key issues in African feminist thought

 

12agreatmigrationhelinametaferianwwdc3september2011 207x300 7 key issues in African feminist thoughtFirstly, it is important to say that when it comes to theory, it’s more accurate to speak of African feminisms than of one almighty African feminism. Not all African feminists agree with each other–luckily, I’d add, as this would hinder deep reflection of issues such as those listed below–yet respecting differences whilst recognizing a common ground is a priority. As I mentioned in the previous post, many women might refer to themselves as both African feminists and Black feminists. (This is especially evident in bibliographies of both African- and Black feminist writing.) However, African feminist thought has an added commitment to analyses in African contexts.

I should also clarify that African feminists here, as mostly elsewhere, refers to feminists of African heritage both in Africa and in the Diaspora, and that with ‘African women’ I’m referring to women of African heritage who are rural, urban and of all social classes who live in Africa and across the globe. Lastly, the views expressed below are mine and my choice to highlight seven key issues is not to suggest that there aren’t other equally pressing and important issues or that these seven are comprehensively covered in this one post.

Al-righty, on that note, let’s start with the Big, Bad Guy.

Patriarchy
Africa is no different to other continents in the world, where whatever autonomic space the society offers the individual, it is less if one is female. Unfortunately we don’t know of a time in modern history when women of a racial/ethnic/class group were not disadvantaged in comparison to men of the same racial/ethnic/class group. We know of times (including this current one) when women of one race, ethnicity and/or class may have social advantages over men of another race, ethnicity and/or class. African feminists pay attention to the ways that patriarchy–a psychological and political system that values the male higher than the female–uses law, tradition, force, ritual, customs, education, language, labour (etc.) to keep women governed by men in both public and private life. African feminism sees that African men and women could have mutually beneficial, transformative and progressive relationships in the private and public spheres if our relationships were non-patriarchal and egalitarian. Nevertheless, African feminists assume responsibility for striving for such equal societies rather than hoping that men will someday redistribute privilege and power to create a better, more harmonious prospect for future generations.

Race
African feminist thought does not solely deal with the “male-female”-imbalance because that would leave out other factors that affect African women’s lives, one of which is racial hierarchies and the socio-politics that come along with them. In fact, African feminists tend to be well-versed in how racial politics has undermined those practices in parts of historical Africa that had complementary elements and that nurtured a spirit of mutual intimacy. African feminist writing aims to ‘undo’ the roles and conditions that made Africans dependent on their colonizers, to ‘unwrite’ the burden of a history of imperialism that spans through centuries and to give a new language with which African women and men can progress from the racialized trauma that till this present day affects women and men, albeit in different ways.

Tradition
It’s quite unpopular to criticize African traditions, or to point out that African history is marked by male dominance which African women have always resisted. Whether it is to do with the household, marriage customs, production methods or sexual freedoms, African patriarchal traditions for the most part make distinctions between male and female in ways that disadvantage the female. African women have been silenced for too long about the crimes of traditional patriarchy such as the abusive and dehumanising institution of patriarchal polygamy, widow abuse, genital cutting, witch-hunting and women’s lack of access to property and power in traditional society. That said, African feminist thought doesn’t seek to abandon tradition, as tradition also harbours a precious cultural memory and a rich legacy of knowledge and spirituality. Rather the goal is to enable tradition to adapt to its times so that rather than stagnate, it can enrich society, as customs and culture should do. Take for instance Sisonke Msimang, a well-known African feminist who here describes incorporating the lobola (bride price) in her wedding ceremony in a completely feminist way! That’s a great example of how to maintain cultural pride whilst simultaneously preserving a commitment to evolution and harmony.

Underdevelopment
Africa, according to statistical indices, is the poorest continent in terms of people’s access to basic amenities. African feminist thought honours that poverty in Africa and wealth in the west are structurally linked. The west’s continued injustice towards Africa through military intervention, resource exploitationNGO propaganda, unjustifiable debt and trade practices, and other neo/colonial practices of the power hungry has devastating effects on African states ability to cope with such factors as HIV/Aids, women’s sexual & maternal health and infrastructure development. Perhaps worst of all, is that the underdevelopment of Africa has impeded on the development of consciousness through adequate educational systems. As a result, African societies have been unable to naturally progress in ways where their jurisdiction, agriculture, intra-continental trade, indigenous healthcare and philosophical outlook has advanced to match the needs of citizens. In addition, this lack of consciousness development fuels unexamined claims like that the pursuit of gender equality is unAfrican or that homosexuality is sinful. Furthermore, poverty affects women worse than men in developing parts of the world because as Thomas Sankara said, “…women are dependant of the dependant.” African feminism seeks to enlighten that in order to develop African countries need to create social institutions that will resist foreign hegemony over African people, encourage engaged thinking and a workforce inclusive of all of its population on equally focused footing.

Sexuality
To point out the obvious, lesbians are women and homophobia and the persecution of African queer women by African states is a key issue in African feminist thought. The question of female sexuality in all its manifestations, and the control and suppression thereof, is in fact a central preoccupation for African feminists.  How do we challenge the state that pushes a rigid heterosexist idea as the norm? How do we unlink sexual dominance from sexual pleasure? How are women’s bodies made to bear the wounds of history; and of foreign intrusion and prolonged national struggles?  How do we address the psychological and physical suffering that women endure after violation? African feminist-centered thought and activism aims to query into and dismantle the mindset that doesn’t encourage the fundamental human right of ownership over ones body.

Global feminism
For feminism to be far reaching in impact, African feminists, like all others involved in the women’s movement need to collaborate with each other as we are also co-dependent in an increasingly inter-connected world. In the 20th century, African feminists were largely engaged in eliminating the arrogance and imperialism that had been imported through white-western feminism into African women’s narratives, but in the past decade or so the focus has been on ways to work together despite differences and especially to strengthen ties with Latin American and Asian feminist struggles. This pattern is in varying degrees the zeitgeist of all global feminisms, even though theory and practice are not always in unison.
African feminists need to curb (not neglect) their anger towards the negative images that many white feminists have perpetuated and focus on the resourceful work that many white feminists have produced, and white feminists need to be starkly aware and critical of their privileged position.Only then can we mutually seek to empower the strength at the heart of womanhood.

Love 
Love is something that all human beings desire in life yet it is an undervalued emotion in the worldview that shapes much of modern ideas. Using art in all its forms, for instance, to infuse theory with passion and emotion is for many African feminists a radically transformative act. Art is a realm where African feminist positions are not stated, but are symbolically represented. By creating new intellectual traditions aside of white/male academic history,  African feminists are in effect questioning the legitimacy of  knowledge production and decolonizing and depatriarchalizing minds.
African feminist thought is fuelled by the idea that love and justice are complementary to revolution and change. It is focused on healing, reconciliation, and on an insistence that the language of African womanhood, from its global position, is the language that can transform society into one where sexual, racial, spiritual, psychological and social equality are afforded. In such a society people can pursue lives with less daily micro- and macro-aggressions, less hostility and more space for self-realization. From Miriam Makeba’s music to Oumou Sy’s fashion to Nike Ogundaike’s art, African feminists are at the forefront of using creativity to express that progressive thought is not only cerebral but also visceral and expressive.

Thoughts? Questions?

More African feminist resources here.

 

 

 

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photo by: Elvert Barnes

Feminism has always existed in Africa

a womans strength 300x225 Feminism has always existed in AfricaFeminist activism has always been a part of African society and in a radical way.

By radical, I don’t mean the strand of the western feminist movement that very necessarily revolutionized western societies in the 1960s and 1970s, but rather, I mean the mobilized commitment to uprooting patriarchy, imperialism and human injustice to women.

In much of premodern Africa, there were women who possessed economic, political and spiritual power. To name only a few there were warrior women like the Amazons or Fon women of Dahomey. Or royalty who used their powers to demand justice like Makeda of Ethiopia, Nzinga of Angola or Mnkabayi of Zululand.

However, it is also true that women who weren’t lucky to be born into spiritually empowered clans or who weren’t wealthy traders or chiefly women, would face subjugation due to their gender. They would, for example, often be married off at a young age. Contrary to popular belief, monogamy was as common in many African societies as polygamy was. Not by choice necessarily but because only wealthy men could afford several wives. This is an example of how men also are marginalized by patriarchy, and why we must always remember that patriarchy is a system not a person.

Either way, with the exception of lovers who would flee their communities so that they could peacefully live together without intervention, the purchase of several wives was the end goal for many households, wealthy or not. And in this way they contributed to a structure that saw wives as the property of the husband and his lineage.

That is not to say that married life was all that mattered to women, or that polygamy didn’t come with advantages for women, like independent trading, finances and legal rights.
But available records of married life at the time suggest that although a majority of women may have found the marital institution agreeable, or at least not revolted against it, there were those who did. And those women were simultaneously feared, respected and in some historical eras, persecuted. The Atinga cult which spread from what is now Ghana to Nigeria is an example of a group that killed women who were considered social pariahs. The words used to describe these women in many African languages translate into associations with spiritual power, nature and motherhood but when European languages were adopted they became known as witches.

Modern African feminism can be traced back to philosophers and activists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as the Bantu Women’s League in South Africa or the Egyptian Feminist Union, which activist Huda Sharaawi established in the 1920s. Or activists like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Wambui Otieno, Lilian Ngoyi and Margaret Ekpo to name but a few.
During the era of colonial dictatorship, women revolted not only against patriarchy but also against imperialism, which made women even more marginalised.
For example, when the Alake (king) of Egbaland in Nigeria, wanted to impose colonial taxes on women who weren’t otherwise allowed equal representation in society, Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti and her activist group, AWU, went to protest singing in Yoruba:
“Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.” Due to their protests, the king was eventually forced to resign.

The term ‘feminism’ in Africa is obviously an import just like every other English or French or Portuguese term is. However, the feministic concept is not an import in the very slightest. They didn’t always call it feminism (the noun) but there have always been women who were feminist (the adjective).

Do you agree? Disagree?
Share your thoughts!

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photo by: mikecogh

Is it unAfrican to be gay? The Nigerian case

6399301555 7ddb83fa60 Is it unAfrican to be gay? The Nigerian case Since 1960 Nigeria has had no more than eleven years of unbroken civilian rule. Out of those, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) now led by Goodluck Jonathan has held a tight grip on power whilst barely contributing to any growth. Shell has just admitted that thousands of barrels of oil have spilt in the Bonga oil leak, the worst Nigeria has seen in over a decade. Nigerian universities are currently shut down on an impermanent strike. There have been more than a dozen bomb explosions this year. Schools are still teaching children more about Lord Lugard than of African icons that shaped history. About half of Nigerian women have been beaten by a male partner. Maternal death rates are the second highest in the world, widows are mentally and physically abused and acid bathing affects an increasing number of women across all ages.
I could go on but I’ll stop before I get the ‘rebrand Africa crusaders‘ on my case.

Instead of questioning the morality in a government that upholds such living conditions for its citizens now planning on legalizing homophobia, the hot topic on facebook and several other forums is paradoxically the ‘immorality’ of homosexuality. Apparently it is unAfrican to be gay.

I don’t know whom I respect less; the Nigerian government, or people like this that appoint themselves as gatekeepers of traditional African culture and in so doing defend the obviously incompetent regime. How unenlightened to use the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic canon as proof of the unAfricanness of homosexuality when the historical truth is that homophobia was introduced to Africa through organized religion and Victorian values. Before then there is historical evidence that homosexual practice was accepted and even revered by tribes such as the Dogon, Bangala, Hausa (Yan Daudu), Nzema (Agyale) and others.

Personally, I’m interested neither in glorifying nor condemning homosexuality. It’s like having an opinion on the incident that human beings breathe.
And I’m suspicious of traditionalist fantasies. The truth is few of us would want to return to 19th century Africa just as little as we would like to return to the Europe of those days. The romanticizing of African values is a piously camouflaged reaction against western imperialism. If the west  claims pretends it cares about the environment and animals – we are quick to say it is African to kill elephants and wipe out our vegetation since it is man that is made in the image of god. If the west asserts pretends that feminism made women equal to men – we remind ourselves of the ever loving, enduring, protecting African woman who accepts her position as the rib of the African patriarch. When the west alleges pretends it is pro-gay – we decry western decadence on one hand, and then conflate its mythology with African values.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t see that the (pseudo) liberalism in western politics is actually largely a political tactic aiming to position the west as the monitor of the ‘free’ world; of ‘free’ trade; of ‘free’ speech; of a world order where freedom means dominance. Unfortunate, because by reacting defensively against it we only reinforce its supremacist position.
Culture that is born out of defense is just as problematic as that which rises from ignorance and it is ignorance, not culture, which we would be preserving with this legislation.

Oh and merry Christmas everyone! icon wink Is it unAfrican to be gay? The Nigerian case

cc Is it unAfrican to be gay? The Nigerian case photo credit: smagdali

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Celebrating African Music – The MsAfropolitan Mixtapes vol. 1

MsA Mixtapes 1 Celebrating African Music   The MsAfropolitan Mixtapes vol. 1

I’m pleased to share that the first edition of the MsAfropolitan Mixtapes is here.

Courtesy of Broadcite Music, an esteemed independent label committed to creating unique sounds for the musically aware, we are going on an Afropolitan ride from Ghana to South Africa fusing highlife, juju, afrobeat and more with Detroit House and the edgy beats of underground London.

Out of all the arts, music possibly has the most direct effect on our senses. It touches on those places in our souls where we can’t forget to feel and it hits us with a cathartic recollection of emotion making us dance, sing, shout etc.!
Therefore I often write about African music because part of any renaissance movement such as Afropolitanism, negritude, the Harlem Renaissance or pan-Africanism must celebrate the creativity and culture among African and diasporic communities.

Click the image above or the soundcloud below to listen or download for free.

Enjoy and share!

The MsAfropolitan Mixtapes – vol. 1 by MsAfropolitan

The MsAfropolitan mixtapes vol. 1 by T.Roy [Broadcite]

1) Tony Allen – Kindness
2) Revolution – The Journey Continues
3) Sister Pearl – Bang the Drum
4) Bollie – You May Kiss Your Bride
5) Rob – Move
6) Aye toro – From Benin to Belize
7) Nneka – Africans
8 ) Stolen Moments
9) Uppers International – Dankasa
10) Apagya Showband – Mummunde
11) Malik Alston – Badeya
12) Upside down – Fela tribute
13) Joni Haastrup – My People

photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

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Africa is not a brand

3145612101 9dabea56a9 Africa is not a brandWhen a region has been subject to genocide, slavery or Maafa (holocaust), colonialism, apartheid and financial exploitation also known as neoliberal multilateral agreements, how do we legitimise its place in a globalized modernity without examining its bruised psyche? Through rebranding it as Bono suggests?

MsAfropolitan does not intend to rebrand Africa, but aims to be part of a network that seeks to tell the truth about it, and the thing is that the truth, warts and all, is so much more wonderful than repackaged modern interdependency. MsAfropolitan, just to point out, does not exist to make me an online personality or a blogger superstar. This site exists, quite frankly, because I have no choice. There is too much wrong with the world to just quietly observe. I HAVE to speak up. I write, and I will only ever write, out of love. If I stop loving writing and loving humanity I will not write. Simple.

People sometimes say to me, perplexed, you’re so nice in person, modest and humble. As though nice people do not have opinions as well as nice people women are not supposed to be feminists or vocal about racism or exploitation!
But I ask myself, how can I not be Pan-African or feminist or doubtful of religion? Africa is by far the poorest continent in the world. Women have been considered the ‘inferior’ sex for centuries and although my reverence for the teachings of for example Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed is timeless, I am starkly aware of the difference between their messages and the religious dogma attached to them, which has done more harm than good.

We are asleep. We decry racism and yet live comfortably in racially unequal societies. We don’t question that we are shifting from citizens to consumers (although the many current protests and occupy movements are a monumental landmark in challenging this). We are experiencing a racial moment where a black US president is waging imperialist war, avoiding identification with women, black Americans, gay people, environmental activists, Africans and so on. We tiptoe around anything imperfect for fear of having to take a stance and potentially be wrong. Perfection is crippling us from being fully alive so instead we call ourselves apolitical.
However, every lifestyle choice is political, the choice of milk or clothes or car one buys, the books one reads, the films one watches, even Christmas is a political celebration!

To wake up, and curiously examine the business of living is an act of resistance. Resistance to the fear of making mistakes. It’s okay to be wrong, godliness is not flawlessness. God resides in darkness, in humiliation, in vulnerability too.

I’ve gone off track. What I’m meaning to say is this:
The examination of life requires intelligence. By intelligence, I don’t mean facts or academic knowledge but an acute curiosity of reality with the means available to one.
It is unintelligent to talk of rebranding Africa.
Brands are images, clusters of stories expertly put together to create illusions that will generate money. Africa is not an image. Africa is not an illusion. Africa is not a cash crop. Africa is not a brand.
cc Africa is not a brand photo credit: Hitchster

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Speaking about African feminism at the Global Feminism Symposium, University of Warwick

239409895 f475963cfd Speaking about African feminism at the Global Feminism Symposium, University of WarwickI am currently in Lagos. I am working on projects with TV and Radio Continental and the STAR company/Seeing through the Arts collective who are using art and creativity to promote important causes in society. There is a similar reasoning behind the  MsAfropolitan Boutique, namely to use fashion and creativity to highlight the importance of the African Women’s Decade. And so I am attending the Nigeria Fashion Week by the African fashion visionary Lexy Mojo Eyes meeting new women-led labels. Last but not least, I’m here compiling materials and making queries for my upcoming MA dissertation about Yoruba spiritual philosophy and gender.

When I get back to England, I will be heading to the university of Warwick to a symposium about rethinking global feminism where I’m speaking about matters that specifically concern African feminists.

After quite a hectic November, I’m sure I’ll look forward to a calmer December, and to finalizing my upcoming poetry collection Snippets of Transition, which has found itself a publisher.

More details about the symposium below if you are able to attend. And if you are in Lagos attending NFW, I truly look forward to meeting you.

Rethinking Global Feminism

A one day symposium, Friday 25th November 2011
10.30-16.00

IAS Seminar Room, Milburn House

University of Warwick

Morning session: Feminist issues around the world, including contributions from writer and commentator on Africa & Diaspora, Feminism & Race and Founder of MsAfropolitan.com, Minna Salami; Professor Maxine Molyneux director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London; and Rashmi Varma, Associate Professor of Literature and Cultural Studies, University of Warwick.

Afternoon session: The politics of solidarity, with contributions from activist Salma Yaqoob, author, critic and independent curator Alanna Lockward, and Dyi Huijg, PhD student at Manchester University

With contributions from
Gurminder K Bhambra, Director of the Social Theory Centre
Nickie Charles, Director of the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender
Shirin Rai, Director of a Leverhulme Trust programme on Gendered Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament

Teas, coffees and lunch provided

Registration is free but booking is essential

To register email Lucy Mayblin: l.mayblin@warwick.ac.uk

About the speakers

Dieuwertje Huijg:
Dieuwertje Huijg is a PhD student at the University of Manchester. Her doctoral project concerns the intersectional agency of racially privileged young, feminist activists in São Paulo (Brazil). Using a phenomenological methodology and social theoretical/philosophical perspective, she hopes to respond to the question how, in the context of simultaneous structural advantage (as race) and disadvantage (as gender), agency is experienced, negotiated, mobilised and (re)produced by the individual who aims at social change. This research is grounded in her own activist background, specifically in the -multicultural and young- women’s movement in the Netherlands and Brazil in the period 2001-2009.

Alanna Lockwood:
Alanna Lockward is an author, critic and independent curator specialized in time-based undertakings. In 1988, she was appointed Director of International Affairs at Museo de Arte Moderno in Santo Domingo. She is the founding director of ArtLabour Archives, a cultural platform and agency responsible for producing situation-specific art events and exhibitions since 1997 in the US, the Caribbean, Europe and the African continent. She is chief editor of VideoArtWorld online magazine and general manager of the Transnational Decolonial Institute.

Maxine Molyneux
Maxine Molyneux is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas, at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, where she teaches and supervises Doctoral students on Latin American Development policy and practice, gender, politics, social policy, memory and migration. She has written extensively in the fields of political sociology, gender and development, human rights and social policy, and has authored books on Latin America, Ethiopia and South Yemen. She has acted as senior adviser, consultant and researcher to UNRISD, and has undertaken funded research for the UK’s Department for International Development, the ILO, and other development policy agencies. Maxine Molyneux has authored many books, including ‘Women’s Movements in International Perspective’

Minna Salami:
Minna Salami is a writer and commentator on Africa and diaspora, art and culture, feminism and race, and founder of MsAfropolitan.com. She was born in Finland, grew up in Nigeria and studied in Sweden. Minna is regularly called on for her insight and reach by organisations including The V&A Museum, The Africa Centre, VoxAfrica and CBS Broadcasting, Minna’s writing and opinion has also been featured in The Huffington Post, The Guardian, ARISE, WINGS, CLUTCH Magazine and more. Such attention grabbing headlines as Too afrocentric for you?, Smart women should watch porn and Mixed Race girls have issues have helped attract the attention and devotion of tens of thousands of users per month to Minna’s celebrated MsAfropolitan.com blog. She is currently completing an MA in Gender studies at SOAS University, focusing on African women’s history.

Rashmi Varma:
Dr. Rashmi Varma is an Associate Professor in English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. She obtained her B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Delhi and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in English and Women’s Studies. Prior to Warwick she taught English and Cultural Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At Warwick, she teaches courses on postcolonial literatures and theory, feminist literary theory and transnational feminism. She is the author of The Postcolonial City and its Subjects: London, Nairobi, Bombay (2011) and a co-editor of the McGraw-Hill Anthology of Women’s Writing (2008). She is currently on a British Academy fellowship for 2011-2012 to complete her book on representations of indigenous culture in postcolonial India. She is a member of the London-based Women Against Fundamentalism and a is a founder-board member of the Centre for Secular Space in London.

Salma Yaqoob:
Salma Yaqoob has been the Leader of the Respect Party in recent years. In 2006 she was elected as a city councillor to represent Sparkbrook ward on Birmingham City Council with nearly 50 per cent of the vote, one of the largest majorities in the city. In the same year she received the Asian Jewel Award for Public Service Excellence. Salma has been described by the Birmingham Post as a ‘doughty fighter for Birmingham inner city communities’. Salma is a regular commentator in the media on current affairs.
cc Speaking about African feminism at the Global Feminism Symposium, University of Warwick photo credit: srbyug

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Learning to love white men

6303652770 b3fc8e3412 Learning to love white menI’d hate for my experience on earth to be lived with a heart containing animosity towards fellow human beings.
We may act like different races are different species due to the irrational inventions of some power hungry ancestors of the human race, but I don’t want that confusion to make me equally disillusioned about our shared humanity.

We live in funny times; whilst there is a growing agitation and at times mockery of white male privilege in liberal circles, there’s simultaneously only been a cosmetic change in power hierarchy. White men rule the world as it were and they often do so arrogantly and with false morality, as if the big bang exploded last night. You know? Take as an example how David Cameron is threatening African countries that ban homosexuality with aid sanctions. Would his government sanction the religious institution that was economically imposed on Africa during colonialism and that largely created homophobia in the first place? It would certainly be equally morally corrupt.

Since the age of 12 when I was forced persuaded to move from Nigeria to Sweden, I’ve encountered challenges dealing with white men as a group. For example, within months in my new school in Sweden, my close friend, an Egyptian girl who also edits a blog, and I were chased by a group of white supremacist extremist boys down the corridors threatening to kill us. I was terrified.
I’d also developed quick physically, so at that age, although not interested in guys yet and very shy, my adult stature attracted unwelcome attention especially from older white men. To summarize, over the years there’s been racism/sexism – subtle and overt – often sexually/racially laden from white male colleagues, schoolmates, bosses, professors and strangers.
So to be terribly honest, generally speaking there is a place inside me where I’m watching my back around white men.

It’s easier for me to have great relationships with white women. This has to do with the woman who means the most to me on this planet, my mum, being white but also with our shared gender and with my perception of white women as less power hungry. In fact, out of all the wrongdoings of the white man the worst is perhaps what he has done to his counterpart woman. This is why many 1st and 2nd wave feminists were so angry, they had millennia of extreme oppression bottled up. And as a side note, why I think if we don’t keep challenging sexism in Africa, there will come  a point when African women will get equally mobilized and turn society upside down by doing things like they did, hunger strikes, mass protests, burning of bras (although no bras were actually burnt).

White men have contributed in many noteworthy ways to the world that I so love, through western architecture, modern infrastructure, avant garde cuisine, philosophical thought, computer technology… just a few examples.

It’s not gonna happen in one day, but I’m gonna learn to love white men in a way that means I can co exist without a wall in my heart, wholeheartedly and genuinely.

Thoughts?

cc Learning to love white men photo credit: maureen lunn

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Why history is written in flesh

tumblr ltok4k8gMr1qc9yu4o1 500 Why history is written in flesh

Aiste Lei ©

I believe in the sixth sense, not in a ‘seeing dead people’ way, but the sense of shift, that feels the brewing zeitgeist of future generations. The things that they will understand, that our generation can not. This is what activism and creativity alike ought to explore.
Can one set of people understand what the previous didn’t but not that which they did?

There can never be lasting fundamental change, it is in our collective DNA to forget, remember, forget, remember.
It is more interesting to strive to understand this pattern, and to discover that we have been here before; and that we will return. This cadence of human history is quite wild; meaning it isn’t convenient nor effortlessly understood.

There was a time when precolonial history was contemporary Africa. This is the Africa I strive to understand, but the closest I will get will not be through intellect but through emotion. My emotions drive me to know the stories that are omitted from history, the daily reality that had no agenda but that of living. Let me be clear about this one: What I’m saying is that the precolonial written history of Africa is predominantly written by male historians about male Africans. Ironically, this implies in many ways that the potent insight into African history is in its ‘herstory’. It is less polluted and convoluted by battles of power between genders and races. What was the context of women’s lives in Africa, in trading, in agriculture, in arts, spirituality. Who were the women that sought to emancipate their husbands? That saw fertility as power? What can they tell us about Africa that male-dominant history is uninterested to know?

I (accidentally) met a shaman recently, he told me that I am ahead of my time, which of course was a generous idea for him to embed in my consciousness. Yet he was mistaken. I’m behind my time. Whilst others are talking about postracism, postfeminism, postmodernism post this and post that, I’m decades and even centuries behind, trying to understand the beginnings of human confusion. If I reach any ‘post’ state it will be from traversing backwards around the circle.
This does not intend to be an inward rumination into the mind, by the way, because nothing bores me more than the overdose of thought that Descartes and his ‘age of enlightenment/reason’ peers introduced into the world. Thought that is absent of emotion is unbelievable dense, it’s academic in the truest meaning of the word.

But, if there is a sixth sense, and if it is about feeling rather than thinking, can we feel that Africans have never been passive participants in the making of the modern world? Did you read my post about African witchcraft and western psychology? Do you think it was possible for our European brothers and sisters to arrive in Africa and not be impressed by our knowledge, or that of other non-Europeans? When the global south was rich (c 1500 backwards) the west was poor. Today, the roles are reversed. In the future too, they will be. The ‘reversal of fortune’ theory is present throughout the mythology of humanity. History cannot be understood in fragments. If all we look at is dysfunctional modernity we will not understand how to get out of it.

It is more rewarding to understand life through emotion than intellect. Each and all speaks the language of joy, love, sorrow. When your lover hurts you, does he or she own hurt? If you can feel (and not think) the answer to this, then you no longer will be afraid of being hurt. When someone serves you happiness, be grateful, let it lift your spirits by all means, and then kindly decline. Brew your own happiness, only then can you decline another person’s serving of pain. We are co-dependent, you and I, marvellously so, but the only destiny is within you. You are history, present day and future.

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7 fucked up things

5642083189 7f90ab92c9 7 fucked up things

1. People that moan about the use of expletives.

2. The combination of capitalism and yoga. I can’t claim to know all there is to yoga but I can say for certain that apart from keeping you healthy, yoga philosophy aims to connect with something profound, some call it god, some peace, some essence. There is nothing wrong with buying expensive yoga gear, chakra energy jewels or zen retreats if that’s what you want to do, but some yogis are simply indulging in ‘spiritual materialism’. You cannot buy happiness. I see big bright red bulbs whenever a yoga class is marketed as ‘transcendental’ or ‘happiness-boosting’ or worst of all, anti-ageing. How utterly contradictory. Which leads to the next one:

3. Anti-ageing. If ever there were an indicator that western culture is not more evolved than any other it would be its fixation with ageing. Or should I say against ageing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to look youthful as I get older, but not young. There is a difference and all the botox in the world does not make a person youthful.

4. African ignorance. This should have been number one. This is beyond fucked up. The problem is (at least) threefold. Africans that shun our history, our treasure of philosophical and cultural historical wealth. Africans that call our cultures ‘backward’ and Africans who behave as if Africa did not exist prior to the messed up shit that was colonialism.

5. African supremacy. Romanticizing Africa and its traditions is counterproductive. To develop we need to be willing to scrutinize ourselves, dirty laundry and all. We are not better than anybody else, human beings are all in the same boat. Realising this is the only way we can get to grips with the compex fabric of African society and psychology. Tradition is not dogma. We must unravel the myth and propaganda from the reality.

6. Unrealistic entrepreneurs. People that approach you for work and think that you will write an annual report, or a 10-000 word feature story, or their website content out of passion. Passion does not pay the rent. Get fucking real.

7a) African ignorance, once again. Really – this one is worth repeating. I think the disconnect between the precolonial and the modern is the root cause of failed governance in many African states. African society (and that extends to us in diaspora) is a product of long term patterns. It isn’t just the outcome of post-colonialism. Many people of this generation have a gap in African history knowledge because our schooling systems did not cater for it but with info at our fingertips there are no excuses anymore.

7b) This post. Because I don’t like writing in the negative and also because although I wouldn’t moan about using expletives, I may have overused them in this instance.

Anything to add?

Vote for MsAfropolitan in the BEFFTA awards ‘blog of the year’ category. Voting ends October 14th

cc 7 fucked up things photo credit: Brandon Giesbrecht

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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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A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

If creativity isn’t about community in one-way or another it is dull at worst and provoking at best. Artists that manage to emphasize the spiritual, aesthetic and social elements of living are those that bring to us gifts of understanding.

Artists that exemplify this idea are musicians like K’Naan, Baaba Maal, Nneka, Blitz the Ambassador, Fela, Simphiwe Dana. Architects like David Adjaye. Fashion designers like Oumou Sy and Alphadi. Film producers like Ousmane Sembène. Writers like Wole Soyinka, Tsitsi Dangarembga and many more.

I’m not meaning that an artist’s work should mould into a box of clustered interest, rather I’m critiquing how in the absence of a social purpose of creativity, successful creative talents are treated as demigods. This individual-centered mentality is what upholds the idolatry and superstar mentality we have. Once an artist gets addicted to fame, and they often do, their art risks becoming repetitive.

I found it almost impossible to narrow down the following list of female contemporary painters of African heritage to seven, so this post may soon have a follow up. To start with, however, the work of these artists has been of recent inspiration to me and particularly for the reasons spoken about above. Their work explores spaces of womanhood, race, patriarchy, feminine deities and much more.

1. Catherine Anyango

heartofdarkness9 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Catherine Anyango – Heart of Darkness, illustration, 2006

I came accross Catherine Anyango’s work at RCA Black, an exhibition curated by the AACDD at the Royal College of Art, which for the first time brought together the work of the college’s African and African Caribbean art and design alumni, past and present. Catherine Anyango is a Swedish/Kenyan artist and film producer. The publication of her graphic novel adaptation of Heart of Darkness was met with critical acclaim and it is from this collection that this encompassing piece is taken from. I am enchanted by the figures in the background! What do you think is happening in this painting?

catherine-anyango.com

2. T. S. Abe

Screen shot 2011 09 10 at 22.57.04 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

T S Abe, Ray Willows Rays

At only 22, Abe’s drawings have already graced a multitude of mediums; from album covers to exhibition walls to prestigious magazines and a London bus. It’s no surprise, I find her sketches mind-bogglingly real looking. I mean this self portrait looks like a photo, right? Amazing.

www.krop.com/tsabe

3. Adelaide Damoah

and now A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art
Adelaide Damoah, And Now
Art to me is a reflection of the spirit of the times, the very definition of the term Zeitgeist. Every time I create a piece it is a reflection of something from that time, from that moment. Something personal or something which reflects society. Either way, it is a way of documenting. I strive to avoid censorship so that I may progress in my ability to express and relate through my work each time I create a new piece
These are the words of Adelaide Damoah who is currently also running “Art Success,” a series of interviews with visual artists from around the world discussing the concept of success to be read on her blog. Her Supermodels collection, that this piece belongs to, captures quite daringly the imprisonment many women face in the name of beauty.
4. Pia Cabble
pia e1315686762628 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art
Pia Cabble, Amazons Answer
Pia is a Finnish/African American artist currently based in London. Her work is based on three concepts; ancient civilizations, like those of the Mayans, Egyptians, Persians etc.; the female body and its goddess-like qualities and the meaning of ritual around the world. She works with items that are used or recycled, including her canvases. The piece pictured here is for example painted on a piece of recycled plywood where someone had written the famous words of JFK,”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Talk about character!

5. Shiri Achu

Screen shot 2011 09 10 at 22.36.52 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Shiri Achu, Prince Sokoro in the middle

Shiri Achu was born in Cameroon and now splits her time between her country of origin, the UK and the USA. Her art seeks to capture the spirit of her subjects and draws insight from her travels, from Africa to still objects, from the human form to the human in action. I find her pieces, of which some by the way are available in the MsAfropoolitan Boutique, to be enthralling because they simulataneously capture the fragile beauty of life whilst also exploring the darker, morbid side of humanness.

www.shiriachuart.com

6. Mickalene Thomas

Thomas Mickalene WhateverYouWant A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Mickalene Thomas, Instant Gratification, 2005

I am a huge fan of Mickalene Thomas! The New Y ork-based artist’s work explores and challenges the representation and objectification of women, and black women in particular. Her work stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life. She explores notions of beauty from a contemporary feminist perspective infused with the more recent influences of popular culture and urban cool edginess. This piece makes me think of hip hop, erotica, blaxploitation female heroes and artist/model Betty Davis.

mickalenethomas.com

7. Tamara Natalie Madden

 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Tamara Natalie Madden, Ambiguity

Last year the lovely Afri-Love blog posted an interview with Tamara Natalie Madden and since then I’ve been haunted by her work. In a good way! I think it’s the bird theme in her paintings mixed with the beautiful colours and flowery illustrations that evoke something ethereal in me. In the interview, when asked how Africa inspires her, she replied:


Africa inspires most of my art. I am from Jamaica, but I see Africa every where. The beautiful people, their amazing skin tones, their full lips and thick hair – all of that inspires me. I am inspired by the strength of the people, and I am inspired by their pride and inherent power, and I see royalty in all of them. That is why I paint the images that I paint. African people all over the world have been looked down upon, pushed aside, and their beauty hasn’t been appreciated. I want my work to show that we are decendants of royalty, and that inherently we are all kings and queens.

www.tamaranataliemadden.com

On that note, how do these painting inspire you? How do you define artistic success?

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The best kept secret for youth

20110803 162126 The best kept secret for youth

It’s my birthday today. I’ve given myself two birthday presents.

One was a day with nature. I started the day with a long and playful walk in the woods. The forests in Finland (where I am right now) make me feel like a little girl; the strawberries you can pick and munch on as you go; the butterflies flapping their colorful capes; the lakes that you stumble upon and can take a dip in.

I feel young today, even younger than the 33 that I am. I’m staying with mummo, my grandma, who turned 90 on Monday. I’m in a residency for the elderly. Last year, I wrote about the pace and spirituality I found in this home. I am experiencing the same sentiments again, being around old people is the best way to feel young. It makes you appreciate youth in a different way that any miracle potion or beauty secret ever could. I’m not talking about the physical element of youth, although that’s there too of course. What I feel strongly whenever I’m around old people is that I still have so much to learn about life, things that only time can teach. And I understand that the curiosity that I still have towards life is youthful.

I’ve recently also made some time for the only thing that truly makes me forget the concept of time, namely creative writing. I’ve been working on a poetry book about journeys through the spaces of home, diaspora, relationships and more. I just finished the last piece and so my 2nd gift to myself is a completed poetry collection. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it but I think I want to share it with you guys here on my blog. Guess I’ll need to figure out how to publish an e-book. Sigh. Lol.

Or maybe ill just get myself a 3rd gift and pay someone to do it for me. Any suggestions?

Well, either way, lots of love and youth to you from Tampere, Finland.

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African witchcraft and western psychology

 

There are those who believe that Oprah is a prophet of Satan, spreading a message against Christianity. Then there are a growing group who similarly to Oprah, or maybe even because of her, are keen to explore alternative ways of connecting with divinity, not by dismissing the teachings of Jesus but by understanding them in conjunction with other spiritual leaders and their messages.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of health care as increasing amounts explore spiritual lifestyles where the physical and meta-physical are linked. When it comes to medical treatment, the west, as a leader in modern pharmaceutics has focused chiefly on the body. As a result, science and faith have led separate institutional lives. But this one-dimensional view of healing is increasingly seen as a limited way of treatment. A psychosomatic approach, which sees health treatment as a multidisciplinary integration of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors is gaining momentum.

It is interesting that Africans, amongst others, have been using psychosomatic strategies to cure disease for millennia. African shamanist specialists have been labelled everything from Black Magic priests to Devil Worshippers to Primitive practitioners. However, the fact is that these guys knew something that modern science is only beginning to understand, namely that if you can access the deep rooted fears in a patient then you are in a better position to cure the physical tensions and emotional disturbances often caused by these fears.
In the attempt to devalue the ancient knowledge of African shamans; ritual and ceremony and the tools associated with these were classified as evil. Such claims are not only untrue, but actually miss something highly relevant to medical philosophy, namely that the paraphernalia is not by far as interesting as the master-minded psychology performed by many a ‘witchdoctor’. In fact, what may take a modern day psychologist months or even years to cure, African shamans, thanks to their hypnotherapeutic skills and to the worldview of their societies, could cure in hours.

Don’t take my word for it. There is documentation even by western doctors who travelled to Africa in the early 20th century recording, with astonishment, how so called witchdoctors cured all kinds of ailments from bone fractures to malaria to dysentery. For example Harry Wright, an American orthodontist and member of the Explorer’s Club who travelled to several African regions noted in 1957 after twenty years of field study:

I have watched uncivilized and semi-civilized man in the jungle depths, it is impossible to avoid one rather startling conclusion: the word ‘coinicidence’ is not broad enough to encompass all these sights I have witnessed… I can only say with Shakespeare, to civilized people: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!”

Disturbingly, there continue to be prejudices against African spiritual philosophy even amongst Africans ourselves. We don’t recognize the wisdom in our ancient practices as a complement to modern day philosophy. I use the word complement’, because I think that when it comes to medical science in particular, a complementary practice of western pharmaceutical technology and the spiritual philosophy of African, Australasian, Indian, Oceanic and ancient-day Europe (and so on) could produce previously unknown results.

What do you think, can science and sorcery work together in fellowship? Let’s discuss.

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How to use isms to be more open-minded

It is by acts and not by ideas that people live. Anatole France

impostor How to use isms to be more open minded

~

Coming from an (unapologetic) feminist it may seem contradictory to say that I am weary of labels.

I think that labels are somewhat like tampons; they exist not because they are necessary but because they are useful. It helps to know certain things about people. I like the insight that Barack Obama is a liberal, that Alicia Keys is an anarchist, that Bill Gates is an atheist, that Cuba Gooding Jr. is a nudist. But this does not take away from their nuances, Obama also is a published poet, and so is Alicia. Etcetera.

You know when you feel like you are surrounded by negativity? And you try to eliminate it by cutting people you deem negative out of your life? And that doesn’t help? That’s because negativity is a mental state. So by all means, spend microscopic time with people that rub you the wrong way, but don’t imagine that this will take away negative energy. That’s work you’ve got to do yourself.

It’s a similar thing with ideology. Our disapproval, or approval for that matter, of certain people due to their ideological belief is the danger, not the doctrine itself. The problem is not thinking differently but thinking rigidly. Do you know what I mean? For example, I’m getting an MA in gender studies so I meet and study the work of many feminists. But sometimes I sit there thinking I’d rather have a conversation with a wall than with a intransigent feminist. Then sometimes, much more often, I come across feminists who are remarkable philosophers but who are largely ignored due to their feminist moniker. Women like Bisi Adeleke-Fayemi, a Nigerian feminist, who has produced in my opinion some of the most interesting work on Nigerian society but who is only recognized in limited circles. Although I found out today through my twitter friend Nana @nas009, who writes this great blog adventures from the bedrooms of African women, that Adeleke-Fayemi has been selected as one of Africa’s 100 most influential people in a resourceful list by the New African Magazine. Or women like Condoleeca Rice, whose ideological views I by large find distressing, but who in other ways intrigues me. Admittedly, she is interesting also because Madeleine Albright likes her and they hang out a lot.

Isms are tools to help understand ourselves as well as other people. So looking again at feminism, for me it has been a means to internalizing a sense of power. I can’t imagine not having discovered feminism. It has helped me in so many ways; to aspire to live without restriction, to express my sexuality the way that I want to and not the pseudo girl-power way videos like this imply, to explore my creativity,and much more. Feminism helped me understand that only I can define my femininity.

But despite its gifts to me, it is a box that I exist around and not in. And because I know that about myself I know that other people don’t necessarily exist in their boxes either.

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cc How to use isms to be more open minded photo credit: EliseMeder

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photo by: LiebeGaby

Fela in Lagos, reflections and ruminations

Picture 4 Fela in Lagos, reflections and ruminations

I don’t know what to make of the Finnish elections last weekend, where the nationalist True Finns party won 39 seats of a 200-seat parliament.

The Nigerian elections, which have led to violent clashes in Northern Nigeria where hundreds of people have now died, sadden me even more so.

To make sense of things, I tried to find similarities between the Finnish and Nigerian elections, which took place simultaneously, but I could not find a single link flowing through my Finn-Nigerian blood other than the timing.

Ultimately, the things I love about Nigeria and Finland are not affected by the elections. One’s soul has no political or ideological affiliation.

Being Finnish and Nigerian, I’ve always wanted to find links between the two apart from myself. One such association that always amused me is the story of Nigerian musical legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, forgetting one of his twenty-seven wives at the airport in Helsinki, Finland’s capital.

On Thursday at the Fela in Lagos show, the role of the wives was ever-present. Ah, the Queens!

When asked what attracted him to his wives, or his Queens as he referred to them as, Fela once said:

“Sex! I thought they were sexy and fuckable. That’s what attracts me to a woman first … It grew into something else after though. Something special…Did I sleep with all of them on the night of the marriage? No. Man, I said I married twenty-seven, not seven!”

After his longest stunt in prison Fela returned to his home, the Kalakuta Republic, to find that some of his wives had new boyfriends and some had even born children for other men.

Patriarchal and chauvinistic as he had been, Fela now refrained from any accusations of infidelity. He understood his wives, he said. Shortly after he divorced the Queens but those who wanted to were welcome to remain in his Kalakuta home. The reason he gave for the divorce was:

“People marry because they are jealous. People marry because they are possessive. People marry because they are selfish. All this comes to the very ugly fact that people want to own and control other people’s bodies. I think the mind of human beings should develop to the point where that jealous feeling should be completely eradicated.” – Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

When Fela died in 1997, he was a tormented man. Although he suffered from AIDS, the disease, which he himself never in fact acknowledged, was not the entire cause of his pain. Instead his agony arose from a life dedicated to empowering Africans through activist work and getting little in return. Despite the sacrifices he made for his countrymen – the turning down of huge amounts of ‘dirty’ money from record labels; the weekly donations of his accumulated wealth to his community; the establishment of the Shrine; the multiple and soul-destroying imprisonments; the telling the truth at all costs – in spite of all he suffered for his people, Fela felt his attempts to create any significant change were unsuccessful, the masses were too brainwashed by ‘colonial mentality’. As stories of heroes such as Fela often end, it was not until he died that his sacrifices became fully appreciated.

Sahr Ngaujah plays Fela in the critically acclaimed musical which now has also arrived in Fela’s hometown, Lagos. The false Nigerian accent takes away from the magic of Fela, but what the portrayal truly lacks is actually the poignant and intense passion for political justice that drove Fela to pursue his musical career. Fela’s music is not primarily about dance, or fashion, but about pain. If you listen carefully, almost every song is characterized by a deeply entrenched agony over Africa’s maltreatment, and of African’s blindness to this maltreatment.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Ngaujah was great, the musical is vibrant and its aim is to make the audience feel good which it does. As such, it represents one side of Fela’s life eloquently, the beautiful Queens, their energetic African dancing, the magnificent Afrobeat energy of the music. Sahr Ngaujah does a very decent service to Fela in that light. On the other end, however, the side of Fela’s life that he suffered sorrow, tears and blood for – the political and spiritual activism– that side of his, Ngaujah was unable to capture.

The question is, could anyone?

Tickets for Fela in Lagos are available here.

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No longer at ease

 No longer at ease

I am writing this on my porch in Nigeria. I am surrounded by beauty. It is midday and the sun is shining. Pink bougainvillea is keeping me cool and wherever I look I see different types of leaves that must have inspired every single pattern that exists in this world. I am drinking a ginger and watermelon smoothie. Birds are whistling an African anthem and the soft breeze is tickling my senses. I can never be more at home than this. Everything should be okay but it isn’t.

See, I’m in Lagos, a city that the UN Population Division (UNPD) predicts to be the world’s third largest city in 2015. I’m in a country where 40% of the population is 15 years or younger and 60% live on less than $1/day. I’m in a corner of the world where we need more than miracles to look after all those young people that are still unborn. Yet what we want is a miracle. We have no choice but to try.

If our attempts fail, we will pack all we want into a box of hope that we will wear under our Sunday hats tomorrow and go to church. We will pray that the miracles that happened in the Bible will happen here, and we will forget to look at the trees to ask our ancestors what they did, and what they suggest that we do, when things aren’t okay. We will forget that it was the same forces that brought us the Bible that also brought values that cannot feed our children. Our children cannot eat books that write about our primitive, uncivilized past. When our Armani-suited, Dolce & Gabbana-tied, Gucci-shoe-wearing pastor says that our prayers will be the salvation of future generations we will lift our hats, releasing the only thing we have, those boxes of hope, into the caskets of the money collectors.

Later, we will journey back home as saved people. We will preach negligence to those that did not join us to beg for miracles, but some part of our machinery knows that the white god cannot replace Olodumare, Nri, Bayajidda. . . It is the same part that knows that praying to the white god cannot replace immoral leaders with deserving ones. It should not be like this.

I grew up a Christian, I have written about this before, of how as a child I sought faith in the messages of the Bible. I cherish many of the verses, especially those about Jesus. In many ways, they enriched my life. However, I cannot stand here and watch us all in these silly hats of lost dreams and say nothing. We cannot afford to separate miraculous fiction from reality. Was it not the missionaries that came and said that our faith was evil, that our women were too industrious, that our mothers did not know how to raise children, that we did not know the real meaning of love? Did we forget this before or after the Queen came to wave at us from her jeep? Did she perform a miracle I do not know about?

Until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter – African proverb

Personally, I would have told the missionaries who came in those days, that okay there are many things I’m not sure about in our traditions, like polygamy. I would have told them that there are many things that seem sensible about their traditions, like urban planning. I would have said that we are sensible too, by living closely with nature, and that they lack sense when they say that a good woman must not be as educated as a man. I would certainly have said that we are all the same in our pursuit of ways with which to abolish evil, so don’t you come here, telling us that we do not know how to live when we have been doing so before genesis. We can build a church where we incorporate some of what you know and some of what we know, period. And I would probably have been given the choice between ‘my daily bread’ and my daily bread, because it’s easier said than done.

We have to stop staying awake with our worries at night and sleeping during the day, we are not Zombieria. We are Nigeria. Or Kenya. Or Mali. Or Jamaica. Or Harlem. Our history is greater than most of us even bother to know. And our future can only be great if we erase the derogatory narrative of Africa and retell it, not embellishing it nor repelling it, but doing everything we can to find out the truth. If we stop pretending that everything is okay whilst we wait for God’s miracles. God will not save us unless we want to save ourselves.


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African women writers and stories that raise awareness

 African women writers and stories that raise awarenessWriting down some of my new year’s resolutions earlier this year inspired me so much I’ve been maintaining the practice by making ‘new month’s resolutions’. In March my goal was to sleep more and as a result feel more energetic and reconnected with mother and father earth but I failed miserably. Instead March was a month of work and exams, being scolded by the librarian @SOAS  for repeatedly not allowing him to lock up on time, and unhealthy eating and sleeping patterns.
Not much time for peaceful reflection, in other words.

Over the years, my NYE resolutions have become increasingly abstract, with concrete ‘sub-goals’. So for example, this year my journal entry on January 1st started, “My goal is for 2011 to be yet another space in time where I continue a journey towards the spirit, bearing in mind that spirituality and awareness are synonymous. To not neglect awareness, is to become more spiritual. But awareness in itself is a journey, you grasp it one moment and it slips from you the next, however, the residue of understanding which it leaves is what matters.”

Anyway, despite the non-accomplishment for March, I’m entering April with equally ambitious hopes. Next month, my grand task is to catch up with reading novels; I’ve missed reading fiction. The writings of Chris Cleave, Pettina Gappah, Teju Cole, Sofi Oksanen and Nii Parkes await promisingly.

Last October I co-hosted the African Writer’s Evening, the only reading that regularly features African Writers outside Africa. In fact, AWE is usually hosted by author Nii Parkes whose book Tail of the Blue Bird is on my reading list for April. Here I am in what looks like an empty room, but it was quite busy.

AWE1 African women writers and stories that raise awareness

We discussed the novel Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke. I enjoyed the book a lot. The love story, which it unfolded around was romantic rather than realistic, the latter being favourable in my opinion, but throughout I found myself taking pauses to chew and regurgitate thoughts on Okereke’s poetic form of writing. The book is set in a fictitious village called Mannobe, a bit like the Africa I have saudade, kaiho and longing for. The main characters, Allegory and Jericho, and all the many others you get to know are all distinctly entertaining and the language they occasionally speak is a seeming mix of Yoruba, Spanish and Portuguese. There’s a great interview with Okereke on Belinda Otas’ blog.

Okereke was on the ‘commonwealth prize for literature’ long list,  and other African women authors receiving well deserved recognition are Aminatta Forna, Lola Shoneyin and Leila Aboulela on the Orange Prize for Fiction long list. I’m folowing the Orange Prize awards with excitement, and I also have made the long list my reading list for the year.

Probably yet another ambitious plan.

How are you doing with your 2011 resolutions?

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The melodious song of longing, Baaba Maal – In Praise of the female voice

BaabaMaal2 The melodious song of longing, Baaba Maal   In Praise of the female voice

Baaba Maal

Apart from lyrical gratification, what do you get when you fill the Royal Festival Hall in London Southbank with artists like Senegalese superstar and advocate of women’s rights Baaba Maal, Speech Debelle, VV Brown, Eska, Krystle Warren and Annie Flore? You get a powerful evening of inspirational female voices from across three continents aptly title ‘Baaba Maal – In Praise of the Female Voice’.

What else do you get? Longing.

In Brazil they call this type of longing saudade, a term which is hard to translate adequately because it describes a melange of nostalgia and craving for something that is unattainable as it leans towards the past or the future. The Brazilians say that once you’ve visited their country and left you will always have saudade, a truth which I can confirm. In Finland, we also have a similar word, kaiho. It describes a deep emotional yearning and pining for something which most often is unidentified.

Normally during my working day, I occasionally pause. Mostly I break to gaze out of the window observing not only passersby, but also the shape of the clouds or the tree in front of my building, which looks different every time I see it.
Sometimes I pause to call a friend or to go for a quick walk or to dance in front of my mirror.
When I’m out I try to deliberately pause as well. Not stop, just slow my pace, share a smile or strike up a conversation with a stranger.
I take these moments as an exercise in regrouping of my mind, body and soul. And I take them in order to not get caught up in routine and forget to feel.
Music touches on those places in our souls where we can’t forget to feel. It hits us with a cathartic recollection of emotion.

The WOW (women of the world) concert made me long for Africa, but more than long, it made me have saudade and kaiho for Africa because my longing is for an unidentified Africa in the past or in the future.

Krystle Warren 5 The melodious song of longing, Baaba Maal   In Praise of the female voice

Krystle Warren

My favourite artist was Krystle Warren. Especially her version of John Lennon’s ‘Woman is the nigger of the world’ was breathtaking.

My least favourite was Speech Debelle. She didn’t really get me going. That is, until she did.
The minus points are only because as she admitted herself she was tired of performing the same songs from her old album and I thought that was obvious because when she did ‘Elephant in the living room’, a taster from her new album, feet were suddenly stomping like a room filled with elephants and I fell in love with her all over again.

Longing. Saudade. Kaiho.

Make of that what you will but when you tune in, pump the volume up ~

What are your thoughts, do you think it’s healthy to long?

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Listen. Risk. Help. One woman’s thoughts on how to do career.

pictu1 Listen. Risk. Help. One womans thoughts on how to do career.

Photo by Aiste Lei ©

I eavesdrop a lot, my ears are like antennas picking up conversations that I’m not supposed to hear. It might be indecent but hey, it’s fodder for my craft.

So the other day whilst enjoying a coffee at Starbucks, I pretended to read an article on my ipad, but in reality I was occupied by a conversation being held between two friends sitting adjacent to me. Not only was I listening to their dialogue but also to the pauses, the chuckles, the silences; brief moments that are subtly filled with essence.

One of the women announced to the other that she had decided to quit her day job. She would move in to a smaller apartment with her child, and pursue her dream to become a textile designer. A decision, which the other friend thought was a tad risky and irresponsible.

To me, taking (well-thought out) risks is actually quite responsible. I am convinced that life is not about having everything mapped out, sometimes it’s sensible to do things that make us nervous and that we even some day might regret.

That’s why I find mainstream career advice so off-putting. It seems we are always encouraged to endure, to ‘climb’ the ladder, basically to kiss someone’s ass so that we too eventually can get our asses kissed. Hearing such career advice is quite depressing. It makes it feel laborious and tedious to succeed and that in return often results in people not challenging the status quo. Unless they are very competitive by nature. Being competitive in fact, is what often seems to be urged by career advisors. Furthermore, this might be a disadvantage for women, as research suggests that women are not as competitive as men. Go figure.

The truth is crafting a career is fun! Your career is part of your life’s journey, not an end destination. Yes, it takes time but if you have an idea of what you want to do you don’t have to challenge the odds to reach your goal, rather your challenge is to realise that the goal with a career is to see it as a way to improve your self. In other words, returning to the ‘ass’ analogy, success is not about having your ass kissed but about keeping it toned.

Most importantly, I want you to consider this. Many people don’t have the privilege of career choice, in the same way some don’t have the option to vote. Neglecting this privilege is the same as not voting. Doing a job that you hate day in and day out if you have other options is not giving thanks to the gift of choice that you have been given. The reason I say this, is because people that do what they love tend to have higher self esteem and that in return makes it easier for them to help others. Of course the more we can help others, well, the better societies we all can live in.

I’m not suggesting people should quit their jobs without a back up plan, (although this is what I did), but start taking steps towards what you really want to do.

The succeeding question is do you know what you want to do? And if so, are you doing it? Do you agree that self-esteem and job satisfaction are linked?


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pixel Listen. Risk. Help. One womans thoughts on how to do career.