Category Archives: Africa

“I hate my hair.” She said.

My beautiful niece, you are already the rainbow’s source of light. You are certainly the bloody battle. You don’t like your hair and that worries me. It worries me that already at six years tender, you are so conscious of a standard of beauty that I fear was never meant to favor you. A standard you will find accommodates very few people of our color.

When I was younger, your grandmother had a rule that I could not get my hair chemically relaxed until I was at least twelve/thirteen, so until then it was in its natural state. Coarse, tangled and wildly disobedient. I found comfort in braids, much the same as you do now, but my mother also had a rule that we had to occasionally let our hair breathe. This meant after a month of three-strand braids or twists, I would have at least a week’s cooling-off period in which she would do protective styles at night before I went to sleep, and leave me to decide what I wanted to do with it during the day. I loathed the combing sessions. I remember wincing and squirming in my seat. Letting out the occasional Ouch mommy! followed by my fingers rubbing fiercely against my scalp; a look of frustration coming over me as I began to regret living. It felt like torture, and it was only after many, many years that I realized how tormented my mom must have felt as well. She had no choice but to learn how to braid hair and do cornrows because going to hair salons to your mom, your auntie Nyiha and me, was like marathon running to fish- it just wasn’t meant to be. So I can only imagine what it took for your cucu (grandmother) to psych herself up for the intense and arduous task of doing her children’s hair. A mountain of resistance exhausting every ounce of patience she had on reserve. But you know what, she did. And each Ouch mommy! that escaped my mouth was met with a sorry baby and a little pause, and somehow we got through it.

When I was in the sixth grade I moved to a new school. I did not know anyone yet and during one of my very first break times, I remember dragging my feet and trying to waste what time I could in the classroom so I would not have to sit alone outside. My hair happened to be breathing, so that day I’d decided to go to school with my hair in a ponytail. Naturally, it did not lay flat and smooth like the Caucasian girls’ hair in my class, spilling effortlessly over their shoulders and down their backs. It was spongy and the resisting coils fought for height. The puffy tufts shot through the other side of the hair tie, sticking up in defiance. As I stood in the classroom, fishing through my bag for my snacks, I noticed two white boys standing a few desks down, studying my features.

“Look at her hair. What’s wrong with it?” Boy A spoke with such disgust.

“It looks so ugly.” Boy B opined.

“Mmm, she’s not pretty.” Boy A concurred.

I was devastated. I knew then that lonely would have been better than the alternative I’d unwittingly chosen. In that moment I lamented my ethnicity, my culture and my difference. I took their words to be definition of my appeal as a young girl. I was ugly, my hair- abominable. That was that! I decided from that point forward, never again would I let them see me with my hair out. Braids City, population: Me.

Your mother told me a couple months ago that you cried and begged to stay home from school because your hair was undone. You did not even want to get out of the car at the grocery store because you feared the harsh, anticipated words of strangers offended by your afro. As you know now, I know just what that feels like. Many other black girls and women do too. But, my baby, it is not yours to own that another being should pass judgment on your value in the world, substantiated by archaic dogma. You stem from a line of people who were denigrated and demoralised so severely for our features, it has taken decades if not centuries to learn how to appreciate our own reflections. That is why I say you are the bloody battle. Because wars were fought for you, sweet child. Men and women shed blood so you could celebrate who you are without regard for someone else’s subjective opinion. So you could walk proudly into any grocery store, or sit in your classroom confident that you own the standard of beauty by which you choose to live. That the criteria are set by you and for you to celebrate YOU!

You remark on the growth of my dreadlocks every time you see them: “Auntie Gendo, they’ve grown. They’re growing!”

I laugh because I’m excited that you’re excited to see something different that our texture of hair is capable of. You see, baby, it took me standing in front of the mirror, straightener in hand, watching strands of my relaxed hair fall out with each stroke to realize I was honoring the wrong person. I was trying to emulate someone who would never be a representative of my heritage, my community or my struggle. So I cut my hair. I started over and I blocked out any person who dared tell me I was not in my element. But I still hated the combing and protective styling. So I decided to let my hair do what it had been trying to do since I was a kid- I let it lock. I embraced the coarseness, the coils and the beauty of its rebellion.

Zela, love of my life, perhaps it will help you someday to see your hair the way I see mine. It is multilayered not one-dimensional. Your hair is not just an accessory for your face; it is the story of your people. A living narrative that you should wear with pride because it is written in the blood of those you owe your dreams. Those people who were locked up for believing you deserve civil rights. The ones who chose your life over their own. Those people who I’m certain- if they could be resurrected- would say it was worth it. We cannot afford to hate a part of ourselves that is so indicative of a resilience more powerful than bullets and laws.

Sometimes I genuinely wish I could clone you for a day if only to give you the chance to see how incredible you are. So you could study your features and fall in love with the versatility of your hair. I hope that when you watch this video in your later years and read this post, you save yourself a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Our conversations will change as you get older. But one thing will always be consistent:

That I love you more than you will ever be able to handle,

Auntie Gendo.

 

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Diaspora Diaries: How do we justify burning a child alive?

Repost from: Chathe and Ebra 

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Fire by Matty Ring

 

 

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Africa, but your heart bleeds.

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“Captive” by Kagendo Limiri

Africa is the land of unsettled spirits. The tortured souls of black slaves dance on worn asphalt, feeding on the hope of the breathing corpse. We invest in antiquated propaganda, seeking life in what has long left the earth and re-birthing the very sin that has pilfered so much of what bore our freedoms. We have sought the power of God in man, forcing generations to abide by words of the wicked. Such words that resuscitate regression and smother equality; the ones they use to substantiate the transgressions of greedy governments. We bow before goons because we fear a loss of lifestyles we do not even enjoy. The African dream, corroded by corrupt politics; tax payer dollars, funding the demise of taxpayers. We have become an essential part in our own degradation- the water and sunlight that photosynthesize a broken system overrun by callous predators. We watch them stick their hands in the mouths of our children and spill the blood of our suffering. Collateral, they call us, underpriced security for their depraved schemes. How has it happened that we are captives again, to more men? Is this what they had in mind- our parents and those before them. Are these our best lives? Those that insist we live.

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“I don’t like you because you’re black.” He said to my niece.

Yesterday was the day I have been dreading since my niece’s birth. The day she became the target of overt racial discrimination for the first time. Our vivacious, sweet and innocent babe- only 5-years-old, attended a birthday party, where the white birthday boy said:

“I don’t like you because you’re black.”

My sister (her mother) pulled her aside and asked her to repeat what the little boy said.

“He wants to be my friend?” My niece responded confused, proceeding to play with her other friends from day care.

My sister and niece were the only two people of colour present at the party. Friends of the parents of the birthday boy laughed the statement off, trying to make light of the situation, while the mother employed damage control devices like trying to divert my sister’s attention to the food and drinks. The father of the boy did not say anything, choosing to avoid my sister and my niece for the rest of the day. Noticing my niece did not seem to have understood what had actually happened, my sister decided not to leave the birthday party, as she did not want to have to explain to my niece what had been said to her, and why she could not play with the rest of her actual friends for the rest of the afternoon. Why they had been invited to a party at all by racists is well and truly beyond all of us.

I have experienced racism countless times in Australia, having lived on both the east and west coast. It is something I have accepted will always be part of human existence. As long as history cannot be altered, there will always be those who substantiate the transgressions of the wicked and still preach human rights and civility with blood dripping from their hands. All while simultaneously condemning the ostensible weaknesses of oppressed marginalized groups denied the right to repercussions of slavery, colonization, apartheid, genocide or segregation. Even still, I have maintained that neither white, nor black or anything in between, are inherently good or evil. We choose who we become. Sometimes we are a product of experience, or live our lives around fears or preconceived notions. We hate what has hurt us and we love only that which gives us a dose of euphoria. This is more apparent as we grow and form our own opinions or subscribe to other peoples.

However, ultimately, when we are adults, we make conscious decisions to live our lives in a manner that is indicative of our beliefs and values. We are expected in the eyes of the law to be accountable for our actions and words, because we are old enough and presumably wise enough to discern what is right from what is wrong. Children do not have the luxury of accountability. They repeat what they hear from those who influence them most. What tragedy is this that a child has to learn hate from one they love? Is it not children that have the capacity to love without caution? Is it not through the eyes of a child that one sees angels at the sight of ogres? They will hold the hand of a beast and not know the danger of its jaws, only the warmth of its fur.

“Kisses and Cuddles” by Kagendo Limiri (My sister and my niece)

So my gorgeous, baby niece:

I am so sorry, that all the knowledge I have of race relations, all the rants I have written on the subject, all the times I have cried over a valuation of the black community in our societies eyes, could not render you exempt from such an abhorrent incident. You will have many more, baby, and sadly none of us will be able to shield you from all of them. But know this, I promise to educate you on your constitutional rights, your equal worth as a human being, and remind you that your skin is only ever beautiful. I will do my best to teach you how to love diversity, and celebrate difference, because it makes the world exciting and gives you a bigger canvas to paint on. When your hair is tangled and knotted and you lament the pain and hassle of taming it, I will tell you of the many black women that have struggled with the same problems and much worse, yet still they rise. You will be a black woman in an Australian society that will likely place you on the lowest rung of the ladder, but you are born of a resilient people and your steps upward will not be easy… but they will be- I promise.

Baby, I could never love a world that refuses to learn what it is to love you; to hear the sincerity of your laugh; to know the innocence of your curiosity; to celebrate the splendour of your skin. You are exactly what God intended, and no man with organs that work as yours do, mortal as you are, will ever determine the weight of your worth. Shine, little lady. You are the star we hope will live higher than the skies, the winged beacon we pray a brighter future.

I love you and your mother and I will absolutely, never, ever stop.

Auntie Gendo

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When Black Women Aren’t Inspiring

I’ve been searching for inspiration. Normally my first port of call is the black community; men and women who have led the nations of Africa to independence; recorded the struggle for relevance; fought selflessly to gain something for generations’ that ‘humanity’ denied they meet. Those people who not only share the colour of my skin and the coarseness of my hair but the struggle that accompanies who and what we are. Who better to consult than the slave that birthed a warrior overnight? Who better than the selfless martyrs that fertilized our lands with their blood, to mourn the shedding of more? When we cry, will the tears of our freedom fighters not pour down from the skies and the bark of our trees not shed a layer of their own skin? And so it is- in those moments when I am lost to the world’s adversity, my eyes and my heart search for answers in the accomplishments of those who have come before me and overcome the challenges common to our controversial existence. Their fight, my inspiration.

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“African Painting”, Photo Credit: Markus Reinhardt

As I sit here, it has occurred to me that the reason I search history for inspiration, is that of all the black (African) women in my life at present, not enough of them inspire me. They suffer in silent acquiescence; good wives clinging to a misinterpretation of love and loyalty. They raise their daughters to beware of glass ceilings, but refuse to be the sledgehammer that shatters society’s boundaries. They give up their careers and ambition to assume roles beneath their qualifications, even though they have the capacity to raise the bar in the industry of their choosing. And even in exceptional circumstances when they hold positions of power, they neglect to leave the pavement lit for those who follow; they treat who should be their greatest allies as competition. They are the definition of resilience and yet they refuse to rise too high or make strides too wide for the world to digest. They are heroines waiting patiently for a signal. They are witnesses to their own anti-climax. They accept expiry dates on their worth even though their value in this world is immeasurable. And yet if you ask they will speak of hope forgetting they were once a symbol of its meaning. And if you beg they will make promises of change without acknowledging their abandonment of its attempt at reality. And if you capture a still image of them they will smile for you, even if they’re dying inside, they will smile. Not in hope that a history book will print their portrait on happy pages, but more so that they themselves can verify they are alive, however dormant their being.

If only they knew who was watching and listening to them devalue themselves. If only they could see what they are passing on by subscribing to complacency. Or perhaps it should be me that wonders- what am I actively choosing to inherit, and what do I desire to pass on? No one can convince me that the life of a black woman is not the most challenging to live. If the world is not weighing our beauty on a biased scale, black men continuously fail, abysmally, to play a suitable role in our empowerment. When we find a voice, we’re accused of being combative. When we demand egalitarianism, we’re accused of inciting gratuitous noise. When we redefine our standards we’re accused of duplicitous radicalization. When we express ourselves, or love too hard, we are seeking attention. So, we will be scrutinized. So long as our hair has the ability to lock and our skin shares the shades of brown earth, so long as our voices carry and our convictions are substantiated by strength. I think that this is one of the sources of our resilience- knowing that we don’t make the cut- but showing up anyway. Showing up strong. 

That is the black woman I want as my inspiration. The kind that shows up- and shows up strong.

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Ebola and the Price of Africans

The thing about Ebola is it’s effing awful. It has an incubation period of 21 days and its symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and unexplained bleeding or bruising.

Perhaps what is worse still, is the world’s response to Ebola. The first cases of infected persons in West Africa are recorded to have been in December 2013, so it is astounding that it has taken, arguably, several months for the rest of the world to take Ebola seriously. This point is further exacerbated when more recent projections show that as many as 1.4 million people in Sierra Leone and Liberia could be infected and potentially die by January of 2015.

Dallas
Since the first diagnosed Ebola case in the U.S., there has been much more discourse on the state of affairs surrounding Ebola. In a CNN segment, Tara Setmayer, a conservative political commentator expressed her thoughts regarding Ebola. See below:

There are several issues I take with Tara Setmayer’s words. Firstly, when she addresses the issue of the Ebola patient (Thomas Eric Duncan) in Dallas she is quite candid in her view that someone coming from Liberia is likely to lie about their possible contact with infected persons in order to travel abroad. This introduces the idea that one is ‘guilty until proven innocent’ which goes against the presumption of innocence. Not only is she making assumptions she cannot aptly justify, she is making Duncan out to be some kind of villain who purposefully contracted this dreadful virus with some evil plot to further spread the epidemic purely because he’s African.
On the contrary Nima Elbagir had a differing opinion. See link below:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2014/10/08/ac-nima-elbagir-on-liberia-ebola-timeline.cnn.html

So what can we establish from this. Not only does this suggest that Duncan was unaware that he may have contracted Ebola, his biggest flaw was being compassionate enough to help a pregnant young woman up after she collapsed. What a villain!
Setmayer isn’t the first person to think in this manner. In 1998 the U.S. Embassies in the cities of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed by terrorists. Hundreds were killed and thousands were wounded (locals and expats). It was reported that locals in the Nairobi area moved to assist in whatever way they could, only to be turned away by American marines and personnel, who were under the impression that the locals would take advantage of this tragic event to steal from the embassy. Not only could this have been at the expense of the injured, but it further perpetuates the idea that it is okay to make Africans out to be unfeeling, menacing beings. As an African, this is simply heartbreaking.

Why must we always get involved?
Setmayer also insinuates that she is unhappy with the necessity for foreign aid in West Africa and doesn’t understand “why the U.S. (always) has to be at the forefront of it.”
To make my point, I want to begin by addressing the shared history between Liberia and the U.S. In 1816, a group of White Americans founded the American Colonization Society (ACS). With the number of free blacks growing, they were trying to figure out what to do with them. In short they decided to colonize Liberia and ‘return and or dispose of’ some of the free slaves. Some abolitionists opposed this for moral reasons and some people opposed it because they wanted to retain some of the black folk for labour and military purposes for the future. Colonization and enslavement took place on the continent of Africa. Among the colonialists were the British and French who had occupied several territories in West Africa and seemed to encroach on the territory the ACS wanted to retain possession of. So in order to have Liberia recognised as a sovereign state capable of retaining its borders, the American settlers declared independence from the ACS. We can’t ignore that there were some black Pan-Africanist’s that romanticised the idea of ‘coming home’ so to speak, but as Richard Wright and many others, they had been kept away from their roots for so long, reintegrating was not only hard but disheartening.

“Where the rubber meets the road”
In the 1920s, the U.S. began searching for rubber resources. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce at the time, Herbert Hoover, in conjunction with American business magnate, Harvey Samuel Firestone (owner of Firestone Tire & Rubber Company), wanted access to natural resources that were being constrained by other colonialist governments- that would be under America’s control. In 1926 the Liberian government granted Firestone the right to lease up to one million acres, creating the world’s largest plantation in Harbel, Liberia.

What’s been happening since?
Now it has been argued that the 99-year lease at 6 cents per acre, while liberal to Firestone, was also beneficial for the Liberian government who needed the money they made off of the rubber market to keep from being taken over by other colonialists. More recently, in 2005, Firestone signed a 37-year lease with the government of Liberia. That same year, “workers at the Harbel plantation filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court under alien tort claims act, charging Firestone with using forced labour and child labour.” A United Nations Mission in Liberia report supported many of the workers claims, while Firestone also admitted negligence concerning its own policy prohibiting child labour. One of the reasons found as to why children were working on the rubber plantation had to do with a “pressure to meet unrealistic company quotas”.

Firestone and Ebola
In the past few days we have learned of the effort Firestone has made to keep their territory Ebola-free, by establishing their own clinic on a rubber farm where they isolate and treat victims within the Firestone community (consisting of approximately 80,000 workers and their families). Firestone’s is certainly an admirable initiative, even if the wealth and resources available to the company is what has enabled them to be so proactive. It is worth noting, however, the somewhat volatile relationship that Firestone has had with Liberia. During the Great Depression when rubber prices fell, Firestone wanted the U.S. government to send a warship to Monrovia (capital) to enforce debt repayment and protect Firestone’s investment in the country. Additionally, given the history of Firestone in Liberia as far as possible human rights violations, we cannot escape the opinion that Firestone could merely be protecting its financial investment. Quite frankly, it is not often that large corporations see their employees as more than faceless numbers. Nevertheless, one cannot dismiss that their advances are somewhat avant-garde as far as this Ebola outbreak goes.

Inconsequential Colonization
Something, as an African, I have never been able to comprehend is this idea that we are supposed to forget what was done to destroy us by greedy, merciless colonialists, and yet we are not afforded the right to claim that the weak institutions in Africa are in part due to the repercussions of enslavement and colonization. As children we are all taught that our actions have consequences and yet it seems colonization, according to some people in the western world, is inconsequential. This cannot surely be the case, as prior to Scramble for Africa we certainly did not have 54 countries and weren’t engaging in civil war after civil war. A negative in insisting on the enforcement of accountability, is admitting where you have royally screwed-up; economic and social stability should not be a prerequisite for who is extricated from this reality and who is subject to it. So while we cannot entirely blame the west for Africa’s lack of desirable progress in the strengthening of her institutions, I cannot reconcile the idea that so many western nations have used her (for instance for rubber) and continue to use her, in her vulnerable state, for their own benefits while passing off the dollar-a-day campaigns as making a positive difference. All this, only for an epidemic like Ebola to unveil how long it would take for the western world to make an ACTUAL difference when it truly counts.

CNN correspondent Isha Sesay conveyed the following message:

So what is my point? The irony of Setmayer’s frustration over the U.S. involvement in Liberia is how closely tied the U.S. is to the African nation. Not only is her pernicious attitude towards people who are not dying of their own volition of ill repute, but her blatant lack of empathy for people who have only recently emerged from a second civil war, leaves me wondering what her definition of humanity is. At what point do you look at a man and tell him that because he fell below the standards of humanity set by the western world, his death is justifiable?

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Depiction of Pre-colonial Africa. (Photo credit:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/01/13/40-more-maps-that-explain-the-world/)

For many years the rest of the world has de-humanised Africans. This is why the tear-jerker TVC’s and ‘poor-nography’ will never play a positive role in progressing Africa’s nations. Africans are seen as helpless, primitive, undetermined, unattractive, illiterate, shameful, barbaric beings, that don’t even really qualify as human. People may not expressly say these words, but it has been communicated by conduct for so many years that we may have started to believe this of ourselves; perhaps morale plays more of a role than the western world realises. So before you chastise us for being ill-prepared to deal with an epidemic none of us asked for, please acknowledge the role you played and in some areas continue to play in the weakness of our institutions.

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Photo credit: Steve Evans (https://www.flickr.com/photos/babasteve/3423517521/in/photolist-nMMip-koaRAz-5tg2Ez-5nYYKy-5tSqje-5t5nwH-5uqxs9-ptgHQT-6dwqua-oDXNYx-69YXTN-8LH4pr-7EjtE-brDb7M-Su9eY-scqvP-bxED7X-e3fHSc-aghHr7-vPpZt)

Finally, perhaps the biggest oxymoron about Setmayer’s words, is the fact that the woman herself is what society may term an African American. Now of course she may not identify with this title, similarly to Raven-Symoné who just this week said that she does not identify as an African American, but simply an American. I take no issue with this at all. Congratulations to anyone who can identify him/herself so decidedly. But the fact is Setmayer’s black. And whether she likes it or not, it is probable she has some ties to Africa, even if they are so remote that she could live more than comfortably having never set foot in the motherland. Black Americans gain nothing from the denigration of black Africans, so why do it? The mere fact that your ancestors were put on the Aurore and mine were put to work in a field in Africa, should not be a justification for your lack of empathy. This isn’t an attempt to play the supposed race-card, it’s a choice to address what could be seen as an ethnic inequality.

The great James Baldwin in his critique of Uncle Tom’s Cabin said “Our passion for categorisation, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.” The struggle against Ebola cannot so easily be classified as West Africa’s problem. It is everyones problem. As long as we are living we owe an implied duty of care to each other, not by law, but by virtue that we share this earth. That we- all of us- are human.

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Leopard

The determination in his eyes,
The strength in his demeanour ,
The stealth in his movement,
The flawlessness that is his appearance,
He is exactly what is intended;
He is beauty and he is beast.
He is. He is.

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Managed to capture this early in the morning.

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