Tag Archives: America

Charles Bradley isn’t dead!

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As more professional athletes begin to ‘take a knee’ for racial equality and the right to peaceful protest permitted by the American constitution, it seems almost fitting that we are forced to recognize the immortal words of the Screaming Eagle of Soul. For even in passing Charles Bradley arrests the skies with powerful volume:

This world
Is going up in flames
And nobody
Wanna take the blame
Don’t tell me
How to live my life
When you
Never felt the pain

I can’t turn my head away
Seeing all these things
The world
Is burning up in flames
And nobody
Wanna take the blame

These lyrics belong to the song ‘The World (Is Going Up In Flames)’ and indeed for much of America’s black community, this soulful lamentation may well go beyond melody. An acknowledgment of even the most recent history forces a confrontation of what is, arguably, racial inequality that has cruelly rendered many black men and women residents of the heavens or overrepresented in prisons. Black athletes, activists, lawyers, educators, politicians, artists and their allies are employing diverse gestures to confront the same struggle as those who precede them. A hard earned equality as of yet unknown. This, often to the detriment of their future employability.

One cannot escape the irony of the cancerous systems crippling the African-American community and the timing of President Trump’s most recent controversial statement delivered a day before Bradley’s passing from cancer. However, one cannot ignore the capacity of the choir conducted by the creators of today’s protest songs. The ones that record a vocal account of the pain people of color have been subjected to, and the necessary quest for accountability, remedy and justice.

This week in particular, a resurrection of celebrated images of Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Peter Norman and Muhammad Ali are being widely shared beside those of Colin Kaepernick, Steph Curry and Bruce Maxwell—to name a few. Additionally, a large number of NFL players on Sunday knelt in peaceful opposition to the divisive words of their president; provoking the expansion of picture frames by claiming a seat among proponents of freedom. In the immortal words of Bradley, they are in fact refusing to turn their heads away. There is real triumph in unity—in accepting responsibility for your fellow human beings’ welfare because it is the right thing to do even when you are granted an alternative existence.

Bradley may no longer grace the musical stage with his physical presence but I like to think he is demonstrating still in his own way. By virtue of this alone, he continues to live boldly.

My soul is bleeding.

Here’s to an American Eagle! My how you soar.

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President Obama- Thank you.

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A lot of people seem to forget that Martin Luther King Jr died not only an enemy of the State but also largely unsupported by the black middle class, allegedly because of his stance against Lyndon B Johnson’s Vietnam war. A war several black revolutionaries opposed, including Muhammad Ali. Nelson Mandela was also strongly criticized for not doing enough for black South Africans during his presidency. President Obama continues to face criticism from members of the black community for not being more attentive to black needs. People like Cornel West have gone as far as to call him: “a Rockefeller republican in blackface”. When I look at history, something tells me Obama’s legacy’s gonna be just fine. He had the audacity to believe he could do what was once impossible- and boy did he! I pray God gives him the world he has meant to this one.

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Prom Dresses and American Presidential Elections

de·feat

verb

Win a victory over someone in a battle or other contest; overcome or beat.

 

Defeat is tricky. When I was younger, I remember being told things like:

“Quitters never win.”

“When you get knocked down, dust yourself off, get back up and try again.”

“Don’t give up because it’s too hard. Nothing good ever comes easy.”

“Hard work pays off.”

“Focus on the work and the rewards will follow.”

But then I also remember hearing a lot of the following too:

“That’s life.”

“Maybe this wasn’t for you.”

“Life’s a bitch.”

“That’s how the cookie crumbles.”

The contradiction stunned me. I was expected to aspire to and work hard for the things that I wanted, but if hard work proved insufficient I was expected to adopt a less palatable resolve. Reach for the sun, I suppose, with the hope that you might just touch a cloud. The result of this week’s American presidential election brought these words back to the forefront of my mind. Hard work and reward. Inadequacy and resolve.

Few of us live in a world where we set the rules. Often we are born into an existence where our lineage, citizenship, appearance, race, ethnicity, physical capability and/or academic prowess pre-determine our worth and opportunity. Silver spoons for the wealthy, vouchers for the poor and hope for the in-betweeners. We are not expected to succeed if we do not show signs of exceptional ability or can’t afford to subsidize our shortcomings, and so we are expected to ‘only aspire’ to a higher standard without any of the extra help. ‘Do the best you can, don’t give up’, when in fact we have already been written off. This made me wonder, did Hillary Clinton enter a race she was never really in to begin with. After all, she is very well educated, seemingly smart and has a resume boasting experience in the political realm- yet she still lost. She spoke against rhetoric that undoubtedly demoralized women; demeaned ethnic minorities; denied rights and freedoms; and depreciated the value of environmental science. Yet she lost. However flawed or less amiable she may be, of the two leading candidates, she still spoke the language of progress. Yet she lost. She worked hard and against the odds became the democratic nominee, yet she lost.

“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.” –Barack Obama

It’s hard to believe the world we live in sometimes. The fact that Americans vote, essentially on behalf of the world. A few hours after months of campaigning- and then a single moment when one concedes. And her concession- our new resolve. Four years of governance bought and paid for by a single moment. And maybe the ground won’t start shaking and maybe the sun won’t fall from the sky. Religion will perhaps continue to be for the religious, rebellion for the recalcitrant, and criminality, ostensibly, for the morally malnourished. But that’s really it- maybes and perhaps. The struggle to keep it about the work and less about the individual.

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Above is my old high school prom dress. My mother, being very sentimental, has held on to it all these years and recently dug it up and gave it to me. The night I wore it I wanted to feel beautiful, but I did not want that to be the extent of my significance as a living being. I did not want to be defined by a dress, or a date, or a dance. I just wanted to experience another cliché moment in time that was bought and paid for by a four year sentence in what was termed the pink prison (my old high school’s nickname). I don’t care so much for the dress now. It was not meant to be perfect forever. In fact, it doesn’t even really fit me anymore as evidenced by the positioning of my hands (I was just over a size 2 back then and now I’m a 0). I grew up but it did not grow with me.

I hope this election does not mean the end of growth and progress these next four years for America and her allies. Dresses can quite easily be discarded; human beings, not so much.

 

 

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Just Mercy

“In debates about the death penalty, I had started arguing that we would never think it was humane to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse. Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill, in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn’t implicate our own humanity, the way that raping or abusing someone would.” -Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy 

Bryan Stevenson is my most prominent living hero. I’ve had Just Mercy for a while but I haven’t had the energy to open it up. I knew it would be a beautiful and moving memoir, but also challenging and heartbreaking to get through. This week I finally worked up the courage to read it, and it delivered on its promise to be nothing short of everything.

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I grew up wanting teachers in my life but never really got them. I’ve sat in the classes of authoritarians who thought the only way to teach pupils was to denigrate them when they struggled; break them at their weakest. Human beings so damaged by their own limitations that they seemingly sought to trap vulnerable targets in their insecurities. Curmudgeons who demanded respect not knowing what it meant to offer it in equal measure. Women who would encourage the demoralisation of other women. Men who endorsed gender inequality. I remember on several occasions trying to get my parents to switch me to a home school in high school because I did not want to become a sheep; complacently digesting what was being fed to me- barring all curiosity for what character I might birth with silent acquiescence. I feared I would lose my capacity to form independent thoughts and dismiss acts of impunity because I was told to simply not worry about it.

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Unfortunately, my parents rejected the idea of home school, displeased with my inability to confront growing pains more pragmatically. So instead, I think I started to read non-fiction to learn from the teachers I wish I’d had. People who commit themselves to the very purpose for which they were born and have the audacity show up on time. This is where books are my closest companions- lessons from real teachers. The ones who do not give out homework assignments, but force us to acknowledge our inherited duties to someone or something on this earth that we owe our best efforts. The ones who are patient enough to listen to the voices of children when they cry out, and speak to them from a place of true consideration. Bryan Stevenson is my ultimate teacher.

In Just Mercy he talks passionately about his remarkable work, while driving a narrative of lamentation for what indiscretions the American judicial system ought to remedy. Be it the release of the wrongfully convicted, a reduced sentence for a lifer or the abolition of inhumane legislation (including capital punishment)- his words are not choked by despondency but rather inspired by resilience. It is a tragedy that none of my living heroes are men or women I know, but such a relief that the written word has allowed me to find educators in script.

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We may not be able to touch the hands of those that inspire us, but what a gift it is to know of their work, and thus know their hearts.

I don’t believe in a lot of things/people anymore.

But I believe in Bryan Stevenson.

On many days, that’s really all I need.

People of color in particular please read Just Mercy.

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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.

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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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Pity is not a taxable income!

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In my experience, it is not uncommon as an African to hear comments about Africa. Most of them are negative, and occasionally misinformed, but all of them are said with such confidence, as though anyone with a functioning mouth is a workbook of knowledge on the state of Africa. But as an African I would like to comprehend what it is people get from making these announcements? Are you searching for a sense of heroism or a pat on the back for demonstrating that you have ‘working feelings’? “Oh there is so much poverty”- congratulations you have eyes. “Oh the starving children in the slums make me so sad”- well done, your heart isn’t made of stone.

What do you accomplish by saying things about us that you pretend don’t exist in your own countries? Have we begged you for pity and opinions, or does this come free of charge? Your dollar-a-day campaigns; your endless supply of grains because children will not suffer from kwashiorkor if they can swim in an undying stream of millet and maize meal; your “quick, we have to save the Africans from themselves“ attitude? You initiate “Hunt-Kony-Down” movements and show pictures at dinner parties of that poor African girl you sponsor, through that multinational NGO, with $25 a month who, “bless her, sends a thank-you note in terrible handwriting whenever she can get her hands on some paper and a stamp in the village”. You take pictures and record stories to share among your social circles, as though we are animals of a different species, with no voices of our own. So while Museveni is passing heinous laws, and other African leaders and criminals are committing unfathomable atrocities, your attention is on what you think is the REAL problem. Why should we make a puppet our priority, when he’s a dispensable pawn on the chessboard of a greater monopoly? Honestly, if I am starving, I’m not focused on the future; I’m living for the present. So ask me to take a picture and give me some food in return, and HEY PRESTO- starving African kid acquired for FB #tbt picture upon your return home. Hunger is a deplorable demon- don’t take advantage of how easily manipulated someone is in that state. Jacob and Esau people, it’s a heck of a story. You’re not a hero, you’re today’s meal ticket.

Perhaps it’s that you’re trying to “save” us by encouraging perpetual dependence on you. But this is not the 16th century- we’re not trying to encourage one-hut missionary schools in a field of dust somewhere in the middle of the Kalahari, where people are learning to read and write, so they can achieve basic literacy for blue collar work- we’re fighting for REAL development that gives EVERYONE a chance to dream of a dignified future. Why must we sell our children a dream, when we know that your ostensibly “helpful” handouts are not sustainable? You say poverty and Africa like one would Australia and beaches. But Africa has beaches, flamingos and sunshine; Australians are just very good at hiding their poverty- so why must we assume the SOLE role of poster child for destitution? You say Africa and aid like New York and dreams. But you don’t do any research as to what this money is used for or whether it is actually beneficial, but the fact that it’s aid MUST mean it’s good. You don’t think we dream? You don’t think there are some people in New York in need too? And yet you will also say Seychelles or Mauritius and associate them with honeymooning and luxury, like they are two magical lands where Dora the Explorer and Boots play. DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE FUCKING SEYCHELLES ARE?

When we don’t put coins in a beggar’s box on the street, it isn’t because we have hardened hearts and have rejected to acknowledge the state of our nations. In many cases it’s because we realise that feeding a man today, doesn’t guarantee he will eat tomorrow. Imagine spending your life begging and every day you live is another day you MUST beg to eat- is this life or is this cruel impending death? There are Africans who work diligently IN AFRICA, who assess the situation, identify the cracks in the system; corrosion of the chains, and their blood sweat and tears go into sustainable development; strengthening of institutions; improvements in the legal system; improvement in healthcare; microfinancing for lower level income earners; investment in quality education; fighting corruption; trying to educate the population on failing leadership; cutting ties with greed; addressing lack of proper security; funding entrepreneurship; exploiting freedoms under the constitutions; investigating how mineral wealth can subsidise poorer communities, etc. If we don’t address the problems that perpetuate poverty, we give it a platform to fester. Would you weed a garden by snipping off the top, or do you pluck from the root? People are WORKING, really WORKING to create something that the generations that follow can inherit. We’re not sitting around waiting for a hero- but we cannot fix many LIFETIMES of errors in a day. So forgive us if we don’t worship the ground you walk on because your band-aid solutions have not as of yet proved SUSTAINABLE in the long run. I know at the end of the day, many people will take offence to what I have said, because your intentions may be pure, but your approach sits unevenly. So please, I IMPLORE you, for the sake of the poverty stricken Africans you ‘weep’ for, if you take nothing else from this, at the very LEAST acknowledge that your pity is not a taxable income.

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