Thursday, December 6, 2012

On the Unbearable Unrightness of Whiteness and the Intolerable Blackification of all Things Negative


There has been a robust discussion on the issue of white privilege in the world and in South Africa in the last few days on FaceBook and I am relieved to see that finally people can have these discussions and express their views without the whole exercise degenerating into an e-blood bath. Therefore it was no surprise to wake up on Wednesday morning and find that one of my friends had tagged me to a response she had written to a blogger named Brendon, who had written a “mea culpa”, confessing to his prejudices against black people. You can read the blog here. My friend Gillian Schutte is a white South African who has no problem discussing the devastating role that colonialism and its hideous cousin apartheid wreaked on the continent of Africa and she will never back down from challenging notions of white supremacy. Her rebuttal to Brandon can be read here.

 

However, after reading both Brendon’s blog and Gillian’s public response to it, where she basically tells Brendon that his views are not the views of all white people and that his admittance of prejudice, with absolutely no sign that he was in any way trying to overcome those prejudices was in fact of no use to anyone but himself and others like him, I felt a compulsion to defend myself. Defend myself you wonder? Yes defend myself, my blackness, because this is what many black people will tell you: Whenever a black person does something wrong, commits a crime, drops a piece of paper on the street, rapes, or murders, all black people become those things. All black people carry the burden of the guilt of one person or a small group, because of blanket statements many of us have grown up hearing from the mouths of white people in southern Africa. Many of these whites were raised with racism as the very backdrop of their lives, in which they had a black nanny or “house girl” and a black “gardenboy”. By the way these were usually grown men and women with families of their own, but they were infantilized even by the white children, who came of age totally believing that the purpose of black people was to be of service to them and that is all blacks were created for. These children grew up hearing their parents talk about the dangerous blacks who robbed murdered, raped, littered, stank, were drunks and cared only about fucking, dancing and drinking beer all the while beating their women and living in squalor. Brendon represents the kind of adults those children became and many stayed that way even as adults. Brendon basically believes that he can never be friends with blacks because blacks are not worthy of his friendship by virtue of their “nature”. Brendon, and many whites have concluded that blacks are harbingers of all things evil and bad, and that blacks are substandard subspecies of lesser human form and because of this we, blacks will never reach a standard of intellectual or material accomplishment that would make us worthy of effort by white people.
 



 

Just to make things clear to Brendon and his ilk: The mimicry you see black people perform, the fawning the flattery and the bootlicking which you so accept as due worship, happens because we are survivors. Many blacks realized that it was a matter of survival to comply and bend with the sick wind that your ancestors belched over us. That is why we could be transported across seas and still thrive where we were enslaved, and made to work like the beasts of burden white people saw us to be. Look around the world Brendon and you will see that blacks survived where other indigenous peoples died out in their millions. The USA and Native Americans is a great example, as is Australia and the Aborigines. At our core we have unpacked and deconstructed your bullshit and I am glad to say that my children will fare better in the new world order than yours will.  My children are being raised to see human beings first not color. My children are being raised to be conscious that there are other peoples on this globe and that a sense of entitlement is a dangerous quality to harbor, one that results in stereotyping others and bigotry. There is no room for the kind of prejudice you exhibit. Those days are gone and just because you confess to prejudice does not make you a better human being. You have shown the world your baseness, your arrogance and stupidity, quite frankly.

I grew up in a country where white people lamented the demise of minority white rule and they all predicted the fall of the great Zimbabwe, bread basket of Southern Africa, all thanks to the white farmers of course. Well, that Great Zimbabwe did fall, but rather than look at the reasons why things went the way they did, and rather than blame an inept, corrupt and brutal regime that has meted out all manner of injustices on all the citizens of Zimbabwe, many white people say:”look what the blacks, ALL blacks have done to this country”. I have not head any of them remark at the ingenuity of black zimbabweans at home and abroad, who sustained a dying nation through sheer guts and steely resolve to hunker down and SURVIVE!

In the introduction his personal history of Biafra, Professor Chinua Achebe, great Nigerian writer and scholar writes: “Africa’s post colonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves. We have also had difficulty running the new systems foisted upon us by ‘our colonial masters’. Because the west has had a long but uneven engagement with the continent, it is imperative that it understand what happened to Africa. It must also play a part in the solution. A meaningful solution will require the goodwill and concerted efforts on the part of all those who share the weight of Africa’s historical burden [There was a Country. A Personal History of Biafra, 2012]’.

In essence what white people on the continent and in southern Africa in particular do, is to absolutely refuse to look at what black people have become, as a direct legacy of the work of their ancestors, who dehumanized, robbed, raped, disenfranchised and fragmented millions of organized  black communities in order to enrich themselves. Therefore when people like Brendon throw out blanket statements about their racist selves and how they have stopped trying to be friends with blacks, it doesn’t occur to them that blacks have a deep seated distrust for white people based on this ugly and relatively young history and that many blacks don’t really care to make friends with them. They are so blinded by their position of power in terms of wealth and influence they truly believe that to befriend black people is to do them a huge honor or favor. It is this mindset that needs to be deconstructed in the minds of young people if there is ever any change to be made towards real and genuine respect for one another. When white children see black children as their peers then things will turn around. However in order to do this they need their parents to lead by example and stop calling blacks kaffirs and baboons at the dinner table.
 

I have lived in several all white communities since leaving Africa and believe me, white people’s shit stinks just as much as black people’s and at 19 years of age the scales fell off my eyes when I saw a German man snort and spit out a bolus of green mucus onto the pavement. I had never thought a white person capable of such a nasty act even in private and here I was the only black person in middle Bavaria in a tiny village where people stared at me out of windows as I walked down the village streets.

 

In 2010, after running the Chicago marathon, I decided to stop and use one of the hotel restrooms in downtown Chicago and to my horror I found overflowing toilets with ugly turds floating on mounds of toilet paper, dubious looking liquids on the restroom floors and guess what, there were a handful of blacks who ran that race which had over 35 thousand runners that year. This was not black people’s mess!

 I use these two examples to illustrate how ignorant and backward it is to live an unreflected life in this global day and age. I also write because while it is great that my white friend Gillian spoke up, it is high time that black people speak out about racism and how it rears its ugly head under the disguise they call "honesty". While Brendon’s confession is hardly a sophisticated one that requires special genius to unpack, there are other more subtle, more insidious ways in which white people try to undermine black people and usurp any collective confidence we might try to gather as we go about our lives. A typical example of this is Donald Trump’s demand that democratically elected United States President Obama produce his long form birth certificate, to prove he was an American citizen. That act, performed publicly was supposed to have the effect of humiliating a black man, in the highest office of this land because then surely that would result in the rest of the blacks cowering in shame also. The white South African comedians and commentators who mock blacks under the guise of humor, by mimicking our accents when we speak English are  not-so subtle but effective ways of “putting us and keeping us in our place”, which is as the “house-girl”, the “garden-boy” and the cook. It is an underhanded way of sending the message to even those who have done well: you are still black and will always be black and all that this term connotes.

Black people have a lot of work to do on ourselves in terms of throwing off the shackles of mental slavery that have us believing that we are inferior to white people. People like Brendon count on us cowering and living down to their low expectations of us. We are better than that and when we know better and should teach our children the truth about who these racists are and who we really are: The original Africans who existed and had thriving civilizations before Brendon’s ancestors came a -creeping. That we are poor is because they are rich and have access to everything of the highest quality and standards. That is a fact and they sit in positions of privilege from which they write their unintelligent bull crap and call it confession! They believe they have superior knowledge through science and technology, all the while failing to accept that the reason the present is the way it is, is  because they kept all other peoples in various states of arrested development. Shame!

There is no shame in blackness Brendon and no, you are in no way superior because of your white skin. I would encourage you to go back to Ireland and visit the ghettoes of Dublin and come and tell me that blacks are inherently dirty, loud, lazy and inept. I hope you live to tell the tale upon your return if they don’t cut your hand off at the wrist to get to your cheap watch. However, there should be a sense of shame in prejudice as blatant and as archaic as yours and there should be shame at the fact that black Africa is in shambles because of the heinous acts of your ancestors. Other white people are trying to create a different legacy for their children than the one that will burden yours: a legacy of hate, oppression and imperial complex against a people that your ancestors came and stole from. They declared they came in friendship, your ancestors. Now we know different, and you want to believe that blacks want your friendship?! Get real!
 
 

 

 

 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Today, Just Walk Away


 

 

You with your swollen head, brutal hands, savage feet and empty heart.

You with your cold fish eyes and brown- toothed malicious grin.

Yes, you looking all bemused with a smirk of mockery across your distorted features. Yes you, if I were you I would use the sweat dampened collar of your uniform of death to wipe that insolence of your face, because this time, today, right now, step any closer waving that truncheon in my face and I will reconfigure that ugly arrangement that is your face for you, for free. With great pleasure.

This is how things will be from now on. This is how you will meet me day after day night after night, year after year until your pea- sized brain realizes that I am a human being capable of inflicting the same pain on you as you have done to me for centuries. So go ahead, bring your cowardly fists along with the dead mush in the space between your ears, that thing you call a brain but which cannot stop you from trying to contain an ocean in a teaspoon. You are really intelligent, which is why you brandish your batons with great skill, an extension of your penis, the ultimate gift to women, or so you have told yourself .and convinced others like you.

But today is today and your penis and your batons are no match for a sea of red hot angry women. Come any closer and we will show you what an angry woman is capable off. You mistook our gentile nature for stupidity and our acquiescence for idiocy, softness in the brain. We’ll get this: We are not your children who you can “punish” for wrongdoing. Try that shit and I will slice off that which feeds that your inflated ego and feed it to the mongrels roaming the streets. Go on, bring that one eyes trouser snake and try to force him into spaces he has not been invited and that will be the last time he shows any life.
 
 

Life!  I gave you life. Do you fully grasp the fact that without woman you would not exist? Dies it occur to you that as you stand here waving you baton at us you are essentially brandishing rage and contempt at your mother? Do you know how many women curse the day they allowed you passage out of their bodies? Do you know some wished they had strangled you on your umbilical cord? Oh don’t look shocked! How many girls have been snuffed out as soon as a vagina is seen between their infant legs? Let me tell you something you don’t know, we revile you because you are the reason we revile ourselves. You are the reason we hate being female and for birthing females, and for this we will fight you to the last. We have nothing to lose and there is nothing more dangerous than a woman with nothing to lose. So make our day, keep coming closer and closer until your rancid breath is the fuel that with ignite the match and we will burn you alive! For I am woman, I am the genetic blue print spelled out by two X chromosomes or eternal and infinite memory. I remember that the reason you strut across this planet, hands in pockets whistling empty tunes, plotting your next assault on me is because I gave you one of my chromosomes. Yes, I donated one to you and you treat me like dispensable piece of shit. Well today I am facing you down. Glare at me and I will glower back at you. Bring that baton closer and I shall wave my cutlass in the air around your throat. I don’t have time for your overbearing manner. Come closer so I can squeeze those precious eggs of yours until you squeal like a stuck pig. Spit in my face so I can draw up all the phlegm and ire I have stored up for this moment. And splatter it between your eyes.

Beast! You behave as though you fell out of the sky but a woman birthed you arrogant self. How dare I speak about your mother? How dare I address you in this manner?  You demand. You are laughable! I will address you in whatever manner pleases me and you will do nothing against this sea of womanhood that will swallow you whole if you so much as blink at me.
 

Walk away and go and reflect on the new world order you just encountered here. Get used to it, accept it, and embrace it, because it is here to stay. If you are thinking of catching me alone and doing me serious damage, think again because this army is everywhere. Try to accost me and they will kill you and good riddance. If you want to talk, come by and bring your own chair. The one in my house is mine.

But for today, just turn around and walk away. There is no point throwing a pebble at a mountain and expecting the mountain to disintegrate. That stone will ricochet and split your head into two. Just walk away. And leave to us mourn our losses in peace.


 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Young Woman of Note- August



Koketso Moeti- South Africa
Koketso caught my attention when I saw her commenting on Facebook on a mutual friend's wall. Her tone and her intelligent responses to development issues made me sit up and wonder who she was and what she did. My instincts told me that she was another unique young woman with a passion for positive social change and her articulation of how she thought this could happen was really impressive. I will let her talk to you herself. Thanks for all you do Koketso and thanks for being part of the re-branding of Our continent: showing the world that we have and are all we need.


 I am an ordinary 25 year old young woman, a servant and a mother to two beautiful children who are my world.

Despite the opulence we see all around us in South Africa, I also see too much needless suffering and growing up I wondered how that is possible. How one person can be worth billions, yet another dying of hunger? How one person can waste so much water, yet so many communities go without water. It was from this and my interest in the human mind that I felt compelled to try and go about changing this.

I found myself very frustrated about the way poverty alleviation is being handled, that a blue-print approach is being taken, which does not take people’s varying contexts into account. It was from this that a dream was born, a dream to create positive change- but differently. I had a dream that instead of the usual charity work one could actually empower people in a way that allowed them to break the cycle of poverty; create sustainable livelihoods which focused not on the accumulation of wealth, but rather on communities able to sustain themselves and families able to satisfy their most basic needs. This led to the founding of Operation ROOIGROND (www.rooigrond.co.za), which is a project that uses education and knowledge to promote access to information; alleviate poverty, eradicate substance abuse and all other social ills that go with poverty.

Young students of the early childhood learning center


Operation Rooigrond goes beyond building a library and facilitating positive change. It is about making a difference, bringing hope where there’s none. It is about lighting up a spark in people’s lives, a spark which they in turn would carry to another person leading to a fire within the community; which is bound to spread out and reach society at large. We also hope to be a vehicle through which we can actually have the voices of the marginalised heard and eventually even influence and alter policy. For too long the poor have gone ignored and here we say, despite people’s circumstances, let them be provided with an opportunity to be active participants in the creation of a better world.
The youth engaged in dance




There is a misconception of my work and it is perceived to be ‘anti-government’ or ‘controversial’, rather than ‘pro-people’ and ‘pro-justice’. As much as it isolates one, I am very fortunate to be doing what I love to do and this gives me more opportunity to immerse myself in it.
Community gathering


Apart from Operation: ROOIGROND, I am also the South African Correspondent of Safe World (Please seehttp://www.asafeworldforwomen.org/about/the-ngo/correspondents/koketso-moeti.html), which allows me to share news affecting women and children on the ground. Too often the plight of rural and marginalized people, as well as their stories of hope and victory, are ignored and this has given me a platform from which to share such stories and raise awareness of the challenges faced.
Temporary shelter to help with community relief after a fire

I also serve as the Provincial Coordinator of the North-West branch of the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO North-West). This has provided me with a platform from which to connect and serve in the province as a whole, a challenge I really have come to enjoy and love. It is also the means through which I fund the Operation: ROOIGROND administration costs and also allows me to reach further for the purposes of sharing the experiences of women in South Africa.
Rooigrond Early Childhood Learning Center

I am also an aspiring writer, with the ambition of using words to promote social transformation, my blog can be viewed on http://koketsomoeti.wordpress.comSocial media is another way I try to further the various causes in which I am involved, so I am quite active on a number of them including Twitter (@ORooigrond and @Kmoeti), Facebook (http://facebook.com/kmoetiand http://facebook.com/orooigrond); LinkedIn (http://za.linkedin.com/in/kmoeti1) and Google Plus (kmoeti@gmail.com).



Please find here-under some links which may assist you in discovering more about me and my work:


An article written by me for The Sunday Times about my project, Operation: ROOIGROND- 'The World is in My Hand' (published on the 10th June 2012): http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/2012/06/10/the-world-is-in-my-hand



Safe World for Women profile: http://goo.gl/JL84w

Operation: ROOIGROND website: www.rooigrond.co.za

‘The World Through My Eyes’ blog: http://koketsomoeti.wordpress.com


In the media:

ROOIGROND Response to North-West State of the Province Address:
http://goo.gl/ux3HT

Rooigrond People take on Premier: http://goo.gl/4B3PM

Waiting For the ‘Promised Land’: http://goo.gl/47LgC


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Young African Woman of Note-July


Elizabeth Vimbai Mhangami

 

 


It is with great pleasure and a heart bursting with pride that I introduce to you Our July Young African Woman of Note.

Elizabeth happens to be my youngest sister and so writing this piece is at once easy but daunting a task. Elizabeth was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She is someone we in Zimbabwe refer to as a “born free” because she was born after the birth of Republic of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was declared an independent state in April of 1980 and Elizabeth Vimbai graced the world with her arrival in November of that year.

Vimbi as we know her did her primary and secondary school education in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and later went to the United States, where she studied political science and women’s studies at Loyola University, Chicago.

After working for a brief period in the United States, Vimbi made a decision to set up a not-for profit organization in Bulawayo in order to assist AIDS orphans. However her idea of assistance was to look at ways in which she could provide assistance without breeding aid dependency, which is a huge problem in Zimbabwe and the African continent. In her own words in an interview in the New York Times, 2011: “You start having conversations with yourself about aid and dependency what is the most effective way of helping that would do the least amount of harm?”
Catha, a child head


Vimbai works with youth as opposed to young orphans. These you are heads of households and this basically means that after the death of both parents to HIV/AIDS, these young people have the sole responsibility of taking care of their younger siblings. They are responsible for their food, clothing and school attendance. This means that they have had to drop out of school in order to generate income for their siblings to survive and also they are responsible for cooking cleaning and all the activities that come with parenting. Many of the youth were about 9-12 when they were left as child heads of households but they were in their teens when Vimbai started working with them.
A child head and her family

Vimbai is the founder and executive director of Vanavevhu, a Shona word meaning “children of the soil.” Through Vanavevhu the youth and their siblings are able to get food, shelter, basic necessities and healthcare and this has freed the youth to attend the program which Vanavevhu offers them. The program teaches entrepreneurial skills and this is paired with bee keeping, candle making and market gardening. These ventures are generating profit for the youth and a sense of financial security that they have never had.
Clearing the garden


Vanavevhu started out with ten families, supporting 32 children in total in 2010. To date another twenty families have been added bringing together over 90 children and seniors benefiting from Vanavevhu support.
In the classroom

With their teacher Vimbai




What Vimbai and her organization have given the orphaned youth in Bulawayo, beyond the obvious material and physical benefits, is to demonstrate to them that someone cares. Before Vanavevhu, many of these child heads of households were very vulnerable to exploitation in the communities they lived in. The girls were particularly vulnerable to predatory males. However having Vimbai and her team as their advocates has given them a sense of stability and security. Many of them were not moved from their communities in order to keep the siblings enrolled in school and in familiar surroundings.
Arrival of Vanavevhu chickens


Vimbai is fierce about protecting her youth and has an amazing understanding of the issues that they face. She brings to her program a very youthful vibe and they can relate to her easily because in so many ways she is one of them. Her keen perception of what typical teenagers need to go through, gives her youth space to be themselves, make mistakes and to move on. She deals with resilient young people, who in so many ways have had to grow up very quickly in order to fill the role of parents for their siblings. Many of them were vendors, selling candy cookies and matches in order to make a living. Read their amazing stories and be absolutely inspired here.
Vanavevhu dance!


When I ask Vimbai what challenges she faces with her work she talks about the fact that the youth are the forgotten ones in most of the development discourse. Her age group is not a targeted “vulnerable” population by large donor agencies and so very often she cannot apply for big grant funding for her program. She therefore works tirelessly to raise fund herself by holding speaking engagements back to back when she comes to the United States for board meetings. In a way this is to her advantage because she is not bound by donor agency rules and regulations, which are not always compatible with what she is doing on the ground. She therefore relies on the support of individuals or organizations that are at liberty to fund any program they wish to.
Vanavevhu Candles


Another challenge which she so articulately describes here is the vulnerability of young women to men who prey on them because they are wealthy. She describes the allure of the promise of clothes, a cell phone, and money and how a young 15 year old may be hard pressed to resist this and abandon the program, which offers long term benefits as opposed to short term gratification. Vimbai works hard to assist and counsel the young women into making good choices in order to spare them exchanging sex for money, so that they can avoid diseases and having to depend on a man who may at any point abandon them. As a feminist this is a very important part of her work, and she hopes to impart some of her knowledge to the young women in her program. As a feminist she works with the young men also, so that they understand the inexcusability of physical violence towards women and she insists on mutual respect and equitable allocation of chores and duties in a gender-neutral fashion.
Vanavevhu Girls


I have often questioned Vimbai on how it is that she can do what she does in such a challenging environment where there are incessant power outages, a tough political climate, isolation from family (we are all in the US and she is in Zimbabwe), lack of a vibrant cosmopolitan social life such as the one she had in Chicago, her response is simple: ‘these young people are the future of Zimbabwe. Whether we like it or not, those who can leave are leaving and probably not coming back. Those with well to do parents are all gone and what is left is these AIDS orphans who no one even thinks about. Not government or even NGOs. If we truly are serious about the future of Zimbabwe then these are the young people who will be running the country and if we do not try to at least give them basic critical thinking skills business skills and a sense of self worth, then Zimbabwe will be in even deeper trouble than it is now.’
Duncan and Brian preparing the bee smoker

The Bulawayo region in Zimbabwe is largely underserved and does not have as many opportunities for young people as does the capital city, Harare. Bulawayo is also the center of the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980’s where tens of thousands of Ndebele people were slaughtered by government forces, leaving some terrible scars and a lot of anger and resentment. Giving the youth of this town hope is one way in which Vimbai does her part to ensure that the future of this region is not so bleak.
Musa, a child head


Vimbai’s take on development work is this: “If every African /Zimbabwean in the Diaspora, would take up just one social justice issue and DO something about it, then we would see positive social change.” She is of the firm belief that while we need assistance, Africans have to take responsibility for their continent and be at the forefront of articulating our issues, prescribing solutions, and then be the leaders who implement the action plans. This ensures that there is a real positive outcome and that it is permanent and self perpetuating. She often shakes her head as she comments on how for fifty years Africa has been the recipient of donor funding but the continent seems worse off now than it was fifty years ago. “We have allowed people to commercialize our problems and to commoditize our woes and the result is that these problems will never be allowed to disappear because then someone’s paycheck will have to vanish. Therefore the problems persist because the solutions offered are designed to fail. This is what the development industry is predicated upon”




                                                                                                   Sipha, a child head


Vimbai exemplifies the term “walking the walk”. She is committed to Zimbabwe in a way that many speak of but very few have demonstrated in a tangible way. Despite the many bureaucratic obstacles and intimidation she has stood her ground and with sheer determination and courage established what has to be one of the most innovative organizations that I have ever seen. I am proud that she is my sister, but more importantly I am proud of the high standards she has set for her youth and her staff at Vanavevhu. Her insistence that things be executed properly and with due contentiousness has resulted in a group of youth and staff who are proud of themselves and what they have achieved thus far and instilled a deep sense of ownership of the program and the enterprise that ensures that it can only succeed. She does this by having high expectations of herself and this is the role model she is to the youth and all those who work with them. Her passion is infectious as is her humor and her mischief and her amazing belly-laugh! Thank you Vimbai for all you do and for the amazing human being that you are.


You are a true visionary as exemplified by this apt picture of you! Beautiful!


Vimbai can be reached on facebook as Lizzabetty Mhangami and on the Vanavevhu websiteVanavevhu

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Human Trafficking


 Modern Day Slavery


Hallo, you are welcome once again. It has become very clear to me that we have no choice other than to talk to each other and to consolidate our strength and work together. We have no choice but to do this because the task ahead is not an easy one and neither is it a simple one. You see while you and I share our womanhood in common, you share your whiteness with your men and I my blackness with my men. You would think on the surface, that this should not be a problem, but you and I know that our history together, as women on the continent of Africa and  in far flung foreign lands where we were sold as labor, was one of  mistress and servant. You were mistress and I was servant. This went on for centuries and I have often asked myself why it is that you allowed the inhumane treatment meted out to us to carry on. I guess it served you well: you had us to do your work for you while you lounged under cool breezy trees sipping cool drinks. We washed your clothes, cooked your food, cared for your children to the neglect of our own. Perhaps this easy life of leisure was promised you by your men as a way to get you to travel to Africa and to the Caribbean and to Australia and to the Americas: The life of a madam with the natives as servants.
Sure, it was not you who part took of this kind of relationship, but it was your fore mothers and what happened is that a mindset and a set of rules was put in place whereby white people enjoy a position of privilegereserved solely for them. They walk this earth with a sense of entitlement to resources and a sense of superiority to all other humans on this planet. This is manifest by the fact that being white brings with it a myriad opportunities which non white people have to struggle and fight for. This happens in your lands and in the lands that you colonized.
When a people’s soul is plundered, degraded and dehumanized, when their land is taken by force and they are made slaves in their own land, when a people is savagely uprooted and brutally subdued through the whip, the chains and the burden of the plough, they begin to believe that they are cursed. Even after they are “free” in the foreign lands to which they were taken, and they have gained ‘independence” in their own land, from colonizers, they are still exploited by white people and they are still made dependent by being forced to partake of economic systems that rob them blind all the while telling them that they are giving them assistance. White people have for centuries perfected a system where they are always at an advantage no matter what happens. Then they turn around and offer us “help”, that benevolence that masks malevolence and the real motives behind the  so called help.

You look uncomfortable, but please I am not talking to you like this to make you feel guilty. That is such a useless emotion because it solves nothing. Guilt is not what this story is about. I am recounting this story to you so that you may read with knowledge. Yes read with skepticism because the story that has been told to you in your history books is a LIE! Your televisions tells you lies as do your news papers who thrive and get sales from pedaling dark stories about Africa and Africans. They tell you of failing systems but do not bother to explain to you who and what is behind the failures. Look at how your leaders pick which countries to wage war on, or which dictators to depose. There is always something for them to gain something that involves the development of your lands to the detriment and death of our lands.

I have to tell you that they do not do this on their own. Yes that is where you and I come together: Our men have failed us. Black men have totally and utterly let black women down. We cannot sleep comfortably or be complacent in the knowledge that our men will protect us. Yes that is a truth that hurts me to admit to you, but I have no choice. Truth telling has to be on both sides if we are to form an alliance you and I. Our men steal our children and sell them off to your men. That is putting it simply. You are shocked?

 I want to show you something. This picture makes my soul howl in anguish but I have to look and so do you. This picture represents a new kind of slavery whereby thousands of women and even girls are taken by their fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and sold into slavery. The difference is that they are not bound in chains and neither are they sent over to your lands in ships. They get visas and they are well dressed and sent to Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Ireland Spain, Russia, and the USA, where they are sold into sexual slavery. Yes, sexual slavery because there is a market for black flesh there in your lands, a market that has always been there. The consumers are your men, the ones who you are fathering children with, lying next to at night. They have a penchant for black flesh. Yes you look horrified but like I have told you before your men are very skilled in deception and cunning. They have you believing that the life you lead is perfect and while you are preoccupied with thickening your lips with collagen and getting buttock implants, they are busy trawling the dark alley ways for places where they can access black women.

Image from Unreported World 2012, human trafficking from Nigeria to Italy


But just think about what these women have gone through. Look at them and tell me you believe you are looking at willing participants. Many of them have been lied to. They have been told they are going to nursing school, or to work as nannies so that they can send money home to help their families. They are taken from remote villages and handed over to pimps and dealers by naïve parents. These pimps tell the girls that they have to pay back the money they owe for the visa and travel and they are in bondage for a lifetime working to enrich a greedy black man with a gaping hole where his heart ought to be. On arrival to Italy, Britain, Belgium etc, they are stripped and isnpected and molested as you can see.

Black women have been deceived many times. Do you remember Sarah Bartman, the South African Khoi-San woman and a few other women who were lied to by the brother of their Dutch slave master and taken to Europe where they endured untold horrors as they were publicly displayed naked in galleries and museums all over Europe. Their genitalia were gawked at and their buttocks poked and prodded because they were “unusual”. Imagine the indignity and the dehumanization that accompanies being treated like a zoo animal of exotic origin and have people pay to view your peculiar sex organs. This was in the 17th century, and it is happening now, only employing modern methods to try to conceal it all. White people are still paying for access to Black women’s bodies as objects and commodities/consumerables.

Image from French Collection La Belle Venus


 Is it not barbaric to see the utter misery in these poor women and to continue molesting them as this white man is doing? This man is someone’s husband someone’s father and yet he will debase another’s wife, another’s daughter without a thought. That is because to white men black women are not human beings like their own women. We are sex objects. As one sick man I had the misfortune to meet once said “You are built for sex. Your breasts your buttocks those strong thighs! I just want to bite into you!”

The tenderness of lovemaking is reserved for you, while these poor black women get the brutal animalistic ravaging, because they are nothing but objects to be paid for, used and left without a backward glance. Until the next time.

Not all your men are like this but when you look at the numbers it is staggering and one cannot help but think that there are a lot of them out there who are into this. From the highest offices in your lands to the lowly construction worker, each feels superior to and therefore entitled to black flesh.  Your pastors, priests, lawyers doctors and other respected community members are all involved in this. That is the only way to explain how thousands of human beings can be moved from one continent to another and tucked away quietly to sit half naked in shop front windows displaying their bodies for sale. Armed with a few dollars in his pocket a white man can get easy access to a black woman’s body. It’s a King’s life for white men, isn’t it? But at what expense? How many more souls must howl in anguish night and day before this awful trade is stopped? Every year from Nigeria alone about 10,000 women are trafficked into prostitution every year! These women are paraded naked before brothels and inspected and then paid for based on their assets. They are forced to have sex for as little as $13 and if they want to quit the have to first pay $40,000-$78,000 to the pimps (UN estimates).

Image from  Unreported World 2012, human trafficking from Nigeria to Italy.

The manner in which black women are treated is totally deplorable. Our own men sell us off to be abused and perpetually violated by white men. There is this agreement between black men and white men that black women are chattel, domestic animals in our own lands and sex slaves in foreign lands. Tell me how do you as a white woman feel about this? I ask you because I need your help in this battle. I need to know that I can count on you to put an end to this hideous trade that robs us of our humanity. I need you to be so moved that you will do some research, snoop around your community, city town and see if you can sniff out a rat. I need you to talk to your friends about this so that you start to question the character of your legislators and those who represent you. I need you to investigate bills that have been languishing and that have not been tabled on the whole issue of human trafficking.

As for my fellow black women:  We need to wake up and refuse the lies and deceit we are fed about where we are going and what we will do when we get there. We need to vote with our eyes open and we need to start taking to the streets and refusing to be treated in this way. We need to demand that our leaders do what we voted them in to do, which is to provide stability and an economy in which we can make a living, so that we are not compelled to send our daughters to Babylon with a wish and a prayer, all because we are poor. We demand that girls be valued as much as boys so that selling them off to lands where mother has never tread becomes a taboo.  We need to fight patriarchy so that we have more say in what happens to our children and not just their fathers.

Are you not tired of seeing images of yourself such as the ones I have shown here? We need to stand in the streets rend our garments and walk stark naked if that is the only way we will be taken seriously. Believe me they is nothing more potent than a sea of angry naked women to force change. We have to do this for our daughters and ourselves. Those who are educated in cities and with resources need to help out the ones who are in the villages where most of the girls are taken from. At the very least please start talking about this problem when you visit your relatives in the villages! Tell them where their children end up! Show them images such as the one I have shared here with you.
Image from Jason Vaughn Jorgensen

I want to leave you with an image that is somewhat different and I want you to meditate on it. You see a group of white (American and European) women in a village in Nigeria doing a fertility dance with smiles on their faces. They are married in this village and treated with utmost respect. How does this make you feel when you see black men treating you with such respect, in a remote village where anything could happen to you but it does not? These women can leave if they so wish, they dance because they choose to they married into this village because they chose to. They will have sex with their husbands because they choose to. Now spare a thought to the black woman trafficked and who is forced into having sex with one strange white man after another. No dancing, no joy, ZERO respect.
Image from Hope for Nigeria

Useful Links
Trafficking of women from Nigeria to Italy
Human Trafficking- Global Report


Monday, July 2, 2012

On the Apology that Reads Like an Insult


Apology Not Acceptable

 

As a follow –up on the Swedish cake debacle (April 15, 2012), I would like to inform you of the sequence of events that have taken place thus far.

A group of enraged women of African descent, led by Dr. Claudette Carr, founder and executive director of the Jethro institute for Good Governance, wrote an open letter to the Minister of Culture, demanding an apology for her participation and therefore public endorsement of the highly offensive and racist cake (known as the Venus- Hottentot cake). The full story can be read here .

The open letter was then used to create a petition to which people were asked to append their signatures in protest to this piece of “performance art”. The petition was run for about 4 weeks, and during that time, a representative from our core group, along with a representative from the Afro- Swedish community was asked to participate in an interview on The Stream, a program on Al Jezeera Televison.
One of our partners, the Black women’s Blueprint also provided a platform in the United States on their blog radio show, to discuss the various ways in which the artist Makode Linde, the minister of culture and the people who participated in the performance art exhibit had acted inappropriately. That interview can be accessed here.  

. After four weeks the petition was closed and mailed to the Minister of Culture in Sweden. In the meantime, Dr. Claudette Carr and Mina Salami took part in an email conversation entitled Racism is no Joke: A Swedish minister and a Venus Hottentot Cake, to be published in a forthcoming anthology called Afro-Nordic landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe (Routeledge, 2012), edited by Professor Paul Gilroy.

We are waiting to hear from the Minister of Culture with regards to our petition/ open letter and the points we put forward as a way to make amends for the gross error in judgment that she displayed by part taking of a culturally insensitive and inappropriate spectacle, which has brought into question her publicly stated commitment as an “anti- racist”. 

In the meantime, Mashua Against FGM, an organization we partnered with for this campaign ran their own petition where they simply asked for an apology. They received the apology on June 27, 2012 and you can read it here.

After the initial happiness that an apology had been rendered, I read the apology and to my utter disbelief the apology was exactly the same as the pro- forma apology that Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth had delivered to the press. It was the same non-apology that I blogged about here.

While I am glad that Mashua for FGM is satisfied with this apology. However, I would like to make it clear that I find the apology an insult and therefore do not accept it. The fact that this is exactly the same apology rendered through the press leads me to believe that no effort has been made to grasp the scope of the problem with her involvement in the art project.

I believe I speak on behalf of the original cosignatories to the open letter, when I state that the apology is nullified by the fact that the minister places the problem with her actions squarely on the shoulders of those who were offended by saying that they misinterpreted her actions. In other words, she did not err in any way and the only thing she regrets is that people took it the wrong way. This is insulting on many levels as I have stated before in a previous blog.

We therefore disassociate ourselves from the minister’s second non- apology and look forward to a genuine apology, where it is clear that she has understood why this so called art is a mockery and a dehumanizing act that has sent waves of anger throughout the world. We look forward to an admission of error on the minister’s part,and not this defensive verbiage that insinuates that those who are offended do not understand art.

 We also look forward to a solid response to the other requests presented in the open letter. I would also like to make it clear that we will not accept to being condescended to; neither will we go away quietly. This issue is huge and it will remain an issue to be discussed and resolved for as long as it takes for the minister of culture to do the right thing and render a genuine apology. To relent now is to have failed ourselves and those for whom we speak. This would also set a bad precedent, whereby African women can be objectified and belittled with no real consequences. Now is the time to stand up and refuse to be the portrayed through negative stereotypes and oppressive, racist images which only serve to marginalize us further from mainstream discourse about our issues vis-à-vis development and empowerment. It is time that we are front- and- center of such discourse and it is imperative that we lead and direct this discourse. This issue of Swedish racism has provided us a conduit to the fore front of discussions about who we are in relation to the other women in the world and history will not look favorably on us if we “drop the ball” at this juncture.

 It is very disappointing that the minister chooses to play politics in an issue where vulnerable women are further victimized, and Black people in general have been affronted.  As I have stated before, this non-apology is reflective of and consistent with the Swedish government’s own reticence to address the pressing racial issues and race-based disparities that negatively affect the Afro-Swedish community. We stand in solidarity with the Afro- Swedish community and we stand together with all the African women and all women affected by FGM, whose dignity we seek to restore by passionately seeking redress in this degrading, racist spectacle, which got the seal of approval from a government minister, a woman for that matter. What a shame.

 

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Every month I shall be doing a special feature on young women on the African Continent who are doing amazing work for their communities quietly. I am doing this because very often these are the women who do not get local or international media attention, nor do they have any desire to. They are doing what they do out of a sense of responsibility and they are passionate about service. Many serve in some of the most remote and underserved areas of the continent and they do so with energy and compassion. I also want to illustrate and debunk the fallacy that African women are not empowered and to highlight the kind of women that development agencies can employ in communities in Africa where cultural sensitivity is critical for real and lasting positive social change.

 Foglabenchi Lily Haritu


I met Lily on a friend’s wall on Face Book. I was chatting away in pidgin one day, and she responded with great humor to a comment I had made. There was something about this young woman that drew me to her. I therefore sent her a friend request and after she responded, I began to look through her pictures and to ask her about herself. I saw pictures of her in a remote village and asked her what she did for a living. To my surprise she informed me that she was a health worker and that she ran a mobile clinic in Cameroon, where she did preventive care and education in rural communities. I was very impressed with this young woman in her mid twenties, who rather than stay in the big cities as most young women would do, she was in the “bush”, working there and loving it! Below are a pictures of lily having fun tree climbing and swimming in a local river  when she is not busy educating, examining women or administering vaccines.








 She endears herself with the locals and lives among them as one of their own, thereby breaking barriers to communication. Her easy and respectful nature allows her to educate communities on subjects that are often considered taboo. Even the men of the community listen when she talks.





It was not a surprise to discover that Lily is also very spiritual and a Christian. Her serenity and radiant joy seemed to emanate from her deep convictions. It was refreshing to meet a young woman who lives out her faith and who does not spend time trying to convince others of her goodness. She is an authentic Christian and this is manifest in her humility and non judgmental outlook. Her ability to engage in social issues in a thoughtful manner is rare for someone her age. I present to you Lily Favour as she is known to her friends, and known to me as ‘my Beautiful Lily of the valley’. A phenomenal young woman of great beauty, both inside and out.


Lily's understanding of the importance of respect for culture and for elders has permited her to go into territories where women as a rule do not adress men, and where bringing in new ways that seem to threaten the normal way of life is viewed with suspicion. Her charm and non confrontational approach has led her to some amazing places, where health education for women is needed. Below Lily is showing deference to the king in one of the areas she works. She understands that paying the elders due respect will open the door to the women in the community, so that she can do what she needs to do.




Lily is a young dynamic Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) specialist who is committed to promoting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights with an interest in building a body of research and leadership in the field. She is the Supervisor of the Women’s Health Program of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS) based in four main hospitals and three health centers in six of the ten regions of Cameroon. In this position, she has been involved in the provision of Women’s Health Services to Women and girls at stationary clinics and rural mobile clinics as far as the Equatorial rainforest of Central Africa and the Cameroon-Nigeria border in Abongshie. Her dynamic and innovative efforts have summed up to over 12000 women and 7000 girls reached with a variety of sexual and girls at stationary clinics and rural mobile clinics as far as the Equatorial rainforest of Central Africa and the Cameroon-Nigeria border in Abongshie. Her dynamic and innovative efforts have summed up to over 12000 women and 7000 girls reached with a variety of sexual and reproductive health services like; Family Planning, syndromic management of reproductive tract infections, breast and cervical cancer screening, treatment of cervical precancerous lesions, Human Papilomavirus Vaccination, clinical assessment of sexually assaulted women and girls, sexuality education and counseling, woman centered abortion care and HIV/AIDS counseling and testing.




Besides her duties in the CBCHS, she coordinates a ProFam project under the Cameroon Association for Social Marketing partly funded by Population Service International with the overall aim of reducing Maternal Mortality in Cameroon.




 






In 2011, she represented her country as a delegate and speaker at the 1st Global Summit for Women’s Cancers in Africa, Addis Abba, where she presented lessons learned from cervical cancer prevention initiatives in Cameroon. Lily was the youngest delegate there representing her country Cameroon. This is a testament of this young woman’s sense of duty and passion for the health and well being of African women and her mentors have identified unique leadership qualities that mark Lily out from among her peers and those who are older and more experienced than she is.



As far as Lily is concerned, Women’s Health and Safety plays a key role in human development and economic growth and she is stopping at nothing to ensure that this is realized in the lives of the women and girls she serves on a daily basis. She holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree with honours from the University of Buea, Cameroon and Global Health Certificates in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health from the Global Health e-Learning Centre Coordinated by USAID and Johns Hopkins University, USA.

She also offers part time lectures on Women’s Health at the Private Training School for Health Personnel, Banso.Lily Favour is a 2011 Sexuality Leadership and Development Fellow (Lagos, Nigeria), who seeks to interrogate contemporary sexuality issues and emerging best practices that advocate for right based SRH programming in Africa.


Lily Favour has been named one of the top 25 emerging young African leaders by the Moremi Initiative and has received the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa (MILEAD) Fellowship Award. She will be among the 2012 class of Africa's most outstanding emerging women leaders that will be converging for a women’s leadership summer institute in Ghana. Lily features on the top 25 out of the more than 1200 applicants from 41 countries. This is again another indication of Lily’s remarkable leadership qualities and a testament of her trajectory to greatness.
Below are pictures of Lily in her "luxury apartment" on one of her visits to a remote area, preparing her "gourmet dinner"! She will do whatever it takes to get to reach these women with whom she totally identifies.



To me, Lily is an example of a young woman who has made the most of all opportunities that have come her way, not  only for her own personal gain, but for the greater good of her community and country. I applaud you my beautiful Lily of  the Valley. May your beauty and fragrant perfume gently touch the lives of those in your care and I hope that you will be an inspiration to other young women in your community, country and in Africa. Our continent is very fortunate to have you as one of her own. Look how the little ones follow you already!



This is a quote I saw on her wall :

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leaders
When their task is done
The people will remark -Chinese Proverb