Am I welcome in Wakanda?

I was a late comer to Wakanda. When I did arrive, my Pan-African senses were pleased with the drips of South African house music and the incorporation of every beautiful textile the continent possesses. I was relieved that there was no tinge of jealous “authenticity” politics afoot. And off-screen, Black people everywhere rejoiced in 2 hours and 15 minutes free of racist micro-aggressions. What a sacred space at a troubled time.

Yet, I exited the theater wondering if I would be welcomed in Wakanda. African-American women were conveniently absent even from this supposedly inclusive and utopian Black space.  As an African-American woman, as a mother to an African-American son, as a wife to an African man, as a traveler to non-fictional African countries, as a scholar of Africa and its Diaspora, this movie hurt me to my core. Why is the African-American woman (STILL) subaltern in a contemporary display of utopian Blackness? (whaddup Spivak!)

And, further still, what exactly was being said about African-Americans? (Not that part at the end where we are basically rescued from the ghettos by our enlightened African brothers and sisters – that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I can live with it.) What I mean is, why are we always portrayed as Erik Killmonger? Self-centered, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty, violent, self-destructive, vengeful… shall I go on?

Now, I am no stranger to seeing Michael B. Jordan play characters of questionable character, but Erik Killmonger was too much. He was well-trained, but quick tempered. He used the tools in Uncle Tom’s Cabin to build his own coffin. Painted as a righteous mutineer gone power crazy, Killmonger is simultaneously the colonized and the colonizer’s worst enemy. He was the walking stereotype of the angry African-American man – maybe justified in the beginning, but notoriously drunk with power and toxic wherever he goes.

This movie, for me, reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans to present mythical African glory. This zero sum game is just another example of a colonized mind and the continuation of White hegemony, even in supposedly sacred and autonomously crafted Black spaces. Like braid extensions at the natural hair expo, I feel that this film still misses the mark. It gives credence to superficial narratives and it omits crucial voices.

Did anyone ever think that taking Erik from California to Wakanda was not an option, because – oh, I don’t know – he had a mother!? And from the Black excellence he exuded in the military, my best guess is that she was African-American as F. Taking her son wasn’t an option for more important reasons than Wakandan shame. That same love and pride that Angela Bassett (depicting an African mother) showered on T’challa, that’s African-American women all day. And somehow, that cultivator, that influencer, that decision-maker, that elder, was absent. Better yet, omitted. Why, for, come?

Like so many narratives about the conversation between Africans and African-Americans, Black Panther regurgitates tropes and past transgressions dominate the dialogue. We should be talking about partnership among troubled equals. This exchange could have been different on screen and should be different in real life. That passionate longing for belonging in African-Americans is somehow always framed as futile. Like asking for reparations, we are paternalistically discouraged from looking back and preemptively halted for fear that we will get (rightfully) unbridled or bloodthirsty – like Killmonger. Yet, like movements for actual reparations (Georgetown slavery Archive), African-Americans are owed the opportunity to make peace with their pasts. And, rest assured, we know how to do it without destroying our futures.

To watch this movie and not see a commentary on how African-Americans are our own worst enemy is to be deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who don’t see it my way, haven’t been to Africa and haven’t known this conversation as intimately as I have. This movie is nowhere near accurate.  When I first went to Ghana in 2006, I remember discussions with Kofi Awoonor about the Transatlantic slave trade. There were side eyes at the White girls in the group, whose White guilt was so thick you could cut it with a knife. There were layers of Blackness confronted when a light skinned Black woman was called mulungo (White, foreigner) and wasn’t embraced on her expected “return to the motherland.” It brought up her own uncomfortable memories of being ostracized for being bi-racial. Needless to say, everybody was working through their own positionality. Above all else, what gripped me from the many conversations between Blacks and Africans during that trip is a comment from one of the junior academicians at the University of Ghana. He said, “We lost you – our most powerful resource. Do you know what it is to lose your strongest, your most-able bodied, your youth? Look how we suffer because we sent you away.”

This is the real conversation. It acknowledges agency and objectification. It recognizes history as a continuum and not a series of ruptures. It talks about socio-economic consequences for labor migration. It speaks to cultural interconnectivity, not in terms of fictional theory, but in realities of development. This conversation is about restorative justice… not revenge.

This movie sucks the air out of the room because it falls so far afoul of this useful conversation. I hope moviegoers remember that we do not have to do our (neo-) colonizers’ bidding by having Hollywood ticket sales rebuild our burned bridges. No matter how many beads and handshakes we have on screen, the story is built on old tropes that don’t serve us in real life. Black Panther excludes the lynchpin connecting Africa to America – the African-American women, mothers, and aunties – the guardians of our cultural continuities. If Wakandan value doesn’t come in the form of inclusion of all Blackness, let’s hope it has cleared the way for conversations like these that call out the exclusions.  As a mother, an African-American woman, and a member of the Pan-African diaspora, I have to believe that this movie is not us. It is not us any more than X-men is us, no more than Batman is us. We do not live in Wakanda any more than we reside in Gotham City. Killmonger is not my son and I am not absent.

 

 

 

Things I used to LOVE.

My husband always jokes that Americans use the word ‘love’ too loosely. And he’s right. We use the word ‘love’ when we really mean ‘like’ a whole lot and we use ‘like’ a whole lot when we really mean ‘um, ‘uh’ or ‘so.’ And we use those three sounds instead of just taking a break to breathe and think about what we really want to say. So, this got me to thinking (in a very round about way) about the times I used ‘love’ in the past, only to find out with time that it was just a misnomer. The list got me chuckling in my UGG slippers, which I categorically love. Here goes nothing, in no particular order:

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alanis.com/news/kaaboo-festival

Alanis Morissette’s music – Isn’t ironic? I was a middle schooler once. This means I had poor taste in lots of things, not just music, but especially music. I LOVED “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic.” I distinctly recall waiting for them to play on The Box on those late nights that I was allowed to stay up during school vacations. I was definitely an 80s baby with 90s earlobes, so yea… I loved her sound!

Corn Pops – Apparently, they’ve been in the news lately for much more than their subtly sweet crunchy goodness, but for a very long time this was my jam. Between these and Crispix, Kellog’s had the monopoly on my breakfast cereal selection for years. Now, I know better than to think that those hints of morning sweetness are harmless. Back in the day, though, I loved these kitchen staples.

Drawing – While most kids in elementary school were winning sports trophies, I was winning poster and essay contests. Obviously, the love of writing has persisted, but most people are unaware of my artistic streak.  Through the 6th grade, I regularly won local competitions for my art work. When I went to high school, I took advanced fine arts courses and sent a portfolio with my college admissions applications, hoping to continue my work in a new venue. It was in high school that I learned the most about form, but it was also there that I met the end of my interest in drawing. I’ve since picked photography as my poison, but my mom’s basement tells the tales of my passion to draw.

Bikram Yoga – This used to be my sh*t! Back in 2010-11, I was regularly found sweating from the back of every joint, tendon and skin fold I possessed. And I absolutely loved it. Most people thought it was an irrational fad. Popular in theory, but unreasonably hot in reality, Bikram Yoga was 90 minutes of fat burning ‘me’ time that really got my body in shape, my mind in focus and my immune system in recovery.  Though it’s been over five years since I’ve done it, it’s still my exercise of choice – in my mind. (This was sexual harassment pre-scandal. I don’t condone what Bikram himself, btw)

Craig David –  I lived in Spain when he was popular and this guy right here was a teeny bopper heart-throb throughout Western Europe. I liked his music, but I loveeeddd him. Before there was Idris Elba, he was the first Black Brit to steal my heart. The same way I loved Soul for Real before him and Andre 3000 after him, I saw our future together.  So strong was my affection that I went out on 2 dates with a young Spaniard who favored Craig David, despite the fact that this young man wouldn’t even admit to being Black (uhhh….). Oh, the things we do for love!

In my defense, when I said I loved these people and things, I wasn’t lying. I meant it at the time. Genuine commitment and undying affection was what I pledged in my youth, but somehow with time ‘um’…’uh’… these passions faded. Now that I’ve had some breathing room, I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be able to revisit these touchstones and rediscover myself in these ‘likes’ of yesteryear.

 

A look back at 2017 (in books)!

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crushable.com via pinterest

It’s hard to start a new year without, well, properly closing out the previous one. Last year was a big one. I moved houses, changed continents, pretended to write a PhD thesis, became a mom, and reconnected with loved ones. I moved back to the DC area while public servants and politicos are under a microscope. But this town is tougher than it looks. Between Ta-Nehisi Coates book launches hosted by Sankofa Bookstore and Solange concerts at the Kennedy Center, haters are going to have to come harder. Even with all the crazy politics afoot, 2017 was quite good to me.

Despite all the changes, one thing that stayed the same, however, was my love for books. In 2017, an audible subscription and a lengthy vacation contributed greatly to my successful consumption (I dare not say “reading” since, I audio-booked it out a lot) of 50 books over the course of the year. There were countless articles and excerpts mixed in there too, but that’s neither here nor there. “I done good,” if I may say so myself. You can see the full book list here, so you can say so too.

In keeping with tradition, here are my top 5. Perhaps you’ll want to pick them up for your own 2018 challenge!

(I have to apologize in advance to you fiction lovers out there, I’m a non-fiction aficionado. Novels aren’t really my schtick.)

34556334.jpgBraving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

You should already know that anything by Brene Brown is enlightening and well worth the cover price. In this text, she explores vulnerability even further, by contrasting it with the idea of belonging.  She goes into her own family experiences, as well as a confrontation with someone who assumes she’s an NRA supporter. Yea, it’s worth reading.

 

18540613.jpgSettled Strangers – Gijsbert Oonk

This text is a really interesting read about Indian immigrants to East Africa. The premise of the book is a bit novel in that it tries to contest the idea that all Indian immigrants were success stories. Oonk brings in the notion that the stories of failure simply never get told, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. For research and for history, I see this book as a significant contribution to the body of literature about Africa’s diversity .

 

13073498.jpgUnsettling Memories – Emma Tarlo

I’m learning a lot about what I don’t know about India. Yes, you heard me. The more I read, the less I know. I had no idea that the world’s biggest democracy had a period when it suspended democracy.  Did you? During this period, there was an extensive effort to incentivize sterilization in exchange for urban resettlement for the poor. Sad, but true. This book explores it all, so get your tissues ready.

 

368593.jpg The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

Anyone who has talked to me in 2017 knows how much I am fixated on retiring at the earliest possible opportunity. I discovered that that’s my lot in life after reading this book. A friend gifted it to me and it’s been a signpost of success ever since. It helps combine my inner productivity nerd and my outer personal finance ambassador, for a balanced life.

 

25744928.jpgDeep Work – Cal Newport

This book tells us to quit multi-tasking. We actually suck at it (even though we think we don’t) and it’s draining (even though we think it’s a time saver). I loved reading it and should probably re-read it every quarter, because I’m a horrible and compulsive multi-tasker. I’ve already relapsed, but you should save yourself!

 

Since there weren’t any flat out duds this year (woo hoo!), I’ll share some honorable mentions in recommended categories:

13642929.jpgI read lots of memoir & essay by people of color this year, namely Phoebe Robinson‘s break out You Can’t Touch My Hair, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, Trevor Noah‘s Born a Crime and Sonia Sotomayor‘s My Beloved World. This is a new genre for me, especially since most of these folks are considered too young to really have a story to tell. I mean, Phoebe is 33! Even Justice Sotomayor only writes about the earlier part of her life, pre-Supreme Court. Anywho, it goes to show that the canon is changing. Just as Roxane Gay is redefining what it means to be a Bad Feminist, so too are emergent writers shifting the meaning of what is worth writing (and hence, worth reading) and that seems to include the experiences of younger voices.

723122.jpgLast, but not least, I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and parenting lately. For any expecting parent, I’d recommend Hypnobirthing, by Marie Mongan. It helped me immensely to prepare for and to experience labor (with no medication of any kind). It worked very well for me. I also took a 5 session course to practice the techniques. Find a hypnobirthing class near you.

All thumbnail pics lifted from goodreads.com

part time local

Being back in Washington, DC is always a tumultuous treat. I never spend enough time here to make it feel like home, but – unlike NYC – DC doesn’t change very quickly. So, I can go back to the spots I remember fondly and discover new ones at my leisure. Over the past few months, I have made a real effort to get out and about. The metro still sucks, but here are the highlights of journey.

I’ve discovered the Torpedo Factory with its art classes, studios and seminars. Just a few weeks ago, I went to see a talk by Sheldon Scott and discovered lots of interesting pieces by novice and seasoned artists.

 

My husband also got me to go to the CapitalOne Arena (formerly, the Verizon Center) to check out the Washington Wizards at their game against the Cavs. Let me be clear, the seats are uncomfortable, the other fans are kinda obnoxious, and I still don’t understand why cheerleaders still exist, but… it was a fun experience.

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I also revisited the Holocaust Memorial Museum for the first time since 8th grade. It was much less depressing than I remembered  as a kid and much more informative than I expected. I highly recommend that everyone take the time to check it out. It only takes about 2-3 hours to get through the permanent exhibit. The temporary ones tend to be about modern day slavery, which is also important to be aware of.

 

And though I’ve found myself being an architecture and design buff in other cities I’ve visited, I never considered walking tours in the nation’s capital.  The DC Design Tour of Georgetown was very cool and, frankly, took me to a part of town that I rarely visit.

All in all, living in the DC area has been a breath of fresh air. There are sidewalks and tap water! Even better, there are interesting tours, historical sites, museums, art talks, and apparently big events worth catching. I’m soaking it all up while I can!

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (78)

Welcome to the 78th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This morning we’ll head straight for that case of Mondays that I’ve been trying to avoid with good tunes.  It’s Columbus Day weekend and if you have to work, I know you’re feeling some type of way. And if you have this bloodletting holiday off, then you should be equally as pissed off. So, if this is how you’re feeling this morning, I don’t blame you.

The Bajan sensation, Rihanna needs no introduction… so get out there and shine bright like a diamond this Monday, even though you might be thinking “I swear I wish should somebody would try me… ohhh that’s all I want.”

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (77)

Welcome to the 77th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This morning we’ll start slowly with the jazzy musings of Ohio, USA native Nancy Wilson. The Grammy winner had her own variety series in the ’60s and has been known for classy little ditties that are grounded in the less romantic parts of real life…  but her silky voice makes it all go down so swell. Alas, I love this song because it just feels like a 1960s version of “Man Down” & badass women, calling the shots and taking no shit get me fired up for a week of greatness ahead…

Shots fired!

On Trust and Anxiety

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but between my fb newsfeed, CNN coverage of Trump’s tweets, and the general mayhem of the day (I’ll trade you pee soaked reporters in Charlottesville and raise you N. Korean missiles possibly reaching Guam) – being in America is giving me a never ending anxiety attack. I caution not to say PTSD, because I don’t want to be clinically inaccurate or to exaggerate the low-grade, persistence of the bullsh*t onslaught I’m experiencing at the moment. But, seriously, what the absolute fck is going on and why is mass hysteria the norm?

I am an expat who came home because I wanted to see things for myself. I also came home because I was getting too deeply invested in the problems of a place that I wasn’t really attached to. I wanted to be in solidarity, in mind and body, with the struggles closest to my heart and closest to my identity. Empathy and philanthropy can only take you so far, eventually you have to identify. And I knew that what hurt my heart most were police brutality against the Black community, the infringement on the civil rights of people who look and live like me, and the repeated silencing of their efforts at redress.

I recall sitting in Jo’burg with a Zimbabwean acquaintance a few months back as he taught me about how much Black people all over the world see African-Americans as an ideal example for civic engagement. He proceeded to tell me with admiration in his eyes that eventually us African-Americans would kick ass in America against those racists. (We) African-Americans were making noise with Black Lives Matter. (We) had done it with the civil rights movement and inspired liberation movements throughout Africa. (We) African-Americans were disrupting the ideal American dream narrative everyday. Those cracks & fissures would lead to social rupture, legal breakdown, and political break throughs. He was as hopeful as a negro spiritual sung over an organ in a Baptist church on MLK, Jr. day.

I dashed those hopes. I proceeded to tell him he was wrong. We had reached a dead end. We had run out of convincing ideas. And better yet, whatever ideas we presented were batted down in word and deed. Everything we tried was proving ineffective. We could march. We could televise our revolution. We could name & shame (police killings of unarmed Black people). We could find a White ally to speak for us. I mean, we could do everything that once worked and this time it could very well not work. And I said, that’s what we’re experiencing here, because this shit ain’t working.

I could ask why. But I won’t. I’ll just hypothesize that it’s simply that we are only being heard by people who already care. The others, the Bull Connors of the world, have made a choice to ignore our presence and to undermine our existence.  Oh and they are crawling out from their thinly veiled hovels to let us know which side of the political spectrum, racial divide, and socio-economic gap they stand on.

So, this low grade anxiety I’m suffering from is simply the persistent reality that I am  experiencing a “trust no-one” frost on everything I touch. I can’t trust the police to keep me safe. Or trust that my husband will come home from a run in the neighborhood. Can’t trust that a young woman going to pray in a local mosque will come home safely. I can’t trust that compelling images of now unhooded racists will de-stabilize the American public. And, what’s worse is that I frankly don’t trust that anything will change.

The only thing I can trust, at this moment, is that I am not crazy.

This crude state of affairs is very real.