May 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
In history and today, Black women have consistently published evocative, thoughtful works that provoke and inspire. This is my compilation of 20 book selections by Black women that touch on gender, race, class and sexuality. I invite you to leave a comment and share more brilliant literary works by Black women.
Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender and Subjectivity – Amina Mama
Psychology has had a number of things to say about black and colored people, none of them favorable, and most of which have reinforced stereotyped and derogatory images. Beyond the Masks is a readable account of black psychology, exploring key theoretical issues in race and gender. In it, Amina Mama examines the history of racist psychology, and of the implicit racism throughout the discipline. Beyond the Masks also offers an important theoretical perspective, and will appeal to all those involved with ethnic minorities, gender politics and questions of identity. (Source)
Angela Davis: An Autobiography – Angela Davis
Are Prisons Obsolete? – Angela Davis
With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.
In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (Source)
Women, Race & Class – Angela Davis
Assata: An Autobiography – Assata Shakur
This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of Assata Shakur long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. The result is a signal contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America that has already taken its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.
Two years after her conviction, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. She was given political asylum by Cuba, where she now resides. (Source)
Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde – Audre Lorde
Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, SISTER OUTSIDER celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. This commemorative edition includes a new foreword by Lorde scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde’s philosophies resonate more than twenty years after they were first published. These landmark writings are, in Lorde’s own words, a call to “never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is..” (Source)
Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism – bell hooks
A groundbreaking work of feminist history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain’t I a Woman examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism. (Source)
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Wench – Dolen Perkins – Valdez
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez as a writer destined for greatness. (Source)
Tropical Fish – Doreen Baingana
In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.
As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer. (Source)
Cane River – Lalita Tademy
The unique and deeply moving epic of four generations of African-American women based on one family’s ancestral past. (Source)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read. (Source)
Who Fears Death? – Nnedi Okorafor
In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa, genocide plagues one region. When the only surviving member of a slain village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand, and instinctively knows her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.
Reared under the tutelege of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers she possesses a remarkable and unique magic. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to confront nature, tradition, history, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and eventually to learn why she was given the unusual name she bears: Who Fears Death? (Source)
Kindred – Octavia Butler
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin. (Source)
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing. (Source)
Sula – Toni Morrison
Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life. (Source)
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire
Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga
This story explores the alienation of two young African girls – Nyasha, brought up in England and now a stranger amongst her own people, and Tamba, who leaves her village for the pricey mission school. (Source)
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature. (Source)
July 2, 2015 § 3 Comments
Patrice Lumumba was born 90 years ago today on 2 July 1925. Lumumba was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo (today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). He led the Congolese independence struggle that ultimately wrested the reins of power from the Belgian colonialists.
My dear companion,
I write you these words without knowing if they will reach you, when they will reach you, or if I will still be living when you read them. All during the length of my fight for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and myself have consecrated our lives. But what we wish for our country, its right to an honorable life, to a spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions, Belgian colonialism and its Western allies – who have found direct and indirect support, deliberate and not deliberate among certain high officials of the United Nations, this organization in which we placed all our confidence when we called for their assistance – have not wished it.
They have corrupted certain of our fellow countrymen, they have contributed to distorting the truth and our enemies, that they will rise up like a single person to say no to a degrading and shameful colonialism and to reassume their dignity under a pure sun.
We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese. They will not abandon the light until the day comes when there are no more colonizers and their mercenaries in our country. To my children whom I leave and whom perhaps I will see no more, I wish that they be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that it expects for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.
No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.
Do not weep for me, my dear companion. I know that my country, which suffers so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!
May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Maya Angelou, the American activist, author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer died a year ago today. Angelou had a deep connection to Africa. In 1961, she helped organize a protest at the United Nations over the assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, which had been approved by the CIA.
Shortly after, she moved to Cairo, Egypt, and served as the editor of the Arab Observer. The country was at the time a center of anti-colonial movements opposed to imperialism and Zionism. During her time in Cairo, she met Nelson Mandela while he was on his trip in Africa in 1962, to garner support for the armed struggle and to undergo military training.
She then moved to the newly independent state of Ghana and became one of hundreds of expatriates known as the “Afro-American community”. She worked as a teacher in the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana. She also served as a feature editor of the African Review, and wrote articles for Ghanaian Times.
Angelou met with Malcolm X when he visited Ghana in 1964. Ghana was at the time the citadel of the Pan-African and socialist movements taking place in Africa and throughout the Diaspora. The first chapter of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, founded by Malcolm X in 1964, was formed in Ghana among the expatriate community.
Upon her return to the United States, Angelou was encouraged to put her life experiences down on paper. In 1970 she published “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which gained international notoriety.
Dr. Maya Angelou’s contributions to literature and social movements remain an inspiration to many in Africa and across the globe.
Rest in Power.
By Maya Angelou
Thus she had lain
deserts her hair
golder her feet
mountains her breasts
two Niles her tears.
Thus she has lain
Black through the years.
Over the white seas
rime white and cold
took her young daughters
sold her strong sons
churched her with Jesus
bled her with guns.
Thus she has lain.
Now she is rising
remember her pain
remember the losses
her screams loud and vain
remember her riches
her history slain
now she is striding
although she had lain.
May 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
White people can play a role in African causes; but only in facilitating and boosting African voices – not trying to derail the conversation, or distract from and dismiss as irrelevant issues pertaining to white supremacy and racism. Dominating discourse, insisting on speaking for us, silencing criticism and abusing critics is an abuse of white privilege that only does more harm than good.
A white woman doing research in Kenya not too long ago went on a social media rant accusing Kenyans who expressed their support for the “Black Lives Matter” campaign of caring more about the victims of police brutality in the United States than those in Kenya. To her, Kenyans voicing opposition to white supremacy and racism in a spirit of pan-Africanist solidarity (see here and here) was trivial and below consideration. In short, our feelings and emotions towards the plight of our own in the Diaspora – Africans and people of African descent – did not matter.
Rather, it was her job to decide what matters for Kenyans, as we couldn’t possibly know what issues to prioritize for ourselves. After all, only the objective, rational perspective of a privileged white woman can determine exactly what is most important for us – and it apparently was not expressing solidarity with victims of the racism that she as a white person benefits from.
Taking her bigotry a step further, she went on to denigrate the efforts of Kenyans in raising awareness using social media. This in turn revealed just how much her white privilege had distanced her from the reality of the many Kenyan activists who turn to online platforms due to a lack of access to the real world platforms that she, on the other hand, is guaranteed by whiteness.
However, contrary to her belief that Kenyans are uncaring to their own, we are human beings capable of compassion and empathy for each other, as has been demonstrated time and again. More importantly, we’ve realized over time that white supremacy and racism in the West exacerbates the issues we as Kenyan people face in our country. It is this very same white supremacist and racist mentality that makes white academics in Africa, such as herself, feel entitled to engage in acts of erasure by invalidating and devaluing the views of Kenyan activists with the same or greater credentials, not to mention, lived experience, while posturing as “African expert” (white person who believes they know more about Africa and Africans, than Africans themselves).
Frankly, the cliché of the white academic turned “African expert” erasing African agency by stealing the spotlight from grassroots activists so as to be worshiped by Africa’s poor, while simultaneously boosting her academic qualifications to farther her career and profit from her “activism” is getting old. As a Kenyan woman, expressing solidarity with African-Americans against white supremacy and racism doesn’t mean I undervalue the experiences of Kenya’s poor. I just do not need a white woman to “educate” me on what they are.
February 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Baga was destroyed, a fifth of its population wiped out, and yet the world remained silent. The outrage and attention of the world’s media was focused instead on the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The attacks in Baga and Paris unfolded over the same time frame, and yet the 17 victims in Paris received more media attention than the combined 2,000 victims killed in Baga. For Charlie Hebdo, the coverage was intense, news articles were longer, the op-eds were numerous, and the editorials full of emotion. While the Paris attacks dominated the international front page headlines, for Baga there were hardly any mentions, less attention, less indignation and no outrage. In a clear double standard, the stories of both the victims and the attackers of Charlie Hebdo were repeatedly told, while the Baga victims were depicted as mere statistics.
The media tried to explain away this double standard by saying it was difficult for journalists to obtain evidence on the Baga victims. They said this even as alternative press with fewer resources was able to gather substantial material on the Baga massacre from credible sources such as Amnesty International. Others excused the intense coverage of Charlie as just the media’s way of showing solidarity with their own; while ignoring the fact that more non-western journalists have died due to “terrorism” than westerners, and yet have never received as much attention.
The real reason for this double standard is the massive political bias that exists in western media reporting, in which the deaths of westerners are sensationalized while those of non-westerners are downplayed or neglected altogether. Its only when reports of non-western victims can be politically advantageous that their plight receives attention. The kidnapping of the 200 girls in Nigeria last year was sensationalized by the West and its media under the #BringBackOurGirls hash tag so as to provide a moral basis for increased western militarization of the region. Close to a year later, the girls still haven’t been rescued.
The media bias also means that the severe abuse faced by victims of depraved western torture, illegal drone strikes and war crimes receives more antiseptic reporting. Deaths of victims of western terrorism are considered as natural, with the media offering minimal, if any calls in search of responsibility. By ignoring those victimized by the West, ongoing western policies can proceed more easily, without interference due to concern over politically inconvenient victims.
If you’re not careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
– Malcolm X
Critics are already voicing concerns about the lack of critical media coverage and the acceptance at face value of official allegations on the Charlie Hebdo attack. There are legitimate fears that this intense coverage will be used to justify a crackdown on civil liberties in the West, and in particular to silence critics of Israel/ supporters of Palestine in France. Other fears are that the portrayal of the Paris attacks as a “Clash of Civilizations”, in which western ideals of freedom are under assault from Islam, is fueling Islamophobia. This false portrayal persists despite the fact that more Muslims and non-westerners die from “terrorism” than non-Muslims and westerners.
And then there was the general African reaction to the two attacks, which left a lot to be desired. Ignoring the victims in his own continent, Gabon’s President Ali Bongo was quick to fly to Paris to mourn in solidarity with the French. Incidentally, the hypocrisy of this African dictator marching in defense of freedom of speech while clamping down on free speech at home was not lost on observers.
Equally culpable was the African media whose reporting normalized and treated the Baga massacre as business as usual. Rather than providing coverage that could generate public interest, mobilize activists and institutions, and bring about change, Baga was left pretty much in the incompetent hands of the Nigerian government. To the African media, a few lives lost in the West were more newsworthy and therefore important than thousands dead in their own backyard.
Even more worrisome was the spectacle of Africans on social media rushing to declare “Je Suis Charlie”, while displaying a lack of concern for the victims in Baga. For us to express shock and outrage at the killing of westerners, but be unmoved by the slaughter of thousands of our own is a sign that we have internalized racist western views about ourselves. We no longer consider our own deaths to be important but instead believe that western lives matter more, are more human, more worthy, more valuable, more deserving of life. Its time we stopped neglecting our own tragedies while valuing the lives of westerners over our own.
February 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Dedan Kimathi, a leader of the Mau Mau group which led an armed military struggle against British colonial rule in Kenya in the 1950s, was murdered 58 years ago today by the British colonialists.
I’m currently reading The Trial of Dedan Kimathi by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, some excerpts below:
… it is generally assumed that Kimathi fought in the Second ‘World’ War and people have tended to assume that was where he learnt his military skills as well as his skills in making guns. Kimathi never fought in that war. He evolved his brilliant guerrilla tactics and his enormous organizing capacity from the needs of the struggle. Karunaini people were proud of their son; they talked of him as a dedicated teacher, the committed organizer of a theater group he named Gichamu, as a man with a tremendous sense of humor who could keep a whole house roaring with laughter. They talked of his warm personality and his love of people. He was clearly their beloved son, their respected leader and they talked of him as still being alive. ‘Kimathi will never die’, the woman said. ‘But of course if you people have killed him, go and show us his grave!’ She said this in a strange tone of voice, between defiance and bitterness, and for a minute we all kept quiet.
Wanjiru, they called her. She was lean, wiry and strong. Fought like a tiger in the battle of the Beehive. No wonder the terrorists made her a Colonel… Should have seen when we captured her. She swore at us, spat in our faces and kicked like a wild goat as we bound her. Later at Karunaini camp, she would not eat or drink. And she would not tell us where we could find Kimathi. And you know? She bit my finger. And why? I wanted to see if she was really a woman. Our Africans: Gati, Hungu, Mwendanda and even Wambararia, Kimathi’s brother, were frightened of her.
To a criminal judge, in a criminal court, set up by criminal law: the law of oppression. I have no words… I will not plead to a law in which we had no part in the making… Two laws. Two justices. One law and one justice protects the man of property, the man of wealth, the foreign exploiter. Another law, another justice, silences the poor, the hungry, our people.
Which people? Loyalists? Home guards? Traitors! Simpletons! These are your people.
I have never feared anybody’s rivalry. I have only sought to protect the struggle from betrayal, opportunism and regional chauvinism.
It’s not numbers that fight. Better fifty men armed with faith, armed with discipline, than a thousand villains, doubters, possible collaborators.
It is true children, that Kimathi could do many things. Even today, they sing of the battle of Mathari; the battles he waged in Mount Kenya; the battle of Naivasha. Yes, they sing of the enemy aeroplanes he brought down with only a rifle! He was a wonderful teacher: with a laugh that was truly infectious. He could also act and mimic any character in the world: a story teller too, and many were the nights he would calm his men and make their hearts light and gay with humorous anecdotes. But above all, he loved people, and he loved his country. He so hated the sight of Africans killing one another that he sometimes became a little soft with our enemies. He, Great commander that he was, Great organizer that he was, Great fearless fighter that he was, he was human! Too human at times!
And, a few memorable quotes attributed to Kimathi:
“We reject colonization in Kenya because it has turned us into slaves and beggars.”
“The journey to freedom is full of sacrifices, tears, hunger, clothes full of lice, blood and death”.
“I don’t lead terrorists. I lead Africans who want their self-government and land. God did not intend that one nation be ruled by another for ever.”
“I consider myself a great African patriot fighting, not for the liberation of Kenya alone, but for East Africa and the rest of the continent.”
Rest in peace O great warrior, freedom fighter, African hero.