Why My Father Will Forever Be My Hero, My Rock

I grew up in Enugu, a quiet town in the south-east of Nigeria that has been touted as serene, beautiful, progressive and is beloved for her coolness (see http://www.travelstart.com.ng/blog/most-loved-cities-nigeria/). Looking back, I would say I grew up privileged – not Chelsea Clinton or Davido kinda privileged, mind you. I grew in a charming bungalow situated on approximately 800-900 meters square of land owned by my father. I had my every sane wish, as a child, granted – when I wanted a baby sibling at age 10-11, I got one. I was surrounded and doted on by loving relatives. I had tons of friends – I was quite the popular gingo. And I went to good schools. My first years of school – Nursery, I had white tutors/carers, and by Nigerian standards, that’s like studying at Eton with Einstein-like personalities as your tutors. I soon progressed to Primary school whereupon I proceeded to spiral down the hill towards dumber and dumber. From then onwards, I was a lazy student. I didn’t strive for intelligence. I would sooner read a Wole Soyinka or a Charles Dickens, with all the big grammar, than read my notes or open my textbooks. I had it good and I took it for granted.

Fast forward to age 13. I had lost my only sister, my family was going through harrowing times, my interest in educating myself was on an even downward spiral. I was a disaster. My father was deeply worried. Which boarding school to transfer me to became the topic of regular debates. I, for one, was in favour of FGC, Enugu – it was hip! – but my academic record was too poor for the (then) elitist school. Then came this man from Umunze whose cousin’s children attend a nondescript secondary school near Umunze. Apparently, the children were the epitome of intelligence and hardwork. And suddenly I’m on a convoy of two vehicles laden with luggages, with my (almost) stepsister headed towards a small village in Anambra State. I was appalled when I got there. Demonstration Secondary School, Eziagu was in the middle of nowhere, literarily. Initially, I hated it. Immensely. The students stared a lot and many were saccharine nice to us. The food was terrible. Classes were intensive. For the first time in a long time, I had to be attentive in class. I couldn’t deal. But, I didn’t have a choice. I had to be smart or be ridiculed (teenagers are the meanest!), so I picked up my books and tried to know what’s up. Plus, there was this teacher, Ms. Ndeche – yeah, that was yeeeaaars before Chimamanda made the title become hip in Nigeria. Ms. Ndeche is, hands down, the best teacher I’ve ever met. She taught English Language and Literature in English – my best subjects because of the many novels involved. In Ndeche’s presence, you better shape up or ship out. She didn’t suffer fools at all. Gradually, with her making me one of her favourite students, I shaped up. I had the best grades in her subjects and I started to do well in other subjects. Except Math, that is. Funny, considering my late father was a Math whiz – well, he was a whiz in every subject he took in school – and my son is a burgeoning Newton. Anyways, I hated Math. I disliked, intensely, it’s mean teacher. I would sneak off to the library to read Jane Austen during Math period. A habit I soon quit when the meanie teacher made me and a group of truant boys transfer water from a full 5 liter bucket to an empty 5 liter bucket, across a 100 meter yard, under the hot sun, in front of the judgy teachers’ staff room, in full glare of mocking teenage meanies, using a table spoon. It is the most excrutiating punishment, on the most embarrassing day of my life. Afterwards, I hated Math even more. That said, I attended and graduated Sec School as an average student. I barely made the Law faculty of Madonna University.

When I look back, all I see is my father encouraging me to be more and me lapping up the encouragements like they’re my due, but never really going the extra mile to do more and be more. Well, more is relative yeah? To many of my peers, I’m doing more. To my classmates from Demonstration Sec School, it’s unbelievable how far I’ve come since our time at Eziagu. But, but, but, the one opinion/accolade I care about is my father’s, and he’s not here to give it. So, these days, I just imagine that I’m having a conversation with him about, say, Pres. Buhari and the ministerial list, or the droll, hard to read Nietzche, or Butler on gender performativity. I imagine his laughter and the calm and coaxing way he has of swaying one to his side of the argument, and I smile and thank God for the years I had with him. And…No, I’m not schizophrenic. I’m only a daughter who misses her motivator and valiantly clings to a rock that never failed to support, of good memories of a father who was stern but loving.

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Dog Whistle Politics And All That Underlying Racism

I live (for the moment) in a rich, Western country that prides itself on being progressive, accepting, liberal – human rights wise, that is. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, I can buy weed at a coffee shop (totes legal), gender (in)equality is an important issue and as such is featured prominently on government agenda, social welfare is taken verrrry seriously, freedom of humans and rehabilitation of the criminal minded is more important than incarceration (recently Netherlands shut down a number of prisons for non-occupation due to decrease in crime rate), living together as partners is as legal as living together as husband and wife or husband and husband or wife and and wife. Anyways…you get my drift.

However, despite the Dutch’s seeming attitude to (human rights) progressive behaviour, racism is still an issue in The Netherlands. Of course, unlike the US, the Dutch don’t set out to be racist (see Donald Trump on racism and xenophobia and all those police incidental deaths that see black men and women being murdered like Black lives don’t matter). Unlike the racist bigots in the US, the racist bigots in the Netherlands shield their racism under a cloud of polite snobbery. They refer to multi-culturally populated neighbourhoods (Amsterdam Zuid-Oost for instance) as slums; they would sooner accuse a Moroccan or Turkish or any African/colored teen of being the burglar in a case of burglary than a Dutch kid, even when evidence tilts towards the Dutch kid; they have quite the shock when they encounter intelligent black people; and they tell Blacks that we are being too emotional for fighting their tradition of painting their white bodies black and mimicking a dumb, Black, fictitious clown of a man called Zwarte Piet . To the average Dutch the Zwarte Piet tradition is harmless fun, an age old tradition that lightens the mood and sends children giggling in glee; two Dutch friends once told me it’s a festival I should look forward to. Like seriously, I should dress up and go watch my race being caricatured? Ka m nukwa with my left hear! On the day of the festival, I was snoozing on my bed while pondering how such a progressive, intellectual people can be this racist and backward.

For a long time I pondered at this kind of covert racism, that which Fatima El-Tayeb in her wonderful book “European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe (Difference Incorporated)” – I’m a HUGE fan of postcolonial literature – referred to as color blindness, which is, by the way, an European problem. The continent is so fixated on being seen as not-racist and human rights progressive, but yet shuts down it’s colonial history and waives race away like a moth that don’t matter, when it matters. It’s no wonder their citizens are so stuck up on and blind to their imperialist, racist attitudes to colored people. A friend called this covert, polite racism “political correctness”. But, I beg to differ. Thanks to Scandal Season 5 Episode 4, I now know what this polite, covert racism is called: “Dog-Whistle Politics”.  Dog-Whistle Politics is the kind of racism that doesn’t utter a racist word but infers, insinuates that the addressee or subject (Black/colored man or woman) is less than the white man or woman. It is the kind of racism that sees Dutch people praising and telling me that I write good English (for an African woman, that is). It is the kind of racism that had a professor tell me she was surprised and impressed that I am so articulate and intelligent (for an African with previous studies in Nigeria, that is). It is the kind of racism that sees Dutch people asking me if I can speak Afrikaans or Swahili because I’m Black and African. It is the kind of racism that have old Dutch men leering at me on the streets because I’m Black and sex slavery and prostitution is synonymous to Blackness, in their white mind, that is. It is the kind of racism that have white people acting “different” around educated Black women. It is the kind of racism whereby the white master/mistress blows the whistle (racially inclined, different behaviours/utterances) and the dog (Black man or woman) is brought to heel. Let me bring it down…Once I came to this fancy, high rise apartment building and couldn’t seem to find the entrance. I walked round the building trying to locate the entrance, called the person who I was to visit but she wasn’t picking, frustrated I stood staring at the beautiful monstrosity of a building in exasperation. All the while, the receptionist (a uniformed man who blithely ignored me even when I smiled and said hello) was outside, on his mobile, chatting away in Dutch. Minutes later when he was done with his phone chat, he turned to me and asked “are you a cleaner for one of the apartments?”. In-other-words, a Black woman, like me, however well dressed, cannot afford to live in or even know some friend who lives in that kind of fancy apartment. Did it help that he was indeed correct and I was only there to clean? No. But, his whole attitude was one of Master with his bitch of a dog. He whistled and I was called to heel. He might be a white man with a low level job, but he doesn’t owe me any courtesy, because I’m Black and as such I (should) have no power over him.

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A Nigerian Quirk #5

Source: A Nigerian Quirk #5

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Thoughts on The Ongoing Refugee Crisis, à la Warsan Shire

It has come to my attention that very many people don’t understand the plights of the Syrians landing on Europe’s shores seeking for asylum. It bothers me that very many people scorn these desperate human beings braving death and pneumonia to arrive at a safe haven. It bothers me that their scorn is borne out of religious intolerance – my God vs. your God; a scorn and unwillingness to understand and empathize that is borne out of the usual rhetoric of “Muslim=Terrorist”. It bothers me that all of those very many people responding vociferously, negatively to my Facebook posts on the Syrian refugees are Nigerians and not the Europeans on whose soil the Syrians are landing; surprising yeah? Sad, considering that Syrians are not even landing on Nigerian soil; which is not surprising, since Nigeria does not have laws and resources set aside for refugees.

While the Nigerians (on my Facebook wall) are scorning refugees, and the Americans don’t want any more “immigrants” (lame argument; refugees are not migrating, they’re fleeing a war) and the Australians have raised, albeit minimally, the cap on the number of asylum seekers they are willing to host, Europeans are throwing wide open their doors and windows and shouting their welcome to these refugees; Europeans are packaging gifts and survival kits for these refugees; Europe is doling out a lot of money to accommodate our brothers and sisters in need. How I love Europe! 

  
So, before you get on your high horse and tell me how these refugees are “beggars with choice”, please read this poem titled “Home”, written by Kenya born, London raised, Somalian poet, Warsan Shire; maybe you’ll understand better, be less insensitive and more humane:

“no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

pitied

no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough

the go home blacks 

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange 

savage 

messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up

how do the words the dirty looks roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear

saying-

leave,

run away from me now

i dont know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here”. 

Main photograph by Daniet Etter/New York Times/Redux /eyevine. Laith Majid cries tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to Europe.

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Diary of A Disgruntled Igbo Woman…Part 5

Almost a year ago, I arrived Netherlands via Amsterdam Schipol on a cool October day, excited but exhausted from traipsing round West Africa in fulfillment of the Schengen visa requirements for temporary long stay in The Netherlands. Like Alice in Wonderland, I was in awe of the beautiful city of Amsterdam and dumbstruck from staring at beautiful golden men with tight abs, men built like Michelangelo’s David (or is the apt analogy, Greek Adonis?). At 31, a single mother, feminist, lawyer, Nigerian, I was fed up with the sexism oozing out of the arrogant asses of the many Nigerian men I had come across, and was really looking forward to meeting a blond Adonis who is wholeheartedly in favor of gender equality. I was looking forward to falling madly in love (the sort of love that makes you memorize his phone number and sees you staring into space thinking about his sweet kisses). I was looking forward to settling down and birthing three additional lovelies. I had already picked their names – Adanna/Obinna, Christabel/Christopher, and Summer/Charles. I was in paradise, or so I thought. You see? Ever since I was in my teens, I had been telling friends and family that I was going to marry a handsome, sexy-as-sin, feminist white man – a Monsieur Charles with blue eyes, I once jokingly told a friend. My mom kicked against the very idea of her only daughter marrying soooo far away, plus, according to her, the white man’s love doesn’t last long: see the divorce rate in the West. But, abeg, if I hear…!
Anyways, I arrived NL and was introduced round town by friends and soon was about my business: studies. But, after a couple of months living in NL, I was still pathetically single, with nary a chyker/toaster/suitor in sight. White men don’t just stop you on the road to chat you up and ask for your mobile number; that is a Black man’s forte. Here such an action is considered street harassment, so very different from being grabbed on the streets of Onitsha by Omatta boys, yeah? In NL, everyone is on the move, literally, eyes to the front, no admiring, no stopping to chat up strange women because they look good, no accidental meet ups. In alarm, I asked a few friends what was up and the general response was: “oh! Just sign up to dating sites. The good ones are Tinder, OkCupid, blah blah…” And so my online dating experience began. Just like when you sign up on Twitter or Instagram, signing up to a dating site requires that you be cool but classy, have tons of beautiful photos and appear sophisticated. But, be prepared to receive eons of unsolicited dick pics and lewd messages from strangers telling you how they would love to get down with you and suck your down under dry. It was a disconcerting introduction to dating in NL; sex is not a biggie, hook ups are as casual as jeans. However, the Dutch honesty is a good thing: no false pretenses, no side chic v. main chic drama. Everybody knows what they mean to the other, because everybody discloses his or her intentions and expectations.
Sa sa, my first date with a white, Dutch man went somewhat nicely, but the rapport was not so smooth, he didn’t understand some of my jokes, and I didn’t understand some of his jokes. He didn’t like food cooked with pepper – like seriously, who doesn’t eat pepper?! White people, that’s who. Plus, he – the date – had a cat named Oprah who was black as sin and very unfriendly, and possessive. So, we mutually agreed to break up. After him, I met a couple of nice, white men, but I never did fall like a ton of bricks, plus it felt like I was tiptoeing around them most of the time. IMO, I think many white men have fragile egos and sensitive natures. So not turn-ons. And the whole online dating thingy was off-putting. After a while, I closed the accounts and tried to be Jane Austen, all about books, no time for frivolities. But, without friends, family, boyfriend drama, I was bored shitless! Soon I was missing the easy humor and unbreakable confidence of Nigerian men. So, I dated one. He was not at all what I would’ve gone for in Nigeria. He was not college educated – for someone who is unapologetically sapiosexual, that is a huge minus, and even though he had been living in Europe for nine years, he was still a sexist at heart. Kept on harping about how lucky I am to have a son and how a man must have a son to carry on his name. Eziokwu, ike gwuru m for that dude. Anyways, I am back to square one. Tired of online dating and wondering if I will ever find a man to love, a man like the heroes in Lynne Graham’s and Kiru Taye’s novels. Reading romance novels might have spoiled me for many men, but they sure make me want a love that lights me up when I’m in my 80’s and sends me reminiscing about our courtship days, wedding day, honeymoon, and years spent together in love and harmony.

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How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened?

Ayo Sogunro

On Quora, I turned some attention to the “what if?” in alternate African history: How would Africa be today if colonialism never happened?

Africa would simply be (no) more or less like Europe or the Middle East is today.

Political Geography: A number of folks think the modern political geography would simply align with the ethnic groups in existence today. But this is unlikely. At the time the Europeans came, large African empires had already started assimilating small tribes or forming alliances with other large ethnicities. Languages would have further diffused and solidified until regional lingua franca are established. These empires and large tribes (like the historical Malian and Songhai, and the newer Oyo, Benin, Zulu, etc) would have maintained their military might to expand their territories and built even stronger city-states through regional commerce while also trading (slaves, minerals and other local commodities) with the Arabs and Europeans (who would…

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Portraits: Former slaves in America

Afrocentric Confessions

January 31st marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.

To commemorate the occasion, new photos have been released showing some of the men and women who lived through that era — and were finally granted their freedom.

The portraits focused on a group of 500 people and were taken in the late 1930s, as part of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), 70 years after abolition.

The set was eventually published in 1941 and called Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slaveryin the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. All total, there were 17 volumes. While the pictures give an honest glimpse into an important part of our past, historians agree the stories in the collection are biased since they were conducted by white interviewers.

Slavery historian John Blassingame publicly said that the collection can present “a simplistic and distorted view of the plantation” that is too positive. But…

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