Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It’s Not Black vs. African: CHECK YOURSELF

{photo credit: An Xiao}

I wrote an article about how Black people sometimes appropriate Nigerian and African culture ( and below in black you can see one of the responses I got. my responses to that response is below in pink. I responded point by point and inserted my responses into their response. I’m YE. SKelly is the person who responded to my article and is SK below.

SK: # 1 - you can't have both. you can't "claim soul music, hip hop", etc., & maintain your elitist african-ness @ a distance from all us heathen american blacks.

YE: I’m not elitist and neither is my article. I can and do claim hip hop and soul music and many other forms of music. I live in the States and I’m African. hip hop is based on African music, as are most forms of music in the States. I claim hip hop like I claim soca, the blues, calypso, etc, because these are a wo/manifestions of African music and rhythms throughout the world. I did not create hip hop and I never said I did. I also never called anyone a heathen. that sounds like your self-hate talking.

SK: 2 - if she was born here then that makes her a true african american.

YE: nope. I’m Nigerian. #labelfail. also, why are you now speaking to me in the 3rd person when you were just speaking to me in the 2nd person? #grammarlesson. you can talk directly to me, my assistant did not write the article, I did.

SK: it seems as though many of our kin from the continent think of us as 'slaves' - when mainland africans were part & parcel of our becoming slaves, & NO accountability is taken for that. my mother's ghanaian significant other mentioned that the slave trade is never mentioned in african schools - the party line is that we just 'went away' as if on vacation. talk about a sideye.

YE: I don’t think of Blacks in the u.s. as slaves, once again, sounds like your self-hate talking. if some Africans sold Blacks into slavery…how is that my fault or even relevant to this conversation? who said I was ignoring that? this article is not about that. your mother’s Ghanaian significant other is an expert on every single African school in all 54 countries and what’s taught by all the teachers not only today but for the past 400 years during and after slavery? unless this person has extensively studied this topic, that individual can speak to THEIR experience, not that of an entire continent. but thanks for that tokenizing. #sarcasm. “the party line”? and you know what “the party line” is because you went to school in Africa? #sideeye or you THINK you know this because of a comment someone made about THEIR experience that you are now GENERALIZING and TOKENIZING to make an EXAGGERATION about an entire continent? #sitdown

SK: 3 - hate to bring this up, but as many good nigerian private citizens as there are out there doing real work, it may take more work on an activists part to discern them from those who run the myriad scams that nigerians are famous for - so why is she hating on ppl who help set up schools in third world countries? - wierd.

YE: you’re right. #sarcasm. we should all thank the missionaries who brought their white god to Africa. many racist whites have claimed that they should be thanked for saving Africans from the “uncivilized” African continent via slavery. by these racist, white imperialist standards, they were “helping” and “improving” the lives of Africans by enslaving and raping them. should they be thanked as well? the NYPD thinks they’re bettering the streets by brutalizing people of color daily. should they be thanked for their hard work? how about the KKK that made it their business to eliminate the supposed threat of Black men to white women by lynching them—should they be thanked? also, how can one distinguish between all those dangerous Black criminals and the “good, Black private citizens” just working to support their families? this is your internalized racism talking. are you seated? get up so you can #sitdown

SK: we have been divorced from our culture, & are fascinated by it why is she so scornful of that?

YE: I don’t scorn fascination with a lost culture. I just don’t tolerate the disrespectful appropriation of my culture.

SK: if she's SO nigerian, then maybe that's where she should live. but she won't do that b/c by her own admission, she will get treated with the same snotty 'tude that she bestows upon black americans, & doesn't want THAT.

YE: I never said any of that. I travel back and forth between the States and Nigeria. um, you don’t know me. #sitdown. I actually get lots of snotty, ignorant attitudes in the States. Case and point: this dialogue right here. if I were to go back to Nigeria to live permanently, I’d like to take my oil with me, is that okay with you? since the u.s. in the 3rd largest exporter of Nigerian oil, I’m pretty sure that whatever car, bus, train or airplane you are a passenger in is partly or completely running on my fuel. from my country. which you just “suggested” I go live in because you disagree with me. since I’m leaving, I’m gonna take all the blood diamonds with me, the gold, cacoa and rubber exported from Africa to the States. I’m also gonna take with me the coltan and tantalite with me; these 2 minerals are used to manufacture many things including DVD players, video games, cell phones and the computer you typed this ignorant response to me on. I’m gonna take hip hop, soul, the blues, allll that with me too. it might be a bad look for you if I were to take myself and all my resources with me.

SK: is she trying to claim that africans don't travel? let's talk bourgoise - not only do they travel - extensively, but most mainland africans TO THIS DAY keep a servant or two - still haven't learned about that little iron-clad class system of theirs.

YE: I’m not TRYING to say anything. I said that Africans aren’t tourists in the first world and don’t co-opt culture in the way westerners do. yes Africans travel. of course, if we didn’t travel, how did I get to New York? #logicfail. yes some (very few) Africans have maids. what point does that prove? there’s a very select number of people who have maids. hella people around the world have maids or “servants” as you refer to them. Africans often travel to first world countries to attain some of the privileges that have been denied our countries because the wealth of the first world is not only built on our third world backs but exists because our resources have/are stolen and/or exported. that’s why we travel most of the time—to come use the resources that the first world took, stole and/or bought at the lowest of prices. and…what’s a mainland African? I’ve never heard that term in my life. and I’m pretty sure no African has either.

SK: now here's where i get really confused: she claims to be 100% nigerian, just BORN here... & in another breath, that her great grandmother is trinidadian - but she isn't. so which one is it? b/c that type of mix makes her patently afro-american.

YE: I don’t think people say “Afro-American” anymore. I think it disappeared along with “Negro” awhile ago. I’m not Trinidadian. #shrug. #labelfailAGAIN

SK: & then in the end, she wants to talk global community. my senegalese SISTER, who has walked the catwalks of paris, & keeps a DOPE apartment on gold st. while she lives part of the year in dakar, NEVER tried to sell me a load of bull like this.

YE: um okay. yaaaaay tokenization! does this make your point more valid because you throw in the behavior of an African woman? do you want a cookie for that one?

SK: methinks the author is plagued with issues, & may need to do a little research of her own; specifically w/regard to her own persona. she seems to fully identify w/hip hop culture & yet divorce herself from the people who created it/fought for its/our freedoms.

YE: I have never and will never divorce myself from Blacks in the States—that would be impossible. to divorce someone, one has to get married. to get married, one has to be separate and seeking a union. I am not separating myself from Black people, we are linked forever. there are distinctions between our cultures and experiences, yes, but we are part of a global Black community. of course I have issues. having issues is inherent to being a human being. me having issues does not take away from the validity of what I’ve written.

SK: this is disrespectful, patronizing, callous, & soulless much of the things we accuse white colonists of being.

YE: I think that’s an extreme and inaccurate assessment of my article and is a more accurate description of what you wrote than what I did.

SK: the author needs to check herself.

YE: I check myself on the regular as part of my practice of being a loving, revolutionary, tender human being. Do you? it’s fine to disagree with me, but it’s not necessary to personally attack me, be deliberately rude, tokenize the Africans in your life to make a point or make vast generalizations that are based on no research and no experience. I have no problem whatsoever with people disagreeing with me—let’s talk and share perspectives. what I do take issue with is having people project their issues with their own ethnicity, race or with Africa and Africans onto me. it’s not my fault that Blacks were kidnapped from Africa and enslaved nor do I reinforce or benefit from any of the ideologies that disrespect and degrade Blacks in the States. given this, to hurl insults at me is unnecessary and irresponsible. clearly, you’re speaking from a place of deep pain, anger, ignorance and, at times, stupidity. CHECK YOURSELF. and sit down.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THE NAIJA ESSAY: Rhapsodizing on Black Americans’ Cultural Appropriation of Nigerian & African Cultures

{photo credit An Xiao}

I’m not Black. Black is not my ethnicity. In fact, Black isn’t an ethnicity, it’s a race. And race isn’t real. Race, Blackness, whiteness, these categories were created by white people in order to define who they were oppressing and who was doing the oppressing. Check your history y’all. Despite this, Black is something I identify with politically and socially given that I’ve spent so much of my life in the States and I do see myself as part of a global Black community of people—some of whom are/were immigrants to Europe, the States and other parts of the world and others who are descendants of the Africans kidnapped from Africa in order to be enslaved in the States, South America, the Caribbean and so on. Blackness is not a monolithic identify. It’s an umbrella term like Queer. I’m a dyke but identify with a Queer community politically and socially. Countless times, people, Blacks in America mostly, tell me I’m American. “Oh well you were born here so you’re American.” #labelfail. No I’m not. I’m a Nigerian who happened to have been born here and I will be Nigerian until the day I die and in my next lifetime too. It’s that serious.

I’m not Black. I am Nigerian. Period. I am not Nigerian American. I am Nigerian. To be specific, I am an Ijaw and Urhobo Nigerian. (DELTA STAND UP!!!) <-- had to do it. I didn’t even know what soul food was till college. I fetched water as a child. I have a long ass Nigerian name with mad vowels up in it. On the census, I wrote in Nigerian. (We have an African prez and the Census can’t be more inclusive? #sideeye.) After being baptized as a baby, I didn’t go to an American church until college. I’ve learned to be a part of Black American culture and given that I live in the States and contribute to the evolution of Black art forms with the art I create, yes, I claim hip hop, soul music, Black American dance styles and the performance arts. I’m still a Nigerian within all that. Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I say Nigeria. Because na so. When I answer in this way, I sometimes get confused looks from people because they want to place me into a category that makes sense for them. They want to either tell me I’m someone else than who I just said or let me know they know who I am. I’ve heard more nonsensical facts about people’s relationship to Nigeria than I can list here. It is okay—to not know. Just admit it. Don’t try to create a familial bond with me and/or my culture where there is none by spewing random facts about Nigeria. You ain’t know about Nigerian heat or suya or NEPA (now PHCN) or pyoowatah or the go-slow or red soil or roasted groundnut.

During a twitter tag team rant session with Zara Emezi, I wrote:

what the fuck i look like meeting a Chinese person & telling them how much i enjoy wonton soup? you think they give a fifth of a fuck?

(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:36:07 PM)

people tell me all their random thoughts & experiences re: Nigeria when they meet me. i'm serious--eg: i like Nigerian food. #uhokay

(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:35:24 PM)

what the fuck i care you gave your son a Nigerian name? there are over 150 million Africans with Nigerian names. #perspective

(Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:34:29 PM)

These conversations are tiring. From the woman who, upon finding out I’m Nigerian, takes pride in informing me that she works to set up schools in 3rd world countries, of which Nigeria is one. Do you want a cookie? Fuck you and your NGO. If you really cared, you’d find NIGERIANS doing good work (there are millions), give them that first world loot (which by the way is built on third world backs) and LEAVE. That’s revolution. That’s being an ally.

So many Black people challenge my Africanness. Black people who, by the way, claim the African identity they attempt to deny me. So many Africans challenge my Africanness. All around, my authenticity as an African gets questioned, judged and minimized. It’s not my life’s work to make the world see me as I see me. It’s my life’s work to be me as I see me and let the world do what the world will do.

Me: "I'm Nigerian." Her: "You speak really good English." Me: "We were colonized by the British." Can't make this stuff up.

(Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:56:40 PM)

Every moment is an opportunity to decolonize our spirits and I seize these moments. Part of that decolonization is to never allow my identity to be defined for me by anyone. There are times when ironically, Africans place me in the same category as Blacks in the States and look down on me because to them, I sound American and have lived here for an amount of time that means I’m Americanized now. I let them know a.) there’s no need to look down on Blacks in the States and b.) I’m so Nigerian my blood is made of palm oil. I love you but sit down.

It annoys me greatly the ease with which Blacks take on an African identity while doing little to no research/reading whatsoever. Spending a semester in Ghana does not equate with my life as an African. People still ask me if I’m Yoruba and pride themselves on knowing that one ethnicity. *Blank stare* Asking me if I’m Yoruba when you find out I’m Nigerian is like me asking you if your name is Keisha because you’re Black and live in the States. Yes, it is that ridiculous. I’m not Yoruba. I’m not Igbo. Abeg, please stop asking. Going to see Fela on Broadway does not qualify as an education on my country. It doesn’t even qualify as an education on him, given there’s only so much a two-hour performance can contain of a person’s life. We all love Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri and Fela but Naija done produced more brilliance than the likes of them.

Can we please be accountable to the way in which Blacks travel the world as tourists with the same or similar kinds of destructive manners/patterns as rich white people? Tourism in third world countries is another form of colonization. Beautiful portions of the country are often off limits to people indigenous to that country in order for hotels and resorts to be made available for tourists and the tourism economy. Traveling to someone else’s home in search of peace of mind, relaxation or a deeper sense of self is the most colonial bullshit on the planet. Black Americans do this in Africa and the Caribbean, looking for a rugged, vacation lover to help them forget the woes of their lives. Please, please read Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place for an amazing analysis of what tourism has done to Antigua. I don’t travel to other people’s countries to get free. I would never be so arrogant or disgustingly first world. I go home. Or I travel because I want to partner to make art and/or partake in activism that is led by those indigenous to the place I’m traveling to. Any Black person with the privilege and resources to travel to another country to find themselves, and who does this, is feeding into a racist and violent tourist economy.

South Africa, Kenya, Ghana are some of the chosen countries that everyone outside of Africa wants to travel to, specifically Black people. The sexiness and allure of Yoruba culture is due, in my opinion, to how far it’s traveled (Brasil, Cuba, the States) and the exotification of Brasilian and Cuban cultures/languages continues to feed into the way in which Yoruba is a commodity and a spiritual practice laden with inaccuracies (as it is practiced in the States by those initiated into it) and commerce.

It can be strange to talk about my culture to Blacks in the States. One of or a combination of things happens: they can’t relate at all or they make weird statements that highlight their ignorance of my culture or try to make me see how much they know (asking if I’m Yoruba or Igbo) or there’s a sadness that they don’t have the same linkage to their culture that I do to mine. At times, there’s a visible resentment that wo/manifests in challenging my choices, eg: asking me why I hang with so many Nigerians. < --- Um reeeally?! Why do you have so many Black friends? So many gay friends? Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? I guess the same reasons why all the Nigerian queers are eating jollof rice in the park. Sanity dey with family sometimes. And there are all types of family. A lot of my chosen family are queer Nigerians and I’m blessed to have such a beautiful community. I also rock hard with Caribbean folks, Africans from other parts of the continent, South Asians, Latinas and so on. My family wide. I will not apologize for loving my Naija folk and anyone that asks that is selfish and just weird.

I’m surprised that folks sometimes are surprised that I miss home and the extent to which I miss home:

people wonder why i talk about Naija so much & hang w/ Nigerians so hard... Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:27:16 PM via web

...dude--you know i ain't from here, right? you know every breath i take away from my country breaks my heart right? #dontgetittwisted. Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:27:41 PM via web

All Black people are not the same. The reason I do not identify as Pan Africanist is because so much of its application (from my perspective) of the ideology is about making Black people everywhere the same. We aren’t the same. I live here but I am not from here. First world privilege, third world blood. Na serious.

So many people want to say we were kings and queens before the white man came to Africa—yeah, like 10 of us, and the rest of us were just regular folks. This hyper-romanticization of Africa is terribly aggravating and completely ahistorical. Nigeria is hella modern, is hella rural, is hella lots of thangs. It ain’t full of “nubian kings and queens.” #realityfail. Africa today is not some fantasy, nor has it ever been. It’s a real place, filled with 54 countries, thousands of ethnicities and languages, countless hairstyles, clothing styles, culinary magic and so on. Africans are real people, not mythological fodder for folks’ fantasies about what they’d like Africa to be for them. When I hear there are ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, I call home to make sure my family is okay. I don’t shake my head and keep sipping on my coffee. That is the difference.

I am from the Delta and I am proud. If ever I choose to have babies, they will know exactly where they are from because we will live there and there will be no English spoken in my household, besides Pidgin of course. I’m a Naija elitist in this way. And that is as it should be. Allowing anyone with wide eyes into African culture is part of the reason our land was haphazardly partitioned for colonization by Europeans in the first place—abeg our heart bigger than the universe we dey in, sef.

Black people are descendants of Africans. Of course. But they aren’t African. My great grand mama is from Trinidad. I am not Trinidadian just because she was. Na difference, you see? To ignore these differences, to gloss over them is to pretend mac and cheese is fufu. Na lie.

I am intensely patriotic and deeply proud to be a Nigerian. I can’t even explain it, it’s mad intense. I love Black people. I be marching, writing poems, mouth behind bull horn, loving hard, soft, tender and fierce for the sake of ALL our COLLECTIVE freedoms regardless of what continent we were born onto. We are a global community and we are connected. Let’s respect who we be and who we ain’t.

“It’s not that I’m heartless. You don’t understand, my heart is buried in Nigeria.”

~Yagazie Emezi.

My bodi dey here.

My heart dey in Naija.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


{photo by Laura Waterbury}

I want your arms around me and I could make this about missing you but it’s not.

At the hospital today, the nurse answered my mother’s question without looking at her. She looked at me instead. How does that make sense to anyone with a brain or manners or home training? I wanted to slap her. I asked her to address my mother. Since my mother asked the question. This is not the DMV. These are people’s lives you’re dealing with. She has an accent. She speaks English numbnuts.

I’d like to give myself permission to be imperfect. I never have. If you see a flaw it’s probably because I didn’t know you could see it or because I let you.

The pressure is so much my neck hurts. My throat has hurt for weeks and I keep forgetting to eat. Who has time to crumble? I have shit to do.

By the way, I’m coming out to my father. I wrote the letter. Just have to send it.

But that’s not why I started writing this. I’m writing this because I’m sleepy but don’t want to sleep. Want to let go and hold on. Want to let someone in without feeling like I have to hold it all together. Me letting people see my pain is like trying to tidy a messy house for an unexpected visitor waiting on your stoop. Disconcerting. Awkward. If I knew you were coming, I would’ve done the laundry. If I knew you were gonna come inside my ribcage, I would’ve cried over this last week. Instead of now.

Maybe I should run off from my life for a little while. Do what rich white people do—travel to Southeast Asia to go find themselves in the cultures their forefathers desecrated and whitewashed. But I don’t want to go to Southeast Asia. I want to lay in my bed. That’s it. I want to be able to love you from the love in my chest, instead of lashing out with the pain in my chest, pushing you away because I can’t imagine letting you see the dirty dishes and dusty shelves. I love you too much to let you love me.

Isn’t that the most fucked up something you’ve read today?

My hair and head have been wrapped for 2 weeks. Like a band-aid on my subconscious.

Sometimes I have to forget about my individual life. If I were to focus on my problems, I would stop writing and cry myself into a dehydrated state. Instead I think of the heartbroken, the unsure all over the world. So you know you’re not alone

Here, have this.

Friday, September 10, 2010

all them words up in me is for you/you listenin?

{photo by t'ai freedom ford}

the bridge to my heart is on fire
you is a firefighter

tumbling bricks
comin out my mouth

smoldering diary pages with my secrets on them
if this was a song—
serious bass line that ain’t never stop
drums and drums
electric guitar
the baddest bridge
the tightest melody
I don’t wanna dance tonight
I wanna scream and shit
hit that high ass chaka note
and hold it
fuck a microphone
this amplified by my heartbeat

you wanna be close to me
I wanna be on the mountaintop with wireless internet writing poems like this
sometimes I’m not warm and fuzzy and I won’t let you love me
not up close
you gonna have to send that love via smoke signals, hummingbirds and tight ass melodies

rain is my express carrier

she takes the syllables in the bass of my throat & tips of my toes
and delivers them to you when I’m ready to face you,
knowing you gonna know the truth in me

in me is every bruise we’ve all had
we never settle the score
forgive the ones who hurt you if you want
none of us is going to hell, holding onto the pain is lucifer enough

I don’t wanna kiss or do sweet shit
I’m not sweet
I’m the kind of sweet that taste like chewing stick
good for you
but not like sugarcane

come untold tell it
check it? no?
let me explain:
come on untold, I want you to tell it. got it?
I had it, gave it away, took it back, kept it, buried it, unearthed it, planted it, grew it, then baby I gave it away
these poems is my babies
I give em to you,
treat em right
every fight I have with you
is my crying for you to stay
and love me
yes, for real.
I am suddenly a hard butch, happened last Sunday, baby I ain’t the same no more.
I sexy and shit. don’t talk a lot.
talk sometimes
do shit to show you I love you
no gushing
I’ma hush you if you wanna ask about the ins and outs and hows and wheres and alla that

feel this if you can feel it
I was born feelin it
born with extra heartbeats in my chest
I got enough heartbeats for you—
if you missin some
be hustling heartbeats on tha corner
if you wanna feel it
I can show you how
I’m a professional feeler
emotional aficionado
expert on this particular sense
empath superheroine
I was born with more estrogen than your average woman
yes ma’am. sho nuff. yes indeed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

1 thru 25

  1. I want you to hold me. I’m not good at askin so I’ll only say it once.
  2. I want someone else to handle everything.
  3. hospitals make me think of surgery and grey’s anatomy, my heartbeat and visiting hours.
  4. I seem strong. I’m tired.
  5. there’s laundry to do. I need to clean the house. and make a dentist appt.
  6. my dreams want to come true. this happens via one task at a time. I have several ongoing to-do lists. somewhere.
  7. I want to look across the room and see my daddy. have my brothers and sisters besides me. cousins laughing with me. all of this is an ocean away.
  8. by the way, I have absolutely no memories of my mama and daddy in the same room. none.
  9. somehow I always want everything I do to be bigger. never satisfied.
  10. I haven’t cried since Sunday. overdue.
  11. this isn’t a poem. it’s another to-do list.
  12. I want to have keys to your house.
  13. I’m on a fast. might not last. don’t feel committed. need to do something with my body. tattoo?
  14. love seems grand. it’s really a bunch of little things that hold my bricks together.
  15. love is grand. like good chocolate.
  16. I need new sheets.
  17. I want a rainy day in bed. with movies.
  18. don’t touch me, I’ve got it handled.
  19. except that I don’t.
  20. was this supposed to be poetry?
  21. I am a chest. wooden. pretty metal handles. secret compartments.
  22. I haven’t prayed in awhile.
  23. sometimes I don’t feel appreciated.
  24. my friends worry. I let them. it’s easier than opening up. I never knew I was such an emotional top until now. I keep my clothes on during conversation like the hardest butch top. no I’m good, what you need?
  25. my poems don’t end these days, they just stop. unfinished, like life be. until it is. and there you are.
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