Tag Archives: Africa

Black is the New Ooh Lala!!

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This week, SoulSistah4real put me on to Mala Bryan, a International Model from St. Lucia. who is putting out a line of Black fashion dolls with a range of skin tones and hair textures due out in November! As a doll collector myself, I nearly fainted when I read about her and saw her line of beautiful dolls! I love them and I love that there is also a crazy doll lady in South Africa who takes photos of her dolls in public! LOL! These are definitely going on my Holiday list for lucky little brown girls and for one big brown girl in particular.

Bonjour JulyWindow Chat

And just now as I was scrolling through the 30 Black Woman Owned Online stores to Shop this Holiday Season, I discovered Nicholle Kobi, a cool black illustrator from Kinshasa, based in France whose prints show a France filled with colorful Black woman of all sizes who like to live life to the fullest, work, play, make love, have families, eat and shop with friends and have stimulating gatherings and conversations  on window sills at midnight. It’s all so darn cool and effortless looking!

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It’s so much fun is to be able to look at a thematic range of images depicting woman of color and seeing so many different varieties doing so many things, so many different moods and occasions! Her pinterest page goes on forever!  I would love to see these prints on shopping bags, magazines,  stationary, holiday and greeting carda, invitations and more! Hmmmm…I may need to commission Miss Kobi.

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Droppin my Booty, Hosting an Arts & Culture Event and Praising the Ancestors

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So this past week into the weekend has been very eventful and transformative and fun. I’m not used to having such a cluster of activity in my life and I am so thankful that Mercury went direct on June 11th just to ease up the flow of communication as it began.

Last Thursday, Khalilah, aka Soulsistah4real and I took a Soca class at Pearl Studios as part of some research for our next Soul Sistah Series event at the end of July.

More on that soon.

I have not taken a dance class in years so I was really excited and only minimally worried about what it would do to my ailing lower back and creaky knees. LOL!! Well it did nothing but make me sweat, smile and laugh with Khalilah and a bunch of good humored people and our really fun teacher, Kira. There were some steps that came to me instinctively, that my muscles remembered from taking African Dance as a girl and others that were totally new but I was open to it all. One thing I noticed was that in this one really simple move that I loved, I was really challenged by just dropping my butt over and over. I mean it was just dropping your butt to a beat and pushing your arms out to your sides. This is what happens when you don’t go to parties. So I’ve been practicing at home and sometimes at work when I’m waiting for the elevator. Droppin my butt, droppin my butt, oh hi! LOL!!

I also hosted a Creative Arts night event that I and my co-editor at my job have been working on for months. It was not as well attended as we would have liked but the panelists and their presentations were fantastic. Agunda Okeyo, a poet, writer, and activist from Nairobi, Dr. Randall Horton, a poet, and professor, Matt Sedillo, a slam poet from LA who presented remotely via recorded presentation and Farrah Shaikh a writer and painter spoke to the room and engaged Q&A as if it was a full house. Aslo I experienced a totally unexpected moment that had a meditative quality to it by way of a young man who participated in our open mic segment which I will discuss in a post later this week.

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And lastly I attended the tribute to the ancestors at Coney Island with Khalilah on Saturday, an event that happens annually to “memorialize enslaves Africans who died at sea in their forced passage to the Americas.” I had been a few times as a young girl with both my parents but never really understood or paid attention to the great meaning it holds. We went for the entire program which started at 12:00 with great live musical performances, readings and just sharing of wisdom and love of the beauty of our race, our culture and our spirit and how to continue to support and promote that energy, growth and creativity. Then we all stood up to be lead by the drummer in a pray to the four corners before we headed out to the sea a few hours later to give our offerings to the ancestors on the water.

Did I mention that everyone was required to wear all white? Do you you understand how beautiful it is to be lying on a blanket in the sand with a good girlfriend, surrounded by brown people of all ages in white, listening to music and waves and smelling incense and sage and…well…herbs? LOL!

How good it is….

Urban Eve

Traveling While Black

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If we are to consider reading as a form of traveling then I have to think about the amount of times I can remember traveling while Black; reading books about the Black experience written by Black people.

When my husband and I travel anywhere,  we always seek out any other Black people who appear and immediately make contact with them.  Because, unless you’re only traveling to places where the native population is Black or of color, you’re usually surrounded predominantly by other traveling White identified people. The same often goes for literature.

I can remember the first work of adult fiction I read was Terry McMillan’s “Disappearing Acts.” I was in high school and felt so proud and smart and sassy carrying that book around and discussing it with all my friends who were reading it too. Never mind the fact that I didn’t relate to many of the character’s experiences. I didn’t care! This was the story of a modern day Black woman written by a Black woman who at the time was breaking ground for new up and coming Black female writers. I had learned so much about the lives of White American girls in Judy Blume novels, Ellen Conford, Francine Pascal, Paula Danziger and more. Notice how long that list of authors was? I could name many more. But with the exception of discovering Janetta Johns that fateful day in the Brooklyn Library R.I.F. club, I didn’t get a chance to travel in the mind and heart of a Black person again until Terry McMillan in the 90s.

Near the beginning of my senior year I discovered a love for the Harlem Renaissance writers. We read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in on of my high school classes and I was just blown away by it. It was the first book I had ever read that was written completely in dialect. I became obsessed with James Baldwin who let me travel while Black, gay and female! He is fucking beyond. I think it was around this time that I became a more selective reader. I started to discover my favorite authors and understand different writing styles. I wouldn’t walk into a bookstore just looking for whatever caught my eye anymore. I went looking for Baldwin and Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison or collected essays of Black writers like Erotica Noir. I was now traveling while Black, Caribbean and sexy! LOL!

But as in all forms of popular media, there is always a lull in the popularity and mainstream promotion of Black writers and if you’re not vigilant, you won’t always go beyond the best selling table at Barnes & Noble which I can assure you without having stepped foot in one myself for over a week, will be filled with books by predominantly White authors.

Until recently, I myself had not read a book by a Black writer who was not dead since “Unburnable” which Life As I Know It recommended to me over a year ago. I was reading several non-fiction books and waiting like thousands of other eager fans for the next Murakami novel because to travel in a Murakami novel is to go places you cannot prepare yourself for. He is one of the most fearless and dedicated writers I have ever read. Who knows how long I would have floated about lazily in the comfort zone of my favorite authors if Life as I Know it had not also recommended “Americanah” to me? I don’t think I’ve ever traveled while Black like this before.

Ifemelu (A name I love by the way. I sometimes just say it out loud to myself ‘cause I’m American and different names fascinate me) is a woman, describing with Nigerian eyes the experience of being a Black Nigerian in America. Her observations of cultural distinctions, segregation, affectation and assimilation that occur for immigrants in America are personal, global and multi-layered. Nothing about it is purely black and white. She describes with accuracy, sensitivity and intelligence, places and customs and ways of speaking, as well as the subtle transition from national identity to racial identity that comes to define what it means to be Black or of color in America.

“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”

The culture shock that occurs for Ifemelu in America with it’s systems of racialization, bad grammar defined as “English” and a litany of condescension and presumption from Whites, Blacks and Africans alike is reductive, traumatic, homogenizing and inevitable.   Some of her experiences read very familiarly to me because of stories my mother has always told me about coming to America for the first time from Trinidad. There are even experiences she relays that I can understand as someone who has never truly felt I belonged completely and solely to that strange and ever shifting definition of “Black American” in any but the most apparent of ways.

In a Cultural Diversity class I took years ago I learned about transnational migration and the term ethnic enclaves. It was the first time I fully understood that for immigrants coming to America or travelling back and forth from their homeland to America, these spaces (most familiar to me in the boroughs of New York City) were meant to insulate them from the often unwanted shock of watching their family be stripped completely of culture and nationality in order to become this thing called American. On the other hand some immigrants strive to emerge themselves fully and to leave all their cultural affectations  their accent, customs, an entire mindset and mannerism behind in order to get the best access to work and the possibility to create wealth and security for their children and children’s children. Those immigrants who can pass as “White” often benefit greatly from these opportunities. Unfortunately this doesn’t work out so well for immigrants with dark skin because what they inherit when they come to America is a racial classification that informs nothing but racist systems of oppression.

So far the most successful depiction of the shift in identity from nationality to Black Americanism is in Ifemelu’s description of her beloved nephew, Dike who is uprooted from Nigeria as a baby and raised by his mother, Ife’s Aunt,  in America. His only link to his national identity is his mother who among other things reinforces negative associations of Nigerian ways to him by only speaking the native language to him when she is very upset. This is something I believe Adichie mentions deliberately because she is aware of the long terms effects on the children of immigrants when they negatively and or exclusively associate native language with anger and shame.

This is how a non-American person can come to believe without being able to trace the origins of this belief that their own native culture is a thing to be dismissed and erased, to be replaced with one which will never regard them as anything other than marginalized and inferior transplants.

As I read “Americanah” and silently chant and root for ifemelu not to lose her culture completely, it occurs to me that she is perhaps gaining another kind of self along the way, and that because of her determination to be authentic and honest in her reflection, she is becoming something far greater than what can be categorized by either race or nationality and yet could not exist without these identities. Because nothing is perfect for her and her family in modern day Nigeria either. And she is honest and candid about conditions there as well. But to find any kind of home, you must first know from where it is you are coming.This is why Black Americans often suffer from the most unbearable, exhaustive and psychologically dysfunctional sense of displacement. This is also why it cannot be overstated that literacy, where America ranks as 15th in the world, is a massively indispensable tool both of evolution and revolution.