Is “Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford,” driving me against Iconoclasts?

A friend, and I do not use this word lightly…but it is important to note that, this friend is someone I have never met physically. Our friendship started on Facebook, and operates mostly on Facebook. I love him, and loathe him as much, sometimes. Which should tell you, he has great relevance to the human race, and the intellectual community; I do not dispense my time and friendship lightly!

But, this friend has repeatedly said [to me] that, if you do not agree with someone’s opinion or politics, especially the opinion of someone in the public, move on and choose another audience. If that person happens to be a news anchor or TV personality, switch channels. If it is a politician, stop listening to him/her. But, do not censor that person or sign petitions to have them removed from public space — TV, radio or political office, because you disagree with them.

I have vehemently opposed his opinion, and his insinuation that I signed petitions to censor anybody I disagree with. For one, I have never signed any petition against him, yet he spews plenty of nonsense, that personally and directly denigrates and hurts others.

I have said that, we cannot remain aloof to bigots, and giving bigotry room to flourish by conveniently switching our channels with a remote! Especially when the person(s) spreading bigotry has capacity to reach and influence a varied public opinion. Or when the views of such a person could be construed as “speaking for and representing the social group to which he/she belongs”. In fact it is not uncommon that, “unpopular” remarks made by a person of a given social group [say black or muslim], become selfishly co-opted by bigots [like the KKK or anti-muslim radicals] for their backlash against the social group [Blacks].

To make my thought process less cryptic, my friend and I have argued over whether people like Don Lemon, who often, spit [for lack of a kinder word] unpopular views against the black community, for which he is seen as representative —because he is black—should be censored from presenting on public television. I have signed a petition or two against Don Lemon, when his comments have come out insensitive toward black lives.

For instance, when a Black high school student in South Carolina was slammed to the floor by a police office called into a classroom to ‘restore order,” Don Demon hesitated to assign blame to the police, implicitly justifying the police officers aggressive reaction by saying,

“I don’t know.”
“It does look disturbing,” said the CNN anchor. “The part that is most disturbing to me is seeing her thrown around. As far as the desk going over, I don’t know if the desk fell over because she didn’t want to get up or if he pushed it over. I don’t know. I think there’s context to everything. I would like to see what happens before and I would like to see what happened afterwards… It does look horrible. It does look like there’s no excuse for what he’s doing to her, but again, we don’t know… This only show a small slice in time of what happened. I’d like to know more before passing judgment.”

While covering the intense street eruption in Ferguson coupled with police/military tear-gas and gunfire following Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Lemon’s remarks that, “Obviously, there’s a smell of marijuana in the air,” were misplaced but not far from stereotypes of African American males as habitual drug users.

After the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Lemon ’cautioned’ black folks to “pull up their pants, finish school, stop using the “N” word, and stop having children out of wedlock.” Again, popular stereotypes thrown at black people, even though they can be attributed to any group or color in America. Moreover, Trayvon Martin, at the time of shooting was not depicted as “wearing saggy pants” or with “children out of wedlock.”

Donald Trump is another person I find repulsive, and have persistent objection to his hate speech, and would readily sign a petition against his 2016 presidential bid. He has unapologetically slurred anyone and any group of people he does not think highly of: called for “ID tag” for all muslims,” “accused Mexico of sending their criminals and rapists to America,’ and “accused China of stealing American jobs and ruining our economy.” And he continues on a spiteful roll, with ever-growing new targets!

I have no apologies for signing petitions, to take their bigotry out of the public realm. My goal is not to silence all their voices, but to ensure they “Do Harm” to others —nor use their power and platform to misinform, slander, hurt or destroy others, taken away from them. Sure, they are entitled to their opinion, just as much as we, who are opposed to them, will respond by expressing our disapproval in the “Courts of Public Opinion.” They can continue spewing their hate in other fora, just not as public personalities, whose livelihoods and existence is made possible by the viewing or listening public.

I do not believe in turning off the TV, switching to another TV channel or remaining silent, whenever I hear bigoted and misinformed commentary on any group of people, by those with powerful voices and platform. I do not believe, my friend suggests, that I should only speak out, when I am personally offended. I strongly believe that I am not an island, but a member of a shared humanity and shared human responsibility.

Here are some quotes to back me up:

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”Dante Alighieri
[Technically, I do not believe there’s a ’special hell,’ except the one each of us creates wherever, whenever!

Another,

“Never underestimate the power of small beginnings. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Chinese philosopher Laozi

This one is attributed to Dalai Lama XIV, ~
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

Then,
“Small is beautiful,”
~ title of a collection of essays by British economist  E. F.  Schumacher, one of the very first books gifted to me in junior high, by brilliant mind in my family, who also happened to be an economist.

Or the African proverb ~ “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

And of course, my favorite ~ “Karma is a Female Dog!” 

I am a communitarian. I am human and desire nothing but humane treatment and humane living. I cannot shut up in the face of human misery or humiliation.

Nelson Mandela seems to agree with me ~
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other — not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

So, I have openly cheered on “iconoclasts,” going after symbols of the racist past — statutes, flags or streets or books around the world, notably tearing down apartheid monuments in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth in South Africa; and removing the Confederate flag from state buildings in Columbia, South Carolina and Danville, Virginia in the United States.

The Apartheid Must Fall spring,” galvanized students at South African universities to bring down or deface apartheid statutes and monuments around the country, in an attempt to erase the visible face of apartheid and colonialism from the country’s education system. “Cecil Must Fall,” brought down the statute of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, who was a controversial British colonial politician, businessman and mining investor in Southern Africa. Rhodes advocated for the expansion of the Anglo-Saxon race, claiming that humanity would be better served by having more of “the finest race” —white race—spread around the world. He is used to have used private military power to exterminate black Africans and sanctions aggressive land grabs from black people in Southern Africa.

Statutes of Queen Elizabeth outside the Port Elizabeth City Library, and King George VI at the University of KwaZulu-Natal were spray-painted. At the Boer war museum in Port Elizabeth, a Bronze British soldier was torn down from a horse, while statutes of former South African leaders Paul Krueger and Louis Botha were defaced in Pretoria and Cape Town, respectively.

Here in the United States, we witnessed the “Take It Down Summer,” calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from State capitols in southern States, because of its association with segregation, slavery and racism. The campaign brought down the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina State Capitol in Columbia, and at the Sutherlin Mansion lawn in Danville, Virginia. Big retailers Amazon.com Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc—pulled the confederate flag merchandise from their stores, and from their websites, following eBay, Google Inc, and Sears Holdings Corp.

Opponents of the Confederate Flag view it with as the perpetual legacy of slavery and racism of  Southern states, when the confederate state denied freedom and equal rights to black people. Proponents defend the Confederate Flag as their heritage —a symbol of valor, commitment and courage of those who fought for the confederacy, in the same vein as the United States Flag, and a bastion of “white supremacy”.

Moreover, Dylan Roof, who murdered nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME, a Historical Black Church in Charlotte, South Carolina, posted online pictures posing with the confederate flag, and blamed blacks for “stealing our [white people’s] women”.

Ironically though, state officials and political leaders in South Carolina justified and sold to their public “bring down the flag, as a negative economic cost to their state, not a moral obligation, similar to the abolition of colonialism or slavery, and apartheid in South Africa!

But the most recent controversy on Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford, a campaign to remove Cecil Rhodes statute from Oriel College at the University of Oxford, got me re-thinking my “hail to the iconoclasts”!

Ntokozo Qwabe, a student at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom is spearheading this campaign, challenging Oxford to part with a racist maniac equivalent to Hitler, and save its reputation as an international center of intellectualism that attracts many black students from Africa. Historical Oxford, on the other hand, is opposed to the “moral call” to bring down Rhodes statute, because it would undermine the conservation of history. Attackers of Qwabe have called him a hypocrite, denouncing Rhodes statute, yet he is a recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship for his studies at Oxford. Responding to calls to return the Rhodes scholarship, Qwabe has stated that Rhodes did not own the money, but robbed it from the black African peoples and their lands;

“Rhodes did not have a scholarship. It was never his money. All that he looted must absolutely be returned immediately…I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes. I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labour of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved.”

Let me clarify that, I do not condone all kinds of “iconoclasts”; like any human, I choose and pick my battles. I believe in the sanctity of each and everyone’s religious beliefs and practices. I do not support the caricature, defacing, devaluing or attack on religious, spiritual or cultural institutions and symbols — books, flags or statutes. While I do not identify with any organized religion, I am not offended by religious symbols erected in public, as long as they are not seek or applied to directly discomfort or harm me, as a social being.

I have taken exception to bigoted historical statutes, books and flags that hurt and discomfort my social existence, which have served supremacist aims, to oppress, denigrate and exterminate a people. When the call arises to correct historical injustices, such histories deserve to be challenged and most definitely defaced, if the disenfranchised see their continued grandstanding as giving power and credit to the oppressor.

The question becomes, where do we draw the line between “erasing history” and “correcting historical injustices”? Ntokozo Qwabe, argues that Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign does not seek to erase the history of Cecil Rhodes, but wants everyone to know his crimes. Quite interesting!

Similarly, I was taken back when I heard the Quaker Friends Central School, in Central Pennsylvania banned the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because, “Its use of the  <<N word>> made students uncomfortable”. The book will no longer be part of required reading for students of literature at the school because it was not “inclusive”. I am thinking, nor is religion inclusive!

I will come back to these two Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But I must say that, I take exceptions to “revisionism of history”; that’s what makes a “good intellectual,” after all, self-contradiction [smile].

For instance, when in Uganda, government renamed streets and roads, from British names, given during British colonial occupation, to names of heroic Ugandans and Africans, I cheered on. The exercise was less out of spite, but assertion of “a new dawn of African leadership.”

Contrary, I am troubled that the Quakers are engaging in the usual [il]liberal attitude of sweeping under the rug, a troubled history, of white America and America’s racial relations, by denying the younger generation a chance to engage and interrogate in a topic, that discomforts but is very vital to forging in-roads to real social justice and racial harmony, a principle which the Quakers so loudly self-identify.

No doubt the Quakers, were one of the groups that so indefatigably participated in the struggle to free black people from slavery in America, and win their freedoms. But like many “liberal”/progressive movements and groups in America and around the world, their internal structures and programing do not always provide genuinely comfortable spaces for interrogating racism. Their “retreats” for young people which I once attended, present a facade of equality and harmony, but have a “deafening silence” and discomfort to in-group complex dynamics and life experiences. The talk about “racism” is presented as what “others” do, not an in-house concern.

Which reminds me a lot about, growing up in a former British colony. I read and learned plenty of European History, language, culture and geography, presented as the victors, saviors, and gallant fighters and humanitarians, who came to save the “Savages,” “primitives,” “child-like,” “diseased” and “impoverished” Black Africans. The African had no agency, not much history, celebratory, before the coming of “the white man”! About Europe and America, I knew all about the glitter and gold they are, but not the true face of racism, exploitation, extermination of the people who welcomed them into their lands, until I made physical contacts with their lands.

So, perhaps Rhodes Might Not Fall in Oxford, but the historical narration of Cecil Rhodes must be revised in curriculum teaching, campus tour, on the statute and all writings, to include his exploitations, racist land grabs, armed plunder and holding into captivity and servitude nations and peoples of Africa. Perhaps Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, should stay on the Quaker schools reading list, to teach young people about the true face of racism, when the legacy of white America did not consider black people as human or worthy of dignity.

Perhaps, letting these historical bigotry to stand in public are good opportunities for the human race to reflect and pat themselves on the back, “Look how far we’ve made it!” Unless, of course, we have not yet made it, and still stuck in sentiments of supremacy.

Advertisements

Internationalizing Black History Month

I Inspirational_Black_kids_jpgbecame more inspired to teach my six-year old about Black History Month, after I read the February Newsletter from the Class Teacher.  It said,

     “We learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We will learn about Chinese New Year, the presidents, …”

Wait, isn’t February Black History Month? I thought I would read about plans to Teach Black History Month? Martin Luther King Jr. is not exactly the full “Black History Month”. He is part of it, not all of it. There is more to BHM than MLK. And since Black History has only one assigned calendar month out of the twelve, wouldn’t it be great if the Class Teacher exposed child and classmate to other historical black figures, black lives, and histories, culture and achievements of Black people? uhm!

Anyway, I had set plans to give Child several lessons about “Black People” and their histories. My lessons are not limited to Black Peoples of the United States, but includes Black peoples of the Americas, Africa, India, Europe and Asiatic subregion. I want child to know there is more to black history and black people than their story in North America- specifically the United States.

Primarily because Child is of two Diaspora Africas: the new [mom from Uganda] and the old [African American father] Diaspora. Child’s history and present is broader than America. My lesson plan explore significant Black people with influence the world over, as survivors, inventors, activists, independence fighters, nationalists, freedom riders, farmers, anti-colonial crusaders, writers, poets, teachers, child prodigy’s.Black_American_Leaders_jpg

I am going to teach him about MLK, Jr. as much as Barack ObamaMalcolm X, W.E.B. Du BoisJames BaldwinHarriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. Mo’ne Davis comes to mind, as does The Kid President and Lil’ Bow Wow. We will cross The Big Pond to learn about Kwame Nkrumah the PanAfricanist, Nelson Mandela and Steve Bantu Biko the Anti-Apartheid crusaders, Sekou Toure who sent colonial France packing from his Guinea, and Patrice Lumumba, assassinated for defending the right of African peoples to govern themselves. African diplomats on the international stage like Kofi Annan, the first Black UN Secretary General, Graça Macel, international elder, diplomat and teacher, as well as Africa’s royalty like Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II of Buganda Kingdom to which I belong.

I want to teach him about luminary continental Africa Blacks who have penned a mark on the world of writing and academia: public intellectual Ali Mazrui (RIP), the first Okot P’Bitek‘s Song of Lawino, Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bits of WoodWeep Not Child’s seminal author Ngugi wa Thiong’oWole Soyinka’s manifesto in Trials of Brother Jero and cosmopolitan-Africana Chimamanda Adichie’s Americana.The great astronomers of Timbuktu, who existed way before Europeans invaded, colonized and miseducated the African mind, and the Pharaohs of Egypt, who built the world’s most wonders, the pyramids, the original home of the mummies. The first university at Alexandria, Egypt, and the origin of all human civilization, is Africa.

Black_African_Leaders_jpg   I will let Child know that Europe, Asia and South America all have Black population, original inhabitants or shipped over thorough [slave] trade. We will reach back into our history for notable figures like Shaka Zulu, Maummar GaddafiAlice Lakwena who transformed the African landscape, and events, specifically within their geographical boundaries. Additional coverage of Black African children who have overcome war, suffering and economic hardship to headline global news as engineers, inventors, scholars and activists.

I want Child to know that “Black History Month” is not just about Martin Luther King but the Black World beyond one person, and one geographical space. And how about a start with ABC of Black History https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9rQ544fDqI 

African_intellectuals__writers_and_wonders_jpg

Kids are Cultural “Whores”: Wait, can you say the “W” with Kids…?

It is amazing how quickly kids switch cultural identify. Well, if like me, you believe that “language is culture”, that’s what I am talking about. Last summer we returned to the US, after three-and-a-half years globetrotting. We left the US immediately following my child’s first birthday, for a much deserved break and scholarly experience around the world.
About last Fall, I noticed my child’s accent changing, become less  “Ugandan” and more “American”. My friends did not help me feel better; they said it would be gone by December. I felt a ‘teeny weeny sadness’, at the thought that my son would no longer “be a Ugandan” with ‘the brand’ accent gone. Alas! I have not been good at making the accent stay! I did not realize how tough it is to teach a child another language in another country with a predominant language. Especially with my multi-national child: African [by ancestry] and American [by birth and ancestry].
Power to parents who succeed at nurturing multi-lingual/multi-national children. Sadly, not many of us Africans are good at keeping children fluent in our first languages, especially when born or raised abroad, but even when born and resident in our own countries to same nationals or foreigners. We get into the stupid “western culture superiority” complex, and deny our children a chance to become fluent in our Africans languages, arguably because ‘they will not develop’ or ‘compete in the globalized world’. Forgetting that we were born and raised speaking our mother tongue, or of parents who spoke our mother tongue.
Yet, many like me, become surprised that our children are ‘losing our culture’ or are becoming culturally distant and lost! I am always shocked when talking to my child, that recollection of our time spent in Uganda are not forthcoming! At times, he cannot even remember part of my family, the playmates he had, we had bathrooms or a kitchen, or that we ate food similar to what we have here in America. The worst, but without blame, he does not remember that we lived in South Africa (before Uganda) during the last couple of years abroad.
So, I decided to give him a “Lesson about South Africa” while we were at our local library recently. I pulled out a book, “South Africa by Pat Ryan”, which talked about how “Africans lived happily” [of course there is an element of romanticization typical of a western writers about Africa]. Then white folks came to South Africa and began fighting with the blacks, took their land, culminating in a system of “Apartheid”, where whites lived, worked, played segregated from blacks.  Black people became poorer than whites, lived in terrible housing, and could not shop in the same places as whites. I showed him the grass thatched huts where black people lived, and still live in the countryside; he thought they were “Weird”.  [btw, thanks to this young man, my love for the word “weird” no more!]; I showed him clothing of f the black people made with beads, which was strange, as well as the men racing on Ostriches. That made him laugh so hard! Well, at least he laughed; which means he learned something, right?
We discussed the book after reading, and I asked him what he had learned from the book. He told me that “brown” [not “black”] people were poor, while white people were rich. “Why did he swooped “black” with “brown”?” I asked him. He said, “Black is like darkness, when you cannot see properly or like the black shoes. But the people in the book were not black; they were brown.” I asked him, whether he knew of any black people, and he said, “I am black.”[ If you know my son, he is not “black like darkness”.] Surprising to me, since he has thought of himself as white, until our conversation not to long ago, about “black-and-white” in America’s racial conception.
Kids are smart ‘cultural whores’; telling it as it is, using their wit to make sense of nonsensical labels. To him identity is defined by color not the labeled per race. He sees brown, chocolate, and pink, He has protested before when I said his playmate “C”, classmates “M” and “S” are white, because “they do not look as white as paper,” he said. For now, he has accepted that label, since the conversation with mom following a class reading about Martin Luther King Jr.
Anyway, happy to inspire a young generation of thinkers, readers and critics. We hope that the reality of his eyes is followed by the reality of race relations when he comes of age. I hope he does not become a victim of racial profiling and racial injustice blatantly metted out against black folks in America, particularly our young black males. I think I am doing all I can to keep him openminded, culturally international in thoughts, ideas and experiences, and innocent to the brutality of life. Yes, I do agree to myself sometimes that “Ignorance is Bliss”!
Still, as a parent of a young black male growing up in America, particularly suburbia America, I worry very often whether this country will allow him to live and grow up without the preconceived injustices? Will he still be that “cute boy” at 12, 13, 14, free to skate around the neighborhood without anybody calling the police on him? Or would he be a sense of uncomfortable curiosity, that even the neighborhood dogs bark uncontrollable at him, just like they do with me. Would he still comfortably ware his jacket or sweatshirt hood over his head? Or walk in the neighborhood without an encounter from nasty neighbors. I believe this is the beginning of a lifelong education about the American culture, that he so innocently takes on as part of him, but that one day, he will fully recognize that it labels him [in fact labeled him since childhood], as a person to be feared, dreaded and be monitored all the time! Perhaps then, he won’t have as much luxury to ‘whore up’ this American culture, and would have to find another geographical and culture to experience and become a part of….?

In Defense of the “Word Value of Time”: From a Soccer Mom

Big BenFotorMy friend Simon Kaheru (http://skaheru.wordpress.com) recently blogged about “the real value of time vs. the word value of time” following his business trip to Amsterdam in The Netherlands. In Amsterdam, Simon fell in love with the abundance of “the real value of time”, where business meetings start on scheduled time, phone calls happen on time, and trains also run on schedule. A two-minutes train delay would be announced by the rail station attendant! He contrasted that with “the word value of time”, typical within Ugandan society, which largely swears by “Ugandan Time”. He argues that appointments are verbally agree to, with never the intention of honoring them because time is relative, no apologies for tardiness, as one is “better later than never”, is the popular saying!

I feel for all the sentiments Simon expressed! Though my comment to Simon was, come to America….with plenty of versions of Uganda, especially with public transportation..which is now creeping into some people’s time management skills!

I have had my share of fights with “Ugandan time”: tardiness makes me mad; time keeping makes my heart jump with happiness! I strongly believe that anyone who fails to show up per schedule appointment shows a lack of respect for their party. It is simply rude! I have walked away from meetings venues, when the other party did not show up on time. I once left my sister in the bank without notifying her, after waiting over two hours for my mother to show up to open a family bank account. I refused to return when they called me back.

I get enervated being the first to show up for meetings, or parties or other events, waiting around for thirty-minutes, one hour, three hours, five hours before more people show up and the event to ultimately start. Which is why I loathe formal events, particularly (no offense) organized by peoples of Ugandans, Africans, Blacks or colored! I remember one time while visiting my sister in Atlanta with my ex, she invited us to attend a  dinner party with her at a Ugandan friend’s house. The dinner was scheduled to start at eight O’clock in the evening, but by eight, we were still at her house, an hour’s drive to destination. Ten, still at my sister’s house, as she kept picking out what to wear. She assured us that that the party had not began, so at eleven o’clock we set off. True to her word, we arrived past midnight, right about when the party had just started!

Poor time management is beyond “Ugandan time”, it is ‘conveniently’ embedded in several African countries as “African time”, among Blacks people in America as “Black People’s Time” and people of color as “Colored People’s Time” or CPT.  Yes, it has even invaded our public service system here in America, where services in some public offices start sluggishly, and buses and trains in many big cities never run on time, including in the fast-and-furious “Big Apple”. Yet, we do not always get a courtesy apology or  “announcement of a delay”!

On my part, I must confess that, “the real value of time” keeper was me, some six years ago, a luxury I do not seem capable of affording since becoming a soccer mother. No! I am not going to blame it on my son, but it has a lot to do with him and the society in which I live, into which I am sometimes co-opted.

So, how did I cross to “the word value of time” people? While I not permanent there, I find myself cornered in by friends or my household. Those who know me will tell you that I pretty much run my son’s life on schedule. Dinner is served at six o’clock, then comes bathroom time with reading and brushing, child off to bed at seven o’clock, latest seven-thirty after sharing a bedtime. I would like him to have as much sleep as possible!

Not anymore! My time management skills have changed since I had my child. All his birthday parties have started later than my scheduled time, with guests showing up earlier than the hostess! Until child turned one year, I arrived late at literally every scheduled appointment because he would start popping just as we were getting ready to head out of the house. He had constipation, which meant another fifteen to thirty minutes of helping him push! From the one who always left for the airport two-and-a-half hours in advance, to avoid any mishap, I missed my first flight in life on a trip to South Africa in 2009 with my then fifteen month old child. We got to the airport check-in desk shortly after the baggage desk had closed because I was packing till the last minute; six suitcases, only one of which was mine!

Lately, Simon’s detestation for “the word value of time” comes glaring at me surreal, as I go about my “soccer mom” lifestyle. Child is now six and in first grade with more activities. Going to bed at seven in the evening is increasingly a luxury, with the changing school and after-school demands. I have enrolled him in both Karate class with a three days per week commitment, and in Cub Scout five days a month. Plus, now he has homework to return to school every morning and other class projects. And he still wants to have a snack, when he comes home from school, before he sits down to do his homework, with spare playtime before dinner is served. With our new routine, after-school is: snack in the car, Karate class, dinner in the car, daily homework to be submitted the next day, dinner, bathroom time, bedtime story and goodnight!:(
Amidst all of this, adhering to my sworn commitment to “the real value of time” is a luxury I seem incapable of affording, anymore. I wish I could! Now, I plan on leaving the house not at the hour but between time periods – between 6:00p and 6:30p, leaving a margin of error so that I do not go crazy over myself. A couple of times when I am running late, I have had to call up people I am meeting to apologize and ask for extra time or reschedule. Sometimes even when it seems we are doing great with time, with a projected extra fifteen minutes before our usual time to catch the school bus, we find ourselves running out of the house three minutes to the bus arrival. Thankfully, my son loves running, helping me warm up for my morning run. Sometimes we miss the bus, like happened today, and I have to keep breathing in, to avoid berating child or mourning about missing the bus.

With all the activities lined up each week, I worry that child will get overwhelmed and won’t get enough sleep in the night. Perhaps my consolation is, yes! I still make it on time to most official appointments, to our doctor’s appointments before time, child has not been late to school, and I am getting just about the entire “to-do” list accomplished. Still I think “the real value of time”, as “standard time” for social and business etiquette was created by a man, clueless about “The Surreal Life of a Soccer Mom”.

Help Your Children Dream

I strongly believe in the power of dreams. They shape lives, build relations, mentor professions, restore hope and courage. They could be the keys to our personal and professional trajectories and success!

Just about every morning, my son wakes up with a dream. Either he is building a machine that will stop snow falling in winter, or he had Ninja powers or he was laughing with his cousins. Lately, he has had plenty of dreams about mommy getting married, to her [ex]boyfriend, who lives in another country. The first time, that dream made him sad and cry, because it meant, “mommy would leave him and go live with her boyfriend”. Since I told him, “I can never leave you, because I live for you, and you and I will go live with my PM when I get married,” he is now happy to dream more about mommy getting married. In fact he wants to dream about mommy getting married, as much as about mommy getting long hair! Never mind that “the dreamed for” does not exactly have marriage in her dreams or foresight. She has another dream, colored “green”. Yes! And it is part of that dream I would like to talk about.

Recently, I was coaching a fifth grader, and we were talking about traveling. I asked if she had been to her father’s country, Nigeria? She said no, and told me that she would never travel to Nigeria because there is Ebola. In fact, her father wanted to go to Nigeria, but she begged him not to go. I asked if she would go to other Africans countries, to which she responded with a vehement “No!” There are many diseases and people are poor! I asked her if my son and I looked poor, or her father. She said, No!

Yeah! That is the story about Africa, as told in America. I told her that Ebola is not everywhere in Nigeria, or every Nigerian would be dead. I told her my son and I took planes to come back to America, and while in “Africa”, we ate food everyday and did not catch or bring back any diseases. Then she told me that she would never got to place on a plane or boat or train. She will only go to places where she can drive or walk. She is not taking a plane, a boat or a train because she is afraid to die. Then I told her that one can die in their sleep or in the house or on the road. She said, “at least she would die peacefully”. I asked her, “how about in a car road accident,?” Well, she did not exactly have a response to that, but still no traveling, not to Africa and not by plane, boat or train. Life jackets do not work, planes fall in big oceans. Excuse after excuse!

I wondered, how a child of an immigrant from Nigeria could be devoid of a dream to travel and see the world? Didn’t “Tiger Mom” tell us that Nigerians are among the “Triple Package” aka  the “eight highly successful cultures”, thanks to their superiority complex! True, Tiger mom (with hubby co-author) mentioned something to do with “insecurities”, but in the sense of feeling inadequate or underaccomplished, instigating the strive to become and accomplish more. Not to shun traveling the world or getting on a plane!

I worried about this American 10-year old fifth grader, not having a dream beyond her fears. I wondered what may have shaped her fears? After all, her mom, many generations American has also traveled the world, including to Africa studying and learning about the world. Why would her daughter not wish to follow her mom’s footsteps, even if it were to board the plane to the world of California that is “without the African diseases”? Where is her curiosity about the world of her father, beyond the images and tale-tales from her news sources? Why can’t she compare herself to her parents who have been around the world?

Very often we are told that in order to be happy, we should not to compare ourselves to others. That is so cliché!  Plenty of my accomplishments are a result of comparing myself to others I have interacted with or got to know about. Watching, reading or learning about their accomplishments gives me the boost to keep going. Stories of folks who dropped out of formal schooling and built empires and lived large. Stories of people struggling worse off than myself, yet still afford a reason to smile, remind me to keep positive. Stories of my grandparents who never went to school but had the dream of educating their children. My paternal grandfather was not very wealthy, and could not afford to educate all his four children. So, him and his three older children agreed to send my father, the last born to school, with the hope that he would look after this family upon competition of his education, and got a good job. My maternal grandfather educated over 15 children while serving the church [unpaid] as a clergy, in pursuit of a dream that his children would never have to lack anything in life. They would afford to buy themselves clothes that he was never able to afford them.

In Africa where I was born, dreams are what childhood is made of! We are not afraid to dream! As a child, we often heard people dreaming about “going to Makerere”, the main university in the country and epitome as success. It was once the “Harvard of Africa”, so you can understand why many dreams focused and stopped at Makerere. Coming from a family that afford us a livelihood and decent education, not frequent flyer miles, I would say my dreams were not too far from Makerere either. Then as a little girl I went to Nairobi, Kenya with my mom, to shop for my first-born sister who was going off to secondary school. That was a big deal, where rich Ugandans resided, including my uncle and his family. Perhaps that shaped my love for adventure and travel, I cannot say so with certainty.

But I travelled the world, including within my own country. The more people I met and interacted with, the more my dreams widened. I thought of opportunities beyond my background, and seized them at a tender age. Nothing unique to me, but it is the characteristic of the African spirit. Little children dream of an education, they dream of becoming pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Yes! Including dreams of meeting the US President and themselves becoming the US Presidents. Yet, we also know of the “American Dream” of getting rich and living large. Or as 50 cents said, “Get Rich or Die Trying”. Plus the Black struggle in America was sustained by the dream of freedom. Slaves, not allowed to exist as humans, to vote or to read and write, often found ways of ‘stealing’ the resources to learn to read and write and one day free themselves. Frederick Douglas, a slave, self-taught himself to read and write and publish, and went on to have a very illustrious and influential career. Political prisoners on Robben Island with Mandela during Apartheid South Africa told stories of ‘stealing’ empty brown cement bags and creating own writing tools that they used to write out their political strategies, which they tossed to each other over the cubicles in which they were detained. They also wrote letters and poems to their families and loved ones outside prisons. They had a dream to stay alive and sane by any means, and achieved it.

So, what stifles little minds like the one I encountered here in America, the land of “Big Dreams”, from dreaming? We as parents have a huge job of helping our children dream. Help our children live their dreams beyond the fears pandered by sources around them. Undo their [un]truths, to avoid them getting suffocated. Let them live a world of adventure, or risks, or searching and imagining. The world were impossible is nothing. Were careers and personal relationships are built on dreams beyond our wildest imagination. After all, dreams can come true. Haven’t they?

Everyday, I have to understand Racism

Dr. Jeremiah Gibbs, a white married christian male shared his “coming of age with racism in America”, when he wrote, The Day That I Started to Understand Racism, inspired by his experience as an adoptive/foster parent (with his wife) of a black child.

“Our first weekend together we were on our way to a birthday party and had to stop to get a last minute addition to our gift. We had to stop at a store that was in a town not far from our own. That town had a long and well-known history of racism. So as we got out of the car to walk into the store, I began to run scenarios through my head. What might I do if someone in this store makes a racist remark to this boy that has been given to my care? Should I just ignore it as if the comments don’t matter? Surely I cannot let that be OK for my new son. Should I confront the racist jerk and tell them how ludicrous their comments are? I couldn’t imagine what I might say. Would I just respond with violence and stand up against injustice? That didn’t seem like a Christian response and no one likes to go to jail.(March 18, 2014, http://jeremiahgibbs.com/2014/03/18/the-day-that-i-started-to-understand-racism/. Accessed May 13, 2014)”

I can perfectly related to all these questions, even though I am neither white nor a parent of a white or multi-racial (white and black) child. I am a black woman of continental African origin, living in suburban America. I am a mother of an African American child of lighter skin color than myself, that he has sometimes thought of himself as white. Well, he is five-years old, and recently returned to America from living abroad where racism or race was not a fronted identity or discussion. He is just a lovely baby, an American baby, and since I have lived in America for most of my adult life, I consider myself an American.To my friends and family back in my country of origin I am an America, though not the same with my American friends here. In a way, this is a good and a bad: good because it gives me “a pass” with white friends (“You are not like those black people,” I have been told more than once). A bad because it allows me that uncomfortable pass, which I ride with, because I do not want to “disturb the status quo”. Partly, this is why I can relate to Dr. Gibbs’ story, most especially when I am running outdoors, and when I go around looking for work.

Let me tell you why running in my neighborhood revokes feelings of fear, anger and insecurity in me, similar to Dr. Gibbs’ experience. I love running and jogging in my neighborhood, through the trees and waters. I barely see anyone running in my neighborhood. Perhaps they do, but not at the time I go out at 8:30am, when many are either out for work or are on their way, during the week, or sleeping in over the weekend. My neighborhood has plenty of older retirees, who got tired of the back and forth vacation travel up here, and decided to settle for good. The neighborhood is within a ski mountainous zone, attracting plenty of winter sports and vacation in the mountains. There are, as well, middle-age couples who got tired of the bustle and hustle of city life in New York and New Jersey, and settled here with family. Many commute everyday to work in New York City and New Jersey. That group is for the most part open-minded to folks from all walks of life; in typical NYC experience. Then there are the “original settlers” or long-term residents, some who still have the confederate flag on their big trucks. That group scares me.

Generally, I run around my neighborhood with no incident of disrespect or attack on me. I run mostly along the roads/streets but without pedestrian walk/run platforms, most motorists politely move over to allow me running space. Sometimes, I get a High-5 or honk, and sometimes I catch a smile. Most often I do not make eye contact, in respect of the “societal taboo” against staring at people, but as well due to my inner “insecurities” of running in a predominantly white neighborhood. I fear offending anyone, if I am caught looking at her/him. True, I get the rude pushovers. I have been honked at rudely, literally ran off the tarmac, given a finger, and near spat at by a drive-by male in a passenger seat. I have also been intentionally hit with leftover foods. Please believe it! One Winter Sunday, while running back home on my last leg, a car slowed down while approaching me with two middle-aged white folks. They threw leftover foods out of their window targeted at me, and drove off. Fortunately, it missed me by a thread, but I did not survive a bruised ego. I cried running my last leg home, and I wished that I had recorded the registration plate, said something or chased the vehicle to the stoplight and told them off. Since my instinct is not to fight, especially when dealing with a people of ‘higher’ societal privilege, I let it burn. Still, it haunts me, and I cry again sometimes when I remember that incident. I ask myself similar questions like Dr. Gibbs, how can I let such evil acts flyby? But I did.

But there is another very vocal resident of in my neighborhood that repeatedly outwardly disapproves of my presence in the neighborhood – “Holy dogs”. That fact that white people’s dog generally hate and bark at black people is hidden in plain view. That these dogs generally do not like black males or look-a-like males is also an established truth, especially if you are walking or running in their neighborhood. And if like me, you have low cropped hair, typical of a male, I wonder if that is an additional disadvantage. It is so humiliating when dogs – small, large, old or puppies bark at me through their house windows, fences or chase after me from their yards when I am running on the main street, not on their property. I have been bitten by dogs, so I do not take “my dog is sweat, nice to us and our cats and eats from our plates” crap. I also believe that dogs are trained and socialized to respond differently to different people. Most white people’s dogs are socialized [intentionally or not] to respond to black people harshly. From experience running in my neighborhood, I have witnessed a white person walk past a home in front of me without the dog(s) barking at her. When I came in sight, they started barking. There is a house by the road, where dogs chase after me from their yard, even after seeing me run past multiple times. Another time while running through the neighborhood, a dog charged me and barked at me repeatedly, while its owner sat on the front porch merely calling it back. I stopped running but the dog would not bulge. Each time I tried to move, it charged toward me. I begged the neighbor for what seemed like five minutes to come restrain his dog, until he felt ‘kind’ enough to get up and call his dog back home, by throwing a bone or play toy at it.

Once again, I asked myself why I did not notify the police? I guess my hesitation to involve the po po comes from my internalized understanding of racism in America, and fear that racism could prevent the police from responding to me. Even as an educated woman from an elite US university, sentiments about the unfair US criminal justice cannot simply fed away. So, I keep on running, hoping my neighborhood and the dogs would get used to my face and body, and accept that I am not gonna stop running unless they knock me over or eat me up. But for now, I keep on the main streets, and wear bright neon colors, to avoid giving anyone an excuse to run me over because, “they did not see me; I was too dark”. As much as I would love trail running, I keep away to avoid stirring anyone from shooting me for “trespassing” in their backyard. It is a privilege white folks can risk, well, unless you are a German exchange student at a high school in suburban Montana (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/father-german-exchange-student-killed-montana-homeowner-slams-u-s-gun-culture-article-1.1775600).

Similar thoughts came to me once, while trail-running with a team in a predominantly white neighborhood or Marietta, Georgia. We run through woods and streams, and in people’s backyards, without anybody shooting or shouting at us or calling the police on us. Well, I was running with a predominantly white group, and the only one of two black folks. A week later, while running in South West Atlanta, I did not feel brave enough to trail-run by  myself, ironically in a predominantly black neighborhood. Why? Randomized surveys done on street racism have showed that blacks are as much likely as whites to profile black people. In a staged “bike theft” in a public park, part of ABC TV series, “What Would You DO?”, results showed that when it was a young white male cutting a bike chain off a stand,  people looked on, asked questions and expressed shock when he told them the bike did not belong to him. All except one (out of 100) continued on without confronting him or calling the police. Even more revealing, when the “staged bike thief” was a white female, as passerby’s offered her immediate help to free the bike from the chain. Only one woman protested to her husband helping free the bike, and another called the police after she had left the scene. However, when it was a young black male wearing identical clothes as the white male, passerby’s immediately (white and black people) confronted him, congregated, confiscated his tools or immediately called the police. When asked to account for their actions, both blacks and white people pointed to their biases against “personal appearance”. Black people said “first impression matters”…..and…”they thought the white guy worked in the park.” White people generally said they were looking out for private property, some even claimed race did not matter. So, there you have it!

Sometimes I worry about running into a serial killer or kidnapper along my route, especially while running new, quiet and isolated neighborhoods. I guess it comes from watching too many “Forensic Evidence”, “Unresolved Mysteries”, “20-20” and “48 hours” TV shows. Pretty much all of the crimes featured happened in suburbs similar to where I live. I have heard from moms at my son’s bus stop that they are plenty of drug users in the neighborhoods, and some have been busted in the police. Then I worry whether, being a black person, anybody driving or walking by would care if they saw a guy forcing me into his car? On my recent Saturday long distance run, while trying to discover a new running route in the neighborhood. I got onto a new street with a few houses. From a distance, I saw three white males and a white woman standing by the road and “burning something”; there was smoke likely from a fire. My heart skipped, but I was scared of showing my fears by turning back. I worried they could chase after me, so I proceeded on. I guess they sensed my fears and said, “hello”, when I got close to them.

Perhaps I am too paranoid, but that goes to show how institutionalized racism is experienced differently by black folks. I always wonder whether a white person would have to skip a beat at such an encounter! The feeling of “I do not belong here” is so real to me everyday in this neighborhood, even when I am inside my home. I hate it when sometimes I say hello to person across walking or running in my neighborhood, and they do not respond.

Similar experience and sentiments with finding work in this neighborhood. I took a break from online application and decided to walk-into several professional establishments in the neighborhood. As the black people in the “bike theft case” said, first impressions matter. Pretty much every place here is staffed with white folks. Like I say, “You know the place is white, if McDonald is predominantly staffed with white people.” Welcome to my neighborhood! Although, I did not look for work at McDonalds. I went to Doctors’ Offices, Departmental Stores, Restaurants, Grocery Stores, education institutions, and several small businesses. At most places, I was asked to apply online, or bring a resume – including restaurants! I know times are tough, and jobs are not coming by easily. However, when you do not see anyone who looks like you in most workplaces, including the front desk, it is hard not feeling unwelcome. Still, I did all as requested, with follow-up call back and walk in, but no rewards yet.

I bet some of you are wondering, why I am still living in this neighborhood, if it is that traumatizing to me? In the words of Dr. Jeremy Gibbs…

“This isn’t the only thing that we learned from raising our son (that we gladly adopted last year). We also have learned that parents that want the most for their children are often faced with a dilemma (even when they have the means to make educational choice) about whether they will give their kids a school environment that is supportive of their identity. Or shall we choose a school where lots of children look like him and he can learn about being black in America? Usually the schools with large African-American populations are struggling and under-resourced. Do I use the means that are within my reach to send him to a school with opportunity that will ensure that he has very few friends that look like him? Is that somehow better? The thing that I’m learning here is that racial minorities have to ask questions that majority populations get the privilege of ignoring. I still don’t know all the questions that I need to be asking.”

Image

America the Beautiful!

It’s been a while, since I sat down to write something thoughtful. Forget about the daily email traffic, and posts on social media. WordPress is where I share my self-inspired “non-chatty” thoughts.

I am glad though, that I am breaking this writing block with something dear and exciting. About America the Beautiful! There are so many reasons I have come to love America. Obviously, there is an ounce of sad news and sad people that shape this nation. But there is so much beauty in and about this country, its peoples and societal norms.
Especially today on this snowy day, I am reminded of the generosity and uniqueness of the American spirit. The huge snowstorm that started last night, with sleet and frozen ice, left some places in the North East without power. I live in The Independence State of Pennsylvania, which is among the areas caught up in these snowstorms. Exactly as I thought out loud the night before the storm, “I hope these indefatigable snowstorms do not leave us without power. It’s freezing up here!” But Lancaster, PA folks are not that fortunate;  left without power! Trees fell and damaged cars! Some colleges have asked students to return home until the weekend, when hopefully the power cuts will be sorted out. Terrible!
Yet, the American spirit is already alive and kicking. True, the State government is up and about, reassuring its peoples that help will come through as fast as possible. Good job and comforting! But the American social spirit of good neighborhoodliness is rolled out already, too! A good friend, in Lancaster posted on her public profile, an offer to any Lancastarians who need a place to warm up or charge their phone. The America Red Cross has set up soup kitchens and places to warm up and charge phones. And many more folks are coming through. This is America! This is the collective spirit that defines America, transcending individual(s) sentiments of bitterness, xenophobia, discrimination and hate. Those negative spirits do not define America!
Personally, I take moments like this to reflect on and ponder over the American Spirit of giving, reaching out, sharing and positive healthy living, both in my neighborhood and my American family. I live in a suburb in the Poconos. My neighborhood has plenty of “stay-at-home moms”, who I have met and interacted with, while waiting at the school bus stop. They are pretty much of mixed identity: Latina, Black, White and Arab. They are wonderful people. If I got to the bus stop late, after my son came back from school, I would trust that one of them would not leave him on his own. At times, I get a call from any one of them, in case were are late to the bus stop in the mornings. Plus, they usually help out anyone with kids who need a ride to the bus stop, for instance, if there is a 2-hour delay and mommy has to go off to work before the bus comes around, or when kids get off the bus and need a ride. They are sweet people.
Then, there is my American family. With all the drama of each family, there is a beautiful spirit among  my [son’s] American. We laugh, we share, and we party together. There is an openness among them that is beautiful and welcoming. They do not make me feel like “a foreigner”, typical of plenty of folks with whom I have interacted. Perhaps because, they are well traveled, or because they lived in New York for-ever, the most multicultural US city. They have met and interacted with folks from all walks of life, I assume. Of course the “open secret that, Grand dad – my son’s father’s step-dad, who raised him, is Puerto Rican.
 Image
Perhaps a better illustration of  “America the Beautiful” is its diversity in food, clothing, languages, culture, origins, beliefs, recreation activities, tastes, fashion, interest, power, knowledge -endless list! I have endless experiences of things  deemed “archaic” by some in this country and other “modernizing geographical spaces”, making their way “back to the future” as trendsetters and ‘PC fads’. Goes to prove that, it is often the innocence of limited knowledge or the individual(s) dogmas that make that make people shun any experiences alien to them and/or pass judgement. For instance, the mothers at my son’s bus stop and I were talking about women stuff, when one recalled ‘the olden days’, when mothers delivered at home or on the road before they got to the health center. I told them, those ‘olden days’ are ‘now’  in my country of origin, Uganda. Indeed true as well, here in the United States, where “young trendy mothers and couples” now choose home births with Doula or midwives. Another friend in Georgia told me about ‘the olden days’ when people used kerosene lamps for light. I let her know that those “olden days” are still “present days” in Uganda, and I bet in rural America. Yes! Some parts of this country, folks use boreholes as a source of water, and wash their clothes from the barks of trees without access to a washer!
It is amazing that plenty of stuff often deemed traditional, archaic or rudimentary are now en-vogue! Picture this, folks are paying more money for membership to co-ops instead of shopping in large chain stores, for the love of easier access to more“farm fresh” or local farmers produce. Others are spending extra monies for organic produce at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earthlight, and other large chain store that have an “organic foods section”. Ironically,  American food producers, large funders and their intellectuals activists are pushing GMO into countries of Africa in the name of “creating food security”, without issuing the same caution to consumers that is availed to the American public.  While more Americans are embracing “small [eating or shopping] is beautiful [from organic section or co-ops], plenty of Africa is moving toward mass quick production and large chain stores, including in Uganda.  Some of us have taken trouble to concern and inform ourselves of “what we eat or where we shop, and are carefully and consciously picking what we eat, so we can live longer cleaner lives, sans health disasters that have befell America, especially, high obesity and high heart diseases. Though, it is still a challenge to communicate the dangers of fast food eating and colored juices to many in Uganda. Last year, 2013, Kentucky Fried Chicken open its first franchise in Uganda to divided opinions: screams of “hell no” from plenty of Ugandans in the Diaspora vis-a-vis “bring it on” by plenty in Uganda. In South Africa, I noticed a huge consumption of deep friend fast food and colored and sugary goods, especially in the “most affordable” Shoprite supermarket, which has also set up shop in Uganda. While McDonalds and Coca Cola, two of the largest brands of quick and fast food/beverage addiction are losing market share in America, they are reaping huge sales outside the United States.
Fortunately, America the Beautiful, one can get a wide net of fresh, health, conscious and fairly-traded products. Almond, hemp or flax milk is available, so is Tofurky in place of real Turkey meat. We have access to gluten free pizza, meatless anything for the meat lovers with real meat problems. It is possible to eat food not fried in oil, but if one wants to, there are plenty of options of non-animal oil – canola, coconut, olive, sunflower, vegetable and more. We can fill our refrigerators with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and our shelves with plenty of nuts – almond, cashew, pistachios, walnuts, groundnuts, to feast on daily. We can stay gluten-free forever, and feed on raw food effortlessly!
And if you heard that “traditional marriage and family is out of vogue” in America the Beautiful, don’t believe the hype! No! Marriage is not about two people coming together, making a decision to love one another through sickness and health! Marriage is a family affair, and family as a community and clan affair. I recently witnessed a beautiful moment of two families of their soon-to-be married children coming together to review the marital contract that their two children were about to enter. The families went over what is expected of children to each other as a married couple, and to their families;  how to conduct each other once married, and what each owes to the other and to their families.  It was beautiful! It reminded me of what marriage was always about in Uganda, where I am from. Not about “blissful everyday moments”; in fact plenty of folks found themselves and found love after they were married, and stayed together as lovers not for convenience till death separated them. It was about, the meanings of marriage to the family the newly-wed were to form, and to their families of origin. It was also about their belonging in society, not “behind self-gazetted closed doors”.
At heart, I am a traditionalist, when it comes to culture and community. But then again, I am only human after all. We all pick and choose what appeals to us, and how to make it work for us….And, that’s what defines America the Beautiful!