Safe House

There is no home to go to. Where do you think you’re going? Right now you are living in the Western Hemisphere regional branch of a corporation that built itself up on the bodies of people who looked very much like you who were snatched at night, who were dragged from terrified families, that were traded for some schnapps, who learnt to endure because there was no other option. The right side of the sea for you is a place where the same monster breathes down your neck; it’s breath just stinks a little differently.

But there, your 4×4 smells like abroad. It is pristine and you can yell at the driver for leaving oily fingerprints on the steering wheel covered in beige leather just like the rest of the car interior. And you can use that car to roll over the hands and feet of the people on crutches and in wheelchairs reaching to your windows misted over from the condensation of the cold AC meeting the hot glass. You can toss a few coins to the children grabbing at the pockets of your designer jeans as you exit the club, and maybe you’ll donate last year’s clothes to an orphanage knowing that you’ve done your civic duty.

And there you are safe, and the police yes sah and yes madam to your slippery accent and their giant rifles might as well be water guns because they would never dream of turning them on a big somebody like you. There you are safe, and blackness is only remarked upon when your grandma complains you have stayed out in the sun too long, or when the finest girl in the class is the shade of the inside of the palm you will use to try and get a feel of her wavy hair, or when the waiter is rude to you at a luxury resort full of white people turning red in the sun and you will shout at him, spit flying and veins threatening to explode: “Heh do you know who I am???”

Back home you are safe, and you are not a try-too-hard laughing a little louder and sharper because you don’t want to kill the vibe when your white friends are at a house party singing along in unison: “at least a nigger nigger rich” and making sure you hear the R at the end. You will roll that ‘r’ onto the ends of words like “wadur,” and insert them unnecessarily in words like Sakumono– you are safe.

But you don’t know that now you are living in the West African Headquarters of Keeping up Appearances. Your parents will list all your Latin honors when you shuffle into the living room after rolling out of bed at 1pm on a Tuesday and you will threaten to slap the house help for burning a hole through your silk shirt. Or maybe you won’t even speak to her except for a curt “Thank you” with the ends clipped off, at least everything is dignified you see. She has a uniform and has been working for your family for years, and maybe she has kids in the village somewhere but you really don’t know or care, and you definitely didn’t see her crying in the pantry after your father denied her permission to go home and attend to some sick relative.

You are safe, and the driver will warn you to avert your eyes when the neighborhood people are about to burn an armed robber with some old tires and kerosene and you will shake your head and kiss your teeth, why do these people always have to resort to such behavior? And you will flinch when the front pages of Saturday tabloids are covered with the image of dead bodies of people who were only guilty of loving each other in a way that your parents’ Bible does not permit and you know it’s wrong but Ghana is safe, who asked them to display their love in public­–

Now you are safe and you don’t have to let the white girl get away with anything and everything because she’ll cry if you try to point out her privilege– you are in a dive bar and all her friends are hitting you with drunken, slow punches and you know if you don’t leave soon, you won’t be safe because you will definitely be painted as the aggressor and the police will ensure that you don’t make it to the next morning. But now you are safe and this white girl is different and she cares about Africa’s development with a big ‘D’ and she loves black people, until she has a black daughter she is terrified and envious of and will drag a fine toothed comb without water or coconut oil through the same curls you used to admire on the girl that sat in front of you in class. But you are all safe–

And you will wrinkle your nose when the drains are too ripe and there are parts of the city you will never see. The tires of your car cannot roll over un-tarred roads, but they have built in treads for crushing the backs of the people who have been bought and sold, who are still being bought and sold, so you can sit over drinks on Friday night and celebrate how far hard work has brought you.

And you are safe because on your way home the policeman will wave you past the checkpoint with a flash of the torch and his teeth, even though you both know your “something small for the weekend” is what allowed him to ignore your expired license and the Jack Daniels mist hanging around your head. There you are safe, because the only way you will become a hashtag is if you become a local celebrity known for taking girls on dates with the intention of raping them or if you develop an app that is only useful to tourists looking for a good time and Ghanaians who have data bundles and iPhones manufactured wherever it’s cheapest. And the only slur you will know is the average Ghanaian because you are definitely not average you are special and you are safe.

Joyful Again

I was scrolling through my blog last night and thinking to myself: “Wow, why does anyone want to read this? I’ve been so angry lately!” Angry at myself for “letting” myself to be used and discarded by someone who is largely undeserving of all this glory *pauses and fluffs Afro while the crowd goes wild*. Angry at white people who hate black people but think they can cherry pick the “different” ones and expect these magical rarities to preen and curtsy in response to their attention.

Angry at people back home who ask “Why do you stay there if it’s so bad?” Angry at black people from other parts of the diaspora who think African-Americans are to blame for their own oppression. Let me break this down: if you are a postcolonial subject, you are facing global systems of violence and oppression, and if you don’t feel it it’s probably because in your country you are benefiting from the violence being enacted on someone else. Our colonial masters were replaced by elites who may have looked like “the masses” but acted and continue to act very much like their white predecessors. You can watch the movie Xala by Ousmane Sembène for an illustration of this.

xala
Still from Xala, Ousmane Sembène (1975) 

I’m angry at the preppy Boston bros who bump into me on the street on a regular basis because I must be invisible. Angry at the non-black men of color who don’t respect my personal space and pop up directly in my face, mumbling stuff I cannot and do not want to hear, chuckling and breathing heavily as they stare into my cleavage. Angry at the white women who can roll over my toes with their strollers and give me tight-lipped smiles as apologies, knowing that any outrage I express could be deadly for my wild self and vindicating for their fragility. I’m angry that my white friends will mistake my using humor as a way to cope as an invitation for them to participate. So when I say things like: “Listen, I’m terrified of the police. I’m one rude comment away from being a hashtag,” the last thing you should say in response is “Well at least you’re not a man so maybe it’s two rude comments.” I don’t want to spend precious minutes re-hashing the stories of all the black women who have been dehumanized and murdered but who are not always included in the narrative. #SayHerName. Angry at the fact that even as I try to express all this, there will be someone quick to remind me that I have nothing to worry about because I’m comfortable, as if a large part of my anger and despair at this shapeless thing we call “the system” doesn’t come from the awareness that my own comfort is contingent on someone else’s suffering.

My writing is an automatic reaction to anything that happens, painful or joyful. It’s something I need to do to keep living and it’s been that way since I was little. I typed a piece (which I’ll post later) on my phone last night while switching between texting one of the amazing black women I call my friends, laughing and crying because we can add another name to the list, and checking Twitter for news. I feel as though I’m on the “racism beat,” chronicling all these things that are happening as though I’m a journalist. I just want to write the fiction and poetry I want to write and send my friends videos of carefree black children for the fun of it, and not for the purpose of getting our minds off the feeling of being hunted.

I’d also like to give a special shout out to all my classmates in grad school who were silent in class because they felt uncomfortable with “racially charged” course material but made sure to take notes when I spoke, and the friends who try to  hit me with the “but all women though” when they can’t begin to wrap their minds around my insight about what it means to be a dark-skinned black, African woman in “these United States.” Thanks. You give me so much motivation to keep writing. You’re going to hear me one way or another.

Lastly, white feminists: you are not the ones to teach me how to “lean in” when I’ve watched my mother assert herself in male-dominated workplaces in Ghana for years and never, ever, backing down. I’ve heard enough stories about how my great grandmother left her disrespectful husband and went on to be a successful businesswoman, inspirational in so many ways, and most importantly, a complete woman who belonged to herself. I have enough examples of BLACK women leaning all the way in, usually far enough for everybody else, including white women, to walk across their backs. Let’s talk when you’re being hunted and kidnapped and denied access to your own land and sent back across the border in the opposite direction of your kids and killed for being deviant in your femininity and killed just because and buried and and…but the Internet is still late for your funeral.

Until I can write something joyful again…

Deep Conditioning

I would say this is a work in progress because it’s something that took only a few hours to write, but the reality, is I can probably edit it and re-use it for the next time. It’s frightening to know that there are so many white people and non-black people of color (I see you, black on black crime crusaders) who cannot recognize humanity in black people so much so that our deaths have become a spectator sport for the evening news highlight reel.

***

Cold water washes onto my scalp, cutting its own paths across the once clear parts I made for my braids, now blurred by traces of week-old hair cream and sweat.

I am washing out the dried flakes of the blood that splashed on my bowed head at the scene of the latest execution, where I was to be found mid-worship,

eyes fluttering between permanent sleep and nightmarish day,

praying to a God I have been told looks very much like the person pulling the trigger.

 

There are no new songs to sing while my hands dance to a routine they cannot forget

–good thing because my mind knows this wash and condition and repeat is an empty ritual–

I will never be clean.

The tune I am humming now sounds like sirens screeching in an eerie minor key, variations of families crying (the babies at a higher pitch) tires skidding on tarmac…

I’m not so much humming as I am screaming pain and desperation:

do you know what a gun shot sounds like when your chest is the speaker?

 

All the care I have been taught to rub into my dead strands is useless. My hair is brittle, crackling and falling into my lap by the fistful.

The strands are tangled with names I’ve seen splashed across white sheets and hung out to dry, stiff and still bearing the memories of people who were just trying to breathe, eat, make some money for the kids, love, curse, pray, gossip, cross the street…

I’m making new parts in my hair, maybe cornrows this time,

Nice and wide, room for all the names I am yet to learn.

 

 

 

You in Black- Grayscale

You may remember You in Black, my passionate (to say the very least) response to Claudia Rankine’s work Citizen. Or you may not, but that’s alright. I realized I had a lot more to say, so I extended it for a final project and was semi-satisfied with the results. Over the next few days I’ll be sharing some extracts from the work with you. I divided it into 4 segments: “Skin Sold Separately”, “The Body Chronicles”, “Grayscale” and “My Language, My Rules”. I don’t want to explain away the writing, so I hope it will speak for itself.

***

Introduction

You in Black is a creative response to Citizen by Claudia Rankine. It is an exposition on the black experience (one of many) in the United States as told through the fingertips of a young African woman attending university in this country. This work is an attempt to convey the triumphs and suffering of someone who can never claim to represent a whole race but is often called upon to do so. It incorporates re-telling of micro-aggressions and macro-tragedies, both fictional and non-fictional, in order to express the persona’s resilience and rage. I have used footnotes to explain certain terms and references that may be unfamiliar to you if you are not Ghanaian or know nothing about Ghanaian culture, but have tried to ensure that I don’t use a heavy-handed academic style in my explanations. Consider the footnotes as the persona whispering in your ear to help you to avoid being impolite or looking foolish at dinner.

***

The minute I begin to define myself purely based on someone else’s expectations, I no longer exist.

I no longer exist.

***

On a scale from 1 to Gray, in how many places did your spine snap? Did you wake up this morning clutching your lower back, firm fingers pressing into the skin in a useless attempt to massage away the ache? Probable cause and indictments are back rubs to cure bullet wounds. Patrolled by blue tin men who were never quite able to retrieve their bleeding hearts. I had a neighbor whose name was Eric, but he looked a lot more like an Amadou. The lilt in his voice sounded like a kora I heard in Bamako, but before the griot could start his haunting song, an ugly cry interrupted the melody. You have the right to remain silent. Or not. The choice is yours. In any case, you are not going to survive. My cousin’s name was Trayvon, but it could very well have been Emmett. His chestnut smoothness could have been an oware board carved from a sturdy tree trunk. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t surprised when I saw him riddled with holes.

***

Listen to me. The problem with you people is that you are too extreme. And you have this sickening sense of entitlement. The worst possible combination of traits! Every single time one of you behaves badly, we must have this argument. You spend all day and night killing each other in the ghettos, and when you get what you deserve, you burn down and steal from the very businesses put there to give you a livelihood. Honestly, you people are unbelievable! And one day, I will escape the sanctuary of the anonymity afforded me by the world of internet comments to teach you a lesson!

***

Miss, I didn’t bring my homework in today, but I have a really good excuse.

There was too much black on black crime outside my window and I couldn’t concentrate. There were too many young thugs with their pants around their knees standing on the street corner slingin’ dope and I got distracted. There were too many hos click-clackin’ up and down the alley next door and I couldn’t hear myself think. My mama was out too late snorting lines with her friends and she couldn’t help me. That’s not enough? There was not enough food on the table, there were not enough jobs, there was no way out, there was 300 years’ worth of baggage, there was no way out. There was you telling me I don’t have a way out. You see, I could have been so much greater, but my chance was given to someone else the minute I was born and my skin started to blacken.

***

The minute I begin to define myself purely based on someone else’s expectations, I no longer exist.

I no longer exist.

Hunting Game

Image source: USAToday
Image source: USA Today

I guess it’s time we separate “fact from fiction”.
Fact: The American justice system is fair and equal in its treatment of all individuals. This is a reality. It is as real as the purple pegasus I just saw flying over my head neighing with glee, Mardi Gras beads swinging from it’s neck. I even think the neighing translated into: “Darren Wilson is innocent.”

Fiction: The American justice system is fair and equal in its treatment of all individuals.

I had to come out of my day-old hiatus because Darren Wilson hasn’t been indicted, and I’m sitting in a public study space waiting for a huge crack to appear in the ground, or for the ceiling to crumble and fall on all of us here. Or maybe for the voice of God to echo off the walls? Anything- so we can all stop pretending this is normal. Or maybe the fact that life goes on is the most appropriate reaction at present, because this has become normal. I won’t apologize for rambling. The point is, we should all be wishing for the sky to fall right now. We should all care. Even those whose children will never have to know Mike Brown’s name.

a blog by her wildness, zoë gadegbeku

Neither eloquent poetry, nor well-constructed lines of prose are enough to convey the impact of your actions. In fact, your corruption isn’t worthy of being immortalized through these noble art forms. Instead, here are a few directives you might want to take into consideration; the public is aware that a thorough stakeout…I meant investigation, takes time. In the meantime, should we spill some blood in an ancestral ritual to ensure that the dead are sent to a less tumultuous place? Or sprinkle it over everything; letting it settle on the reports and evaluations and statements, signed and banished to the dark recesses of a municipal building basement? Are we expected to watch in silence as it seeps into the scorching tar where it fell, stewing like the remnants of slaughtered prey, evidence of another successful day on the prowl?

You earned your fatigues, your hunter’s honor; you were certain this…

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