Wednesday, 29 July 2009

'These Things of Race': Presence Africaine en Europe


Presence Africaine / Presence les noirs in metropolitan Europe raises crucial questions of visibility/invisibility in public and private discourses throughout history. In present-day Europe the enslaved, segregated or colonized figure speaks of the past, but the voicelessness and alien status rendered by this sordid history is practised nowadays in more subtle, but discriminatory ways as seen in the State policies that prevent the influx of migrants, restrict their rights to civil liberties or inadequately address social prejudice. Italy's arbitrary laws against le straniere much to the delight of the far right-wing Lega Nord, the Mediterranean countries' shameful treatment of African boat migrants, Switzerland's controversial politicisation of immigration in the 2008 electoral campaign of the Swiss People's Party, France's controversial call to ban the hijab for all Muslims that includes Muslim Africans and Britain's new tougher visa restrictions are all damning indicators that we; the foreigners, the Africans are not fully welcome in Europe.


Discriminatory actions such as these do not affect all Africans in Europe; but all have experienced marginalisation characterized by the intersecting variables of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality and culture. This is continually and systematically implictly or explicitly expressed by Europe's 'ethnic majority' citizens, private corporations, or the State and its machinery. Regardless of the crucial labour force migrants provide, immigration control is tightening across the Fortress of Europe. For example, the UK Labour Party has since coming into power in 1997 instituted seven legislative acts in an attempt to tighten its borders and the latest being the E-Borders policy being instituted in September 2009; another of the panOpticon State's ridiculous authoritarian measures in the 'war against terror'. In Italy under Berlusconi legal immigrants are subject to the most arbitrary housing law requirements and if they fail to comply; right of stay is denied. In addition to this; in July 2009 the Italian government passed new legislation stating illegal immigrants are liable to pay a fine of 10,000 Euros and can now be detained by the authorities for up to six months.

The notion of criminalizing or preventing someone from seeking a better life is preposterous and even moreso when it is instituted by a Continent that for centuries stole whatever it could (bodies included) and now, with independent Africa, engages in both legitimate and illegitimate trade activities. Whether these laws are better than the repressive laws Africans face in their own native countries is neither here nor there; justification of policy by comparison is a crafty diversion of focus from presence Africaine en Europe to arguing Africans in Africa ought to be brimful of gratitude for their supposed better life and conditional human rights and civil liberties upon their arrival on European shores.

So wonderful are these rights that suspected illegal immigrants have the right to be denied emergency medical treatment and so wonderful are these liberties that les stranieri are free to settle in impoverished ghettos across Europe's metropoles where the State has the right to offer as little welfare as possible. So wonderful is this presence immigre, that the majority White citizens of Trento, Italy can celebrate the cultural diversity of their cosmopolitan town in exotic cuisine and 'ethnic art' shops; consuming otherness without ever having to fully engage with the non-European identities to whom these cultures belong. Racial interaction is minimal, apart from public holidays on which, as I witnessed, migrants of all racial and ethnic diversities flood the town centre as these are their days off work.

While 'crickets' might silently hiss at me, 'persona non grata' for all the liberties and modern conveniences Europe selectively offers or openly chirp, "you're an Africanist who arrived in Europe thirty years too late because 'these things of race' are subtle nowadays, therefore better"; my perspective is that whether expressly or implicitly shown, the police states of Europe make clear, non-European peoples are undesirable and unwelcome strangers and I won't stop blogging against the machine till 'these things of race' come right!


An Injustice Anywhere is An Injustice Everywhere

The truth is finally beginning to emerge about what happened after the Chagos people were illegally removed from their island by the Brits in cahoots with the Americans.

"It pains me, then, to report on the role of the British government in the case of Saad Iqbal Madni, whose legal case Reprieve begins today. Madni was seized in Jakarta on 11 January 2002, and badly beaten. The Americans put him in a coffin, and flew him to Egypt, apparently stopping off in the British colony of Diego Garcia en route. When Madni arrived in Cairo, he was still bleeding through his nose and mouth from his earlier abuse, yet this was soon relegated to a minor complaint.

At the behest of the
Americans, he spent 92 days being tortured with electric cattle prods, before
being rendered to Afghanistan and ultimately to Guantánamo

.......Here we are 17 months later, and the [UK] government still refuses to admit whether Madni was one of the victims of this crime. Through the tireless work of volunteer lawyers, Madni is now home in Pakistan, freed when the US essentially recognised that it had relied on false information in kidnapping him in the first place. As he struggles to rehabilitate his fractured body and mind, he owes no gratitude to the British government, which appears to have sat firmly on its hands rather than take a basic step to redress an obvious wrong."

from Britain's Rendition Cover-up by Clive Stafford Smith

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Feenin' Foodies

lard-filled IVF tubes flow down the oesophagus
like the nation were breeding geese for foie gras;
but the grease breeds disease
mickey dees is the dopeman
fat feens pay for hits
of e's in numbers and coke
till the heart's diseased and death's end increased,
while the coroner examines this fat feen
on another corner a brand new crackhouse opens
selling deep fried chicken to more comatose walkers.

The Love Push

The Love Push

fading stars and
falling snowflakes
on a misty mornin'
in london town.

rhyme pushes love
through grime beats,
when i think of him;
my brixton bwoy,
missin' in this missive
written on a misty mornin'
in islington town.

copyright: konwomyn 2009

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Not In My Name

I was having a discussion on another blog with some African American brothers about the use of the b- word to describe Black sisters and they furiously defended using the term claiming that a bad word can be re-appropriated for good and can be used as an artistic metaphor in American hiphop or as re-inforcement of a woman's swagger. Bear in mind, these brothers are pretty articulate and intelligent. They consider themselves Babylon/plantation-free thinkers - though I don't know how free one is if they're still using this word. But it's all good; we all have our own right to define our mental freedom as we feel. I'm in no place to impose my opinion on anyone, just as they cannot impose their thoughts on me.

Anyway, I argued against this and here are my edited thoughts below. I hope those who freely use the b- and n- words will stumble upon my blog, read this and think twice before uttering them again. Here goes:

There is nothing swaggerlicious or endearing in calling a woman that term. There are some things you never, ever reduce a woman to. While you might say its for artsake and in the context of art to call Li'l Kim the b-word (& even to this I'd object), the same cannot be true for every other woman. No matter how good you mean it - the word cannot escape its dark meaning. It's like putting a chain around her neck and selling her off again regardless of what kind of resistance she would give to that name. Its opening the door for those who have sexualised, brutalised and raped her throughout history to come back and conquer her, yet throughout the centuries women have said no, time and again!

Black women throughout history have
said call me Queen, regal in all her splendour - why is it so hard for this word
to roll of your tongue?
Is Bablyon's lingo your default
language or sumthin'?

Really, please my people if you are emancipated and you really are tuning into what women say about themselves in a positive light then this should not even be an issue. Its like you've not re-educated yourself and become aware of how much you dissown your Black pride when you call someone n-. To call a man or the n- word or a woman b- is to me running back through history and putting on the chains of slavery. You might as well say 'yes massa' next time your friends say yo n-!

I don't have to adopt the view of the masses simply because the majority holds fort on an ideology that is predicated on a damaging and false sense of self-worth. It just doesn't fly with me. If you can choose to change the meaning of a word that to me is still the same sexist word just re-packaged - I as a woman choose to reject it and I say no!

Can you honestly look at picture of Michelle Obama, Rosa Parkes, Alek Wek, Olwuchi Onweagba or Serena Williams -women who broke down doors and made to the top of their game and call these women by that insidious word? Surely even your art knows a code of respect and honor.

As Buju says who feels it knows
it. Women feel the insult.

No matter how loving, well-meaning or artistic you may be, you'd never, ever call your Grandma, Momma, Wife, Daughter or Sister by that name - and so the application should be universal for all women.


Sunday, 5 July 2009

Elegy for Michael Joseph Jackson

This is a beautiful poem by Staceyann Chin:

Yesterday the world shifted
faster than I could swallow my breath

images of you flashed from screen
to screen
every medium covered you

so I laid in my lovers arms
her hands keep me warm
even in this high June swelter
I like to snuggle

I listened while beads of her seeped through
her perfect skin

art is the canvas upon which my heart dreams
I am listening to your boyhood
magical cliche

I wish your time here had been easier for you

I would have loved to hear
what made you smile
without the cameras

can you whisper it to me/now
have you seen Ms. Fawcett?

who would have guessed
you would exit on consecutive days

as if it were planned
the media had to double up on the coverage
Farrah went slow

you went/ta-da

as always you never never landed stealthy
Michael had to do it loud

the monkey
Lisa-Marie Presley
the boys/the beds/the dance in front of the courthouse
on top of the car

every episode of your reality TV life
thrilled us
you were bad/black boy turned pale

your African nose turned up by surgeons

your stick legs bent
ankles glittering across race
white girls in Oklahoma wept your name
your gloved response
was imitated by children in China
in Chile
in Chattanooga

I remember being so tiny
singing along with a half-pint you/Someday at Christmas

every year I play that song on repeat

I imagined you
your innocence a beacon
your voice
carried me someplace
far away from the terror of my own life
I adored you/Michael
without question/I thought you an angel

before the accusations
before your expression began to shift toward frightened
before the stories about your father
you were simply the center of a glistening constellation
right there between Orion and the Big Dipper
each point a sibling

your star rose faster than anyone could follow

how lonely it must have been to be
a god among men

you took our breath away
we were without words

so we sang the verses you left us
all across the planet
we all stopped
and bellowed our best impressions of you

in Brooklyn we rolled down the windows
and turned your vocals up

in Harlem
they took to the streets
and walked on your moon

holding fast to the joy of memory
you in a red leather jacket
directing the world to move

blood and bones
you served us all your parts

some we digested better than others

five decades/five decades
you must have been tired, Michael

it was a long walk between yesterday
and the last time you loved the man you saw in your mirror

in your heart
you must have seen how far you had traveled from your own genius

I have a vision of you
open arms/heart breaking/you finally let go

I imagine you
at rest

your expression relaxed
your skin brown like the boy I remember
your feet strong
your arms muscled and holding a self you could recognize

I dream of you in notes of once upon a time
wish for you tales of beyond foerver
ending with happily ever after

I hope you've found your peace/Michael
if anybody looked like they needed it
it was your grin/shy
held back by all the times they cut you

in spirit
may you grin wide
without hesitation
now that you no longer have to sing
I hope you've found your voice

legend that you are/be sure
to say hello to James Brown for us
tell Luther we have missed him
for now
we'll keep playing these replicas you made
each player
exorcising the tragedies you endured
erasing the ones you created

over and over again
we'll listen

in time
all we will hear are the better parts of you

copyright Staceyann Chin

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Father of Zimbabwe or a Father of Contradictions?

Since his death in 1999, the 3rd of July is a public holiday in Zimbabwe commemorating Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, a man who is named Father Zimbabwe or Umdala Wethu (Our Father) in recognition of his role in the liberation struggle. As leader of the Black nationalist movement ZAPU, he fought alongside ZANU nationalists led by Robert Mugabe, despite the ethnic tension between the two. However come 1980 when Zimbabwe gained Independence, in 1982 Mugabe ordered his the Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to crush the threat of a coup d'etat from the Ndebele-led ZAPU and this resulted in the killing of 20 000 mainly Ndebele and Kalanga people. This was called the Gukurahundi - a cleansing rain - but in truth, it was ethnic genocide. In an effort to restore peace and end suspicion of ZAPU, Nkomo agreed to a Unity Accord which joined the two parties in 1987. This effectively created a one-party state as in the years to come there was no formidable opposition to ZANU-PF; whatever opposition there was, in the form of ZUM or independents like Margaret Dongo, it was short lived. Nkomo served as Vice President of the country till his death in 1999 from prostate cancer. In life and death he was heralded Father Zimbabwe, for his part in the freedom struggle and as the figure uniting ZANU and ZAPU which in ethnic politics translated to a union between the major tribal groups; Shona, Kalanga and Ndebele people. Now while I've no wish to dispute that part of his legacy, what I am uncomfortable with is that since his death, there's been some selective memory in remembering who Joshua Nkomo was. His title of Father Zimbabwe has now been translated to mean a man who stood up for right, injustice and was a political visionary. Some skewed political opinions have gone so far as to compare him to Nelson Mandela and this is where the buck needs to stop!
At what point is his part in the construction of a totalitarian state forgotten? He was a senior leader part of the same government that used legislation to impose its power on trade unions, press freedom was heavily regulated under the archaic colonial law, POSA and the government crushed political opposition like Edgar Tekere's ZUM (even though the party was doomed to fail) and attempted killings of Patrick Kombayi and Ndabaningi Sithole. Internal silencing was marked by the suspected assassinations (officially said to be a fatal car accidents) of minister Chris Ushewokunze, MPs Joshua Malinga and Sydney Malunga. The suicide of Maurice Nyagumbo after the Willowgate scandal shows how corrupt the state was. The 1990's were marked by government corruption and controversial state programmes like the failed economic policy, ESAP and the land re-distribution exercise. Of the land appropriated under the willing buyer willing seller scheme, a significant proportion of that land was sitting between the hands of government and Nkomo was one of those beneficiares with commercial farms from Gokwe to Beitbridge.
If Nkomo was as much as visionary as he is claimed to be; then why are there all these contradictions and inconsistencies in his actions? Why did the Ndebele people feel he had betrayed them by signing the Unity Accord and for me, as someone resident in this part of the country though of Shona ethnicity, Nkomo had no real power to command development to this region of the country. Bulawayo lagged behind Harare; the building of the National University of Science and Technology and the Zambezi Water Project are sad testaments of that fact; Nkomo knew it but couldn't/wouldn't/didn't for numerous reasons challenge the government's attitude towards these projects. Perhaps the best thing Nkomo will best be remembered for in the last years of his life is his unwavering support for Econet; the mobile phone provider who battled to get an operating licence. His threat to resign from government if Strive Masiyiwa was not awarded the licence is admirable and something I will respect Umdala for. However much more he may have struggled for in private conversations with other powerful government members is unknown to me, and for that too I give respect.
If he is to be remembered as Father Zimbabwe; Umdala Wethu then I feel we need to remember the good and the bad; he is a father of contradictions and inconsistencies. It serves the Zimbabwean nationalist imaginary and propagandist agenda of Mugabe's regime to remember Nkomo as a figure of the nation. It operates on the rationale that if Nkomo's years as Vice President were glorified, then the one party state does not seem so bad and if freedom was achieved through Nkomo then ZANU PF is evidence of that freedom. But we know this to be untrue given the state of Zimbabwe 29 years later since 1980; if we as a nation willingly forget that Nkomo was a significant member of a corrupt and totalitarian regime inasmuch as he was a liberation war hero then we will to amnesia a critical part of our young nation's history. We also show how much we suffer from hero syndrome - that in death we remember the good and not the bad and ugly parts which remind us of the complexity of our past; these parts, in my opinion, should act as caution for the future so we steady ourselves, before over-zealously awarding five-star, iconic status on our leaders.

Friday, 3 July 2009

FaceOff: Stepford Wives & Russell Square

I had to work in Central London today; School Of African Studies (SOAS) Russell Square to be precise. I hadn't been there in a while and I get such a nice vibe whenever I go to the library; y'know whatever positive intelleuctual revolutions I'm plotting as an African; this is one place that's feeding my mind. However there's another side to SOAS, outside of its doors is a different world. There's Senate House, Uni of London Student Union, British Museum and the world of Russell Square & Holborn - and all of these places just have a certain feel to them that's different from the rest of London. I almost feel like I'm in a London without problems as though everyone there has these intellectual middle-class lives and is somehow insulated from the fast-pace of London, the buzz of the City; its speed, trendyness, but pollution too in all forms - litter, smelly takeaways, people and traffic. Its a feeling that is in the people; the buildings and everything is so clean, the restaurants cater to the vibe of people who don't worry about money and have that intellectual depth and world travel to back their standing in this world - Planet Organic, the restaurants of Bloomsbury Square, Goodge St design stores. All these things somehow make Russell Square distinct from other parts from Central London; it moves at its own time pace and everything is so clean and pristine - the architecture too gives off that feel - smooth tall grey buildings in good condition and have minimalist design as if resisting being pinned down to an era. The overwhelming number of American and French and Japanese speakers also add to the London-but-not-quite-London feel. In some ways this insular world is good, numbing my woes of the world, but on the other hand there's a lingering feeling that somethings not quite real, not quite what it seems. I'm trying to figure out what that thing is but I know its connected to questions of Victorian history, contemporary class structures and complex cultures of the City. And that oh so smooth n clean feeling that makes me almost a part of it but not quite and in those moments my world seems so far away only to come galloping back once I begin the journey down to Trafalgar Square. But I'm happy it does come back not that it took a leave of absence more that I'm surrounded by the challenging familiar that I must cope with and also enjoy being in the bits of The City that I love like Covent Garden & South Bank. Whereas in Russell Square I'm floating along, somehow navigating my path through such a familiar, yet strikingly different world of London.