Friday, May 27, 2005

Daily Gospel

"The best protection policy by far is to vigorously pursue winning rather than to expend most of one's energy (as most do) on avoiding defeat."

Tom Peters

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Raising the Bar

It is ironic that in our society, relationships are set up to fail yet being in one seems to be held in such esteem. From the moment that we can discern the meanings of words, the brainwashing process begins as television, films, songs and books romanticize the idea of being in love and more specifically, being with someone. Little girls dream not of being great thinkers, great artists, great scientists, great leaders, but of being whisked away to eternal bliss by prince charming on a white horse. It is inevitable then that they will be disappointed. Boys, on the other hand, are pushed, held-up and guided toward self-actualization, independence and self-reliance. To them, relationships are fashioned to be symbols of success and institutions that allow for further support of their aspirations (Imagine a US president without a wife!). The women, in effect, are service-providers and as we all know—there is no use in continued patronage of a service that no longer fits your desires. So the girl who believes she has finally found the prince she's dreamt of all along, soon learns that she is expendable. That the adoration has cruised down a lonely one-way street and now she is back in her wilderness.

When two people can meet, each recognising and respecting that the other has dreams and goals. When they can nurture each other to facilitate eachother's growth without being dependent on it. When they can see and believe in the other's potential and not get in the way of it. When they can speak even the most intimate of their thoughts and be their unabridged naked selves without fear of exposure vulnerability or judgement. When they can appreciate each other for what they are and not just what they are to eachother, together, in the relationship, but for what they will still be, irrespective of being "together." When there are no hesitations, no doubts but plain shameless candor. When no one else matters for the union is sacred to the two involved…

I don't think that's asking too much. Maybe tomorrow I'll change my mind and edit thoe expectations but, so far, this is the point that all my experiences have brought me to. I am never dejected: I am so very excited by the prospect of living this. Living thus.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Daily Gospel

I came across this blog with a great name:

"Mkombozi wa mwanamke ni mwanamke mwenyewe"!

(translation: the liberator/saviour of a woman is the woman herself)

Friday, May 20, 2005

On Lock Down but Free As Hell

So after almost a decade of threatening everyone that I would…I did. Now, I’ve tried it in the past but after a week, I gave up. I wasn’t ready. I was still attached to the (relative) novelty of my versatile ‘fro. But the winds of change have blown away my apprehension and here I sit, 4 weeks after beginning the locking process. Inspired by fellow bloggers Mama Junkyard and Soulsystah, I am compelled to write about locks in my life.

Well, the reality of other people’s reactions to my chosen hairstyle is still not with me. Currently I am around people who are tolerant of the idea, my mum surprisingly included. I have an inkling that she thinks it is a quickly passing phase. I believe that the first real test will come when I step out of customs and immigration at JKIA. My father subscribes to that (generational?) mentality where locks=dirty, scruffy, hoodlum etc. My brother went that way about 3 years ago and my father would plead with me to talk some ‘sense’ into him. Not a chance. Who now will talk sense into me? I’m sure I will be told by many how having locks will affect the way people look at and treat me. Sure enough, even with my tamed natural hair, people with similar but disguised hair textures would volunteer and reassure me that my hairstyle was okay, and that I would be alright. Thanks. It sure was reassuring to know that I would be alright despite the fact that I had chosen not to alter my hair with the use of chemicals!

As for the political implications of dreadlocks, I will not venture there in this particular post. I will admit however, that while those romantic notions of getting back to the “real” and shedding foreign standards of beauty sure can be attractive, that is not my main motivating force. Truth be told, ever since I refused to be a slave to Nice n’ Lovely, Soft n’ Beautiful, Crème of Nature (note the self-deprecating propaganda explicit in the names alone!), I have been exponentially happier. Nevertheless, it has not meant lower maintenance. The extra extra coarse grade of hair that I have been blessed with would loudly proclaim that it was opposed to combing and, when I defied it (and it was a tough job let me tell you), it would shortly demonstrate its opposition by behaving as if it had never known what a comb was! So I decided to submit and let it be. That does not mean that I am resorting to raising what I call “real dreads”, i.e. through the “neglect” method. No, I’m still too vain for that…

Support Group

God has Arrived

Recently, I have been pondering the concept of God more than usual. Could be the influence of my good friend and fellow pilgrim who this week decided to more consciously seek out the God in everything. Could be my reading of an anthology of Black feminists from the 60s and 70s and their continuous call for revolutionizing and thus liberating the Self as a prerequisite for any farther-reaching movement and progression.

In some Asian philosophies, it is believed that by giving your life and identity to God, you attain the identity of God. I’ve been examining what that means, for me, and these are a few of my reflections…

God does not laze around in an unthinking, uninspired state. By devoting our lives to growth and opening our minds and selves to new experiences; by opening up to learning; by rising up to action and progression—by doing these things and beyond just the doing: by being these things, we attain the identity of God for we tap into that God-force, God-essence, God-spirit…that is within us.

Indeed, maybe God is purely a force, energy. So in a sense, you do God or God flows through you. Life after all is about movement. Blood constantly flows through our veins. Oxygen is inhaled and CO2 purged. Our cells break down and are regenerated. Our minds are challenged and if we allow it, enriched. To lead a complacent and static life GOES AGAINST life. To submit to defeat GOES AGAINST life. To mechanically answer to other people instead of creating your own space and journey GOES AGAINST life.

Not only are these things going against life but they are indications of a disbelief, a rejection in effect, of God.

The things I wish I were doing and the things I wish I was—by putting them off, I shortchange God (the God in me). By not exercising my potential, stretching it to and then past its apparent limits, I will never attain the identity of God.

Why are we so afraid of Godliness if indeed it is such a phenomenal thing?

As kids we are more in touch with it but we are gradually and systematically trained to detach ourselves from it. Conditioned to see it as a separate, untouchable, unattainable, mysterious abstract worthy only of wonder and reverence.

All our prayers and conversations with God are empty and worthless if we do not truly believe in God. The essence of God. The God in us.

“…Time, money and energy could be better invested in… the acquiring of skills and knowledge and a groovy sense of self so the child isn’t menaced by stupidity and other child abuse practices so common among people grown ugly and dangerous from being nobody for so long.” (Toni Cade, The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?)

GROOVY SENSE OF SELF! The answer always seems to boil down to revering the self. That is the start and the finish. That is the identity of God—indeed he fashioned us in his image. Why do we so routinely forget?

Of course a lot of the time, people and the institutions they create exist to make the forgetting all the more easier because they too recognize what power there is in a healthy recognition of the self. So preoccupied with keeping others from their selves, those people distance themselves from their own selves. A significant detail that they either seem to forget or sacrifice in the name of transient glories…

Yet it is only the Self that endures.

Love for one’s fellow being.

A being is a representative of something. Being is acting out, demonstrating the existence of something. So if there is one true self, then human beings are manifestations of this one thing. Renditions, acts, roles—and we are all this one Self. We are all God?

And if indeed the key to understanding others is to understand oneself, then is it so preposterous to infer that not to love another stems from the inability to love yourself?

A difficult concept to grasp and embrace. Your head may quickly be filled with examples of people you could never imagine loving. But people and their actions are never absolutely defined. It is more correct perhaps to say I hate it when so-and-so does this than to say I hate so-and-so. Even we can admit to ourselves that we do things that are less-than-desirable… so perhaps true love of ourselves (as representatives of God) means the ability to see the God in everyone (and everything) and consequently love everyone (and everything).

Namaste indeed!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Daily Gospel

"To die for the revolution is a one-shot deal; to live for the revolution means taking on the more difficult commitment of changing our day-to-day life patterns."

The quote is from an essay, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female by Frances Beale. While it comes from a specific context, I think it is extremely appropriate to many different areas in our lives. Revolution begins with the Self.
"A revolutionary must be capable of, above all, total self-autonomy" (Toni Cade).

Sunday, May 15, 2005


Turkish denim brand Mavi has a magazine called Maviology. Their Spring 2005 issue is devoted predominantly to Rasta culture. The introduction reads:

“Rasta became an audio-visually globalized culture in the last 20 years. Reggae as music, catalyzed by this wave, but different peoples admired the culture as by its symbolic items as well. Today, a reggae fan, wherever travels around the world, can find an item, belonging to Rasta. This is just we call ‘the cool side of’ globalization.”

That same page is illustrated by so-called Rasta items that have been collected from around the world, including a stuffed “Rastafarian” doll, complete with “take it easy” printed on its Tshirt and a disproportionately huge spliff hanging out of its mouth. I cannot help but wonder then, about this proclaimed ‘cool side of’ globalization. It’s cool that belief systems are distorted and reduced to stereotypes that promote existing ideologies that seek to marginalize and subjugate certain cultural groups? Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, indeed this is a rant.

What gets me is when people try to be progressive yet manage to make profoundly contradictory mistakes in the process. Oblivious or not! Another article in the same issue talks about Haile Selassie. They give a brief (brief!) history and on Selassie regaining the throne from Mussolini: “The original plan was to achieve a level of modern [read: European] civilization in an African country, but, in the end, Ethiopia shared Black Africa’s unfortunate fate.”

And later: “We appease our consciences by buying a Sinead O’Connor CD, listening to Bono, or attending a Live Aid concert with humanitarian aid, but there are dozens of countries like Ethiopia and Africa. During the world’s globalization, we’ve forgotten Africa…”

And I won’t talk about the article that mentioned learning Jamaican.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Back to Afrika

I was reading this short story, Reena by Paule Marshall and one of the characters (in a 1960s NY setting) says about Africa: “I want to live and work there…All I know is that I have to. For myself and for my children. It is important that they see Black people who have truly a place and history of their own and who are building for a new and, hopefully, more sensible world. And I must see it, get close to it, because I can never lose the sense of being a displaced person here in America because of my color.”

Interesting, “Black people who truly have a place” yet, in the early sixties, most African nations had not yet or were just tasting their first days of independence. And legacies of centuries do not change overnight so indeed, these Black people were in “a place” whose possession had been taken charge of by outsiders who told them how they were to exist in it (and only in parts of it at that!) “And a history of their own” which for the most part had had a hugely significant part of itself erased. Knowledge about how people lived before colonization is elusive. “Who are building for a new and hopefully, more sensible world.” Well a quick look at what’s going on in Africa today clearly shows that we have so far fallen short of this expectation.

“African American” views of Africa and Africans are often misinformed. Watching a popular reality tv competition this week where the contestants visited South Africa, one Black American contestant kept effusing how great it was to be back home!!! One of the big debates. A lot of Africans I have met here in the US are offended when non-Africans refer to the continent as a whole. They insist that Africa is not one big country but a continent of many distinct nations with differing characteristics that spread the gamut. One wonders sometimes though why we should hold so steadfast to separations that were carved out by our otherwise usually repudiated colonial fathers!

And to play the risky game of stereotypes for a moment… There is the Black American who rejects the term “African American”, refusing any attachment to a place that they have never known and have no intention of knowing. Some have a patronizing attitude toward Africans, angry that African immigrants (who are justifiably more hard-working and less complacent) are taking over their jobs. They joke about Africans being dirty, ugly, uncouth and plain primitive. They nurture their ignorance in order to, it would seem, console themselves that there is another group that is lower than them on the racial ladder (I am reminded of that famous quote from Hotel Rwanda). Then there is the Afro-centric Afrikan American who embraces any- and everything that is remotely African (which means that they are ripe prey for impostor goods!). They self-consciously wear head-wraps, mudcloth and natural hair. They loosely use words such as “Nubian” and speak about the Motherland with extreme reverence. Their whole life seems to be a grand preparation for their return home but their conviction is belied by the fact that, when it comes down to it, most of them do not really plan on actualizing this ‘dream’. Not to knock them completely for indeed, how does one return to that which one doesn’t know? Where would one start? Would one be accepted?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another Dog Chasing Its Tail


That heavy heavy word. A controversial issue. A widely misunderstood and misused word. A powerful word that is often the single source of conflicts: from devastating wars to self-destructive thoughts and deeds.

What is my identity? That’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for years. Preposterous, one might say. Your identity is so intrinsic a part of you that you should not have to seek to find it! I have a hard time accepting that. And perhaps it is just that, stubbornness, which keeps the answers ever-elusive. There is the truth of who I am, and a reality that I would prefer. Theoretically, in accepting the truth, my present existence will be better informed and through this awareness I will be able to fashion how I will exist tomorrow. But this introduces the question: do we have a choice over who we are?

Is identity displayed in your physical characteristics? The colour of your skin, the length and breadth of your nose? Is it your religious affiliation, your caste or class?

Oftentimes people proudly proclaim their geographical origin as a signifier of who they are. However this becomes baseless, considering that, for example in Africa, nations were constructed by European colonialists with economic intentions. Something I found interesting when I first came to the United States was that, when asked where they came from, many people would name the State that they grew up in. Some who had lived in several States felt that they couldn’t really answer. It was unusual to me because, for many, the States that they ‘came from’ weren’t necessarily ones in which their parents and grandparents ‘came from’. Coming from a culture where “home” connotates the village that your progenitors were born raised and lived in. Nowadays, as a result of major rural to urban migration and intermarrying between tribes, the younger generations do not have as strong an identification with this notion of home. When asked, it seems that the answer should be to claim the place that their parents come from, however, most young people no longer have strong ties to or even any familiarity with the place. Thus it seems untrue to claim the place. It is easier to claim the people, that is, the tribe. Indeed, for example in East Africa, rather than ask somebody where they come from, it is more common to ask what tribe they belong to. But as I mentioned about intermarrying… This question too is becoming a more difficult one to answer. As cultures come into contact with eachother, they are transformed and it is ill-advised to uphold antiquated expectations of them. What does this mean for the individual striving to grasp an idea of identity that suits her- or himself? If she or he is a product of several points of origin, origin then becomes a more complex factor in the composition of identity.

Throw in a little displacement in the culture=identity equation. Displacement usually connotates a physical removal of something from one place and relocation in another. However, mental displacement pervades too. Again, I speak with East Africa in mind, and even more specifically, Kenya. Neocolonialism pervades and reminds us (not that we’ve been allowed to forget) of the supremacy of the West. It follows that we should emulate our generous colonial fathers in any and every way we can. From the way we dress (yes, parliament was in uproar over members who insisted on wearing traditional attire); to the way we speak (the Queen’s English is often spoken more fluently than one’s own mother tongue); to the way we raise our children (television has taken the place of interaction with our family and elders who in previous time imparted wisdom, our history and our culture to us through oral traditions. Them being oral, most are now, irreversibly lost). So though we may not have moved far from where we “originated”, our minds transport us to England and America and being able to eat a hamburger and watch another mindless Hollywood blockbuster in the cinema every week reminds us to thank our benevolent fathers for pulling us out of the darkness and propelling us toward the kind of civilization that our labour, land and resources enabled them to create for themselves.

Can I pick and choose what I want to say that I am?

Identity is often defined as the characteristics belonging uniquely to the person that inform the person’s personality. Some beliefs see personality as a self-construct and thus not one’s true self but merely the guise of the moment. The true Self is seen as never-changing. Characteristics however, one could argue, are transient and can be influenced to change by various internal and external factors. Is identity thus dynamic?

Another definition of identity boils it down to the name that a person is known by. ‘Known by’ implies perception by something outside of one self. How one is seen in other people’s eyes. This then cannot be a sensible definition as, when we allow ourselves to be defined by others, we exist only as players in their fantasies and not for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is the true condition that so many people live in, often without even knowing it. And even when we do know it, it is something hard to escape as there are a multitude of social economical and political constructs that exist to keep us in obliging captivity. The same system that upholds these imposed ‘favourable’ conditions, facilitated the annihilation of the systems of our ancestors. There are many who militantly call for a return to past ways. In reality, this cry falters for it asks for something that it doesn’t know and thus can never realize. How far back is the past? Before the white colonizers, before the arabic colonizers or before the black oppressors? Living in a fabricated past one appears suspect. Living in a present that has been fabricated for one, one is suspect.

We are constantly acting. Sometimes we put on masks to hide our true selves. Sometimes we put on the mask that we are putting on a mask and so manage to be true yet within the security of the audience’s ignorance. If these are identities, then identity is shifting, malleable and an illusion.

Sometimes I think that perhaps the answer is to define oneself by attributes that one has a control over yet it is impossible to completely extract yourself from your foundations and experiences. Is identity constructed or is it inherent? Is it a cumulative of both given and chosen elements? Maybe the better question to ask is: what is the purpose of identity?

At a social gathering recently, a group of people were introducing themselves to each other. Inevitably, ‘where are you from’ was asked and as people began to explain their countries of origin, one man stated, with firm finality that ensured no further questioning, ‘planet Earth.’ As long as people live among other people, they will always strive to differentiate from or align themselves with others. Their interests (borrowed or their own) will determine what and who they claim to be. And that the claiming itself should be important. People will form prejudiced and opinions based on these claims and the marginalizing perceptions that they accommodate rather than forming them directly from their experience with the individuals. The Center will continue its tenure.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Daily Gospel

"Think better than you've been trained."

—Toni Cade Bambara
(who insists in her book "Tales and Stories for Black Folks" that Goldilocks was a burglar, vandal, usurper and colonialist…