International Women’s Day – What are We Celebrating?

It seems apt that today on International Women’s Day, I break my spell of writer’s block and write my first piece in 2016.

It was Twitter that brought my attention to the occasion that is being commemorated today. It was also Twitter that drew my attention to yet another social media storm surrounding, arguably one of the most famous women on the planet; Kim Kardashian. It seemed to me a twisted irony that Kim K’s name was trending on two separate topics at the same time as #InternationalWomensDay.

In 2016 it feels as though there is not much to celebrate about being woman. The job that I do means that I constantly come into contact with women who are victims of domestic abuse. Some figures show that globally, 1 in 3 women will experience violence at the hands of a male partner but I have a strong suspicion that if all cases were actually reported, the figures would be far higher. Other uplifting statistics show that there continues to be an increase in sexual crime against women.

It is becoming apparent that the women that are celebrated the most are the women who consistently appear in public without clothes. I may have burying my head in the sand, but I am at a loss to explain how this has happened.  Could Western Feminism be to blame? The type of feminism that I describe as “Western” defends the right of women to do whatever they want with their bodies, including exhibiting its naked form whenever and however they choose. It was out of Western Feminism the ridiculously absurd “Free the Nipple” campaign was birthed. I can think of no finer example of what can happen in a society to rich with privilege and comfort that a woman’s chief concern is about cultivating the right to be indecently exposed.

One of the problems with this new wave of “we have the right to wear what we want or wear nothing at all” type feminism is that it ignores the question; “why?” After all, such behaviour goes against our natural instinct to preserve our modesty. To illustrate my point, if you were out in public somewhere and experienced a wardrobe malfunction that meant you behind was exposed, would you just carry on as normal, or try and find something to cover yourself until you got home? To those that do not appear to have this instinct, we should be addressing the question, “why do want your naked body to be seen by everybody?” Do you just want attention? Are you insecure?

But that’s the trouble with Western Feminism; it asks no questions, and it ignores all consequences. Is it a coincidence that in a day an age where images of the naked female body are displayed at every opportunity and saturate  media and advertising to an inescapable degree, there is an increase in sexual violence towards women? I was horrified to read a piece by Lucy Managan in the Stylist, describing how a man on the tube was staring at her creepily and then staring at his phone, only for her to discover that he was watching pornography on his phone, openly on the tube. This is the world we now live in.

There may have been a time when feminism was all about ensuring that women were treated fairly, and afforded the same rights and opportunities as men, but now I can’t help but think Western Feminism is only adding to the problems that women face today. That’s why I believe we must stop the practice of accusing people of “slut shaming” simply for pointing  out that the absence of clothes on prominent females does nothing to raise the esteem of women who are made to feel their own bodies are inadequate. It does nothing to highlight important inner qualities and capabilities of women or recongise their achievements. And it certainly does nothing to bring an end to the objectification and subjugation of women all around the world.

My American Dream has Died

When I was a child my TV
showed US shows each day to me
Sold US dreams to this
Black British
Young girl and won me over easily
Because I watched, I wanted prom
Wanted to call my mother “mom”
To cheer lead dancing with a Pom Pom
To me you see
The U.S. was where I belonged
If given the choice where to reside
Bel air, Beverley Hills or Bayside
Who cares
I’d have better hair
And white teeth
Like all Americans who live there
I’d go to the mall, hang out at the beach
Life in America would be peachy

That’s what I’d see
When closing my eyes and California Dreaming

That dream has been cut short

By the sound of black voices screaming

I was late
To read the words that graced
The pages of Haley’s story
For my unexposed mind, this was gory
My eyes spilled metaphorical tears
For a people stolen, brutalised, the worst of all fears
Realised
DeGruy is right
That the trauma is still alive
My American Dream was beginning to die

Feelings of heaviness inside
How can a people live with this past
With this pain
With this knowledge that your blood spilled
Was their gain
You weren’t human in their eyes
My American Dream began to die

And then Obama
They’ve come so far
The most powerful man
And he’s black like me
“We don’t see colour, look at Obama. See?”
Yet to to make black lives matter
Powerless is he.
I was not fooled
But still fooled to believe
That racism was only in the awards blacks didn’t receive
Was only in parts on screen they could never play
America was still a place to travel to some day

The trouble is
Now we have technology
Camera phones that record and see
What the overseers, sorry officers
Don’t want anyone to see
Thank God for passers by
Now the world can see what America would like to hide
You still want black labour,
So you put blacks in jail
You still want to be Massa
white supremacy prevails
It was not a crime then for a slave to be killed
And still now you murder blacks as you will
Instead of serving time
You hit the big time
Get lauded as a king
Or sheltered under the Roof of a Burger King

I’m no longer dreaming, I will stay woke
It is sad to say, I can’t see a day
That the dream MLK spoke
Of will ever come to pass
Blacks still being pushed
To the bottom of the class
When it comes to wealth and healthcare
They’re still coming last
The whites have the gall to put “immigrants” on blast
You are also an immigrant have you forgotten your past?
But for the blacks it’s
Not so much California, but Compton
But even when the blacks
Do live in a nice neighbourhood
The whites believe blacks are no good
“This is our swimming pool
Stay out of our spaces
Or we will call the cops
But don’t you dare call us racist”
Yes Amerikkka; the police man of the world
Allows its own police force
To assault innocent young black girls
As I watch the whitewashed media spin
It sinks in
From the beginning
The dream was never for those with melanin

I now watch Amerikkka through cynical eyes
Death in police custody is followed by lies
Lies followed by victim blaming
And shaming
No justice for black bodies
Just more hashtag naming
Everyday a new hashtag
The world ignores Amerikkka’s genocide
But not I
I dare not step foot on that blood soaked stolen soil
Lest I die
(If I do I did not commit suicide)

To express what has been implied:
My American Dream has died

Happy New Year?

The reason for the question mark in my title is, hasn’t January 2015 just been a little bit depressing? I do not mean to sound negative here, but I really do hope things improve from here on out. The following (in no particular order) are a list of reasons why in my opinion, this year so far has not been so “happy”:

  • It is very cold, windy and rainy.
  • Trains everywhere seem to be running an appalling service, constantly running late, and are extremely over packed. Oh and fares have gone up too.
  • I’m fatter than usual following Christmas 2014. Usually after Christmas, I go up just one dress size, but this year it’s two.
  • Hospitals everywhere cannot cope with the number of patients being admitted. I’m scared that should I need urgent medical attention, an ambulance may reach me by January 2016.
  • The general election has not happened yet, and David Cameron is still the prime minister.
  • Over 2000 people, according to Amnesty figures, were massacred in Nigeria. As bad as that is, the tragedy was made worse by the lack of media coverage it received.
  • It’s 2015 and instead of there being greater understanding of different cultures etc, racism, it appears, is more acceptable than ever under the guises of “an honest debate about immigration”, “promoting British/Western values” and “the freedom/right to offend”.
  • Black lives still don’t matter
  • The rich continue to get richer, and the poor get poorer
  • Celebrity Big Brother has returned again. (When will this trash die?)
  • I can’t even comfort eat away some of my woes because I now have to be on a stupid diet

Despite all of these things, I live in hope. Not every year can be entirely wonderful, and anyway, this is just the beginning. After all at this time last year I was unaware that I was going to be proposed to a few days later, and then married by the end of the year (more about that later).

The best comfort really, is to continue to remind myself that this life is temporary, and to think of things eternal.

Cursed Culture? Why Laissez-faire does not Fare Well

The spotlight is on Nigeria once again. I cannot discuss aspects of African culture that could do with change, without mentioning the casual, nonchalant, and often too relaxed outlook seen in parts of Nigerian society. Nowhere is it seen more, than amongst the Nigerian Government. The utterly pathetic search “effort” for the 274 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok a few weeks ago, is just one recent example of this. Thank God, 50 managed to escape. And now another blow; today, it has been reported that Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group responsible for the kidnapping, have kidnapped a further 8 girls from another school in Borno.

 

When atrocities such as these happen, it becomes so apparent why the laissez-faire attitude of the Nigerian Government is so disastrous. The plight of the missing girls, and their families is heart wrenching, and has sparked a global outcry. The hash tag “BringBackOurGirls” is currently trending on twitter. America and the UK have now offered assistance in trying to find the girls. Kind offers they are, but isn’t it a little embarrassing that these Western nations have had to offer help to a seemingly incapable Nigeria? I sincerely hope the Nigerian government will learn from some of the mistakes made in connection with the Chibok girls, and act with much more zeal in searching for the 8 girls kidnapped in Borno. It is little hope.

 

It could be said that it is easy for me to sit here in London and criticise Nigerian leaders, so I will pause with a link to a well written article on the same subject, written by one who lives in Nigeria:

 

http://www.postcardfromlagos.com/2014/04/remembering-chibok-200.html

 

And now to draw this mini-series about culture to a close; one could be forgiven for thinking that I have nothing positive to say about African culture. That isn’t the case. For example, I love the warmth, the resilience, the ingenuity, and ability to deal with hardship with a smile, present in so many Africans. But there is no harm in fine-tuning the culture, and when it comes to certain aspects of it, such as the subject of the post, in my opinion, it is positively harmful not to.

 

 

For more commentary, follow me on Twitter @adressrehearsal

Cursed Culture? Spiritual vs Superstitious

It is rare to meet an African atheist. Africans generally believe in something. A lot of Nigerians I know are “Christians”. I would included myself in that number, but I am a little unusual in that I don’t attend a church pastored by a megalomaniac, who struts up and down a stage shouting and sweating in front of a congregation who sway, swoon, and ultimately empty out their pockets to fund the profligate lifestyle of the said megalomaniac. In other words I don’t attend the ever popular charismatic church.

 

At times I find it mystifying that so many Africans do attend such churches. In the days I used to attend, the pastors would have the cheek to declare that theirs is the spirit filled church, and the more conservative and traditional churches are “dead” churches. It was a similar story at home, after I left the charismatic church. Whenever my mother would be watching Supernatural on the God channel, and I would decline to join, informing her that I do not believe in such things (as people being transported to Heaven and back), she would declare that I have no faith. On the contrary I do not need to witness lying signs and wonders in order believe that God exists.

 

In the end I’ve concluded that the reason there is so much delusion in African churches, is that African people are just too superstitious. I know Africans that don’t like it if a black cat passes by in front of them. Or apparently if you’re pregnant you should not look at something scary or unpleasant, otherwise your child will be born ugly, to cite but a few examples.

 

In many parts of Africa herbal doctors, or “witch doctors” still operate and are heavily relied upon. I’m almost convinced that many African pastors are nothing more than “Christianized” witch doctors. Witch doctors will tell you to bring personal items to be prayed over; so do the African pastors. Witch doctors tell people that if they do something, or neglect to do something, a curse will fall upon them; so do African pastors. Witch doctors profess to possess special powers, and command respect and authority; so do African pastors.

 

It is just so annoying that so many African pastors are able do all these things in name of Christ, with no biblical precedent or authority. It is just so frustrating to see people in their thousands being sucked in. When African churches are caught up in a particularly peculiar folly, the secular media have a field day. I wonder if the members of those churches are aware of just how… for lack of a better word… utterly idiotic they look. Did any of the Rabboni Centre Ministries members who obeyed instructions to eat grass feel a little embarrassed when they saw pictures of themselves sprawled out on a field like goats, printed in international press?

 

What aggravates me the most is when superstition has destructive impact upon peoples’ lives. It can range from a person marrying the wrong spouse because a pastor “had a vision” that it was meant to be, to a sick person throwing away vital medication because they’ve been told that God doesn’t want anybody to ever be sick, and they should there “receive their healing”. Church goers can see their life savings depleted by believing the lie of the pastor, that as they sow (financially) they will reap blessings.

 

But perhaps one of the cruellest results of blindly following people who claim to men or women of God, is the suffering of children. Just today I read in the Evening Standard of a woman named Helen Ukpabio, who is currently in the UK, from Nigeria. Campaigners want her to be deported because she accuses children of being witches. She has been quoted as saying that any child who cries at night or is feverish is “a servant of Satan”. Her preaching has led to many children in Nigeria being abandoned, starved and abused. It is appalling that this disgusting practice of labelling children and babies witches still continues. Lessons still have not been learned since the Victoria Climbie case that shocked the media all the way back in the year 2000.

 

An excerpt from the book "Prayer Bullets for Winners" (War against Haman 8). I guess there were previous books waging war against Haman 1-7

An excerpt from the book “Prayer Bullets for Winners” (War against Haman 8). I guess there were previous books waging war against Haman 1-7

One of things that I can’t help but find slightly amusing though, is different names given to various “spirits” or “kingdoms”. Ms Ukpabio or “Lady Apostle” claims to deliver people of “ancestral spirits” and “mermaid spirit”. Many will also be familiar with the terms “enemy of progress”, “spirit husband/wife”, and “household wickedness”. A more sobering thought is of the endless prayers, or rather energetic chanting, uttered within superstitious churches. With so much time and energy dedicated to these supposed dark forces, do those prayer warriors realise that they are actually idolising those dark forces, and so in effect worshipping them? Wouldn’t it be a miracle if those worshippers in their thousands, devoted the hours they currently spend chanting, into to actually studying the bible and finding out what it really says. Maybe that would help to avert the problems mentioned above, and perhaps avert the greatest tragedy of all; false conversions.

Cursed Culture: Don’t say the F word (feminism)

Image

If a survey was carried out amongst FGN and SGN Africans alike, asking whether one would class themselves as a feminist, I wonder what the results would be? Perhaps slightly more numbers amongst the SGNs I imagine, but probably still a low figure. That’s because most Africans still associate feminism with negative connotations, as observed by Chimamanda Adichie in her TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists”.

 

I, am one of those Africans that shudder at the word “feminist”. I believe that the determination to have a society where men and women are treated and deemed as exactly the same, is misguided and unhelpful. That’s because men and women are different. For example those who follow that line would argue that a man should not give up his seat for a woman who is pregnant, because that would mean the woman is being treated differently! I also find it irresponsible when feminists argue that women should have the right to do whatever they want AND the right not face the consequences.

 

But if we take the feminism at its most basic level and meaning, even I would be forced to admit that ideology should not be entirely frowned upon. I looked up feminism on Wikipedia and found the following definition: “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.”

 

Ok so that doesn’t sound so bad. In fact perhaps it a good place to start in terms of educating future generations about the way both men and women should be treated in society. The difficulty I have with African culture, is that there is often a noticeable adverse difference in how women are treated, starting with within the family, and then in society at large. To clarify, I do not think that there is a problem with society treating the woman as a “weaker vessel” (only in the sense of physical strength) if that means that the woman is treated more delicately, with respect, and in a chivalrous manner. What I do have a problem with, is society treating the woman as though she is an inferior vessel, less important, and is to be disrespected, and even treated as property.

 

Earlier this month International Women’s day was celebrated, which coincided with a long train of thought I’d been having about the inequality African women, in particular, face. It started with this picture, I saw online:

Asian Meme

 

This picture, although alluding to Asian culture, pretty much summed up my childhood. The fact that my brothers were allowed to go out and about as pleased, whereas the girls were not – that was just the start.  I was also frequently told that it’s not a boys’ job to cook or clean, and that I must learn to cook otherwise my future husband would leave me. From what I gather, it tends to be the same in many African households. How many boys who are the “only boy” in the family do you know that aren’t spoilt? Whereas if you’re the “only girl”, it’s most likely you’ve adopted the role of house girl.

 

I’ve tried to evaluate these experiences and consider whether there was any legitimate reason why male and females should be treated differently in this, starting from such a young age. I could think of none. I could however think of good reasons why both male and female children should be taught how to cook and clean. For example, until such a time as a man marries, and has a wife to do those things for him (if such arrangements still exist), then it would be useful for him to know how to boil and egg and not burn toast, and to maintain a hygienic environment. In terms of going out, as long as both male and female have safe arrangements to return home, do risks not otherwise exist in respect of both sexes?

 

I sometimes observe inequality when I come across African women in the line of work I do. There was once an Egyptian woman who could speak no English and had to have everything she said interpreted to me by a male interpreter. The Egyptian male interpreter was domineering, and at times tried to advise me as to how to do my job in between interpreting. The Egyptian woman had an abusive husband, and she was seeking protective help. She was trying to communicate her frustrations to me, and the interpreter told her to “shut up” in Arabic instead of interpreting what she said. She stood up for herself, but the interpreter deemed this as disrespectful and threatened to walk out. The woman started crying tears of frustration and helplessness. It was hard not to feel bad for this woman who seemed like another victim of a culture that oppresses its women.

 

Then there are the stories I hear of African women in oppressive marriages where the husband has fallen on hard times, leaving the woman to work and provide for the family, and do all of the cooking and cleaning, and once home, do all of the child care too! I hear of men treating their wives as property, though should this be surprising in a culture where a man has often paid a bridal price in exchange for the woman?

 

I have to be thankful that I’ve been exposed to certain opportunities in Britain. I’ve heard about how difficult things can be for the average non-connected female living in Nigeria to try and make a living. That female if not married, is therefore not being taken care of by a husband, and is put in a vulnerable position, because she does not have the power or status to take care of herself. When it comes to inheritance, her brothers will inherit everything and she will be entitled to nothing.

 

All these matters are concerning. Do we want to see a perpetuation of this aspect of the culture that demeans and sometimes even dehumanizes women? Is feminism the answer? Certainly not the traditional, white middle class type feminism that ignores the perspectives of other ethnicities. Maybe a repackaged, re-branded feminism that simply presents the woman as an equally intelligent, and autonomous being who like any other citizen, deserves basic respect and recognition.

 

 

If the fact is that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we must make it our culture

Chimamanda Adichie

 

Follow me on twitter @adressrehearsal

Cursed Culture? A View from the Second Generation Nigerian

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts about African culture. Of course I know that culture differs from country to country within the continent, but there are common themes that I have identified through my meetings and experiences with various people.

My attempt to analyse and critique what I perceive to be typical Nigerian, and in particular, Igbo customs and traditions, will be done through my Second Generation Nigerian (SGN) eyes. I anticipate I may be prone to bias, as I have dual cultures and therefore part of me – and I have to say, a larger part of me – does not relate to certain Nigerian/Igbo customs. I describe myself as SGN because my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, but they chose to settle and have children in Britain. In my opinion you do not have to have been born in Britain to be an SGN, but you would have spent the majority of your life living here, including during your formative years. Similarly, if you were born in Britain (you can also read America here, or any other Western country), but grew up in Nigeria, you probably will not identify as an SGN.

The SGN experience will of course differ from person to person. In sharing my personal experiences, I do not purport that they are shared by all SGNs but I feel there may be some commonalities. I’ll come to language first. If I had a pound for every First Generation Nigerian (FGN) that, with a face twisted with disgust, spat out the words “you don’t speak Igbo?” I would be a very rich woman. The moment created thereafter is always painful, awkward, and embarrassing for me, yet I don’t judge the speaker too harshly. After all, the heart of any people is their language. It is what unites them. It is often how they can seek each other out in a crowd. However where does that leave the SGN who was not taught the language by their parents? As an outsider, a foreigner, and a fraud. Notice how the SGN is the one castigated, even though it is the PARENT of the SGN that has failed in their duty to pass on the vital element of belonging. I am tempted to say so much more on this point alone, but I may save it for another post dedicated to the (decline of the) Igbo language.

On a separate note, what happens when Nigerian culture clashes with the other culture experienced by the SGN in the land of their habitation? I am speaking of when the FGN feels that things should be done in a certain Nigerian way,  as though Nigerian culture is superior to all else. The SGN may have experienced something different, and might have a different view on things, but the FGN, (usually the parent) will rarely question whether the Nigerian way actually is the best way. For example, my experience of the Igbo culture is that parents see themselves as demigods who are to be obeyed by their children in all things no questions asked. This continues even when said children are actually grown adults. From a British perspective, parents guide their children as best they can, but when they are adult, they acknowledge that they can no longer tell them what to do. In my opinion, on this particular point, what is typically British, is a better way. But an SGO expressing a desire to do things another way, can lead to a lot of friction and uproar.

Another problem an SGN is likely to face is, where do they belong? For an SGO that has known a Western environment for all of, or most of their life, living in Nigeria is not an option. This is simply lost on a lot of FGNs. When I am on holiday in Nigeria I’m often asked by my relatives “when are you coming back home (to Nigeria)?” This question presupposes two things: 1) that I left Nigeria, when I actually I did not start out there, and 2) that Nigeria is my home. If Nigeria is just a foreign place to the SGN, why is it expected that they will decide to live there, especially when all they’ve known is a life of relative comforts. It also begs the question, why do the parents of the SGN invest in so much land in Nigeria, under the assumption that their SGN offspring will want to leave everything that they are accustomed to go and inhabit the land, in order to ensure it remains in the family?

It is so tempted to go on and on at this point as I find these topics very interesting, and would like to see more discussion about them. However I will stop here, and leave certain other topics for other posts. It will be revealing to see how many traditions and customs survive into the Third Generation, and whether the dominant Nigerian culture will finally begin to adapt and synchronize.