Friday, December 14, 2018

Farewell Gramps (nnanne)

Grandpa's Tribute: 

Also found here

When I found out my grandpa had passed away, I was in San Diego with my comrades fighting against anti-immigration policies, specifically mass deportations. This is when the court rounds up tens of people and orders them to pay an insurmountable bail amount and potential deportation. I had just come out of a meeting and had my phone turned off, cuz security. I had so many missed calls from my sister, parents, best friend, and partner and I was anxious. I get anxious and feel a lot of guilt. Am I putting this movement shit before my family? Did I miss something important? Did something happen and I wasn’t there? Am I not supporting my family in the ways I should? Am I creating harmful boundaries or not having enough boundaries? I am always reacting. I am always on call. Before, I made any calls back, I listened to a voicemail my mom left me crying hysterically telling me to call her back. Finally, I called back and found out the news.

It is because slavery, colonization, imperialism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant policies that my family is scattered across the globe. For the most part, they are all surviving, struggling, surviving, struggling, surviving, some of us here thriving with the illusion of security. There is a lot of survivors’ guilt that I see in my parents. A guilt fueled by white supremacy making you feel like you are not doing enough even when you are barely hanging on. These perceived class differences drive deep wedges in one’s family dynamic. It fuels insecurity and jealousy. It creates an environment where you are constantly giving while pretending you are good or secure when Lord knows you are constantly trying to hustle. It makes you feel vulnerable to someone else’s misdirected rage. I know my parents have sacrificed a lot. I don’t know how two people have consistently provided for countless people and villages while navigating the economic constraints in this fucked up country. My parents have been in this country for over 40 years, most of their lives.

Luckily, I have had the opportunity to meet both my maternal grandparents (both my paternal died before I was born). I would say my grandfather and I were as close as we could be, given the distance, frequency, and language barriers. He was far from perfect which makes me feel guilty for mourning his lost. Much of who he was and what he represents is staunchly against what I believe in while much of him has shaped who I am and what I represent. That is the reality of family, we live in our contradictions. It is when we sit in our contradictions and discomfort that we are able to liberate ourselves. We have to confront what we often go outside to place blame on or confront. But these very systems live inside of us, they live inside of our homes, they live inside of our families and our communities. He was a chauvinist. He was a patriarch. He was polygamous. I never got to witness his rage and his abuse but I know it was there. I’ve heard the stories and I have seen the impact. And everything he did in some shape or form has shaped my own trauma. My own trauma around family, love, culture.

I am also feeling a sense of guilt for not having talked to him enough, asked him enough questions, spent enough time with him. I feel guilty for not confronting him about a lot of the issues I organize around and the values that uphold. Though I know I have made a tremendous impact on his life and his outlook on his life. I remember telling him that I wanted to have multiple partners of different genders and he said that is fine as long as I am happy. I could have candid, open conversations with him and take him on a debate. He is stubborn. He is a debater. He used to try cases. This is me to the t.

Most of what I know about my culture and history comes from my many interviews and random calls to him. Almost 6 months later, I am still sorting through my feelings and emotions. Every time I see his picture or listen to his old voice mails, I just burst out in tears. I have not felt this type of lost before. Part of it is a complete disruption to my connection to my lineage, history, and culture that he provided a blanket for. Last year, my whole family went home to celebrate my mother’s 60th birthday not knowing this would be the last time I saw him.

One of the most politicizing moments in my life was when I learned about the Aba Women’s Uprising of 1929, where Igbo women from all over Southeastern Nigerian staged numerous protests and disruptions, dancing, singing, burning colonial buildings, sitting on patriarchal and oppressive men, demanding freedom from violence and oppression. Due to my indoctrination, I could not at the time conceptionalize a well organized resistance (the biggest) against British colonial rule by Igbo women. But this history is complicated, because my great-grandfather was a warrant-chief (a title/position/institution these women were fighting against). I have no intention of rewriting or shying away from history because I have the agency and determination to fight against oppressive systems and institutions today. I also know this is one part of my history, from the stories I have learned about my great grandmothers to my time with my maternal grandmother, I know resistance is a large part of that/my struggle.

Today, my grandfather was laid to rest in Umuawa Alaocha, Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. I did not attend because money, work, life, and quite frankly I just am not in a space to face that reality.

On June 30, 2018 when I found out my grandpa had died, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. That day I had disrupted a court hearing and was dragged out, shut down the entrance to immigration courts, and was in the midst of a beautiful for liberation. In those moments, I was transformed and whole. In the struggle fighting so families don’t have to save up thousands of dollars to see each other, so families do have to go through a million holes trying to get papers for everyone, so that families aren’t in-fighting because of lack of resources, so families aren’t experiencing generational trauma, so that gender-based violence can come to a halt, so that there will no longer be borders, so that women don’t become entrapped in violent situations both outside and outside their home. One of our fights for justice is about one’s ability to define family and have the resources and tools to raise families in safe communities, the ability for human beings to connect in ways that are not limited to pre-determined biological binaries and assessments by white scientists.

We all deserve freedom and I appreciate my grandpa for providing the vision, rigor, and analytical tools to connect my stories and experiences beyond what I can physically touch and what seems tangible and real. I am limitless. I represent the limitless of this world.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Vote or Be Shamed

"Vote or Die" 
A Rich Millionaire
Photo via Getty Images

It is that time again where people come out of their 2 year/4 year silence to shame people into voting.

These are the same scare tactics/strategies that people did in 2016 which unsurprisingly got folks to the poll (because voter turnout in 2016 was on par with voter turnout in previous decades) Yet there is this inclination to continue blaming 3rd party/non-voters for the predicament we are in. It is old, boring, tired, and un-motivating.

Stop using your guilt of inactivity to shame others into consolidating their power and their strategies into one largely symbolic day. Our primary strategy cannot be voting especially when the ballot initiatives and candidates are underwhelming and not reflective of what people need or want. The illusion of the two-party system has people excited for this ambiguous "blue wave" when Black people live in largely democratic leadership and have continuously been failed.

I am not here to tell people not to vote or vote because I believe in self determination and community education. AND because so many millions of people have been left out of the voting sphere. My parents did not and could not vote for 30 years of living in this country due to false/violent ideas of "citizenship" and "documentation". The state has no moral authority over who is and who is not worthy or value in this country and in this world. The state does not "grant" people rights. Most "rights" have come after decades of people organizing in the streets. And what is a "right" on paper, if there is no people power on the ground to ensure people's basic needs are being met? What good is a right to vote if people cannot eat? What good is a right to education if people don't have a place to sleep? What good is a right to sit next to a White person if a White person has the ability to gun me down at anytime?

I don't vote for people just because they are Black, queer, woman, immigrant, or whatever identity they have. I also don't rock with the #trustBlackwoman wave because my local governance has Black woman who align themselves with profits over people like me everyday. I care about issues and what types of issues people and organizations will move. Sometimes that aligns with an identity sometimes it does not.

So if you are going to vote, do you research.

Questions to ask yourself :
1) What do I care about and why? What issues do I care about? What issues impact my communities and my friends? What world do I want to live in?

2) What candidates (on every level city council/board of education; not just governor or presidential races) has power over the pockets of money that you care about? Which candidates are easier to hold accountable and organize under (that could very well be NO ONE cuz duh politicians are overwhelmingly corrupt) ? Which candidates will harm your communities and need to get THE FUCK out of office?

3) What ballot initiatives are up and how will they improve the material conditions of people who live in your communities( could be that there are ZERO)? What initiatives will harm your communities?

4) Is your voting tied to a longer term organizing strategy to build power? Are you shaming people into voting "blue" (which means absolutely nothing since Dems have no coherent platform or any sense of moral spine or vision) or are you using this as a strategy to educate people and bring them into your organizations or politicizing them to move their own work?

5) What alliances are you building in order to hold these corrupt/trash politicians accountable once they are in office? Have you done the research and power mapping to know how the elections can shift your organizing?

6) What else do you do besides vote? What does your week to week community and civic engagement look like?

Here are some places to start:
1) READ. READ. Read about the U.S.'s corrupt political system. Read about how people have historically organizing to make changes. Read about alternatives to capitalism and alternatives to the current political system we currently have.

2) Read with other people. Reading in isolation es no bueno. Read and discuss what is happening in the world with other people.

3) Find out what you care about. Are there other organizations working on this issue or do you need to start your own?

4) Create spaces for people to engage in political education and discourse and carve out collective solutions.

5) Research your city budget. Does it reflect your values? Can you pop up at the elected person's house, favorite restaurant, office hours and turn up on them to start prioritizing $$ in ways that meet the material needs of others?

6) Don't have time for organizing or reading? Donate your money to mutual aid projects and organizations. not BIG organizations like Planned Parenthood or ACLU but your local volunteer org that is trying to build power in your city. Because if you can't, they are willing to and need as much as support.

7) Attend your local city or council council meetings. Figure out what is happening and how you can interrupt that, educate the masses, and bring more people into your orgs/movements.

8) Build your own alternatives. People are farming and teaching others how to farm, people are creating child care cooperatives, people are creating doula, people are creating underground economies to meet their basic needs. Folks are teaching each other how to have abortions in the home, giving out free testing, etc. Create or join a collective that is doing this work to reimagine a new world.

9) Run for local office ( if you are so ecstatic about the electoral process; do something more than just voting and run for office if thats your theory of change)

10) Show out for calls of action. When people say pack the court, show up. When people need a ride to their jobs, show up. When people need you to jam the phone lines, show up. When people need you to occupy a school building, show up. The Women's March is dandy and all but are you showing up for lower asks when people are trying to hold police accountable? when people are stopping the closure of a maternity health center? when people are trying to close down a youth jail?

I can make a longer list and I am at a space in my organizing where I am able to engage people who have questions.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


It is the absence of demonstration that you find yourself creating stories , fantasies , folklores and myths

Trying to make sense of this deep seated loneliness that appears in your most brightest peaks

It is because you have been deprived so long of what it means to feel whole , independent , and secure in yourself. 
Your wants and your desires .

You begin to dream . Falling into illusions of narrow displays of affection . Soon it becomes delusion . You become delusional because the world denied you of the external fabric needed to support your internal love and self .

I ask that you forgive yourself for this longing . I ask that you acknowledge your holes . And recognize your pitfalls . And recognize all of the emotions you are having to build from scratch 20 years into a life of shallow fantasies .

Be loving and generous to yourself . To create something new is no easy task . It is not a rushed process . Take time with yourself and forgive yourself often .

I cannot promise you that you won’t again fall into the illusion of loneliness and inadequacy that often leads to desperation and toxicity . I can promise you that while sometimes it feels worse , it gets better the moment you understand that you are worthy and deserving . 

Even when you are not whole . 
Even when you are still figuring shit out . 
Even when you are a mess . 
Even when you find yourself entrapped in the coldness of a stranger who could never be for you what you are for yourself .

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

INSECURE, Issa, and The Passive Aggressive Girlfriend

(Previously posted on my Medium): 

INSECURE, Issa, and The Passive Aggressive Girlfriend

We hear this time and time again: Communication is key to all relationships. Communication can make and break relationships. In the increasingly popular HBO series Insecure, the main characters Lawrence and Issa lacked the fundamental key to a healthy and fulfilling relationship: communication. I think there were many variables that played into the constant elephants in the room and the pretense that Issa exhibited both in all of her relationships. All things being equal, I would simply advise any girl in Issa’s position to communicate to her partner how she feels and set boundaries and benchmarks of where she hopes to move her relationship. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.
In Episode 1, Issa’s co-worker asks Issa whether she knows what “on fleek” is. Issa calmly replies with “No”. She then says to herself, “Being aggressively passive is what I do best”. Indeed, that is what Issa does best but I cannot analyze Issa’s behavior without bringing the social context that creates and enables her behavior.
To quote my fave Chimamanda Adichie:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important.”
From a young age, girls are taught to be coy and most importantly, “How to Keep a Man” I have written about power dynamics in heterosexual relationships and how it is difficult for women to navigate their wants and needs due to societal pressure to “stay” and the respectability politics employed to keep them in ‘their place’. From a young age, girls are taught to be in service to men and to adjust their behavior to cater to men. One of my favorite tweets that has circulated across the internet thousands of times simple states, “Y’all don’t know how much the women in your lives hold their tongues to preserve your ego.”

Women are socialized to have high emotional intelligence because they are forced to navigate through a world that does not value their humanity or autonomy. To avoid violence and mitigate harm, women often speak and act in a “non-threatening” way and put their needs on the back-burner. While we may not outright hear these messages, we get these messages when single women are shamed or called bitter, lonely, or crazy for speaking out against the abuse they have endured. We see these messages in the pervasive rape culture where one in five women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Additionally, 60% of black girls have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of black men before reaching the age of 18. We see these messages when we look to the high rates of interpersonal violence and homicidal rates that women, specifically black women, face at the hands of their boyfriends, husbands, lovers or someone they know. Black women are murdered by men at a rate 2.5 times higher than White women. Black women are taught to stay in their place (often arbitrary and subjective) , or they will be hurt or killed.
Last year, I was assaulted by a Black man for refusing to give out my number. To this day, I suffer PTSD because I felt a loss of autonomy and control over my body. I felt vulnerable in the same ways women feel vulnerable after rape. My words did not matter. His ego mattered more than me getting home safely that night. His ego mattered so much that he was willing to reach into my car and slap me because I would not give him my number. This was a complete stranger that I had no connection to and who I would most likely never meet again. If someone I have no connection to can ignore my “no”, how then can I navigate a heterosexual relationship where male domination is the norm? To put into context, fifteen times as many females were murdered by a male they knew than were killed by male strangers in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013
Interestingly enough, high emotional intelligence should ordinarily coincide with strong communication skills. But women find themselves shrinking and holding their breath, because they have never had the space or the ability to voice their wants or needs without backlash. Women are taught that they should be grateful for attention from a man and should be even more grateful for finding a “decent man”.

Diana Walker for TIME

*Decent men pictured above*

If you find a decent man, you cannot complain about his actions or inaction because you will be labeled bitter and arrogant.

I have high self-confidence and esteem. I am very sure of myself and I understand the power dynamics between myself and men. Yet I have been an Issa in many ways. I have held my tongue. I have been too scared to let a man know what I did and did not like. At times, I felt it was useless because 1) men often gaslight by telling you you’re overreacting or that you are crazy and 2) internalized sexism is a thing that is difficult to overcome. In your head, you rationalize your refusal to communicate because “it could be worse”. Additionally, it is rare that men have value women enough to respect their feelings and have the emotional maturity to respond in a way that is affirming and loving.

I feel in some ways Issa is protecting herself. She is protecting herself from the emotional harm and disappointment she may face at the hands of Lawrence. She is protecting herself from the societal stigma she may suffer for “putting her needs before Lawrence” or being ungrateful for what is in front of her. For example, when Issa tells Molly in episode 1 that she wanted to break up with Lawrence, Molly responds with “Did you see the tears of singleness I just cried?”. Molly insists that Issa is overreacting and that having a man (no matter if you are unhappy) is better than being single. Ghanaian Feminism breaks down how women are socialized to desire marriage in a way men aren’t.

As previously stated, it is difficult for me to view the relationship between Lawrence and Issa on an individual level without the context of societal expectations. Surprisingly, I do believe that Lawrence would have had the emotional maturity to listen and talk through things with Issa. But his emotional maturity is a matter of choice. In the beginning episodes, Issa’s body language displayed how unhappy and unsure she was about their relationship. From what I perceived , Lawrence was completely oblivious or simply did not care. While unhealthy, women often use passive-aggressive body language in hopes that their partner will catch on. As stated above, girls are taught to be coy and to shrink themselves in the face of men. They are taught not to “emasculate” (quotations because there is no such thing as emasculation) a man and to “let a man be a man”. They are taught to not overreact or over-analyze or be “emotional”. Overtime, women become very insecure when in relationships.

Issa contributed to her unhealthy relationship by avoiding conversations with both Lawrence and Daniel. She should have told Lawrence how she felt about the progression of their relationship and told Daniel to stop hitting her up. But this level of communication requires that society lift the stigma of women who are single or women who are outspoken. It requires that we also raise boys to understand the importance of emotional intelligence and how to similarly communicate in relationships. I have seen very few representations of healthy black heterosexual, let alone queer relationships, so it will be difficult for individuals to unpack and deconstruct generational trauma.

While it would be ideal for Issa to have a group of supportive girlfriends, it is evident that Molly and other also carry emotional trauma. Issa and Molly’s love life impact their friendship and the harmful ways they communicate to each other. Neither Issa nor Molly has perfected how to manage their emotions or effectively communicate their feelings.

HBO: Insecure

Throughout the first episode, we saw pressuring messages about marriage and lines depicting educated Black women as lonely and bitter. Black women internalize these messages every day. And this begets the question where do Black women like Issa find the space to de-compress and heal from their trauma? Who comforts Black women when they are penalized for speaking up and out? Where do Black women get to be loud, angry, and assertive without being judged? When do Black women get to find meaningful and fulfilling companionship? Do Black women get to be in healthy, loving relationships? These are everyday contexts that black women navigate which are overlooked or reduced to individual personality flaws.

I wish it were easy to advise Issa and other Black women on how not to be passive-aggressive, but it is not. It is an everyday challenge that we are all trying to overcome. Until then…

HBO: Insecure

Friday, December 16, 2016

Igbo Proverbs: Trust, Family, Friends

Taking a stab at some Igbo proverbs. Let me know your thoughts!
Proverb: Okuko ekwesigi ichefu onyeforo ya odu na udummiri

Literal Translation: A hen does not forget who pulled their feathers during the rainy season

Context: During a rainy season, chicken/hens often catch colds. In order to get rid of the cold or to prevent future frostbites or hypothermia , we pluck the affected feathers.

Lesson: Never forget the person who helped you when you were down. Always be grateful and be willing to help those who have helped you in the past. When you help someone out, they will always return the favor. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.

Proverb: Oke no na ulo aya gwara oke no na ama na azu no na mkpukuru

Literal Translation: It is the rate in the house that went and told the rate outside that there is fish in the kitchen.

Context: Since there were no (still are not any in some areas) refrigerators, we used special baskets to preserve the fish. The basket would be closed and placed on burning charcoal or wood to stay dry and stay fresh. Often times, the fish brings rats into the kitchen and the rats enter the basket and eat the fish.

Lesson: The only way someone will know what is happening outside is if someone inside is telling them. That is, the only way that someone can enter your house and steal your fish (or anything else) is if someone inside let them in or someone inside told them where the item was located. Thus, be careful who you trust and make sure your house is in order or it will come to bite you.