Great Teachers Are Under-Appreciated

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If we have been friends on Facebook for a while, you’ve probably seen me post thank you status’ to Mr Omasire a couple of times in the course of my time in uni but there’s never been a back story to it.

Here it goes:

When I started my A Level years ago, I was just playing around.

In my first year of A Level I didn’t even bother studying for my law paper, just skimmed through a few notes a went swimming in that exam room. Then I got my results back and unsurprisingly, I had drowned because I went in unprepared – got an ‘E’ in law.

When the next year began, my law teacher, Mr Graham Omasire, called me after a class. We stood right outside his office and he said “Sanna you are messing up and you need to get serious because what you got is not YOUR grade and you know it”. Obviously I’d had this conversation with my parents on receiving my results, but that moment was different because it came from someone who had “no serious stake”, or so to speak, in whether I passed or failed.

So that was hard hitting, and we agreed then, that I would write him an essay every week, and I promised to take my work seriously. Over the course of the year I kept my word and Mr Omasire would take no more than a day to give me feedback.

I decided to resit my law paper the next year in June, with my final A Level exams instead of the same year November because I was determined, thanks to Mr Omasire, to achieve my best instead of average so I didn’t rush it. The next year I re-sat the law paper and got an A.

Fast forward to 6 years later, I am about hand in in my master’s thesis and it is the only thing standing between me and a distinction (fingers crossed) and all because of that one push he gave me.

Some of you have read my writings or heard my spoken word. A couple of people have messaged me and asked me what makes me so passionate and I’ve responded with “humanity”.

Truth is my father planted that seed by giving me so many books to read all through my life and always sitting me down to ask for my understanding of them and perhaps it’s somewhat in the gene too because he writes, including poetry, though doesn’t share much. He always talks to me about the men and women before me that devoted their lives for the greater good. And he himself, will no doubt go down the history books as one such great man. And so my passion comes from that.

My mum is also really great with words, she helped me pen my first poem in 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan, and the now, South Sudan was signed. Though we’ve both claimed it as my piece over the years, I just put it down on paper/translated it to English. Lol

Before Mr Omasire’s simple, yet powerful words 5 years ago however, I really never thought of writing as something I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to leave a mark in the world somehow, but writing wasn’t the first thing I had in mind. And so he watered that seed and made me realise the power of words; he could easily have belittled me after my failure, but he chose to build me. That made me realise that words, just like daggers could be use to either destroy, or liberate and it is from then, that I decided I wanted to write.

I share this story because great teachers are under-appreciated. I firmly believe, from this experience, that teachers can be the difference between a student who realises their potential, and one who doesn’t. And so before I fully pen then my conclusion I’d just like to sincerely thank the great man that is Mr Omasire because not only did he give me the push to do my best, instead of average in all I do, but he also opened the door into the beautiful world that is writing, in which I have found my passion.

I hope every students’ path crosses with one of such a great teacher. Much love and respect sir, and thank you for being the beautiful soul that you are.

A New Approach to the National Dialogue in Sudan that will Stop the Wars, Address the Humanitarian Crisis and Lead to Democratic Transformation

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Presented by Yasir Arman to Sudanese and Non-Sudanese Activists and to a Chatham House Roundtable on Wednesday, August 20, 2014
 
In one of his brilliant messages to Field Marshall Jafar Numeri, the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior in 1984 proposed a national constitutional conference as a mechanism to settle the issues of the civil war and to address the historical question of how Sudan is to be governed, before who governs it.  It is known that Sudan is a country of historical and contemporary diversity that truly represents the diversity of the African continent.   It is well established today, that Sudan needs a new national project and social contract, based on equal citizenship, democracy and social justice and one that will take Sudan into a new social, political and economic dispensation.  This issue has been raised on different occasions and it is more important and relevant today, after the secession of South Sudan.  Sudan needs to re-define its national project and take lessons on how to preserve its national and geographical unity on a new basis.  Unsurprisingly, even after all these years, Garang’s “New Sudan” vision, still remains as the only game in town, in both Sudan and South Sudan.
 
The Agreement of June 28, 2011 between the SPLM-N and the Sudan government indicated that the issue of the war in South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains should be settled in a wider national context through a comprehensive national constitutional process.  Article 3f states, “Negotiations shall be undertaken in the context of broader dialogue and political processes at the national level, recognizing the importance of cooperation between the Parties for stability, development, democracy and constitutional reform in Sudan.”  Likewise the SRF in its early documents identified a peaceful comprehensive settlement as one of its mechanisms to transform Sudan in order to transition from war to peace, and from a one party system to a democratic system.  This issue has taken a new dimension after the government in Khartoum admitted the need for national dialogue in the famous speech of General Omar Bashir in January this year.  The Sudan government failed, however, in two rounds of talks with the SPLM-N in Addis Ababa to recognize the need for a roadmap that will provide the necessary requirements for a productive national dialogue and the need for a comprehensive approach to stop the war as a prerequisite for the national dialogue.  Today, the SRF and all opposition forces are fully convinced of the urgency and need for a national constitutional dialogue and they have provided ideas on how to make this a successful process. 
They all agreed on three major issues: 
 
1) The need to stop the war and address the humanitarian crisis;
 
2) To allow for freedoms and ensure the protection of basic human rights; and
 
3) Holding a national constitutional dialogue that will lead to an interim arrangement.
 
It is important to note that the government’s call for a national dialogue came within the background of the September 2013 uprising, which was about overthrowing the regime according to a government leaked report that quoted the security agencies saying, if the uprising were to continue for 48 hours, the regime could have been overthrown.  In addition, the successful military operations by the SRF on Abu Karshola in May 2013 threatened the position of the NCP and posed serious challenge to that the regime is not immune from defeat.
 
The Characteristics of the Current Political Situation in Sudan:
 
1)    There are three tracks for a peaceful settlement, which are discussing the same issues; Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Doha, while adopting a partial piecemeal solution.
 
2)    The wars extend from Blue Nile, on the south far-east of Sudan, to Darfur, in the southwest of Sudan, with a humanitarian crisis that has displaced more than 4 million civilians internally and externally.
 
3)    The Sudan Armed Forces are in bad shape as well.  SAF is not trusted by the political leadership and General Bashir is increasingly depending on, and has become the Commander in Chief of, the Janjaweed – now called the Rapid Support Force.  By doing this, he is counter-balancing the Sudan Armed Forces and using extensively hired tribal militias to fight for him in the rural areas of Sudan as well as using it to threaten any uprising in the urban areas of Sudan, which has resulted in the last six months, from January to June, in the displacement of half a million in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.  It is worth noting that this is a conservative United Nations statistic.
 
4)    For years, the Sudan government has denied access for humanitarian assistance to South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur. This acts constitute a war crime in the International Humanitarian law.
 
5)    Sudan is experiencing a deep economic crisis.  It is enough to mention that the Sudan government uses more than 70% of its annual budget on war and security, and less than 2% on health and education.
 
6)    A power struggle exists inside the core leadership group of the ruling National Congress.  They use different means to undermine each other, including accusations of attempted coups and using the missiles of corruption allegations to damage each other’s reputations.
 
7)    The national dialogue is losing momentum because the government is unprepared to meet the requirements to stop the war and allow for freedom.  Ironically, after the call for national dialogue, the humanitarian situation worsened and many well known political leaders, journalists, students, youth and women were arrested.  The government increased censorship of the media and an Editor in Chief of a newspaper was attacked in his office.  More over, the apostasy death sentence of Miriam Yahya Ibrahim brought back into the political life of Sudan, the fundamental issue of equal citizenship and freedom of religion. Especially when speaking in the context of areas like South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Sudan at large, where there is a sizeable number of Christians.
 
Paris Declaration
 
The Paris Declaration broke the political stalemate on the national dialogue and brought together major political forces, armed and unarmed, from the marginalized areas and the center of Sudan, both traditional and new forces, which carries with it important symbolism.  The declaration should be viewed as a demonstration of the goodwill of the opposition to support the national dialogue and to provide a new approach, and of injecting new momentum around the national dialogue, as well as availing the opportunity to unite the opposition forces towards ending the war and expressing their willingness to sit with the government for a national dialogue.  It is also important to note that the forces of the Paris Declaration have fully agreed upon two mechanisms to effect change:  the national dialogue and the national constitutional process are the preferable mechanisms. 
 
In the absence of that, they are equally prepared for a peaceful uprising to achieve transformation.  The Paris declaration is well received inside Sudan and it has brought a new equation into the Sudanese political life.  It was not only well received by the opposition political parties, but equally by civil society, new social forces, and interestingly, from well known personalities within the Islamic movement, who have continuously opposed the SRF.
 
The Elections
 
General Bashir’s term in office, as well as the national and regional legislatures, will come to an end in April 2015.  The government is facing a catch-22 situation.  On the one hand, General Bashir and his party have ruled Sudan continuously for 25 years and the voices for change are heard everywhere including within their own party.  They only have two ways to go; to have credible democratic elections that are a representation of the national consensus will and bring national reconciliation that can only be achieved through a credible national dialogue and national constitutional process. 
 
On the other hand, the other option is for them to go for the usual rigged elections that will only fuel the political crisis and result in more polarization and deepen political division within the country, creating an environment that would increase the violence in the absence of the political means and peaceful exchange of power.  Therefore, in the opposition, we call upon the regional and international community to give a clear message to General Bashir and his government that the regional, and international communities will not recognize such an election.  In addition, the issues of the humanitarian crisis and human rights violations should be raised up front as one of the means of putting pressure on the government to allow for a credible national dialogue. 
 
The opposition would like to reach out to China and Russia, to convey that it is in the interest of both countries to support a credible national dialogue as a mechanism to bring peace and stability to Sudan, and for Sudan to be an effective economic and investment partner, especially since most of the viable economic projects are in the areas hit by war. 
 
If the National Congress insists on an election regardless of national consensus and will of the people, the Sudanese opposition and civil society will definitely boycott the elections and will turn the elections into a political battlefield for peaceful uprising. 
 
Sudan and the Regional/International Stability
 
It is an open secret, the known and the hidden relationship between Sudan and the forces of the political Islam, both regionally and internationally. Sudan has increasingly become part of the Iranian alliance, which has worsened its relations with important neighboring countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Sudan is gaining more importance in the international Muslim Brotherhood organization, especially after they lost power in Egypt and also as part of their strategy in the Middle East conflict.  Sudan became strategic in its partnership with the Iranian military industrial complex in Khartoum, which is providing arms to Sudan and to other organizations.  Sudan’s name continues to come up in the conflicts of neighboring countries and the continent, as in the case of Central Africa, Libya, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Mali, as well as the Middle East.    Given the fragility of our country and the need for it to reconcile within itself, coupled with the importance of refraining from instigating instability regionally and internationally, which our country paid dearly for, we, the Sudanese, believe it is high time for Sudan to change direction towards positive interaction with its neighbors and the international community, to end decades of isolation and forge a constructive partnership in the interest of peace and development. 
 
It is also known that Sudan has become one of the important ideological training grounds for African fundamentalists.  For the last 25 years, thousands of African Islamist ideologues have graduated from the African Islamic University in Khartoum, who are playing a leading role in some orgarnisations such as the Boko Haram in Nigeria, in Somalia and in other places.  The present government in Sudan has a long record and a hand in many terrorist incidents in Kenya, Ethiopia and the United States.  It is worth mentioning that political Islam is threatening the unity of Africa as it did in Sudan, for the African societies are tremendously ethnically and religiously diverse.  Likewise, the partnership of Iran in the Sudan military industry is fueling wars inside Sudan and in the neighborhood. 
 
It is to be recalled that Sudan is the only country in Africa today using its air force against its own civilian population. 
 
The Way Forward
 
The Paris Declaration should be used to move the national dialogue and the national constitutional process forward, and the Sudan regional and international partners should seek a new approach to make use of the momentum created by the Paris Declaration.  The SPLM-N leadership, on the eve of the preparations for the SRF leadership meeting in Paris and for the Paris Declaration, met the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the Chair of the AUHIP, Thabo Mbeki, the ANC and its allies in South Africa, as well as a joint meeting of the SRF leadership with the European and US partners in the search of peace for Sudan. Together we provided new ideas and we discussed the need for a new approach that will inject a new momentum into the national dialogue and constitutional process.  Among them,
 
1)    The need to unify these three forums in Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Doha into a single forum which will lead to the national dialogue or at the very least, have effective coordination between them, as well as welcoming regional and international facilitation;
 
2)    A comprehensive cessation of hostilities from Blue Nile to Darfur, that will address the humanitarian situation and lead eventually to a strategic ceasefire that will create a new environment, favorable for the national dialogue inside and outside of Sudan;
 
3)    Guarantee freedoms and the release of all political detainees; and
 
4)    The end game of the national dialogue should be clear to each and every Sudanese in order to mobilize the best energy in our society, towards a transition from war to peace and from a one-party system to a democratic system that carries national consensus and national reconciliation and healing.
 
In conclusion, the fundamental question will remain; Are we heading towards a national dialogue and constitutional process that is going to reproduce the current political system and deepen the present political crisis, or are we on the eve of a national dialogue that will open roads towards a new national project that enjoys national consensus and lead to the building of a new Sudan based on the fundamental principle of equal citizenship? 

BLACK IS A STATISTIC – A NUMBER TO BE ERASED WHENEVER CONVENIENT

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The system was/is designed to alienate; Less graduations, more funerals. Black is a statistic. A number to be erased whenever convenient. Black will continue to be a statistic…

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Black history will continue to be reduced to no more than slavery, drowning out the thousand of years before that… Black men will continue to be reduced to no more than gangsters, addicts and vulgar individuals… Africa will continue to be reduced to no more than a place of hunger, poverty and diseases while drowning out the part where Afri-Aid built, and continues to build, the “first world”… They will keep telling you how Africans are illiterate, drowning out the fact that human civilisation began there, that speech is owed to the continent, that the worlds oldest and second oldest universities stem from Africa…

Mothers will continue attending funerals and fathers will continue identifying bodies.

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Black is a statistic. A number to be erased whenever convenient. Black will continue to be a statistic…

A system based on oppression will always seek to keep the pyramid as is. The top will never change for the bottom. The bottom, has to rise up to turn triangles upside down.

I am every Rosa Parks whose dignity you could not take,
Every Patrice Lumumba you silenced,
I am every Mau Mau soldier you vilified,
Every Marcus Garvey whose revolution you could not tame,
I am every Nelson Mandela you jailed,
And every Eric Garner you Profiled.

I am every Maya Angelou whose pen never rests,
Counselled by the spirit of Nyabinghi that will never hate,
But always denounce oppression,
With a voice unflinching,
My echoes will only get louder,
Until my brothers and sisters are every Django Unchained.

Then I will look to you,
With the same love I bear within,
And unparalleled exuberance,
And say,
“We are now… ONE”

I wrote the above about a week ago… Today, ‘I AM’, yet again. I am every Micheal Brown.

Do you see the cycle? Black people need more than “justice”. Black people need power.

And no, not power to in turn become the oppressors, but power to sit on the table, with a seat of similar respect and ability of similar influence.

Let us smile, sip tea and have cookies is unrealistic. The black man, will never be seen as an equal, until the black man BECOMES an equal. The mere fact that we are all human is a cute idea – a brilliant one in an ideal world – but that idea alone will not gain us our freedom. It will not free us from bondage. We can only realistically preach our oneness when we TOO have economic power. Until then, we will always be sub-human.

Whereas steps have been taken in the search for equality, a bridge is yet to be crossed. Therefore, perhaps it is time to re-examine our priorities. A new wave of Garveyism for the black man is really not a choice, if we are to get anywhere.

It is a choice, however, for all others who stand for truth, regardless of race. 

“Only equals make friends. Any other relationship is out of order.”

~ Maya Angelou.

Artist Randy Valentine summarizes life and our society at large in his recently released nine-track E.P

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This article was originally posted on face2faceAfrica.com

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Growing up I enjoyed listening to mainstream music, where as a young girl, I was encouraged to “drop it down low,” value myself by how much skin I show, how much of a  “bad b*tch” I could be, and how many men I could attract with my “sexy booty.”  This kind of mainstream music was what boomed through the speakers of the minibuses, which is the main mode of transportation in Kenya and commonly known to the locals as matatus. Every time my dad would walk in to the living room and find me listening to or watching videos of that derogatory music, he would proclaim sternly, “I don’t like this matatu music you like listening to! Can’t you find better music?”

At the time, I saw nothing wrong with the music I was listening to of course. I mean, yes, sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence was glorified. “But it’s just music,” I would respond. To which my father in a rather irritated tone would say, “No, it’s not just music.”

He would then change the channel and begin explaining to me what was wrong with the music I was listening to. Most importantly, he would explain why as a young lady growing up in a patriarchal society, it should not be something to celebrate: “Rise above it. You are better than that,” he would say.

It took me some time to “rise above it” and think of myself as being “better than that.” Honestly, I cannot fully say that I have risen above negative music. I still find myself singing along to “Candy Shop,” but then I stop and snap back, saying to myself, “Sanna what was that you just sang?”

Apart from mainstream disruptive music, the matatus also played reggae music. I was still young and did not quite understand the revolutionary nature of reggae, but nonetheless, it soon became my favorite genre.

Roots reggae is a genre you will usually find playing in the market place, at hair salons, and in the matatus of Kenya.

I believe reggae resonates with many Kenyans because of the everyday struggles depicted in the music that connect with the common man due to constant marginalisation and oppression in our society.

Subsequently, during my undergraduate years, I began to understand the effects negative music has on both men and women and how what we consume affects us. As a result of this understanding, I always try to listen to positive, uplifting, and conscious music as much as possible.

There was a point in time when I used to complain about there being no good music out there, until I realize that demand creates supply, and the music we complain about, is what we have accepted. Not only is it something we have accepted but is also a reflection of our society. This is brilliantly articulated in Franlyn Adoo’s article The Motto “F*** B*****; Get Money”, where he argues that culture does not only influence society, but is a reflection of it. Here Adoo also challenges the consumer, a sentiment I concur with, concluding by stating You have the autonomy to choose what you consume. If you don’t like what an artist is about, choose not to listen to them. I am not suggesting that one should exclusively listen to overtly “conscious” music but exhorting consumers to be more critical of the music that contributes to the pollution of our culture.”

In an attempt to live up to that challenge, I want to share a review of Randy Valentine’s (pictured) recently released E.P entitled “Break the Chain” with the Face2Face Africaaudience. Valentine is a Jamaican artist who resides in Britain.

Regarding identity, Valentine says, “If I had a choice, I’d choose not to be identified by where I’m from, but who I am. And I’m not a country.” Indeed, that is an interesting viewpoint that transcends the artificial boundaries man has created. The E.P can be purchased on iTunes for £3.99. In my humble opinion, this nine-track E.P brilliantly summarises life and its struggles as well as beauty and our society at large.

Track 1 – Dear People

Dear People addresses kindness and humanity:

“The little time God give me on earth, I’d rather use it and love you. I still see you as my brother, or my sister, even if you have no love for me. ‘Cause they say who knows better, does better, that’s why I write this song and you can take it as a letter”

Hope:

 “Dear People, I know life is unfair dear people, I know the future unclear dear people, I know there’s problems everywhere, but trust me one day you’re going to get your fair share”

Positive music:

 “They say no music’s out there, they say something’s missing. I say music out there. It’s just people that don’t listen”

 

Track 2 – Sweet Reggae Music

 In “Sweet Reggae Music,” Valentine gives a shout-out to those who “support the dream,” adding, “If life was a reggae party, everybody would have been happy.” “Sweet Reggae Music” is such a feel-good song that I cannot help but agree that for all those who do music “for the money in the pocket, it’s a dirty habit, you have to stop it [because] the people need more of that, more of the realness, more of that, good music with feeling.”

 

Track 3 – Lock Me Up:

Another creatively written, feel-good tune, “Lock Me Up” is the only love song on the EP.

“They can’t call me thief, and this is not a murder scene. It’s only loving of the first degree, so if you see the love police just tell them to lock me up, and dash away the keys – because I’m guilty, of loving this lady.”

 

Track 4 – Break The Chain

“Break the Chain” is something we all need to do. We need to break the chain of “captivity” and break away from complicity with a system that is threatened by truth. Where if you “take a trip in the slums, all you see are daughters and sons fighting over crumbs.” Valentine declares, “Babylon, your kingdom falling”; a notion well-entrenched in Reggae music with its roots lying in biblical history, where “Babylon” serves a representation of systems of enslavement, exploitation, marginalization, and the oppression of a people.

 

Track 5 – Sound The Alarm

With an opening from poet and spoken word artist LionHeart, “Sound the Alarm” is somewhat an extension of “Break the Chain.” It is a song about the frustration with the aforementioned systems and a people who are “tired of living in hell,” so they rebel and rise up to defeat the systems that are in place today.

“Sound the alarm, run for door, the rebels are coming, this is a warning.”

Something we are all familiar with is the silencing of independent and revolutionary voices to which Valentine says the power lies with the people as opposed to a system of individuals. Therefore he says, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you could never ever jail a revolution.”

“Sound the Alarm” also comes with a video on the EP which you can watch here.

 

Track 6 – Carry On

“Carry On,” as the title depicts, is a song about perseverance, strength, and refusing to give up in life despite the difficulties.

“So if there’s a mountain in my way, it’s got to move. I’ve got to be a champion in life’s race, so I refuse to lose. It might get hard, it might get rough, just remember that the little that you have is enough, to carry on. You’ve got to carry on.”

 

Track 7 – Golddigger

I bob my head to this song on my headphones countless times.  Although this song talks of a woman who falls in love with the pocket instead of the man, I constantly find myself generalizing it to people who turn their backs in your times of struggle and need but want to build a relationship when you overcome your struggles.

“Loving, but I don’t need it, if it’s counterfeit, your future plans keep me out of it.”

 

Track 8 – Nah Sell Out

“Nuh Sell Out” is a message to those who are elevated from the struggle and then forget where they came from. Similarly, it is a message to those who are elevated from the struggle but remember where they came from and work to uplift those left behind. It is also reminder that you need to work hard to not only betters yourself, but your people too.

“Don’t you dare switch on your people. Anything that you do have to do it for them”

 

Track 9 – Inna Di Ghetto

They say, “Save the best for last.” Luckily, I did not need to save it, because “Inna Di Ghetto” is the last song on the E.P. Inna Di Ghetto is my personal favorite. The song encapsulates the constant frustrations and predicaments faced by the people at the bottom of the pyramid economically, socially, and politically – all in under four minutes: From the young who turn to vices to escape reality because “they can’t find comfort in the sufferation” to the “leaders” who steal from a nation’s poor then “offer donations” to those left hungry wishing they “could make bread out of stone” to the “mama blow[ing] wood, [until the] fire burn[s] off her eyelash.”

“SOS THIS IS A CODE RED, GIVE ME A ONE WAY TICKET TO THE FOUNDATION, BEFORE THE DAYS OF THE STONE AGE, WHEN WE WERE KINGS AND QUEENS SINGING SACRED SONGS.”

 

And because I love you guys so much, here’s a likkle bonus :p

Disclaimer: The quotes have not been directly written in patois, not with the intention of misrepresenting the message or undervaluing the language as “less articulate”, but because I am not articulate in it myself. Though some would argue patois is a dialect, I call it a “language” as I find it ridiculous how we are led to believe, and accept, that some of the languages we speak do not count for languages and need be relegated to “dialects”. After all, what is the definition of a language, and what method was used to spread some of the languages widely spoken today? That alone is reason for me to believe that no language spoken by any group of people is superior to another.

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As my friend Adam would say, Peace, Love & Pogo Sticks.

I AM

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I am every Rosa Parks whose dignity you could not take,
Every Patrice Lumumba you silenced,
I am every Mau Mau soldier you vilified,
Every Marcus Garvey whose revolution you could not tame,
I am every Nelson Mandela you jailed,
And every Eric Garner you Profiled.

Eric Garner

I am every Maya Angelou whose pen never rests,
Counselled by the spirit of Nyabinghi that will never hate,
But always denounce oppression,
With a voice unflinching,
My echoes will only get louder,
Until my brothers and sisters are every Django Unchained.

I am b

Then I will look to you,
With the same love I bear within,
And unparalleled exuberance,
And say,
“We are now… ONE”

NUDE PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE DINKA: ART OR EXPLOITATION?

Due to time constraint, it often skips my mind to update my works here. However, I shall do my best to keep my blog updated with my writing from elsewhere.

This article was originally posted on Face2Face Africa.

inthewutPhoto by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher: “In the wut (cattle camp), countless herds of animals with majestic lyre-shaped horns stretch as far as the eye can see. Young Dinka men and women spend their time surrounded by their beasts, living in perfect harmony with them.” (Source: CarolBeckwith-Angelafisher.com)

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher are photographers who have devoted their careers to documenting the lives and cultures of the indigenous people of Africa. In their words, “[We have traveled] across 270,000 miles and through remote corners of 40 countries in exploration of more than 150 African cultures.

“In the process, this team of world-renowned photographers has produced 14 widely acclaimed books and made four films about traditional Africa. They have been granted unprecedented access to African tribal rites and rituals and continue to be honored worldwide for their powerful photographs documenting the traditional ceremonies of cultures thousands of years old. As an intrepid team of explorers, they are committed to preserving sacred tribal ceremonies and African cultural traditions all too vulnerable to the trends of modernity.”

dinkaboyPhoto by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher: “A Dinka boy from South Sudan lavishes endless care and affection on his animals, which he considers part of the family. He is named after his favoured ox, his Namesake Ox, in the hopes [that] he will mature with the same strength and beauty. He believes that he and his Namesake Ox are one. In the future, this animal will accompany him everywhere, even when he is courting young girls.” (Source: CarolBeckwith-Angelafisher.com)

Their photographs, however, have spurred a bit of controversy over whether they are actually exploiting their subjects. For example, in her Guardian article entitled, “Nude photographs of the Dinka: Art or Exploitation”, Ida Holmer posed this question to different people: “Would you get away with photographing naked westerners and selling the images online?”

Among some of the opinions shared in the article regarding the photographs of the Dinka people of South Sudan, Osob Mohamud replied:

I can’t deny these photos are beautiful, and they draw me in. But it seems they are there for rapacious consumption and not really for the ostensible reason of “learning about the Dinka.” Images like these just deepen the misunderstanding and “otherness” of people who don’t live in our “developed” and privileged context.

Frankly I’m tired of western photographers embedding themselves in “tribes” and showing us pictures of exotic peoples living in their natural habitat. You can’t help feeling that this could easily have been about wildlife.

Others expressed their concern over the selling of the photos, questioning whether the Dinka people were getting anything back, while some asked whether official consent was given. The critiques, however, were not all negative. One commentator, Chris Ejugbo, questioned why we Africans get angry when an “outsider” documents the beauty in our cultures, yet we have not taken the initiative to show ourselves to the world.

With that point in mind, I would like to share my point of view, not just as an African, but also as a South Sudanese hailing from the Dinka ethnic group, particularly addressing the issues of exploitation/consent, nudity, and profits being made from Beckwith & Fishers’ work.

atanearlyagePhoto by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher: “At an early age, young Dinka boys and girls tend the herds and perform menial tasks around the camp; their duties start early in the morning and end when the sun goes down.” (Source: CarolBeckwith-Angelafisher.com)

On Exploitation, representing the Dinka as “other” or somewhat “subhuman,” and consent:

While the exploitation of Africans, their land, and people, still exist – look at Congo for example – I find these specific claims and the assumption that the Dinka are being presented as the “other” to be absolutely baseless. These photographers are simply using their skills and craft to showcase the real beauty and culture of the nomadic people of the Dinka tribe, and this was beautifully achieved.

Regarding consent, I will quote Deng Dekuek, a Dinka, South Sudanese writer, and political commentator, “I am hesitant to say the photographers or the nature of their work is exploitative. The Dinka are not naïve and would certainly not have been photographed if they did not consent. Anyone who has tried taking a photograph anywhere in South Sudan can attest. One can only assume then, there was consent.”

Moreover, it is important that before we jump to conclusions, we understand the nature of the relationship Beckwith & Fisher must build with the indigenous tribes they document in their works. For them, this is not simply a search for content, but in the words of Beckwith, “We want future generations of Africans to know where they came from and what their grandparents believed. Over 40 percent of what we have recorded no longer exists, a tragic loss, diminishing the richness and diversity of the human panorama. We hope to leave our archive of the cultural heritage of Africa, 40 years in the making, and still ongoing, to future generations who care about who we are as human beings, where we have come from, and where we are heading.”

I fail to see how the notion of “otherness” comes to play, and at the risk of being taken as an insult, I would say that those who see “otherness” in this breathtaking portfolio are viewing these works with a jaded pair of glasses. In my view, the photographs represent the opposite of “otherness.”

They show, in such a captivating and truthful way, a culture that exists, a culture that is part of our society, a culture that we should embrace, and a culture that we should preserve. These photographs, even at complete face value, with no background understanding of the photographers, embrace beauty, as opposed to looking down on it.

dryseasonPhoto by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher: “Dry season cattle camps provide an opportunity for young men and women to meet in total freedom. Sexual matters are discussed openly, though behavior is quite innocent. A young woman’s corset is supported by two rigid wires running down the spine and held tightly in place at the front; it will be cut off and removed on the girl’s wedding day.” (Source: CarolBeckwith-Angelafisher.com)

On Nudity:

We must remember that we, as a larger society, have sexualized nudity by attaching a sexual context to it, and for the Dinka people, this western idea of nudity is a foreign concept. Look at a naked picture of singer Rihanna (pictured below) and look at the picture of the lady above.

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The difference is needless to mention.

Furthermore, being naked was, in fact, the way of life of early man and still is the way of life of indigenous African people as well as other indigenous people around the world.

Therefore, perhaps our issue with nudity should not be focused on these photographs, but the sexually driven society we have created. By focusing on nudity, we suggest that this aspect of their culture should be suppressed, which is, in actuality, the real issue.

On Monetization:

In the words of Harlan Ellison, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion.” A little research will show that Beckwith & Fisher do give back to the people they work with. More so, how they assist is not by “giving the people fish, but by teaching them how to fish,” because they help build schools, clinics, and wells, etc.

Beyond that, though, I do not see how their work is different from an artist who draws a photo and chooses to sell it or a writer who experiences a different culture, writes a book about it, and chooses to sell it. How much they sell it for is at his/her discretion, and rightly so.

thedinkacattlecampPhoto by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher: “The Dinka cattle camp at sunset in South Sudan, one of the few still existing camps of up to 2,400 head of cattle, transports one in to a lifestyle of harmony and connectedness, an inseparable bonding between nature, animals, and man. We were struck by its beauty, the layers of smoke at sunset, the striking silhouettes of cattle with their lyre-shaped horns, and the tall herders moving among them.” (Source: CarolBeckwith-Angelafisher.com)

Professor Donald Johanson, who discovered the “Lucy” skeleton in Ethiopia 40 years ago and is a close friend to Beckwith & Fisher, had this to say about their work:

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher’s dedication to recording African ceremonies has produced a vitally important photographic record of human creativity that is rapidly vanishing. Their deep personal involvement and compassion for the endless imagination in African tribal diversity has given peoples around the globe an insight in to the sophistication of these cultures not only through their photographs, but also with the informative texts that put the photos into a wider cultural context.

Anyone who personally knows these two chroniclers of the beauty, sensitivity, and ingenuity that is part of the African majesty will understand Beckwith and Fisher’s deep thoughtfulness to celebrate and not exploit these tribal groups. Nudity is an important element in many African cultures and not considered a form of eroticism or vulgarity. It is the limited sense of cultural relativity among western observers that leads to such notions.

Unlike tourists who casually visit African tribal peoples with their own preconceived notions of exploitation, these two photographers bring an understanding and admiration of the artistry that reflects the true nature of the specific beliefs of those who are being photographed.

With that said, I believe critical thinking is important; however, sometimes searching deep for faults that do not exist is doing an injustice to the beauty that does exist. Credits must therefore be given where they are due. As an African and a Dinka, what I know of my people has been from books and the narratives told by family and friends. These photos bring me closer to home visually, and are not only something I am proud to show the world as a representation of my people, but also a learning experience for myself.

We must be careful, as Africans that in our advocacy for the telling of African narratives by Africans, we do not, in the process, become separatists. We must remember that our issue, in the very first place, is with narratives that function as “broken telephones” and do not represent a holistic view of Africa. These photographs of the Dinka do not tell a distorted tale but instead paint a realistic image, and as such, should be celebrated. Not only as part of the African roots, but as part of human diversity.

Face2Face Africa has reached out to the photographers and will be speaking with them soon on their work with the indigenous people of Africa. Let us know your concerns or any questions you may have, and we shall do our best to relay them.

THIS, IS A RAAANNNTT!!!

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RANT

I know I have been away from the blogging scene for a while and have failed to keep up with this blog. If you have been keeping up with my writing though, I am sure you have seen a couple of my not-very-politically-correct articles published elsewhere, on my timeline. Before I get on with this post however, I would like to sincerely thank you all for the support with my previous blog and more so, the support with this new one – many thanks to all those who have signed up, and also those who have not, but still read my thoughts!

I recently applied for an internship with a big media organisation. I honestly doubt I will be getting that internship as I chose to write a 500 word essay on race, as part of the application requirements although I could have chosen to write a piece echoing the beauty of the world or something more PC driven.

I mention this because part of that essay also looked at the role of social media in contemporary society, and this little excerpt was my ending:

Social media is arguably the most powerful tool of contemporary society. As with all things powerful, it has the potential for both good and evil. As much as we have become interconnected and the phrase “it’s a small world” could not be more apparent, we have also lost touch with our core values as humanity, substituting action and emotion, for like and re-tweet buttons.

We have become zombies who act on trending values, instead of personal beliefs. Social media has become a tool that controls us, rather than a tool we use. How else, can we explain Marcus Garvey rallying over 6,000,000 people in the 1920’s?

Before you say things have changed, consider that statement. Have they really?

As the title so obviously points out, this post, is a rant. Before I get to ranting though, let me say that this may offend some; friends and foes alike, and for that, I am unapologetic. If this post offends you, then I believe it is YOU this message is intended for. If it does not, then it should not be a problem :)

As I am scrolling down my timeline, I see a post on the Nuba Mountains, by a friend I once asked to accompany me to a protest in solidarity with the Nuba Mountains, who turned down my invitation  because she just “could not be asked”.

Then I see a post by another friend on the Israeli occupation of Gaza… A friend I once asked to accompany me to a talk on the realities of the situation on ground, in Palestine, who turned down my invitation because he was just “not that interested”.

Next, I see a post… well, you get my point.

I have come to a realisation that some people post things to be relevant, or to appear as though they care. We are too consumed in appearance and how we come off than in the values we actually stand for when there is no one to like, share, retweet or favourite our beautifully written sentiments.

And yes, you are right! It should not bother me. But it does!

If all the people who post about things, actually did anything to change things, humankind would achieve much progress. My point therefore is simple; either do something about the things you post about, WHERE YOU CAN, or stop posting beautifully wrapped sentiments. Those colourful ribbons that come along with your status’ are not going to stop the genocide in Congo, free the people of the Nuba mountains, shelter the IDP’s in Kenya or stop Israeli occupation of Gaza.

Disagree? That is absolutely fine. As the saying goes, “if two wise men always agree, then there is no need for one of them”. However, before you criticise, something you have all rights to do, pay close attention to the highlighted phrase, “WHERE YOU CAN”, above. It is worth noting also, that I am in NO WAY, discrediting the role of social media; the arab spring is testament to the power of social media. What I am against, is cosmetic revolutionarism and hypocrisy a.k.a headless zombies who act on trending values, instead of personal beliefs and personal values.

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‘BUSINESS AGENDA’S GEORGE NDIRANGU ON WHAT IT TAKES TO SUCCEED: ‘INGENUITY, CONTINUITY & POSITIVITY’

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My Interview with George Ndirangu. This interview was originally posted on Face2Face Africa.

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“My bank account motivates me to keep going, until I reach a point where I can sustain the lifestyle I want, without my account depreciating” (George Ndirangu)

The African continent has been subject to many narratives, both within, and beyond Africa’s borders. Among the many narratives is one that proclaims this generation a “lost” one. Whereas some of us are, indeed caught up in the high life of drugs, alcohol, and sex, among other vices, I believe the notion of the “lost generation” is in itself reductionist, because there are also the go-getters and the-ceiling-can’t-hold-us movers and shakers who refuse to settle for average when they can be the best. With the goal of not only balancing the narrative but also using their stories to inspire other young people, Face2Face Africa decided to interview George Ndirangu (pictured), a 24-year-old business analyst, news anchor, host of the talk show “Business Agenda” with TV10 Rwanda, and CEO of Kenya’s Fashion 2Die4 in order to spotlight an achiever whose drive is limitless.

Sanna Arman: Tell me a little about your background; who are you and where do you come from?

George Ndirangu: I was born in Mombasa (Kenya) and later moved to Nairobi. We first lived in the Eastern side of Nairobi, and when my mum’s income improved, we moved to Thika Road, where I grew up. I went to Kagumo High School in Nyeri and pursued my degree in Actuarial Science at Jomo Kenyatta University.

Who am I? I’m a 24-year-old man who believes that you can never settle for less than what you envision, so every single day, ever since I understood the meaning of accomplishing something and reaping the benefits of it, I’ve been trying to accomplish more.

I have not been able to reach some of my objectives, maybe I’ve just done one out of a thousand, but I intend to just keep pushing myself to the limit until I reach a point where I no longer have to introduce myself to people.

SA: How did you get to where you are today?

GN: First of all, prayer is every single thing. I was having a prayerful meditational moment earlier at my place today. Something happened, I got a phone call, which I’ll probably be having another interview with you on soon, but I’m not going to tell you now, so I don’t jinx it.

But my point is, God is everything and I can’t even imagine life without God.

Also, my family: mum, dad, sisters, and brother. My mum is always pushing and encouraging me. She is always reminding me to act grown, be mature, and not try to simply blend in. My dad is always supporting me in my decisions and offering advice. They are some of the most realistic people I know.

My small brother is always looking up to me, wondering what he can do next in life; he plays violin, he plays the piano, which I have no idea how to play, and this always motivates me.

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“In a world where only the best survive, you have to stand out, to fit in” (George Ndirangu)

SA: What strategies did you use to get to this point, or what would you say made you stand out from the crowd?

GN: Growing up in Nairobi, one of the problems I faced was that I invested too much In to things that did not make sense. You know, “fake it till you make it’?” I wanted to stand out, be the coolest guy, or look like the guy who had a certain thing before someone else.

When I outgrew my teens, I understood that I really have just one life and I can keep making mistakes, but every time I make a mistake, it affects either my life or someone else’s life.

My social media, for example my Twitter, went from just ranting or making fun of people to not engaging, in say, trending topics that bring someone down. As a friend and I were discussing sometime back, you should never be basic or predictable to people. If you have a girlfriend for example, keep people guessing; who is she? Where is she, etc.? Always leave room for some mystery and have an element of surprise. This applies in the case of future employers or investors and is a strategy I try to use in my workplace.

When you have an element of surprise and bring something to the table, you can also feel free to eat from the same table.

SA: You’ve clearly got your foot in the three cornerstone fields of contemporary society; fashion, media, and finance, among others. How do you manage to maintain balance?

GN: I have an app on my phone called “ToDoist.” It’s an application that gives you points every time you schedule something and do it. My aim is usually to get as many points as possible by the end of the week, by accomplishing as much as I had set out to do.

I plan my day from Monday to Friday: every single hour.

I don’t believe in someone calling me up randomly asking to meet. If we hadn’t planned for it, then we have to meet up some other time.

Being able to juggle among fashion, working here in the media, working for the UNDP, working for schools, and working in the finance industry is all a matter of planning. Once you plan out your time, everything works out.

Improvisation, on the other hand, is also an important skill for times when things don’t work out as initially planned out.

SA: What would you say is lacking in the African media and fashion industries today?

GN: African media and the fashion industry to a certain extent lacks ingenuity. There are hardly any ideas from self. At least a good number of the ideas are copied from somewhere, be it West, East and implemented in a way applicable to the given environment.

I know African fashion has been borrowed by the West, for example Louis Vuitton and even some of the African fabrics have been picked out by VLISCO, but our fashion industry is simply emulating what has been done; modeling, blogging, fashion sites etc., and the thing with what’s been done is that, that hardly stands out.

African people are blessed with a ton of ideas, however, even where there is ingenuity, in some cases there is lack of continuity.

This is why my new mantra is ingenuity, continuity, and positivity. When I manage to get an idea that is self-made, I want to ensure I [follow] through with it and also keep a positive mind-set.

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“Ingenuity… Continuity… And Positivity” (George Ndirangu)

SA: I don’t know much about the finance industry, but it is said to be one of the hardest industries to thrive in. Do you agree?

GN: I wouldn’t say it’s one of the hardest to thrive in, because once you get into it, you know what you want – whether you want to be a clerk, accountant, chief financial officer etc. It is only as hard as the level you want to be in as different levels and posts have different requirements. The biggest problem is that you never deviate unless you start your own firm.

SA: What would you say are the biggest challenges the finance industry faces in Africa?

GN: The biggest challenges that I have seen are either lack of exposure or lack of proper training. There is hardly any real training or mentorship. I was working at the ministry of housing in the finance sector, where I would handle large amounts of money, but I hardly had any mentorship. That, I believe, is the greatest challenge.

SA: Unemployment is one of the challenges facing the African youth today. How do you think young people in Africa can deal with unemployment? And what advice would you give them?

GN: “This is something we’ve talked about in so many conventions. It is such a tricky topic to discuss. My advice to young people is that you simply need to get off your *ss, go out there, and look for a job as much as possible and network with the people around you.

If not, develop a solid plan to employ yourself and search for investors. In most countries right now, especially here in Rwanda, they are advocating more for entrepreneurship, and young people are actually getting a lot of sponsorship.

I usually hand people the cheque sometimes and think, Oh damn, I wish this was me.”

Entrepreneurship really is the way forward.

You also need to know what works and what doesn’t as well as what your financial capability allow for. For example right now, unless you definitely have the financial means, I wouldn’t advise anyone to invest in a print fashion magazine. An online platform would be better off.

SA: Speaking of Africa, you have traveled around quite a bit. What is a common factor you find among African people that you can’t find elsewhere?

GN: “Africans have so much culture!

They have a solid base and always know where they come from. People say that Africans leave to go abroad and they forget where they came from. I beg to differ. Africans always remember where they come from, down to the little towns where their grandparents live.

Africans have so much culture that can be seen even in the way they dance; Africans are the best dancers, no doubt. Well, apart from Shakira.

They also have a sense of pride in where they are from.

SA: What are some of the challenges you face on a daily and how do you deal with them?

GN: As with most people, my image is one of the things I take very seriously. At some point, I had an issue with my weight, and it took some people to help me get through it or fitting in to a new environment and trying to do things I have no experience in. These are some of the challenges I faced.

One of the lowest points in my life was when KQ turned me down, and I swore that I would get my own plane one day. One of the people who auditioned would be the pilot. I realized that it doesn’t matter where you come from, how you struggled to get to where you are, or how hard you have worked, but whether you qualify for a role.

How I deal with these challenges is by being realistic with myself and knowing that people don’t care about all the other things, only productivity and results.

Another challenge I faced was how to present myself on social media and the public stream, and what not to let out. If you are blessed with the opportunity to be a news anchor, you must present yourself responsibly. For this, I had to mature both mentally and in how I dressed and presented myself.

SA: Lastly, what is success to you, and in a similar vein, what is failure?

GN: Success for me, as I previously mentioned, is reaching a point where you don’t have to introduce yourself. You reach a point where you stop looking at a picture thinking, I want to go there, but I’ve been there. Not I want that jet, but “oh wow, maybe my jet should be the same color.

Success for me also means reaching a point where everyone who has been with you (your inner/immediate circle) is also reaping the benefits of your happiness. I can therefore sum success up as happiness, not necessitating an introduction, and sustaining a lifestyle effortlessly.

Failure to me is just giving up on what you had set your eyes on, from the simplest of things to the more complicated.

I would like to congratulate Mr. Ndirangu on his show “Business Agenda,” co-hosted by Fiona Mbabazi, which has been picked for a second season, premiering in August, with a $20,000 boost from the Rwanda Creative Hub.

Watch Ndirangu at work on “Business Agenda” here:

Predicaments Of The Black Man: A Twitter Sent Solution

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Listening intently, twenty-four year old Vera Sidika strokes her $2100 Brazilian weave as she answers the TV Host’s questions. At some points she seems uncomfortable and offended by some of his questions as she responds with quizzical dis-ease. Amongst many things, they discuss her recent ventures into what she would prefer to term ‘skin lightening’ and not ‘skin bleaching’; skin bleaching is when you use over the counter products, whereas skin lightening is “done the right way”, she explains. Fifteen minutes into the interview, in a rather politically correct way of asking “can you show our audience your infamous backside?”, the host asks her to accompany him to the touch screen at the right hand side of the studio to converse about her instagram pictures as the cameras follow her voluptuous posterior.

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Following the release of the interview(watch it here), the #BleachedBeauty hashtag was trending with mostly Kenyans but also non-Kenyans expressing their concern over Kenya’s socialite Vera Sidika’s new complexion. Insults aimed at Miss Sidika flood in in their thousands. Others create memes and it soon turns into an undeclared competition of who will out-do the previous meme and who will, in 140 characters make the best joke and gather the most re-tweets or get the little star under their tweet turning yellow with the most favorites.

Tweeps find a solution to skin bleaching; name and shame all individuals who bleach. Photos of the before and afters take over. Twitter philosophers guarantee you that these women and men are to blame for young black girls and boys feeling uncomfortable in their skin and they should be named and shamed.

They seem to be well versed in the untold story of how world problems in the past have been solved, how their nations gained independence from the colonialists or how slavery came to be abolished. Let us be clear here. I am not talking about the civil rights movement, the Rosa Parks’ who refused to give up their dignity or the “criminals” who fought oppression in Africa, not at all. That is not the true story of how the black man gained his independence. The true story you were probably oblivious of is that every black man who submitted to the white man and did not rebel was the problem. He was the reason slavery advanced, and the reason slavery existed. The likes of Dedan Kimathi, Kwame Nkurumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Partice Lumumba, even Malcom X did not fight the Eurocentric worldview or white supremacy. No. They did not even think there is a system that considered the black man, his skin, hair, and culture inferior. Name and shame was how YOU, as a black man, gained your independence.

In that order, name and shame all the insecure individuals bleaching their skin. Let us derive humor from their insecurities; more so, stab them with the sharpest daggers in your vocabulary. Matter of fact, our friends on twitter present a solution to most of the problems contemporary society faces. You know that woman who submits to her husband and stays in the kitchen? Let us all blame her for why patriarchy still exists today. The kid coming home from school to drive a blade into his skin, let us all blame him for why bullying still exists. The young girl sleeping with high profile individuals to fend for her family living in the slums, she is the reason many girls are doing the same.

I urge you all to join the fight against skin bleaching by naming and shaming all those who bleach their skin. It is the most practical solution. Do not question why ‘light skin’ is promoted in lyrics of mainstream music. Do not question why the billboards are promoting the Eurocentric idea of the ultimate beauty. Do not question why white privilege still exists. Do not even question why your local media stations would spend airtime showing you the ultimate idea of beauty on the runways, but those are rarely men or women who look like your sister or brother. Do not even bother with the parts of the interview where Vera Sidika says she gets better treatment as a lighter woman IN AFRICA. Ignore all the root causes of bleaching because that would be an extremely shallow way of thinking.

A Toast To A Life Well Lived

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When you were younger, they told you, you are too skinny or too fat, no curves, too curvy, no ass… You got older, and they said you are too fat, too skinny, no curves, too curvy, fat ass, no ass, too buff.

Now spend the rest of your life allowing these narratives to dictate how you feel about yourself; too fat, too skinny, too curvy, too short, too buff, too tall, large forehead…

Take the passenger seat and let others take the wheel… Stop wearing those swim suits you like, or that hugging tshirt that shows your ‘beer belly’ because you don’t have the ultimate 6pack or the ultimate flat stomach… 

Spend your days looking in the mirror cursing out all those parts of your body THEY don’t like… In some years, raise a glass, toast to just how much value those opinions added to your life.

Celebrate that you lived your life trying to fit into others’ idea of perfection. You will be so fulfilled, many will wish they lived more like you. Then smile, and say you lived YOUR life :)

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