The America you dreamt of is an America you never conceived of.
You are officially black. In your country you were just you, no color attached to your identity, but now you are black. Stop saying I am Nigerian, I am Zimbabwean, or I am Kenyan. America doesn’t care about any of that, in America you are simply black. You will try to fight, deny, and resist every time someone calls you black. You resist your newly prescribed blackness because a ladder of racial hierarchy exists in America.
Sooner than later, you will realize your blackness puts you at the bottom of this ladder irrespective of the educational or financial status you acquire. Every rejection of your new found blackness will be an attempt to move away from the bottom of this ladder, to resist the label that the color of your skin has subjected you to. It takes some time getting used to, you know, this whole race and being black thing, but sooner that later you will understand America’s tribalism and you will learn to navigate through it.
People will hold stereotypes about you. Some might ask if you’ve lived on trees and or jungles and others won’t even ask, they’ll assume you did. Others will think your entire existence has been defined by hunger and poverty. In case you haven’t noticed you sound different, you do. And people will not fail to remind you of the obvious, your accent. Some may laugh and others will make you repeat words and sentences over and over again because they are unable to “understand.” You will be very confused and will think to yourself, “But I speak better English than you.” Despite all these, do not be ashamed of your identity. Don’t allow people’s ignorance harden your heart towards them. As much as you possibly can, dismantle these stereotypes by telling the other stories they haven’t been exposed to.
White Americans will say you are better than American blacks, but please do not fall for this trap. You will be told you behave better, work harder, and are more educated than American blacks. You will be tempted to agree and will sometimes want to shout, “YES, I’M NOT LIKE THEM, WE AFRICANS ARE DIFFERENT!” Just don’t…don’t even think it.
The praise of your acquired characteristic and culture becomes a justification for white Americans to perpetuate discriminatory treatments towards American blacks. These statements of praise have an underlying message of, “If Africans can do so well then surely racism has nothing to do with anything, therefore, American Blacks are to be blamed for their condition in America”. This problematic line of reasoning sustains cultural racism. I beg of you, refrain from nodding in agreement when you receive such faulty praise.
Navigating through America’s complex social construct is a process. The sooner you become conscious of the nuances involved, the better for Black America as a whole.
To get a sense for which colleges provide the best outcomes for black students, the editors of ESSENCE and Money created their first-ever comprehensive list of the “50 Best Colleges for African-American Students.”
The list was released Tuesday and includes historically black colleges and universities, ivy league schools and large public institutions. The list uses collected data to rank the nation’s top schools for black students based on four factors: black graduation rates, the average cost of tuition and the average student loan debt for all students as well as campus diversity, for these purposes determined by the percentage of students who are black.
Check out an exclusive partial preview of the schools that made it to the top 10 below, along with helpful data compiled by ESSENCE and Money:
10. University of Maryland, College Park
Percentage of students who are African-American: 11 percent
African-American graduation rate: 77 percent
Estimated average net price of a degree: $96,300
Estimated average student debt load at graduation: $19,500
9. North Carolina A&T State University
Percentage of students who are African-American: 80 percent
African-American graduation rate: 49 percent
Estimated average net price of a degree: $77,800
Estimated average student loan debt upon graduation: $23,000
8. Yale University
Percentage of students who are African-American: 5 percent
African-American graduation rate: 92 percent
Estimated average net cost of a degree: $196,500
Estimated average student debt load upon graduation: $12,000
7. University of Pennsylvania
Percentage of students who are African American: 6%
African-American graduation rate: 94%
Estimated average net price of a degree: $207,000
Estimated average student debt load at graduation: $21,500
6. Spelman College
Percentage of students who are African American: 87%
African-American graduation rate: 75%
Estimated average net price of a degree: $172,800
Estimated average student debt load at graduation: $27,000
There was once a small brick barbeque joint on Divisadero Street in San Francisco known as Da’ Pitt.
Its customer base was small, but loyal, comprised mostly of low-income African-American families. Though no one travelled more than walking distance to get there, nor wrote about it on Urbanspoon, it fed its community and it was loved.
But the neighborhood gentrified, the community dwindled, and Da’Pitt could no longer serve enough BBQ to pay its rent.
Another company, 4505 Meats, took over the space.
They put wood tables outside and painted the exterior. They added a vegetarian sandwich, an organic salad, and beers on tap to the menu. They hired young, bearded, and beanied white men to work the cash register. They put up artsy meat references, such as buffalo skulls and decorative metal pigs. They advertised the existing wood-fired barbeque pit as “historic.”
The building is the same, the barbeque is—well—still barbeque, but lines of yuppies and hipsters now extend down the block, and local food blogs are singing its praises.
Art-ified and White-ified, Da’Pitt is now Da’ Place to be.
And so is the rest of the block.
What used to be dollar stores and auto shops is an impressive collection of fine dining restaurants, high-end retail stores, specialty food vendors, and recently remodeled apartments that cost an average of $3,480/month (no, that’s not a typo).
What We Need to Talk About When We Talk About Gentrification
We know gentrification is racist and classist, that it hurts marginalized people and destroys communities. We know that it fits into a larger cultural reality in which people with more social, political, and economic power have more control over space. We know it fosters discrimination and cultural appropriation. We see the connections.
But there’s a reason that Divisadero Street comes to mind when I think about gentrification: because it’s not a clear picture of behemoth corporations and soulless developers snatching real estate from impoverished communities while comically evil landlords evict their tenants into surefire, immediate homelessness and politicians throw money in the air, laughing maniacally.
At least, that’s not what we see.
Instead, despite our negative views of gentrification, what many of us experience is a more subtle, nuanced version of gentrification, in which not every change is bad and there aren’t any obvious heroes or villains (pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!).
The owners of 4505 Meats, for example, are local residents who are known for using the whole animal, sourcing humane meat from local farmers, and other sustainable, community-oriented practices. They seem like good people, and if Yelp is any indication, their food is pretty good, too (their vegetarian sandwich has green chiles, Oaxacan cheese, and grits, y’all, and Iwant it).
And we feel more comfortable walking in their now well-lit parking lot.
And we miss our favorite dollar store down the street, but it’s gonna be a kava lounge, dude! (I don’t make this stuff up.)
We are those that benefit from gentrification. And we are ambivalent.
We laugh when things are sold as “urban” and “local” (like, what were they before?), but if we want them, and can afford them, we buy them. We cringe at the idea of sacrificing a one-dollar street taco for a six-dollar street-inspiredtaco, but if our friends invite us out to try one, we go. We side-eye the ten-dollar pear cocktail at the art bar, but what else are you to drink at Indie dance night?
And with our faces in our iPhones and our booties shaking to music made before our time that’s totally cool again, we forget that there is even a problem at all.
And it’s especially easy to ignore the struggles of the poorest members of our community when they have beenremoved from our community, when marginalized people are literally on the margins.
But just because something doesn’t look like a problem doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. So we can choose to enjoy the colorful, “revitalized” façade of our shiny new neighborhoods – or we can peek behind the curtain.
What Gentrification Really Is
Gentrification is not merely a natural shift in the demographics and business landscape of an area, but a collection ofsystematic changes to maximize profit, serving a higher class of people while alienating the middle class and pushing out lower income individuals and families.
The word gentrification comes from “gentry,” which denotes a noble, ruling class of people who own large tracts of land, to which they believe they are entitled, where other lesser people are not.
It’s the same idea that fueled European colonizers to roll up on this continent looking to occupy already-occupied land behind the enlightened, civilized doctrine of “me want, me take.”
It shouldn’t guide city landscapes in 2014.
But it does.
And the results are horrific.
Like immigrant families living twelve-to-a room in mold-ridden apartments, afraid to assert their tenant rights for fear of eviction. Or non-profit agencies unable to retain their funding as their once populous client bases are forced out of the city and far from the services they need to survive. Or meager earners attending apartment viewings where young white men in dress shirts walk in and write checks for double the asking move-in amount, pricing out everyone at the open house.
I want to scream and throw things do something about it.
Change Starts with Us
Challenging your privilege sucks, and it’s easy to find a reason to resist.
I just got here! I didn’t make this building or set this rent! I work hard at my job! I took the apartment I could afford! I’ve been dreaming of opening this restaurant my whole life! I charge six dollars for gluten-free donuts because people pay it!
Yes, you’re right. You’re not single-handedly responsible for all the problems in your city, and if you’re not a speculator or a landlord or a millionaire, you’re probably also limited by gentrification in some way. But your actions have consequences, and they don’t exist outside of the larger social context.
So, when you’re sitting on the balcony of your new high-rise flat eating your six-dollar vegan donut, watching the community below you crumble, you must ask yourself: Do I have a part in this? How do my actions affect this community? Is there something I can do with my power, privilege, and —ahem— money?
And yeah, there is.
1. Acknowledge Your Privilege
Privilege is a complicated issue, and no one is definitively “privileged” or “oppressed.”
But if you are able to live somewhere post-gentrification, are able to enjoy the amenities in a gentrified neighborhood, and aren’t somebody that people want out of their neighborhood due to some aspect of your physical presentation or identity, then you have some privilege that others don’t.
Own it. And use it to engender change.
Like, if you’re chillin’ at your start-up and your broworker is bragging about how he kicked a bunch of Latino teenagers off of their neighborhood soccer field because he paid the city to rent the field (seriously, I don’t make this stuff up), put down your craft brew, hop on the slide down to the first floor, and be like, “Not cool, bro!” He may hear your voice over those of a hundred local kids.
Yes, that likelihood is maddening.
But that’s the thing about power: It’s powerful.
2. Respect the History of Your New Neighborhood
Neighborhoods have a history, a people, a unique culture.
Enjoy it, learn about it, and work to preserve it, even as new cultural elements and businesses are introduced.
Don’t expect it to look like your old neighborhood.
3. Listen to the Voices of Your Neighbors
People like to talk about being a “voice for the oppressed.” That’s misguided. The oppressed have their own voices. We just have to hear them.
In February, Spike Lee criticized gentrification in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, where he grew up.
When he was a child, Lee recounted, “The garbage wasn’t picked up every [expletive] day…the police weren’t around… why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers for the facilities to get better…to get the schools better?”
Lee’s impassioned speech was met with vicious criticism. Apparently, Lee had “mouthed off” and should “take a valium and calm down.”
Don’t dismiss the voices of marginalized people of color according to your genteel preferences. Open your mind. Truths aren’t always spoken calmly.
4. Understand That Residents Have Feelings About Their Changing Neighborhood
If there is anger, there’s a reason.
People who have been disadvantaged by gentrification may not be friendly or nice to you if your presence represents the destruction of their neighborhood – the very destruction that you benefit from.
Be sensitive to this, and allow for some discomfort.
Your discomfort is nothing compared to a disenfranchised group’s oppressed experience.
5. Make Socially Conscious Purchase Decisions
When you go out for a coffee or a drink or a sandwich, think about the places you are going to.
Are they welcome spaces for all types of people? Do they fit into the social landscape of the existing community? Do they hire local bartenders and waiters? Are they paid a living wage? Are there at least a few items on the menu that most people in the area could afford?
It doesn’t always matter that these places aren’t new – there’s always room for creativity and innovation – but that they add to the character of the neighborhood and don’t take away from it.
6. Invest in Community-Focused, Community-Run Organizations
Developers and large businesses love to create charities and fundraising projects to minimize (read: distract us from) the damage they are doing to a community. These projects are, however, often run by people from the organization (read: not the community).
If you want to invest your money or time into a community (yes! do!), make sure you are giving directly to the community and following their lead.
Communities know who they are, how they do things, and what they need better than outside bodies. And they should have the agency to direct these efforts towards change.
7. Question Exclusionary Tactics Claiming to Be About ‘Safety’
You may be told that the influx of bouncers, security guards, and police in your area is about keeping everyone safe.
Because this isn’t about the safety of everyone.
Security staff keep paying customers safe while making elite spaces unwelcome to anyone who doesn’t look like they fit in. Ask a teen in a hoodie if they feel safe in front of a nice restaurant or with increased law enforcement presence in the area and you might get a very different perspective.
Most importantly, despite claims that revitalization lowers crime, studies have suggested that gentrification actuallyincreases crime. So, there’s that.
8. Advocate for Yourself and Others
Get to know the tenant rights laws in your area – they may be more comprehensive than you realize – and visit local organizations for additional information.
Share materials with others. Stand with your neighbors if they are facing eviction or being taken advantage of, and do the same for yourself.
When my last landlord attempted exploitative and illegal actions, ones he had carried out successfully with a string of young female tenants before us, we reported him immediately to the Rent Board. We won several hundred dollars, a signed agreement to stop, and the upper hand. We moved nearly a year ago, and he has yet to re-rent the place.
These victories matter.
This may be the most important factor of all.
Your vote can determine how rent control is regulated, how much affordable housing is built, whether a large corporation can build a skyscraper on your cityscape, what social services will be available this year, and other things that affect your area.
So, get out to the polls! No dress code required.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the reality of gentrification, but if you’re able to afford your apartment and your groceries, it’s also easy to ignore.
This isn’t about blame or guilt, but a call to make choices more in line with our values and visions of the world while maintaining respect for the visions that community members have for their own communities.
Unfortunately, not everyone will hear this call to action. They will shut their curtains, lock their doors, and call the cops if it gets too loud.
And that’s Da’ Pitts.
Katy Kreitler is a Clinical Social Worker specializing in youth, gender, and trauma. She holds an MSW from USC and a BA in Psychology and Sociology from USF. She can be found somewhere in San Francisco reading a book, eating a burrito, and side-eyeing humanity.
This article was originally published in Everyday Feminism.
“I like art that’s perceived to require thought,” says comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael over lunch in lower Manhattan. That much is clear even in his small talk. While walking to Felice 15 Gold Street after a photo shoot, he riffs on everything from Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” to John Oliver. (While he cites West as a musical revolutionary, he thinks the “Last Week Tonight” host can do better than #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.) Now splitting a cheese plate and bruschetta, he hones in on someone else’s thought-provoking art: his own.
“I’m curious about how things affect the world more than just personal exploration,” Carmichael says, turning a grape over in his hand. “When I hear of situations, my mind goes to—in the healthiest sense of the word—the ‘broader’ sense of [how] this is affecting everybody around us.”
Such thought processes are apparent in his socially conscious standup and sitcom. His Spike Lee–directed HBO special premiered in 2014, and more recently, his eponymous NBC series, “The Carmichael Show,” premiered its second season on March 13 after a brief six episodes last August.
“My lawyers are the only reason I say ‘Season 2,’ ” he jokes of the new 13-episode arc. “It’s a deeper version of the same thing.”
For fans of the series, that’s good news. At the tail end of summer 2015, “The Carmichael Show” beat the odds and nabbed an audience over the course of three weeks and six episodes. Its deft blend of familial slapstick and of-the-moment politics ensured Carmichael was a voice worth listening to. He got viewers thinking. In standout episodes like “Protest” and “Gender,” Carmichael brought hot-button issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and heightened visibility of the transgender community to the least likely of stages: the multicam sitcom, live audience and all.
“I actually originally envisioned it as single-cam and they changed it,” Carmichael now admits. “Then I realized that multi was more of a challenge. The narrative of the realm of multicameras is that it’s dying, it’s dead, there’s no true art in it. And what’s more fun than that challenge? [There is] also a connection with the stage performance of it—being a standup comic and knowing that at its best, multicam [gets] that reaction. It elicits this response.”
Luckily, it wasn’t just the studio audience that responded. “The Carmichael Show” Season 1 pulled in NBC’s best ratings for its late summer time slot in over a decade and was promptly scooped up for another round. The series also got a stamp of critical approval. Season 2 has already rolled out buzzed-about half-hours on class and infidelity, gentrification, and most notably, Bill Cosby’s tarnished legacy. After the premiere of the Cosby episode, titled “Fallen Heroes,” Salon went so far as to crown Carmichael “the most important comedian in America.”
“People are much smarter [and] the audience wants more than I think a lot of people behind the camera give them credit for,” says co-creator and Carmichael’s “Neighbors” director Nicholas Stoller of the series’ appeal. “People want to hear the conversations they’re having in their living rooms.”
That’s just where the bulk of “The Carmichael Show” takes place: Carmichael’s childhood living room. Largely inspired by the dynamics of his own family growing up in North Carolina, Carmichael plays Jerrod and is joined by all of the genre’s necessary players: a schlubby, down-and-out brother (Lil Rel Howery); a loud, opinionated father (David Alan Grier); a jovial and equally opinionated mother (Loretta Devine); and Carmichael’s black sheep—and, as the series points out, half-black—girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West).
Politics of the religious right and bleeding heart left come under one roof while certain events offscreen (a Black Lives Matter protest, for instance) stoke a conversation that is both nuanced and hilarious. More surprisingly, there’s no agenda at play. Audiences can trust that, for better or worse, they will hear all opinions on a matter between the cast’s varied personalities. And while it doesn’t shy away from bits of sobriety, “Carmichael” just as quickly lightens the mood with a laugh-out-loud (if not entirely politically correct) quip. “The laugh that happens after the serious moment [is] just huge because the audience is so relieved,” Stoller says. Look no further than Grier’s take on one character struggling to come out as transgender: “Don’t worry, the woman trapped inside of him will tell the man what to do.” Cue the studio laughter.
“The main thing, I think, that was really important to me and also to Jerrod as we made the show, is that no one’s right and no one’s wrong,” Stoller continues. “I think [that] makes much more interesting conversation and television.”
Carmichael says that much of the series’ content is his perspective as he’s debated with himself and others on these topics. “It’s a completed argument for me,” he summates. “A lot of [Jerrod] is my perspective. Some other characters are my perspective, even the polar opposites. It’s an argument that I’ve had with myself [that’s] harder to do in standup, but with the show, I can fulfill the argument immediately.”
Today, Carmichael credits his analytical humor to his days living in the very home he’s now depicting on prime time. While he’s always rejected the notion of being “just a comedian,” saying it seemed “kind of arrogant” to assume he can make people laugh, that’s exactly what he’s been doing since his days in middle school making comedic topical shorts instead of writing essays. “I have teachers that, years later, tell me they still show some of the videos. My version of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is amazing,” he insists. But even before dreams of becoming a comic, Carmichael recalls wanting a series on NBC.
“This is going to sound like I made it up, but my brother likes to remind me of it: When I was 13 years old, I said, ‘I want a show on Thursday night on NBC,’ ” he says with a sheepish grin. “I wanted a sitcom. That was all I ever really wanted.”
So in 2008, he left to chase the dream and moved to Los Angeles. As any working actor will know, a career’s early years are often the most trying, but Carmichael remembers them with clarity and fondness. He didn’t take for granted that L.A. is a mecca of creativity and Hollywood history. He’d often spend afternoons at the Paley Center watching old TV shows and evenings at open mics.
“Me and a lot of the closest friends I have now even still just wanted to impress each other. We wanted to try new things constantly. We weren’t afraid to fail,” he says.
“Don’t think about it. You just do the work, do the art. At some point in the process, you should do it purely for the love of it,” he advises. “A lot of people jump in and sort of make it a business first, and while I knew [my work] could obviously prove profitable, it was really important for me to view it as art. I try to hold onto that as much as I can, even while navigating the business aspect.”
Surviving the industry’s business aspects, however, can be just as daunting, and having an understanding of Hollywood’s effect on art and vice versa is key to striking gold. Carmichael says success also requires a thick skin and an ability to compromise and collaborate without selling out.
“You have to be stronger than everyone’s collective caution and everyone’s collective fear,” he says. “A show is still a business. There’s a lot of money at stake… [but] audiences recognize when a machine created something and when something is personal and true and close. When it comes to creation, playing ‘the game’ doesn’t apply. When you make something, it needs to be as pure as it can be.”
Time and again, Carmichael proves a voice worth listening to. Are you listening yet?
Keep Standing Up
Even at the height of his success at NBC, Carmichael continues to do standup whenever he can. When he was in New York City earlier this month, he made it a point to do a quick set at the historic Comedy Cellar. “Sometimes when I’m writing the script [for ‘The Carmichael Show’], I’ll go onstage and talk about what we’re talking about in the episode to really explore how I feel about it,” he says. Contrary to popular belief, though, Carmichael says standup isn’t all about the laughs. “I’m looking for feeling, I’m looking for connection, I’m looking for a reaction…. When I think comedian, I think [of] the satire of Mark Twain as much as the jokes of Chris Rock. Obviously, laughs are an important thing and you want to be funny and you want to give [audiences] that experience, but you also want them to feel some type of connection to what you’re saying. I treat my audience like adults.
Like many of you, I was greeted by sad news this morning. Phife Dawg of the legendary group, A Tribe Called Quest, had passed away from medical complications caused by diabetes. He was only 45 years old. Phife had been battling diabetes mellitus type 1 since he was first diagnosed in 1990, the year that Tribe’s first album dropped.
Phife’s condition was hereditary (his mother had diabetes) and it was exacerbated by his hectic touring schedule which caused him to eat large amounts of fast food. In a 2010 interview , he said, “I was still waking up to a glass of Quik, you know what I’m saying? Oreo cookies for breakfast, just stupid shit. It didn’t make it any better that we were on the road performing, eating KFC, McDonalds, shit like that and I was going hard when we was younger”. At some point, his kidneys began to fail and in 2004 he started dialysis. Eventually, his wife became his donor and gifted him with one of her kidneys. He drastically improved his eating habits and seemingly regained control over his diabetes before A Tribe Called Quest’s reunion in 2008. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to prolong his life into old age.
His passing reminded me of the death of Patrice O’Neal, one of my favorite comedians. Patrice was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his early twenties and died at 41.
I’m 37-years old now, and thankfully, in good health. So as far as I’m concerned, these guys were way too young to die. Unfortunately, diabetes is one of the most life-threatening health problems plaguing the Black community today. Over ninety percent of people who have the disease suffer from type 2 diabetes. This is largely the result of excess body weight and lack of physical exercise. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only five percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.
Compared to the general U.S. population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH)website, “African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and lower extremity amputations. Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are more likely to have high blood pressure.”
End-stage renal disease (ESRD) signifies that the kidneys are barely or no longer functioning after about 10-20 years of chronic kidney disease. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, ESRD leads to death. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ESRD related to diabetes is about 170% higher in black men than in White men and about 131% higher in black women than in White women.
Diabetes isn’t exclusive to the Western world though. This health condition is also becoming more prevalent in African countries. A report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) states that the African continent counts approximately 13.6 million people with diabetes. Nigeria has the highest number of people with diabetes(with approximately 1.2 million people affected).
In Ghana, a large percentage of the population suffers from type 2 diabetes. According to Elizabeth Denyoh, president of Ghana’s National Diabetes Association, the country has no national diabetes program. Denyou said, “In Ghana, most people diagnosed with diabetes are the poorest of the poor. There is a lot of Type 1 diabetes in rural areas. ” Type 1 diabetes, although still rare in many areas, is becoming increasingly more prevalent. IGT (Impaired Glucose Tolerance) is also becoming problematic in many African countries. This counters the prevailing myth that diabetes is solely a disease of the wealthy west.
In numerous interviews (3 min mark), Phife mentioned how he used his celebrity as a platform to raise diabetes awareness. He said that he would love it if he could inspire others with the condition and let them know that they can still achieve their dreams and desires despite the hardships that come with diabetes. Like Phife, there are many other well known individuals who have been affected by diabetes directly or indirectly. Many are using their popularity as a platform to raise awareness.
For example, Lil Jon raised money the American Diabetes Association during his stint on The Apprentice. His now deceased mother had type 2 diabetes and suffered a stroke while they were the taping a season of the show. He went on to raise $195,000 for the cause.
Dennis Coles aka Tony Starks aka Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1996. In a 2005 interview about his condition, he said “I didn’t know what that shit was.” He went to two doctors before it was detected. “My sugar was mad high, but it was a little relief to know what it was.” His doctor prescribed insulin along with a healthier regiment. “That meant putting down the blunts and cutting back on the alcohol and sweets.” It’s about discipline”, said Ghost. “You can quit the cigarettes and all that other shit but as a diabetic you fiend for sweets. When you sitting at the crib staring at them Oreos, you gonna fuck around and go in. You want those Fruity Pebbles and all that shit. I had to learn how to just chill, exercise, drink protein shakes and monitor my sugar.”
Let me be clear: this isn’t some pathological problem that’s simply impacting our community. Black people are dying and developing poor health, largely because of racism and oppressive systems. There are virtual food deserts in many Black communities across the U.S. Young people consume high amounts of soda and candy and other crap. There are rarely any healthy food options, let alone affordable options in many of our communities.
Most of us know someone or have someone close to us who are diabetic, if we’re not diabetic ourselves. Eating habits are hard to break, especially considering the fact that sugar is literally in everythingwe consume. The impact of everyday racism and classism have a way of negatively impacting our immune systems and the physiological functions of our bodies. But to know better is to do better. Let’s all do what we can to prevent another loss like this. If you want to know about some Black owned businesses that are committed to health and wellness, check out our previous post.
To address this growing epidemic, the American Diabetes Association has created programs and materials to increase awareness of the seriousness of diabetes and its complications among African Americans. Learn more here.
There is no décor. The only art on the pumpkin colored walls are vintage posters of bare shouldered black women with elaborate hairstyles. Two women, one from Senegal, the other from the Ivory Coast, split 7 feet of black synthetic hair into sections before they begin to braid.
Behind them is a restless elementary school girl; she swings her legs so vigorously her timberlands thump on the floor. Her hairdresser, Tenin, has tightly wrapped the ends of each braid with string until they resemble sooty bees nests. She dips the ends of the braids in boiling water; acutely aware of the risk involved, the child is finally still. The final step of the three-hour process is simple — Tenin lathers the girl’s head with white mousse.
Aicha Hair Braiding Salon is one of a number of African braiding shops that are clustered around 125th street in Harlem. Much like the Apollo Theatre and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the braiding shops and braiders that work in them are a Harlem landmark.
Hair braiding is a tradition that has been practiced in various African societies for centuries. Across the United States, women from countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, have used braiding as a bridge to a better life. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, entrepreneurial instinct and the ability of braiders to amalgamate traditional braiding styles with hair trends within African-American culture, meant braiding was a secure source of income.
According to Professor Cheikh Anta Babou, an expert in African history and the Africa diaspora, although it was generally confined to the informal economy, braiding was once such a lucrative profession, in the peak season braiders could earn $200-$300 a day. Babou estimates 70% of Senegalese immigrant women in the United States are hair braiders. Braiding is so pervasive it has reshaped and transformed Senegalese life in the United States. For instance, the economic independence women gained from braiding meant patriarchal norms were resisted; consequently divorce has become more frequent within the Senegalese community.
In recent years, however, a combination of demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rents and technological disruption, has meant braiding is no longer a trade immigrants can rely on.
“This country’s not like before. You don’t get money like before,” said Tenin, the hairdresser who hails from the Ivory Coast. “It was more busy than this. When tax season comes you’re very happy. But now?” she shakes her head in dismay and returns to her work. Two months ago, Tenin gave birth to her fourth child. The uneven nature of her job meant she had to come back to work. On some days she has no clients, while on other days she has eight. Staying at home was far too risky.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see braiders hustling for potential clients at the busiest intersections in Harlem. Some even wait at subway turnstiles, hoping to find a customer. According to Aicha, Tenin’s mother and the owner of the braiding salon where they both work, the spread of braiders onto the streets hunting for clients is a relatively new development. Aicha has worked as a braider in Harlem for over 20 years. She believes the demographic shifts in the neighborhood and rising rents, has meant they have a smaller customer base and have to fight harder for what’s left. “I don’t like to beg on the street for customers. I used to, but not any more. But I understand why women do” she said.
Aicha is correct in her observation about rising rents and dwindling black customers. A report by the Community Service Society, showed between 2002 and 2014 average rents in Central Harlem rose by 90%. Recent census data showed that Harlem’s black population is the smallest it’s been since the 1920’s and they are now only 40% of its residents. The ramifications of this on the informal braiding market are palpable. A number of braiding stores have been forced to close, and some braiders even left New York in search for work elsewhere. However, there’s another force working against women like Aicha and Tenin — technology. In particular, the proliferation of social networking sites, which have created virtual communities centred on sharing information about black women’s hair and an increase in women finding their hairdressers using the Internet. In an unexpected twist, it seems that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, instead technology is taking jobs from immigrants.
In 2008, a shift occurred in the black cultural zeitgeist that reshaped how black women decided to style their own hair. According to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, the natural hair movement caused a critical mass of black women to stop chemically straightening their hair and wear their hair in its natural state. Historically, there have been other waves where black women have favored natural styles however this was the first in the era of online social networking.
Conversations about black women’s hair are constantly happening on the Internet. They occur in YouTube comments, hair forums and an amorphous subculture within Twitter called “Black Twitter”. The #naturalhair hashtag on Instagram has 7.4 million photos. In theory, this movement should have meant African hair braiders were perfectly positioned to exploit a new and hungry customer base. According to Mintel Black Consumers and Hair care 2015 report, the black hair care market is worth an estimated $2.7 billion — there’s more than enough money to go around. But a cornerstone of the natural hair movement and the digital conversation surrounding it is an emphasis on autonomy and agency. An important expression of this agency is the ability to understand and do your own natural hair.
The emergence of social networking and the fact that the web significantly influences black women’s hair choices, places braiders at an acute disadvantage. The informal and underground nature of the braiding industry has meant there’s a natural and almost instinctive aversion to social media. Despite their presence on the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn, most braiders prefer to be or remain inconspicuous. Some braiders are undocumented or in regular contact with people who are undocumented and this creates a reluctance to create a visible online presence. Very few of the braiding shops have Facebook or Instagram pages, websites are rare and most salon owners don’t respond to reviews on Yelp. Furthermore, in West African culture, privacy is viewed as virtue and openness is a vice. All these things are diametrically opposed to the relentless self-promotion and hyper-exposure the digital age requires. In the meantime, the savviest natural hairdressers are exploiting technology for their benefit and gaining customers.
“I did it in college just for fun, just one video — and it went viral” said Sadora Paris, a popular natural hair blogger. Since Sadora posted her first video tutorial two years ago, her audience has grown to 120 thousand YouTube subscribers and almost 25 thousand Instagram followers. She has leveraged her fan base to become a fulltime brand ambassador for natural hair care lines such as Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture. Sadora also earns additional income as a hair coach and beauty consultant.
Sadora views the relationship between the African braiders and their customer base as a complex one that is fractured by generational differences as much as cultural ones. African braiders aren’t the only segment within the black hair industry that struggled to keep up with how technology has transformed it. Many older African-American salon owners who catered exclusively to black women with chemically straightened hair failed to keep up with the times and are also struggling. Additionally, the women she coaches who no longer go to African braiders cite three main factors — saving money, time and their hair. Traditional braiding methods favor tight, neat styles and an aesthetic is valued over the health of the hair. However many black women have concerns about their hair, particularly the perimeter of the hairline referred to colloquially as their “edges”. For Sadora and her clients, the choice to do their own hair is less about the African braiders and more about how they prefer to do their hair.
Dr. Shartriya Collier is an expert in immigrant women entrepreneurs, who has done extensive research on the braiding industry in the United States. While she agrees that technology and other variables have contributed to the difficulties the braiders currently face, she cautions against overstating their significance. In her view, there were no real glory years in the braiding industry– it’s always been a difficult trade. “There was always a tension between African shop owners and their African-American clients,” she said. The intersection of language and cultural barriers meant exchanges between African braiders and their African-American clients have always been characterized by difficulties.
In their economic transactions, most braiders tend to occupy the grey space between legal and illegal activity. Cash is the preferred, and often the only form of payment. Most financial transactions aren’t documented in official records and braiders aren’t paid an hourly wage; instead they pay the shop owner a commission on every client they get. And while technology has had an adverse effect on their cash flow, it’s been advantageous for most parts of the informal economy. Professor Justin W. Webb, of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is an expert on entrepreneurship within the informal economy. In his research, he has observed how technological advances have created more opportunities for entrepreneurs who operate outside of the formal sphere. “Technology is presenting a larger market and in a way they’re able to skirt [legislation]. They’re less visible to those who are monitoring and enforcing them,” said Webb.
In his years of studying informal economies, Webb has frequently come across a phenomena he calls the “stepping stone effect” This occurs when a worker gradually formalizes and legitimizes their trade or they accumulate enough capital and knowledge to leave the informal sphere and work in another part of the formal economy. But braiders face a challenge that impedes this effect — language.
Most braiders come from French-speaking African countries, so if they do speak English, it is often their third language. French or Wolof tends to be the lingua franca inside the hair shop and English is only used while establishing price or in brief exchanges with clients. The lack of English fluency makes it difficult to leave the industry. On the other hand, braiders from English speaking African countries often use braiding as a job on the side, to support them while they attend night school or while they learn a more economically advantageous trade. As soon as these women achieve their goal they stop braiding.
In 2002, Mama (as she calls herself), made the trip from Nouakchott, Mauritania to the United States. At the time she was fluent in Wolof and French, and could speak only broken English. She found accommodation in the Bronx and was embraced by a network of African immigrants. They told her to go to Harlem and start braiding hair. Mama is middle aged and braiding has taken its toll on her body. Some days she works for 12 hours at a time at Barry’s Good Braiding, she has constant back pain but can’t afford the surgery. What was supposed to be an opportunity has become a trap and Mama wishes she picked another trade when she first moved to America. Braiding is so niche that her years of experience aren’t easily transferred to another industry. “It’s not a job I’m doing and love it. I don’t have a choice,” said Mama.
Walk into any braiding shop and you’ll notice the incredible speed at which braiders move their wrists and fingers. No matter how long you stare, this speed makes it difficult to decipher each step of the process. It’s wondrous to watch because the women maintain this speed for anything from 3 to 6 hours. And on a particularly busy day they may braid for a total of 10 hours.
Ask any woman who’s had her hair braided the worst thing about it and she’ll probably mention the pain. Most people don’t think about the pain the braiders endure. The physically taxing nature of the job and the mental strain of hoping for clients mean that braiders often end the day exhausted. Over the years this accumulates and has acute physical manifestations. Back pain, shoulder pain, it isn’t rare to come across braiders with ganglion cysts on their wrists — big bumps that are the evidence of years of strain.
For those that have the option to work in the formal economy, the decision to become an entrepreneur is often an expression of their independence and freedom. But for many of the braiders, with limited childcare options, low levels of education and significant language barriers, being an entrepreneur is the only option, rather than a romantic form of self-actualization. It is a beautiful struggle at best.
Two Jamaica-raised baristas at the newly opened Starbucks in Jamaica, David Merrick and Nigel Armstrong, who met barely a month ago but have already branded themselves the “dynamic duo,” are excited the store will offer job training for youth in the community.
Starbucks held a preview opening for its new store at 89-02 Sutphin Blvd. Monday, the first of at least 15 stores that will open throughout the United States to hire and train youth in diverse and urban communities. The store officially opened Tuesday at 6 a.m.
The store includes an onsite classroom space available to local nonprofit organizations to provide job training and skills building programs for young people in the area.
It is part of the chain’s goal of hiring 10,000 opportunity youth, 16- to 24-year-old individuals who are not in school and not employed.
Merrick, 23, who volunteers for LIFE Camp founded by Erica Ford, said the initiative will give kids an alternative study spot to the library and keep them occupied.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s a good thing because as a kid, you kind of don’t learn what’s going on at a young age,” he said. “So this is definitely a way to get kids at 16 and 17 off the streets and actually introducing them into the workforce and the work environment.”
For Armstrong, 20, the store will be a “home away from home” for kids in the area.
“I know they’re going to have a lot of youth coming in and out of here, so to make that connection with them is going to be really big,” he said. “I feel like they’re going to be looking to us for guidance. I feel like it’s going to be really big for us and for the youth.”
Alisha Wrencher, the store manager, who has worked for Starbucks for 18 years and was born and raised in Jamaica, handpicked all 17 employees, who range in age from 16 to 36 and hail from Brooklyn, parts of Queens and Jamaica in the Caribbean.
“I know how much this store can do to create a brighter future for our opportunity youth and am honored that Starbucks chose me to lead this new store,” Wrencher said.
Borough President Katz, who has launched the Jamaica Now Action Plan to revitalize Jamaica, praised the selection of the borough as the beta site.
“We understand that this is a prototype for the rest of the nation, but just to be clear: It started in Queens,” Katz said, her words met with applause from the crowd.
Starbucks has partnered with the Queens Community House, Queens Connect’s lead agency, and YMCA’s Y Roads Centers, which will be utilizing a dedicated training space within the store specially created by the Starbucks design studio.
The Jamaica store is the first in a nationwide initiative Starbucks announced last year to deepen investments in at least 15 similar U.S. communities by 2018 by opening stores with the goal of creating new jobs and engaging local women and minority-owned vendors and suppliers. The next location will be in the West Florissant neighborhood of Ferguson, Mo.
“One of the things that we’ve learned over the time is that we can’t do it alone,” said Rodney Hines, director of community investments for Starbucks retail operations.
Candice Cadogan, a Brooklyn-born barista raised in Cambria Heights, and Jermaine Slater, a newly promoted shift superviser who was born in Jamaica in the Caribbean and raised in Jamaica, led a coffee tasting for Guatemala Finca Monte David, one of their small batch Reserve coffees.
The article was originally published in the TimesLedger Newspapers.
Hillary Clinton is on a roll. If her candidacy ever looked in doubt to an insurgent Bernie Sanders, she’s hurtling towards the Democratic nomination — thanks overwhelmingly to African Americans.
A month after her bruising defeat in New Hampshire, where Sanders won every category of voter except those older than 65 and earning more than $200,000 a year, Clinton has chalked up massive wins.
In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia she romped to victory, and is tipped to win Tuesday in Mississippi and Michigan, which all have sizeable African American communities.
Black voters have become critical to winning US elections. Without decisive African American turnout in seven states, Barack Obama would have lost to Mitt Romney in 2012, the independent Cook Political Report found.
Four years later with the country embroiled in debate about police violence and systemic racism, blacks are voting overwhelmingly for the former secretary of state, and cold shouldering the white-haired democratic socialist. But why?
Both have called for criminal justice reform demanded by the Black Lives Matter movement, although the group has endorsed neither candidate.
But beyond that, experts say Clinton more than Sanders has talked often about racism, white privilege and the need for more opportunities for blacks.
“I will do everything that I possibly can, to not only do the best to understand and to empathize, but to tear down the barriers of systemic racism,” she told Sunday’s Democratic debate in black majority Flint, Michigan.
– Forcefully –
Clinton raised the specter of environmental racism, questioning whether the lead-contaminated water scandal in Flint would have happened in wealthy suburbs.
“She talks very forcefully about these issues in a way that she hasn’t before and you don’t normally have from presidential candidates,” said Stefanie Brown James, Obama’s African American vote director in 2012.
While Sanders has spent his career in Vermont, where only one percent of the population is black, Clinton was first lady of Arkansas for 12 years, taking on a prominent role in trying to improve health and education.
In the south, she ran legal clinics representing disenfranchised people.
While still a student at Yale Law School, she went to South Carolina to investigate juveniles in adult jails and to Alabama to investigate segregation in schools for the Children’s Defense Fund.
After more than a generation on the national stage, all of this has become common knowledge — particularly among blacks.
In South Carolina, she addressed the nation’s oldest black sorority, dressed in green — a courtesy to an organization whose colors are green and pink.
“That’s the kind of little stuff, the attention to detail that people notice and appreciate,” said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Right or wrong for a feminist campaigning to become the first woman president of the United States, experts also agree that much of her appeal stems from her marriage to Bill Clinton.
– Race matters –
The Clinton record is not unblemished. Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform and 1994 crime bill are blamed for fanning poverty and record incarceration rates which have hit blacks disproportionately. Both Clintons have since expressed regret, but the former first lady has been called out repeatedly on the campaign trail over that troubled legacy.
Clinton prefers to recall the economic growth during her husband’s 1990s administration as a legacy she will continue.
For more than a generation black Americans embraced the Clintons as a couple who worked against racial prejudice and presided over economic prosperity, at a time when black unemployment fell and incomes rose.
Bill Clinton’s poor southern background and easy manner — playing saxophone on television wearing shades — won him love and admiration from black voters.
He supported affirmative action, appointed a record number of African Americans to his cabinet and was close friends with business executive and civil rights figure Vernon Jordan.
During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison famously dubbed him the first black president by comparing him to the black man always presumed guilty.
While Clinton’s rival Sanders has spoken of being arrested during the 1960s civil rights movement, his plea for votes has focused far more on economic inequality.
“That’s the problem that blacks typically have with white progressives, that they look at everything through class and forget that race still matters, and it’s that type of framing that has frustrated some blacks,” said Gillespie.
African Americans who agonized in 2008 about whether to vote for Clinton or Obama and picked Obama now feel they can do right by Clinton, the woman who has gone out of her way to present herself as Obama’s heir.
Latinos are part of the largest racial or ethnic minority in the United States, and they recently surpassed whites as the numerically dominant demographic group in California.
The country is nearly 40 percent minority, and experts believe people of color could eclipse the white majority by 2043.
Diversity is everywhere you look these days — on television commercials, in pop music, in sports, in public universities. But Hollywood, an industry that calls a 73 percent minority county its home, is actually losing ground when it comes to hiring people of color.
Researchers, led by Bunche Center director Darnell M. Hunt, looked at the top-grossing 200 films in 2014 as well as at 1,146 television shows, including online programs, from the 2013-14 season.
“Minorities lost ground in six of the 11 arenas examined and merely held their ground in the other four,” the report states.
This at a time when the Academy Awards is feeling pressure from minority groups — a protest led by Rev. Al Sharpton is expected to happen outside Sunday’s event — because only whites received acting nominations for the second year in a row.
Here are some of the UCLA study’s highlights:
-In film, minorities got 12.9 percent of lead rules, down from 16.7 percent in 2013, UCLA says.
-Minorities got 12.9 percent of the film director gigs, down from 17.8 percent in 2013, the report says.
-For women directors, that figure was women just 4.3 percent, down from 6.3 percent in 2013.
-Minorities were writers on 8 percent of the films examined, down from 11.8 percent in 2013.
-Women got writing credits in 9.2 percent of the films, down from 12.9 percent in 2013.
-Women got 35.8 percent of the lead roles in broadcast scripted shows, down from 48.6 percent in the 2012-13 season.
-Minorities got 15.9 percent of the lead roles on cable shows, down from 16.8 percent in 2012-13.
-Minorities were credited as show creators in 3.3 percent of the broadcast scripted shows examined, which is down from 5.9 percent in 2012-13.
And so on.
One hopeful highlight was in broadcast scripted TV, where minorities got 8.1 percent of the roles, according to the study. That’s up from 6.5 percent in 2012-13.
But still, the report says, “Minorities remain seriously underrepresented in this broadcast scripted arena.”
The study also reiterated that diverse productions — those with casts that were greater than 30 percent nonwhite — made more money for the industry.
“Films with relatively diverse casts enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment,” the study says. “Minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for four of the top 10 films in 2014.”
It also found that broadcast TV shows with casts that were 31 to 40 percent nonwhite received the most mentions on Twitter.
“What we’ve found for three years running now is that audiences prefer content that looks like America,” Hunt said.
Unfortunately, it looks like Hollywood still isn’t getting the message.
It’s 8 a.m., Congress isn’t in session and Washington’s roads are icy, but more than 100 ambassadors, academics, African emigres and heads of humanitarian groups have crammed into a basement room of the U.S. Capitol for an unofficial meeting about how Boko Haram and other terrorism groups are stunting African progress.
The regular breakfasts are the brainchild of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is frustrated by a lack of attention paid to the continent and sees her own constituents with deep interest in policy toward Africa.
“In community organizing, you believe that the best policy is made by having those people that are most affected by the policy at the table. It’s not rocket science. If you do policy in a vacuum it can have unintended consequences,” she said in an interview after the meeting.
Bass first got involved in African policy because of South African apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s when she co-chaired the local Southern Africa Support Committee.
“I stopped doing international work and just focused on domestic work. One of the reasons I was excited about coming to Congress is I could do both,” Bass said. “I really took almost a 20-year hiatus away from foreign policy.”
She views it as her responsibility.
“The same way it was my responsibility to figure out how to address the gang and crack intersection in South-Central, I also felt it was my responsibility to help fight to end apartheid and especially the U.S. government’s policies,” Bass said.
When she joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee after taking office in 2011, Bass said it didn’t feel like those actually affected by the committee’s decisions had a voice.
“When I would go to hearings on Africa, you would have no Africans participating, but they are sitting there in the audience while we’re talking about their countries. That just seemed odd to me,” she said.
She is now the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. Other Foreign Affairs Subcommittees focus narrowly on one or two subjects.
“That in and of itself to me kind of says that Africa is not a big enough priority to have its own focused subcommittee,” she said. “We could go easily a month or two without having a hearing on Africa [with] so many subject matters.”
Bass said she’s gone out of her way to work with the Foreign Affairs Committee, not supersede it, by having committee leaders co-host the breakfasts or speak.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) said a wider group of people are excited about legislation before the committee because of Bass’ breakfast meetings. He’s spoken at a few.
“It’s effective,” he said. “Karen Bass is able to strategically use the enthusiasm of those who participate in the breakfasts in order to try to assist us.”
Royce pointed to several cases, including a bill recently signed by President Obama aimed at electrical infrastructure around the continent, the global anti-poaching act and congressional response to Ebola.
Bass said Africa may seem so far away to her Los Angeles constituents, “but we have a huge diaspora community in L.A.”
Her district includes Little Ethiopia, a block-long stretch on Fairfax Avenue between West Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive.
“Even Little Ethiopia is a commercial strip. It is not like Ethiopians reside in that area. I’m sure some do, but that area’s very, very mixed,” she said.
She plans to talk with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council about a trade mission and also a seminar to connect federal agencies with private businesses interested in investing in Africa, Bass said.
This year she wants to coordinate with the African diaspora living in Los Angeles and hold a policy breakfast in the city so her constituents can be heard too.
“I know there’s a huge Nigerian community, Cameroonian, and there are seven official consulates for seven African countries, and then there’s about another five honorary consulates,” she said. “There should always be a voice. If we come up with a policy we want to bounce it back and forth. You want the people that are most affected also pushing for the policy as well.”
Nii Akuettah, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus, a coalition of immigrant groups in Washington, called Bass “a big champion for Africa.”
“There is a great deal of good will in the African community here for her and on the continent for her,” he said.
The periodic gatherings draw members of Congress, ambassadors from African countries, emigres or diaspora, and other people who have a stake in the United States’ policy regarding Africa, such as businesses, State Department officials and academics–and often the groups are “not on the same page,” Bass said.
The meetings began as a way to draw attention to reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. First created in 2000, AGOA gives special market access to certain sub-Saharan countries that maintain legal, human rights and labor standards. In June, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation extending the act until 2025.
The talks continued, with a focus on trade and economic development between the United States and African countries. Topics have ranged from Ebola to elections to electricity, and the July 2014 breakfast was also about instability because of Boko Haram, the northeastern Nigerian Islamist group.
Bass said Boko Haram must be addressed when looking to set policy about Africa’s future.
“You can’t talk about economic development, you can’t talk about the implementation of AGOA in countries without security and in countries that are not stable or are being destabilized because of Boko Haram,” she said.
“When you look at the number of people that have been killed by Boko Haram, it’s more than the number of lives lost to ISIS. I think part of our job here is raising the consciousness in the U.S. that just because something is happening on the continent, that doesn’t mean that it does not have international significance,” she said.
It’s her goal to reshape U.S.-Africa relations.
“We still kind of view Africa as a charity case and not as a continent that is a partner. Unfortunately, I think the United States is behind the rest of the world, because the rest of the world sees Africa as much more of a partner than we do,” she said.
The original article was published in the Los Angeles Times.
It was sitting in a conflict resolution lecture – an intern in my early twenties and eager for life – when I knew that was it, I wanted to be an aid worker. I wanted to be the one who makes the difference.
I started my career as that obscure national staff member who took the minutes at important meetings and was good at it. Many times however, I would be the only African in those meetings and my role would solely be to take minutes. Strangely, and contrary to popular belief, minute taking is the best way to learn and adapt to new concepts. Nobody noticed me, or asked for my opinion; even when what they discussed affected how much food I had at dinner. So I listened, took notes and learned. Soon I knew more than most people coming to the meetings.
‘It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room to bring the reality of my home, my continent.’ Photograph: Alamy
A few years later, I landed my first international job. I had managed to convince a HR officer that I knew what I was doing better than anyone else going for the position, and that I deserved the job. This time, I became the obscure African girl who could relate to the context and whose opinion was closest to the reality of those affected by crisis. The room would fall silent when I spoke, and I felt relevant. I was making the difference, and I thought I was good at it.
That was until I was told: “you speak African, we cannot understand what you say”. That was actual feedback I got from one capacity building initiative set up by an organisation specifically to raise the profile of its “native” staff. I wanted to get on though so I changed my accent, pronouncing phrases like IDP camp as “IDP kemp” instead of “IDP kamp” in order to appeal more to an American audience. Now I start to construct my sentences before I pronounce them. I’m no longer making the difference, I’ve become an illusion of it.
The continent I call home is now “the field” for me and my colleagues, and the people we are contracted to serve have become indicators in the reports we churn out. When I’m in the field, the only difference between me and the starving mother of seven who I’m excited to photograph (in order to attach to my trip report), is the sheer fate that life brought us. Because I know how it feels to be hungry and desperate, I take it upon myself to make the field more than just numbers and check boxes. At the next meeting, I make a point to remind everyone that we are here to serve human beings.
The room falls silent when I speak. I notice a slight look of surprise from those around the table. I’m used to this, an expectation that I, like others would attend and take notes, agreeing to everything. But I’m no longer the obscure African girl that impressed her European audience because she is fluent, outspoken and confident. I am part of the decisions made on the lives of people. That is enough to outweigh comments like “you have such impressive intelligence” or “you don’t sound like most natives” that often come from well-meaning colleagues but are condescending and disrespectful.
I speak out when the politics of aid stops it from being useful, when we get derailed by bureaucracy and forget the starving mother of seven who hopes that her picture attached to a foreign report will provide her next meal. It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room full of white faces to bring into the room the reality of my home, my continent.
The silence in the room has stopped bothering me, and I no longer care that I must introduce myself multiple times to people because “all Africans look the same”. I am making a difference, even when it is sometimes difficult to see it. I remind myself that my place is deserved, I earned it and that I owe it to myself and others to let my presence be the difference.
Drones are delivering contraceptives to hard-to-reach Ghanaian villages in a program jointly funded by the U.N. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s so successful that other countries want it too, HuffingtonPost reported.
Deliveries to rural Ghana that once took two days now take 30 minutes by drone, and each flight costs only $15, according to Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the U.N. Population Fund.
Sunkutu said he expected the pilot program in Ghana to encounter resistance, and worried people would associate the drones with war. So the U.N., in its program materials, referred to the drones only as “unmanned aerial vehicles” — not drones.
“We don’t want that link between war and what we are doing,” Sunkutu told The Huffington Post in an interview. “But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there.”
Less than than 20 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa use modern contraceptives. In rural Africa, a flood can shut down roads for days and cut off medical supplies, making access to birth control a massive problem.
An estimated 225 million women in developing countries around the world want to delay or stop childbearing, but don’t have reliable birth control, according to the World Health Organization. This prevents women and girls from finishing school or getting jobs. About 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year.
“We are particularly committed to exploring how our family planning efforts can meet the needs of young women and girls,” Bill and Melinda Gates said, according to their foundation website.
The idea to use drones for delivering birth control came from a program in the Amazon, Sunkutu said.
The drone operator packs a five-foot-wide drone with contraceptives and medical supplies from an urban warehouse and sends it over to places hard to reach by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies.
Project Last Mile has been flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana for several months.
Now it’s expanding to six other African countries. The goal is to revolutionize women’s health and family planning in Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have expressed an interest.
Using drones to improve reproductive health isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s just new in Africa, according to Huffington Post. In June, a Dutch organization called Women on Waves used a drone to fly abortion pills to Poland, trying to raise awareness of Poland’s restrictive abortion laws.
Project Last Mile says it is the first to develop a long-term, sustainable program for delivering contraceptives by drone.
Sunkutu hopes that eventually drones will revolutionize other areas of rural African life., starting with family planning.
“They can deliver ballots after elections, or exams for school,” he said. It becomes a logistics management solution for hard-to-reach areas. We’re going to use family planning as an entry and make it sustainable.”
Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is an author who has written a number of books on the history and experiences of African people.
Recently there have been rumors that Beyonce is planning to write and star in a film about a woman named Sarah Baartman. That is an important story that needs to be told. During the period of slavery and colonization African women endured a number of abuses. The case of Baartman is perhaps the best example of how African women were degraded and treated as sex objects. Baartman was an ethnic Khoikhoi woman who was born in South Africa. She was taken to Europe where she became a freak show attraction because of her features, especially her large buttocks. She became a sort of symbol for the hypersexuality and inferiority of African women.
Baartman died in 1815 at the age of 25. Baartman had died an impoverished and alcoholic woman who had turned to prostitution to support herself when her novelty wore off. Her sexual organs were persevered and placed on display in Paris. It was not until 1974 that her display was removed and her remains were finally returned to her homeland for burial in 2002. Although Beyonce denied the claims that she was planning any movie on Baartman, the story is one that does need to be told so that people can understand the extent to which African women were degraded and reduced to sex objects for the entertainment of European men.
As important as Baartman’s story is, I also think there are many other African women whose stories are worth being made into films as well. In the media there is definitely an under-representation of strong and powerful black women, which is a stark contrast to Africa’s own history, which is filled with examples of powerful women that ruled kingdoms. In speaking of his native Guinea-Bissau, Amílcar Cabral stated: “You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos Islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens.” For this reason I will present a list of some other African women that also deserve having movies made about them.
Queen Makeda is held in Ethiopian tradition to be the Queen of Sheba that is mentioned in the Bible. The Bible briefly mentions the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, but provides very little information about the Queen of Sheba herself. The Kebra Nagast tells the story of Queen Makeda, who is described as the powerful ruler of a wealthy kingdom who is curious to test Solomon’s purported wisdom. She decides to visit Solomon in Israel. The Kebra Nagastrecords that Makeda was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and was so interested in “the God of Israel” that Makeda converted to Solomon’s religion. Makeda returned to her kingdom in Ethiopia where she gave birth to Solomon’s child, a boy who was named Menelik. This story forms the basis of Ethiopian monarch’s claim to have a direct lineage to Solomon.
Nzinga was the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms which were located in present day Angola. She is best remembered for the resistance that she put up against the Portuguese slave traders in her nation. Nzinga was a brilliant stateswoman who fought the Portuguese for decades until the two sides came to form a truce. Nzinga was described as the greatest military strategist that the Portuguese had ever confronted and as someone who was dedicated to destroying the slave trade. Among her own people she was a very respected and beloved ruler.
Yaa Asantewaa, like Nzinga, is remembered for her military prowess. Over a span of nearly 100 years, the Asante people of Ghana fought a number of wars with the British, winning a good portion of those wars before finally being conquered in 1900. Leading up to the final war the Asante ruler Prempeh had decided to peacefully surrender to the British to avoid another war, but the British provoked a war when Governor Sir Frederick Hodgson requested that the Golden Stool of the Asante people be brought to him for him to sit on. The Asante people considered the Golden Stool to be so sacred that not even the Asante king himself sat on it. Yaa Asantewaa was so angered by the disrespect that was shown to the Asante people that she urged her fellow Asante citizens to take up arms to defend the Golden Stool. In the subsequent war the Asante people were defeated by the British and Yaa Asantewaa was exiled, but the Asante people generally remember this war as a victory because they prevented the British from capturing the Golden Stool.
Aside from her role as a military leader, Yaa Asantewaa was a stateswoman who served as the queen mother of the Asante district of Ejisu. After her son was exiled along with Prempeh, Yaa Asantewaa served as the king of Ejisu. Yaa Asantewaa was known as a just ruler who hated to see people being mistreated. She would use state funds to settle the debts of some of her poorer subjects to prevent them from becoming debt slaves.
Funmilayo Kuti was the mother of famed Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. Funmilayo was a nationalist who fought for the independence of Nigeria and along with her husband, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, Funmilayo was involved in anti-colonial organizations such as the West African Students Union. In 1947, Funmilayo led a group of women in protest against the District Officer of Abeokuta. Fela later spoke of this incident with pride, recalling how his mother had insulted the highest representative of the British crown in Abeokuta. For the courageous manner in which Funmilayo took on the colonial government she was popularly known as the “daughter of Lisabi.” Lisabi was a famous warrior who led the Egba people in their war of resistance against the powerful Oyo kingdom. Funmilayo died in 1978 from injuries that she sustained from being thrown out of a third floor window when the Nigerian military had raided her son’s compound. The raid was done in response to a song that Fela had preformed which criticized the behavior of Nigeria’s military.
The article was published in Huffington Post’s Black Voices.