#16DaysOfActivism: Spotlight on Mogadishu

On Saturday 14th October 2017,  East Africa witnessed the single most deadliest terrorist attack after a truck bomb was detonated in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing more than 350 people. The response from world media was slow at best and seriously lacking at the pitiful worst. In doing research for this blog entry, I struggled to find basic information on who, what, where and how (try for yourself, I’ll wait). These are points that are usually covered in the first paragraph of news articles…why do African lives not matter?

 

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The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism was ‘safeguarding women and girls before, during and after conflict’. We know that women and girls are disproportionately affected in times of conflict. In the aftermath of a civil war, in the midst of relenting drought and now living with the impact of the attacks (plural – yes, 21 to be exact) that have taken place in Mogadishu in 2017 alone, one can only imagine how women and girls have been affected.

I think people find it really difficult to come to terms that a person can be born Muslim and be Muslim and not just revert to Islam

Expressing a sense of frustration and compelled to take action, many Somali university societies across the UK continue to raise awareness and support efforts on the ground. I was curious to hear their views on the ongoing issues and the role of social actors that inspire action or in some cases, in-action.

Angela: The attack that took place on Saturday 14th October was not the first. What about this event made you eager to take action in your universities? How did you get involved in raising awareness on the issue?

Shukri: As we’re quite a small society, we tried to support other Somali Societies (Som Socs) for instance we attended the vigil held by Kings College Som Soc.  We also got in touch with LSE Islamic Society to help share the message about some organisations that we were supporting. Now that we have an official committee, we want to offer our own efforts. At the time we didn’t really have the manpower but it was great to go and support what other societies were doing and to join in prayers for Somalia. The experience highlighted for me, what the youth can actually do. I think a lot of us realize that it is our responsibility to help at home. No one else is going to do it so it has to be us pushing it forward.

Osob: The number of deaths had a lot to do with why there was such a huge response from the Somali community. Obviously there’s been a lot of conflict and terror attacks since the civil war but the numbers we’ve seen from the 14th October are just ridiculous; its been called the 9/11 of Somalia. It’s sad to say but I think that’s why people were interested. I think a lot of Som Socs wanted to get involved because there was no media coverage and most people were getting their information from twitter and that’s a problem.

Shukri: Think about it, so many people died and their names aren’t shared, their faces weren’t put in newspapers.

Angela: The Rohingya crisis continues to play out and was going on at the time of the Mogadishu attack however Mogadishu did not receive a morsel of the coverage the Myanmar issue has. Does race have a role to play in the Mogadishu crisis?

Rahma: Race has a HUGE part to play – definitely a massive part to play! I think its such a big problem. Just look at the university scene, Islamic Societies (ISOCs) are usually dominated by Asian Muslims and even when people in the UK think of a Muslim, they think of an Asian Muslim. Even though these atrocities took place, we ourselves had to reach out to the society – we shouldn’t have had to ask.

Shukri: I asked why they hadn’t responded immediately and I was met with a vague answer which at the time made me very upset. What I was trying to make them understand is that it was and is a dire issue! Eventually, they did share links to some of the organisations we were supporting.

Hafsa: More or less Somalis tend to do things ourselves. For me, it was really difficult getting a response from the ISOC it was frustrating. I just think it is so much easier to do things by ourselves. I would urge Somali’s to stick together, which we’re very good at anyway. In staying together we can break the barriers that we face as a community. I think the government and media have capacity to do something, of course they do. I’ve seen so much on Syria but I don’t see much on Somalia. It’s been mainly us using twitter to spread the news.

Rahma: It just seems to me that the fairer skin Muslim gets more attention than the darker skinned Muslim. We never hear about what happens in Nigeria with Boko Haram. I don’t know if I necessarily blame ISOCs themselves because I genuinely think they are ignorant to what they’re doing. However, there is a massive blockage where some Asian Muslims are more empathetic to fairer skin Muslims and vice versa .

Osob: For me, I don’t think its ignorance, it’s active blindness. You’ve grown up in the UK, you have some notion of the race tensions. When something’s happening to a Black person, they are desensitized. I think people find it really difficult to come to terms that a person can be born Muslim and just be Muslim and not just revert to Islam.

Angela: So we’ve mentioned race and religion but there’s a gender aspect to it too in my opinion. My question is: what role can women play in bringing to light these conflicts ?

Shukri: In terms of the Somali demographics, there are a lot more women in higher education so it will definitely be women pushing it forward. However, Somali boys and men still have a part to play and Som Socs this year have been doing so much in the last year, they have grown so much.

There’s been a lot of conflict and terror attacks since the civil war but the numbers we’ve seen from the 14th October are just ridiculous; its been called the 9/11 of Somalia

Rahma: I feel that compared to other ethnicities, Somali girls are not that held back. If I was to say to my mum and dad I want to do this or that and I want to study abroad, they wouldn’t say no. I still feel, however, tha the household expectations are there.

Osob: Definitely, Somali homes are very matriarchal. Women in the house are the ones that run things. So I feel like this idea of the matriarch in the family trickles down to Somali girls being expected to strive and not have any social barriers.  I think in this respect, we are able to be more active when it comes to raising awareness on such atrocities. This is is not to say Somali boys aren’t active, it’s just that most of the notable action comes from high level institutions and there isn’t a massive representation of Somali boys there; its mainly girls.

Shukri: Because of the way we are raised too in terms of the household, Somali girls are given a lot of responsibility at such a young age. It’s empowering, you’re still expected to go to school, do well in school hold down a job and excel. We’ve been taught to do seven roles at once and we’re okay with it. It’s an expectation and I do think it’s a good expectation – I’m killing the game inside and I’m killing it outside. But I do think its sad because it means boys don’t have good role models. Somali girls have so many role models to aspire toward.

Rahma: As with many other cultures, the older generation may have a particular view on the things that are more appropriate for women and girls to do. However, I’ve been always raised to believe that there’s nothing I cannot do.

Angela: What can the Somali Diaspora do to raise awareness especially women and girls

Rahma: Try and increase female education back home because I feel most of the money goes toward drought. It’s not a long term investment.

Shukri: Once Somalia’s been stabilized in terms of long term goals. Its about female education increasing access to education.

 

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Osob: For now its pretty limited at the moment in terms of what Somali girls can do, Somalia is still very unstable, so I feel like there’s not a lot of space for Somali girls to be active and to help with society because as Shukri said, its about basic necessities. In terms of Diaspora, its about being aware of whats going on at home and not being detached.

Shukri: I think we sometimes take for granted the opportunity to be educated here and to live here. We have access to organizations such as FORWARD where we can spread the word.

Hafsa: I think the youth in London have a great standing. We have opportunities to help those at home through our outreach and our networks. The collaborative efforts among Som Socs for example is a great place to start. I would say, don’t be afraid to do something for your people. Be brave and bold, you’ll always have the support of a handful of people.

Special thanks to:

Hafsa – BA Accounting & Finance, Brunel Somali Society President

Osob – BA History, LSE Somali Society Member

Rahma – BA History, LSE Somali Society Member

Shukri – BA International Relations & History, LSE Somali Society Member 

Words by @AngOBB

 

4 Simple Ways To Self-Care

Yes, it is the buzzword of the year; highly overused. Frequently affiliated with scented candles/yoga and the minimalist approach of bodily awareness and self-understanding (we’re calling this ‘neo-self-care’). Whatever you practice, self-care is important and to add to your list, here’s our four cents to remind you to self-preserve:

i. reclaim your day 

Our attention is in high demand. If we’re not careful we can give away too much of our time to the wrong people, expensive lunches and social media threads. Identify your most important tasks and strive to complete them. Reflect on one thing that could have gone better – implement it tomorrow. Keep notes to yourself on what you’re eating and drinking and don’t forget to be grateful for at least two things.

ii. eat that frog

If you haven’t heard the phrase before, it’s as unpleasant as it sounds; it’s about prioritising the most important things (alright this one isn’t exactly simple, but you can do it!). Procrastination is real, if you can beat this fiend, it means more productivity during the day, less stress in the evening, higher levels of melatonin at night which equals a more rewarding beauty sleep (this in itself is self-care so consider eating a frog a 2 for 1 deal).

iii. shade outside the lines

About early 2014, adult colouring books became a mainstream trend. They’re not that cray-[ola]! Colouring allows the brain to shift its focus from physical surroundings to a state of mindfulness and self-awareness whilst exploring new concepts, reconciling emotional conflicts and reducing anxiety. P.S: You can use any empty colouring book, or, colour in your doodles (the ones you do during meetings).

iv. protect your peace

Information Overload 2017…can I get an amen?! We are the recipients of unrelenting social spam. Whilst it’s great that we can be at the forefront of breaking news and a few keyboard entries from our loved ones, not all news or streams of communication are digestible and they shouldn’t be. It can be hard to filter and monitor the effects of the information we’re consuming so it’s necessary to step back sometimes. If you don’t like the tone of a series of tweets, mute the words. If there’s a topic of discussion you don’t wish to engage in, mute that group chat. Peace of mind = clarity = a solid game plan.

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Words by @AngOBB

 

 

 

10 mins with Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE

naana2I work at FORWARD, the lead partner of the TuWezeshe Akina Dada project. We have a unique culture – it’s loud, it’s passionate and it’s hardworking. It’s a culture that’s led from the top. Our Executive Director Naana is one of the most remarkable and poised women I’ve ever met – and her desk is just 5 steps away from mine. Barely a day goes by when we don’t hear Naana singing the praises of a young activist she’s just met or inquiring on how we can forge impactful relationships with dedicated organisations like ours. That’s the thing with Naana and with FORWARD, we’re all about uplifting and amplifying the voices of young African women.

To say the last few months have been busy would be an understatement. We’ve travelled over 9000 miles (thank you Distance Calculator) and trained more than 50 girls on being innovators of change in the campaign against sexual and gender-based violence. With one more country left on the map, I managed to secure ten minutes with Naana before the TuWezeshe fellowship went to Tanzania.

A: Four trainings down, one more to go why do you think there is such a need for the TuWezeshe fellowship?

N: I think the Tuwezeshe fellowship really meets a huge need within African communities in the UK and on the continent. Young women don’t always have access to safe spaces that give them an opportunity to reflect on themselves and the issues that adversely impact their capacity to make a difference. TuWezeshe provides a space where they can think deeply about the power within whilst simultaneously being supported by a sisterhood of like-minded women with whom they walk the journey. The skill building, access to mentors and the resources gained from the fellowship; these are what I believe they need on the road to becoming leaders.

A: You mentioned the power within; one of the sessions you led during the London training, Save The Drowning Babies, examined the role of different actors in development interventions. What would your advice be to a young activist who sees a need in her community but also feels overwhelmed by the many factors to consider?

N: I think the whole issue around that exercise was for us to realise that often, we’re picking up the pieces without necessarily looking at the root cause of the problem. Having said that, it is also important to understand the consequences and the impact of ALL actions. It’s not that one way of operating way is wrong. You do need to help people who are affected by a system but you also should really understand the powers that contribute towards the problem and to deconstruct the context. That session was also to illustrate that advocacy requires you to work with other people; one person may have to stand up to recognise that we have a problem but you must work with allies and networks. To my young activist:  recognise that yes, you have a voice, but you need to strengthen that voice. Everything is possible with your determination and vision.

“I was really impressed by our conversations- the breadth of ideas, the innovation, the determination”

A: What has been the most memorable moment of the trainings ?

N: The most memorable part was getting our young women to deliver their pitches. For me, that epitomised everything that had been gained throughout the training. I was really impressed by our conversations during the speed mentoring sessions; the breadth of ideas, the innovation, the determination. The confident manner with which the fellows delivered their pitches on the day, was outstanding; really everyone was a star. This further emphasises the need to create spaces where we can refine these jewels and gems that are our young women. In the next five years, I am confident that we will see these women at the forefront of social change and development.

A: Tell me more about Tanzania, what are your expectations for the training there?

N: Tanzania will be very interesting and exciting. We’ve worked in Tanzania over the last 10 years and we’ve had elements of bringing young women from the communities to facilitate leadership training in different contexts. This training will focus on mobilising young women to lead their own projects. Having the training in both English and Swahili is going to very stimulating. For us as a Diaspora-led organisation, it is a model of good practice which we will review at the end of the year. I myself am very excited because the young women we have leading the project are very dynamic; they are motivated and very determined.

Connect with us on social media @TuWezesheDada @Naayosuwa

Words by @AngOBB

Lessons from #EDD17

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The European Development Days is an annual conference set up by the European Commission to showcase the work of the international community, in championing global development and ending poverty. The European Commission is the largest donor of aid in Africa and is unique in that all it’s member states adopt coherent policies on international development. The impact of this was easy to see with the extensive efforts of different organisations targeting various areas of development. These ranged from export of Caribbean Goods for sustainable development of Caribbean-owned businesses to virtual reality methods of story telling.

On the 7th – 8th June, FORWARD‘s Tuwezeshe Dada project, in cooperation with The Girl Generation and AMREF had the privilege of hosting a session on the Importance of Investing in Youth to end GBV at #EDD17 in Brussels, Belgium. Aside from being inspired by some notable speakers including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, the following themes were very noticeable throughout the days.

Understanding your vision 

Tuwezeshe Akina Dada is a consortium of pioneering, Africa/Diaspora organisations; we pride our self in that.  To quote Seleyian Ortoip, one of the panellists at our session: “I don’t want anyone else telling my story for me”. If African women and girls are to change the narrative surrounding their rights and dignity, they must be at the forefront of their own stories. Whilst there is great value in collaboration, African women and girls must be given the spaces to execute their visions.  Throughout the 2 days at the EDD, many European organisations would stop and engage in conversation about the work we were doing. This was occasionally followed by suggestions on how African grass-root NGOs could alter methods and better spread their message.

deep sigh

Perhaps our methods are different to the Western perception of how problems should be fixed; that’s okay, diversity of voices can be productive, but each community must be free to lead their own change for that change to be sustainable. Our message to the global community is: we must work together but let us hold the reigns on issues that concern us. Our message to our diaspora young women: have faith in your methods, you know best what your community needs. The advantage you have in truly understanding your culture should not be underestimated or undermined.

Youth are the future

A number of sessions at the conference this year were youth-focused. From using mentoring to tackle radicalisation in the Horn of Africa to youth in agribuisness there was no hiding from the strong sentiment of African youth fueling Africa’s growth. Not least because young people have brilliant, world-changing ideas. They, more pressingly, are the ones most affected by poverty and conflict. Economic crises and political instability, even in more developed parts of the world, have a most profound effect on those who may not yet have access to full personal agency. For instance President John Magufuli of Tanzania saying that girls will not be allowed to re-enter school should they fall pregnant has tragic consequences not only for young mothers and children but for the state too. Instead of giving girls their education, girls are cut off from the means to improve their lives and contribute to the GDP of their countries. What a sorry picture that is for the continent.

Engaging in inter-generational conversations on taboo and cultural issues can be a challenge. However, investing in youth needn’t be a multi-billion scheme. Simply allowing them to live and have access to basic rights is in itself a huge investment.

“Those who’ve had experience abroad, should look for ways they can help back home”. Richard Dzikunu, EDD Young Leader 2017

The importance of your voice

The underlying theme of the development days this year was “I Am the Change”, calling all participants to recognise their ability to implement sustainable change through their mediums. At our stand, we had an interactive mural where members of the EDD wrote words of encouragement to the millennial young woman making a change in her community. This stance of solidarity encourages us that our work is noticed and that there are people supporting us in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. It is a fight against centuries of patriarchy and misogyny but one we know millions of young women are committed to; together we will overcome.

Apply for the Tuwezeshe Fellowship 2017 (Open to UK Applicants only)

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Words by @AngOBB

Opportunities: Tuwezeshe Fellowship 2017

Tuwezeshe Akina Dada Afica-UK Young Women’s Empowerment Movement is an international project funded by Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative with the aim of mobilising young women to be agents of change within their communities in the campaign against gender-based violence.

Please see Applications to apply for the UK fellowship programme. For more information on how you can be involved see below.

LEADERSHIP TRAINING

The one year fellowship offers participants the opportunity to gain core leadership skills, to be mentored by an established woman-leader and to implement their own, funded, project. As part of our commitment to improving the visibility and profile of young African-women leaders, participants will have the chance to shape sexual and gender-based violence policy, network with other inspiring young women leaders across East Africa and the UK and share their ideas, voices and stories on a range of national and international platforms.

Deadline: 25th July 2017

MENTORSHIP

We know that behind every strong woman is a lineage of strong women, which is why mentoring is essential to our program and our participants. By pairing young women with those who are already established in their fields, we hope to equip participants with the skills, confidence, knowledge and power necessary to transform their lives and communities. As mentors you will have the unique opportunity to partner with us by investing in and forging meaningful relationships and networks that will develop you as leaders and innovators in your own right as well as ensuring the fight for women’s rights and freedoms transitions from idea to reality.

Deadline: 25th July 2017

YOUNG WOMEN’s ADVISORY PANEL

We believe it is essential that young women’s voices are at the centre of our work and at the forefront of our project. This is why we are establishing a Young Women’s Advisory Panel (YWAP) who will hold the project to account, advising us on how best to implement our activities and, more importantly, how best to support our participants. As members of the YWAP you will have the unique opportunity to shape an international project from the inside, gaining skills that will support your development as leaders and innovators in your own right as well as supporting the fight  for women’s rights and freedoms.

Deadline: 25th July 2017

To apply click here

 

 

I am me ~ A Poem

Black Girl Anxious

The sweat between my palms

Sweat under my arms

And the constant urge to go to the toilet.

Speak louder they say

You’re African and Africans are not shy

Speak with confidence they say

You were great!

I wish I could speak like you they say

You have no reason to be nervous

But I just can’t help it.

Constantly conscious of my self-image

Always in a cycle of self-doubt

Filled with psychological wounds that are self-inflicted

Timer ready to self-destruct

But I know that my heart is pumped with self-love

So why do I spend time on self-hate?

Is it because of pressures of never being good enough?

The unachievable standards society has set for girls like me?

Scared of letting people down

Or it is all in my head?

I am amazing

I am me

anxiety is a part of me

But I will not let it define me.

 

Words By Kuki.

Artwork by @KirzArt

Black Labour, White Markets and Brown Wallets: The Shea Moisture Scandal

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In Burkina Faso, Shea Butter is known as ‘Women’s Gold’. In the diaspora it’s better known as hair crack. Made from fat extracted from the fruit of the African Shea tree, shea butter has been used for centuries to treat and protect the many varieties of black women’s hair (and skin). So it’s not surprising that when Richelliu Dennis branded his Sierra Leoneon grandmother’s concoction and sold it on the streets of Harlem in the early 90s, ‘Shea Mositure’ soon became a house and hair necessity. Black women, understandably, were the brands’ greatest consumers and its most loyal supporters. From sharing the product in homes and salons, to endorsing, advocating and freely publicising it in the Youtube era of beauty vloggers, Shea Moisture became a model for successful black business, thriving in an industry dominated by products for white and Caucasian styled hair.

Enter April 25th 2017. Shea Moisture unveil a new campaign entitled ‘Hair Hate’, positioning themselves as the brand to help women fall back in love with their hair. Considering Natural Hair is trending, it was an apt advertising move. Yet the women they were appealing to were not their loyal 4c textured or otherwise supporters but white women, whose hair and beauty have always, and uncritically too, been the standard of beauty. White women whose hair type is catered for in every outlet and advert imaginable. At least that’s how Black Twitter saw it. The uproar across social media prompted social commentators, home vloggers and writers to clap down on the business, leading to Shea Moisture issuing a formal apology and pulling the advert within hours.

As a leading brand for black business, Shea Moisture relies on its core funders, black women, our money and by extension our labour, to exist. Too often, when something becomes a successful commodity, the labour and love of minority people is capitalised on, consumed, and abused leaving minorities, in this case black women, left to eat dust while their own things are appropriated with no mention of their existence. While I agree the advert wasn’t just tasteless but insensitive, this trend of appropriation and the de-centering of black women isn’t new. In fact it is a well practiced activity that will continue unless the following things are addressed:

  1. Black business exists within white markets. 

rs

We cannot deny that, through various tactics, the current global capitalist system continues, if not thrives, on the oppression and exploitation of black and brown bodies. However for black businesses or organisations to have credibility (read: get funding), they have to play the system, and that means appealing to (and incorporating) white people, both at a consumer level and leadership level. Why? Because that’s where the money is, and therefore in many ways the skills, visibility, employability and, you guessed it, money. It’s no wonder then that Shea Moisture’s VP of Marketing and much of their staff are white. Whether we like it or not, the racial dynamics of the capitalist system means that white people, on the whole,  have the greatest purchasing power because they have the greatest amount of capital . For any business to expand it has to appeal to the demographic that has money, so it makes strategic sense for Shea Moisture to appeal to an untapped clientele.

2.  Black people drive culture – so why don’t we dictate who has visibility?

culture

Whether it’s the latest dance craze, meme, super star or shutting down the adverts of international corporations (looking at you Pepsi), black people – from the continent through to the diaspora and beyond – drive, innovate and dictate global culture. It’s what makes the appropriation of our work so painful, frustrating and lucrative. But here’s the thing –  Shea Moisture released two adverts. That’s right. 2.

The first advert displayed a glorious array of black women, both in skin tones, hair textures backgrounds and beauties. The second advert targeted their new audience – white women. Now, I think a smarter move would have been for Shea Moisture to integrate the two adverts –e.g. with a ratio of 3:1  or 2:2 of women of colour to white women. In this way they could have shown the universality of their product without erasing black women. Not only would this have been less tone deaf, but it might have opened the door for other labels like Garnier and L’Oreal etc. to start appealing to black audiences and diversifying their products while amplifying our presence. We won’t know, but what we do know is that Black twitter made an advert about white women using Shea Butter go viral. We did that. We could have made the other advert go viral #blackgirlmagic, because let’s be honest, how many white women even saw or cared about the advert till it started trending? I see the power in calling it out (and getting it canceled), it shows that consumers can still hold markets accountable, but this leads me to my final point

3. Brown Wallets always want a bargain

wendyHours after the scandal had whipped up a frenzy, Shea Moisture not only pulled the advert, they did a 50% sale on all products. HALF-PRICE on EVERYTHING (while supplies last). Earlier in the day, friends and strangers up and down my time line where planning to boycott and shutdown Shea Moisture, but once that sale was released…no comment. Actually no, that is a huge comment. Since the civil rights era and earlier, black people have shown their ability to shut things down and make those in charge sit up and sometimes even stand down. From boycotting buses to voting in a black president, our voices are loud and strong. Except when it comes to our wallets. Considering the capitalist system is racist, it can often feel like as black people with less purchasing power, we can’t afford to jeopardise our finances for our ethics. But that’s how African Americans won the vote isn’t it? If we’re serious about the private sector not cashcropping our cain-rows, then we need to not buckle at the loose change that falls our way. I wouldn’t be surprised if the money Shea Mositure lost in pulling the advert will be made back in the next 48hrs while consolidating their supporter base all over again by offering weak platitudes for forgiveness. Moral of the story – Bargain Hunting doesn’t lead to social change.

It is frustrating that FUBU (for us by us) -style brands, role-models and movements which historically and presently gave/give us visibility by creating spaces where we feel safe, valued and seen, seem to sell out (or buy-in) for financial gain. I doubt Shea Moisutre had a malign intention in the advert and in a way, is it wrong of them to diversify their consumer base? From a strategic sense, perhaps the only way we can reverse the dynamics of capitalism is to either dismantle the system, or run it, and the latter requires us having that cheddar. Yet if the private sector, black businesses included, is playing a game we don’t like, then we – the conscious, conscientious and financially capable black community- need to reflect, consolidate and execute our power effectively to change the game. We may be marginalised and disempowered via the traditional institutions and corridors of power, but as a social community we shake things up in a drastic way. So let’s be vigilant. We don’t need twitter warriors creating a storm about us being invisible, while in the process increasing the visibility of those that are already in the spotlight. If we can shut things down, then lets also send things up, and make, in this case, our presence go viral. There’s also the question of grace. Sometimes we get things wrong, sometimes in a minor way, sometimes in a HUGE way. Sometimes we  need to correct, even discipline and forgive (that hair crack is essential after all). BUT, if we the consumers truly want to hold the private sector to account in a way that affects them, then we need to be bold enough to do that with our words and our wallets (there are plenty of brilliant black hair products out there who need the investment!). If black business exists in white markets, then lets make sure our brown wallets are lined with our ethics, and our money does the talking, not just the spending.

 

Words by: @Justina_Kehinde and @AngOBB (@FORWARDUK)

Dark and Lovely or Light and Right?

 

 

“Is this your ugly dark skinned friend?”

 

Black women come in all shapes, sizes and shades. Yet for centuries the lie that ‘light is right’ has shaped how, as black people, we relate to our complexion and how non-black people judge and treat us based on our complexion. While society is far from being post-racial, as ‘woke’ millennials we know that our melanin content in no-way reflects our value, worth, potential or beauty. We’ve done the #BlackGirlMagic revolution, our melanin is very much on fleek, yes #darkgirls do rock and skin bleaching? That’s been banished to our mother’s generation – today we’re proud to be #UnfairandLovely. Right? ….right?

Shadism

Walking through up-town Nairobi last week I came across this poster. At first glance everything is on point. The model, her head thrown back in careless joy, teeth bared is absolutely #slaying. Her #glowedup skin is definitely giving Lupita, Viola and Alec Wec all a run for their money. Even the little baby boy in her arms is bringing me all the feels. Yaas #AfricaRising with the hand clap emoticon says it all. At least that’s what I thought, until I took a closer look at the caption below. ‘Two good to be true’. The marketing strategy seems innocent, but then I look back at the image and something insidious appears. A dark skinned woman, holding a light skinned baby, with the implicit double entendre – too good to be true. It’s too good to be true, she, a dark skinned woman, was able to have a light-skinned baby. She stepped up her game. She’s done better.

The devil’s advocate will say ‘you’re reading too much into this’, but the devil is always in the detail. Despite our advances in dismantling white supremacy and the racial hierarchies which have oppressed black people across the world, from the transatlantic slave trade to the Indian caste system, the treatment of Australian aborigines to the indigenous people of South America and East Asia, we cannot deny that the lie ‘light is right’ has been fed and nurtured for centuries and still penetrates our societies and cultures today.

The idea that we accrue more value – that we get better the closer we get to white is a pernicious and dangerous lie. Without the caption the picture shows the glorious variety of black people. With the caption it turns that variety into a hierarchy.

Throughout history, language has been used to both demonise and value people. In regards to racism, where the colour white is associated with purity, fairness, goodness etc. those positive attributes have been accorded, indiscriminately, to white-skinned people. Because racism and racial hierarchies require difference, the antithesis to these values were given to darker skinned people, associating them with evil, ugliness, corruption etc.

Part of challenging racism, is acknowledging that these racist ideas are not true and therefore need to be challenged. Being dark-skinned doesn’t make you ugly or less worthy. Being light-skinned doesn’t make us better or worse. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then we need to fundamentally change the eyes with which society looks at its people. That starts with dismantling the lie that our value is only skin deep.

So keep your melanin on fleek, stay unfair and lovely, be cool and caramel or charming and chocolate, embrace your shade no matter its hue. As black women – both magical and real – our pigment, whatever it’s shade, is great, just as it is.

Words by @Justina_Kehinde (@FORWARDUK)

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