Thursday, 23 February 2017

My Life on Twitter and Other Issues

To borrow some words tweeted by former President Barack Obama from his former Twitter handle (@BarackObama) right after leaving office and thus his official @POTUS account: "Hi everybody! Is this thing still on?"

Former President Barack Obama's tweet just after he left office

I've been away for over a year, mostly because of some life-changing events that have kept me busy, but also because I hadn't felt that familiar nudge to blog; that insistent urge to publish a new post until now. 2016 was a tumultuous year, what with all the political upheavals of Brexit and President Trump and the numerous celebrity deaths. There has been a lot going on and a lot to become involved with on social media.

Now, I left Facebook seven years ago because I hated the boastful, preening, fakeness-inducing pressure of it all, where we're all tempted to perform pictorially for an audience of friends and strangers, where we are corralled into presenting the best of our lives for the acknowledgment and amusement of others, and where we are constrained into having certain opinions about certain things.

Amen
Facebook inspired 'Like' envy in me, made me desire people's comments and approval as if these things were important, and inspired a dissatisfaction about my life which would creep into my otherwise happy little existence because I saw other people's achievements. Vanity, covetousness and gossip were for me the fruits of all that wasted time spent looking through the lives of people I hadn't spoken to in years or barely spoke to ever at all, and I was loathe to imagine that people I barely knew were similarly rifling through my profile.

Twitter

Instagram was even worse: a domain for the vain (unless you were marketing your business perhaps). But I found my place on Twitter. It's focus on words expressed in a pithy and poignant way and thanks to the hashtag, broadcast-able to literally the whole world was exactly where an opinionated wordsmith like myself could luxuriate. Only your succinctly expressed thoughts mattered, not your photos, achievements or how much fun you were having. Twitter was more impersonal and for me safer. You didn't have to be popular and your utterings were not restricted to just your family and friends. Twitter to me was a more real, no holds-barred opportunity to engage with people precisely on the issues I felt most strongly about, and I didn't feel I had to perform.

I feel at home on Twitter

I was on Twitter incognito for years, mostly only retweeting and favouriting what I liked. Now I know that was because I didn't feel free enough to express all I had in me with people I actually knew as followers. But I was kept informed, amused and enlightened on Twitter and liked going through people's thoughts about breaking news and their reaction to certain TV programmes or movies to see if it matched mine. It was fun to share cultural highlights with the Twittersphere.

A few months ago I opened another account with an alias and didn't follow or have as followers people that knew me, and it was then that I felt free and truly able to speak without constraint. Not that I was saying anything vile or outlandish or contrary to who I was in the real world, only that I wanted the full gamut of my thoughts to flow without worrying about what so and so would think about the passion or the bent of my words. I could wax lyrical about politics or a celebrity without any blow-back.

But although Twitter was more suited to my social media needs, it was also an unfriendly place for a truth-believing Christian, traditionalist, anti-feminist, conservative-libertarian, non-PC woman like myself. Curiously, I found out (and suspected it to be the case beforehand) that being a black woman shielded me from much of the venom reserved for non-liberals on social media, so I always featured an avatar of my picture from afar or from behind so though you couldn't recognise me you could still tell I was black. This also gave me the power to criticise 'black' issues without being dismissed as a white racist.

Donald Trump

I noticed that the hot-button issues of politics, race and religion tended to interest me the most. Donald Trump's tumultuous presidency has been a subject I've spent a lot of time engaging with, and of course, with the man himself using Twitter daily, I have been endlessly fascinated with people's reactions to the tweets of this most unpresidential of Presidents.

It takes one to know one


At the beginning I enjoyed Trump's antiestablishmentarianism, but became increasingly horrified at the mean, uncouth, unrefined, shallow and egotistical unsophistication of the boastful billionaire. I was aghast when he won, and I'm often blindsided at his conduct thus far. I can barely watch him on TV, he's so noxious. I mostly support the party he (claims to) stand for, and I'm OK with Hillary Clinton not being President, but Trump as President is every bit as awful as I imagined. He's not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination (God forgive me for my brazen judgement if he is...) and it's sad that of all the Republicans that could have done a great job, (VP Mike Pence seems an upstanding fellow, a decent gentleman by all accounts) the world is stuck with a blowhard showoff that seems to be getting senile in his old age, what with his unending desire for praise, blatant lies, know-nothing-say-nothing speeches, obsession with size and self-aggrandisement, and his pitiful, poisonous rhetoric against the media.

I used to like his daughter Ivanka too. I praised her in an unrelated post I wrote long before I knew that one day her father would be the horror-in-chief, and although I still admire her gracefulness, sharp intellect and seemingly upstanding young family, I can't reconcile her approval of Trump and his ways with her obvious good sense, even if he is her father. I suppose that in her position I too could never throw my parent under the bus for the approval of people that hate him. Even if I do not like many of his ways, family loyalty has to be paramount. I think if I were in her shoes I would exile myself away from being part of his inner circle and cite some pressing need keeping me away, kinda like what his wife Melania seems to have done.

So Twitter provides me with endless updates on Trump and what people think of him. I follow both right-wing and left-wing commentators and it's interesting to hear both sides. I mostly side with liberals when it comes to Trump, but not when it comes to other weighty matters to do with women, religion and LGBT issues. It means I don't fit into a neat little box of your average Christian or conservative or Black person or woman. Plus my views are fluid and changeable.

Black Lives Matter

For instance, I was against Black Lives Matter as a movement for a long time because I felt that black Americans were not sufficiently respectful to the police and if they just obeyed instructions and weren't so hostile they won't be killed. But then some weeks ago I watched a movie by Ava DuVernay called 13th, about the systematic destruction of African-American communities by the state (from the Presidency to the judiciary) first with slavery then Jim Crow laws then the prison system. I mean, of course I knew of much of these things before, but the way it was presented in the movie got me to acknowledge the fact that if you know that your people continue to be targeted for suffering by all the establishments in your country, you'd be angry at the police too and feel aggrieved by their negative attentions, no matter how trivial.

This film really opened my eyes to the way America is set up to criminalise Blacks

I follow many African-American activists and non-activists on Twitter. I find them sharp-witted, blisteringly acute and hard-hitting in a way many white people shackled by political correctness are not, and many of the themes of family and culture they comment on are delightfully familiar to me. Black Twitter can be rip-roaringly hilarious, with clever memes and hashtags that often poke fun at mainstream culture, but they can also be quite iconoclastic and mean-spirited towards white people in a way that would be scandalous if the tables were turned. I also follow many Nigerians who keep me abreast of happenings in Nigeria.

Feminism

I'm also anti-feminist, I wrote much about it here. I believe white women have sold the idea that women must compete with men and usurp their God-given position, especially as the head of  the home, and black women have bought into it to our detriment leading to broken homes, many unmarried black women and single mothers. Black men are more likely to prefer traditional gender roles, yet most young black women are stridently independent and feminist-minded, leading to a disconnect that damages our communities.

Women still face harmful sexism, but many feminists are trying to make amends the wrong way by being intolerant and degrading of men. Feminism has also caused harm to Christian women who bristle at the injunction in the Bible for wives to submit to their husbands. Women that can successfully navigate their issues of self-worth, desire for love and obedience to scripture find true peace in their marriage. Women who demand equality in every way and deny their husbands headship do so at their peril.

Of course most people on Twitter are feminists, sympathetic to feminist ideals or reticent about their non-feminist thoughts. And although I wince at feminist views and follow some anti-feminists, this issue doesn't get me as engaged as others.

Islam

Islam; it's clash with western civilisations, the way uninformed non-Muslims view the religion and Muslim converts are matters that interest me greatly, often despite myself.

As a former Muslim familiar with the ideologies and intentions of Islam (I wrote about it here), and with the benefit of a spiritual awareness of Islam's foundations and goals, I don't buy the liberal line that Islam is a religion of peace, and although I'm not in total support of President Trump's banning of certain Muslims from coming to America, I agree that western nations need to protect themselves from the killings that have occurred on their shores in the name of Allah. I also agree that those who are able should take on refugees wherever they may come from, and refugees fleeing to America are very strictly vetted, but all Muslims brought up outside of the west (yes all) have a healthy disgust, distrust and disregard for Westerners, which makes one wonder why they do all they can to move to a country whose values they abhor.

LGBT

Then comes the hottest issue presently in our culture and one I find myself most drawn to. When it comes to the subject of the Bible, homosexuality and God, I don't toe the liberal line of "only love matters; whether it be between two men, two women or a man and a woman, God is pleased when Christians are in a healthy, monogamous, loving, long-term relationship with whoever they choose to love." I think that that way of thinking is not only sacrilegious and an abomination of all that is right and holy, but a gross misunderstanding of God. Love is not all that matters; sacrifice, obedience, justice and repentance is also a huge part of our walk with Christ. Not everything that we are is acceptable to God, and some of our temptations and natural urges are to be overcome with the help of the holy spirit.

Homosexuality is now a gift from God? Woe indeed.

God didn't make anyone gay, but a combination of upbringing, early sexual abuse, unchecked temptations and being led astray by others forms in some people the desire for same sex relationships, and then the enemy uses the opportunity to take root and bear the fruit of homosexuality in their lives, just as some people are prone to other harmful addictive behaviours. The wrong thing to do is to make your sin your identity instead of turning it over to God to heal you. If He doesn't take it away (Paul in the Bible had a lifetime struggle with an affliction God didn't take away), then you carry your cross daily and follow Jesus, striving for the goal ahead. A person who steals doesn't throw his hands up and say "Well I can't seem to stop stealing; I must have been born a thief. Let me get together with other thieves and revel in our propensities and force the church to recognise our thieving as our identity because God made us this way and condemn Christians who don't allow us to steal regularly as backwards and unloving."

No gay gene has been found; if it were then it should be possible for autopsies to reveal that the dead person was homosexual because of certain biological markers, just like it is possible to tell the age and gender of the deceased.

A gay Christian is not an oxymoron, there are proud, wife-beating, lying, fraudulent Christians too. But when your sexuality, or any aspect of your life that you insist on holding onto, separates you from the church, then that thing has become an idol. You're supposed to deny yourself and follow Christ. Churches that celebrate homosexuality are putting such 'identities' above God, which is an example of 'the pride of life' that ensnares.

As for transgenderism (I wrote about it in relation to Bruce Jenner here), I'm of the opinion that the root cause of gender dysmorphia is myriad and once that is identified and treated, most will desist from desiring to become the other sex, as indeed often happens with therapy. It's a disorder that should be treated rather than encouraged with surgery. God didn't make mistakes assigning sexes, but our minds can mess with us. I think it's the greatest scandal, a shocking turn of affairs, for men to surgically 'change' themselves into women and vice versa. One's sex should be as fixed as one's race, even more so in fact because it is completely biological. Of course the glaring truth is that despite surgery, a man will always be a man and a woman will always be a woman.

I despair at the way society has allowed these things to happen and how some Christians think it's OK to support it. It is not kindness to support someone in ruining their souls for eternity when we have the truth that will set them free. The trump card many put up is that gay or transgender kids will resort to suicide if they are not supported in their sin. But people kill themselves because of depression, rejection and other issues both weighty and trivial, and this in itself is not a reason to allow their errors to go unchecked.

Jesus was kind to the Prostitute but told her to "go and sin no more," and though he ate with Zacchaeus the chief tax collector, his unabashed holiness spurred Zacchaeus on to renounce his fraudulent ways. (Luke 19:1-10). Although Jesus didn't publicly condemn every sinner, he didn't help them to continue in their sin either.

Twitter Debates

My non-PC take on these issues have of course attracted interest and anger. I've had lengthy debates with atheists and gays and transgendered people, some have been civil but most have resulted in insults, all aimed at me from the other person. I make a point to always be polite and never fight fire with fire. I state my case firmly but never with any anger, hate or condescension. But it can be smarting when people hurl abuse at me, I once did a double-take at an insult: I couldn't believe it was aimed at me! But I have a pretty thick skin, I know it's not personal because they don't know me, and I actually feel sorry for the particularly mean ones as I wonder what kind of life they lead or how dark and pitiful their hearts and minds must be to come out with such bile.

I don't have many followers, but I'm not on Twitter to be popular. I'm there to speak the truth boldly and show others that there are still educated people who hold to God's word in this liberal age, and that one can disagree without being disagreeable. The Christians on Twitter with a large following are often the ones that tweet scripture and other niceties; they stay in their lane and don't get involved with tough issues. Others are virulently anti-liberal and their followers are equally engaged in a heated war or words with the other side.

Bold Christianity

It's tough for Christians to live out their faith online where our stance is mostly out of favour with modernity (truth is timeless and not subject to fads.) Everyone wants to be liked, but if we really understand our faith and want to stay true to it and engage online at the same time, we need to have the courage of our convictions and be ready to be criticised and insulted. It's not for everyone, but I feel called to do it and have the tools of my words, a deep knowledge of God's truth and the holy spirit to help me.



Pastors like Voddie Baucham have also encouraged my faith and further furnished me with wisdom from scripture, especially on the contentious issue of homosexuality. Right-wing social commentators on Twitter like Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins are also inspiring in their ability to state their case regardless of the backlash. I'd prefer they were less combative and incendiary sometimes, but I admire their chutzpah in our 'don't offend anyone' culture.

I would love my words to have an impact on people's lives and turn them to God, like Paul's letters does in the Bible. I always pray that I touch someone's heart or make someone think differently about things, as has happened to me many times on Twitter.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Movies, Race & Politics: Half of a Yellow Sun vs Beasts of No Nation

I just watched Beasts of No Nation, mostly because of the furore surrounding the fact that its most recognisable star Idris Elba, who I greatly admire, was amongst the black actors absent from this year's Oscar nominations. Apparently BONN should have received nominations for Best Picture or for Elba or the child star Abraham Attah, who was quite brilliant in the role of normal kid turned child soldier.

Idris Elba: A fine actor and a fine man

#OscarsSoWhite?

But I feel that the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy is uncalled for. I think that African Americans are been entirely too demanding, I mean, what if out of 12 movies up for contention, the best five had white actors in the lead? Should a black actor be included in the running simply because of his skin colour despite not being good enough? Jada Pinkett Smith, the most vocal of the complainers never got any sympathy from me. Her husband Will Smith, although lovely, perhaps wasn't good enough in Concussion, a film for which Pinkett Smith feel he should have been nominated for Best Actor. I haven't seen it so I can't say.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith: Black Hollywood's power couple

But I just saw the whole hoopla as another way the liberal media forces people and establishments to tow the liberal line by instantly demonising anything or anyone - whether it be a social media posting or a comment/action captured on video or recorded - deemed sexist (against women though, rarely against men), racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-transgender or homophobic and forcing everybody to never air an opinion outside the 'accepted norm.'

In American political terms, where once I was a Democrat who proudly attended President Obama's inauguration in Washington, as I've grown older I've become more Republican (minus the love of guns). Today I would call myself a Conservative Libertarian, so I feel free speech should apply to everyone without fear of sanction unless they threaten violence, and everyone has the right to be offended. But these days the 'Hallowed Six' of Women, Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Transgenders and Gays have achieved a status in the mainstream and social media where their causes are championed without prejudice and any perceived 'hate speech' against them is instantly jumped on and stamped out, with perpetrators insulted and banished. Where's the freedom in that?

Duck Dynasty Star: Fired because of his Biblical views on homosexuality


Celebrity Big Brother 2016: Winston McKenzie was the first to be voted out of the house to a chorus of boos when he spoke out against homosexuality. His angry, tearful house mates said they couldn't live with someone like him and there were numerous complaints from the public about his words. Now who's being intolerant?

The bad guys in this new order of things are Christians, traditionalists, non-Westerners, the older generation and the independent-thinking brave who are in disagreement with some actions of the Hallowed Six. Now I'm not advocating hate, but the freedom to disagree and air differing views about these groups. I don't agree with homosexuality, and being a Black woman, another may dislike me because of my race or sex, but we should both be allowed to hash it out without it being a crime, because that is life. I once had a long and heated debate about God on Twitter with a white, atheist American man, where I spoke about my faith and he said that if he ever met God he'd spit in his face. But in the end we politely signed off and I felt that I had benefited from the exchange.

No need pretending we all love each and are all okay with outlandish events like a man turning into a woman (see my post: Bruce Jenner and the Moral Decay of Society). And those who believe that the Bible is against such and such shouldn't be booed out of a public space. They should be entitled to their say and their opinions respected. You may ignore them or argue against them, but don't fire them, sue or imprison them or force them to apologise and recant their genuine opinions. It should be as easy to say 'I don't agree with homosexuality' as saying 'I don't like onions.' It's simply an opinion.

That's why I like Donald Trump. He's been so delightfully un-PC and counter-cultural in his Presidential campaign that I enjoy many of his utterances. Sure he lacks the diplomacy, tolerance or temperament to be a good President, but boy has he shaken things up and given those of us who believe what we believe a boost. Plus, watching him on many seasons of The Apprentice, he never once came across as a bigot in any way, and many others have stated that they've never seen this intolerant side of him, so I believe the promise of power has turned him into the worst version of himself. But I digress.

Donald Trump: He may be extreme but I like his fearless chutzpah

So the oppressed have now become the oppressor, a militant enforcement watchdog who clamp down on true diversity of opinion. They might still face hardships in the real world, but online and in the media they rule. This means blacks are always right and deserving of every accolade on a 50:50 even split with whites, despite being only about 13% of the population in America, less than 5% in the UK and not being well represented equally in every field simply because of lack of numbers or talent.

Not every movie with a Black lead will be Oscar-worthy, and even white people are snubbed by the Academy Awards, like Leonardo DiCaprio, who has never won despite being in many brilliant films in recent times. It happens. And remember when Lupita Nyong'o won a Best Supporting Actress award in 2014 for like, 10 minutes of screen time in 12 Years a Slave? Or when Jennifer Hudson won the same award in 2007 for singing in Dream Girls? Wouldn't you say the Academy was working hard to recognise Black talent that some say were undeserving? And also, a black woman has won Best Supporting Actress in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Or how about when, in 2002 Denzel Washington won Best Actor for Training Day, the same year Halle Berry won Best Actress for Monster's Ball, yet some Black people were grumbling that despite the fact that in the majority of his roles he depicted fine, upstanding men of honour, Denzel was only recognised by the Academy after playing crooked detective in Training Day, and as for Halle, she got the gong after debasing herself by rumping with the white man who executed her Black husband in Monster's Ball. (I must admit, that sex scene she was in was really raw and she was fully naked when most actresses of her calibre are usually partially covered.)

Aren't they so beautiful? Oscars 2002, the best year for African Americans

Sure I also agree that Angela Bassett was robbed of a Best Actress gong playing Tina Turner in What's Love Gotta Do With It?, but Jamie Foxx was outstanding as Ray Charles in Ray, I mean so outstanding I forgot I was watching Foxx at all. He absolutely deserved the Best Actor trophy for that in 2005. So guys, it's not like the Academy never acknowledges black talent, it does, but it can't please everyone all of the time, especially not a belligerent minority who demand accolades every year.

I feel African Americans want to have their cake and eat it too: they continue the Blacks only BET, Soul Train and NAACP awards, stating that they need to celebrate themselves because the mainstream doesn't, yet no award can be all-white these days without backlash. They expect representation in mainstream award shows, but you can't segregate yourselves then come out to play when you want. Will Smith's former co-star on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Janet Hubert stated it so hilariously on this video.

This Oscars Equality Fight would be commendable if it were occurring at a different time, but in today's Zeitgeist where everyone on the internet and on TV seems to be drinking from the same Kool-Aid of being anti-establishment, anti-tradition and anti-religion, and where political correctness polices everyone's words at pains of losing your job and reputation, I think it's all just more bullying by the Liberatti to get us all to accept freedom and inclusion without boundaries, rules or absolutes.

Beasts of No Nation

Apart from wanting to see Elba in a role many have praised, I also wanted to support the rarity of a Black Brit with West African parents doing so well in Hollywood. But at first BONN held no interest for me: I dislike war films set in Africa where all the ugliness of the continent is on gory display. Films like Hotel Rwanda, although brilliant, left me with a desolate feeling towards Africa and its many issues. I want to enjoy a film without feeling sad about what it says about my people.

Beasts of No Nation: Featuring breakout child star Abraham Attah

I've also met Elba at a movie event once, and he's as charming in person as he appears on screen. So I watched BONN, having previously heard of but not read the book which was written by Harvard-educated doctor Uzodinma Iweala, son of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria's former Minister of Finance. Despite her controversies as a politician, I did some research on Okonjo Iweala's family; turns out both herself and her husband, all four of her children and even her parents were Harvard graduates with PhDs aplenty. Talk about generational pedigree!

Harvard Alumni: Uzodinma Iweala (centre) Author of Beasts of No Nation with his mum Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and dad Ikemba Iweala 

BONN was set in an 'unspecified West African country', and I immediately thought that it must be Nigeria. I assumed Iweala didn't want to specify because he didn't want the book to be unfairly pre-judged because of the country's negative image. So I was surprised the film was set in Ghana with mostly Ghanaian actors. I wondered if Ghana was an easier country to film in or Ghanaian actors better to work with.

The young boy who played Agu (a Nigerian name) was really good. He wasn't wooden or obviously 'acting' like the Nigerian kid actors I've seen, he was very real in his emotions and the part where he meets Elba's Commandant for the first time and tells him about his family's massacre was very touching. His fellow child soldier companion Striker was also a gem, that kid never spoke but he moved me immensely with his pained eyes.

Beasts of No Nation: Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Abraham Atta and Idris Elba

Elba was good too, but not fantastic, and probably not Oscar-worthy. I like him best so far in Daddy's Little Girls, and I've just started watching Luther and he's great in that too. BONN's director, Attah and the story were commendable, but all were snubbed. I'll support the case for racism being behind its omission  in the Oscar contenders, if not for the fact that Netflix, the makers of the film, decided to stream it on their platform at the same time it came out in the theatres, which violated an industry rule. Maybe that was why the movie was snubbed. Either way it's a massive shame.

Half of a Yellow Sun

So after watching BONN, which is based on a book about war written by a Nigerian and starring a UK/US based African in a lead role, I compared it to Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie set in the 60s during the Nigerian civil war. I'd read the book years ago and liked it. I mean, I love Adichie, as noted by my many posts praising her brilliance. But unlike BONN, HOAYS was a mess.

Half of a Yellow Sun

The controversy surrounding casting Thandie Newton as Olanna and Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, two Western women playing Nigerian characters was never a problem for me. Both are capable, recognisable actresses and when a major International movie studio is financing the film, you can't realistically cast Nigerian actors in lead roles. They don't have the bankability and they're not as good. Nigerian home-grown actors are, 99% of the time, terrible by international standards, and the handful who aren't were in HOAYS, namely Genevieve Nnaji and Onyeka Onwenu who did well in their supporting roles as Ms Adebayo and Odenigbo's mother respectively. Onwenu's particularly luminous performance was rightfully praised in all the reviews I read that mentioned her.

Chiwetel Ejiofor can do no wrong in my eyes. I've loved him and followed his work and wrote profiles about him for years, my favourite of his roles being the brooding, dignified immigrant doctor in Dirty Pretty Things. He was good but not great in HOAYS, as he mostly reacted to Newton, whose 'angry-Black-woman' shtick is becoming all too familiar in this and roles in The Pursuit of Happyness and Crash, although she was brilliant in the latter.

But alas, the problem with HOAYS wasn't really the actors, but the direction by UK-based Nigerian Biyi Bandele. He was the wrong guy to helm this movie and they really should have given it to a well-trained, tried and tested and capable director, preferably an American.

Biyi Bandele: Good at directing MTV Africa's soap Shuga, but not an international movie

Upon reading reviews of HOAYS, it struck me how often many stated that 'the book was better,' and agreed with me that those who have not read the book will have no way of understanding the film in its fullness. It lacked context and omitted many important qualities of the book. With BONN, I'd never read the book yet followed the film, there were no huge plot holes and no character felt underdeveloped. But in HOAYS, village boy turned author Ugwu, one of the three main characters in the book was rendered unimportant in the film despite the fact that his coming of age story, his turn as a soldier, his love for Odenigbo and his family and his carnal desires were highlights of the novel. Also Richard, the shy white Brit had far too few lines and was a bit of a pathetic observer in the film, when he was much more endearing in the book.

The physical differences and animosity between twin sisters Olanna and Kainene was not depicted. Kainene's dry wit, aloofness and envy/hate of her sister was fascinating to me, yet none of it was addressed, and the fall out from Olanna sleeping with Richard was mishandled. Many reviewers thought the film was like a soap/melodrama at points, and that the savagery of the Biafran war, which was most memorably represented by images of malnourished kids with kwashiokor was absent. I agree.

Anika Noni Rose as Kainene and Thandie Newton as Olanna in Half of a Yellow Sun

I watched the film and after 20 minutes, I was just waiting for it to be over. The love scenes between Newton and Ejiofor was too much, and Newton was a bit too shrill for me; Olanna in the book was more centred and well-rounded. Whereas BONN carried me along and although it was brutal in places, it felt like a 'real film by a real film maker' and not some honorary project. I wonder what Adichie thought of the film. In her latest book Americanah, she thanked Thandie Newton in the acknowledgements which I thought curious. But after watching HOAYS, I understand now that they must have hit it off during the film.

Now that Lupita Nyong'o has bought the film rights to Americanah and plans to play the lead role of Ifemelu herself, I'm a bit worried that this book too will be a disaster on the big screen. But the key to the success of Americanah the movie is simply a good director and a great screenplay that will capture the fire and fierceness of Ifemelu's thoughts on race, racism and America. Adichie's books have to be rendered well to do justice to her brilliant writing.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Concussion and Fela

I saw in the credits that one of the executive producers of BONN was Nnamdi Asomugha, the NFL player and husband of Scandal actress Kerry Washington. That was a nice surprise, as it turns out he's more than just Washington's husband because the second-generation Nigerian has also won awards for his philanthropy and charity work around America and Nigeria. Good for him.

Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha

His involvement in BONN reminds me of how one Nigerian, Ayo Shonaiya spoke up against the shade many Nigerians threw on Will Smith's Oscar Contender film Concussion, which is about a Nigerian-American doctor Bennet Omalu who uncovered the truth about brain damage in American football players. A positive Nigerian character in a sea of negativity, yet what irked many Nigerians was the fact that Smith's Nigerian accent was poor. Unlike Elba's Commandant in BONN, who did not only do the accent well but also the mannerisms and the 'ahs' and 'ehs' exclamations that punctuate the sentences of West Africans. He was a believable African (well, his parents are from Sierra Leone and Ghana) but Smith wasn't.

Will Smith with the real Dr Bennet Omalu

Shonaiya stated that Nigerians should ignore his accent and be pleased that a powerhouse like Smith put his resources behind this film, just as Smith along with his wife and Jay Z put their mettle behind the staging of Fela! on Broadway when the rich Nigerians that were asked to finance it refused.

I saw Fela! at the Sadler Wells theatre in London and it was a great show, although I was irked that the actor playing Fela wasn't Nigerian, but a Sierra Leonan-American Sahr Ngaujah whose pidgin English was poor. I too fell into the trap of focusing on the unimportant and ignoring the blessed magnitude of the respectful homage paid to one of Africa's biggest, best and most important musician by other Blacks. It's sad how during the major anniversaries of Fela's death, there are tributes in London museums, music venues and in newspapers and radio, yet nothing of note is done in Nigeria to celebrate the icon.

Broadway poster for Fela!

That powerful African Americans and British Blacks are in a position to finance and bring the stories of Africa and Africans to a larger audience is something to be proud of, who cares that they don't speak pidgin with the inflections of a Lagosian?



*I think an apology is in order to readers of this blog for my long delay between posts (seven months!) It had to do with many things, not least of which was my personal disillusionment with my Fulani heritage due to private experiences and the systematic, criminal and murderous actions of some Fulani herdsmen/young men in Nigeria. More on that soon, once I figure out how to address it all... 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Now That Nigeria's President Is a Fulani Man...

Muhammadu Buhari - a Fulani man from Daura in Katsina State - was inaugurated as the 5th democratically elected President of Nigeria on Friday May 29th 2015 in a landmark event that Nigerians had waited for since March, when he was declared the winner of the 2015 elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari during his inauguration

His was a victory much heralded after 16 long years of the corruption-riddled rule of the People's Democratic Party, most recently headed by the now former President Goodluck Jonathan. A determined Buhari triumphed at his fourth try at the Presidency, and his All Progressives Congress (APC) Party gained power at a crucial time when Nigeria is been battered on every side by Boko Haram, fuel scarcity, electricity shortages, the colossal theft of the country's funds and reserves by the few at the expense of the many; spates of kidnappings and the continued dearth in the basic funding of hospitals, schools, roads and agriculture.

Buhari's Fulani Characteristics

Hopes are high that President Buhari, more than any other Presidential contender or leader in recent times, will impose order and stem the tide of iniquity and the haemorrhaging of the country's oil money, purely because of his impeachable character.

His intolerance of corruption and disciplined approach to leadership, along with his simplicity and integrity witnessed during his short-lived first stint leading Nigeria between 1983 and 1985 - then as a military head of state - is widely acknowledged by all and sorely needed at a time when Nigerian leaders have been widely derided for being incompetent. One of his main initiatives during his previous tenure was his War Against Indiscipline, which saw armed officials firmly maintaining order in such civic responsibilities as straight queues and punctuality at work.

General Buhari in the 80s when he was the military head of state

Buhari is a classic example of a stern, self-effacing Fulani man; simple in his ways, firm in his convictions and committed to a sense of duty. Like many Fulani men, he stands tall and erect, is slim yet sturdy and has an unlined face that looks younger than his 72 years, with dignified mannerisms and a regal walk. Like many Fulani men, ostentatious displays of wealth and garish trappings of riches is far from his mind. Despite being a former President and former head of the NNPC and PTF where he had access to billions, he has no overseas mansions or fleet of luxury cars to his name.

Instead Buhari has his much beloved home in Daura, as well as a farm and the customary Fulani sign of success: cattle. His simplicity was such that he once remarked that he only has only one million Naira in his bank account, in an age where Nigerian men of his political experience have billions of dollars in several accounts.

President Buhari (centre) at his farm in Daura with some of his cows

Buhari's upright, no-nonsense character can be attributed to both his nature as a Fulani man and his nurturing as a retired army general old enough to imbibe many of the disciplined traits the former colonial masters instituted in the country, that was evidenced until the 1980s. He belongs to the generation that wore starched shirts, read newspapers in the mornings and books in the evenings, spoke with British inflections (not the faux-American accents affected today) and behaved with decorum in public.

Buhari and Boko Haram

Too young to remember his first outing, two things stood out to me from his inaugural speech at his second coming; his now famous line: "I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody" was a journalist's dream in terms of concisely capturing Buhari's proposed leadership style in nine words. He was saying he is a man of the people but is beholden to no one; he is ready to listen to all but owes nobody anything.

The other thing was his assertion that: "Boko Haram is a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of." This clinched it for me. Before his win, there were concerns by the opposing PDP party that Buhari was a sympathiser of Boko Haram, and being a staunch Muslim, would bring Sharia Law to all parts of Nigeria. I was wary of him, but by the beginning of the year I along with most Nigerians were so desperate for relief from PDP that we were willing to give even Buhari a try. His win was welcomed because finally a change had come, and there was no anarchy to mark the end of the elections and the predicted disintegration of Nigeria was avoided, with credit for that going to Jonathan's early phone call to Buhari to concede defeat.

But I still wondered about Buhari's religious intentions, until he made that statement. It allayed my fears, and his efforts in the first week after resuming power of moving the military to the heart of the insurgency in Borno State and meeting with other West African Presidents to discuss how to end Boko Haram speaks of man that has made getting rid of these terrorists a priority.

Buhari's Wife

Aisha Buhari was thrust into the limelight during the latter stages of Buhari's presidential campaign, where her clear-headed speeches in support of her husband and her grace and decorum was in direct contrast to Jonathan's wife Patience, whose forceful rants and 'Bulldog in a China Shop' approach to things rankled. Mrs Buhari's reserved beauty is another welcome change, as is her eloquence.

President Buhari's wife Aisha, a Fulani woman from Adamawa State

A Fulani woman from Adamawa State, the new First Lady married Buhari in 1989 when she was 18 years old. She is his second wife (Buhari divorced his first wife Safinatu, with whom he had four girls and a boy) and they have five children, four girls: Amina, Halima, Zarah and Aisha and a boy named Yusuf.

President Buhari with his late first wife Safinatu and their five children

Educated up to Masters level with training and certificates in professional beauty treatments and management from various universities both in Nigeria and abroad, Mrs Buhari, until her husband's presidency ran a Beauty Spa in Kaduna and Abuja.

                                     
President Buhari and his wife Aisha during his inauguration

Although always covered up with only her face and hands showing, and wearing a wrap around her body in public, the bespectacled Aisha Buhari gets her makeup professionally done, wears expensive jewellery and even wore fashionably-darkened glasses during the inauguration, where her all white attire matched her husband's. This First Lady, I believe, will be characterised by carefully selected media utterances in national matters relating to women, children and her family, and displays of pricey fashionable pieces complimenting modest clothing designs befitting of a prominent Hajiya when she accompanies her husband to state functions.

I doubt she will seek the limelight, seek political power for herself, engage in politics with male politicians or show any signs of friction or disagreements with her husband in public, unlike her predecessor. I've heard that Mrs Buhari is no wallflower and is quite formidable within her close circles, but hers will be a reserved tenure where she will be largely invisible.

But only time will tell.

Buhari's Beautiful Brood

Buhari is a father of 10 and is blessed with seven beautiful daughters (his first-born daughter with his first wife died during childbirth) and an equally handsome young son, whose striking good looks captivated Nigerians on social media in the run-up to his inauguration.

Zahra Buhari: The face that launched a thousand votes

First to be thrust into public adulation was one of Buhari's younger daughters Zarah, who attends a university in England. Her pictures and tweets were hugely popular and many praised her beauty; she received marriage proposals and some vowed to vote for her father simply because they admired her.

Zarah was then photographed along with her brother walking behind their father at Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja as they arrived from the UK days before the inauguration. Girls drooled over Zarah's brother, Yusuf, whose easy good looks and calm demeanour marked him out as his father's son.

Zarah walking behind her father with her brother Yusuf

On the day of their father's inauguration, the Buhari girls took a photograph with their mother/step-mother, and Nigeria rejoiced at the nation having such a photogenic First Family, whose ladies were pretty, proper and poised. Most of the girls are now married with children, except the youngest two (below in blue), and no doubt their weddings and future milestones will be grand events.

Buhari's Beautiful Brood: His daughters and wife pose for the cameras 

A New Fulani Era

President Buhari's victory has brought a Fulani man with a Fulani-influenced style of leadership to Aso Rock, and his Fulani family with Fulani values, traditions and style will be of huge interest to me personally and for this blog. 

I look forward to a firm and competent leader, whose anti-corruption stance will influence the rest of Nigeria and whose tenure will be marked by huge strides in combating many of the ills plaguing the country. A leader whose simplicity is powered by his Fulaniness and who will reconfigure and continue on with the various successes of previous Fulani presidents. I look forward to a First Lady who will be more like former first lady, the late Maryam Babangida in carriage and influence, and who will enhance and not obstruct her husband's leadership. 

Nigerians can look forward to lessons in modest femininity from Buhari's daughters, in stark contrast to the slack, salacious and over-exposed lifestyles of many young women today. I look forward to seeing more of the seemingly shy Yusuf Buhari, who will no doubt inherit the better characteristics of his father.

I'm sure there will be some drama, disappointments, controversies and rumours surrounding them at some point in their first four years and beyond, but I believe that on the whole the Buharis will always be respectable in public (if not in private) as they take center stage as the most famous Fulani family in the world.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Bruce Jenner and the Moral Decay of Society

There is officially no right and wrong anymore. Behaviour, beliefs, desires and preferences that were taboo, illegal, wrong, shameful and condemned a mere 50 years ago are today accepted and even celebrated, with Western society falling over itself to accommodate behaviour that not too long ago would have had its proponents sectioned. 

Witness the case of a man, Bruce Jenner, a 65 year old three-time divorcee, father of six, step-father of four and soon to be grandfather; a champion athlete, Olympic gold-medallist and world record holder who triumphed in the 1976 games in what is hands-down the toughest contest of them all: The Decathlon. To be the best in the world in 10 different competitions in a monumental show of athletic prowess; to sire six children (three boys and three girls); to woo, win and wed three beautiful women; raise four children that are not yours; be respected amongst both your peers and the public who pay to hear you inspire them with the power of your words and glean knowledge from your success; to remain humble, loving and pleasant to both family and fans; to be law-abiding and free from the common vices that often ruin your sex: womanising, drugs, gambling and drinking – all these achievements to me speak of a man that has excelled as a human being.

Bruce Jenner: The Olympic Hero

Bruce Jenner, to all intents and purposes, had mastered the art of being a man.

So the fact that he has now begun the process of becoming a woman because he feels himself to be in the wrong body is not only baffling to the innocent bystander, but downright unbelievable. For how can someone who feels he is not actually a man, succeed so well in both public and private displays of masculinity? How on earth did his gender serve him so well if it was the wrong fit from birth? If God and nature got it so wrong, why did he accomplish so much as a man and succeed in feats ‘lesser’ men struggle daily to achieve?

Bruce Jenner: The man

If a gifted concert pianist who, for decades, thrilled audiences worldwide with his accomplished compositions confessed later on that he was blessed with the wrong gift, and in fact always had the desire to be an excellent violinist, and actually felt awkward and ill-fitted to playing the piano, would you not think that odd? How can you be so good at what you consider wrong for you? And if you were truly meant to be a violinist not a pianist, why didn’t fate lead you to a violin first and not a piano?

Can a girl be formed in the womb as a boy by accident? Or is this condition purely psychological or spiritual and nothing to do with the physicalities of gender at all?

The truth is that Bruce Jenner’s predicament, and that of many transgender people around the world is still unfathomable not just to the average person but to science, to religion and to common sense. It is a strange affliction that cannot be explained adequately, yet the sincerity of their desire can be ascertained by their determination to go through pain, ridicule, debt and broken relationships in their quest to right what they feel is wrong.

So I am not suggesting that Jenner’s desire to change his sex is not ‘real’, i.e. that it is superficial. For a man like him to go through this public transformation, it must be real. There were already sniggers about the desecration of his masculinity by viewers of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the reality TV show centred around his ubiquitous step-daughter Kim Kardashian, his now ex-wife (her mother) Kris, Kim’s sisters and brother and his two daughters. The show that brought him fame with today’s generation too young to remember him as an Olympic hero often depicted him as a man of little importance in the background, ignored and often the butt of jokes from the uber-beautiful, hyper-feminine, financially powerful and assertive glamazons in his family, led by the matriarch Kris who seemed to wear the trousers in their marriage.

Bruce with his six biological children

Bruce with 'The Kardashians' 

I proposed at first that all the strong female stimuli around him weakened his masculinity so that his wanting to be a woman was like him throwing in the towel; an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ admission of failure whereby his manhood was so thoroughly bashed that he in the end became effeminate to the extreme. His balls were handed to him so to speak, and he capitulated and decided to be ‘one of the girls’ so he can gain some respite.

I thought (with tongue firmly in cheek) that Bruce had been turned into a woman due to his environment, but no, he later revealed that this was a desire from childhood springing from deep within his psyche.

But, and this is a big but, is the power of his desire enough? What of a Black man who states that he has always felt that he was born in the wrong body and actually feels like a white man, would doctors and society run to his aide and grant him his wish? (I’m thinking of you Michael Jackson, RIP). What of the woman who always felt an affinity with dolphins and feels she should have been born a dolphin, should she be free to become who or what she wants to be?

Becoming a woman: Bruce with longer hair, feminine facial features and breasts

The medical, educational and political advancement of societies today mean citizens across the world enjoy many freedoms, and being free to ‘be who you want to be’ is a popular maxim. But the truth is that there are also many chemically- imbalanced people, those with mental illnesses and unstable people marred by previous trauma or whatever else, who come up with all kinds of desires. I read recently of the girl who fell in love with a tree as a result of previous heartbreaks, and the man who felt so inspired by a demonic character in a comic that he paid good money to distort his face to look like the demon, horns and all. In days gone by, society didn’t give room for such deviances of personality to flourish.

The flame of your outlandish desires was either extinguished prematurely by the thought of the shame or ostracisation your wants would cause, the fact that there was no way, medically or otherwise to fulfil your longings and the knowledge that such things were deviant at best, and wrong at worst.

But today, all things are equal. No one is wrong. There is a website, community, advocacy group and even a cable TV documentary for every human pervasion you can think of, from those who defecate on each other for sexual pleasure and grandmothers who perform sex acts online, to men married to plastic dolls and lesbians who buy sperm from anonymous donors. Even what is illegal is glamorised in the media, e.g. Oceans Eleven and the glamorisation of theft.

All things are acceptable, no one is wrong – God, morality and common sense be damned.

So following his long-awaited televised interview with Diane Sawyer, in which he spoke of his transition to becoming a woman (I didn’t watch it), Bruce Jenner is a being hailed a hero, being called ‘brave’ for ‘living his truth,’ and many across the (Western) world support him. Of course the majority of people in Nigeria are appalled and shocked that such a thing is happening, but the enlightened West could care less about the views of Africans who, to them, remain under the yolk of religion and are tied down by archaic traditions.

But as someone with one leg in both the Western and African world, I’m firmly on the side of Nigerians here. Some things are just wrong. Some things should remain unacceptable and should not be encouraged. Some things remain unnatural, no matter the calibre of those going through it or how prosperous the societies that promote it.

I believe that those that believe that they are gay, transgender and all manner of unusual conditions are what they say they are and feel what they say they feel, but I put it down to something along the lines of a hormonal imbalance or genetic abnormality at birth – the kind of developmental malformation that results in physical deformities also resulting in psychological deformities, or spiritual forces not of this world that the non-religious know nothing about – forces of darkness that seek to destroy humanity and torment some people; and finally, straight up psychosis on the same level as a man who believes he is a poached egg. Some people, to put it crudely, are just crazy and should not be given medication to further their crazy.

And the fact that many transgender people who do have surgery to change their sex commit suicide afterwards to me indicates that getting what we want isn’t the answer, and messing with nature can never lead to true contentment. The intricacies involved in the formation of a foetus of either sex is so complex and far-reaching , and being male or a female encompasses the entire psychological, mental, social, spiritual, hormonal, biological, developmental, cultural and personal as well as physical being, that attempting to ‘correct’ it later at a superficial level can only lead to disaster.

Changing sex should be as wildly incomprehensible as changing brains or skin colour. Some things should be sacrosanct, some desires discouraged, and some wants suppressed. Not everything you feel is right, not every human desire is good or correct. That you’re in love with your brother or your mother (yes, I’ve read about these) doesn’t make it OK; the existence of a desire doesn’t legitimise it.

Some feelings should not be explored further. I believe there were many would-be transgender or homosexual people throughout history, but due to society's norms back then were able to successfully suppress or eradicate such desires for the greater good. Some thoughts only grow stronger with encouragement.

I will not attempt to diagnose Bruce Jenner. I actually like the man, and thought him far more worthy of global adulation than any of his famous family, because he had actually achieved something worth celebrating. But there is something wrong with his desire to be a woman. And the way (Western) liberal society rebukes anyone that even dares to call a spade a spade and say that what Bruce is feeling is not kosher, and forcing everyone – at least publicly anyway – into a faux acceptance of what is blatantly unnatural is wrong, and a gross imbalance of freedom of speech.

We have lost all sense of shame, propriety and decency, and nothing is allowed to be sacred anymore, to the detriment of our collective ethics and stability. What we want – no matter how senseless – must be allowed, and to hell with anyone who stands in our way. The enfant terribles, the lewd and the crude, the mentally-imbalanced, the freaks and the fetish, the dishonourable, the abominations, and the dangerously outlandish have been allowed to set the moral temperature; the former outcasts have been given the microphone and they’re spreading their gospel of anarchy.

That my father is now a woman is a thing wild jokes are made of, and it cannot be easy on his children no matter how much everyone says it’s OK. Deep down, we all sense that there’s something unpalatable about it; it just doesn’t seem right.

Because it isn’t.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Defending Free Speech: My Reaction to #JeSuisCharlie

As a journalist, I am appalled, horrified and disgusted by the murders of French journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday January 7th 2015 by Islamic extremists because they dared to draw unsavoury cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But I am also saddened at the fact that these continuing terrorist attacks in the West are turning people off ALL religions, not just Islam.



This image and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie trended worldwide on Twitter in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo Magazine

I take pride in being free to write what I want when I want, especially on this blog, and although I have strong views, I am pleased and energised when readers comment with equally strong views in disagreement. I believe it is a sign of intelligence and tolerance to be able to disagree vehemently with someone on any given subject no matter how important, and still have the decency to be polite and calm and charitable to them when need be.

There is a distinction between disagreement and discrimination; it's a fine line and a slippery slope, but I believe it is possible to tow it. I may disagree with Islam or homosexuality but like Volitaire said, I will defend to the death the rights of those within it to live it and be it. Absolutely so. I cannot hit them over the head - so to speak - with my Bible. They don't believe in it like I do, so why judge them on its laws?

So I shake my head at them, produce eloquent arguments against their way of life and maintain my belief that what they are is not God's best intention for them, but as human beings they are just as worthy of life and love and happiness as I am, and I will never stand in the way of their success. That would be crossing the line. So it brought tears to my eyes when the news broke that people had died because they decided to parody the Prophet Muhammad.

Satirists have been ridiculing Jesus for years, but I personally don't see the harm in it. Some of it is offensive yes, but I have the right to be offended and they have the right to have their opinions. I don't expect people that haven't engaged with Christian truths to understand it, so when they grapple with the beliefs I hold dear, part of me is kinda glad.

It's good when 'secular people' engage with my faith, turning it around in their hands, poking it, breaking it apart and spilling out its absurdities for humour. If it brings its values to diverse audiences, this is a good thing, and I'd rather people laugh at Christianity than ignore it completely.

Remember when people ridiculed former American President George W. Bush? Well now nobody does, because he is no longer important or powerful or relevant. So if Jesus shows up on the popular animated series South Park as a wacky TV show host in slippers and a gown, I laugh when it's funny and squirm when it's not, but I'm glad I'm watching a depiction of my saviour along with millions of other people.

Because unlike in the past, kids today don't go to Sunday school as a norm and religion is not part of their every day lives. So I appreciate shows like South Park or The Simpsons which pay homage to Christianity, no matter how crude, because I'm afraid that in 50 years time, show producers won't even know who Jesus is to mock him.

So defending a man that died centuries ago by killing men that draw cartoons about him is absolute lunacy.

But not only have the terrorists brought shame on their religion once again, but increasingly all faiths are being denigrated by people who believe themselves to be free from the constraints of organised religion.

They think we're all crazy.

I respect those that can live in the real world and acknowledge the existence of something greater than themselves, but many don't, and religious attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo adds to the growing mainstream belief that all religions should be assigned to the waste basket of history and all 'God-botherers' should be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world where an ancient book doesn't dictate their actions.

And no matter how much I try to draw a distinction between Christianity and Islam (like I did on my post titled Why I'm Glad I Am No Longer a Muslim), many still say to me "Nah, all religion is based on medieval mindsets not compatible with modern life. All religion is bad." That pisses me off, especially because I think that Christianity and Islam are as different as night and day.

However, such attacks make me think that the battle is sometimes between those with a faith and those without, rather than between Christians and Muslims. I was often cynical about shows of unity by Imams, Priests and Rabbis coming together to condemn or celebrate one religious news item or another, because I think that one of those three religions cannot join the others to speak of peace until they get their house in order.

But I believe it is more honourable to believe in something than to believe in nothing and be wafted here and there by any breeze that blows, without an anchor or an allegiance to something you're willing to die for.

So to that end, I have more in common with a Muslim than with a person of no faith.

And I feel increasingly sorry for the normal, everyday Muslims in the West; immigrants that moved to non-Muslim countries to work and live and become citizens; men and women who appreciate England and whose children have grown up here; and young Mohammeds and Safiyas who are as British as the Michaels and Kellys around them and who are just as appalled at the killings by those who share their religion.

I feel sorry for second and third generation Muslim immigrants who are somewhat confused about how to live in a world that is increasingly seeing them as the enemy, but they still continue to be devout in their faith, and even those who came from Muslim homes but wear the religion lightly and drink and smoke with the best of them.

I remember when I used to silently pray that the news about a murder or armed robbery didn't involve Black men, and breathing a sigh of relief when it didn't and wincing when it did. I'm sure many in the Black community are quietly relieved that the racism and condemnation we often faced from the mainstream has found a new target. I bet many Muslims, upon hearing about a shooting or other public violence, always pray it doesn't link back to their religion.

I'm also getting 'Outrage Fatigue;' I'm tired of criticising Islam and feeling religiously superior after yet another terrorist attack, because these attacks are gradually changing the world for the worse and in ways we won't begin to identify for years to come.

There are no winners when we are all suffering its effects.

I still believe people like the Charlie Hebdo gunmen Cherif and Said Kouachi are as Muslim as they say they are, and they actually believe that they were avenging Prophet Muhammad, but they also revealed themselves to be nothing but common criminals when they robbed a gas station at gunpoint and stole food and drinks hours after their 'holy crusade.' I mean, does Allah condone armed robbery, even if He seems to condone murder in his defence?

In a fight between Gods and mortals or Prophets and Cartoonists, I'd put my money on the Gods and Prophets winning, so they don't need defending. The supernatural can surely handle media mockery without losing its potency to those that care right?

So today I stand with every person who is standing in defence of free speech. It is imperative that those with a voice don't cower in fear. Charlie Hebdo magazine lampooned all institutions; from Christianity to Feminism and Politics, so why should Islam be omitted? All believers think their religion should be respected, so why should Islam be treated with kid gloves?

To all journalists and writers brave enough to say what they want because they truly believe it, people have died to safeguard the freedoms we enjoy today, and long may we continue to enjoy them. Be fearless with your words because the pen IS mightier than the sword.

And to moderate Muslims everywhere, although I continue to firmly disagree with your religion and believe that there is something inherently faulty with it because of the way it brings out the violence in men in ways no other religion does, I will fight to the death for your right to practice it in peace, for your right to live in safety with your neighbours, and for your right to pursue your happiness the same way I can.

That is what freedom is all about.

#JeSuisCharlie

Sunday, 5 October 2014

I Know it Sounds Crazy, But I Miss Nigeria...

Regular readers of my blog will know by now that I'm not afraid to change my mind. I can stand 100% behind a position today, then change my mind later based on new facts, evidence or change of feelings. (Witness my 'I love her/I love her not/I love her again re: author Chimamanda Adichie) Heck, even my faith in God wavers sometimes. It might be a character flaw, or it might be a sign of intellectual honesty and an unbiased open-mindedness. I'll go with option two.

Whatever it is, the fact is that contrary to my kinda negative portrayal of Nigeria in a previous post and my rush to leave it a few months ago, I now miss it. I miss Nigeria. I wish I didn't though. It would be so much easier to turn my back on it, what with its Boko Haram and Ebola and a plethora of misfortunes and calamities and dangers and problems facing the country every day, plus the impending elections in 2015 that many predict will cause even more bloody unrest.

 Good ole' Nigeria: My embattled country

But I lay down at night and wish I was back in Abuja.

There are two major factors that draw me back to Nigeria, one of which is my profession. Yes folks, being back in England has humbled me career-wise. Where in Nigeria I was top of the food chain thanks to my impressive British education, training and experience; impressive portfolio of previous work, impeccable British accent and the confidence that comes with knowing your country values you and wants you, which shines through and makes you even more attractive to prospective employers and clients; in England I'm having to start from the bottom again, not that I was ever even at the top to begin with.

My almost three years abroad has knocked my professional trajectory back down a few pegs, but more than that is my own perception of self. I feel less wanted here. My colour, my experience, my time spent abroad in an unsavoury country, all of that has merged together to give me an inferiority complex, which I presume is written all over my face as I sit in waiting rooms waiting to be interviewed. The chip on my shoulder must be so big right now. Sometimes I even talk myself out of a job before applying: "Nah, The Guardian wouldn't want me, I didn't go to Oxbridge and I'm the wrong kind of Black."

 Bad News: They didn't want me

Actually, regarding The Guardian newspaper, despite its credentials as a liberal, left-wing publication and champion of minorities, I went to its offices in London for a job training/interview stint years ago and was blown away by how male-white-middle-class the whole office was. There were maybe two white women, no brown or Black faces and everyone there were of a certain 'type,' the type that go to Starbucks and order Fairtrade organic lattes, wear distressed jeans, spent a year in Africa working for a charity, are vegetarians, want to live in Brixton but send their children to private school and buy modern art. I felt so out of place there (I'm not a vegetarian and Africa to me is a reality, not a facilitator of my yearnings to be a good person) and it must have affected my performance because I didn't get the job.

I don't wish to play the race card, in fact I hate it when people play the race card, but I'm afraid that after returning from Nigeria - where I felt so good about being me; so wanted, celebrated even, for being me; where I rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers of society and met and worked with important people, where all that I am was cradled and nurtured and upheld as wonderful (I could also spell better and type faster than most people out there too, I felt like a superhero) - the British job market has being a slight shock to the system. I started to question my abilities. Maybe I'm not as good as I thought. Or maybe I am and they just refuse to see it and give me a chance because I am Black.

Race relations in the UK is miles better than what it is in other non-African countries of course, and there are vast swathes of England where your colour doesn't affect you negatively, and I can honestly say that apart from two instances when I was in my late teens where I'd visited a majority-white part of Surrey and some silly young men shouted racial slurs at me, one from a high rise building and the other from a moving car (I still think maybe I heard them wrong), I have never faced any overt racism in England in my life.

Sure there are instances when I felt I should have positively gotten that job because I was so right for it, and when I didn't I was convinced it's cos I was Black and didn't pass the 'Can I hang out comfortably with her down the pub after work' test by my would-be employers. But on the whole, I never thought being Black held me back until I finished a Masters degree and still couldn't get a nice journalism job (the kind that came with a business card). Then I went to Nigeria and finally tasted success, then returned to England again and saw that such success is hardly enjoyed by people that look like me, and the Blacks that are successful here are of a certain type too. Damn, I wish I'd gone to Oxford. I had the grades for it, but I didn't pursue it because I thought I'd feel out of place there. It's my biggest regret in life.

My children MUST go to Oxford or Cambridge. It's like the only thing that can guarantee your success if you're Black in the UK.

So I long for Nigeria because I feel ignored and not up to par in England, and having to go from Editor to Office Administrator has been oh so depressing. I feel like shouting out: "Don't you know who I am? I used to chair weekly Editorial meetings you know! I have a Masters' Degree for Christ's sake!"

I work in central London surrounded by huge beautiful office buildings made of glass, and I envy the immaculately dressed ladies in their heels and skirt suits that call such buildings 'My Office,' whilst I wear flats and my colleagues will look at me in wonder if I dressed in a suit. I also noticed that the Black people I see in this part of town are almost always shabbily dressed in jeans and trainers; the Black/minority ethnic service class that serve the white business class.

My Future London office: Amen

Sure I can work my way to the top, but how long will that take? And can I ever achieve the career highs in London that I enjoyed in Abuja? Will a qualified Black woman under 30 ever be the sub-editor of a British national newspaper? I doubt it. Not only are the requirements more stringent in England (the standards are admittedly lower in Nigeria, although this should not detract from my suitability), but there is always a white person that the employer feels will be 'more suited' to the role, or who has the right look or better education or upbringing or experience or looks like the employer's nephew or uncle.

I guess I shouldn't blame them though, like employs like. The subtle and overt tribalism in Nigeria is similar to the subtle and overt racism is in England. But rather than work hard to break the Black ceiling, I just want to return to a country that likes me as I am. A country that will gladly take me back.

I also miss the freedom of being in Nigeria. I don't feel as constrained there. Here if you step out of line even a little bit, even innocently, like for instance parking in the wrong place by accident, you get into trouble straight away, no second chances. In Nigeria things are more laid back, more casual. You can smile your way out of trouble, and rules that hurt no one can be bent (I know Nigeria takes this philosophy way too far though.)

In Nigeria, in a land where anything goes, I felt emboldened to LIVE. Life was for the taking, and if you can get it, it's yours. You could go from zero to millionaire in a matter of days, and the rewards for good work knows no bounds. Generosity of wealth and spirit abound, and you could start a business tomorrow that will make you money immediately, no lengthy paperwork and licenses needed.

In England things are more prescribed and limited. No sudden moves. It's a stay in your lane, paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, and as winter approaches, a grey cloud seems to descend on everyone and we all stay deep in our daily routines; everyone in big black coats under grey skies, all living for the weekend or the next holiday abroad to somewhere sunny.

I also felt thoroughly invested in Nigeria. I felt that I was part of the narrative. I complained with everyone about everything, but deep down it felt good to have ownership over the woes of the nation. Nigeria still being problematic after 54 years of Independence was my problem too, and I wanted to make it better. I had a voice that sounded like everyone else's. Nigeria was mine for the loving, hating, liking. But in England, sometimes I feel detached from the primary concerns of most of its citizens, and other times I am actively opposed to the popular opinion.

The British love cats and dogs and there are several TV programmes and charities dedicated to their welfare, but I care not a jot for pets. Homosexuality is also now normal here, when I left England in 2011 I don't recall homosexual couples being on home improvement, antique hunts and other mundane aspects of British TV, but now every other couple on TV seems to be gay! Then there is the national preoccupation with cancer. Every where you go one organisation or another is trying to fight and beat cancer, but I don't want this disease shoved down my throat every day. Yes it affects many people, but do let's stop going on about it.

Then there's the average British person's love of a good moan. They moan about everything here, and their hate for politicians is so uncalled for, especially when British politicians are actively working hard in their jobs and are genuine public servants, and the minute they do something wrong they're out (did you hear about the journalist who faked a Twitter account to seduce an MP, and when he fell for it and sent back pictures of himself in pyjamas, the MP had to resign?). They should all try living in Nigeria for a week, they'll run back and hug all their MPs. Those on benefits moan that the council won't give them a bigger house, can you imagine? In Nigeria if your local House of Rep member gives you a bag of rice in his bid to get re-elected, you rejoice, here they are bitterly complaining that the free house and free money the government gives them is not enough.

In Nigeria, despite the harsh, unfair circumstances, Nigerians have the best sense of humour about it all. They insult and rain down curses on their leaders, but their patriotism is alive and well. They get up and get on with it, they hustle and they make life work for them. They have terrible habits some of them, but no one sits and complains and expects the government to help them lose weight or stop smoking or give them contentment, cos they know that's not happening.

I also like that Nigerians are on average religious-minded and traditionally inclined; they value marriage, respect, morals and propriety. Even though many sins occur behind closed doors, they are eager to portray a respectable facade. But in England, tradition is receding and nothing is sacred anymore. Anything goes in the name of post-modernity, and my traditionally-minded self cannot hack it.

So there are many aspects of British life that I feel is alien to my experience. Whearas in Nigeria, I felt plugged into every social issue and felt as strongly about certain things that ordinary Nigerians did. I could (and very nearly did) join protests in Nigeria about various issues, but I can't see myself protesting about anything in England.

I visit Nigerian blogs every day and follow many Nigerians on Twitter- I'm avidly keeping abreast of Nigerian news and views because it's more alive to me.

Does that mean I'm not British enough? I guess I fit into my 'Nigerian coat' better than I fit into my 'British coat,' but the irony is that in Nigeria I am more British than Nigerian to everyone else, and in England I'm Black British and that's OK, but it also means I find more people like me on the lower echelons of society than at the top, which is where I want to be.

Could this be a case of the grass being always greener on the other side? Human nature is a funny thing: a few months ago I couldn't wait to leave Abuja, now I'm yearning after the very thing I ran from. Don't get me wrong, England is a fabulous country and I'm lucky to be able to enjoy its many privileges, the NHS being number one. If I could take the NHS with me I would relocate to Nigeria tomorrow.

I guess I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to to succeed, but in a safe country.

So I'm torn you guys. One minute I want to stay in England and make it work because it will be so worth it in the end, then the next I want to run back to Nigeria so I can feel alive and be called 'Madam' again. Then I think of falling sick in Abuja or of Boko Haram and I thank God I'm back in England. Sigh.