Browse Category: Media Activism

Interview with Omar Thomas, Jazz Composer of Monumental LGBT Civil Rights Hymn, “We Will Know”

I recently got the chance to interview award-winning composer, Omar Thomas, about his new album, ‘We Will Know’, a monumental work of art that breathes new life into the word “movement”.

We Will Know Omar Thomas LGBT Civil Rights

Following the success of his debut release, I Am, Omar secured a grant in 2013 to compose, arrange, and produce an album to reconcile the perceived incongruities between LGBT and Black communities in the United States.

Per the virtual release event, existing at the intersection of black civil rights and LGBT civil rights, “We Will Know” is a historic, first-of-its-kind original work which invokes genres of music unique to the black American experience as a way of underscoring the experiences of LGBT persons in America over the past 90 years.

In Omar’s artist statement, he states: “The beauty and madness of this work is that it is a composition based on juxtaposition, promoting a social movement written in a genre (jazz) pioneered by a group that historically has an aversion to the group for which the piece is created. Though it is written in solidarity with the LGBT movement, it is anchored by styles and songs created by and for the African-American experience.”

Each of the four movements plays a specific role in framing the realities of LGBT persons across the country.

  • The first movement, “Hymn,” is a rallying protest song – that glue which holds together all significant social movements – which the LGBT movement has been without for all these years.
  • The second movement, “In Memoriam,” is a brief elegy that commemorates the lives of those lost and those facing real danger in the face of ignorance and fear.
  • The longest of the movements, “Meditation,” provides the listener a safe place for reflection and catharsis.
  • And, the final movement, “May 9th, 2012,” combines the original hymnsong with Charles Albert Tindley’s iconic black civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome,” to celebrate the day an American president (and also our first black president) first publicly supported marriage equality.

LGBT civil rights are at the forefront of contemporary social and political discourse. The power of music to serve, inspire, and archive movements is a necessary part of that conversation, one that Omar Thomas, a hauntingly talented musician and self-described ‘artivist’ is committed to facilitating through his music.

On Music, Movements, and Identity: Interview with Black and Gay Composer, Omar Thomas

SPECTRA: I’m gonna get right into it… “We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements.” That’s a bold title! And, if I must say, such a beautiful gift to black LGBT people, or any of us who live our lives at the intersection. What inspired the project?

OMAR: I got the idea to compose an LGBT civil rights piece after numerous failed attempts at sounding intelligible on an “It Gets Better” video.

SPECTRA: No… Haha! Really?

OMAR: True story. I really wanted to contribute to the message and success of the “It Gets Better” campaign, but couldn’t find the words. I’m not a writer. I’m a musician. So it dawned on me in that moment — that music is a language at which I’m adept, my chosen language of love and protest. I mean, clearly I was failing so miserably in English while trying to make that video. So I decided right then and there that I’d made my contribution to groundswell of awareness and support – “the movement’ – using my natural talent: music.

SPECTRA: Mmm, I love that. It’s a really beautiful thing to witness someone stepping so boldly into their purpose. Did you ever imagine you would release an album like this?

OMAR: To be able to communicate so effectively using music is a gift. It only made sense that my contributions to human rights take the form of a musical statement. And honestly, the creation of this piece felt inevitable, really, as if my growth as a composer, educator, and socially-conscious citizen were all leading to the creation of this work.

We Will Know Banner

SPECTRA: This is your second album. Your first won a Boston Music Award in 2013 for Best Jazz Artist. You’ve called ‘We Will Know’ one of your most important pieces of work to date. What hopes do you have for the EP?

OMAR: From the side of the music, I hope the movements in ‘We Will Know’ highlight the gamut of emotions that have underscored the LGBT civil rights struggle – and triumphs – of the past century. I want the experience of listening to the album to feel like catharsis, of the personally political kind.

SPECTRA: The album is definitely a conversation starter.

OMAR: Music is a commonality we all share. It’s just one of many, many commonalities we all share. And its universality makes it the ideal ambassador for the connections we share across experiences. And its convening power bring us all closer to the ideas of oneness, a singular human story that I truly believe is at the nucleus of the human experience.

SPECTRA: Omar, you teach “Harmony” at Berklee College of Music. (smile). Can you explain – to those of us with a limited jazz vocabulary — what that means? Listening to you talk about music, movements, and unity, it seems fitting as the name of a class you would teach!

OMAR: *laughs* Harmony at Berklee College of Music is the study of contemporary music theory. The study of melody, harmony, and rhythm in popular song. As music mirrors life and vice versa, I always find creative ways to discuss various aspects of life in my classes.

SPECTRA: Speaking of teaching, has your identity as a black gay man influenced or impacted your role as an educator in any way?

OMAR: I’d like to think it has been positive. I have a simple personal mandate: to live authentically and to do the best I can, as an educator, as a musician, and as a citizen, so that those who feel empowered by the labels of “gay,” “black,” and the combination of the two will feel seen, uplifted. I’m not the only gay black musician out there. There are many who came before me, whose shoulders I stand on, and more will come afterwards. I honour them by being visible.

SPECTRA: Somewhat related. On visible black and LGBT icons. Each year during black history month, I see the same names of Black and LGBT leaders mentioned e.g. James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin etc. Many writers, political activists etc. As a young, gay, black, and aspiring musician, who did you look up to?

OMAR: Billy Strayhorn. Hands down. The right hand man to the great Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. So great was his talent, his poise, and his presence that literally no one cared about his orientation. Okay, maybe they did but they got over it. Who knows. I’m sure he had his own share of struggle. But he never minced words about his sexuality, nor did her ever hide. In the early half of the 20th century. In America. As a black man. As a gay, black man. What courage! His story has always resonated with me.

SPECTRA: I have to ask… especially given that you’re a black and gay musician who’s just released an EP calling for equal rights. And Macklemore just won a Grammy for Same Love. Where do you stand on musical accolades being about the music vs. the political messages they convey? Can we, actually, separate them?

OMAR: For me, being a musician, or a chef, or a writer, or a painter, or a dancer, is all about authenticity and vulnerability. If one’s art is to ring true, one’s identity must ring true THROUGH one’s art.

Anyone who is using their voice to further ideas of universality and oneness deserves to be commended, but only if they do so with respect to context, meaning where their contribution fits in the narrative of those who’ve come before them in this fight.

That being said, a positive message is a positive message, and good music is good music. These two concepts are mutually exclusive. If a work is to be critiqued based on the strength of its message, then so be it. If it is to be critiqued on its musical strengths and merits, so be it. If both are present and are formidable, all the better.

SPECTRA:Anything else you’d like folks to know?

OMAR: I’m encouraging everyone to start using the hashtag #iamtheintersection to continue the dialog about multiple identities, shared history, and oneness. You can follow me at @omarthomasmusic on Twitter and Facebook/omarthomasmusic to join the conversation.

Do yourself a favour and listen to the first movement, “Hymn” below. (I’m in tears every single time!)

‘We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements’ is now available for purchase on iTunes. A limited number of commemorative physical copies, which include comprehensive 4-page timeline of milestones of the LGBT movement over the past century, are also available for order on the official Omar Thomas website, www.omarthomasmusic.com.

A Gay Zulu Wedding and the Danger of a Single LGBT African Story

Male and Married: The Gay Zulu Wedding and the Danger of a Single LGBT African Story

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, two gay black South African men tied the knot at their 200-guest traditional wedding in KwaDukuza, the first of its kind in the old Zulu capital.

Gay Zulu Wedding LGBT AfricaLove birds Tshepo Modisane and Thoba Sithole, both proudly Zulu and Tswana, have made their union a part of South Africa’s history by deciding to go public with their gay African traditional wedding ceremony, with a few twists:

In place of the customary lobolo (bride price or dowry), via which the husband customarily offer’s the wife’s family money and/or gifts, they’ve decided to opt for gender parity and, instead,  offer gifts to each of their families in thanks for raising them. They also plan to use the hyphenated version of both their last names, Sithole-Modisane, and are planning to start a family soon using a surrogate (though this report says they’ll be adopting.)

In the video report (below), the couple shares, “It’s against this idea that being gay is unAfrican… Being gay is as African as being black. We are a part of our culture. Thoba is Zulu and I’m Tswana. We’re rooted in our culture and very excited about it.”

On paper, South Africa boasts the friendliest constitution, which protects its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) citizens from discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Yet, the country’s struggle to shift cultural attitudes towards acceptance for this marginalized group of people, especially in rural areas and townships, remains.

According to this Human Rights Watch report, “Black lesbians and transgender men in South African townships and rural areas face an overwhelming climate of discrimination and violence despite protections promised them in the country’s constitution.” It’s no wonder, then, that the mere optics of the “first gay traditional African wedding,” warrant its celebration as a historical milestone for gay Africans everywhere.

Denis Nzioka, founder and editor of Identity Kenya, a news organization covering sexual and gender minorities in Kenya, remarked in an interview, “The gay Zulu wedding was epic, if not pioneering. Having seen the video and photos and customs I was amazed at how the two mixed their love and celebrated it in an ‘African’ way.” And in response to what’s become a slogan amongst anti-gay African leaders, “Homophobia is unAfrican,” Nzioka insists that “the fact that two African men can fall in love and wed, despite a homophobic society that frowns on same-sex relationships counters what many Africans [have been] saying’.”

The Danger of a Single LGBT African (Male, Middle-Class, and Marriage-Focused) Story

The Danger of a Single Gay African LGBT StoryChimamanda Adichie, a celebrated Nigerian writer said in her famous TEDTalk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes, is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

Hence, as the media continues to hail this single occurrence as a milestone, it becomes critical that supporters of the LGBTI African movement for equality consider this single narrative exists within the context of many others.

For instance, the video report states that the two gay black men are based in the metropolitan city of Johannesburg and are working professionals in the fields of financial services and IT. That’s not to imply they’ve been in any way exempt from experiencing the debilitating impact of societal discrimination–far from it; the effects of homophobia (compounded with racism, as the couple is black) on the livelihood of people presumed to be LGBTI can result in workplace discrimination, prejudice in health care, not to mention depression, anxiety, even suicide.

Still, there’s a huge difference between the experience of being a “regular looking” cisgender male employee, at a “Big Four” financial consulting firm, in a  fairly liberal city that boasts the largest gay pride in the country, versus the harsh reality of a trying to make ends meet in a poor township, while also fearing rape for being a lesbian, or murder for being an effeminate gay man.

In a piece written for a South African LGBT publication last year, the author shared comments from a young, black, gay-identified male, who disagreed with South Africa’s reputation as a progressive state (emphasis in bold added by me):

“When you have money, it’s quite easy to set yourself free from discrimination and danger,” Junior says. “Many of the white gay and lesbian people here can afford to reside in a safe and progressive area, but the majority of us live in townships. In openly embracing your sexuality there, you run the risk of getting abused, raped or murdered.” Junior’s statement emphasizes that gay and lesbian equality in South Africa is strongly mediated by race and class, and that sexual freedom is often available to those who have the racial and literal capital to afford them.

In light of the struggles of LGBTI Africans, the desire to celebrate any kind of progress – especially when it comes in the form of a gleeful Zulu wedding – is understandable; the vibrant ceremony presented a sharp contrast to the media’s grim and, at times, gruesome depiction of violent homophobia on the African continent. However, it is dangerous to assign wide-sweeping gains to all LGBTI Africans based on the perceived victory of a few. 

What of gay Africans who view marriage as the least of their problems – young people, for instance, who have been disowned by their families and, above all, seek a stable alternative to homelessness? What about transgender women who experience rejection (and violence) from both gay and straight communities alike? And lesbians–forced to live in fear of so-called “corrective rape”–will marriage mean social acceptance for them, too?

If we’ve learned anything from criticism of the same sex marriage equality movement in the U.S., it’s that too much emphasis on marriage as a pathway to acceptance could only end up benefiting a small segment of the LGBTI community (e.g. gay men, or members of the middle class–while the groups most at-risk e.g. women, youth, transgender people, etc.–are likely to go unheard, and even unfunded.

A Nigerian lesbian activist (who prefers to remain anonymous) remarked on the unwillingness of many global human rights funders to support ‘less popular’ LGBTI programs:

“If you’re not doing HIV/AIDS work, forget it. Funders are mainly interested in gay men because of that. With women, we are not seen as much as being affected by these issues. And there is no research on Nigerian gay women to suggest otherwise, so we are at a disadvantage. Our organization provides a safe haven for lesbians and bisexual women to be out, be themselves, meet other women. We organize social events, movie nights, you name it. I know it is saving lives. But the funders don’t seem to feel that way because we are not in the news.”

Nigeria’s recent move to further criminalize homosexuality has no doubt sent even more LGBTI Nigerians back into the closest, making the need for safe social spaces even more critical. In this country, a publicly staged wedding is punishable by imprisonment for up to 14 years, and in the north, death. Hence, before the media declares the gay Zulu wedding as progress for the LGBTI African movement, it must ask itself, “What does progress for LGBTI people in other African countries (or even different groups of Africans within South Africa) look like?”

LGBTI African Activists Propose a Multi-Country, Multi-Issue Approach to Advocacy

Florence Xhaxas, founder and director of the gender justice organization, Young Feminist Movement, Namibia, warns against zero-ing in on the struggles – and progress – of a single African country at the expense of others:

“As much as I feel [the wedding video] is great for South Africans, the feeling isn’t shared by all LGBT people across the continent. The truth is that [South Africans] have mastered the art of amplifying their voices and documenting cases.”

To Xhaxas’ point, while stories from South Africa and Uganda continue to shape western media’s narrative about the LGBTI African movement, other countries experiencing their own share of hardships and progress go unnoticed. For instance, the murder of Ugandan LGBT rights activist David Kato sparked global outrage while the brutal torture and slaying of a gay Tanzanian community organizer, Maurice Mjomba barely received attention. Similarly, while South African women are perpetually victimized via “corrective rape” coverage, uprisings by lesbians in other countries, such as Namibia, and Malawi, aren’t likely to make headlines.

Says Xhaxas, “How can we improve documentation [in other countries]? How can we make sure that media hype is created for all the struggles we go through? And hold other states in the lime light of the global community’s responsibility to protect all citizens?”

To be sure, the cultural significance of the gay Zulu wedding video — the power of media, itself–cannot be ignored; LGBTI Africans all over the world were able to see their relationships affirmed in the media – a rarity. Denis Nzioka puts it best when he says, “Greater positive media portrayal of LGBT Africans has been proven to change people’s perception. As one of my close friend lesbian friend once quipped ‘Kenya’s often mild acceptance of homosexuality can be attributed, in some small way, to two persons – Will & Grace.’”

Given the impact a single video has had on recent conversations about homosexuality in Africa, among Africans at that, it goes without saying that proponents of LGBTI equality on the African continent, should more intentionally support LGBTI African media advocacy organizations and initiatives – the writers, journalists, digital media producers, and artists that risk backlash for daring to critique the world as it is, while imagining and inspiring the future as it could be.

Jabu Pereira, founder and executive of director of Iranti, a media advocacy organization based in South Africa emphasizes the importance (and threat) of LGBTI Africans using media to influence change:

“We must end the ongoing ignorance of states who continue to encourage systemic violence, we simply can’t afford this. We must not stop documenting the human rights violations we experience as LGBTI persons in Africa.. even when we are threatened…”

The media frenzy around this milestone should in no way serve as a distraction from supporting less visible, less “newsworthy” forms of activism. It should, in fact, galvanize allies to support more LGBT African organizations across the continent – not just South Africa or Uganda – that work on behalf of constituencies who fight for the most at-risk of their communities, and whose victories and milestones comprise the mundane of daily survival.

 Watch the Video Below:

7 Social Media Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Will the Real African Social Media Experts Please Stand Up?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI)‘s Social Media Experts conference in Accra, Ghana.

The conference brought together African social media experts, enthusiasts, and activists from across the continent, Europe, and North America, including:

  • fellow #afrifem tweeps, @Zawadin (of ZerobyZawadi in Kenya) and @negrita (of Illume Creative Studios in Rwanda)
  • #occupynigeria leaders, @Yemi_O (of Enough is Enough Nigeria) and @omojuwa (of AfricanLiberty.org)
  • BloggingGhana’s social media celebs, @MacJordan and @Kajsaha, and their civic engagement project @GhanaDecides.

Among people I hadn’t yet met were three brilliant, inspiring young men from Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, including Emile Bela (@ebelak), who began his presentation with a memory of being stuck in a room with a few others in the middle of a war; his interest in blogging came from the sudden realization that if he died that day, there’d be no record of his life, nor accounts of what he’d seen. Today, Emile is a prolific writer at his own blog, and contributes commentary on sustainable development, electoral politics, and governance to other sites. It was truly an honor to be among such trailblazing, inspiring company.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that there is still much to be explored and uncovered on the continent when it comes to how African NGOs are using new media for advocacy. But judging from WACSI’s dedication to equipping African changemakers with information and resources they need to succeed, any projects seeking to leverage new media for advocacy will not be lacking in support.

Even as young Africans are dispersed across the globe, in our mission to create alternative pathways to change — one that side-steps our corrupt governments, subverts barriers to capital, and taps into the crowdfunding potential of 475 milliion mobile connections on the continent, we’re already charting and covering new territory.

7 Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Researching Africa’s Social Media Landscape

More research is needed on how African NGOs specifically (including organizations based on the continent, managed by its residents i.e. not managed by some gap year volunteer from Holland) are using social media. As I sat and listened to a presentation on tips for increasing engagement on Facebook pages, which was based on Facebook data from companies all across the globe, I questioned its relevance to Africa; the insights that drove the suggestions were based on data heavily driven by internet- (vs mobile- ) connections, yet the vast majority of Africans are connected to the web via mobile. What would social media insights (i.e. the best time to post, how long each update should be etc) based on African-based, mobile-sourced data look like? Also, how does culture influence the way we build relationships online? Until Africa 2.0 defines its own benchmarks, our strategizing and planning, whether for advocacy or other purposes will be based on models that don’t necessarily reflect Africa’s tech landscape. Luckily, organizations like WACSI and Indigo Trust are committed to supporting such initiatives.

Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide through Cost-and-Time Effective Tech Training

Source: TomorrowToday.uk.com

For a continent booming with mobile innovation, much of it still experiences limited to no cell phone signal or data services of any kind. Moreover, the speed and costs of internet services varies widely between regions, creating further barriers for non-profits / activists wishing to use social media for advocacy. Hence, I particularly appreciated, participant @sourceadam’s presentation regarding his work at @sourcefabric, which implements open source, cost-effective tech solutions for NGOs, making it easier for them to optimize their time on the web. In my own work with Africans for Africa, I’ve found, also, that comprehensive social media training for people living in remote areas must include time management training; it’s not enough to tell small organizations with low capacity (and limited connectivity) that they constantly need to tweet and update Facebook without showing them a feasible way they can brainstorm and share content, in a time-efficient, cost effective way.

Fighting Government Censorship and Privatized Data Control

Source: Mahesh Kumar A/Associated Press

I recently participated as a speaker on a webinar hosted by the African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications on online security and censorship in digital activism. This year, at least seven online users were arrested for their internet activity, and it doesn’t seem like government monitoring of social media is going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s becoming more aggressive. For instance, a Nigerian senator recently proposed censoring social media in order to curb criticism of the country’s governance; in Ghana, there’s been a recent proposal to place a “cap” on data and internet usage; and, in Ethiopa, a Skype call will get you 15 years in prison. There are many other blaring examples of the dangers of taking our lack of ownership and control of the internet too lightly, yet many activists who use social media for advocacy aren’t informed enough about the internet infrastructure — the wiring, the cables, the data — nor the government policies that monitor (and can end) its use. If Africans are serious about new media as a tool to create , we’re going to need to address government censorship, freedom of speech on the web, and the systemic denial of ownership that is too often ignored in our discourse about digital activism.

Using Pop Culture to Engage “Social” Users, Politically

Source: @fondalo

A recent study shows most Africans use social media for games, fun, and entertainment. Yet, we often hear complaints of how difficult it is to get youth to engage, coupled with emphases on how there’s a strong need for civic engagement around “serious” issues. Clearly, in order to increase engagement among the majority of Africans who prefer to use social media for fun and entertainment, we’re going to have to find a way to make the political issues we care about fun and engaging. We can take a cute from Enough is Enough (EIE), a civil society organization based in Nigeria that featured Nigerian celebrities and humor-driven campaigns to engage youth around their #occupynigeria campaign. As EIE’s mission is to encourage youth to become more responsible citizens, they’ve made pop culture a core element of their media strategies to ensure that the tenor of their messaging resonates with their target base, which doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea to me. If anything, activists could use with a little bit more communication 101 practice. How often must we resort to blaming the audience for not listening or “doing anything” as a way of disguising our own failure to captivate and inspire?

Nurturing (More) African Social Media Experts

Beyond the same ol’ recyclable twitter lists (e.g. twitterati assumed to be “African social media experts” simply based on large numbers of followers), Africans need to identify and nurture a network of legit social media experts and strategists,  one which activists, non-profits, and/or campaigns could call upon for advice, expertise, and most importantly, training. Ghana Decides’s model of offering social media trainings to their civic engagement partners (including NGOs that work with marginalized communities such as women, youth etc) is a movement-building model worth replicating; investing in the social media capacity of their partners essentially duplicates their outreach efforts, and  of maximizes their chances of engaging a wide, diverse audience overall. When considering the potential political power (both online and offline) of African communities were social impact organizations to be trained to more efficiently engage their social networks, there is no limit to what we can achieve together, as individuals, as countries, and as a continent. We’ll need more trainers to train more trainers to train more trainers. Thus, nurturing an elite class of social media experts is critical.

Mobile Crowdfunding Is the Future

With the rise of online fundraising platforms for creatives and entrepreneurs (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo), the philanthropy sector has developed a few niche platforms of its own; sites like givengain.com and 234give.com allow charities to raise small amounts of money from large numbers of people in their social networks. Africa’s adoption of online fundraising phenomenon is not necessarily news, but is timely given the impact the wall street financial crisis had on the global funding climate. However, with mobile banking innovations such as MPesa (mobile banking) and M-Shwari (mobile loans) sprouting up all across the continent, improving workflow and usability, Africa is well-positioned to lead the way when it comes to crowdfunding through mobile and SMS. Given the funding (and political) climate of African countries, the need for more self-driven, autonomous, alternate pools of funding options is unprecedented. In countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where human rights are being violated due to homophobia and bigotry, and organizations are barely permitted to operate, let alone receive funding, it is critical that crowdfunding be explored as an option, and not just from western countries; were mobile giving made readily available, perhaps the world would be able to see that Africans can and already do support each other in times of need. In fact, crowdfunding may just be the ingredient Africa needs to  curb the negative impact of white saviorism and foreign aid in the development landscape.

Creating an African Blogging Network

It’s not every day that marginalized groups experience the thrill of connection, especially as intensely as they happen at conferences where there’s shared interest (and in this case, identity). At the WACSI conference, many of the participants commented on the importance of staying connected. Being able to support each other across issues and across borders, and count on the signal-boosting power of a global network of Africans online could make a huge difference to local organizing efforts. There are certainly smaller efforts being made in this area: The Guardian African Network, African feminists (#afrifem) on Twitter, region-specific efforts such as Blogging Ghana and the Nigerian Blog Awards, and issue-based sites such as Identity Kenya and Dynamic Africa. But there remains to be seen a large, robust network that connects the vast number of African bloggers online. Many questions remain: Given the diversity on the continent, and how dispersed Africans are around the globe, is such a network even possible? Who would lead (and house) such an undertaking? Would an informal network (such as a dedicated twitter hashtag for African bloggers) work just as well? There’s no doubting the collective power that could be harnessed from a formal network of African activists. However, till such a space exists, African bloggers are going to need to create one virtually; linking to each other where possible, learning how to position ourselves so that we are (more) visible to each other, and intentionally supporting each other’s initiatives in our various capacities, are all important principles of activism we should be practicing, online or offline.

I am An African Feminist Cyborg: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online

I’m participating in a webinar hosted by The African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications: ‘Feminist Cyborgs: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online’

Who is a feminist cyborg?

“The feminist cyborg is at home both online and offline, and her activism is reflected in her online life (whether it is through blogs, tweets and general online presence) as well as in what she does offline (working for a feminist organization, working with women’s rights organizations and social justice movements, or in progressive media).”

I’d go further to add that the African feminist cyborg’s super powers can be online and offline simultaneously, as her world exists beyond the fragmented and finite conceptions of “online vs. offline” to the fluid, whole, and layered landscape of world 2.0.  Interesting in hearing more?

Join this amazing panel for an exploration of cyber activism, fundraising, and online security, featuring yours truly:

Yara Sallam (Egypt) will speak about her experiences of activism in Egypt, and concerns around online activism.

Spectra Asala (US/Nigeria) will share her experiences of fundraising online to raise money to deliver training to LGBTIQ and women’s rights organizations in South Africa.

Jan Moolman (South Africa) will speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana) will facilitate the webinar.

Register for the Webinar in English or French

Monday December 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT (English), sign up below: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5124936193595694592

This webinar will be repeated on 5th December at 1:00 pm GMT with French translation. Francoise Mukuku (DRC) will replace Jan Moolman and speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Note: After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

I hope you’re able to join. Do ask questions. I LOVE questions. They make for really vibrant discussions. Much love to you all.

UPDATE: Despite technical difficulties, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from other African women’s activists about their work using social media for advocacy. A “Live Blog” of the event can be found here. Also, thoughts and ideas from my presentation can be found, in full, here

How to Increase Media Diversity: 3 Lessons from the London Feminist Film Festival

A few months ago, the London Feminist Film Festival approached me for help in reaching out to African feminist filmmakers for their open call. The media activist I am, I admit that I did make them jump through hurdles before I agreed to help them spread the word of the festival on my blog. But it was only fair.

In my relatively short experience as an activist (who is also a person of color), I’ve received so many requests from white-run organizations and campaigns asking me to “help them create more diversity”, often without any proof that they’ve attempted to do any of this outreach on their own. It’s almost as though they view brown people as the people primarily responsible for alleviating the “burden” of creating the diversity they claim to want in their spaces. Oh, who am I kidding? 9/10 times that’s actually the case. But I digress.

After a series of sharp-shooting, poignant questions to the committee (“What have you done to reach out to feminist filmmakers of color?” “Who is missing from your lineup, and why?” “What have you done to make this relevant to African feminists, specifically?”), and receiving thoughtful (and honest) responses, I found myself in a strange place: satisfied, and affirmed enough to see myself as partly responsible (as an afrofeminist) for ensuring their success. I didn’t just write about the festival; I volunteered to be one of their media partners and a judge for one of their jury awards as well.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are lessons about diversity to be learned (and shared) here. 

It’s only been a few months since the LFFF’s initial email to me, but judging from the film festival’s program, the organizers efforts have really paid off. The lineup of films included in the program look fantastic; the panelists and jurors represent a wide range of perspectives, aaaannd (so far), they’ve avoided appearing to be The London White Feminist Film Festival, which is quite commendable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed “universality” (i.e. lack of intersectionality), result in the white-washing of so many spaces which would — with some effort — have the potential to truly empower and unify communities within communities.

It’s not every day I get to see I’m impressed with an organization’s outreach efforts (and results). So, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight A Few Awesome Things the London Feminist Film Festival Did to Support Media Diversity:

1) They Avoided the “We Are One” Trap: In my post calling for support of the London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF), I talked about the importance of diversity in media, especially in the context of solidarity groups; it’s actually quite easy to let diversity slide under kumbaya umbrella politics i.e. “we’re all feminists, women, etc,” ignoring inequalities as we embrace sameness. But the festival organizers, tempting as it may have been to default to what was familiar, made a commitment very early on in their organizing process to keep the inclusion of minority groups in mind, including queer/LGBTI women, African/Black women, etc.

2) The Organizers Did Their Own Outreach Before Contacting Minority Stakeholders: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there’s a different between being asked to solve an organization’s (lack of) diversity issues for them (i.e. being tokenized) and being asked to lend your efforts and guidance to work with them towards a more inclusive space. As my communications with LFFF revealed a progressive approach to diversity, I was happy to become more deeply involved in ensuring the festival’s success. When I asked the organizers what they’d done to reach out to other minority groups, I was pleased to hear about their efforts, as well as their honest observations about audiences they were having trouble reaching, making it easy for me to see my role as offering support vs. being saddled with the entire responsibility of creating a diverse program for their festival. Still, I’m obviously not the only partner LFFF has been working with obviously; the LFFF committee has done a phenomenal job building a team of partners, community stakeholders, vendors, and feminist advocates with unique perspectives and talents to both both shape and amplify the 3-day event this weekend. So, this is a PSA to festivals, organizations, campaigns everywhere: outreach isn’t a buzz word, it’s work that needs to be done. So please do it vs. asking marginalized people to do it for you.

3) The Film Festival Resisted the Urge to “Caucus”

Instead of creating a ‘special’ track for Black films, LGBT films etc, the festival opted instead to create special tracks for their “outreach”, in order to improve representation in the larger pool. The result is an impressive festival program that reflects a range of perspectives and experiences, rather than the separation of “main” from “other.” Now, can everyone just adopt this policy? I’m tired of having to choose between discussions, sessions, films etc that represent fragments of who I am, and I’m pretty I’m not the only person with multiple identities that feels this way. Check out some of the films that I’m most excited about (and the range of countries represented), which will be screening next weekend:

  • Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution is a documentary about the lesbian writers, philosophers, and activists who were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood in the 1980s (USA)
  • As a Warrior (Como una Guerrera) is a drama about a victim of domestic violence who finds the strength to be her own knight in shining armor (Argentina)
  • Sari Stories is a short about women in rural India documenting their everyday lives and talking about the problems of growing up as women in a patriarchy as they’re trained to become video journalists (India)
  • In Beautiful Sentence, women prisoners experience the therapeutic effect of creative writing (UK)
  • The Witches of Gambaga is an award-winning documentary about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ (Ghana)
  • Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 highlights the contributions of award-winning, African-American, lesbian, feminist poet, Audre Lorde, to the Afro-German movement (Germany/USA)
  • And last, but not least, Kung Fu Grandma is about elderly women in Kenya undertaking a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community (Kenya)

Note: Some of these films are available for free viewing online, so I encourage you to check them out. The LFFF has also granted me access to a few of the features as well, so I’ll be publishing my reviews (and reflections) of several of these films leading up to the festival. I’ve already published a few. But stay tuned for more!


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