Browse Tag: Afrofeminist

Queer Afrofeminist Reflections on October 1st: Nigeria’s Independence Day and a Diaspora Homecoming

Today is Nigeria’s Independence Day!

The internet is already being flooded by a cadence of articles questioning why a country with such bad governance should be celebrating at all, a position which, of course, is being countered by just as forceful a digital stream of idealist sentiment: “We’ve come so far, Africa is rising, let’s focus on the positives!”

To be honest, it’s challenging to keep the positive in focus, especially in the face of landlords who refuse to rent to you because “you’re a single woman who could potentially use the place for prostitution”, or men who literally grab you by the neck and pull you closer to them just so they can say they find you attractive. But on the up side, hey, there’s no “street” harassment in Nigeria – oh no, we’re way more advanced in our unapologetic display of chauvinism. Women can be sexually harassed anytime, anyplace, anywhere: grocery stores, hotel elevators (yes), in taxis, churches…everywhere.

But let’s talk about how prosperous Nigeria is when woman can be raped in broad daylight and them shamed for reporting it. After all, it’s Independence Day.

Thankfully, Nigerian women have always been outspoken about both the country’s failures and successes in achieving gender equality, balancing out oft male dominated political governance commentary with poignant social context, and painting a more authentic picture of Naija year round.  I can always look forward to commentary from some of my favourite progressive bloggers and thought leaders: afropolitan feminist scholar, Minna Salami (of MsAfropolitan) a staunch advocate of African women’s history, Nigerian feminist lawyer, Lesley Agams, whose personal storytelling grounds privileged theorists in reality, and one of my favourite self-identified “proactivists” Omojuwa, who speaks on and about everything, and recently challenged religious institutions to redirect congregation giving to social justice initiatives.

I’m proud of Nigerians, as people. But my perception of the country’s progress is coloured by my own reality.

My partner visited me for my birthday recently and we had to spend most of our ‘long walks’ fending off men who invited themselves to accompany us, much less “hold hands.” My job involves using media and communications to equip and inspire audiences to see adolescent girls as critical drivers of social change, and I have to do all of this from the discomfort of a professional closet. And I’m not alone in this.

It usually takes about a half day or so for the customary ‘gay Nigerian’ narrative to emerge: “torn between two worlds, two identities, what being a gay Nigerian on independence day means to me.” Or something like that. (Hey, no judgement here. I’m totally guilty of this, too.) Despite safe spaces being created by LGBT activists all across the country, Nigeria remains largely intolerant of gays and lesbians. Shoot, a few weeks ago, my favourite artists, P-Square (who I had dreams about inviting to perform *this song* at my wedding!) just – out of nowhere – decided to go on a rant against the LGBT community. The sad thing is I love their music so much it’ll hurt me more to boycott them :( #chrisbrowndilemma

Incidentally, coming out as queer here isn’t half as bad as being perceived as a gender nonconforming person. The other day, a coworker decided to go in for 20 minutes about the way I dress – “Why do you try so hard to not be pretty? You are a woman, but you’re always wearing trousers, shirts… *laughing*” – that my boss had to intervene, diplomatically, boiling down my gender expression to a matter of personal choice. It is. But many Nigerian women I’ve met don’t see it that way. In their mind, I could be “getting so many men to fall for me” that they’re puzzled – even if I already have a partner and I’m not looking to get married (to a man anyway)- that I wouldn’t dress to attract the male gaze. “Wear some lipstick now… Or some light makeup… Buy these shoes, they’re nice.” Oy vey.

Today is October 1st, but I can’t focus on my country’s progress — I still haven’t landed my feelings yet. However, despite the challenges I’ve experienced adjusting back to life in Nigeria, I am grateful for many things, including that after 5 months of living in a hotel, I finally get to check out and move into my new permanent home.

After months of praying for my safety in street taxis tasked with delivering me to addresses I could never locate on Google maps, years of living away from my country, subsisting on nostalgia – Afropop music,, makeshift Nigerian restaurants, and old photographs — all the while ducking and weaving through racism and xenophobia in the US, Nigeria with all its complexities is finally beginning to feel like home again.

A creator, arbiter, and advocate of online support systems, my world shrank almost instantly the minute I arrived to an unsteady (and at times, completely absent) internet connection. It has taken almost 3 months for me to open a bank account (don’t even ask), even longer to rent an apartment, I’m still trying to learn how friendships (with predominantly straight women – a new one for me) work here, and I can barely eat traditional Nigerian soups because no one gives a rip about my seafood allergy. 

But this week… I attended TEDxLagos, where I met so many Nigerian women in tech and media, fellow entrepreneurs boostrapping their way to their dreams, passionate and politically-minded Diaspora returnees, and folks from my parents generation who are mentoring so many rogue young people like me with loving non-judgement. 

I woke up this morning intent on commemorating Nigeria’s Independence Day, yet I found myself wanting to finally celebrate this… this unexpectedly warm homecoming. The past 5 months has been complicated: challenging, surprising, wonderful, crazy, and inspirational all at once. Yet, despite all Nigeria’s governance issues, the homophobia, the gender policing, etc., I’ve emerged with a renewed, more mature, realistic love of the place in which I grew up, insensitive to my food allergies as it may be.

As Nigeria is still coming of age, so am I, which connects me to all its struggles and successes; Nigeria’s struggles and successs are mine as well.

Independence, personal growth, and a diaspora homecoming: Nigeria, you and me are still taking this journey together, even after so many years apart. That love, that commitment, that courage against all odds. Now that’s worth celebrating.

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 

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