Browse Tag: Nigerian

We Are All Not Black the Same

Black History Month Rant: We Are Not All Black in the Same Way

Warning: This is a rant. AKA I’m pissed (enough to write about it), and don’t feel the need to explain myself further than this:

I’m Nigerian. I’m African. I’m Black. They don’t compete, they complement, which is why when I’m asked to silence one for the sake of the other, I don’t. This rant is a response to ignorant statements I’ve heard all month, like these: “It’s Black History Month, not Nigerian History Month,” “The reason one would cling to ethnicity is that they’re victims of internalized racism; self-hate for being black,” “Why do you feel the need to differentiate yourself by calling yourself Nigerian?” (wow).

So, I’m done with the placating diplomatic internet speak (for now). I think it’s healthy to reserve the right to throw a tantrum every once in a while. We’re all human. Especially when there’s this sanctioned idea that it’s okay to rant against white people but not ‘your own’ — which in itself is why I wrote the piece. Who decides who ‘my own’ should be? Who decides where I belong?

Dear American / Black Person / Over-Educated Academic, Who Seeks to Educate Me about Race,

Please don’t tell me I relate more to my ethnicity than my race because of internalized racism. I can’t tell you how infuriating this is. Displaying pride and passion about my cultural roots isn’t — and should not be taken as — an affront on anyone else’s. I’m proud to be Nigerian, period.

When you imply that the US framework for discussing race is the only framework that matters, you invalidate my experience as an African woman. I didn’t grow up here — by speaking as a Nigerian, Igbo-Rivers woman, I am merely staying true to myself and honoring where I came from, the same way I believe it’s important to never erase the history of slavery, colonization, apartheid, and other chapters of “black” history. It all matters, regardless of where or how my history has happened, and so I honor mine.

My mother’s people were killed for being Igbo, not for being black; I was bullied in high school for being African, and having an accent, not for being black; and while I won’t deny that I’ve experienced racism in this country for being a black woman, and would never downplay the solidarity I feel with women of color, racism is not my whole story.

I still get black people making derogatory comments about my “mandigo” African heritage. I still hear black people saying stupid things about immigration. I will not re-center my narrative to fit into your western framework about oppression from white people, because black people — and the idea of monolithic blackness that erases my cultural heritage — have been just as oppressive.

I am so very perplexed at your view that “north” american (since you keep forgetting that south america exists, and have appropriated “america” to mean just the US) discourse is and should remain the center of all conversations about race (a la “Let’s stay focused — it’s the US we’re talking about…”) especially since there are so many migrant groups in this “melting pot” such as (Black) Latinos, Haitians, African immigrants, other Caribbean folk etc who have also had to submit to the dogma of Blackness just to “fit in” to your imposed, binary conversations about race; one that perpetuates the unhealthy idea that the monolithic black american community has suffered the worst kind of oppression — that there’s an hierarchy of oppression in the first place; one that maintains that, if we are to engage in any discussions about racism, we will have to identify solely as “black” for the purposes of presenting a “unified front.” Forget being Nigerian, or African. Hell, forget being a woman. But f**k that.

I wasn’t viewed as black until the age of 18 when I arrived for school; I was Nigerian before then. Even still, I’ve only been Nigerian for as long as the history of colonization, but I’ve been an Igbo/Rivers matriarchal warrior way longer than that i.e before Africa’s colonizers draw squiggly lines on a map, designating me “Nigerian” for the purposes of dividing and conquering. And though you may not see it, being “culture-blind” is just another form of being “color-blind,” which we all know is just another way for oppressors to avoid talking about how they are actively or passively partaking in a racially oppressive system. It is no different for conversations about ethnicity. I won’t sit down and be black for the sake of fake solidarity.

Diaspora immigrants like me have our cultural reference points along the axes of nationality and culture — not just race — so please stop with the xenophobic, nationalist view of blackness, brownness, race etc, because we come in multiple shades, ethnicities, languages, and histories etc, and as a direct result, multiple and varied perspectives about oppression. It is burdensome to keep having to remind you about this, and I am so over it.

I’d rather teach race 101 to white people, than have to explain to one more person of color — the people who really should get it already, the people who I assume would be able to understand the pain of being continually silenced — that we are all not brown in the same way, in the same “American” way. I’d rather bury my head in the sand than listen to one more black person tell me “you need to learn your history,” when you know nothing of my heroes — the Margaret Ekpo’s, Ojukwu’s, Soyinka’s, Ngugi’s, and Adichie’s of world black history as I know it. We are not all black in the same way. Ethnicity matters (at least, to me). Can I get a month — say, Black History Month — off from having to explain this? That would be awesome.


Over-Black-Dogma, Spectra

LGBT Nigeria: Change is Coming

Open Letter to LGBT Nigerians and Diaspora: Stand Fast, Change is Coming

First off, Nigeria’s new Same Gender Marriage Prohibition bill that has just passed through the senate is not just cruel, it is impractical.

The government is not thinking beyond the sentence itself. 10-14 years imprisonment of all LGBT Nigerias, and supporting organizations and allies? If the government were to move ahead with prosecutions, there really would be no space in the prisons to hold us all.

But this bill isn’t just about targeting LGBT people, is it? There’s already existing language in the constitution prohibiting same sex relationships (with harsh prison punishments, and under Sharia Law, death).

And as for marriage? Who’s trying to get married? Outside of the major cities, LGBT Nigerians live in fear and isolation. They can barely meet each other without being stalked for blackmail, let alone plan gay weddings.

Don’t let the name of this new bill mislead you from the senate’s real intent: quelling the uprising against oppression that they sense happening all across Africa, and the world. From Egypt to Libya to Wall Street, people’s attitudes are changing, their perspective shifting to a new world — corrupt laws are being broken, and hearts are being won. So now, Nigeria’s government is using fear as a tactic to silence anyone (in this case, in Nigeria) from “daring” to raise the issue of discrimination and maltreatment of an entire group of people.

Despite push-back from a lone senator on the redundancy of this bill, there are debates already happening in Nigeria as to how to expand the reach of the bill to criminalize anyone who supports LGBT people; this includes individuals or organizations that engage in activities that express (or directly relate to providing)  support of Nigeria’s large, yet mainly underground queer community.

Here’s the goal: to be able to prosecute human rights organizations who have been long time advocates for LGBT and gender equality in Nigeria. By signing a witch-hunt into law, the bigots in power are attempting to strip LGBT Nigerians of their allies as well, and that is what is most troubling. It is one thing to persecute a group of people — it’s morally reprehensible to cut them off completely from their support networks, and blackmail them by threatening the livelihood of their families and friends who would stand up for them.

Yet, despite the unspeakable cruelty of such a strategy, this blatant human rights violation by the Nigerian senate is just a sign that our corrupt leaders in power — political opportunists disguised as “cultural guardians” — are afraid. 

Yes — they are afraid, of our voices, of our power, of our resiliency. They are afraid of a younger generation of citizens, activists, and diaspora, and our collective belief in a more progressive Nigeria. They are afraid of our growing influence as we gather allies not just from the west, but from our fellow countrymen. They don’t want to see it happen — our liberation — but they will. They want to maintain the status quo — even to our country’s detriment — but they will not succeed. Stand fast, change is coming.

Nigerian LGBT activists — both in the country and outside of it — are standing up and fighting tirelessly for our liberation. They are bravely sharing their stories, organizing political protests to engage Nigeria’s policy makers, building inter-organization coalitions to provide support West Africa’s LGBT youth, advocating for the safety of Nigerian lesbians from sexual assault, and doing much more in their various capacities.

Do not let the applause from naysayers deafen your senses to the stampede of Nigerian activists — both straight and gay — marching onward despite resistance. Do not let the western media’s romanticized pity stories manipulate you into thinking that you are alone. You most certainly are not, and will never be — not while Diaspora and allies around the world are watching. Remember that, and do not abandon hope for fear.

Today, the Nigerian senate drew a line in the sand and seemingly pushed us back, but as sure as the sun rises, we stand on the right side of progress; it is they that are ostracizing themselves from an inevitable future — a Nigeria that doesn’t make scapegoats of its citizens for the sake of snubbing western threats, a Nigeria that doesn’t condone sexual violence against women as punishment for not conforming to gender roles, a Nigeria that is free of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, a Nigeria that we can all be proud of.

Remember this day in history: Tuesday November 29th, 2011. The senate rang a bell when they passed that bill. Now, let us answer, resolved. Let us prepare our spirits for battle. Let us make sure that change heeds their call.

Love Is My Revolution: Confessions of a Straight Girl

Reflections of a Straight Girl: What Does It Mean to Be an Ally?


My sister Zara, wrote this recently for me (it is also posted on her blog @ If you have siblings, parents, family members etc, that haven’t yet come around, I hope you find inspiration in this piece, to be patient (and brave) enough to remain open to their own journey of moving closer to you so that one day, you’ll be as fortunate as I am to know what it means to be loved by an ally.

Summer 2006, my world was redefined by a simple act of bravery.

My sister Spectra, sheepishly and hurriedly flung a letter at me while I slept ever-so-lazily on her frame-less futon, amidst the fur balls also known as her tuxedo kitties, and then exited the room. For a second, I thought I had dreamed it, but noticed the curious expression of the dude-cat as he put his wet nose to the paper.

As I sat up and began to read, I wondered, “Geez! What could I have done this time?” since my sister had taken to reprimanding me through written notes ever since I started living with her so as to avoid full on conflict. I was greatly unaware of the depth and power of the words on the page I held in my hands, words that would reshape the world as I knew it, and raise my personal level of consciousness. By the time I finished reading what I now regard as the “Coming Out Letter” (which I still have in my treasure bag of memorable goodies) I was – simply put – instantaneously changed; and for the better.

At first I felt relieved, grateful, even flattered that she would share something so personal with me at all, given our shared understanding; that in Nigerian culture and society, it is both socially unacceptable and illegal to be gay. As in, literally, illegal! I am thoroughly embarrassed and saddened to admit that a gay person is seen as spiritually abominable, emotionally unstable, mentally ill and generally perceived as decadent. No doubt, these perceptions are hypocritical and outrageously revolting to me — especially since there is so much that is truly decadent about the greedy puppets that control (and perpetuate further corruption of) Nigerian society. But how would my sister have known how I felt? Am I not Nigerian — like her? Did we not both grow up in the same homophobic environment riddled with discriminatory vocabulary, aggressive ignorance and deep-rooted disapproval of the gay community?

Her bravery was deeply touching and evoked an emotional response in me. I began to cry; not because she let me in on something so delicately significant, but because she had taken the monumental step to face, accept and explore the truth about the person she is; a spirit that will not, cannot be dictated by society or even manipulated by an intelligent, yet societally programmed mind; this person she was revealing to me could only ever be expressed and seen by an open heart.

I felt I had been given the ultimate gift: a chance to Love.

Even more beautiful than having somebody love you is having someone to let down their armor, open a door to let you love them in return; when they say, “This is me and I am giving you permission to know and love the entire person that I am” it is nothing less than absolute power bestowed, and that comes with a depth of responsibility.

My sister had kept out of sight, watching my expression through the hinge cracks, no doubt nerves on-end as I read the letter and began to cry. She peeked into the room, and as I sniffled confirmed that it was safe to enter. As she crouched next to me on the carpet, crying and reaching out for a hug, I remember, I said to her — a little choked up, how “I had never loved her more.” I meant it, and her relief in form of free-flow weeping confirmed that she understood, but I am not sure she truly grasped my words or the meaning behind them. Still, I recognized the moment for what it was; a beginning. And, I promised myself I would evolve along with Spectra and be a better sister to her — to every aspect of who she is so that one day she would come to know those words of mine to be as deeply true.

The transition has not been entirely smooth. I had to banish any and all remnants of cast-off ignorance that lingered in my system and get to know my sister all over again, as queer; this is still and always should be work in progress. And by work, I mean ‘work’ from both parties. I’ve been resourceful — what would I have done without my handy cousin Google, the L Word, Will & Grace, and a whole lot of QWOC+ events?! It helped that my sister was constantly inviting me to ‘see’ her, to be a part of something she’d once been afraid to share. Whether it was a QWOC+ event she wanted me to help her with, a lesbian film she wanted to watch (and could actually relate to, “Saving Face”!), a book for me to digest and discuss with her, etc, she always showed me that she wanted me to be a part of her life. I’ve had many illuminating conversations with Spectra herself, but I’m sure she will agree that we’d never have gotten to the point where we are now — sisters, friends, and loyal allies to each others causes — if I didn’t keep pushing myself to learn, and grow.

It is easy to not notice prejudice when you have the luxury of not needing to do so. It is easy to overlook, neglect and breeze over things that “do not (directly) concern you.” It is even easier to not acknowledge your own privilege, dismiss obvious inequalities under a countless number of justifications and excuses, because in so doing, you rid yourself of the only humane course of action — to take a stand for something.

Sure, it’s not that hard to continue pretending (especially to yourself) that you are all that and a bag of gummy bears when it comes to your “open-mindedness” and “inclusivity” (“Hey, look, I’ve got so many gay friends!”), but you cannot escape the truth; it will always find you and test you in the most personal way. What then will you do? When “the truth” cannot be hidden under a phony political discussion over cocktails to make you appear like the conscious intellectual sort? What will you do when the “issue” is now a “person” that you know and claim to love?

Before Spectra really let me in, I honestly felt like I was “for” the “gay community”, but now I understand that being an ally is way more than just a social or political “stance” on an “issue” — it is truly personal. When it comes to justice and equality for human beings, there is no in between, no neutrality; passivity might as well be aggression for you are either for or against. Period. I am a person who loves my sister, all parts of her, and will stand up to anyone, movement, person, or drunken slurr-throwing a**hole to protect her. There’s nothing political about that.

I do, of course, recognize my privilege in the knowledge that I am a straight, petite “girly” young woman who loves stilettos and baby doll dresses with a heterosexual preference for men that is globally accepted, but I passionately honor my personal linkage to the fight for LGBT equality and for the right for anyone to express the “self” by speaking out in spaces in which my sister is not as comfortable or present. It’s one thing to be an ally at QWOC+ events, it’s another thing to be an ally when you’re outnumbered by narrow-minded and/or ignorant straight men and women. But trust, l am always ready! Lock and Load! *half-kidding*

I may not be a direct member of the community–but I am sure as Helen a sister to it because at the end of the day, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer and everyone in between who refuse to adhere to “labels” are human beings like me; we are all just people. And we all should have the right to be ourselves. We are all human beings and citizens of this interesting (and often twisted) world of ours. So — my sister aside — that is reason enough for me to care enough to want to read a book (or RSVP “yes” to all 300 QWOC+ events on Facebook).

As human beings, the more we connect to each other; recognize, explore, accept and even celebrate how we differ-the more we see of who we are inside of our own individual selves. I feel connected to more people in the world than I did before and, in turn, my world has expanded, my experiences are more conscious, and I am a much better person.

So I call on all of you, friends, brothers, parents, sisters, school teachers etc., of the brave people of the LGBT/Queer community. Push yourselves. Check yourselves. And grow, via  healthy balance of stepping out of your comfort zones, listening, asking questions, and seeking new ways to learn about the struggles (and victories!) of your loved ones. If you don’t do this — become a more purposeful ally to someone else — for someone you claim to love, then at least do it for yourself.

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