Thursday, February 3, 2011

“I’m not dead yet.”

"I'm not dead yet."

            That was the phrase I repeated into my cell phone countless times as a teenager when I would call my mother. She always hated it and told me she wished I would stop and I have to admit that I persisted with the phrase because of her discomfort. My mother's greatest fear, it seemed, was so ever present and constant that I couldn't help but find it absurd. My mother was afraid of me leaving the house.

            My mom's fear was silent at first. It was the unnoticeable flinch as the eight-year-old model of me raced bikes or the wistful look as she dropped me off at a friend's house. These were small, more a mother's worry than anything else. But as I grew older her concerns became a phobia. And as the city around us changed her phobia became justified.

            With each successive year of my high school career a disturbing trend emerged throughout the city of Chicago. Public School students were more and more often victims of gang and other street violence. The victims and assailants overwhelmingly resembled me in gender, race, and economics. Every time I stepped out of the house my mother was afraid that I would be the next casualty in a war waged by misguided street soldiers or the police that harass them. I could tell in the desperate, probing questions that became a precursor for my every excursion into the world that her suspicion with the outside population was increasing. Every message she left on my phone after I had forgotten to call with an hourly update was steeped in more feigned anger created to hide the fear of a fallen son. The only thing that scared my mom more than my phrase of greeting was the prospect that she may never hear it again. 

to an African girl with an afro

 your hair is holy

is hallowed

is the name i lost

when i left this continent

locked like you

might do to your 'do


in rain

your curls create diamonds

shining in between the tips of every follicle


you are who i want

my daughter to be


you are a reminder

of the man i haven't been

every time i touch your scalp

you don't let me run


you know that's a cop out

know that's not how i was raised

know that love is an effort


let me braid my fingers

into your folds

massage a secret message into

your roots

with cocoa and shea



my hands hold

the frangrant mixture

of diaspora undone

in their pores

i pray


Friday, October 29, 2010

Real Nigga

As a Black American I often have experiences that are a little bit different from the average American student abroad. There have been more than a few times when people have mistaken me for a local and addressed me Xhosa or Zulu (in Durban). Once people realize I'm American however, a whole different line of curiosity arises.

            Many South Africans who I have encountered consume a lot of American, particularly Black American culture. This sometimes puts me in uncomfortable situations because many of them have met very few Black Americans and therefore they are unsure exactly how to deal with me as a person. In my time here I have answered countless questions about rap music, the "hood", "baby mamas", or any other number of Black American stereotypes. Sometimes I just try to change the subject and sometimes I try to give a response that is accurate in acknowledging the truth of certain stereotypes but also their inability to fully articulate the Black American experience.

            One such encounter happened recently while I was on campus at UCT. A student who I knew saw me and approached. The guy was someone who I met early during my stay in South Africa and had talked to a few times but we are not very close. In the past he has disclosed to me that he is a fan of hip-hop and has asked me various questions about hip-hop and other facets of black life in the US. Often these questions skirted on uncomfortable subjects or phrasing for me but this particular time was the worst.

            As we talked I told him about my recent trip back to the US. He was intrigued and asked if I went back to the "hood." He was also curious as to if I lived in the "hood" with "real niggas." This question made me slightly uncomfortable and I tried to explain to him that where I lived was a somewhat rough part of town but not the worst. I also explained that there were people who would fit his idea of "real niggas" in my neighborhood (drug dealer, gangsters, etc.) but there were also many hardworking legitimate people as well. I tried to also explain that even these people aren't terrible people (or arbitrators of a glamorous lifestyle) but rather young people caught in a complicated system of disenfranchisement, lack of resources, and socioeconomic factors.

My friend thought for a second before brushing that off and honing in on the final part of his question. I think he noticed the discomfort in my face when he had asked the initial questions because then he asked me if I was offended by his use of the word "nigga." He repeated the word a few more times in a few sentences and then restated the question. He pointed out that he was also black and therefore presumably had similar ownership of the word.

This question really made me think. I was uncomfortable when he said nigga. Without a doubt I was and I didn't totally understand why. I use the word in my own speech and have plenty of friends who do as well (black friends). Even many of my friends back home who are African-born or have African parents use it and I don't feel any of the same discomfort. My rationale at the time was that the word occupies a particular place in the American historical context and more broadly the experience of Diasporic people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. I tried to calmly explain my discomfort to him and also my reasoning. I wanted him to at least begin to understand the psychological burden of being called that word as a kid in hate, of having it scrawled across the wall of your school. I wanted him to also understand what it meant to have a grandmother call you that word with affection or to have boys on the playground knight you with it once you earned their respect through a game of basketball. The word isn't something that comes and goes easy. Its history is as complicated and contradictory as America itself.

I know all that I just said was a little verbose and I'm sure that's how it came off (and in a more rushed and nervous way at that). Even still, his response unsettled me further. He just started talking about the "K" word in South Africa and how they don't use it since apartheid's end. He tried to draw a parallel between the two words and their usage and history. I understood what he meant but I felt that he had missed the entire point of what I had said. It seemed like he had spent the time when I was responding to his query thinking about the next thing he would say rather than really listening. He might have listened to me in a nominal sense but he didn't really understand any of the things I had said. That probably bothered me more than anything. After the encounter I just tried to be polite and continue quickly along my way. I didn't know what else to do because it seemed like he wasn't in the right frame of mind to engage in a true dialogue at that point.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shout into cyberspace...


For anybody who was following my blog you might have realized that I went MIA on here for a second. That was for a few reasons. I was writing everyday and becoming kind of fatigued with constantly documenting rather than living. I also started to look back and realized that some of the posts were getting a bit repetitive. In trying to keep this thing fresh for me and for the folks who read this I've been trying to think about a way in which to keep the blog entertaining for myself and others. So I'll try this...

A lot of folks ask me "How is Africa?" I never give good answers to that question because it's not a very good question. So what I want to do for this blog is to open it up to questions. Hit me up via my blog, email, facebook, or any other way that you can and I'll try to answer most of those questions in a public forum of my blog. This will allow me to address stuff that people actually wonder about my time in South Africa. I want to dialogue so I hope people respond to this... So...


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010, 11:31 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

This morning we got up and checked out. I was actually a little sad to leave Durban. I like it and I definitely could spend more time exploring it. I am happy to get back to Cape Town and my own space though.

After we checked out we took the city bus to the aquarium. It's called uShaka Marine World. It was pretty cool The aquarium was a half water park half aquarium. It's apparently one of the largest in the world. It was pretty decent. We looked around and also checked out the dolphin show. While we were leaving we ran into some people from our study abroad group.

Once we got back from the aquarium we went to eat at an Indian restaurant. The food was really good. One of the servers was talking to me about how his dream was to come and visit America. He knew a lot of random things about Chicago. It was kinda cool.

After that we caught a shuttle from the hotel to the airport. The shuttle took forever and we were almost late to our flight but our flight was delayed a little bit so it worked out perfectly. Airport security is much easier to get through here. It's quite convenient and you don't have to do things like take off your shoes and all of that.

The flight was pretty uneventful. Once we got back to Cape Town and back to the dorms I've basically been chilling all night. Glad to be back.

"this dolphins splashing, getting everybody all wet"

-the lonely island



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thursday, September 8, 2010, 10:44 PM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

            Today we decided to go back to the market. This time we took a minibus instead of catching a cab in order to save money. Once we got off the minibus we had to walk for a couple of blocks to find our way to the market. It was pretty funny. The girls I was with were both wearing skirts.  While they weren't super short by American standards they were definitely the shortest thing I had seen anybody in Durban wearing. As we were walking literally everybody was turning their heads to look at the girls, men and women alike. Lots of the men stopped and tried to talk to them but they also spoke in Zulu so we didn't understand anything of what they were saying. That was a pretty interesting moment of cultural disconnect. Something the would be wholly appropriate in most American spaces (The skirt were only right above the knee) seemed almost scandalous here.

            Anyway we got back to the market and I bought a few more items. It was really cool because a lot of the people who we had talked to and bought from the day before remembered us and even remembered our names. In a way it felt really homey in that respect. It was cool. After that we really just went back to the hotel and chilled for the night.

            Tonight when I was in the hotel I was thinking about how similar hotels kind of are to each other. When I was in the hotel I kind of forgot that I was in a different country in a way. Just an observation.

"skirts on the ruffle"

-nicki minaj




Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 11:53 PM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

Today we woke up hella early to go to a safari. We ended up not going because we found out that the big 5 animals weren't going to be on it and it also cost more than we initially thought. Instead of hitting the safari we went to the Victoria St. Market. It was a great time. Things there were a lot cheaper than Cape Town and I enjoyed trying to haggle for prices and everything. I ended up buying almost all of the gifts I need for people back home.

The guys we met in one shop were really nice to us and we talked to them for a long time. Mostly all the people in the market were nice, even when we didn't buy from them. One jewelry store that we spent a lot of time in ended up being one of the funnier parts of the trip.

The women in the jewelry store thought I was really good looking so they wanted to take a picture with me. We all took a bunch of pictures and such and traded facebook info with the ladies. It was really flattering but I didn't really know how to take it (I'm quite bad at receiving direct compliments).

After that we headed back to the hotel and chilled for the night. Getting deals is tiresome work.

"excuse me my friend, what is the price?"

-phonte of little brother