The Woyingi Blog

White Trash Pride: On Being a Black Girl Growing up with Poor White Folks

There are Black people and then there are niggers.

There are White people and then there are White trash.

(I’m pretty sure Chris Rock said this)

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to have a bag covered in pins. I couldn’t be found without it. My pins were mostly slogans declaring my political positions: anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-censorship, feminism, etc. But one of my pins read: Poor White Trash. That really confused people for obvious reasons. How can a Black girl be White Trash? Well, I am.

You see, my mother is White and I was raised on welfare in a social housing project. White moms with Black kids were pretty common in our neighborhood. At that time, there weren’t many Black adults in the neighbourhood, but there were a lot of mixed race kids. Sometimes their dads would come to visit, mostly Jamaicans, but most wouldn’t stay around for long. Papa was a rolling stone as they say. And mama would move on to the next Black dude.  These women, along with my mother, were pretty proud of their collection of mixed raced kids. Sure, they had no idea what to do with our hair so I spent most of my childhood and early teens with totally jacked-up hair but they all thought we were goregous. Actually, I only really started doubting my cuteness when I got around Black people, who ridiculed my nappy-ass hair and the darkness of my complexion. I just wasn’t very light for a mix in their opinion.

No one in my neighbourhood thought I was adopted like all the middle class White teachers at school. The concept that a Black child could come from a White woman seemed to boggle their minds. But that wasn’t so in our White Trash neighbourhood, dubbed Welfareland by both teachers and more well-off students at my elementary school. Most of the kids from my neighbourhood, and other social housing communities in the area, were put into remedial education for low academic performance or behavioural issues. These kids were mostly White, with some Natives and mixed race kids like me thrown into the bunch. I didn’t get put into remedial despite all the school’s efforts to get me in there. My IQ was too high. But I still had to put up with harassment and ridicule from teachers and guidance counsellors who would tell me that I wouldn’t amount to anything, that I was just going to end up on welfare like my mother. This was pretty much told to everyone from our neighbourhood.

And I believed them. Part of me still does.

You see, we were trash and we knew it. Our parents knew it too. Most of them hadn’t finished high school and they didn’t expect us to. Things like finishing high school were just not options for people like us. It just didn’t seem like part of our reality. I was raised with the expectation that if I was lucky, I would get a job at a department store and not have to live on welfare. That was the best that could be hoped for. My mother expected me to be pregnant by 16. I was never expected to get married or even have a regular partner. A steady man wasn’t necessary to have a child.

As much as people have this idea that people enjoy living on welfare it is really not true. Growing up, I always felt that the adults around me were consumed with a deep sense of self-loathing which sometimes resulted in pretty self-destructive behaviour. We as kids didn’t have many boundaries. We could be out at all hours because our parents were partying and too high or drunk to put us to bed. The partying was just a distraction; a way to get their minds off of their self-loathing. I understood that as a child

But good things came out of the chaos. Racism at that time wasn’t tolerated in our neighbourhood. One man who called me and another Black child niggers got his window smashed in retaliation by the local bikers who were my neighbours at the time. When Heritage Front, a Canadian Neo-Nazi group, came to our neighbourhood looking to recruit poor frustrated White men, they were beaten with baseball bats and chased out of the neighbourhood by my White neighbours. I felt protected.

Although I still live in the same social housing community I grew up in, my way of life has changed dramatically. I work to support myself. University is something I want to pursue, although I have no idea when I’ll ever finish it and often feel like giving up on the pipe dream. Getting pregnant without being married is no longer an option because I’ve become a Muslim (Not to say that Muslims don’t get pregnant out of wedlock because trust me they do). I don’t sit outside watching my neighbours smoke and drink themselves into unconsciousness anymore. Becoming a Muslim has really distanced me from the people who were my elders growing up. This separation is probably for my own good but I do miss those childhood days in my community, as dysfunctional as they really were.

My White Trash cultural background separates me from most Black people in Ottawa. Most of them identify with the values of their parents from Somalia or the Caribbean, values like hard work, dignified conduct, and sexual propriety. Values often in strict opposition to the blatant lack of values exhibited by the behaviour of the poor whites they saw. Most Black people I know grew up working class often looking down on Whites on welfare as lazy debauched losers who were willfully ignorant for not taking advantage of the privileges their Whiteness and Canadian Identity supposedly offered them on a silver platter.

Similar resentment exists among most people of colour I know and interact with and I find it all pretty alienating. I can’t relate to their experiences and they can’t relate to mine. For a long while I just pretended that I saw things the way they did but I really didn’t. Class has always been more my concern than Race. I don’t believe in a hierarchy of oppressions so it’s not that I think racism is less important than classism. It’s just that I feel personally more affected by classism. Class has been a key factor in the formation of my identity and self-esteem. During the reign of Mike Harris as Premier of Ontario you could really see how much people hated us because we were on social assistance. It was all over the news and in the newspapers. Such hatred and contempt, like we were the scum of the earth. When I write or talk about my experiences of classism growing up as a child tears always come to my eyes. That doesn’t happen when I discuss my experiences of racism. This is just my reality. Class issues are often ignored by finanicially privileged people of colour, particularly in the left-wing activist community I’ve been involved with because it’s all about who’s the biggest underdog. You don’t want to have to admit that in many contexts you are actually more privileged than some White people. I pretty much avoid activism centred around the “people of colour” identity now because I just can’t relate to this analysis. I’ve been accused of being too “White Identified”, whatever that means.

Well, fine, I am. I’m White Trash identified.

It seems we always need to put other people down to make ourselves feel better. So sometimes poor Whites discriminate against people of colour in order to make themselves feel better and sometimes people of colour discriminate against poor Whites in order to make themselves feel better. It’s all really petty and pathetic when you look at it that way.

My cultural background also distances me from most Muslims. For one thing, I was raised in an extremely morally lax environment. Although I wouldn’t want to raise my own children in such an environment I also don’t think I want my children to be as sheltered as many of my Muslim friends were growing up. Frankly, some of their childhoods sound down-right Victorian in their prudery. Sure, I don’t want my daughter to grow up unmarried with three kids from different fathers but I also don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that such a woman is trash and has nothing to offer the world or if for some reason they ended up in this situation I wouldn’t still love them. There seems to be an anxiety around appearances, reputation and saving face in Muslim communities which I just can’t relate to. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s totally alien to me. I hate it frankly. Which means that I will probably never marry into any of these communities. For one thing, no one wants a Black girl from a White Trash family as a daughter-in-law. Particularly one who isn’t deeply ashamed of her background. I refuse to be ashamed.

I will always be something of an outsider. I only feel really at home with other people like me, people who grew up on welfare, no matter what colour they are. We often have similar issues: depression, an overwhelming sense of self-doubt and lack of self-worth, the ability to give up easily, some tendencies towards self-destruction. We are often deeply cynical and suspicious of the motives of do-gooder activist types. We are often laughing and cracking jokes…we use humour to survive.  It’s a White Trash thing.

Commentary: Barack Obama is NOT a House Negro

Originally written in November 2008

“Back during slavery, when Black people like me talked to the slaves, they didn’t kill ’em, they sent some old house Negro along behind him to undo what he said. You have to read the history of slavery to understand this.

There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for the master. When the field Negro got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put ’em back on the plantation.

The house Negro could afford to do that because he lived better than the field Negro. He ate better, he dressed better, and lived in a better house. He lived right next to his master-in the attic or the basement. He ate the same food as the master ate and wore his same clothes. And he could talk just like the master-good diction. And he loved his master more than his master loved himself. That’s why he didn’t want his master hurt.” (From the speech “The house negro and the field negro” by Malcolm X)

Malcolm X

Malcolm X

I knew this was going to happen.

I knew that sooner or later some fool would call Barack Obama a house negro.

It was only a matter of time.

Unfortunately, it had to be a member of al-Qaida, and House Negro in Arabic translates as abeed al bayt, meaning house slave. Given that slave (abd) is a racist epiphet used against Black people in the Arab world the insult was compounded.

Thanks Al Zawahiri for further worsening African Americans’ perceptions of Arab Muslims…as if the whole history of the Arab slave trade in Africa, the war in Southern Sudan, and now Darfur wasn’t enough.

And of course now I, a Black Muslim woman, am going to have to explain to all my non-Muslim Black friends just what the hell he is on about.

Al Zawahiri is a big fan of Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s picture is supposedly hanging in the backdrop of this video along with a picture of Barack Obama praying at the Wailing Wall sporting a yarmulke. And we all know that Malcolm X liked to call Black people who he felt got along too well with white folks “house negroes”. So now, Al Zawahiri has been quoted as saying in reference to Barack Obama, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell: “It is true about you and people like you … what Malcolm X said about the house Negroes.” The tape also allegedly includes a recording of Malcolm X’s speech “The house negro and the field negro” delivered in Selma, Alabama in February 1965.” where he discusses his contempt for the “house negro.”

I first became concerned about the popularity among Muslims, particularly Muslims who aren’t of African descent, of the word “house negro” to refer to Muslims whose views of Islam they didn’t agree with.

I remember reading an article by British Muslim journalist and editor of Q-News Fareena Alam entitled ” A humane Muslim future” published online in opendemocracy in which she wrote: “Terrorism must be beaten, but it cannot be defeated with its own weapons – bombs, bullets, and the denial of human rights. We must not be afraid to follow the middle way, away from the extremes of literalism and, as Malcolm X would say, “house negroism”. Muslims, and all the world’s people, deserve better.”

In this article she is referring to Muslims who are political allies of the Imperialist West as products of “house negroism”. Fareena Alam is not an African American; I think she’s British Bangladeshi. I know what she was trying to say but how she said it blighted an otherwise worthy article.

There are just certain terms I believe you should not appropriate. “House Negro” is one of them.Why? Well, because to understand why Malcolm X had so much contempt for house Negroes you have to understand fully just what a house negro was in the context of American Southern Plantation society: a product of the rape of a Black female slave by a White slave owner. The house negro’s identity cannot and should not be compared to other people “selling out” their communities. To do so, is to totally show contempt for and ignorance of the traumatic legacy of slavery in the American South and the West Indies.

From The Autobiography of Malcolm X:

“Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white. She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s. Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it. I remember hearing her say she was glad that she had never seen him. It was, of course, because of him that I got my reddish-brown “mariny” color of skin, and my hair of the same color. I was the lightest child in our family. (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned-that one was actually fortunate to be born thus. But, still later. I learned to hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)”

“House Negroes” were light-skinned and were given less physically straining labour than the “field negroes” who were often more recent imports from Africa, and who were forced to do hard labour and were more likely to receive brutal physical punishment.

In his speech “The house negro and the field negro” Malcolm asserts that he’s a “field negro”. But the truth is Brother looks a lot like a house negro. Malcolm X hated his light complexion. The house negro had a light complexion that was a direct result of his or her mixed race identity. The house negro is torn between two worlds; his or her loyalty to his or her master could very well be because they are blood relations. Malcolm X doesn’t say this but it’s understood…”You have to read the history of slavery to understand this.”

Although it is wrong to deliberately “sell out” our communities, the reality is we as Black people have the right to be individuals. We have the right to vote for who we want or pursue whatever political ideology we want and not be accused of being traitors to our race. When a Black person isn’t “left-wing” or “liberal” they are considered traitors to their race but if a White person is right-wing they are just considered a knob. Why should Black people continually be denied freedom of thought and action?
Barack Obama, as well as myself, are mixed race. We have White mothers. We are not the products of rape but of love…or at least lust. We were claimed as our mothers’ children. We were not denied. Our loyalties need not be divided unless Blacks deny us our individualities, our unique voices, the truth of our experience…and this they often do.

The truth is I have never really much admired Malcolm X. I still find him fascinating to read as a study of a conflicted mixed race man. In that way, his work has been invaluable to me. But he’s not someone I can say I look up to. He was searching, as so many of us are searching, for a place to belong, for acceptance, to come out of the fields and into the house that he could call a home.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

When Malcolm X visited Mecca he was made a guest of the state by Prince Faysal “the absolute ruler of Arabia” as Malcolm X called him. Prince Faysal was eager for Malcolm X to learn the “true Islam”, not that of the Nation of Islam, and for him to spread this “true Islam” to his fellow Black Muslims, and hopefully, the entire United States of America.  As Malcolm X said:

“America needs to understand Islam, because this was the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’-but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t the experience of many Blacks within Muslim communities, particularly in North America. Even outside of the Muslim community, Blacks are experiencing racism from Arabs and other Muslims.

Quite frankly, given the extent of ethnic conflict that exists in the Muslim World between Muslims I don’t know how anyone could presume that Islam can solve the racial problems of the US if it can’t even solve the ethnic problems of the Muslim world. People living in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones.

But Malcolm X didn’t know much about the history of either Africa or the Middle East. He might have heard very different stories if he had spoken with the Nuba of Sudan or the Afro-Shirazi of Zanzibar…but he didn’t. I understand why he was so moved by his experience coming from the racially segrated United States where for generations slave owners had denied their own children born of slave women (this was much less common, but not unheard of, in the Arab World). And let’s face it…Brother looked like an Arab (so does Barack Obama when you come to think about it).

Al Zawahiri considers Malcolm X an “honourable” Black Man because he believes that Malcolm X’s thought and actions were in line with his own. Spreading Islam across America now that is definitely Al Zawahiri’s cup of tea.

Al Zawahiri has contempt for Obama, Rice and Powell partly because they are agents of American Imperialist Foreign Policy in the Muslim World. Fair enough. But what I can’t take is that he also seems to have contempt for them because they are “uppity negroes”. If you have a problem with their politics that’s one thing but if you decide to attack them using racial slurs because you don’t like their politics it’s because you are a racist not because you are resisting American Imperialism. What Al Zawahiri is really saying is: “How Dare Black People Threaten the Muslim World…don’t they know they used to be our slaves?”

There are Arab and Muslim activists out there who are trying to resist American Imperialism and not being total racist jerks while doing it. They are also trying to fight the racism and the legacy of slavery within their communities. Al Zawahiri’s alleged statements have just made their job that much harder.

Yes I am Muslim but I am also African and I refuse to be any one’s “house negro”. Not the White Man’s or the Arab Man’s. Not the Christian’s or the Muslim’s. Not the West’s or the Anti-West’s. The continent of Africa has been devastated time and again by the hegemonic machinations of both these communities. I could just as easily make a case for reparations for slavery against Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Iraq, Saudi Arabia (remember Mecca was a major slave market), and Turkey as I could make against the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Spain, and Holland. So neither community should ever dare to demand my loyalty.

Documentary Review: Where I Belong by Arinze Eze

I watched the documentary Where I Belong by Arinze Eze. The documentary was funded by the Reel  Diversity Program of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), which gives young Canadian filmmakers the opportunity to make a film that reflects on Canada’s ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. (The documentary Me and the Mosque  by Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz was funded by this program).

Check out a promo for Eze’s  film.

Arinze Eze is a young Nigerian of Ibo descent who has been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the last nine years since leaving his family in Nigeria in order to work in Canada. He’s lucky because he was born in Canada (It appears that his parents lived in Edmonton, Alberta for some time) and so is legally a Canadian citizen although he was mostly raised in Nigeria. The film, “Where I Belong”, focuses on Eze’s worries that his parents won’t accept the life he has made for himself in Canada, particularly his Jewish girlfriend of 5 years, Tina. During his visits to Nigeria, he’s kept most of his personal life a secret. His parents will be coming to visit him for the first time and he will have to finally be honest with them about what he’s really been up to the last nine years. Arinze hasn’t told his parents that he’s given up engineering to be an artist (music, painting, theatre, and filmmaking). This is a real worry because he knows his father worked hard to put him through school so that he could eventually make a good living in the West and support the family. He is not going to be able to do that as an artist. Also, Arinze’s mother wants him to marry someone the family has chosen for him. She is also a born-again Christian so he doesn’t think she will be very accepting of his Jewish girlfriend.

Arinze and his girlfriend Tina end up breaking up just before his mother comes to stay with him. It appears that Arinze believes they are just too different. He is very concerned about what identity conflicts his children with Tina would have: Would they be Nigerian? Canadian? Both? Neither? He also mentions that he might want to retire to Nigeria.

Arinze has difficulty getting his parents to Canada because their visas are rejected. This is pretty common for Africans wanting to bring their family members here to Canada just to visit. The fear is that they will never want to leave.

Arinze's parents at a hockey game

Arinze's parents at a hockey game

Eventually, Arinze’s parents’ visas are approved. His mother comes first. I really liked Arinze’s mother. She was so elegant, almost regal in her bearing. Although she began by saying that she didn’t approve of mixed race marriages because the children would end up being confused, after learning about how much Tina has taken care of her son while he’s been living in Canada, she decides she wants to meet her. Tina and Arinze’s mother meet and Arinze’s mother thanks Tina for taking care of her son. She admits that she didn’t know white people could be so nice given her past experiences with racism while living in Edmonton. Tina ends up crying during much of this meeting while Arinze’s mother remains coldy composed (but I think that’s just the way she is).

Arinze’s dad proves to me more emotional, even something of a romantic. He has no problem that his son is an artist. Actually, he says he always knew Arinze would become an artist. He also thinks Arinze should get back with Tina because “everyone needs someone to love”. It’s pretty obvious that Arinze’s own parents are still very fond of each other. When Arinze asks his father if it is too late for him to so dramatically change his career path (from engineering to arts) his father reassures him with an Ibo proverb: “When you wake up, that’s your morning”. I’m definitely going to be using that one.

So, in the end, most of Arinze’s concerns were in his own head. He gets back with Tina and feels more grounded now that his parents know the truth about his life in Canada.

I enjoyed watching the documentary particularly as I am a “confused” half-Nigerian child of a mixed race couple…the kind of creature Arinze’s mother dreads he will produce. The truth is it is a confusing experience to be of mixed race but probably not any more confusing than being second generation. Acceptance, both by your parents, and the world outside is what we all long for. Having to live a lie isn’t good for anyone but far too often second-generation children do this because they feel they have to. Sometimes they really do have to and sometimes their worries are really of their own creation, because they have misjudged their parents.

Check out a music video by Arinze Eze

The Life of Malik Ambar

Originally recorded in 2008 for the CHUO Black community radio program “Black on Black”.  I intend to write a more thorough profile of Malik Ambar in the near future.

I’m going to tell you something about the life of Malik Ambar. The story of Malik Ambar is just one of the many stories I could tell you about the history of the slavery of Africans in India. Ya, you heard me right. India! You listening now.

Okay, it all starts back in Africa, in southern Ethiopia. We know his name was Chapu and that he was probably born in 1548. It’s not too clear how Malik Ambar became a slave. It could have been that his parents were forced to give him up in order to pay a debt or he was a war captive, or he was abducted during a slave raid by either Ethiopians or Arabs. The enslavement of people who weren’t Christian was legal in Christian Ethiopia and it was religiously legal for Arabs to enslave anyone who wasn’t Muslim. Either way, Malik Ambar ended up sold to Arab merchants in Yemen. He eventually ended up as a slave in Baghdad where his master converted him to Islam, gave him the name Ambar, and taught him some things about finance and administration. This education made him an even more valuable slave and he was eventually sold to the Ethiopian prime minster of Ahmadnagar a province in the Deccan region of India. There’s was an Ethiopian prime minister? Ethiopians, then called Habashis were popular in the region as military slaves. They were consider to be more loyal and less likely to rebel against their masters, then say, their masters own children.

Malik Ambar was eventually freed and built up an militia of mercenaries which he would hire out to various rulers in the region. Ambar developed a reputation as an skilled military commander. At the time, the rulers of the Deccan were fighting off the attempts of the Mughal Dynasty of Northern India to invade them. Ambar was so successful that he was able to replace the ruler of the Nizam Shahi Sultanate with his own son-in law, Sultan Murtaza Nizam Shah. Ambar was officially his regent but everyone one know that Sultan Murtaza was just a puppet and Ambar was the real ruler of the Sultanate. Ambar led the resistance against the invasion of the Mughals, whose Emperor Jahangir, took a personal dislike against Ambar and often wrote in frustration about how his army was being defeated by a “black-faced slave”!

Jahangir shooting at the head of Malik Ambar

Jahangir shooting at the head of Malik Ambar

Despite Emperor Jahangir’s rather racist rantings against Ambar, Mughal court historians acknowledged Ambar’s skill: “In warfare, in command, in sound judgement, and in administration, he had no rival or equal. History records no other instance of an Abyssinian slave arriving at such eminence.” Perhaps the best evidence of Ambar’s special talent was the fact that the Sultanate fell to the Mughals soon after he died.

The story of Malik Ambar is one of extraordinary success: beginning as a slave in Southern Ethiopia and ending as the de facto ruler of a Sultanate in India. But, I can’t help but wonder if, despite his glorious rise to power, if Malik Ambar didn’t want to do the one thing that it was truly impossible for him to do, the one thing that was so impossible for all slaves taken so far away from the land of their birth to do, to go back home.

Further Reading:

Malik Ambar: Military guru of the Marathas by A. Rangarajan

Malik Ambar: A remarkable life by N. Goswamy

Malik Ambar: Slave Ruler of the Deccan by R. Begum

Slavery and South Asian History, edited by Indrani Chatterjee and Richard M. Eaton, published by Indiana Unversity Press (The image on the cover of this book is of Malik Ambar by Hashim c. 1610)

The Distinct Charm of the Straight Up White Guy

Posted in Interracial Romance by the woyingi blogger on June 21, 2009

Dedicated to all the lovely, professional but single women of colour in Ottawa, my friends in particular.

I remember once being told by a professional man of colour how great Ottawa was because there were so many beautiful, intelligent, well educated, professional and desperately single women of colour to choose from!

Why? Well, considering that the main employer here in Ottawa is the Federal Government and that corporation is overwhelmingly populated by women of colour the competition for the few men of colour in this city is pretty high.

Now, you might suggest that the other main employer in the city, the High Tech Industry, overwhelmingly populated by men of colour, would make up for this. But have you met the guys of colour who work in High Tech? If these guys are interested in an animate object with whom to spend their lives with they have probably asked Mommy and Daddy to import her from back home already*.

Unless someone writes a memo to Harper convincing him to hire more eligible men of colour for the public service because sexually frustrated female employees of colour have been scientifically proven to be less productive, the gender gap in this city isn’t likely to change any time soon.

So, what’s a single women of colour stuck in Ottawa supposed to do: Consider Something New.

When the film Something New, in which a Black professional woman hooks up with a White working-class man came out Oprah dedicated a whole show to the issue of Black women dating White men. Although many of the Black men interviewed lamented that seeing a Black woman end up with a White man was like “losing a sister” the sad conclusion was that considering that Black women were doing much better professionally than Black men and often the Black men that were professionally successful were marrying White women there just weren’t enough brothers to go around.

In other communities of colour, with the prevalence of importing wives from back home*, particularly in the Arab and South Asian communities, even women from communities where men and women might be equally successful professionally are finding it hard to find a man. Added to this that often in these communities daughters come with marriageablity expiry dates, the pressure on these women to bring home a good boy from the community as soon as possible can push some over the edge.

Many of my wonderful, professional and single female friends of colour complain about being lonely, horny, and fed-up with their mothers and aunties asking them when they are going to get married.

All I have to say to my desperate sisters of colour is this: There are perfectly eligible White men out there ready and willing to fulfill your needs.

Yes, I said it, WHITE MEN!

I think that you should all consider dating White men.

Or at least, don’t write-off the idea of dating a White man if a nice enough one comes along and seems interested in you.

The majority of men in this city who are professionals are White and you are just going to have to accept the fact that you might end up with one of them as tragic as that may seem.

I know, I know, you have many objections to this suggestion.

Let’s explore some of these, shall we?

A White Man Can’t Understand Me, My Culture, My Experiences of Racism, The Struggle of My People, etc.

Yes, you are right. A White man will never get what it is to be a person of colour.

He will have to begin to challenge his White Privilege if he hasn’t started doing this already.

You might have to teach him how to use chopsticks and discover the joys of chicken feet. You might have to teach him how to properly pronounce “Jaan”.

You’ll have a lot of history to teach him and maybe a few new languages to boot.

But if he is serious about being with you he will be willing to learn.

Besides, are you really guaranteed by being with a man from your own community that you will be understood? Although, your cultural context is deeply integral to your development as an individual so are many other things that a man may not understand just because he’s from the same community. And I don’t think a White man is any less able to understand these things about you, particularly if it’s these things that attracted him to you in the first place.

My Parents Want Me To Bring Home A Good (Add Ethnicity Here) Boy

I understand that you want your parents to approve of your future spouse if you wish to stay close to your families but after a certain time (particularly if you end up passing your marriageablity expiry date) your parents will probably just be happy that you are getting married and aren’t going to end up alone and not giving them any grandchildren.

You also might want to disabuse your parents of the idea that there are actually that many “Good (Add Ethnicity Here) Boys” out there. Parents really need to become more aware of the nastiness these boys are getting up to. I’m often amused by the persistent idea that White men are drug addled, lazy, sex maniacs whereas boys of colour are sober, hard-working virgins. I’d take a drug-addled, lazy, sexually maniacal White boy over his counterpart of colour any day. At least the White boy doesn’t lie to his mother’s face about what he was really doing on Saturday night!

I Don’t Want to Be Exotified by Some Pervy White Dude

Sections of the Porn Industry are exclusively dedicated to fulfilling White guys racist sexual fantasies about women of colour.

I remember when dating in high school this was a particular problem for me as a Black woman. I’d start dating some seemingly innocuous White boy and all of a sudden I’d discover that he expected me to be a sex-crazed jungle cat ready to shake my booty in his face and call him Big Papa.

But the sad reality is that many of you are just as likely to be exotified by perves in your own communities.

As a lighter-skinned Black woman, I’m always a bit freaked out if a Black guy can’t stop making comments about how light I am (I can usually get him to cool it by elaborating on how short and nappy my hair is). My Desi friends who are lighter-skinned have attracted Desi boys particularly desperate for a “fair-skinned” bride. Or the opposite happens, a light-skinned Black or Desi boy seems totally into you because you are darker than him and he hopes hooking up with you will alleviate his anxieties about his own authenticity as a man of colour.

If you feel you are being exotified than just tell that White dude that you have no intention of being his Geisha or reenacting the Kama Sutra with him and that he should just download some porn because no real life woman of colour is going to want anything to do with him.

I’m Hindu, Sikh, Muslim etc. My Religion is Important To Me and I Want to Raise My Children In It

I’m not sure about all religious communities but most communities allow for conversion.

Now getting your White Boy to convert is another story. Try to make sure that you don’t date a guy who is a total atheist (No disrespect to atheists, some of my best friends are atheists, but you must admit you people are hard to convert). So, if he at least has some belief in some abstract higher power just start trying to convince him that this higher power he’s describing sounds an awful lot like your particular deity.

Hindus and Buddhists will have less trouble doing this because your religions are associated with positive spiritual values here in the West like peace and tranquility. Who wouldn’t want to aspire to the selflessness of the Buddha? Who wouldn’t want to put pictures of the adorable Baby Krishna up around their house?

If you are Muslim, however, your job is much harder. Islam is certainly not the most popular religion and your average White guy doesn’t want to risk ending up on the no-fly list just for a woman. But there are some White guys who would and if a White guy is willing to risk ending up on the no-fly list for you, you know he’s the one.

We Muslims, we love to convert people. So dating a non-Muslim White Guy isn’t even dating-It’s Dawah!!! If your parents or community members give you a hard time ask them: Are You Against the Spreading of Islam? Of course they’re not.

In order to get your White boy to start warming up to Islam get him to read a lot of Rumi.

Also, talk a lot about how in Islam sex between married people is a totally guilt-free spiritual act. Dig up all those Muslim marriage manuals that advocate fulfilling a wife’s sexual desires. You’re teaching him about Islam and ensuring that you have a satisfying sex life all at the same time! Try to bring up sex as often as possible in the context of your religion. This way you are associating Islam with positive, warm, fuzzy things as opposed to all those negative images of bloodthirsty terrorists blowing up school children and flying planes into tall buildings. These are desperate times and, as they say, they call for desperate measures. Besides, if you yourself are committed to remaining chaste until your wedding night and you want this White boy to wait for you, you’ll need some way of channeling all the pent up sexual energy otherwise something will explode and it won’t be a suicide bomber.

Okay, Okay I’ll Consider A Guy Who’s Not of Colour But I Don’t Want Some Straight Up White Guy!

Fine, there are non-Straight Up White Guys available to you: Jews, Armenians, Portuguese, Italians, Greeks, and a wide variety of Latin Americans.

But remember, this is Ottawa and there aren’t many of these men to go around.

Seeing as they are so much hotter than your average Straight Up White Guy, they are in very high demand.

So, you go girl, but keep your eye on the Straight Up White Guy!

* In this essay I don’t mean to offend any woman who has been chosen by her husband or his family from a foreign country. Actually, I admire your bravery because moving to an entirely new country to be with a man requires a great deal of strength and fortitude and is a risk I would never be capable of taking.

Some Ijaw Proverbs

Posted in Countries: Nigeria, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on June 3, 2009

As my readers may know, my father comes from the Nigerian minority ethnic group the Ijaw, who are concentrated in the Niger Delta.

The following are some proverbs from this community whose wisdom and truth particularly resonate with me. I found them on the website of the Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture.

Tell me what you think about them.

A child who hides what he is doing from his father will always go to the old man for help when trouble comes.

He who sees a rough river and tries to cross with a small canoe should not blame God.

It is only when the fishing gear is broken that one hears its wonderful performance. The tongue is only 3 inches, but it can kill a man that is 6ft tall.

A person who has not secured a place on the floor should not look for a mat.

If the singer is a fool, the listener is also a fool.

A man who thinks everything around him is sweet should remember that bitter leaves grow in the bush with oranges.

A man may have unlimited access to his wife and share flesh and blood but her bones belong to her people.

He whose house is on fire does not pursue a rat.

To whom nothing is given, of him nothing can be required.

He who has not sat on the marital stool does not know the problems of marriage.

One does not protect another’s head in such a manner as to allow the hawk to lift one’s own off one’s shoulder.

A wise fish knows that a beautiful worm that looks so easy to swallow has a sharp hook attached to it.

Neither whose reign brings peace and stability nor the one whose reign brings turbulence would be forgotten.

The man who jumps from the ground onto an ant-hill is still on the ground.

The world is like a dancing masquerade. If you want to see it well, you do not stand is one place.

The rat says he has no quarrel with its killer but with the one who informs on its whereabouts.

Happiness in marriage is a matter of chance.

A parent with only one child sleeps with one eye open.

If you wish to read more Ijaw proverbs visit the Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture website.

Documentary Review: The Imam and the Pastor

Posted in Blacks and Islam, Christianity in Nigeria, Countries: Nigeria, Documentaries, Islam in Nigeria by the woyingi blogger on June 3, 2009

Last year, I had a chance to see the film The Imam and the Pastor about Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, two Nigerians, one Muslim, one Christian, who have been able to put aside their differences and come together to fight communal violence in Northern Nigeria. This film really gives me hope. It is also a great example of what real interreligious dialogue, with a vision towards reconciliation, can achieve. It was also just great seeing a documentary about Nigeria, this place I long to see, where my father lives, but which I have yet to journey to.

Imam Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye

Imam Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye

According to Imam Ashafa: ‘Religion is a candle to light the house or to burn down the house. It is an energy, and like nuclear energy, it can be used for good or destructive purposes. Our task is to see religion used for positive purposes.’

According to Pastor Wuye, ‘Nigeria is a very religious country. The conflict entrepreneurs use faith as the medium to inspire violence. We’re using faith to de-programme violence.’

I really recommend seeing the film. It premiered at the United Nations in New York and was screened at the House of Commons in the UK.

The following in an excerpt from an interview with Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa by Africa Today:

I put it to Pastor James that there are those – and there is an extensive list – who do not believe that after vowing to kill each other and confronting each other murderously for a long time, all is now forgiven and that they have kissed and made-up. Is this a match made in heaven or a match made in Hollywood? Pastor James replies, almost shouting: “This is your journalist instinct running wild,” but he admits there are ghosts to be exorcise. “I know some people would find the documentary too good to be true. But I truly believe that this is a marriage. From time-to-time we’ll disagree on things, however, I love this guy and we’ll never get a divorce,” stressing: “Imam and I are in this together, to promote co-operation for the long term in Nigeria and wherever we are called upon.” “I am no quitter. What our story proves is that communication is best,” he adds.
Ashafa told E K’ABO about how they faced opposition from their respective religious groups when they first came together to promote their inter-faith initiatives and local reconciliation in their communities. There was strong rejection. Some incensed people branded them compromising traitors. “Sceptics mocked us and our idea. But today we have majority support in my country and we are being called upon by other countries, organisations and small communities to sort out conflicts before they get out of hand and sometimes to quench already smouldering conflicts threatening to engulf communities.

The source for the following profiles of Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye and the description of their initiative come from Ashoka.org

Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa believe the only way religious violence can be reduced or stopped in Nigeria is by having leaders of each faith promote religious teachings of peace and non-violence. Their organization, the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum, deals with the psychology of religious violence and addresses its causes and effects. Wuye and Ashafa are influencing schools, houses of worship, and community centers to prevent violence and intervene when conflicts erupt. Their education and media outreach strategies have afforded them unprecedented, widespread support and legitimacy for their efforts to promote peaceful coexistence.

The son of an Islamic scholar from a long line of Muslim clerics dating back 13 generations, Mohammed Ashafa grew up in a conservative family that espoused Islamic socio-cultural values and held deep suspicion for all things Western and Christian. As a young man and the eldest son, he followed the family vocation and became an Imam. To promote his family tradition of Islamic custodianship, Ashafa joined a fanatical Islamic group committed to completely Islamizing the North and chasing away all non-Muslims from the region. Ashafa became the leader of this militant group and also the Secretary General of the Muslim Youth Councils. The Muslim Youth Councils incited great violence in the North, which resulted in the Christians creating their own counter organization, the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria, led by Pastor Wuye.

Born in Kaduna State, Pastor Wuye, an Assemblies of God Pastor, was the son of a soldier who served in the Biafran War. From a young age, Wuye was fascinated by battle and war games. In the 1980s and 1990s he was involved in militant Christian activities and served as Secretary General of the Kaduna State chapter of the Youth Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organization for all Christian groups in Nigeria for 8 years. He recounts that his “hatred for the Muslims had no limits”. He hated seeing people being intimidated and abused, so when Muslims were blamed for inciting a violent conflict in Kaduna, he immediately volunteered to lead a reprisal attack. He lost his right arm during one of the battles against Ashafa’s militant group in Kaduna; increasing his vengeance and deep hatred for Muslims in general and Ashafa in particular.

Ashafa also experienced loss at the hands of Pastor Wuye. In one of the violent clashes between Muslim Youth Councils and Youth Christian Association of Nigeria, two cousins and Ashafa’s spiritual mentor died while fighting Pastor Wuye’s Christian group. For years, both Ashafa and Wuye vowed to avenge the deaths and injuries of their loved ones by killing each other. However, a chance meeting in 1995 brought the two clerics together and through intermediaries and months of soul searching, both leaders decided to lay down their arms and work together to end the destructive violence plaguing their country. This chance meeting and Imam’s extension of the olive branch to Wuye led to the formation of the Interfaith Mediation Center of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum.

Their collective work in peace building began in 1997, and they have since managed to spread their messages of conflict-resolution to all corners of the globe. Their work has earned them numerous accolades including the Peace Activist Award of the Tanenbaum Center of Interreligious Understanding; a joint Honorary Doctorate degree in Philosophy bestowed upon them in Kolkata, India; a Heroes of Peace Award from Burundi; Search for Common Ground on Interfaith Cooperation Award USA; and the Bremen Peace Award from the Threshold Foundation on interreligious reconciliation, among others.

Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye have designed a strategy to both prevent religious and political violence and resolve it when it happens. Their early-warning mechanism, developed in 1996, helps communities identify inflammatory situations and provides the means to reduce tensions. For instance, Ashafa and Wuye defused potential violence surrounding the 2006 Dutch cartoon fiasco, which inflamed many communities around the world. Sensing danger, they immediately asked the heads of the Christian Associations of Nigeria to appear on radio and television to publicly condemn the negative depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in the cartoons, and asked the Chief Imams to accept the condemnation and ask for calm. Their tactic of publicly encouraging Muslim and Christian leaders to support each other and sign peace agreements has proven successful in building ties between the two communities and towards their shared goal of mitigating violence.

Another early-warning technique is the “deprogramming” of violent youth through Christian and Islamic instruction that emphasizes forgiveness and non-violence. To reverse a “theology of hate” that is often taught to children at home and in school, Ashafa and Wuye set up Peace Clubs in pre-school, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. The Peace Clubs have peace-building and peer-mediation components and involve class representatives who mediate conflict between classmates and teach their peers how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Students throughout Nigeria receive religious instruction, and particularly in conflict prone states learn that one religion is superior to others. So in 1998 Ashafa and Wuye developed a curriculum entitled “The Ethical Code for Religious Instructions in Schools” which is now used in schools and by other organizations interested in promoting peace. Coupled with Peace Clubs, the curriculum is reducing religious violence in schools. To date, over 30 schools in the majority Muslim Kaduna state, and primary schools and universities in Plateau, Kano, and Bauchi states have Peace Clubs and peace curricula.

They also created “deprogramming” Youth Camps which bring together militant youths from different communities for 5 days of intensive interaction. Camp participants are involved in activities that replace demonization of those of a different faith with the humanization. These militant youth attend skill-building activities such as financial and computer literacy classes. Ashafa and Wuye have also trained youth leaders from across the country to become trainers in their communities.

In addition to their preventive work, Ashafa and Wuye also focus on peace building and resolution. Since 1997, they have been training religious leaders of both faiths on conflict mitigation and organizing peace-building workshops for community members. They organize seminars with opinion leaders and elders that encourage dialogue about differing views on politics, society, and law. There are also practical workshops that encourage good governance, legislation, budget tracking, and building bridges between communities and political and religious leaders.

Ashafa and Wuye also help communities use peace building methods that may have been forgotten or abandoned. They train women of both faiths to monitor elections and educate their communities on the electoral process. Their studies have shown a sharp decline in rigging and violence at polls where the women operate.

The pair offers trauma counselling for those who have suffered losses at the hands of religious violence and trains religious and community leaders to assist those affected by violence. Ashafa and Wuye use scriptures from their two holy books to help people deal with suffering and tragedy. They also force men to deal with the ramifications of trauma; challenging African notions that men should not show emotion.

Media outreach is their main approach to spreading their work beyond the areas where they operate directly. Both clerics have television shows dedicated to preaching the tenets of their respective faiths as well as peaceful co-existence. They are featured in a documentary on conflict resolution which was showcased at the UN headquarters, at the House of Commons in the UK, and in Washington DC. This was made into a case study by the Tanenbaum Center of Interreligious Understanding.

The Center comprises a Secretariat of 14 people (7 Muslims and 7 Christians) with joint deputyships, coordinators, and program managers. Ashafa and Wuye have a rotating portfolio of responsibilities and enjoy an equitable division of labor. The sensitive nature of their work requires participation of both the Imam and Pastor in the programming the Center offers. Due to the dangerous nature of their work, they have succession plans in place for appointed deputies to assume executive leadership positions should anything debilitating happen to them.

They have set up offices in three states in Nigeria, two in the North and one in the East, and have partnerships with various religious groups in other areas. To ensure widespread impact, Wuye and Ashafa set up committees and advisory councils made up of religious and community leaders to monitor peace-building efforts and provide feedback, using a hotline to report religious violence nationwide. At least two people (1 Muslim and 1 Christian) from each of Nigeria’s 36 states are trained in conflict resolution (with more staff in conflict-prone states) and stay in close communication with the Center’s headquarters in Kaduna state. Their work has also spread beyond Nigeria to Northern Ghana, Burundi and Kenya. Their Center is sustained through support from international donor and religious organizations, and local and regional governments in Nigeria.

Ashafa and Wuye want to bring peace to all nations plagued by religious violence. They have assisted organizations in Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and Native American communities in the United States. They also work with Muslim and Christian entities in conflict areas outside of Nigeria. They have partnered in Sudan with the New Sudan Islamic Council and the New Sudan Church Council and in Kenya with the Kenyan Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and the Kenyan Council of Churches. Their goal is to work with organizations in the Niger Delta region, Middle East peace groups, and are building an office with the African Union staffed with Muslim and Christian practitioners.

Their next steps include the construction of an Interfaith Peace Village, with land donated by the Kaduna state government. They are planning to host a summit on peace and religious harmony which will convene religious leaders and peace practitioners from across Africa. Because they believe peace building without development is ineffective, they have organized Muslim and Christian women rice farmers to work together as an effective peace building and income generation scheme.

Oniyemofe The Story of a Name

Posted in All About My Nigerian Father, Countries: Nigeria, Peoples: The Yoruba, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on June 3, 2009

When I was born the name on my birth certificate wasn’t name I have now. My father’s last name was Oniyemofe. When I was 5 years old, after my parents’ divorce and my father’s deportation, I was issued a new birth certificate with a new name, my mother’s.

My mother’s divorce documents as well as an intermediate Spanish textbook had my father’s name, Oniyemofe, on them so I was always aware that this name had once been mine.

As I grew older and learned more about Nigeria I became curious to know what ethnic group my father came from. I realized that the name Oniyemofe (which I had grown up pronouncing as O-nee-ya-moff but I would later learn should be pronouced as O-nee-yay-mo-fay) was the key to answering this question. So, I ask any Nigerian I ran into what the meaning of Oniyemofe was.

The first Nigerians I met in Ottawa were all Yoruba. This was a good thing as it ended up that Oniyemofe was a Yoruba name. However, finding out that my father was most likely as Yoruba if his last name was Oniyemofe just ended up leading to more questions…this time posed by the Yoruba themselves. You see Oniyemofe is not a real Yoruba family name. It is actually a sentence. I remember one Yoruba remarked accusatorily that Oniyemofe was a name created in order to sound like my family was royalty. I had to explain that as I had no real memory of my father and no contact with him or his family it obviously followed that I had absolutely no knowledge of the Yoruba language and therefore would not be able to fabricate a royal sounding Yoruba family name if my life depended on it.

The strangeness of the name Oniyemofe is what eventually led to me being able to find my father. The only Oniyemofes in the world are my father’s relatives. When I went to the Nigerian High Commission in my mid-twenties in order to see if I could find any documents relating to my father there the staff immediately recognized the name. It ends up my uncle Simeon was a career diplomat and so many other Nigerian diplomats knew of him and remembered this name. To make a very long story short, any Nigerians who had met an Oniyemofe remembered as it is such a peculiar name and eventually I was led to my father.

 It ended up that my father wasn’t Yoruba at all although he did grow up in the predominantly Yoruba state of Ondo. But his family was from the Arogbo Ijaw community. So why does he have a Yoruba last name?

It ends up that my great grandmother was Yoruba. She was purchased by my great great grandfather as a slave when she was still a small child. She was inherited by my grandfather and became his concubine. One of her sons, my grandfather, used to be called Oniyemofe by her as a pet name. Oniyemofe means “The person I love” in the Ijebu Yoruba dialect. Eventually, when my grandfather was an adult he helped his mother trace her origins to the Yoruba town of Imakun near Ijebu-Ode. My grandfather chose to take the name Oniyemofe as his family name out of the love and respect he had for his mother.

And that is the story of the name Oniyemofe.

Day in the Life: Wole Soyinka Meets The Woyingi Blogger

Posted in Countries: Nigeria, Day in the Life, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on June 3, 2009

About two years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, author of the novel The Interpreters (1965) and the memoir Ake (1981), speak at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Nigerian Writer Wole Soyinka

Nigerian Writer Wole Soyinka

 During the talk, Soyinka stated that “Hijab Sucks.” I think he was quoting Salman Rushdie. As I was the only one wearing hijab in the room, I was determined at that moment to go up to the mike during question period and ask a question. Sadly, sometimes I feel obligated to prove to large crowds of people that women who wear hijab are intelligent and articulate. Obviously, I was trying to be impressive but things didn’t turn out as planned, although I did manage to capture the audience’s attention, but for all the wrong reasons.

I asked him a question and he made me repeat it about four times. After all that, he still couldn’t understand what I was saying so he asked a white Canadian to translate my words for him.

Soyinka: (gasping in exasperation and shaking his head) You…you have a very thick Canadian accent. I cannot understand a word you are saying.

The Woyingi Blogger: (straight into the mike with a very high-pitched Valley Girl voice) I have an accent?!

Soyinka: Yes, yes… you have an accent. A very thick Canadian accent.

Random Nigerians in the audience: (shouting and clapping) You tell her! You tell her she has an accent! Not only Africans have accents!

The Woyingi Blogger: Oh, sorry, my bad. I know I talk too fast.

Random Nigerians in the audience: No! You have an accent!

But when he finally understood my question after it had been translated to him in less accented English he thought it was a good one.

What was my question? I ask him if he felt that much of the religious conflict currently happening in Nigeria was due to an overall identity crisis in Nigerian society as communities try to define themselves as purely Muslim, purely Christian, or purely animist. In the end, people are always hybrids and never purely anything. I felt that it seemed that older Nigerians, from my father’s generation, were more comfortable with this hybrid identity. My father is a Lutheran Christian but he celebrates Muslim Eids with his Muslim friends and he consults with the priests of the Ijaw spirit of justice and retribution Egebesu. He is navigating these contradictions and in the end, it helps him be a better Nigerian because he can live with and respect the diversity of all Nigerians. He doesn’t feel it makes him any less of a believer in God.

Soyinka agreed with me and discussed how his parents, despite being Christians, would always expect to get food offered to them during Eid and they would always offer food to their Muslim friends and neighbors during Christmas and other Christian feast days. To not accept food offered during other communities’ religious holidays would have been considered really rude and to not offer one’s food to other religious communities during one’s own religious holidays would have been considered really rude.

After the lecture, during the reception, many Nigerians came up to me to tell me how awful my Canadian accent was and how I needed to go to Nigeria to learn how to speak proper English. This was said with that discomforting mixture of contempt and affection which I have come to accept from my Nigerian elders.

Occasionally, at different cultural events or while idly walking the streets of Ottawa minding my own business I will be spotted by Nigerians who had attended the lecture. Sometimes they shout: “Hey You! You are the girl with the thick Canadian accent!” Laughter ensues.