I have to write this because I’m fairly sure my sanity is shattering into a million pieces.
I’m turning 30. 30. 30! I’m turning 30 in a few days. In fact, this week will end and I’ll be 30 and I’ll start Monday morning as a 30 year old. This doesn’t yet mean I’ll be ticking a new age bracket in those online surveys (that will happen in five years), but this does mean I will be formally exiting my 20s. For Pete, Matthew, James and Moses’ sake! YIKES!
My 20s have been a warm blanket. A growing blanket, a 10 year blanket. One that I have learned to appreciate in all its imperfections. My 20s were hot in the spring and comforting in the autumn – annoying when I was expected to share it; clearly something I’m having trouble giving away. Growing pains, man. I can still remember when I was 21, down to exactly who I was. I was in college and constantly uncertain of the space surrounding me. However, I was always present: in class ensuring I was on someone’s honor roll list; at college parties learning how to Dutty Wine ’round all these Jamaicans (thanks Kanye!) and discovering vodka (uh…ew); coasting South Beach with friends who stopped being friends in heels I couldn’t stand in and in dresses I no longer have interest in wearing …yet, constantly wondering whether I actually belonged there. I was there in a body, navigating an environment that was familiar and foreign at the same time. To provide context, like everyone else, this was my first time away from home, and my first time in the United States. I had just began to appreciate the difficulty folks had with pronouncing my name and to realise I was not the only young person out there dealing with juvenile diabetes.
I’m fairly sure I spent my entire first semester terrified of everything.
Twenty-one turned into twenty-five and my blanket had learned to wrap itself around me much tighter, replacing tumultuous fights with a friendlier, more adventurous hold: I moved back to Nigeria for the first time as an adult, learned how to drive the mean streets of Abuja in my beloved Scarlet, discovered more comfortable heels and fashion that spoke more to my sensibility, began to love the fearlessness, acceptance and power of female friends, realised what a dope relationship with a man would be like and what I truly found irreplaceably attractive about men, and learned how to be tactical and appropriately vocal at job and professional spaces.
…and then twenty-five turned into twenty-eight and then twenty-nine et voilà! Decades of work in progress, stupid mistakes, failed relationships, new relationships, harrowing moments of anticipation, immigration, stellar successes, tighter camaraderie with my siblings and parents, discovering the joys of make-up, body oil, and a consistent work out routine has created this beast of a woman. This woman, who in a few quick days will be formally entering her Year of Beyoncé. Whew!
I have always been one for the journey; the destination na jara*, really. I have always been one for balance and growth, despite the journey’s imbalance. I have always been one for celebration, even when my feet are unsteady and my heart still yet races. I want to shout, “onward, young one, you young tender-hearted Superwoman!” But really I’m apprehensive and frankly, scared. I’m giving away my 20s blanket to be suited up with a cape (much like Solange’s wedding attire, I imagine). Will the cape fit? Will it be the colour I like, especially seeing as I don’t really have a favourite colour? Will it comfort me when I need a really good cry? Will it allow me soar more meaningfully than I actually budget out? Will it keep my credit score high and my credit card debt low? Will it attract the kind of attention I need and want and desire? Will it hide my scars, when I need a little more time to lick my wounded ego?
Ugh, so many fucking questions… but lemme tell you about the stillness in my heart as I type this…
It’s been nothing more than a pleasure to inhabit the spaces I do and have. I belong there. I belong here. I’m turning 30 in a few days. And by gawd, let it be great!
na jara = When you’re in Naija (the context to which I am familiar) and you go to the marketplace to price out uncooked rice or beans or garri and whatever and the market lady apportions out your desired quantity. You ask her to add jara, to add something extra on top of what you’ve requested, for free. It builds customer-seller relationship, it builds personal character in your ability to bargain wares… shit, it also ensures that you’re getting your damn money’s worth!
This year, I’m stepping into my Year of Beyoncé. As I age, I’m increasingly becoming convinced that this is the time women – me – find equilibrium, and hit that stride. I’m certain, for instance, that I am no longer growing up, but out (not my waistline…the Devil is a liar!). Hence, the aim is to inject more personal exposure to the world, so…
I’m taking a few trips over the next few weeks… I’m hoping to learn a lil something, observe a lil something more, with the aim of sharing of lil something.
First: wine country!
|photo by Sarah Bayard|
So I’m not going to spend time re-hashing the recent uprisings, particularly in the cities of Ferguson and Baltimore. I’m not going to spend time re-hashing how the widespread, racially disproportionate incidences of police brutality leading to the deaths of unarmed US civilians have sparked protests and conversations all over the United States within the past couple of years. What I do want to highlight are the women – the women who protest, the women who march and the female victims who are often spoken of as footnotes in the larger contexts of oppression and injustice. Specifically, this post is about how the most recent topless protest in San Francisco by women for women in the #sayhername campaign is a historical bread-crumbing in the way in which African women have protested the devastation of white supremacy, colonialism, and oppression, using their bodies.
This action today was healing. So amazing. Black women are infinitely powerful, ya’ll. #SayHerName pic.twitter.com/yOtWHJmyGC
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze) May 21, 2015
This form of activism is not new. In fact, African women hold a continental tradition of displaying their bodies to protest oppression, injustice and Western standards of beauty. In 1929, the Women’s War of eastern Nigeria was arguably the most powerful and earliest manifestations of protesting status quo by women. The movement, mobilised by Igbo and Ibibio women spread quickly throughout the region.
Say their names. Read their stories. Demand an end to State violence against Black Women & Girls. #SayHerName pic.twitter.com/hjtdqDLCAy
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) May 21, 2015
In 2001, over 300 Kenyan women stripped down to protest a team of scientists working near a Kenyan nature reserve. Female public nudity is considered an ill-men in many Kenyan communities. The aim of the naked protest was to force the scientists to think twice about annexing their land to extend the nature reserve.
And these are just a few of the protests I researched, where African women led the charge against injustice – injustice from Euro-American oil companies, multi-national entities, scientists, local police. There have been other similar protests throughout history in Kenya, Liberia, South Africa… So, as early as 1929, African female activists have organised themselves and staged peaceful protests! They employed the historical notion of the hyper-sexual black female body and turned it on its head. Infuriatingly, a lot of the media sources from where I pulled my data spoke of the African women as though they were overcome with maddening despair (which is in direct opposition to the way European women who engaged in naked protests were often described!). In the event that it needs to be said explicitly: women’s bodies are not just sexual objects. There is a time and place for everything. If all you can see when you see images from the #sayhername campaign are sexualised breasts, then you have got to re-evaluate your perceptions about women. We won’t talk about breastfeeding here…
The images emerging from the #sayhername campaign are a powerful representation of female activism dating back through history to where Blacks in America began. You really can’t deny the symbolism there. The idea is not to be titillating; it is to employ the female form to be a catalyst for change.
Ugh the generalisations! Quelle surprise, women do not all want the same thing. Women, akin to other racial, ethnic, sexual, etc., minorities, are not a monolith. I really hope that this rather is obvious, nevertheless let the record explicitly show: women are not a monolith; we don’t all want the same things. The other day, I came across a LinkedIn blog post about the professional woman. Suffice to say, I have many thoughts I thought I’d mull over here.
The globalness of this so-called global LinkedIn study
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this… How does a global LinkedIn study exclude the entirety of the African continent? Apparently, there are no working, professional women in the whole African continent who could lend voice? The study managed to survey two-thirds of North America, seven countries in Europe, yet only two countries in Asia and one country in South America. Deplorable. I realise that this is just an infographic, but as a critical reader and ingest-er of information, I have to ask: what the hell was in the inclusion criteria that not a single country in Africa made the cut? But, you know what? I’m venting.
The point is: if you want to talk about the experience of professional women globally and exclude the whole of Africa, it sends a very strong message about LinkedIn’s perceptions of the professionalism of African women, does it not?
Don’t re-invent the wheel
At any rate, according to their data, professional women in the US believe success in the workplace means finding the right balance between work responsibilities and personal life. I can’t disagree – a successful career is one where there is optimal balance in all aspects of existence. She goes on to outline how women can achieve this grand career desire:
1. Build a name for yourself.
2. Be heard.
3. Be informed.
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Point number four, specifically: don’t reinvent the wheel. As a young professional, I think it’s challenging – albeit not impossible – to find that unique, totally original space to occupy. Innovation is not easy. Let’s be real; what idea have you had that’s not already been done? Hence, to a degree I can appreciate the comment in the article: “get access to the information that is readily available and add to it”. Add to it. However, innovation is not solely in the additional parts. It is in the very voice you (and you alone) can bring. Literally, you are an endangered species. So, while starting a blog about natural hair care for Black girls with 4A-4C hair types, for instance, is not unique – you know there are hundreds of blogs and YouTube channels for that – blogging from your experience is.
The innovation is the combination of your voice and whatever you are adding to whatever is pre-existing. Wheel re-invention is often necessary in order to find those unique additions. Creating something brand-spanking new is good, novel even. But honestly, it’s challenging as hell. So, rather than fret over being the next stellar blogger with international readership and Forbes Magazine’s blessing as the best blog for young people under 40, start from what you know, add to what you know, and tell your authentic story.
Shoot. That’s what I’m doing…
And for creative inspiration, listen to some of the things Ira Glass said on the creative process. I re-visit it from time to time.