*This post was originally written on 31st of May.
Not POC. Not BAME. BLACK LIVES MATTER.
2020 has been a very hard space for all of us to navigate. Not only is there a global pandemic forcing us into a strange new normal and claiming the lives of thousands around the world, but we also have to deal with overt racism as black people in the US are being murdered by the very people put in place to protect them. The police are an instrument to enforce oppression, class and power divisions; in Nigeria especially, they exist to renege on their sworn duty to protect her citizens.
For the past few weeks, the air has been heavy: from the brutal murder of one of ours, George Floyd, whose life was unjustly ended by a white cop in Minneapolis, to the trigger happy police officer who savagely gunned down 16 year old, Tina in Iyana Oworo. To the bloody massacres in Kaduna and the countless cases of women in Nigeria brutally murdered and raped by uncouth men (Don’t forget their names: #JusticeforUwa #JusticeforJennifer #JusticeforFarishina #JusticeforBarakat and #JusticeforOluwatoyin).
It’s insane to think that even in a global pandemic we’re still fighting for the value of our lives and for our voices to be heard.
I have been restlessly turning over how to lend my voice to all the injustice we’re facing today from all corners of the continent–and right here at home. I have shouted, I have sent out tweets, donated to causes and amplified the voices of my peers and mutuals online but still I am left with a sinking feeling. The feeling of knowing that this is most likely to be swept under the rug in a couple of days, and the bloodthirsty cycle will run its course sometime further down the line.
When I usually get in these sinking moods that seem infinite, listening to music becomes a soothing channel through which I can silence the thoughts in my overactive mind. I went to bed last night haunted by the thought of Oluwatoyin Salau in her last moments, how lost and alone she must have felt. We have failed our black women, this world has failed black women. The shadow of death that follows all black people would have engulfed me. So I turned to music to alleviate some of these hopeless feelings.
Three weeks ago, I was revisiting Chicagoan rapper Noname’s discography from her 2016 debut album Telefone, a deeply political project on which she delves into the deepest parts of her psyche, embracing both the good and the bad. But it was her 2018 sophomore offering Room 25 that presented me the (very black) social commentary that I needed.
For those who aren’t familiar with Noname’s discography, Room 25 is a deeply personal album from the Chicago rapper and a definite must-listen. It is a modern masterpiece, a true coming-of-age project that shows off Noname’s incredible growth as she weaves through themes of love, justice, freedom, colonialism, politics and more in the project’s 35 minute run time.
She’s telling black people’s stories and more poignantly she’s telling her stories –black women’s stories– which are typically pushed to the background in times like this. Stories of women like you and I, like Uwa and Tina, like Breonna Taylor (killed in her fucking home), Oluwatoyin and Sandra Bland. Our stories are being honoured by women who look just like us.
I am angry. I am enraged so needless to say my focus rested on the heavily-charged socio-political number “Blaxploitation”.
Noname is angry, but you won’t be able to tell simply by listening to the infectious hum of the vivid percussions in the background. Her anger is in her lyrics, audibly terse and direct: “when we cool, they cool, we die, it’s coon” she raps as she calmly lays down the harrowed plight of African Americans.
Her bars are often marked with interesting, evocative details; the most memorable of which are the moments she’s unashamed to show her allegiance. “I’m struggling to simmer down, maybe I’m an insomni-black” she confidently states, as ‘pro-black’ quotes from ’70s films Dolemite and The Spook Who Sat by the Door surround her on either side.
In the accompanying music video, Noname assumes an almost Godzilla-like character metaphorically representing a young black male child in America. The visuals are a mirage of what we see today–the unjust and perverse treatment of black people right from infancy.
Speaking to NPR, Noname states:
But it [shows] like a take on how I think white America sometimes views black people, almost as this unrealistic fear of black people or people of color — what you don’t know. But then, by the end, of it it pulls out and it shows is just a baby in a playground.
As I watched this video clip over and over, the hidden truths laying beneath Noname’s pained vocals struck a chord within me. She’s soft but commanding and I am keyed in and listening to each word as it flows from within her. We must not be silent, we must not be complicit, we must not lay down any longer. We are angry, our people are dying, our women are being murdered. Black women are being murdered everyday and it is beyond tiring.
Where do we turn to?
As the song fades out, Pretty Willie’s memorable disclosure ushers us into deep thought: “I was born black, I live black and I’ma die probably because I’m black”. I am left feeling more upset (and justifiably so) but I am also left feeling empowered. Empowered because I will always lend my voice to the fight and I will always fight for black people–black women.
That’s the thing about music, it has a way of leaving you better off than it found you. Black Lives Matter and we will keep saying this till we can’t no more. It’s not just my fight, it is our fight. You, me, us. OUR FIGHT.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, many have come together to protest and rally against the deep seated racism in America. Many who can’t join the protest, whether for geographical reasons or health reasons (we’re still very much in a pandemic) have lent their hands by making donations and joining in the outcry online.
We can all contribute to the fight in different ways, and I, for one am committed to telling the the whole truth. I will continue to fight the battle from my side of the world. I will continue to write, analyse and champion the stories of my people, of women, of truth. Just like many women in my circle will do. It’s important to tell our stories and to share them. The stories of black women must be documented and not left out of popular discourse.
So the next time you think about what you can contribute to the fight, remember that we all have different roles to play. Remember that you can start small and build as you go. Remember never to be silent in the face of our injustice. Remember that you can’t ‘good nigga’ your way out of racism and being a male ally goes beyond performative tweets. Remember that we need to have these uncomfortable conversations in order to grow. Remember that we can’t give up after a few weeks, the battle is a marathon. And may our voices keep growing irreverently louder till they can no longer ignore our plight. And most importantly remember to…
SAY THEIR NAMES.
In the meantime, here are some places you can make donations to:
George Floyd Memorial Fund (by his brother): https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
Minnesota Freedom Fund: https://minnesotafreedomfund.org/donate
Justice for Breonna Taylor: https://www.change.org/p/andy-beshear-justice-for-breonna-taylor
Stand to End Rape Donations: http://standtoendrape.org/donate/
Mirabel Centre: http://mirabelcentre.org/donate/
Women at Risk Int. Foundation: https://warifng.org/get-involved-2/
Hands Off NG: https://www.handsoffinitiative.org/donation/
Justice for Tina: justicefortinafund.com
Featured image credits/Sacreé Frangine