Tag Archives: Culture

Performance Art or Protesting Act?


Performance Art or Protesting Act?

Johny ML


Blackening her face for 125 days was a new aesthetical mode that artist P.S. Jayamol adopted to create a social critique on the discriminated ‘living’ experiences of the Dalit communities. But it seems to have almost backfired on the face of the artist herself. The onus is now on Jayamol to defend her ‘creative social experiment’ which was lauded as a piece of performance art by local as well as international media.

Jayamol’s ‘performance art’ was almost a reaction toward the infamous ‘Rohit Vemula’ incident at the Hyderabad University. Taking ‘black complexion’ as a definitive marker of the Dalit identity, the artist had embarked on her ‘social experiment cum performance art’ by smearing her face and the exposed parts of hands and feet with removable black paint whenever she ventured out of her home/studio.

However, the argumentative Kerala intelligentsia, especially the Dalit intelligentsia, came out strongly against the artistic ‘co-optation’ of the Dalit issues by using her ‘upper caste’ body as a point of departure and made the artist accountable for such superficial ‘sabotage’ of a Dalit ‘agitating and theorising’ spaces. On the other hand, a major section of the artist community questioned Jayamol on the very idea of ‘performance art.’ Their contention was that the artist herself wasn’t clear about whether it was a piece of performance art or a social experiment. They also raised questions via social media regarding the aesthetics of ‘black’ and the politics of the performing body or that of the body in ‘performance.’

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Kerala is no longer the same. The issue of ‘black’ taken up by Jayamol could’ve been lapped up by the intelligentsia had it been done a decade before. Today, the Dalit intelligentsia doesn’t allow any such ‘integrationist,’ ‘patronising’ and ‘co-optation’ moves from anybody. For the spokespeople of the Dalit sections in Kerala, no discursive space that has exclusionary tactics or inclusive approach for the sake of democratic norms is acceptable. What they want today is ‘debate’; they no longer want to be spoken at or spoken to. The clear and precise political positions of the Dalit intellectuals have categorically made it clear to Jayamol that while they accept and appreciate her ‘artistic performance,’ the very idea of sabotaging the discursive space that they’ve been creating for so many decades now cannot be allowed for whatever reasons, including the aesthetical ones. The colour Black is not the only marker of a Dalit or a Dalit’s experience. Black is a general marker for Indians, though the upper castes don’t accept this until they face discrimination at the hands of the real White within the country or elsewhere. While Black being a universal derogatory marker of the evil, marking a Dalit or a Dalit experience with the colour black is almost a reductionist approach. According to the Dalit intelligentsia, blackness has transcended to various daily experiences of the Dalit even in their interactions with patronising integrationists.

It would be a reductionist argument if I say that only a Dalit has the right to speak about the Dalit experiences. However, empathy can’t be a replacement for the real experience. Jayamol’s contention regarding her performance is that it was her position/status as a woman that made her at par with the black skinned Dalit. Though we could argue that women are gendered Dalits, there is a Dalit discourse within the gender discourse itself. Feminisms all over the world have debated the multi-layered experiences of women in various social strata and have come to a conclusion that white feminism can’t speak for black feminism; similarly white upper class feminism can’t speak for the white labour class feminism. Even within Black communities such debates prevail. Jayamol has failed utterly while conceptualizing her performance art, as she hasn’t understood the nuances of Dalit and feminist discourses. Simplistic equations like Dalit= black and Dalit= woman made her almost a laughing stock within the cultural communities all over the world. However, I won’t say that Jayamol as an artist doesn’t have the right to ‘perform’ or ‘conduct’ social experiments on caste system in Kerala using a ‘color’ as a marker. While she has the right to do so, she should also be aware that the word ‘color’ or ‘colored’ itself is a marker of race or caste (in India’s case) and it isn’t just white against black, it is white against all the other colors. In Indian context, it is Brahminism against all other castes created by Brahminism itself.

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When art is treated as a ‘reaction,’ not really as ‘response’ or ‘assimilated experiential responses filtered through intelligence and feeling via adequate methods and materials,’ many Jayamols would happen in our society. Such reactionary artists, as they are driven by the urgency to ‘react’ rather than to respond intelligently, fail to understand the gravity of the situations. The failure that happened to Jayamol’s art project is because of her ‘reactionary’ approach. This performance was a ‘reaction’ to Vemula’s suicide. Her concerns were extended to the unfortunate incidents like ‘Ooraly’s arrest’ and the ‘rape and murder of Jisha.’ Reactionary artists often grab the opportunity of famous as well as infamous social happenings and attach their ‘art-ivism’ to such developments. That’s why Jayamol’s performance looks like a tacky social experiment meant for a ‘desired result’ masquerading as a piece of performance art process. The reactionary verve of the artist blinded her in seeing how artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abromovic and so on used body as a performance tool much before the social experiments intend to shock and eke out a reaction from the ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ or ‘don’t care’ audiences.

Jayamol isn’t alone. Reactionary art is the latest fad in Kerala where people are looking for publicity by attaching themselves to the latest social events that demand intellectual solidarity from different sections of the society. This is an outcome of the Kochi Muziris Biennale that has been promoting an art culture which is predominantly spectacular, and supporting capitalist art with a rebellious streak. While claiming its leaning toward political art, Kochi Muziris Biennale runs with the pray and hunts with the hunter.

Before I close this article, I would like to tell the artists in Kerala and elsewhere that art is political only up to the level of the political integrity of the artist himself or herself. Painting Mahatma Gandhi with a blackened tooth or talking about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar doesn’t make an artist political. Mere sloganeering and claiming of a political voice or space also doesn’t make an artist political. Even the party affiliation of the artists does not make them political. Picasso was a Communist Party card holder, but apart from the forced reading of ‘Guernica,’ we don’t identify Picasso as a communist. Reactionaries are never political. Whether they are visible or invisible, accepted or rejected, accommodated or thrown out, Dalit political discourses have been there for over a century now in India, and a reactionary artist just cannot snatch that space for whatever reasons. As a Dalit scholar and leader had put in one of the television debates, ‘Jayamol can wash the black colour by evening, but what about us who can’t wash it off and also have to hand it over to the successive generations like a pollutant?’

(Photos: Kalakakshi/Facebook & See-ming Lee ??? SML via Foter.com / CC BY-SA)

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ചായം പൂശിയ ഐക്യദാര്‍ഢ്യത്തിന്റെ ചെമ്പ് തെളിയുമ്പോള്‍

Why this Indian woman is using ‘blackface’ as solidarity

Here’s Why This Young Artist In Kerala Is Covering Herself In Black Paint For 100 Days

Paint Me Black


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    Johny ML

    Johny is a New Delhi-based art historian, critic, curator and writer.

     

 


 

Helpful White Lady Raises Awareness Of “Secluded Cultures” Through Magic Of Blackface


Helpful White Lady Raises Awareness Of “Secluded Cultures” Through Magic Of Blackface
ROBYN PENNACCHIA 


Meet Hungarian journalist Boglarka Balogh! Boglarka says that she usually travels the world writing about human rights issues–but recently, she got a great idea to try something different! She thought perhaps there wasn’t enough “awareness” of the various “secluded cultures” in various African nations, and decided to do her part to correct that.

Her idea? To transform herself into seven of these “stunning tribal beauties” with the help of a graphic designer, and then wrote an article about it on BoredPanda. An article titled–I shit you not–“I Morphed Myself Into Tribal Women To Raise Awareness Of Their Secluded Cultures.

Boglarka writes:

My inspiration came from my time spent in various African countries where I became fully aware of the issues regarding a number of endangered tribes, and the speed at which they are fading away. These stunning portraits show how beauty varies across the globe and prove that all of us are beautiful in a different way. They’re celebrating stunning tribal beauties at the brink of extinction.

Let me get this straight, Boglarka–in order to show how beautiful women of different ethnic backgrounds than you are, you are simply dressing up as them? This seems like it’s perhaps a little bit more about how beautiful you think you are.

How this raises awareness more than posting pictures of the actual women themselves and then writing about them, no one can really be sure. Are there actual people who would perhaps go “Gosh! I had no interest in these various cultures until a white lady Photoshopped some blackface on a selfie and dressed up as them!” Because I honestly can’t imagine how or why that would be. Although–given the fact that the article has a rating of 80, which I assume is good although I have no idea how their voting system works, and has been shared on Facebook over 4,000 times, I have to imagine they exist.

I also find it a tad suspicious that she is a journalist who travels the world writing about human rights and yet somehow she has absolutely no idea that blackface is an extremely offensive thing. I get that there are not all that many black people in Hungary, but come the hell on. Clearly, she is familiar with some non-Hungarian news sources, as she posted this thing on BoredPanda.

In light of the fact that there are so many people out there who appreciate this kind of thing–I feel I should let the world know that I am currently wearing a long sleeved black shirt and black leggings. Why? Because it’s what I put on this morning, but also because I want to raise awareness of mimes. Now you know what a mime is. You’re welcome. Feel free to send me many accolades, flowers, and candy.


Read More:

Blackface

Hungarian journalist slammed for ‘seven types of blackface’

I Documented Daily Lives Of African Tribes For Four Months

‘Blatant, unapologetic blackface’: Woman sparks furious backlash after editing her face onto photos of African tribeswomen – but she claims negative reaction is down to ‘ignorance’


 

First woman maasai warrior?


First woman maasai warrior?: the appropriation of African cultures

By  on October 2, 2013


To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves

Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior.  Glamour.com

Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior. Glamour.com

A young white, middle-class woman from California learned on a trip to Kenya that Maasai women were not allowed to become warriors. Apparently, she learned this from a Maasai chief. The woman, Mindy Budgor, was shocked at hearing of such an oppressive culture and decided to become the first woman Maasai warrior in order to save Maasai women from their own culture. Budgor, having apparently succeeded at her mission – let us not dwell on the intricacies of how a white woman can become Maasai or the fact that Budgor took a crash course in becoming a warrior, completing in 15 days an exercise that usually takes years – returned to the United States and published a book titled Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior.

Considering the number of white people who venture into African countries, particularly Kenya, in order to save the natives and in process themselves, Budgor’s story could easily have escaped the notice of the general public. Fortunately, this one didn’t. On the one hand there was the Western media who never seem to tire of these stories of white women thriving in harsh “tribal” conditions, then there was the backlash from African bloggers who have had enough of white people using Africa, African people and African cultures as their playground.

Ignoring Maasai voices

It is hardly a secret that there is no shortage of cultural appropriation when it comes to the Maasai people. Yet Budgor’s labelling of herself as the first female Maasai warrior marks a new, low, and could not have come at a better time, right on the heels of the massive online discussion about how feminism excludes women of colour. The white woman’s burden sees white women using their feminism to liberate their less fortunate “sisters” all over the world, regardless of whether the latter actually need liberating or not, from FEMEN encouraging Muslim women to dump their hijabs in favour of toplessness, completely disregarding the opinions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, to Budgor, who seems to have totally ignored Maasai women in her quest to bring feminism to them.

Mindy Budgor, the 'first female Maasai warrior'. Photo: Glamour.com

Several Maasai women have remarked on the foolishness of Budgors’s actions. One comment from a Maasai woman over at Africa Is A Country reads: “I am a Maasai woman (from Kenya) and we have seen these (white) women come and go. We have Maasai women members of parliament, doctors, lawyers, professors, civil servants, teachers, nurses, business owners etc., but of course, we don’t exist in the eyes of fools like this Mindy woman whose sole purpose always appears to be to fetishise Maasai men (our sons, brothers, fathers and husbands) in one way or another. How many books are going to be written by white women about how they came and fell in love with a Maasai man, gave up everything for him, helped poor ignorant Maasai women, taught Maasai men how to behave etc, etc. We are sooooo fed up!” Another Maasai woman was disgusted by the white saviour aspect of Budgor’s mission, the cultural insensitivity, and the insult to Maasai women and Maasai culture in general. In addition, the fact that Budgor is making money off this insult puts her in a space not too far from that occupied by the white colonialists and slave traders who similarly just came to Africa to take and enrich themselves. To end her dissection of Budgor’s actions, the second Maasai lady reveals an insight with the question: “why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this…if this woman was not a mzungu [white woman] she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?”

It appears the majority of us Africans are indeed still enslaved in our minds. Literally every time I have expressed some discomfort at white women wearing traditional clothes from Nigerian cultures and attempting to dance cultural dances, I have been told to hush and be happy that white people are showing any interest at all in my culture. As if our cultures cannot be whole without a stamp of approval from white people. The reason Africans are still be looking to white people for validation and valuation of their cultures can only be due to the shackles of mental colonialism.

What would have happened if a woman from another African country had attempted to do what Budgor did? Would she have gone far in the process of becoming a warrior? Would any chief have paid her some attention? The truth of the matter is that we Africans tend to give more space to and legitimise white voices than we do our own; we are still seeking to please the white man, prompting Julius N. Timgum of the African Economist to ask “what is it about the white man that breaks us down to the point of submission? Do we have to continue stooping so low by selling our heritage at so cheap a price?” It is hard to know how far a Maasai woman, or an African woman from another country, would have gone in becoming a warrior if she’d tried, and I have no idea how many, if any, African women actually want to become Maasai warriors, but it is necessary to question why Budgor was allowed to go as far as she did. It is important to recognise and confront the way we Africans respond to white privilege.

The White Man’s Woman’s Burden

There is a long history of white people trying to liberate Africa and Africans; this was one of the excuses Europeans used to justify colonialism. Till today we still see versions of the white man’s burden, though not limited to just white men as white women and Westerners of colour fall into this trap, too. We encounter such people who believe it is their duty to help the poor, confused and oppressed/oppressive African “tribal” people. The more sinister truth is that these privileged people are only using their wish to help as an excuse, and are in reality selfishly looking for ways to enrich themselves at the expense of whomever they claim to be helping. This is not unique to Africa; there is a long list of white women being “initiated” into Asian, African and indigenous American cultures. Contrary to some African bloggers who seem to believe that Budgor would not have been able to get away with this brazen appropriation if she had tried it with Native American cultures, white women have appropriated Native American cultures for centuries. The white Australian woman Fiona Graham who travelled to Japan to become a geisha also followed a crash course, taking a year to complete what traditionally takes years to master. Her tale of cultural appropriation ended when the other geisha chased her away from the sisterhood due to her lack of respect for elders, among other things. The eventual rejection is notably similar to Mindy’s, who was lunged at with a spear by her “fellow” Maasai warriors who felt that she did not belong in their circle.

Fiona Graham said the Asakusa Geisha Society refused her membership as she is a 'foreigner'. Photo: Ben Robbins/The Australian

White women who appropriate benefit from it, they get published and interviewed. People buy their books and some of these women become the go-to Western authority on whichever foreign culture they plundered. I have met quite a few white British people who seem to believe they can change the world by travelling to Kenya to play with children, and maybe having sex with the natives, before returning to their comfortable lives in England. Last year I was (un)fortunate enough to attend an event that I thought was a fundraising for people who were displaced by the post-election violence in Kenya. It was quite a fancy event, held at a beautiful hotel in the English countryside. As the dinner progressed I found myself horror-stricken as it slowly became clear that the fundraiser was actually to sponsor a young, middle class white man to go to Kenya for vague reasons involving work with children. Money was being raised, not for the displaced people but for a white man to go on a “saviour” trip.

To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves.


 

Who Pays for Think Tanks?


Who Pays for Think Tanks?

Corporate and foundation money often comes with an agenda


thinktank1-master1050

Think tanks are important institutions that provide information and analysis to both policy-makers and the public. But when they court donations, it can become unclear whether that analysis is tainted by donor agendas.

Read MORE:
Wealthy Donors and Corporations Set Think Tanks’ Agendas

Just what is a think tank?

Revealed: who pays for the corporate lobbyist Think Tanks?

Ken Silverstein in the Nation (5/21/13) recently exposed the extent to which positions at the center-left Center for American Progress (CAP) and other think tanks were shaped by the interests of donors. “Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors,” Silverstein reported.

The 25 institutions in FAIR’s study of think tank citations have gotten money from corporations, foundations, governments and individual donors. The law does not require public disclosure of who the donors are, though donations above $5,000 are reported to the IRS. Many think tanks thank their donors in their annual reports, while others list donors on their websites. Sometimes the trawling of tax documents is required to figure out who is giving—and what they’re getting in return.

The sobering news about atmospheric carbon dioxide passing 400 parts per million (Guardian, 5/10/13) is another reminder that the global community needs to quickly take serious steps to avert looming ecological catastrophe, but with world leaders relying on research funded by the energy industry, it is unlikely the drastic measures required will be considered.

Pete Peterson (cc photo: Lingjing Bao/Talk Radio News Service)

Billionaire Pete Peterson has ties to five top think tanks (cc photo: Lingjing Bao/Talk Radio News Service)

Almost two-thirds of the think tanks studied (16 out of 25) took money from at least one oil company. Thirteen—more than half—were funded by ExxonMobil, while more than a third, nine, were funded by Chevron; the Koch brothers contributed to seven. Shell gave to four think tanks, and Conoco-Phillips and BP each funded three.

Reflecting the clout that big donations bring, various think tanks have Big Energy sitting on their boards. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has Rex W. Tillerson, chair and CEO of ExxonMobil, on its board of trustees, along with John Hess of Hess Oil. Duke Energy chief Jim Rogers sits on the boards of the Brookings Institution and the Aspen Institute. Aspen also has David Koch of Koch Industries, who’s on the board of the Cato Institute as well. The board of trustees of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) features the “Honorable Richard B. Cheney.”

Lockheed Martin's SR-71 Blackbird

War-related issues are also of vital public concern—and the companies that most profit from war are using their wealth to shape the discussion in ways that benefit them. Just under half (12 of 25) of the most-cited think tanks take money from weapons manufacturers; General Electric bankrolls 11 of them, while Boeing and Lockheed Martin each contributed to six. Four got donations from Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon financed three.

Ten of the 25 think tanks received donations from finance corporations. Five have finance executives on their boards; Brookings has three different Goldman Sachs–linked individuals, while Aspen has two. The board of the Institute for International Economics (IIE) has three members linked to Citigroup, and the Carnegie Endowment has one.

Thirteen of the think tanks had connections to the for-profit healthcare industry, either by donation or by board members. Nine received donations from pharmaceutical interests like Pfizer, Merck and the lobbying group PhRMA, while three have accepted money from health insurance companies like MetLife. AEI’s board has Wilson Taylor, chair emeritus of Cigna, while Brookings’ contains former Cigna chair Ralph Saul. IIE’s board holds Karen Katen, former vice chair of Pfizer, and Ronald Williams, retired chair and CEO of Aetna.

Think tanks are also funded by charitable foundations, often channeling the fortunes of wealthy families of individuals, many of which have an ideological agenda that can be seen clearly in their choice of beneficiaries. Foundations tied to Richard Mellon Scaife, the Mellon banking heir who has helped to “fund the creation of the modern conservative movement in America” (Washington Post, 5/2/99), have bank-rolled the Manhattan Institute, AEI, Heritage, Hoover, Cato and CSIS. Scaife sits on the boards of Heritage and the Hoover Institution.

The Koch brothers foundations support Cato (where David Koch is on the board), Heritage, AEI, Manhattan and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The DeVos family, whose fortune derives from Amway, fund through various foundations AEI, Heritage and Cato. The Gilder Foundation funds the Manhattan Institute (where its founder is chair emeritus), Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Cato and Heritage. The Bradley Foundation donates to AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato.

The Walton Family Foundation, created by the family of billionaires who own Walmart, have given money to conservative groups like AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato. They’ve also given money to the centrist Brookings and the center-left CAP, which backs President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a program that may drive up costs for Walmart’s small business competitors (Business Insider6/30/09).

Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, who has relentlessly campaigned against retirement benefits through programs he helped launch like the Concord Coalition and the Fix the Debt campaign (Extra!3-4/976/10CounterSpin3/15/1311/16/12), is the former chair of the Council on Foreign Relations (and is still on CFR s board) and the founding chair of the IIE. His entities have bankrolled the Atlantic Council, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and New America Foundation (NAF).

Billionaire financier George Soros is an outlier among wealthy givers, contributing through multiple foundations and corporations to a variety of institutions ranging from center-right to progressive: the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Woodrow Wilson Center, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Carnegie, Aspen, Brookings, Cato, CFR, EPI, NAF and CAP.

Think Tank Ties to Media


 

Institute of Economic Affairs


The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA Kenya) is a think-tank that provides a platform for informed discussions in order to influence public policy in Kenya. We seek to promote pluralism of ideas through open, active and informed debate on public policy issues. We undertake research and conduct public education on key economic and topical issues in public affairs in Kenya and the region, and utilize the outcomes of the research for policy dialogue and to influence policy making.

Institute of Economic Affairs

Mission
To inform decision-making in Kenya through policy innovation, research, analysis and dialogues.
Vision
A prosperous Kenya that has a well managed economy and that upholds constitutional principles of governance.
Core Values
Our core values drive IEA Kenya’s mission as we strive to uphold the highest ethical standards in our work:

Professional integrity
We discharge our duties diligently and in line with nationally and internationally recognized ethical and professional standards. Further, we uphold honesty, transparency, reliability and consistency in all our decisions and actions.
Innovation
We are committed to continuous learning and improvement in how we do our work. We produce high quality policy and research products and outputs by encouraging and supporting positive critique, new ideas, tools, methods and techniques in policy analysis, research, planning and capacity building.
Initiative
We believe in initiative as value for encouraging and developing leadership in our organization. We encourage staff to learn to work without supervision and for individuals to be the first in identifying an opportunity and taking appropriate action.
Inclusiveness
We are an inclusive organization where differing points of view and experiences are valued as opportunities for mutual learning.

 

Economic and Social Research Foundation


Introduction

The Economic and Social Research Foundation was established in 1994 as an independent, not-for-profit institution for research and policy analysis.

The formation of ESRF was based on the assumption that there was need and demand for an improved understanding of policy options and development management issues, and that the capacity for this was lacking in the Tanzania civil service.

ESRF addressed this gap by putting into place qualified Professional Staff, modest resources and a favourable research environment for the analysis and discussion of economic and social policy.

The primary objectives of the Foundation are to strengthen capabilities in policy analysis and development management and to enhance the understanding of policy options in the government, the public sector, civil society, and the donor community and the growing private sector.

Economic and Social Research Foundation

Download ESRF Strategic Plan for the period 2016 – 2020

Download ESRF Strategic Plan for the period 2012 – 2015


African Heritage Institution


The African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage) formerly known as African Institute for Applied Economics (AIAE) was incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee in Nigeria in 2000.

African Heritage Institution

It is not-for-profit, non-partisan and independent organization devoted to economic research, capacity building and networking with its corporate headquarters located in Enugu, South Eastern part of Nigeria.Our VISION is a Renascent Africa that is democratic, prosperous and a major player in the global economy. Our MISSION is to provide intellectual leadership in helping Nigeria and Africa think through the emerging economic renaissance.

WHAT WE DO

 The Institution’s approach to achieving its vision include responsive and proactive research, facilitation of evidenced based policy debate, convening stakeholder dialogue on topical issues.

Strategic Approaches

Responsive and Proactive Research, Collaboration with Nigerian and African think-tanks, Facilitating Evidence-based Policy Debate, Convening Stakeholder Dialogue on topical issues, Regional and International Networking.

Activities and Outputs

Research in Applied Economics, Economic Modeling and Analysis, Data Production and Management, Dissemination and Communication, Training and Capacity Building, Facilitation of Policy Dialogue.

Governance

The Board of Director is headed by the chairman, Professor Chukwuma Soludo while the Management is headed by the Executive Director, Prof. Ufo Okeke-Uzodike.


 

Africa is a Country


Africa is a Country was founded by Sean Jacobs in 2009, growing out of the blog Leo Africanus (2007-2009). It started as an outlet to challenge the received wisdom about Africa from a left perspective, informed by his experiences of resistance movements to Apartheid.

Africa is a Country

Since then it has grown in size to include a larger geographic scope and, crucially, launched the careers of a number of young African and diaspora writers, scholars and artists to a point where as the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian concluded: “Try as you might, it is hard not to turn an online corner in Africa without bumping into Africa is a Country.”

Today, with a team of editors, and over 500 contributors, it features online commentary, original writing, media criticism, videos, audio, and photography, becoming one of the leading intellectual voices in the African online media sphere.

We are also on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Mixcloud.


 

Origin of the African Birth Song

Source:

THE REAL ORIGIN OF THE AFRICAN BIRTH SONG: SURPRISE, IT’S RACIST

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time browsing Tumblr. Though it has a ton of problems (like refusing to shut down blogs being used to harass women, trans folks, and people of color), I’ve had an account since 2008 and it has accompanied me on my journey through college, years in the working world, and now—graduate school while I juggle staying in my field with expanding my horizons. I’ve found brilliant things on there, and while some posts only garner a tiny modicum of attention even if they’re wonderful, other posts can spread like WILDFIRE and go hugely viral. One such post is this one, about an “African birth song,” which almost has 150K notes:

[T]here is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing—for the last time—the song to that person.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not. When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn’t. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well. You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you’ll find your way home.

Heartwarming. Much inspiration. Wow. So beautiful we could all cry a thousand tiny tears.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM, IN A NUTSHELL?

The “African birth song” is a half-baked invention of a White man that essentializes the “African experience” and does not event attempt to give any real details because it relies on collective ignorance about Africa that centers the world on a White axis. The text above does not provide any sources or even NAME this African tribe (though other versions do, but I’ll get into that later). The story uses exotification, the Noble Savage Myth, and people’s ignorance to make others feel warm n’ fuzzy and perpetuate incorrect narratives in the name of New Agey birth BS. This Tumblr post specifically, as many others have when they get reblogged, also uses the image/body of a RANDOM, unnamed indigenous woman from the Himba tribe. The list of problems goes on, because in the eyes of many non-African people, Africa is apparently just one huge jungle where everyone looks and acts the same, and all women run around topless feeling super connected to Mother Earth or something, giving birth in The Most Spiritual Ways We Should All Be Inspired By.

Himba woman who always remains nameless in reblogs of this stupid story.

Though this post focuses on Black and Indigenous folks, the same rule applies when discussing all other communities of color: we are not here to be your nameless, faceless inspirational memes. We want to be seen for who we are, and we want our own voices uplifted, not those of White folks who cannibalize our histories and profit off inaccuracies and tall tales.

ORIGINS OF “THE AFRICAN BIRTH SONG” AND ITS VARIATIONS

While the story sounded cool and all at face-value, I knew there was more digging to be done because this smelled pretty fishy. What’s the real root of this “African Birth Song”? Beyond Tumblr and Facebook,  I found some other birth/parenting websites linking to this story, and that it has even been translated into Spanish and into Portuguese. It has been called “Your Song,” “The Song of Men,” “Remember Your Song,” “The Song of the Soul,” and more. The Birth Psychology website sources this book (“Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community” by Sobonfu Somé) as the origin of the text but, SURPRISE, I looked at it and the book doesn’t actually make mention of this story—though it does describe other ritual birth practices in certain African tribes.

Some don’t even try to source it to a person, and say this tradition comes from Namibia as a whole. Others say it’s rooted in the Himba people (the picture above, and the “featured image” for this post by J. Gerrits, are Himba women), even though the location of that tribe is apparently in an arid area, so there wouldn’t be a “jungle” to go to as the story say. Meanwhile, other Internetters say the source is the “Ubuntu tribe” even though there is, uh, no such thing—Ubuntu is a philosophy. Again, we see a trend: folks ascribing things to peoples they do not know or understand because they sound “appropriate” or “distant enough” to be credible (and again, such credibility relies on assuming the audience is NOT from Africa or any of these communities).

Aminata Traore, not Tolba Phanem

Those that try to credit an individual (aside from Sobonfu Somé) cite “Tolba Phanem (African poet), 2007” and use another image of a Himba woman to accompany the post. Some websites say that Tolba Phanem is a great women’s rights activist, and show off her “picture.” Except a reverse image-search on Google shows me that the picture they are using is actually of Aminata Traorè, the Ex-Minister of Culture from Mali.

It actually looks like Tolba Phanem doesn’t actually exist, and the person who truly originated this story is a dude named Alan Cohen*, who published it in Issue #33 of Pathways to Family Wellness—”a quarterly print and digital magazine whose non-profit mission is to support you and your family’s quest for wellness.” (If someone does find that Phanem is a real person, do let me know. I found nothing on her that was accurate/unrelated to this “poem/story.” And even the websites that cite very specific sources for this story don’t seem to return any hits or information—AND they also show incorrect facts that I *can* verify easily which makes them less credible from the get-go.)

[*EDIT 4/19/16: Commenters have been kind enough to keep digging and sourcing further. There seems to be another thread to this story linked to a White, Jewish man named Jack Kornfield which you can read about in this comment thread. I reached out to him but never received a response. Seems like HE may have been the originator of this story before Alan Cohen, but there is still no information about legitimate connections to actual tribal practices.]

So there we go. This story is a load of crap being adorned with “exotic” origin stories in efforts to legitimize it. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person who was skeptical, but not everyone’s skepticism drew them to my same eyebrow-raising and frustration. For example, this person was also skeptical, but much to my facepalming, this was their conclusion:

I’m an artist. A spontaneous, story-singing artist.
I work in the abstract and unproven, the ethereal and profound.
I make up stories and songs all of the time.
And they’re true.
They are invented and (sometimes) nonsensical, and maybe they never happened, but at the heart and at the center, they are true.
Because when we hear them (or tell them), we can imagine and believe that they really happened.
Or wish that they had.
This is a true story.

On some level, I get it. I used to do a lot of art, and I am surrounded by artists, writers, and storytellers. I know not everything that gets written down has to be non-fiction, and that we can spin stories out of grains of truth and blah blah blah. I get it. But to use THAT as an excuse for writing racially busted stories, and especially those that go viral on social media? No. Your art is not an excuse. Your art does not exist in a vacuum. Your art is not separate from the systems of racism and oppression in which we live, and to be an artist is not to be exempt from cultural critique and social responsibility. If you want to tell a story about healing, restorative justice, song-singing, and birth, then make it stand on its own merits and power instead of being lazy and using some nameless, faceless “tribe” to help make it sound more legitimate.

CONNECTIONS TO REALITY & HEALING/JUSTICE

So is this “African birth song” remotely related to actual tribal birth practices in Africa? Or indigenous work around healing? Sort of. Does the idea of being “in tune with our song” sound deep, and like it would be amazing to find ways of achieving justice that don’t just rely on punitive measures, but instead look beyond that and aim for reintegration and accountability? Heck yes. But none of that erases the racist mess I describe above. However, let’s leave that behind for a bit so we can look at what connection this actually has to reality.

Because I don’t know much about birthing practices in Africa, and I doubt I could do ANY sort of justice to an entire CONTINENT in a single blog-post, I’ll focus on the healing/justice portions.

INDIGENOUS/ABORIGINAL/FIRST NATIONS HEALING CIRCLES

  • Here’s a quick explanation of what healing circles are all about and where they come from. Though there are not a ton of studies about them as far as “evidence-based research” goes, there are some folks working on this kind of thing (example!), and I was honored to meet a group of them at the 2014 National Sexual Assault Conference.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE, TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE, AND COMMUNITY ACCOUNTABILITY

The line “The [group] recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity” encapsulates a big part of the RJ, TJ, and CA models. While different organizations may have different definitions of these concepts and how they relate to each other, at its core, the ideas behind these models and principles are that a) communities as a whole must be involved in eradicating violence, b) perpetrators of violence should not just be “passively responsible” for their actions, and c) healing must be directed by survivors and those impacted by the violence. Finally, a tenet of TJ (though not always RJ) is  the idea that we must transform—not merely slightly modify—our societal structures that currently enable violence and set up punishments for it.

  • Here’s a great resource that explains both TJ and CA with text, graphics, and a list of resources. It also gives credit where credit is due (read: to groups like Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and Generation Five for their work theorizing, writing, and operationalizing these concepts). This other resource also gives more historical background on it because our current police state wasn’t always what it is now, and this one discusses how the RJ model has been co-opted by the criminal justice system in certain ways (and thus how TJ can be an alternative to that).
  • Another slew of resources aggregated by Critical Resistance on addressing harm, accountability, and healing. It lists books, toolkits, zines, websites, articles, and more. While CR focuses on the prison industrial complex (PIC), this list of tools is about multiple forms of violence, including sexual assault, DV, state violence, and so on.
  • Here’s the Creative Interventions Toolkit, which “embracing the values of social justice and liberation, is a space to re/envision solutions to domestic or intimate partner, sexual, family and other forms of interpersonal violence.”
  • The Revolution Starts at Home is a fabulous book, and here’s an excerpt on these kind of strategies from a grassroots lens.
  • Here’s another CA wheel that focuses on domestic violence and explains what kind of actions should be taken by men, media, educational systems, the justice system, clergy, etc. (though it’s heteronormative and presents men as the only batterers).

SO IS THIS STORY WORTH IT OR NAH?

I think the ideas about healing and community-building in this story are awesome, but Mr. Cohen is not the originator of the concepts AND he’s using a racist, colonialist, tired ol’ lens to share his regurgitated opinion. Thus, I think that while this story has some good nuggets in it, there are WAY better resources and texts out there to illustrate these concepts in ways that are historically accurate, relevant, and non-oppressive. We ALL deserve better than this story.

[Added 2:15 pm EST] While this may seem small to some of you, this is part of a larger trend—this is a pattern, not a story in isolation. If you’re an educator, activist, teacher, parent, speaker, power-wielder of some sort, imagine incorporating this into a lesson about media literacy in a classroom, so students can find appropriate sources of information for projects. Imagine incorporating this into a workshop about birthing practices if you work with expecting parents. Imagine bringing this into a discussion about POC solidarity, or a lecture about art and social responsibility, or a class about international feminism.


Aida Manduley

AIDA MANDULEY

I’m an award-winning activist and presenter known for big earrings and building bridges. My perspective is one that focuses on intersectionality and maximizing kindness in the world. I’m trained as a sexuality educator, social worker, and nonprofit management professional. In short, this boricua is trying to make the world a better place using many strategies. And spreadsheets. Lots and lots of spreadsheets.


 

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Misunderstanding of Traditional African Beliefs


Decolonising the mind: The misunderstanding of traditional African beliefs

By  on May 6, 2014 | IDENTITY DIGEST  STORY


There are few religions as globally misunderstood as African traditional religions. Whether it is being wrongly labelled voodoo, juju or witchcraft, indigenous African faith systems tend to be associated with darkness, animal and human sacrifices, violence and general backwardness

Mkota Spirit Dancers, a traditional Zanzibari dance troupe from southern Pemba. Photo: BusaraMusic

Mkota Spirit Dancers, a traditional Zanzibari dance troupe from southern Pemba. Photo: BusaraMusic

Few people are aware that Voudou (rather than “voodoo”) is a faith based on harmony with nature, one that expressly forbids the killing of another being, or that most African faith systems believe in the concept of one God above all other divinities and deities, who function much as a pantheon of saints.

From the early colonial period till today, misinformation about African indigenous spiritualities is spread and believed as truth. From Nigeria to Kenya, it is disturbing how we have come to accept the intolerant Western views of African indigenous spiritualities, believing that we are saved because we no longer engage in “idol worship”. We ignore the influences that these systems have had and continue to have on the way Africans worship and conduct their everyday lives. Rather than viewing them as the complex systems they are, we have debased them to nothing but a series of sacrifices.

Shrine house priestess Okomfoyaa Anosua, Besease, Ghana, 1970. Photo: Eliot Elisofon

Religious colonialism is the lesser-discussed arm of colonialism itself, but its psychological effects have been as long-lasting. With religion being the sensitive topic that it is, one close to the hearts of many African people, it is not always easy to have a sensible discussion about the problematic ways in which Eurocentric Christianity and Islam reached the African continent. Yet religious colonialism on Africans is the main reason that most of us have come to view our own indigenous faith systems as epitomes of evil. Presenting local beliefs as nothing but backwater superstitions was part and parcel of how Christian missionaries operated in their bid to bring their religion and Western civilisation to the dark continent. Most missionaries strongly believed that they were saving Africans from satanic oppression and ignorance, an idea that most post-colonial Africans have internalised.

In the 1900s, “traditional African religions still claimed the loyalty of majority of the population of sub-Saharan Africa”. Indigenous faith systems were competition to those missionaries who wanted their religions to be established in Africa, thus they were essentially subjected to a smear campaign.

Percentage of population practicing traditional religion. Graphic: Matthew White

African indigenous faith systems became “primitive”, uncivilised, a necessary evil that had to be dealt with, and an inferior system that had to be done away with. It was not enough to insist that every form of worship in Africa was of the devil, this was tied to African cultures as a way to reinforce the notion that Africans and African civilisations were lesser when compared to that of Europeans.

The lengths to which some missionaries went in their bid to “civilise” people they saw as inferior still astonishes. Little known is the history of indigenous children across the world who were kidnapped, forced into seminaries and taught not only Christianity but also the superiority of Western culture and language in the hopes that they would go ahead as agents of European authority and “civilise” their own people. As a young boy, Malidoma Somé was abducted by Jesuit missionaries and made to undergo indoctrination into European ways of thought and worship in colonial Burkina Faso. Now a diviner in hisDagara tradition, Somé wrote about the brainwashing he received at the seminary and the difficult journey finding his way back to his people’s traditions in Of Water and the Spirit. In the book, Somé writes “religious colonialism tortures the soul. It creates an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and general suspicion. The worst thing is that it uses the local people to enforce itself”. These words are still relevant today.

What exactly are rituals?
To the modern African who distrusts these age-old traditions, indigenous faith systems can be nothing but evil. Proof of this is in the ritual killings that keep on happening in this modern age whether it is 100 graves dug up in Benin Republic or albinos being killed for their body parts in Tanzania. These rituals, otherwise called witchcraft, are said to exist due to the superstitious nature of Africans, which arises from traditional beliefs. It is believed that in rituals, people are regularly abducted and killed, their body parts used to create charms or “fetishes” that are said to bring riches to whoever bears them. These so-called ritual killings have attained the status of urban legends in countries like Nigeria where the 10% of Nigerians who adhere to traditional beliefs have to keep their faith secret or risk being labelled as enablers of human sacrifice. There is a great need to differentiate between legitimate spiritual systems and witchcraft, yet it is widely accepted that human sacrifices were part and parcel of pre-colonial faith systems.

A 39 year-old Tanzanian woman  who survived an attack but lost her arm. In Tanzania, the market for albino limbs is active, believed to be lined to witchcraft. Photo: Under The Same Sun

That these rituals are done with the main aim of making money should hint at their true capitalist nature. In a world where everyone is looking to be rich and wealthy, indigenous African spiritualities are not exempt from being corrupted by those who would do anything to get rich. Discussions about the modern “innovations” in African cultures and religious practices are almost nonexistent, so most of us never consider that the growth of Pentecostal churches is encouraging witchcraft related fears or that market forces are central to today’s beliefs in witchcraft. A few months ago at a work meeting, the topic of ritual killings and idol worship came up and a colleague boldly objected to a idea that ritual killings had been traditionally done by Nigerians in pre-colonial times. She said she recalled when human sacrifices started in Nigeria  – at the time, she was a child growing up in the 1970s. Her opinion is backed by Chief Adelekan, a Yoruba diviner who at a talk in the Manchester Museum insisted that human sacrifices have nothing to do with his indigenous worship. But in people’s minds, this modern practice of ritual killings has been conflated with indigenous faith systems.

VIDEO LINK:
African indigenous spiritualities in the 21st century
Due to the disdain and fear surrounding indigenous faiths, I tell very few Nigerians that I have consulted with a babalawo, a diviner of the Yoruba deity Ifa. I was curious to get a life path reading and to know which Orisha “ruled my head” after a friend had had a similar reading done. Now this confession is enough to freak out a lot of Nigerians, who absurdly believe that Ifá, a deity of divination would demand a human sacrifice. What I do not tell them is that I consulted this babalawo over the Internet. It was through email that my friend introduced me to him, his service was paid for through his website, and after consulting with Ifá, he sent me my life path reading in pdf format. I couldn’t help but compare his very modern and professional service to the recurring stereotype of wild-eyed witch doctors providing consultations in a darkened room that is popular in Nollywood and even Western depictions of any African spiritual system. For those who are open-minded and interested, there are a growing number of priests ordained in their respective spiritualities who are changing the face of indigenous African spiritualities on the continent and in the Diaspora.

A babalawo performing divination with an opele. Photo: Chief Ogunleye

Take Ghanaian priest and healer Kwaku Bonsam, for instance, the focus of this New York Times article. Kwaku Bonsam regularly uses social media for divination purposes, and he also appears on television talk shows. He named himself “Bonsam” which in Twi means “devil” thus knowingly poking fun at the continued demonisation of indigenous faith systems. Unlike the “primitive” witch doctor of popular imagination, Kwaku Bonsam has adopted children, opened a free elementary school and runs a cattle farm. In keeping up with the generation of Pentecostal pastors in Ghana who use the media to deride Ghanaian traditional religion as devil worship in the continued colonial tradition, Kwaku Bonsam uses similar tactics to strike back. In a fascinating case, Kwaku Bonsam stormed into a church with a camera close by, to expose a Pentecostal priest for soliciting the help of his deities and keeping an idol on the church environs. The resulting video (below) was uploaded on Youtube, thus exposing the ways in which indigenous faiths influence the way modern Africans worship.

Pentecostalism has much in common with the way indigenous spiritualities are practiced, with its heavy emphasis on exorcisms and speaking in tongues. In so many indigenous African faiths, spirit possession and trances are a part of worship. In nearby Benin Republic, a country where majority of the population hold on to their indigenous faith, Voudou, Aligbonon Akpochihala hosts his own radio show and appears on television to dispel misconceptions about the Voudou faith. In his own bid to modernise the faith, Akpochihala launched a crash course that allows Voudou devotees to become priests in four months, as opposed to the usual three years. The mere existence of people like Kwaku Bonsam and websites that offer the West African equivalent of Western zodiac signs shows the ways in which indigenous priests are adapting their centuries-old traditions to the modern world and resisting the grand narrative of Christianity and Islam. It shows that African cultures and customs do belong in this world. The keepers of the age-old traditions are staking their claim for credibility despite the many challenges they face.


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stories from: Skin | Colour | Race | Caste – Made in India

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