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Archive for the tag “africa”

White Privilege at UCU

This is an Opinion article (before the published edits) that I recently submitted to Uganda Christian University’s campus paper, The Standard, and was subsequently published this week (21 October 2013).  In 2008, I studied here with BestSemester.com’s Uganda Studies Program (USP) offered through my alma mater, Eastern University and I am currently in Mukono visiting the campus often working on a personal writing project.  I welcome your (constructive) feedback, comments, and questions. 

This may be uncomfortable, but I think it’s time we talk about “white privilege” at UCU.  Although it is rarely addressed publicly, people on campus—Ugandan, white, and other—are not oblivious to it.

I am an “other” though I am often mistaken for a Ugandan.  However, I am a dark-skinned Black-American woman.  My host mom often reminds me that if I stay quiet, I can pass for a Muganda woman and move around like any other Ugandan.  Mostly, I am grateful for this, especially when I am around my fairer friends who lament about being so obviously different and the unwanted attention it regularly attracts.  Alternatively, I have also been engaged in conversations where I have heard white students (and sometimes staff), either proud or embarrassed, talk about the passes they receive or rules they are allowed to break because they are bzungus. 

For example, in a recent conversation, an instructor told me how some of her students privately expressed elation about having a white professor versus a Ugandan one.  In another conversation, where I complained about going to the library because of the mandatory bag and water bottle check, my white friends said that they were rarely stopped and asked to check their items.  And finally, in light of the heightened security checks at the gates of UCU, one USP’er reluctantly confessed that he has frequently been allowed to bypass the line and enter without scrutiny.  Whether all of this happens because of deference or indifference, it seems white visitors are able to move around with a little more freedom and favor than their darker counterparts.

As a USP’er in 2008, such occurrences paired with my own experiences of racial inequity that is ever-present in the U.S. frustrated me and somehow left me struggling with Christianity and the imagery of Jesus Christ as represented across nations.  Is it because white people so closely resemble the image of God that we are compelled to revere them?

With the help of prayer, personal revelations, and the Word of God, I eventually reconciled my issues around Jesus Christ and the color line.  The Bible speaks repeatedly to the uniqueness of us all and, yet, our still undeniable likeness to Him.  From all men and women being created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) which also means that we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), to the New Testament promise that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2) and that Christ’s purpose was “to create in Himself one new man out of the two” (Ephesians 2:15), the Scriptures helped me understand that it is not God’s will for any of us to be treated differently—whether it is for better or for worse.  But rather, especially as Christians, that we strive to treat each other the same—with love, respect, and honor, upholding the same expectations for all peoples.  I hope that at UCU the focus will not be to please those in our world who are lighter, but to always aspire to please the One who is The Light of the world.

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Writing with Giants

Earlier this year, I took writing classes with Sonia Sanchez.  Next week, I will be in workshops lead by Binyavanga Wainaina.  Today I am in a class with Eghosa Imasuen and Chimamanda Adichie has been teaching all week.

With each interaction with these accomplished authors, I have taken the opportunity to carefully construct new material as assigned, observe the examples chosen by the instructors, and put into practice the feedback and advice given regarding the art and practice of writing.

This process, however, would not be as effective and inspiring if not for one of the most vital entities of such learning environments: its students.  My peers.

With any creative piece of work, as its creator, we are very protective and even defensive about the art that is born out of our souls.  Generally, we are usually receptive to the opinions of professionals—taking their word as gospel regarding the formula in which we should write, the words to employ, and how tone, voice, and point of view has positively affected the work we have shared.

However, when it comes to building with others who come from different backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, our vulnerability heightens.

In writing workshops, trusting the other to respectfully critique your work while, in turn, delicately offering suggestions on how one can improve her/his creative piece is quite a balance.

This week, I, along with 21 other New African Writing Fellows, have opened our 8-9 hour workshop days with creative compositions that we have spent the previous night composing and perfecting.  When we share our pieces, we are thoughtful about the other’s style and voice and we respond accordingly, working only to provide feedback to improve the flow and readability.

It is no small feat, actually.  Sometimes, we are fighting for why we have chosen certain words while at other times, we are persuading our friends on why particular sections of a piece should be omitted or revised.  It’s a BIG task before a writer further develops work, revises the work, and ultimately, submits the work.  It takes writers who are just as BIG to both dish out and take in feedback that will help elevate the work.

This week, I am happy to be writing with Giants who understand that aspiring to be great at what we do should be no tall order.

Grave

Day 7. For Granny. November 2012

Yesterday I learned
That death is cold and gray.
Facing stone
Kneeling on new grass
Arms outstretched
And splayed fingers
Reaching for what my soul
Had lost.
I brought no gifts
I performed no ancient rituals
Nor did I recite religious rants
For the lost.
I only sat
Sinking into broken earth
the wind washing over me
Offering my tears
For all that is no more.

Sister Girlfriends

Day 6. Excerpt from “Same-Sex Spirituality” an essay from the “Faith and Bullshit” collection. Circa 2011.

She had a lot to drink at the party and it has become pretty typical for her to get into some type of funk once the music stops and she has to move from dim-lit dance floors to concrete sidewalks to the carpet in her bedroom, a new mood unveiling itself along the way.  But tonight she is more contemplative than usual.  She and her partner of four years recently ended their stint and it’s obvious that the idea of her ex-girlfriend dating men and moving on makes her feel empty.

We arrive at her house, sloppily climb the stairs and fall on the bed.  Any other night, she is rambling off obscenities and spewing slurred lyrics that make us both laugh until sleep overtakes us.  But not now.  We lay in bed fully clothed.  Close.  The sole light source comes from beyond the windows and the quiet is interrupted only by the swoosh-swoosh of cars on Broad Street and the low hum of the miniature heater that we turned on to knock out the 2am March morning chill that hovered in the room.

I am fading to sleep.  I turn over first to make sure she is already dozing before allowing myself to slip into slumber.  She is staring up at the ceiling.  In the darkness, I see her lashes move with each blink, but otherwise her eyes are wide open.  I turn my body towards hers and move closer, resting my chin on her shoulder.

“What’s wrong, Pumkin?” I ask her through her dreadlocks which are splayed across the pillow.

“I’m sad, Nique.” The sniffles begin and the tears follow. “I miss her.  And I hate this dating shit.  And I don’t feel like I can talk to anybody about how I feel,” she managed between heaves.

“Awww, Pumkin,” I kiss her wet cheek and taste the salt on my lips. “You can always talk to me.  I’m here.”

I wrap my arm snugly around her. She tilts her head to rest on my forehead and continues to cry.  She doesn’t acknowledge my offer tonight and we say nothing more before going to sleep.

Confession in a Parked Car

Day 4. a poetry class journal entry. Circa 2009

 

There is only stale air and failed words

Between us

There has been no truth for days

Now silence

Endless deliberation

Be honest or tell lies?

Lies

That have fallen flat for days

And widened the chasm

Between us

He sits up straight

Separated

only by the inches

Between us

Steering wheel in hand,

His head low,

He confessed.

I cried.

Four months apart

Had been too long.

Of Silent Types

Day 3. Poetry. Circa 2009.

Lately,

I have tried to refrain

from saying I love you

and, instead, be like you.

Lately, I see

that love ain’t about

the words formed

in my mouth

or in cursive

on little lime-green post-its

that I have placed

in your brown bagged lunch with chips,

but on your face

and in your eyes

when you pick me up

on rainy days.

One God. Same God.

Day 2. This is an excerpt from my senior thesis work,

a collection of essays titled “Faith and Bullshit.” Circa 2011.

There is no light outside the window when he begins to move restlessly in bed—only an orange glow that spills onto the carpet and against the walls from the lamppost across the street.  I finally feel his warmth slipping away as he slowly peels back the comforter and sheets, careful not to disturb me.  It is minutes from sunrise and Hasan has to make his first salat.   He slips into a pair of shorts and t-shirt and tiptoes to the bathroom to make wudhu before he makes his prayers.  I lie awake in bed, silent as if still asleep, and listen to the way the water moves in the bathroom: the steady stream from the faucet to the basin intermittently interrupted by his cupped hands scooping water to his face, around his arms, and on top of his head—and then the squeaky turn of the knob to close the water valve.  He shuffles out of the bathroom, feeling his way through darkness until he reaches his designated place of prayer—a little area in the corner of the bedroom that allows him to face the Ka’abah.

 He begins the series of movements that accompany his prayer routine—takbir, ruku, qiyaam, sujud, jalsah—as he utters the rhythmic, foreign words from his mouth, his monotone voice sounding musical at certain intervals of his recital.  I am completely awake in bed now, eyes fixed on the ceiling, pondering when and how I would get on my knees and make my own petitions to God.  I decidedly keep my place after convincing myself that Hasan is hardly worried about who is holier than who—that was usually my role in our relationship.

After several minutes, Hasan completes his sura and, for a brief moment, there is stillness in the room.  The morning light has finally rested on the pillows and throughout the house and I am able to clearly make out Hasan’s silhouette as he disrobes before rejoining me under the sheets.  My body is considerably warmer than his now, so he pulls me close—my back to his chest and one of my breasts already cradled in his palm.  I feel his humid breath on the nape of my neck before he settles his lips there to whisper a sweet and sensual “good morning” which will serve as his invitation to commit today’s first sin.

It wasn’t long before meeting Hasan that I had settled into my own religious walk— the original faith of my childhood now repackaged and reintroduced as a personalized adult version of Christianity.  This new and improved God wanted to be my friend, my father and was described with words like patient, forgiving, full of grace which were different from the harsher and more familiar terms like angry, wrathful, and jealous.  While it seemed so much easier to worship this nice God, it was often just as bewildering to have once been plagued with legalistic checks and balances to now only be covered in the “blood of the Lamb,” once and forever after repentance. The Presbyterian doctrine of today seemed so different from the Pentecostal gospel of my youth.

Yet I never revealed such ambivalence about my beliefs to Hasan.  Instead, we engaged in stimulating conversations about our respective faiths—he maintained that there was only one God, and both Muslims and Christians served the same God, while I insisted that his religion lacked the vital component of recognizing Jesus Christ as Savior of mankind and ultimately the channel through which one reached salvation.  Hasan would allow me to say my piece before he offered a reassuring smile, sometimes lifting my hands to his lips before speaking again. After a long pause he would respond softly, “Zenique, the truth will find you.”

My Own Affirmation

I believe that when I return to Africa, I will write my best work.  I will write one story or many of them that will be as notable as the works of Morrison, Walker, Kincaid, Bambara.  I will breathe life back into Black Literature.  I feel it in my bones and I know I will do this—like Chimamanda Adichie knew she could write an American novel; like Natasha Tretheway knew she could produce Pulitzer-winning poetry; Like Edwidge Danticat knew she could write beautifully when representing two, and sometimes three, different lands.   I will do this work and you will one day count my name amongst those who are aforementioned here.  I just need you to believe with me.

 

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