On Having A Scottish Last Name

scottishtartanI recently started genealogy research into my Jamaican roots. My last name, like those of many other Jamaicans, is Scottish. I knew it was beforehand but I didn’t care, not until my father accused me of not caring for my heritage. I decided to do some research into Jamaican history.

A genealogy search revealed some deep-rooted ties between Scotland and Jamaica, and I found information on the Scottish History Society. Now I have a bizarre “soft-spot” for Scotland, but feel weird about it, because I am black. Yet, it’s a tie that binds. When I see people with my last name–black or white–I feel the need to reach out to them.

Black people with white names is not something I think about often, to be quite frank. Years ago I came across a book analyzing the last names of Americans, expecting the author to mention something about African-Americans. I remember the author being dismissive, insisting the black people with these names had them due to slavery–that’s all, and now back to the main show. This dismissal had always bothered me, even now that I can’t recall the title of the book. I also read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and found the interview with the “white” Lacks jarring–dismissive and incredulous.

As a writer, I rarely write characters with non-white names (even when my characters are black). I also have a pet peeve about black Africans (people directly from Africa) with European last names. Is it not hypocritical of me, a woman with a white last name? I have considered changing my last name a handful of times; but, I have reservations about westernized blacks who re-name themselves.

There are pros and cons of changing my last name to an African one (Uhuru?). It’s a way of reclaiming one’s stolen heritage. But at the same time, I feel doing so is letting white people off the hook (out of sight and out of mind sort of deal).  My last name is part of my heritage, as a woman from a society colonized (unwillingly) by my ancestors 400 hundred years ago. It is more honest, as it, added to my race, links the two sides of my heritage (African + European). It’s a testament that colonialism happened. Slavery and miscegenation happened.

I cannot claim Scottish heritage, and fear the message buying a tartan might send (however cool it might be to have one dedicated to my last name); but, at the same time, I can’t help but watch Outlander and note similarities between Scottish dialect and Jamaican (slang: jouk) and that my last name is prominently featured in the show. Or, relishing the fact that the people who gave me my last name came from the northeast/highlands (there’s a street in Edinburgh called Jamaica North Street Lane).

 

Posted in Africa, Bizarre, Black people, Caribbean, Commentary, History, race | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Niqab In A Liberal Society

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Zunera Ishag at citizenship ceremony

This post is late. It was due in October 2015, during the Canadian federal elections. The now-defeated Conservative government, led by then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, sought a judicial decree to get the niqab banned from all citizenship ceremonies.  The issue, deemed a ploy by the Harper-led Conservatives to deter the populace from real issues (climate change, Syria, federal debt/budget), took on brief dominance in the press.

The Niqab debate spawned a Twitter-trending hashtag, and later was framed as a “women’s right to choose” issue.   While the niqab debate was indeed meant to distract voters from Harper’s terrible record, I was disturbed by the framing of the issue as a “right to choose” issue.

The supporters of Zunera Ishag — the woman in whose name the federal bill was challenged–took her word for it that she freely chose to cover herself in many layers of cloths, hiding everything except her eyes. I am all for giving the benefit of the doubt and respecting her choice; however, no one considered the complexity behind “her choice.” That, in a liberal society, freedom of choice can be burdened and compromised by culture, peer and family pressure. Continue reading

Posted in Africa, Canada, Commentary, Feminism, History, Justice, Media, People, Politik, religion, Women | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

To quote Virginia Woolf, “what matters here is truth not fact.”

In light of the NYT’s article about society’s value system that draws rigid and absolute lines between truth/fact and opinion/beliefs, I decided to write this short opinion piece.

Truth and fact, in an ideal world, are the same. But this is not an ideal world. To use another quote, “even the devil can cite scripture for its purpose.” Facts can be manipulated. In a Fox News world, there is such a thing as “alternate fact.” I remember during the 2012 presidential campaign, Rasmussen and other right wing pollsters were showing “evidence” (facts) that Mitt Romney was winning, and then Nate Silver arrived with his statistical/mathematical predictions showing President Obama in the lead. Of course there was one truth (one of these men was in the real and only one would win). Up until election night, Rasmussen showed Mitt Romney winning. There was a perfect example of how “facts” could be created/manipulated and altered to mask the truth. The truth is intrinsic. Or, at the very least, natural or complementary to the laws of nature (the earth rotates around the sun). And there can only be one truth. Facts are not intrinsic and can be manipulated to create “alternate” or “fake” truths.

Regarding morality. Morality can be relative, insofar that we do not live in a true meritocracy, but a society ripe with nepotism, cronyism and legacy recruiting/hiring. While I agree that cheating is immoral. Our world is imperfect. It is factual that our society values wealth and success above all else, for example, poverty and failure. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But, this wealth-and-success based value system punishes those who are poor because they are deemed to have failed in society.

The right wing reasoning is that if you are poor, it means you don’t work hard enough or that you are lazy. This is not the truth. Poverty is complex and cyclical. In a society that offers opportunities to those who are born wealthy or have connections, it is hard to gain access to the means to better one’s life, especially when those means compete with basic survival interests (shelter, food, etc).

The poor often live paycheck to paycheck. If they don’t work, they can’t pay for rent, mortgage or food. They cannot then focus on educational or professional attainments if they have no place to live or food to eat. For many people, in this context, if one has to compete against those who are affluent (rewarding the wealthy/ successful is immoral, too), it makes sense to cheat. For example: Wentworth Johns III is guaranteed a spot in Harvard Law because his father and grandfather before him have attended HL, and the dean of HL golfs with his daddy. How can Trayvon Jones compete with that with no connections or wealth?

Here’s a personal experience story. About four years ago, I was hired for a contract position at a Fortune 500 company. During my stay,  I was repeatedly asked how I got the position. I found out, during breakfast with the president (required for new employees), that all the other ten or so interns, summer students, contract employees, had relations in the company. The president kept saying to so-and-so: how’s your sister, brother, father, e.t.c., and then he turned to me: who are you related to?  I loved working at the company, but I think to myself, had the woman who hired me given the position to her children (which she could’ve done,  because it’s encouraged by the company), I would’ve been out of luck.

In college, while I struggled to find employment, I knew a girl whose mother, a bank manager, hooked her up with a bank position for the summer break. The contract position at that Fortune 500 company was the key (experience) to me finding my current full -time employment. Who will help low-income kids with no connections and access to these big corporations, government agencies?

I guess what I am saying is- that if Trayvon Jones wants to embellish his accomplishments or even use Affirmative Action, I am all for it. He needs not feel bad, since many of the people in those companies  are not there because of merit (a lie told by those in advantageous positions, in order to discredit systems that help the poor, and unconnected gain equal footing in society).

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The True Negro (True Black) Fallacy

A few years back, National Geographic released its “The Black Pharaohs” issue. For many days I stumbled past the issue on news stands, make toward it to pick it up, only to change my mind in annoyance. It was hard to explain what annoyed me about it, and then I finally figured it out. The headline “Black Pharaohs” is a fallacy that implies or rather promotes the belief that “black” and “[Ancient] Egyptian” are mutually exclusive terms–that is to say, one is not complementary with the other–they don’t go together. By this logic, a black pharaoh is identified as abnormal or not the rule for Egypt.

Set I funerary scene

National Geographic

Of course, the separation of Egypt and Africa goes against everything black scholars and (and ancient scholars) have argued about Ancient Egypt. But, the separation of Ancient Egypt from [black] Africa is the point National Geographic and Egyptologists (who are white) often push and it’s the reason the cover annoyed me.

I often refer to Egyptology as “white people’s fascination with Ancient Egypt” and I won’t change this definition. Often, the early works in Egyptology focus on “proving” the Ancient Egyptians weren’t or couldn’t be blacks. Early scholars often concluded that “The Egyptians were built like blacks but they were not black.”  (Rawlinson, 1866) The study of Egyptology started with Napoleon’s “discovery” of Egypt in the 18th century, and much of Europe’s involvement with the country carried on well into the mid-20th century. This period of European expansionism (colonialism) was also paralleled by the rise of scientific (modern) invention of races, racism and a race-based value system (white supremacy/ black inferiority).

Ancient Egypt has always been viewed through the “white gaze” or white supremacist gaze. White supremacy dictates that white peoples are the highest valued/ranked/accomplished, and is, by default, the most important or the human standard. By contrast, black peoples are the lowest, barely reaching the standard of a human being (subhuman). This race-based value system (white supremacy/ black inferiority) assigns social and historical roles to different “races.” Whites are usually superior masters, rulers, kings, emperors and blacks are usually slaves, servants, laborers, petty/insignificant or non-existent.

It is this European-invented race-based value system that influences the opinions, and by default, the scholarship of Egyptologists. Through these lenses, black people in Egypt are assigned to ONLY slaves/servants, the exception being the Nubian Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty.

Black [Physical] Identity Defined by Whites

Whites (Egyptologists) “define” Black Identity (blackness) through very narrow [white] lenses or gaze. For Egyptologists, blackness is restricted to Nubian. It is synonymous to Nubian or the “true negro” type. For white scholars and Egyptologists, Nubia (the ancient kingdom south of Egypt) is used to define/confine the black [physical] identity. Essentially, they use a single black [physical] type as the exemplary or true physical type of the black race. Regarding Egypt, the “races of man’ painting on the tomb of Seti I is highly utilized to distinguish between the Egyptian type (deep, reddish brown skin tone) and the Nubian type (jet black skin, thick lips, broad/flat noses and tightly kinky hair).

For Egyptologists, black and Nubian are interchangeable. And when they say Ancient Egyptians were not black, they mean Ancient Egyptians were not Nubians, since Nubian is used as marker/standard of the black physical type.

This is a misleading white supremacist approach to Black Identity (blackness). Only blacks should define blackness or Black Identity. Black Identity defined by blacks is very different from Black Identity defined by whites.

Black Identity Defined By Blacks

For black people, there is no “true” black type. Nubians do not present a “true black” type. Nubians represent Nubians (akin to modern day Sudanese/Jinka people). The National Geographic cover, for example, would be less “white supremacist” if its title had been “The Nubian Pharaohs” instead of “The Black Pharaohs.” Nubian and black should not be synonymous since not all black people are Nubian and the majority of black people do not fit into the “True Negro” stereotype.

Black writers, including Cheikh Anta Diop, recognized, rightly so, that there are various black types. Africa, and its indigenous [black] populations, are the most genetically, linguistically,culturally, physically diverse people on the planet.

Who Fits The True Negro Type?

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San child, southern Africa

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Ethiopian model Grace Mahary

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Egyptian/Moroccan model Imman Hammam

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Senegalese journalist Isha Sesay

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Jinka (Mursi) girl–True Negro?

 

 

Continue reading

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5 Movies Hollywood Should Remake With Non-White People

Ursula Andress, c.1965

Ursula Andress, c.1965

1. She, 1965—there have been three known movies based on the popular nineteenth-century novel by British author, Henry Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines). The best-known version starred the first bond girl, Ursula Andress, as the frigid queen of a mythical Egyptian-like African civilization called Kor. Ayesha, known as she who must be obeyed, is fierce and immortal—2000 years old. Ayesha is loosely inspired by the Candaces of Kush and despite being Arab—true daughter of Yarab from Yemen—she is described as pale (white)-skinned. Kor is loosely based on Kush (Nubia), but is founded by whites (their remains line the caves of Kor). Kor has black/brown people, sure; but Ayesha puts it bluntly—the blacks/browns are savages. They toil the land and work as servants—nothing else. Bottomline: this movie needs remaking. I can see it now—Ayesha played by Lupita Nyongo or some other beautiful black actress. PS. The word “Kor” is Kushite for “King” as in King Taharqa. See below.

2. The Gods of Egypt, 2016
Will Smith, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet (according to box office clout), couldn’t get The Last Pharaoh—about King Taharqa–made. Halle Berry (after becoming the first black woman to win an Oscar) couldn’t get a movie about Nefertiti made, either. Meanwhile Hollywood approved a movie about Ancient Egypt, starring Anglo-Scandinavian white actors. The movie stars Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) and Scottish actor Gerard Butler (300). Neither of these actors has the movie star status or box office numbers of Will Smith. On top of it, Hollywood plans to release another Cleopatra movie starring Angelina Jolie (directed by Ang Lee) in the next few years. This will be the ninth screen adaptation of the life of the Greco-Egyptian queen (including small screen portrayals). When I say The Gods of Egypt needs remaking, what I really mean is that they should make The Last Pharaoh and Nefertiti. The Gods of Egypt reportedly cost $150 million to make and will not make its money back.

3. The Good Earth, 1937
Asian people get the short end of the stick in Hollywood (21, The Last Airbender, and potentially, Akira). Pearl S. Buck wrote and published The Good Earth in 1931. In 1937, Hollywood turned it into a movie starring white actors—no kidding. The Asians played background actors. The studio rejected Anna Mae Wong—the best-known Chinese-American actor of the day, because she wasn’t “pretty.” Maybe the Chinese can turn this into a movie and sell it back to America, ala Genghis Khan. See below

4. Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan starring John Wayne. Yes, it really happened. In 1956, white-American actor John Wayne, in full-on yellow-face, starred as the Mongol warlord (The Conqueror), whose exploits include putting his DNA in a sizeable chunk of the world’s population, and conquering a sizeable chunk of Eastern Europe. For those who say, well, that was the 1950s and it was racist back then. Beware that up until 2012, Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2)—a ratchet-faced white actor was the frontrunner to play Khan. The project fell dead—thank goodness. If you want to see a really good Genghis Khan movie, then watch Mongol, 2007.

5. Biblical Movies

Every single movie ever made about the Bible—all movies about Jesus (Son of God (2014), King of Kings, 1965), Exodus: gods and kings (2014), Noah (2014), The Ten Commandments. Matter of fact, Hollywood should stop making these movies, period. For some reason, the irony of hiring British people to play “disputably” enslaved, oppressed people (Hebrews) is lost on the Hollywood elites.

Posted in Black people, Commentary, Media, Pop Culture, race | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Neymar Jr, Brazilian Racism and The World Cup of Football (soccer)

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Neymar Jr.

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The Redemption of Ham

I grew up with the Brazilian dream team of Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho (2002 world cup champions). Imagine my shock when Ronaldo called himself “white,” Ronaldinho declared Moreno, and Roberto Carlos white.

Then there is the curious case of Neymar da Silva Santos Jr.; or, Neymar Jr., or just Neymar—the Brazilian #10  star.  Neymar once told reporters in 2010 that he wasn’t black. Since 2011, Neymar has been playing in Europe where he and fellow Brazilians (Dani Alves and retired legend, Roberto Carlos) have been subjected to banana throwing, monkey (macaco) taunts/jeering and name calls. Neymar even got into fight with an opposing team’s coach, whom he accused of calling him a monkey, and he also accused soccer fans of racism (during a friendly between Brazil and  Scotland). Neymar even started the “we are all monkeys” campaign on Twitter, after the Dani Alves debacle.

Despite this, I am not sure if Neymar now accepts that he’s black.  He’s experienced enough racism in European soccer to know how the rest of the world (not just the USA) sees him—as a black man. Europeans make no distinction between him and Mario Balotelli of Italy, for example.

The problem with Neymar and Ronaldo is a Latin American one–specifically Brazilian. When the Brazilian government stopped racially classifying people, Brazilians started classifying themselves. This led to the black population falling off a cliff to a mere 6 percent (from 55 percent in 1888).

Those who mostly identify as “Moreno, Pardo or mixed” are phenotypically black (see Neymar). Meanwhile, many mixed race people who fall on the phenotypical white side (Alessandra Ambrosia, Fernanda Tavares) tend to identify as white.

Why do black-looking mixed race people refuse to identify as black, but the white-looking mixed race people gladly identify as white? It is not simply preference or, “we are all Brazilians” as many Brazilians would like to believe.  It is simply a desire not to be black, the race/skin color that fills the favelas of a white supremacy society.

It is important for Neymar (a man poised on super-stardom due to charms, good looks and talent) to declare himself black.  He seems quite content with upholding Brazil’s Embranquecimento  (whitening) practice– see the painting, The Redemption of Ham, where a black grandmother prays to god that her mulatto daughter’s baby (with white husband) turns out white.  Embranquecimento was an official practice of Brazil until the mid-20th century, and it led to widespread European (mostly Portuguese) immigration into Brazil—to save the white race. Neymar has a child, with a white, former girlfriend; unlike Neymar, the child looks white (the Redemption of Ham fulfilled).

 To quote this blogger:

In that sense, Neymar is only the latest in a long line of celebrities and Brazilians of lesser value who get it. Who get the fine print on the contract; who understand that national identity rests on racial harmony, which, in turn, rests on a kind of potential access to opportunity. Not the opportunity to be equal, mind you, but the opportunity to be white.

More on race in Brazil: Black women of Brazil

Telles, Edward E. Race in another America: the significance of skin color in Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.  http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7846.html

Posted in Africa, Black people, Brazil, Celebrities, Commentary, Latin America, race | Leave a comment

The Whitewashing of History Through Cinema

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The White Gods of Egypt

We live in a world dominated by people of European descent, and they determine whose tales get told, and who gets into their historical epics, whether they are fantastical (Game of Thrones) or factual (Braveheart). Whites are raised believing they are masters and commanders. The only history that matters is theirs. To appease the fragile sensibilities of whites (white supremacy), all characters and histories are whitewashed—real people (Genghis Khan played by John Wayne), legendary people (Jesus Christ) and mythical people (Memnon in The Odyssey; Andromeda in the story of Perseus—Clash of the Titans).

And then there is Alex Proyas’ 2016 release, The Gods of Egypt. Continuing with the themes of “cultural appropriation” and Anglophilia which are  popular in Hollywood, British-ish actors will play the MAJOR trinity of the Egyptian pantheon of gods—Seth, Horus and Osiris.

Why? A British accent is the sound of civility (to white people) and Hollywood dogma stipulates that every movie made about the ancient world must cast actors who are British or who can speak with British accents. Never mind that civility and civilization predate the British, or that the Ancient Egyptians did not speak with British accents; nor did they know anything about Britain, which did not geopolitically or geo-culturally exist yet. Heck, by the time Rome and Greece flourished Egypt was already an ancient civilization.

Whitewashing, through cultural appropriation, says that we must put not just a white face, but a British face and/or accent on all civilized cultures/history—we must forge a tie between Britain (the modern face of civilization to white people—who swoon, his accent is so sophisticated) and all ancient cultures. This way, when anyone thinks of the ancients, or “civilization” he or she will think of Russell Crow speaking with a British accent (yes, I know Russell Crow is Australian, moron). They will assume that the British and their descendants are not just heirs, but founders of ancient civilizations. Now, Ancient Egypt will have a white British face  and British accent, too.

Of course, critics will bring up Heimdall, a minor Scandinavian god, portrayed by Black British actor Idris Elba, who appeared for a total of ten minutes in the first Thor movie, and fifteen minutes in the second. Seth-Osiris and Horus are not the equivalent of Heimdall. They are the equivalent of Thor-Odin and Loki, or Zeus-Hades and Poseidon. I have yet to see Thor-Odin or Loki portrayed by blacks or browns.

The problem with whitewashing—through Hollywood (so liberal, right?)—is that it maintains the status quo—the longstanding belief that the most interesting people in the world/ history are/were white or Caucasian (an umbrella term that expands and contracts at the choosing of people of European descent; example: Yes, Middle Easterners are white, so Jesus is white. No, Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers are not white).

Whitewashing establishes whiteness as the norm—the center of the world. Only white people lead interesting lives. When interesting (non-race specific roles) come about for non-whites, even those are given to whites. Angelina Jolie played Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart (2007) and Tom Cruise’s cousin William Mapother played Marine Sergeant Thomas (a black soldier helping out during 9/11 in 2001) in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006). In the 2013 Bling Ring movie, the focus was on the white character played by Harry potter actress, Emma Watson. As it turns out, the leader /mastermind of the Bling Ring robberies is Asian-American. Director Sofia Coppola said she focused on Emma Watson’s character because she was the most “interesting”—to whom? Whitewashing establishes non-whites as sidekicks/background and secondary actors to whites—not worthy of center stage.

Posted in Black people, Celebrities, Commentary, Egypt, History, Movies, race, Rant, whites | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments