The Stories That Europe Tells Itself About Its Colonial History
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“She said once she was shocked that her son while being taught Belgian history, was taught nothing about Congo. She said “They teach my son in school that he must help the poor Africans, but they don’t teach him about what Belgium did in Congo.” Of course, all countries are evasive about the past for which they feel ashamed, but I was shocked by what seemed to me not evasiveness but an erasure of history.
If her son doesn’t learn that the modern Congo State began a hundred years ago as the personal property of a Belgian king, who was desperate to get wealthy from ivory and rubber, if her son doesn’t learn that the hands of Congolese people were chopped off for not producing enough resources to meet the king’s greed, if her son doesn’t learn that the Belgian government later led Congo with a deliberate emphasis on not producing an educated class, so that Congolese could become clerks and mechanics but couldn’t go to university, if her son doesn’t learn that more recently, even though it was the Americans who installed the Mobutu dictatorship, Belgium was a major force behind the scenes propping him up, if this young Belgian boy, knows nothing about these incidents, then, at some point, they would perhaps no longer have happened because the past after all is the past because we collectively acknowledged that it is so.
This young Belgian boy would grow up to see Africa only as a place that requires his aid, his help, his charity with no complications for him. A place that can help him show how compassionate he can be, and most of all, a place whose present has no connection to Europe.
It is not that Europe has denied its colonial history. Instead, Europe has developed a way of telling the story of its colonial history that ultimately seeks to erase that history”
I’m Belgian and I had a 10 minutes explanation on the colonisation of Congo in 12 years of studies in elementary and high school.
Here are a few survival tips (in no particular order) for black women who are asked to do too much:
- Take some time to/for yourself and be unapologetic about it. At least one hour of your day should be yours. Whether your vice be a glass of wine and reality TV, Facebooking, caking, going to a sporting event, talking on the phone to a friend you haven’t seen in a while, going to listen to live music, reading a book, writing in a journal, a bubble bath (don’t forget the candles), etc., it is important to take the time to do something that allows you to decompress, unwind, and relax.
- Say no! I have written about this at length here and here, but essentially I have learned how to say no to others and to say yes to myself. This means that I don’t over-extend myself, I don’t do things I don’t want to do, and I make “no” my default response to spontaneous or last-minute requests. I believe that women feel obligated to say yes even when they want to say no because it seems/feels polite. Be impolite! Say no (without an explanation/reason).
- Reject negativity. We all have well-meaning folk in our life who have something to say about everything and have unsolicited opinions about our lives, loves, and choices. While it is important to take responsibility for the choices (and consequences) we make in life, we don’t have to take on other people’s baggage. Surround yourself with positive people. Have people in your life who inspire you, love you, affirm you, encourage you, tell you how wonderful and beautiful you are, smile when you walk in a room, tell you the truth (in love), and are positive influences. As for anyone and everyone else… hellwitem.
- Pay attention to your body. If you are tired, take a nap. If you are craving chocolate, have a candy bar. If you listen and pay attention you will know/learn your body well enough to know the tell-tale signs that something is wrong. And if/when something feels wrong/off, see about it. I have a high tolerance for pain and am known for “bearing” discomfort. I am learning that it is unwise to ignore the signals your body gives you that something is not quite right. When your body speaks, listen! And do something about it.
- Sometimes, though, symptoms of distress are asymptomatic (making them even more dangerous), so have a bi-annual or annual check-up. If you do not have insurance take advantage of clinics, Planned Parenthood, andother agencies that are available to help you get screened, tested, and taken care of. Also, know your history. While sometimes our family medical histories can be mysteries, it is important to know what hereditary diseases or ailments you may be at risk for. The leading causes of death for African Americans include heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
- Do a regular inventory and purge anything toxic in your life. The same way you clean out your refrigerator and/or pantry every few months, get rid of things that are expired in your life. Not everything or everyone is meant to stay in your life forever: This includes people, relationships, thoughts, habits, and hobbies. Nothing and nobody should find a place in your life or headspace that is not purposefully and regularly adding to it. Don’t keep things in your life that are old, outdated, spoiled or rancid. Clean house!
- Let people go. Especially those that don’t honor and respect you. I believe that black women oftentimes put up with too much ish in their lives from people out of fear of rejection, abandonment and loneliness. Don’t be afraid of being alone. Never keep someone or something in your life out of desperation. Be clear about your principles and standards (for friendships, networks, romantic relationships, etc.) and never settle. If someone fails to treat you like the queen you are…On to the next one…
- Don’t be a people pleaser. I personally think that post-30 should mean you don’t give a damn about what people think/say/believe about you. Turning 30 was a turning point in my life (real talk, it was probably around 28) and when I stopped making decisions based on what I thought other people would think/say/believe about me I became more self-confident and free. Living your life for yourself and not other people makes a world of difference.
- Have a confidante. We should all have someone in our life we don’t have to “put on” for. We need at least one person we can talk to about deep-seated and deeply personal issues without judgment, someone we can cry with/to/in front of; someone we can tell our secrets to; someone that will hug us and pat us on our back when we just need to wail. This might be your best friend, partner, sister, or mother, but it might also be a professional counselor, mentor, or spiritual advisor.
- Celebrate yourself and your accomplishments even if/when you have to do it (by/for) yourself. Don’t miss an opportunity to acknowledge all of what/who you are and where you come from. Sometimes even small victories are significant and deserve acknowledgment. Whether you finally completed a long-term project, got over a long-term relationship, or made it through a grueling week, celebrate!
- Take care of yourself mentally, physically and spiritually. This means different things to different people. For me it means (mentally): that at the end of a semester I do/read something that I don’t have to think/talk/write about (usually Cosmopolitan magazine). I laugh, a lot. I also cry. (physically): I try to make healthy choices (doesn’t always mean everyday…) I stopped drinking sodas and started juicing, I limit my intake of salt and sugar. I have good intentions (that I don’t always meet) of getting some exercise in every week. (spiritually): I pray, I listen to inspirational music, I call my mama, I do yoga, I meditate on my life. Figure out how to best take care of yourself.
- Kick it, regularly, with your homegirls. This can be magic.
- Let people do things for you. When someone offers to do something for you, let them! Oftentimes, I think, we reject offerings of help and care because we are not used to it. Get used to it!
Please share your strategies for survival and/or the names of black feminists who are gone too soon. May we honor their lives and legacies by learning from them and about them.
The black feminists I name are Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Claudia Da Silva, Gwendolyn Brooks, Aaronette White…Barbara Christian, Claudia Tate, Nellie Y. McKay, Ava Scott, Lelia Gonzalez, Claudia Jones, Toni Cade (Bambara), VèVè Clark, Octavia Butler… (I will add the names included in the comments section through the end of the week)
It started as a one year project and ended up taking us three years but finally Hakima and I are able to announce the publication of the Queer African Reader by Fahamu Books.
A richness of voices, a multiplicity of discourses, a quiverful of arguments. African queers writing for each other, theorizing ourselves, making our movements visible. This is a book we have hungered for. - - Shailja Patel award-winning Kenyan poet and activist, author of Migritude
All too often we read about African queers as monolithically victimized or as passive recipients of modernity from the West. What a great antidote The Queer African Reader provides to that narrative, with its diversity of styles, stories, memoirs, scholarly theory, art, photography, and deliciously combative polemics and petitions as rich as the diversity of Africans themselves! Listen to the poetry, feel the passion – love, rage, sadness, pride – admire the beauty, grow from the insights of Africans speaking directly to us about their struggles to be true to themselves, to their families, their lovers, their nations. This brave volume should be essential reading for all human rights activists far and wide in Africa and the Diaspora. Professor Marc Epprecht, Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University
The Queer African Reader serves as an amazing anthology documenting the struggles faced by African LGBTI people both in Africa and in the diaspora. From personal narratives written by individuals like the late human rights defender, David Kato, to in depth academic and feminist analysis of the discourse concerning sexual orientation and gender identity in traditional African contexts, this publication contains a wealth of knowledge that can act as a starting point for various discussions concerning queer Africans around the world. Hopefully this book will allow others from all walks of life to share their unique African LGBTI experiences. - “Victor Mukasa, Ugandan human rights defender and long term LGBTI activist”
QAR is a revelatory, path-breaking collection of writings drawn from across the continent and its diaspora. Ekine and Abbas have achieved a huge task in compiling and editing 38 contributors who courageously share what it means to inhabit the precarious space that opens up between the patriarchal heteronormative regimes of the past and the radical possibilities heralded by so many personal-political struggles for sexual freedom. QAR offers timely testimonies, a bold and defiant cacophony of voices that variously subvert the sexual-political despotism that relies on normative fear and hatred to resist radical nonconforming ways of being and enjoying sexuality and desire. The first of its kind, QAR offers a rich festival of material includes analytic and expressive prose, theoretical discussions, erotic fiction, journals, documents and representations from visual and performance artists, that work to share the disquieting realities of LGBTQI experiences, contradictions and political perspectives to life. QAR is a rich resource - a milestone in the self-narration of Africa by people who will be silent no more. Essential reading for the twenty first century! Amina Mama, Professor & Director, Women and Gender Studies, University of California, Davis
Long awaited and overdue, written amidst burnout and premature death, in the front lines of Empire and gender violence, this first collection by queer Africans is no quick or easy read. The Queer African Reader demonstrates that urgency was never an excuse to leave anyone behind: unlike the depressingly streamlined movements of the global/izing north, they have ample space for impossible subjects that complicate the single story and expand who belongs in the movement and what it demands, from transgender to disability to healing. Written by and for Africans, this assembly of leading and emerging activists, artists and academics from the continent and its diasporas takes a leadership in sustainable, accountable community building that non-Africans, too, should learn from – while hearing the signal that queer and trans African have always been able to represent themselves. Jin Haritaworn PhD, trans/queer of colour activist, York University (Toronto), author ofThe Biopolitics of Mixing and co-editor ofQueer Necropolitics.
Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance by Marc Epprecht
The persecution of people in Africa on the basis of their assumed or perceived homosexual orientation has received considerable coverage in the popular media in recent years. Gay-bashing by political and religious figures in Zimbabwe and Gambia; draconian new laws against lesbians and gays and their supporters in Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda; and the imprisonment and extortion of gay men in Senegal and Cameroon have all rightly sparked international condemnation. However, much of the analysis has been highly critical of African leadership and culture without considering local nuances, historical factors and external influences that are contributing to the problem. Such commentary also overlooks grounds for optimism in the struggle for sexual rights and justice in Africa, not just for sexual minorities but for the majority population as well.
Based on pioneering research on the history of homosexualities and engagement with current lgbti and HIV/AIDS activism, Marc Epprecht provides a sympathetic overview of the issues at play and a hopeful outlook on the potential of sexual rights for all.
‘Clearly written, well researched and deeply committed to global social justice, this book foregrounds decades of research on sexuality in Africa. It shows, despite much publicized homophobia, the existence of sexual tolerance and calls for the elaboration of erotic justice.’ - Dr Robert Morrell, Research Office, University of Cape Town, South Africa
‘Through meticulous scholarship, Marc Epprecht has become a global authority on how homosexuality is indigenous to Africa. In this book, he once more brings sanity, clarity and wisdom to a debate too often warped by ideology. His book is a vital introduction for anybody wishing to understand the complex ways that African societies are changing when it comes to issues of sexuality, and how new ideas about sexual identity - often deeply grounded in ancient traditions - are taking root on the continent. As the global culture wars play out on African soil, pitching those who advocate ‘human rights’ against those who claim to represent ‘traditional values’, Epprecht writes vividly of the people who actually live on the battlegrounds of these debates, and cautions us to eschew easy readings in favour of deeper understanding of the contexts. This very necessary book is a work of activism as well as scholarship. It provides trenchant lessons for all those interested in social justice and how to support and defend the rights of embattled sexual minorities in sub-Saharan Africa.’ - Mark Gevisser, author, journalist and Open Society Fellow
Joy Gregory’s Autoportrait.
This series was produced as a direct response to the lack of visibility of black women across popular culture, media and in particular the fashion industry. A politically charged and culturally defiant act, it placed gender, class and race on centre stage in the contested field of representational politics.