Category Archives: Social Media

Haiti: Photo journalism or poverty porn

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing and hungry, sick or dead in a photo album on a desk in New York, sold  for $10 a piece?

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing  and desperate and needy, to be pitied or saved.   Take my bible and I will feed you the bread?

To be poor in Haiti: is to be reformatted as ‘troubled’ and to feed the pockets of foreign NGOs and journalists.?

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing and no one of value and dignity and meaning and sacred potential? Accountable for in the story of this country?**

Brad S Workman - Turning World
Brad S Workman – Turning World

 

I was alerted to the website Turning World - @Turning_world – by some friends here in Haiti. The site is run by photo journalist, Brad Workman who has an ongoing photo documentary in Haiti.  I took issue with his language, the project, the fact that there is no acknowledgement let alone giving back to those whose lives he invades under the guise of social documentary.   The books and prints are for sale on the website.  and  previews here.   There  are different ways to tell a story without invading peoples lives and assaulting their dignity – see here and here the photos chosen by the Camp Acra residents on their blog which should be a lesson on what Haitians see for themselves.   Teju Cole’s 7 point tweet analysis of the   “White-Savior Industrial Complex”  is a must read for any white saviors or potential white saviors embarking on a savior mission..

4 – This world exists simply to satisfy the needs – including, importantly, the sentimental needs of white people and Oprah

7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an ey on it, for you know it is deadly.

The story be dammed – people are more important.  Enough already!

My email only begins to touch on the whole issue of the  ethics of disaster photo journalism and the white saviour mindset.  Two well known examples of disaster voyeurism are the  one of a  young Haitian girl, Fabienne Cherisma, who was photographed dead having been shot by a policeman after the January, 2010 earthquake.  The accompanying text states that looters then ‘went through her pocket to steal what they could” meanwhile  all 14 photographers stood by her body adjusting their lens for further shots- a kind of double shooting, one causing death and one prolonging death as imagery forever.   Two of the photographers won an award for the series.

A second even more disturbing photo is one of a Sudanese baby dying of hunger whilst a vulture  waited in anticipation of  her death.  The photographer, Kevin Carter, who also won an award, waited 20 minutes before chasing it away.  Journalists in Sudan had been told not to touch famine victims so instead of,  at the very least holding and caressing the child to at least give human comfort or try to get her to the nearest field hospital and treatment she was left alone.

There are  also many questions around  the unequal power relations between photographer and their subjects, objects. Photos rarely come with context beyond what was in the photographers lens at that moment and their decision to click.  We the observer are left with the photograph and our imagination to interpret what we see and if this is to influence thousands of white saviours to invade Haiti then I see that as problematic.  A question that constantly returns is why is it that so many white Americans, the majority who have no contact with Black people in their own country,  feel the need to spend their life saving the people of a Black nation?

In the case of Workman, the idea of photo journalism as non-interventionist is serialised across the global south under a guise of non-partisanship,  shooting people in distress and  ‘enmeshed in political or social change’ and for his own material gain as well as satisfying   ‘emotional needs’ and white privilege.  It’s certainly not driven by notions of solidarity and struggle for justice but rather flowing from sentimentality and who knows what other emotions are carried behind the choice to avoid the words ‘slavery’ and describe structures of violence as ‘troubles’!

 

Mr Workman

I am writing in response to your description [Turningworld.org] of your photo journalist project in Haiti where I note  you have visited 20 times.   Specifically I wish to respond to the your presentation and thereby engagement with Haiti based on the language used in the description which I find highly disturbing.

Firstly without text and context photos do not tell the story that needs to be told. So even before your photos are presented, the text you write is a shadow of the reality behind the story – So how will the truth be told?

You use the words ‘human bondage’ and Haiti’s resistance to this.  Why not simply be clear and upfront by using the word slavery and writing that Haiti has a history of revolution beginning with the only slave revolution which led to the first black independent nation?  Instead you imply that this ‘human bondage’ is not only continuing but you erase the very resistance you attempt to speak of.    Presumably after 20 visits you have an in-depth knowledge of Haiti’s history, culture and politics?   Incidentally are you aware that after Haiti’s independence many enslaved people who escaped managed to travel to Haiti to live as free men and women?  Are you aware that Haitians including the revolutionaries fought on the side of the Americans against the British. Are you aware that Haiti’s debt is a direct result of being forced to pay reparations to France for ending slavery and then being punished for demanding the return of these monies which have contributed to the impoverishment of the Haitian economy?

You write that ‘Haiti is a deeply troubled country’ and go on to speak of poverty as if poverty happens outside of the socioeconomic and political regional and global landscape. How is Haiti troubled in ways that other countries are, by implication not troubled?  This kind of Eurocentric exceptionlaism is counter productive as first of all it ignores the underlying systemic structures of capitalism which perpetuate poverty from Guatemala to India to Nigeria to Haiti to South Africa.   Secondly it singles out Haiti as being somehow different to other sites of poverty in for example the above countries which are at the very least as poor!  One just has to know and understand the racism  that underpins the US’s  relationship with Haiti, something I note completely ignore by those who come to ‘publicize and save’ Haiti from all manner of ‘misery’ to question a simplistic statement on poverty in Haiti.

You talk of hunger, child labor, street children, environmental degradation, limited health care, cholera as  ‘troubles’ ..  These are not TROUBLES, they are acts of violence and the direct effects of colonialism, elitism, occupation, capitalism and rampant disaster capitalism and what Paul Farmer calls structural violence for which western nations, the US, France etc are the driving force.    Attempting to de politicize Haiti in view of presenting a non-partisan perspective just doesn’t work because it erases the  proud history of this country, it erases the destructiveness of US and French imperialism, it erases the truth behind the poverty, the street kids and the non existence healthcare and the fact this present government is systematically disposing of the popular masses to the extremities of the city and the country.

You speak of MINUSTAH but only in half truths i.e. you fail to explain why they are in Haiti or the violence they have committed  in poor neighborhoods plus their responsibility of cholera.  You fail to mention the militarization in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake which added to the trauma of people’s lives.

I have viewed the first stage photos and I am deeply concerned at showing photos of wounded, hungry, sick vulnerable people.  This is a objectifying and insulting and pure pornography of poverty.    So the world will see these photos and the false narrative that Haiti is a poor diseased violent country is perpetuated.  Yes this I know to be the narrative.  It is one told to me regularly whenever I visit the US and mention Haiti, the one the media loves to describe as ‘the poorest country in the western hemisphere’  as if that is the sum of 10 million people and 300 years of history! .How on earth does this help Haiti?  And why do you feel you need to publicize the struggle rather than support or come in solidarity.   Whats the response OMG,  how awful these poor people are suffering, lets make way for more of the  faith based missionary and the NGO industrial complexes to save Haiti.

How about giving Haitians cameras and letting them take their own photos; how about providing equipment for Haitian photographers to train youth and kids so they can document their own lives as they see fit instead of a self-centered careerism on the backs of the poor people!

You mention ‘promotional’ photos on your web page without giving some proper explanation on the monetary value of these and what you intend to do with monied raised from this and the rest of your work.  I see no where  you explain how you will give back to the communities and people who will be come subjects [objects] of your work?

His reply which I  will leave for readers to interpret…

Dear Sokari Ekine:

Thank you for taking time to write such a thoughtful e-mail! I hope to
have additional contact with you as I work to complete (and possibly
expand) the “Embracing Haiti” project.

For now, I must go but will remain

Sincerely Yours,
Bradley S. Workman

 

 

** From from DMKW and from June Jordan

Get Inside, Identify

 

My friend, a medical doctor, and namesake, Emmanuel Okeleji, has just launched Insidify, a “peerless job meta-search engine with deep social media integration.” Insidify aggregates thousands of job openings from hundreds of sources — jobsites, company career pages, newspapers etc into one place – A kind of ‘Google for jobs.’”

They hope to help users find the jobs that fit them exactly, to “alert you immediately these jobs are out and help you discover which of your friends on Facebook(primary connections) or the Friends of your Friends (Secondary connections) can help you get the job.”

Quite ambitious. Alan Kay has said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

All things being equal, Insidify would compete directly with Jobberman, which prides as the number one jobs website in Nigeria. The intelligence of Insidify, truth be told, is quite superior, and maybe this could be the tipping point.

Last April Opeyemi Awoyemi, co-founder of Jobberman, was one of the speakers that spoke at TEDxIfe, which I curated. Awoyemi is an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University, as is Okeleji. I think Ife is the future of social innovation – ask ‘Gbenga Sesan, he’d agree.

Okeleji has gone to the mountaintop, I believe, and seen the promised land. Maybe with Insidify, we could game the labour market, predict it.

Albert-lászló Barabási agrees. “Once you had data, you could build theories. Once you had theories, you have predictive power, you could test that and then the whole thing fitted itself.” And Barabási has a question for Okeleji, which I second. “The question really become not as much how you collect the data, but how do you make sense of it?”

How do you collect this huge data – “We have close to 70,000 CVs already for both Blue and White Collar jobs and that number is growing by the day!” – and use it for something transgenerational, sustainable, something that defies unemployment?

Okeleji would have to answer that – maybe there is no answer, maybe by opening Insidify to the public he has answered, already.

Gender Nonconformity and Dating in New York City

queer love imageIn spite of the many configurations of queer dating in this vibrant and complex city, a series of recent encounters have given me pause, pushing me to ponder over hetero-normativity and queerness — specifically, what kinds of relationship and sexual expectations are often placed on masculine black bodies. What does it mean to be a genderqueer or Trans masculine black person in queer dating scenarios and which gender roles do we feel most comfortable with? What’s typically expected of us in these areas and how does this fit with our actual feelings and desires? And finally, how do we negotiate desire, privilege, love and safety in relationships with other Trans or Cis identified people?

First let’s name some terms.

These are words that, in my experience, a number of queer folks, specifically queers of color, use to express their masculinity and/or disassociation from the gender binary — boi, aggressive/AG, butch, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, trans, trans man, boifemme (for more on this read Z’s “I’m Neither Butch Nor A Top”), soft AG and butch queen. I pulled more from the Transjustice myspace page: gender variant, gender deviant, butch lesbian, drag queen, bi-gendered, two spirit, drag king, femme queen, non-gendered, cross dresser, gender-bender…you get the idea. There are probably as many words and identities within this as there are people.

Trans masc — on — Trans masc action:

A good friend of mine, a black Trans masculine person that we’ll refer to as X, and I were chatting recently. We’ll also use the pronoun “them” because X (like me in some respects) doesn’t identify with masculine or feminine pronouns. Well, X is drawn to all kinds of people, regardless of gender and expression. X often uses the term pansexual to explain their sexual orientation. Well, X was complaining about how hard it is to approach (i.e. ask out) other black trans masc people. In clubs, parties, gay pride-like events or other queer social spaces, approaching these types of folks usually resulted in a mix of reactions, often bad: from mild rebuffs to open hostility.

“I just don’t understand why I get treated like a freak when all I’m trying to say is ‘I think you’re hot?’”

I don’t fully understand either. What is it about trans “masc-on-masc” action that is so destabilizing for some?

Case in point, this is what greeted me one post-work evening when I opened up my facebook account:

“I’m a trans man and I like gurls! Two trans guys together really freaks me out! Anyone ever heard of anything ridiculous like this??”

I looked at the black face next to the post, sucked my teeth in disgust and quickly un-friended.

It’s 2012 and I live in New York City where, mercifully, queerness takes on many forms. Relationships involving folks whose identities and ways of being disrupt the gender binary in many inspiring ways, are also quite common. Yet, in my experience, seeing two black trans or genderqueer masc people walking down the street holding hands, or hanging out in the parks kissing and canoodling, is quite a rarity. So much so that when I do see such a sight, I do something I hate to do or hate being done to me — I gawk. But the one difference between my type of gawking and that of the many random cis people who stare, and often jeer, at trans people in public spaces, is in my case I want to applaud; I want to give that couple all the support and affirmation that their attraction and love deserves.

AG on AG action:

First off, I’m no AG. Trans guy, trans masculine person, genderqueer, gender fluid — these are all words that fit me, some more so than others. The black folks I know who identify as such say that AG or aggressive is “this generation’s answer to the term ‘butch.’”

I remember years ago attending a benefit concert at a super packed medium-sized club. It was mostly dark, save for the blue-green-yellow spot lights illuminating the stage and the band occupying it. The band was working hard that night. Their half naked beautiful black bodies were covered in sweat as they jumped, gyrated, and jammed to their own music, getting the mostly people of color crowd worked up! My friend, let’s call her Y, and I were lost in the moment, feeling one with the crowd, with the music, and with everything happening around us. It’s one of my favorite memories of Y and me. The moment was very short-lived though, because not long after that Y caught sight of someone.

“My ex,” she said, jutting her chin at a stocky masculine black person standing not too far from where we were, sporting a fit-it cocked to the side of their head, baggy colorful shorts down to their shins, a crisp looking polo shirt. They were in some ways dressed similarly to Y.

“Which ex?” I jokingly asked, as I liked to tease Y about her “way with the queers.” She didn’t respond with her usual sly smile, rather she muttered a name and said nothing more. The sadness on her face was quickly evident.

Ah. I remembered this ex.

This was the one AG-identified person she had fallen for, yet the uniqueness of their relationship — they both being AG — and the fact that, at the time, no one else around them understood or supported them, was too much to handle. So, soulful connection or not, they called it splits. Today, Y is quite satisfied with what she has going on in the dating department, but sometimes I wonder. If that relationship had been given the space, nurturing and support it needed to thrive, where would Y be? Also, are things much different today? Can black AGs date each other, express affection freely and publicly, without fear of reprisal or being ostracized from fellow black queers or gays or SGLs or…[insert your term of choice here]?

Butch — on — Femme  or  Femme — on — Butch action:

What if you’re a trans, genderqueer or gender nonconforming person who passes as one of the two conventional gender categories mainstream society foolishly insists on maintaining (male/female, woman/man)? What happens when a trans or genderqueer person passes as a black man (in world where black men are hyper-masculinzed) and ends up in dating relationships with cis-identified women? In Trans Queers: A Transfags Sex Journal, (a blog devoted to dialogue on the sexual politics, desires, and practices of trans masculine folks of color) one of the bloggers bemoans the fact that he’s automatically and constantly perceived as Dominant/Butch/Top in queer dating relationships, simply because he sometimes passes as a black man. I remember, back in the early days of my gender transition, shying away from relationships with cis women or men because of this fear. In dating situations, I felt freest with other trans or genderqueer folk, people who had a more versatile approach to their sexuality, as opposed to folks who identified strictly as “top” or “bottom”. In some ways, this is still true, but now in my 30s I’m realizing that I’m a balancer of sorts, i.e. I can respond to a relationship dynamic in a yin-yang sense…as long as there’s a shared understanding that dynamics are not static. A recent acquaintance, an incredibly artistic black Trinidadian cis gay man, used the term “lobo” to describe this way of relating. I’m not fully sure of the origins or history behind this word, but my understanding is that it describes someone whose sexuality changes according to the type of partnership they find themselves in. It’s probably a lot more complicated than that, but fluidity is the key here.

Unfortunately, hetero-normativity may still have a stronghold on us queers or LGBT folks. Oftentimes we may want to replicate rigid masculine – feminine gender roles. I know from personal experience it’s a tough habit to kick. If you and yours have made a conscious choice to relate to one another on solely masc-fem or butch-femme terms, then that’s beautiful because you’ve thought this out, come to understand your own authentic desires and made a decision together.  However, what about us genderqueers or trans folk of color who are more fluid and can’t be pinned down as one or the other? What about us black gender nonconforming folks who like a variety of genders, expressions and relationship/sexual dynamics? Do we always have the freedom to express that gender and sexual fluidity that feels so natural in our intimate partnerships?

 

 

The Parameters of Longing

I will argue for a new literary order.

Suppose we call this ‘neo-literariness’, for want of a better word, and because in hyphenation a word acquires two identities. So, neo-literariness is the word to use for a generation of writers and enthusiasts who function despite institutional lapses, and whose artistic engagement thrives of new ways of being, especially web-technology.

I will explain with a few examples.

In 2009, Dami Ajayi and myself began publishing Saraba Magazine, which to date has published 11 issues of PDF magazines, 5 poetry chapbooks and 2 sub-issues. We have, so far, received no grant, or made no profit, but we have published up to 120 writers from 5 continents. How do we manage to do this? When I am working on any new issue of Saraba, I wonder how these far-flung writers get to hear about our work. And this is more surprising because we have clearly defined our Nigerian and African sensibility. The answer is not far-fetched; something about how literature is exchanged is changing.

I think that the change that is happening is happening for two reasons — ease of accessibility and ambitiousness. The first is easy to explain. I pay about one thousand five hundred naira for weekly internet subscription. My subscription is 20 hours with a validity period of one week. I live in Lagos, which means I get 3G easily. If I lived in Umuahia, where I recently visited, I will barely struggle with EDGE. So although I know that there are exceptions, and not everyone is as privileged as I am, I understand that there increasing numbers of Nigerians on the web explains ease of accessibility, that at least, people find ways to do what they have to do online. And wasn’t it Gbenga Sesan who retweeted that Nigeria had the fourth largest internet users on earth? Continue reading

The Problem With Small Miracles

So, I was one of the cyberspace moralists that put in word for Okeoghene Ighiwoto, the now famous Nigerian patient who has been ‘saved’. How might one begin thinking of this matter in a post-salvation mode, now that we feel good, sigh gratefully, relish our success? But, as we find, success is often an imagined word. And that fact applies no less here, now that we walk the uncertain terrains of morality, sentimentality, and virality. We hear that Okeoghene’s matter has been taken over by the Delta State government. This is a triumph, obviously. It is the kind of triumph that happens when a first goal is scored. One must not be happy enough.

It has become Government matter. Government matter reminds me of how macrosystems often overwhelm micro-systems, so that no matter how much we try, we are faced with the need for an institutional overhaul. We cannot speak of a working health system, for instance, without the signing into Law of the Health Bill. Without, what is more, the justitiability of socio-economic rights, such as the right to good health, which is not included in the Nigerian constitution as a fundamental right. How can the right to life mean anything without a corresponding right to good health? How can the death penalty suffice as punishment if living corresponds to dying (unfortunately, Nigeria remains resolute on state-killing)? We keep creating microsystems — cyber-campaigns, rallies, walks, talks — focused on advocating for and ensuring good health, but the macrosystems are frustrating us.

The dots are easy to connect. We are successful in a limited sense. And our limitations mean more people are dying from a broader insensitivity. Our sentimentalities are not forming adequate constellations; the challenge is that the missing pieces are not within our reach.

Continue reading

On #FoL

In a meeting last week, I made the point to my colleagues that Twitter was the greatest webtechnological innovation of our last decade. There was stifled laughter, mockery lingering in the faces of my listeners. I have re-contemplated that stance, each time coming to the same conclusion. It takes quite a lot of fiery compositional intelligence to make sense in 140 characters. But it takes some patternized diligence to conceive a project on a twitter platform.

That’s why @tejucole is increasingly being venerated. (see, among several, Latoya Jordan, Geoff Wisner, Macy Halford, Kola Tubosun)

In Addis Ababa last December, I had a momentary feeling that I was accommodating too much self-love, too much disdain for the Other. Being a Christian as I am, I am taught to consider myself more lowly, to think in terms of others. And I’ve readied myself for the bliss that comes from opening one’s self.

To achieve this, I thought of how we are enveloped by the facts of life, the fixated and systematic renderings of existence. And how this fixatedness transcends a person, for laws are no respecter of persons. In many ways life is expressed in Laws, and the absolute will always overcome the relative. In many ways, we walk within firm parentheses.

So, my #FoL project, or ‘play’ject is an attempt to reach to the firm parentheses of life, to see and record facts that appear universal. For instance:

“Waiting is a convenient excuse for idleness.” And, “Some churches will accommodate everything except your admission of impeity.”

What Twitter affords is the ability to state unequivocally, without the space for debate. The truth and falsity of each statement is often left undebated, as I guess most people who come across my tweets will either smile, shake their head disagreement, or look away.

And we must also recognize the hilariousness of our Twitter life, the humour in its narrative. You will find @toluogunlesi useful in this regard (a week ago, I met a man who, meeting Tolu for the first time, was surprised at the unassuming face behind the ROTFL tweets.)

So, if you may, and only if you may, follow me @emmaiduma, and let’s declare the Facts of Life together.

When ‘i’ means ignorance

I was sitting amongst a bunch of teenagers in an internet café when the things I observed inspired this article. I peeped at the screens of the computers they were using and made some interesting observations. Two were playing games. One was hiding his screen and from the corner of my eye I saw naked women, probably he was watching porn. The other two were comparing pictures of celebrities. Another one was complaining about how slow the internet was as he was trying to stream a video of one of Lil Wayne’s songs. So I sat there, busy looking for information on human trafficking on Google and I wondered if this was a generational thing.

Indeed the advent of technology with i phones, i pads and ido not know what else will follow has brought forth new dynamics in communication. The era of letters when we would run like mad puppies to the gate to collect letters from the postman or the age of landlines when at the first ring you would run to make sure that no one else picks up the phone in case it was your boyfriend and you did not want your mother or father to pick up are over. Even the use of cellphones’ has metamophorsised from a mere tool to receive calls and send sms’s to become an i(nnovative) tool of technology, where you surf the net, you skype and do all sorts of innovative things.

We live in the era of i pads and i phones

Yes the internet is a Revolution and communication will never be dull again. I love the emoticons on Skype, enjoy chatting on Gtalk, Nimbuzz, Facebook, Whatsapp and everything else that I know which is available. With a multitude of passwords, I am even amazed at myself and wonder how I keep up with all these different technologies. And if I, at my age, am such an addict surely teenagers can be forgiven for burying their heads in this technology.
Continue reading

See, The Nigerian Revolution Has Begun

You tell me that if I speak I will not be heard. No. I will speak and I will be heard. I am not a writer only by talent. I am a writer because I want to be a witness, a real witness.

You recall Edward Said, “There was something wrong with how I was invented.” Yes, you do. So you understand that I have been out of place for too long. Yet, I am taking the chances of return. When I was invented I was told I was less because I am Nigerian, that I did not have certain opportunities. I will not go to a good school. I will live with the fact of darkness, without electricity. Etc etc. Now I am reinventing my own dialogue, I am taking apart my absence-and-hole-shaped existence. I am filling up the blank spaces. I am writing my story, my essence, my self.

I am a young Nigerian. “Out of Africa always comes something new,” some ancient Roman historian is supposed to have said. Because I am young I am burdened by the New. I know of the past injustices, the failed sunsets. I know of being labelled, being called a money-monger because I am Ibo, a fraudster because I am Nigerian, futureless because I am African. Yet, I am willing to look to the New, I am willing to constructively forget, to walk through the past and leave the past in the past. I am willing to argue into being this newness I speak about. Because being Nigerian is being New.

Don’t think of me as a Facebook protester. I am not. I have gone past updating my status, commenting, posting notes, for the transient reason of being counted amongst a number. I feel embarrassed that you think of me as a young man seeking fame. I am wary of that word. I am wary of being ‘liked’ by a myriad of people who know nothing of my motivations, my aches, my processes. Instead I am conscious that each Facebook activity or blog post contributes to the historical statements I am making. I will not seek cheap fame. I will contribute to real change.

Which is why I will write and write until my hand is blistered and sore. I will write of the Nigeria I am seeing, of the deconstruction of labels. Of possibilities, of equality, of a new youth. I will write of the shaming of the prodigal fathers, whose failure has been that they forget too easily, too quickly, that no injustice will outmanoeuvre human resilience, or collective will.

Continue reading

How I Earned the Right to Speak about Anything

It is hard, as I am sure most writers know, to efface the person, render it impotent in the face of the writing life. Who I am always haunts my writing; and this is why and how I argue that I have earned the right to speak about anything — and you might want to consider this word ‘right’ as encompassing as it is in the legal regime. To make this process easier (this essay is a process, every word builds into revelation), I have charted two layers: Identity and Ethnicity. You might have to be dishonest with me — you might have to forgive how I render myself so bare; all writers eventually do this, pushing themselves, in fiction, in poetry, to the place where there’s no telling what is reality and what is not, because everything is reality, everything written is real. Helene Cixous says this of Clarice Lispector, for instance.

I should give a background. I was born to an itinerant preacher — when I was born my Daddy was an employee of the Scripture Union, an interdenominational organization with offices around the world. His job description was ‘Travelling Secretary’; clearly, he ‘traveled.’ So, I begin my questioning from this point — I was born fluid; I was not to stay too long in one place, my Present was always in motion.

Of identity, I ask myself: Am I or aren’t I? How do I begin to define myself? What is the crack in the surface in which Me leaps into visibility? You should know that I do not feel Ibo enough, because I can’t speak the language well, because I respond in English when my Daddy speaks to me in Ibo. So, I am not keen to identify myself as This or That. In my case, there is no This, and no That. Perhaps it’s a This-That.

Which is why, in December 2009, when we were moving again, I wrote: ‘Who am I, after this transition?’ I cannot think this irrelevant — I am a borderline person. I have transited too much to be just one person. It is simply a question of identifying myself. What I want is to be able to say, This is Me, when a million others stand beside me, with me, in a crowd. So far, I should tell you, it has been difficult.

The antonym of ‘easy’, Anne Berger says, is not ‘difficult’. It is ‘impossible.’ If then it is not easy to define myself, is it perhaps impossible? Will I, as I remain on the border of who I am and who I can be and who I am meant to be, never identify myself in the crowd? I cannot tell if this is a shared feeling — but when I am in Ile-Ife I am not Yoruba, and when I am in Umuahia, I am not Ibo. I am simply, perhaps, Emmanuel, a person, but not the kind of person who feels ‘Emmanuel’ enough. Not inferiority, of course. It has never been a question of being less; perhaps it is that I am not ‘more’ enough, that I have ascribed too much to Being, and I am yet to meet up with that definition.

Speaking of Ethnicity might make this clearer. You see, I am an English-only onye Ibo who can comprehend Ibo spoken at any speed but is reluctant to utter any word of it, for fear of sounding incorrect. In fact I can comprehend Ehugbo, the language of Afikpo, which Ibos from other parts cannot comprehend. My Daddy wanted us to speak English first, in Akure, because he feared that we might become mischievous urchins, too ‘local’ in an urban space. So, we lapsed into an Anglo-consciousness. I do not blame him; I should not blame him. You want to blame him? English is a ‘lingua franca’, isn’t it? He remembers being mocked when he was a little boy of his inability to speak English — he remembers desiring to speak English like his brother.

But I realize that no matter how loaded, conflicted and difficult the word may seem to me, I am Ibo. By heritage. Perhaps there is some new meaning I can confer to it. I am, like, Carmen Wong, “A mishmash and hodgepodge of conundrums and contradictions.” I am ready to stay hyphenated, to add a dash to my personality, something like ‘English-only-onye-Ibo.’

Let’s imagine that there are others like me. Let’s further imagine that these others are — because this is the occupation dearest to my heart — writers. What will happen to their writing? Will it embody the same mishmash of their borderline personalities? How will they speak true to their sense of ethnicity? What home could they define for themselves, what sense of place?

Yes, I speak about myself, asking questions that bother my art. And there’s a sense of urgency, too. There is, for instance, a Facebook identity, a Twitter narrative, the acculturation that comes from being an internet user. Should we only consider the internet as utility, not as lifestyle? Isn’t the internet a border, a separate identity, part of the dashes I’ve acquired?

I’ve decided to be a writer, which in itself is an acceptance of the Borderline, an acceptance of staying a hybrid, remaining fluid, accepting that one word cannot define your process, your heritage. How do I come to the point where I am not simply termed as an ‘African writer’? I do not fear this label because I am not from Africa, or not black, or because Africa has been derogatorily called blah blah blah. I fear it because it is, somewhat, a closed parenthesis. I want to work within an open parenthesis. I want my definition to start from ‘an English-only-learning to speak Ibo-onye Ibo-internet-using writer’ with a […] around the term, leaving space for more dashes. Because I am always more; and my writing will always be bothered with this More-ness.

Hence, it is this fact that gives me the right to plunge into uncharted courses, to use unused language, to speak about anything, because there is nothing like This or That in my head. There is the possibility of everything and anything.

But this is not, cannot be, the subject of a single post. I’ll publish a Kindle e-book with the same title in January 2012. I hope my ranting is heard.

 

Media reform-”Trickle up journalism”

Highlights from the “National Conference on Media Reform” –

Words for thought:

We need to see “the view from the top” to understand the depth and extent of events but also we need the “view from the bottom” -those personal stories with which we can all relate – “Trickle up journalism, Amy Goodman, Democracy Now

“Objectivity in journalism” – is a myth spread by corporate interests, there is no such thing. Don Rojas of Free Speech TV

“My cellphone is political” – in some places and in some moments it is blocked, in others I can use it to expose the “blockers” Tim Karr, Free Press

Putting risk and sexual assault in context

I cant remember exactly when I joined Facebook but I think it was sometime in 2008, so about three years ago. In that time I have been sexually harassed a number of times but two were particularly horrible. In one I was sent pornographic photos and the other, what I thought was a fairly banal and short conversation ended with an abrupt verbal assault. I didnt report the first one – it completely freaked me out and I just deleted everything but the second I did report. FB’s response was because I had engaged with the person there was nothing I could do. This felt to me like because the guy [a gay identified man] knocked on my door and I had invited him into my space for a chat, I had no defense against being raped. In other words it was my fault. Even though the second incident was relatively mild compared to the first, I felt horrible and turned off my FB for a couple of days. Once I had recovered from feeling shit and blaming myself because this hit me on a low and because I had been careless about people wanting to add me to their “friend” list, I started to feel really angry. What makes men think they can violate you and walk away. I remembered a comment left here a couple of weeks ago in response to a statement on “corrective rape” in South Africa in which the man described rape as “a bit over the top” but he could understand the reasoning behind the barbaric acts.

Men from Africa are seeing what is happening to men in North America and Europe. We are second class citizens. We are being turfed from the classroom and workplace at an alarming rate. There is no wonder African men feel defensive. While rape is a bit over-the-top, I can understand the reasoning behind their barbaric acts (though I do not condone violence).

I thought for a second of not publishing but changed my mind even though the comment itself acted as a violent trigger. I seriously believe that the majority of women in this world face some kind of sexual assault on an almost daily basis. And I seriously believe that the majority of men in this world are with their silence complicit in these assaults even when they are not the direct perpetrator.

Sometime ago I read this article by Amanda Taub at Wronging Rights. who puts “risk” and sexual assault in context. Just by the fact we are women we are always at risk – always.

And second of all, guess what? If women never went anywhere where we risked being sexually assaulted, we’d never go anywhere, period. We certainly couldn’t go to work on foreign aid projects. Or to U.S. military academies. Not to college. Not on dates. Not to parties. Not to bars. Or on cruises. Not to work as models. Or security contractors. Except that even if we never went any of those places, we’d still be screwed (pun intended) because of course a high percentage of rapes happen in the home, committed by perpetrators whom the victims know. Putting the responsibility on women to prevent sexual assault by restricting their own behavior – or on their employers to limit it for them – won’t actually solve the problem, it will just reinforce gendered norms about what “good” women “should” do.

Using Facebook for activism is fraught with risks

There has been the usual a great deal of discussion around the role of Facebook and Twitter in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Some of it has been balanced and sensible, others simplistic and frankly childish in analysis.  What has been missing from any of these discussions are the risks associated with using social media for organising.  Most of us use Facebook with abandon which might be OK for socialising with friends but when it comes to political activism more care is needed.

“Human Rights Video, Privacy and Visual Anonymity in the Facebook Age” published by Witness is a report on the risks associated with using social media for organising. Every activist involved with using social media, Facebook and YouTube in particular, need to read this article which explains the dangers for personal security and some of the misconceptions we have around privacy.

Some of the dilemmas of ’real name’ identity and ‘visual anonymity’ come together when we consider that so much of social justice advocacy in social media and online video spaces occurs in in spaces that are ‘public spaces’ only to the extent that their corporate owners permit it. As the internet researcher Ethan Zuckerman has put it:

Hosting your political movement on YouTube is a little like trying to hold a rally in a shopping mall. It looks like a public space, but it’s not — it’s a private space, and your use of it is governed by an agreement that works harder to protect YouTube’s fiscal viability than to protect your rights of free speech.

The article goes on to point out that activist themselves need to take responsibility for understanding ways in which they can take to protect themselves. There are also a number of steps service providers could take to ensure human rights activists have greater privacy …

Develop or incorporate tools and technologies into core functionality that enable both human rights activists and general users to exercise greater control over visual privacy

Change key usage and content policies (including those covering apps) to include specific reference to human rights:

Create officially-supported spaces in relevant products and in mobile and online settings, for curation and discussion of online content from a human rights perspective, to strengthen user and broader public understanding of human rights in the digital era:

Full article here.

SMS Tracking violence against kids in Benin

Using SMS to track and report violence against kids in Benin. Anyone witnessing or experiencing violence texts a local number [I presume they mean texting after an attack not during one!] Using the Ushahidi platform the message reaches the authorities who then have to respond. This is a great idea but I am not clear if and how it can really work. For example so far only 13 reports – do the children and youths have mobile phones or access to phones? Do they know the service exists? The second problem is what happens if there are 50 reports all at once in different parts of a city? And what authority do the child protection officers who are meant to respond have to arrest those commiting acts of violence? Where do the police fit in.

These questions have not yet been answered but a full interview is here and video below.

The Violence Against Children (VAC) project is an initiative co-implemented by PLAN and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia. The VAC project trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies. A comprehensive UN report proposes recommendations for action to prevent and respond to violence against children around the world. Earlier this year, the project explored the idea of setting up a text message based system that will collect and map out reports of violence against children in communities in Benin and Togo.

The managers of the VAC project sent the following statistics about violence against children in Benin: according to a study conducted by the Benin Ministry of Family in 2007 (Etude nationale sur la Traite des enfants réalisée par le Ministère de la Famille en 2007) [fr]:

Phishing attack on Tunisian Gmail accounts – more censorship?

Tunisia is turning out to be the most repressive country in Africa when earlier this year the government began a wave of censorship of online sites.

Tunisia is carrying out one of the most massive wave of online censorship targeting major social websites, video-sharing websites, blogs aggregators, blogs, facebook pages and profiles. The most recent victim of this wave is flickr, the popular and one of the best online photo-sharing website, blocked today, April 28th, 2010………

Last week, on April 22, 2010, Tunisia has added 3 more websites to its list of banned video-sharing websites in the country. Blip.tv,metacafe.com and vidoemo.com are not welcome aymore in the country.In early April, 2010, On march, 19th, 2010, WAT.TV, another social networking and media-sharing website, which is believed to be the 3rd video broadcaster on the Internet in France, has also been blocked.

The targeting of video-sharing websites by Tunisian censors started on September 3rd, 2007, with the ban of Dailymotion, then it was the turn ofYoutube to be banned from the country’s Internet on November 2nd, 2007.

On it’s posterous page, Nawaat.org has published an updated list of the banned video-sharing websites in the country, stating that:

Now the government appears to have extending the censorship via a mass phishing attack on GMail accounts as explained by Slim Amamou on Global Voices Advocacy who spent some time investigating the origins of the attack.

That first experience with this phishing campaign on Gmail lasted only a few minutes before things returned to normal, but there was something fishy going on : the IP address was correct! (see nmap screenshot). To make such an attack, it takes full control of the Tunisian network, from the wires to the HTTP protocol. Those hackers were owning the whole country.

The hacking method was basically to block access to the secure Gmail so that Tunisians are required to sign in via a non-secure Gmail, then divert them to a machine running a fake Gmail login page under EasyPHP, to steal their passwords and later, when needed, hack their email accounts.

Later that morning, I decided to monitor and trace this systematic phishing campaign on Gmail with the help of a cronjob which to check if port 443 was open or closed – basically, if it is closed, a phishing attack was ongoing.

The post is important not just because it reports on censorship in Tunisia and the lenghts the government will go towards hiding its repression but the details of Slim’s investigation to try to find out who is behind the phishing attack and how to protect your Gmail account are extremely useful.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Breaking silences

Amanda Mutamba Muhunde’s poem is dedicated to raising awareness of survivors of rape in conflict zones in parts of Africa and breaking the silence.

Amanda pulls no punches in raising your conscious a notch or two as she lyrically details a woman’s account of her own rape, and her unfulfilled wish to no longer breath after the incident. Amanda skillfully walks you through the victim’s realization that even at the worst of it, there is purpose in the victim still having a voice and daring anyone who will listen to spread her story of pain, struggle and survival.

Continue reading

Nigerian digital artist

An interview with Nigerian digital artist, Kenneth Shofela Coker who is based in Memphis.

eni

We want to get to know you. Introduce yourself. Where are you from? What is your area of expertise and how did you get started in the field?

Hi, my name’s Kenneth Shofela Coker, most people call me Shof. I’m a 22 year old illustrator/animator from Lagos, Nigeria. I moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2005 to start college at the Memphis College of Art. I graduated at the top of my class in May 2009 as an illustration major and right now I’m trying to begin a career in the animation industry.

Animation has always been a love of mine, with early memories of old 80s action team cartoons (Thundercats, etc), Tom and Jerry and movies like the Jungle Book and Dumbo. Going into college, I wasn’t too thrilled by the standard visuals of 3d animated movies, so I thought it would be best to attain a solid foundation in traditional illustration. I believed that understanding illustration might inform more unique visuals to go along with the quality of whatever story was told. It was even more important to me because I knew I’d be telling African stories, which I felt and still feel need to visually stand out from the animated fair that flood the screens across the globe. Continue Reading

Toolkits & guides from Tactical Tech

Tactical Technology Collective (www.tacticaltech.org) is an international NGO that provide human rights advocates with guides, tools, training and consultancy to help them develop the skills and tactics they need to increase the impact of their campaigning. The following guides and toolkits are available online, as downloadable files or they can be posted to not-for-profits in a book/CD format, free of charge.

1. ‘Mobiles in-a-box’, designed to support campaigners to use mobile telephony in their work.
English: http://mobiles.tacticaltech.org
French: http://fr. mobiles.tacticaltech.org
Email: mobiles AT tacticaltech.org

2. ‘Message in-a-box‘, a set of strategic guides and tools to create media and communicate for social change.
English: http://www.messageinabox.tacticaltech.org/
Email: miab AT tacticaltech.org

3. ‘Security in-a-box’
, created to meet the digital security and privacy needs of advocates and human rights defenders.
English: http://security.ngoinabox.org/
Soon in Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish
Email: security AT tacticaltech.org
Continue reading

Sunday future stories – CC in London, orgasm pills & latent inhibition.

I live in London. I don’t have a car so I use public transport – bus, tube or train. I just traveled back from the depths of south London back up north and managed to read a fair bit of the launch edition of the UK Wired and survive a mild asthma attack. I started my journey re-reading Bessie Head’s Question of Power but by the time I got to Victoria Station, I was having fantasies about horrid things so I was on the search for something to take my mind off serious matters. The Sunday papers looked utterly boring and I couldn’t face another article on G20, NATO, Obama or Brown. Wired, on the other hand looking soothing, geeky and glossy seemed the perfect distraction from drudge, evil racism and misogyny, and Obama sycophants. I don’t often buy Wired but when I do it tends to be at an airport or train station and keeps me occupied for a couple of hours at least.

What fascinating back to the future stories did I find in Wired? Well even in Wired there is a gloomy but highly graphic reminder of the failures of G20. Under “News and Obsessions” is a story of what would (will?) happen to London when global warming comes to town. The opening photo is a bit deceptive as who would say no to a tropical London with palm trees?

hyde-park-659425

Fortunately a closer look and we get to see the real environmental consequences of climate change on the city..

The images in London Futures are, however, above all believable. GMJ, a design agency, has dreampt up a future city which may or may not come true, but which will certainly stop us in our tracks. London Futures shows us the possible environmental consequences of our behaviour and encourages us to think, and think again.

That was the doom story now lets move on to something fantastical or maybe not. Apparently distractions make us more creative so switching between email, Facebook, Twitter, reading the Guardian and blogging will hugely impact on your “latent inhibition” ie your capacity to screen from conscious awareness stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant”. It took me a while to get this so please persevere. ["I'm not a Zen monk. I'm doing my expenses' by Russell Davies.]

Some frightening and some welcoming futures. 2018, Teledildonics – remote control sexual stimulation and 2019 “Electro-Sex” and possible “orgasm pill”. Now I know we would all looovvve that one. It gives new meaning to sex on the train or a “quickie! I wonder if these in anyway connect to the “latent inhibition” mentioned above?

2018, Meal replacement patches – will deliver all necessary nutrients without you having to open your mouth! Well I guess it will save time! And the really disgusting, 2029, “Lab grown meat in fast food restaurants”.

Some good stuff – 2032 “Cancer no longer a problem” 2024, “Cure for AIDS” 2023, Live to over 100 and much more. The only one that seems realistic and frankly does not require any significant mind adjustment is free city-wide wifi in 2010 – Roll on!

Finally – couldn’t resist some credit crunches – whatever this exactly means!

“At the end of 2001, there was $920 billion in credit default swaps outstanding. By the end of 2007 that number was more than $62 trillion”

Missing Ada Lovelace Day: W-TEC Nigeria, Ore Somolu

Ada Lovelace Day was organised to bring recognition to the many women who have contributed to technology. So who was Ada Lovelace? Apart from being the daughter of one of my favorite poets, Lord Byron, more importantly Ada wrote the world’s first computer programme for the Analytical Engine. The event was organised by Suw Charman-Anderson with a call for bloggers to make the following pledge….

“I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

I took the pledge in my head but then I completely forgot. It’s not too late so I am going to write a brief few words about a Nigerian blogger and woman in technology who I admire and I believe deserves far more recognition than she has so far received – Ore Somolu.

Ore Somolu started her blog Ore’s Notes in July 2005. At the time the number of African women blogging was quite small so it was very natural that we would come into contact with each other through our respective blogs. In 2006 Ore came up with the idea of running a workshop on technology for woman in Lagos. We discussed the idea together and came up with a pilot project Blogs for African Women (BAWo) which was supported by Fahamu. Although I was involved with some of the planning, it was Ore who led the project which instructed a group of young girls on blogging using volunteer mentors from across the blogosphere. The project ran into many difficulties such as access to computers and the usual unreliable electricity supply and Internet issues common to Nigeria. However it was an excellent learning process and if we measure success by future outcomes then the project definitely achieved this.

Nonetheless it was hard work and the many obstacles could have led Ore to give up at this point. But instead she persevered applied for a small amount of funding from the Harambee Project to continue with the workshops. By 2008 through sheer hard work and determination, Ore had developed the idea of using technology as a way of empowering Nigerian women and girls socially and economically into something bigger and more sustainable. The result is the Women’s Technology Empowerment Center [W-TEC] which is based in Lagos.

In her own post on Ada Lovelace, Ore writes about the influences in her life choices and why she chose to focus on women and technology…..

“However, now because of women like Dr. Nancy Hafkin, I feel like I made a series of alright choices after all. While her work is about technology, it is centered on the people who use the technology: how they use it, how they can use it more efficiently and also on the people who are not using the technology: why not, what technology has to offer them and how user challenges can be addressed. This has been a good guide for me and I know because she was helped pioneer a new field, I’ll be better than okay doing something unconventional, as long as it is something I feel called to do”.

Links: W-TEC blog, Facebook, Twitter.

InfoActivisming

Try to imagine 133 activists, campaigners and techies coming together in one place for 7 days. Imagine this event had been in the making for 6 years (six months preparation) and was organised by a small group of people based in Brighton, England and Bangalore, India and known as the Tactical Tech Collective! (TTC) with the added assistance of Allan Gunn (Gunner) of Aspirations. What do you imagine would take place? What would be the outcomes?

I was fortunate to have been one of the 133 people privileged to have been selected to help with facilitating as well as participate in this ground breaking experience — InfoActive Camp 2009 (IAC2009 — the “Camp”).

InfoDiagram
Continue reading