Author Archives: Efua R. Armstrong

About Efua R. Armstrong

Efua is from Ghana and is interested in society and culture as well as conversations on gender and sexuality. While sitting through a speech by a professor at Kenyon College, I agreed with the idea that the limitations of the human mind aren't necessarily burdens but gifts! I couldn't agree more! I am curious and love to process and reexamine information. I also have absolutely no restraints in admitting that I don't have all the answers or that I am still thinking about something! Go ahead and leave me a message!

Returning – 'The Return’ in ‘Year of the Return’

When I picked up Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a striking narrative of the Transatlantic Slave trade and its generational effects on one Gold Coast family and its journey from West Africa to America, I mulled over the title and wondered above all things why its title was placed in gerund form. After considering it for a bit, I arrived at these conclusions – that the gerund form indicates an active, continual and ongoing action. The use of any other tense and maybe the past tense for example, would’ve indicated a completion of an action. This completion would’ve been quite imprecise simply because the action of Homegoing, in this context is a harrowing process whose physical and spiritual significance and transformation begins from the past, revives the present and stretches into the future. The weight of going home to relive, connect or discover the origin of the Slave trade is too vast and unending an event to be captured with any other tense outside the gerund form. 

Gyasi’s novel ends with a return home to Ghana by the descendant of the long family line that was taken to the New World. The book ends on a beach. This year, the government of Ghana issued a public invitation to Black people living outside the continent of Africa to return home to discover their roots and heritage. A lot of the returnees, some of whom are pop stars such as Beyonce, Ludacris and Rick Ross, are in Ghana this December. Most of the time, returners visit the castles that dot the coast of southern Ghana. Social media accounts have buzzed with many photos of Black returnees who have mostly posed for photos in the castles, while verbalizing strong captions that embody the pain and also hope that the Transatlantic slave trade has left on their hearts. The castles have been visited by many prominent people including Barack Obama and were holding places of captured slaves while they waited to be shipped over the seas to the New World.

The Complicity of the Ocean 

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, the ocean and its role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade is highlighted. Hurston’s main character is held in a Barracoon on a beach on the shore of what is now Benin, while waiting to be transported over the seas to Alabama. Hurston’s character unlike Gyasi’s characters is not fictive. This character is a real life person who is asserted to have been the last survivor of the Slave Trade in America before it was abolished. He was originally from Nigeria and never fully recovered from the trauma and nostalgia of separation from his Nigerian village. Before Hurston’s protagonist boarded the ship that would bring him to the new world; he was stripped naked, carried in the womb of the ship just like all the other naked or barely clothed slaves transported from West Africa  and rebirthed into a different culture where their complete insertion, even up until today is worth discussing.

Returning

Chinua Achebe has spoken of the Supremeness of the Mother ; – his own Okwonko returns to his mother’s village because there is nowhere else for him to be when he is exiled and escaping from a place he thought was home; –  this year in West Africa, Ghana and Africa, the wheels of history are grinding louder in reversal and completion of a circle. The mother whose children were brutishly taken away, is receiving its returned children. The children who have nowhere else to go are seeking out the mother. Returning to Africa where so many Black people were lifted has begun a process of healing. The return home creates a new identity, a spiritual awakening and force that binds from the past, present and into the future. 


Highlighting Subtleties In – Marriage Story

This post contains spoilers.

I enjoy lifestyle stories as much as I enjoy trending and unfolding news and so when I came across the Marriage Story on the Atlantic Blog, I quit scrolling.

The Marriage Story

Just as simply as the title suggests, this story is about a marriage whose beautiful story has been captured by moving cinematography. The lead characters are seeking out a divorce which in itself is not ugly, but whose involved players, the lawyers, make it unfeeling and uncomfortable to watch maybe because it becomes a stark reminder of the mortality of all our adult relationships and marriages and how they could potentially be reduced by many factors including the law.

The Inhumane Side of the Law

Charlie’s, ( the husband ) first choice of a lawyer is quick to remind Charlie that he charges $950 per hour and then also adds as a reminder that the firm’s assistant attorney charges $450 by the hour and would probably be the best person to direct less significant questions to, which means quite obviously that this lawyer is not quite about the client’s needs but the monetary potential of the client. The lawyer is aggressive and combative in his suggestions and recommendations to Charlie and on many occasions forgets or uses an entirely different name in place of the real name of the would be ex wife. Clearly the entire atmosphere in this lawyer’s office is more business like over compassionate or empathetic. He even calls Charlie’s would be ex a bitch which Charlie quickly addresses and corrects. To accentuate the scene, the camera catches a brief image of a pouf in one of the lawyer’s accent chairs which reads Eat, Drink and Remarry. He zones in on the use of exaggerated details to try to incriminate Charlie’s would be ex wife with the view of winning the case. He says to Charlie that they aren’t going to win if Nicole, the wife of Charlie is portrayed as the perfect mother. Quite ironically, Nicole’s lawyer, a female, also on her part encourages Nicole to tone down and eliminate her flaws entirely because society will definitely support the stereotype of the flawless mother and the neglectful father.

The Evaluator

The evaluator is another character whose physical and symbolic presence reminds me of the irony of allowing an external entity to judge and make conclusions on a life a person has lived a lifetime under the lens of whatever internal biases, botched perspectives and wavering objectivity. The evaluator represents the law which without a true knowledge of a person can alter their life in a minute.

Concluding Thoughts

Took me two days to work through the film

Charlie and Nicole’s marriage is generally rooted in love as seen in their civility, hesitation to hurt each other ( they openly discuss their frustrations and desires on how to make the divorce process painless ) and little acts of kindness including her tying his shoe laces and her cutting his hair in one of the scenes. Their divorce is happening because of a change in direction of professional interests and with it, changed preferences of a home address. The therapist in this article is right in his assertion that they still do love each other. The film starts out on several running scenes of the couple’s life together with Nicole’s voice over narrating the strengths of the couple and how they help each other through other areas that are out of their core strengths. The film’s ending scenes show a moving scene in which their son discovers and asks Charlie to help him read the very journal Nicole’s voice over narrated from in the opening scenes about the couple’s life together. At this point, the divorce is already concluded yet Charlie’s discovery of his wife’s journal moves him to tears. The last line he reads before the scene closes is ‘ and I’ll never stop loving him‘.

Relationship Management Skills for Interacting with Adults and Kids

My resume so far is heavily dominated with research and instruction. It is going to be hard at this point to explain my interest or commitment to any employer offering me a chance in a field that did not necessarily relate closely or loosely with the areas I just mentioned.

I’ve been through some personal indecisive moments where I wondered if I my interest in international affairs, a masters degree, and a foreign language were enough reason for me to go into international civil service or if I am indeed cut out for academia. For the most part, I would say I have made some progress trusting my life’s path, genuine interests and process, and so currently, I remain on academia’s path. Who knows? *Shrugs*

My training sessions recently have been on relationship management with young people. They have left such a strong impression on me and I would like to share some of the information I received in this post.

I am not a parent yet, however, observing young people and working with them makes me see how comparable and nearly the same adults are to young people.

Relationship Management With Adults and Kids, The How Tos –

Never Try to Negotiate through Tantrums/Arguments

Have you ever been in a conversation that is far from friendly and civil? An argument is what that is! Raised voices, overly assertive stances, egos at play and a stubborn view that the parties hold because they both think they are right. As a rule of thumb, disengage when tempers soar. Discontinue the conversation, walk away or wait until the person calms down. Same with young people, do not argue, reason with, coerce or bribe an upset young person. Let them know, ( both adults and kids ) that you will only engage in conversations once there is calm. I’ve seen young people and adults grow fiercer, nastier and act out more only because the other person tried to calm them down, I mean, fires get bigger if you try to put them out in the wrong way. To disarm, only continue when they calm down.

The Go Lower, Go Slower Rule

As a segue to the first rule, the go lower , go slower rule is where you would slow down, quieten your own emotions and speak slower to an agitated person. Remember at this point to eliminate hostile words, postures or gestures. Assume the position of the logical one because quite obviously, the upset person is moving mad.When we meet upset people with the same amount of energy, fireworks will happen. The go lower, go slower rule is how you calm down and quieten or tone down the scale of the argument. If this does not work, we move to the first recommendation which is to disengage.

Don’t Expect Behaviors You Don’t Teach

@themillenial.therapist ‘s Post on Ig

A lot of us women get upset at other women and men because they do not treat us the way we want them to or better yet, expect them to. We think they should already know what to do. Does this make any sense at all? How does a person expect a thing they do not ask for? For young people as well, you need to be explicit and teach or say what you expect, and then when the expectation is not met, you hold them accountable.

Punishment, Accountability

I am very interested in language, wording and positive reinforcement and so there is no way I would ever forget my elementary teacher’s comments on my report card. The comment was always along the lines of ‘Talks too much in class’ or ‘Can do better’. We can’t go through sugar coated moments all throughout life; but then we can always say constructive things to people. In retrospect my teacher could’ve said, the student has a good potential for leadership etc etc and should be offered resources and opportunities to channel that interest in self expression etc etc. because really, what does ‘talks too much in class mean? And what should anyone do with that information? I do agree that not everyone has time or the brain power to reword or constantly remember to be sensitive and offer constructive feedback, however, the key thing is to try. Coming to the word punishment, our trainer offered that we exchange the word punishment for consequence. That made sense to me. That also reminded me equally to remember to make consequences meaningful. To make consequences constructive, explain the relevance of your action ( the consequence ) and then allow the person you’re mad at a chance to rethink what they did and then discuss next steps. Sometimes kids and adults go through consequences and they have no idea the relevance of what they went through or why they need to do things differently. We miss good teaching moments when we do not offer explanations for the consequences we place on others.

Attack the Behavior and Not the Person

Often in arguments, we get distracted and go on unprofitable tangents. Whenever you need to address an issue, try as hard as possible to focus on the action and not the person. Instead of saying you always do this and I’m tired of you; ( Sounds accusatory ) – say this is what you do ( state the thing ) and this is how it makes me feel ( focus on the action ).

Thanks for reading!

Is Success Predetermined? ( Shoe Dog and Two Cases of Study )

Sisyphus and the Incessant Rolling Stone – Sometimes Symbolizing the Futility of the Human Pursuit of Success/Power

I live on African news. On a certain evening in late October, I was having dinner and listening absent mindedly to the London based Nigerian reporter who hosts the BBC Africa podcast. I liked her pace, voice and near casual delivery. I threw down whatever crumbs of food I was eating and walked away from the speaker that filled the apartment with the news. I was going to pace the entire square foot of the living space with no real aim in mind until I gave up and went to bed. Then the story of Dr. Ismail Ahmed, the founder of World Remit came on. There was mention of his having been let go of while he worked with one of the UN agencies; the UNDP, to be specific. He was working in the remissions department and had noticed a gross whirlwind of corruption and intended to blow the whistle. I rolled my eyes. This was truly a whistle blowing age we lived in. He was so concerned he wanted his superiors to support him while he changed the world and straightened things up in the specific UN office yet that was sadly not going to happen. He was told he could lose his job if he went ahead with the probe and outing. He eventually lost his job, doubled his fiery determination to make a difference and started World remit. Dr. Ahmed was recently named first on the 2019 UK power list in recognition of his success so far with World Remit.

My UN Experience

I worked in one of the UN offices in Accra for a year. While I think I didn’t work long enough to notice any activity worth whistle blowing over, I did encounter an image that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Naturally, any young graduate who cared enough about change would have stirrings in their spirit over the pace of work and things to be done. This was me in 2013; I had graduated with a bachelors in liberal arts and a foreign language under my belt. These diplomats had better make room and watch me change the world! My equally ambitious friend and I often spoke about books, travel, places to eat after work and the lady in the HR department who we asked the same question each morning. Did she need a hand with projects? Did she need help with pending work, help with future work, anything? Did she want us to clean her office even? We probably would have, but each time, the answer was a curt NO. The lady was a whole topic of discussion because unlike our boss boss, who practiced an open door policy with us, this one was very different. She was hostile, passive aggressive and never willing to assign or offload work to us. We were after all interns and there to work! Anyway, outside this, we quickly noticed the bureaucracy of the UN. To back the frustrating realization of this clogged up system, there was an image in our office of a dog. The dog appeared in many versions; imagine mugshots that continued for the span of about 14 boxes. Essentially the dog was captured looking excited in the very first shot and not so excited in the last. The images were a gradual and dismal transition of emotions and energy, from total motivation to eventual frustration. The dog was a representation of the effect work in the UN could have on you; – you would come in excited, eager to change the world; and eventually withdraw your excitement in exchange for a trite acceptance of the reality that changing the world might actually take a lot more longer than you’d expected….And this image was in our office! The presence of the image in our office was a bold and saddening admission that we all knew, and somehow accepted all we saw.

Francis Ngannou’s Story

Francis Ngannou is a successful mixed martial artist from Cameroon. He lived in poverty growing up; the crippling type of poverty that stifles any chance or effort to be resourceful. He migrated to France, met nearly the same amount of suffering if not more and then walked randomly one day into a training studio where he met a man that would train him, cultivate his skills and hone him into the world star he is today.

Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog is an intimate memoir by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight. Throughout the thirteen hour audio book, I have been unable to shake off the tremendous contribution of his coach, in the shaping of knight’s character, intellect and spirit. Phil Knight tells of his coach’s resilience, industriousness, strength, force. Bill Bowerman’s conviction that the type of shoe an athlete wore had a direct relationship with performance. He is Nike’s cofounder and the brain behind some of the brand’s very first creations.

Take Aways

The three individuals from these three encounters definitely worked hard. However, I am still mulling over the contribution and convenience of the relationships and steps and events that came their way that led to their success. Their stories enforce for me that….

…..the dots always connect.

Shooting for Entertainment

In an earnest attempt to get to know my students; I asked one of them how their weekend was. This student is a shy individual who would avoid an instructor at all costs and speak only when spoken to. Knowing this, I went ahead to probe and get him talking about how his weekend went.

Fort nite is an online survival game whose essential goal is entertainment derived from the satisfaction of self defense delivered by guns. This student I was speaking with had had a relaxing fun filled weekend and it was grace a cette jeu ( because of this game ). This game whose sole purpose revolved around shooting for self defense and ultimately fun derived from killing opposing forces. I walked away feeling unsettled. What subliminal messages were these games pushing?

The conversation blog which I follow ardently published a post based on the logic behind fear. In this post, the main idea presented revolved around the illogical nature of fear. It maintained that fear, specifically xenophobic and fear of the other, rested not on the logic of otherness equaling humanity but rather an us against them mentality which encouraged an attack on different groups if the one group wanted to survive. I see the same idea in this game.

A quick online search showed that variations of the Fortnite game features zombies who must get shot at if the player wants to stay alive. Many games that even I have played innocently feature this idea of self defense against the being that is new, foreign, terrifying and out to get regular people or take what they have. Zombies are feared and need to be quelled before they multiply. Read related post also featured on the conversation blog. Around the world, and especially in South Africa, immigrants who even have the same skin tone have been targeted because of their otherness; with the idea being that though African, they aren’t technically South African. They are different, Nigerian for example, and dangerous. Just like in South Africa, zombies are everywhere in their indecent numbers and must be stopped. America’s zombies are as usual its foreign immigrants whose skin tones are different, – little heed paid to other immigrants who have the same skin tone as the man. This society is a place where entertainment in the form of online games, marketed and meant for younger members of society equals shooting at other BEINGS WHO ARE DIFFERENT in order to survive. This is the society where a lone armed shooter walks into a grocery store just because he knows that that part of town will certainly have DIFFERENT people aka zombies. In this space, I continually remain eager to understand what entertainment there is, for example in a game that rests on shooting others.

Mental health pulls the trigger not the gun. Where does this statement fit where young people are getting unconsciously wired to derive fun from shooting at the other with aims no matter how benign.

Understanding the Proverbial ‘Bad Bitch’ Through The Black Lady Sketch Show

Out of a plethora of shows available on creative platforms, I choose Black shows because I seek to clearly understand the many complex issues plaguing the Black community and especially the Black woman.

I came upon this show on Instagram. It was advertised as a coming soon on HBO and looked like it held so much value because of a HILARIOUS preview and later scenes that serve/d as fluid vehicles to push social commentary about women’s lives in post modern society. In summary, I  would say the show is an honest parody of societal issues with a limelight on feminine life. The topics projected in the show span impossible beauty standards, a comparison of marriage and it’s gradually changing or totally changed standards and expectations from our parents’ generation as compared to the millennial generation and a lot more!

This post will explore the Bad Bitch Support group scene from one of the episodes and hopefully spark your interest in jumping on this show as a way to understand, reinforce or refute certain ideas you may already have.

The Bad Bitch Support Scene –

Impossible Beauty Standards Enforced by Who?

Context

Words at Play – Bad Bitch,  Basic Bitch, Okay Bitch, Pressure, Men, Lace front, Waist Trainer , Fucksicodone ( Spelt as heard on show ).

This scene is set in what seems to be a lab. The women  are seated in a group and are observed through a glass window by two scientists. The scientists have a representative ( Angela Basset) who chairs  the group. The Bad Bitches are in deep conversation about their lives and some of them speak of the pressures and stresses of maintaining a life that is eternally linked to heels and make up. Some of the members of the group seem perfectly fine with their state and are horrified at the thought of ever allowing their partner ( Men in this case ) see them without make up. They all agree to some extent about the need to remain in their current state all except one of them who is distraught and ready to give up. The rest of the ladies and the scientists are shocked at her questions and non conformity. The scientists resolve to increase the dosage of Fucksicodone ( a coined term from the word ‘Fuck’ and the suffix of a family of drugs that are meant to numb pain and in this case common sense or a desire to rebel against imposed beauty standards.)

From The Top

Third/Forth wave feminism circles around agency and choice. Particularly for Black women who have witnessed struggles shaped in the form of sexism and racism, the state of being a Bad Bitch has become a doubled layered protective tool that could help navigate the aforementioned terrains. A Bad Bitch is defined as a woman who embraces her body while simultaneously using it as a commodity (Lavoulle and Ellison, 2017).

  Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 13.17.04In the scene above, the implied truths portrayed are that these women must be confident, tall and unflinching because as one of the characters say; ‘they didn’t choose this life, this life chose them‘. This statement though is indicative of a certain kind of lack of a choice, of a lot that has been cast on them through the workings of the male gaze, objectification of the Black female body and capitalism, link to the second factor. The location of the scene, –  a lab, – is a weighty portrayal of the fact that indeed, there is a working behind the scene when it comes to beauty standards. Through the scene we further understand how a woman can be objectified with no gain and with shame only and unnecessary vulnerability as side effects. For this reason and in tandem with the specific definition of a Bad Bitch as offered by (Lavoulle and Ellison, 2017), Bad Bitchery can enamor and position women  to  gain over the forces that suppress them. One of the characters explains that she goes great lengths to fix her make up an hour before her man is up. It is unclear if this work (of rising early to make up), is meant to elicit some form of gain from the man; – however, if it is, then the choice of the character to use the tool of make up ( which equally functions as a tool of objectification ) to her personal gain guarantees some kind of a win for her.

The final scene where the scientists question why the outlier lady does not want to play into the idea of what a woman should be ( made up, waist trainer clad and in heels ) sums up the play of capitalism and the male gaze in objectifying women. However these females have a choice in how they can turn the powers to their advantage via Bad Bitchery.

Related Post

 

Thank You for reading, here is a Song for you.

How the New ‘Aladdin’ stacks up against a century of Hollywood stereotyping.

This article is authored by Naomi Schalit and first appeared on the Conversation Blog. I reposted here because thematically, misrepresentation touches the African ( my area of interest ) as much as other minorities in their treatment under the Western lens as is portrayed by the author in this article. To read click here.