All my life I’ve known I am different. Different in how I think, different in my aspirations, different because I steadily refuse to go mainstream, if the stream doesn’t make sense to me. I question many things about conventional society; monogamy, the predicament of the strong woman, the general belief in one true God, the notion that we are the only ones here, in this vast Universe. Destiny. Fate. Sexuality. I question the system a lot.
There are many terms for people like me, ‘outliers’, ‘rebels,’ ‘square pegs in round holes’. But this isn’t the common denominator for those who are just, ‘Other’. I find the common denominator is doubt, questioning your own convictions with as much zest as you question the status quo.
Wakenya Clewis – ‘The Kenyan Hippie’
So, when I came across an article by a young Kenyan lady, Wakenya Clewis, based in the United States, I wasn’t one bit surprised that I could see things from her very controversial point of view. Wakenya is dubbed, ‘the Kenyan Hippie.’ She’s big on body ink, because it’s a form of expression for her. It’s how she connects with her place in the universe. But what made Wakenya hit the news more recently, was not her inked body, but her view on Black Lives Matter.
According to her, it went a step too far after the death of George Floyd. She felt, we have reduced being African to a colour, black. And the more we focus on the skin tone of people from this great continent, the less we focus on how much else they contribute to the world.
Black Lives Matter Too Stage Managed?
I agree with her to a degree. My hesitation with the protests around Black Lives Matter that took place after Floyd’s death was that I felt in many ways we were playing right into the hands of the people who want to see black folk as unruly, violent, disruptive, angry. I felt a lot of what we saw was stage managed, not by us, but by players we couldn’t see. I felt Floyd did not die by mistake, and the reactions did not take the powers-that-be by surprise.
The world stopped and watched, and lines were drawn in the sand, between those who shouted from the rooftops, leaving no doubt that they supported freedom and equality, and in fact they loved black people and those who quietly sat it out.
As black people, we either spoke out against the violence, reencountered our own experiences, chanted Black Lives Matter, bought stickers, posted on social media or braved it like Wakenya and said, ‘I don’t support this form of expression.’
I will be honest, I was caught somewhere in between, because, well, I am different and seldom will you find me in the crowd. I respected every single soul that stepped out to shout from the rooftops that Black Lives Matter, but I also cringed because we should never have had to say it.
I find there is a fine linebetween declaring who you are and feeling like you need other people to acknowledge it, in order for your sense of self to be validated.
Ambassadors of Africa
When I was a teenager, I joined this singing and dance group, Balozi Africa; Ambassadors of Africa. Our vision was to demonstrate, through the arts, that Africa is a great continent with great potential; that good things can and do come out of Africa.
Fundamentally, it was a noble concept. But when we break it down, basing an organization or a movement or a campaign on anything that needs someone else’s opinion to change, in order for it to be valid, leaves me with question: what if the objective is not met? What if they never accept that something good can come out of Africa? What if after all the marches and protests and placards and chants, they are still not convinced that Black Lives Matter. Then what?
The reason any Empire has ever become an Empire is because they rose to a position of power. And when they went out to conquer, they didn’t ask. They didn’t try to convince anyone that they were great, respectable, worthy of notice. They didn’t need anyone else to see it or believe it or join them in accomplishing it. They were there already. They didn’t ask permission or opinion. They didn’t need to.
I feel, Black Lives Matter should be something we focus on first as black people. Because the truth is most of us are not convinced that we matter. Most of us, here in Africa, still look to the West as if they are the ones who know, as if they are better. And for so long as we try to convince them to see us a certain way, we keep the power in their hands.
‘Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You’
I think we need to go for the long play; we need to not give a damn what they think, or feel. We need to be more concerned about what the everyday African, no matter where they hail from, thinks about themselves: about their origin, their culture, their contribution to the world.
I think, we need to focus internally, first. Because, when our own sense of self-worth actualizes, we will not need validation from anyone else. We will not need to tell them Black Lives Matter. We will matter, as a matter of course. Then, we stop going to them and they start coming to us. There is that old adage, ‘be so good they can’t ignore you.’
In my being different, I got tired of convincing the world of my point of view. I stopped trying. I instead focused on growing from point of my difference. Being so good they couldn’t ignore me. Then they come. Then they asked. Only then were they willing to hear what I had to say.
Where the Change Starts
Wakenya voted for Donald Trump and she was villainized for it. Yet, instead of throwing rocks at her, perhaps the question should have been why? We should be asking questions that are inward based.
The truth is, no one is coming to save us. No one gives a s*** about Black Lives Mattering, except, Black Lives. So, let’s stop trying to convince them. Let’s look inward. Let’s make the changes we can. Let’s rise from our own points of strength. Let’s be so good, so strong, so brilliant, so innovative, so powerful, that they can’t ignore us. They will never do this for us, we have to do it for ourselves.
We will only matter to the world when we start to matter to each other. My Black Life Matters to me. That’s where the change starts.