‘East-African women are like, so gorgeous’

Why do I poke around in these awkward intellectual spaces? I’ve been trying to find a way to conceptualize sexuality and beauty within the context of ‘Somalinimo’ (an abstract system of Somali nationalism), and in having these conversations with friends; I’m reminded and advised to leave this particular can of worms alone. You know I can’t do that. Muahahaha! I live for these uncomfortable intellectual spaces. But first, rather than set this up as an opinion piece where I vandalize your mind with my conclusions, (that I believe to be a bastion of rationality, don’t get it twisted :P), I’ll instead set it up as a list of questions and comments I’ve compiled surrounding issues of beauty/aesthetics in the Horn of Africa. I also wanna tackle this  through diaspora lens, as this is the space where East African (a term, geographically/politically problematic, but in this case, referring to the Horn of Africa region) women have had their experiences collide with that of other women of the continent/diaspora. Ok, now my disclaimers. 1) I’m setting this up as conversation as opposed to a community of like minded people who only cosign each others intellectual conclusions, which is a short way of saying, ‘please come for me, because I’m about to bait the shit out of you’.  2) Come correct with evidence and clear arguments, but sans the rhetoric/emotional outburst (I’m guilty of this, but this is an important conversation, let’s not derail) por favor. 3) I know there are African women not originating from the Horn who exhibit similar features. I know this. But the people who single out Horn of African women as the sole carriers of this aesthetic do not know this. So please don’t respond with ‘It’s not only Somali women, women from Burundi also have soft hair and long noses’. Please don’t do that.  4) Anyone seen Dark Knight Rises yet? :/  (Can’t have a list of disclaimers with only three points now).

And off to deconstruction land we go. First thing is first, obey your thirst, drink sprite :/  Ok, let’s try this one more time. I want to discuss the issue of East African women and the way their bodies are fetishised by internal and external communities (the internal part needs a dissertation and critical theory). But I want to do this in a manner that is true to scholarly brevity, while paying particular attention to the nuance of representation of African female bodies (emphasis on want, I’ll inevitably fail at both, this I’m sure of). As a Somali woman (and most Horn of Africa women can cosign this narrative), I’m often rewarded with instant ‘beauty points’ because of the phenotypic features of the women from my region.  When one conjures an image of a Somali, an Ethiopian, an Eritrean, its usually involves some form of  slender noses, loosely curly/wave hair,  a face that looks like it was a ‘white woman dipped in chocolate’ as a poetic friend once pointed out.  This is what people think, and this is the image we as a community boast of, and perpetuate the shit out of it. We’ve internalized these narratives and replicate a standard of beauty that marginalizes other forms of blackness. Para example, to some Somalis, other Africans are ‘Jareers’  (degorative term meaning nappy-headed), and hell yes, I’m putting us on blast. I will not be binded by code of ethnic solidarity that makes use of oppressive language used to demonize our African brothers and sisters, while simultaneously effective in distancing ourselves from any perceived kinship with other Africans/blackness. I’m not about that.

Also, while challenging european ideals as a member of the diaspora, I’m often reminded that white supremacist paradigms grow strongly in the petri dish that is the minds of my own community. Now, I know this cultural ‘place’ I’m trying to unpackage is rife with problematic language and narratives. Confounded are issues of internalized self-hate on top of narratives that seek to remove the ‘Horn of Africa’ region from the consciousness of any collective black consciousness.  We just don’t make the cut.  It’s difficult to blog about in such a concise way, but I’ll try it with a set of questions and comments/declarative statements that point to some of the issues I have when it comes to East African women and theorizing their bodies and spaces.

1)   Is there such thing as ‘East-African’ privilege in the context of African  bodies? Are we allowed to occupy spaces because our features legitimize anti-black narratives? Have you experienced this? Are you consistently complimented on your ‘features’ and how often do you hear remarks like ‘East African women are so gorgeous’ (they are indeed; but all African women are stuff of dreams, but that reality can exist while challenging the roots of the paradigms that legitimize that narrative)

2)   Non-East African black women, do you consider us one of your own? Or is our black-ness something to be contested? Are we ‘mixed’ to you? When/if you believe in a universal African narrative, are we a part of it? or a region protected from anti-black rhetoric. Growing up, I remember my Jamaican schoolmates consistently downplaying my role as  legitimate member of the black community in Canada. Apparently my facial features and the texture of my hair were enough to dismiss my Somali peers and I as ‘mixed-chicks’ or  ‘probably Indian or some shit’

3)   We’re not mixed. Rewriting the histories of people/cultures is not an effective tool to dissect the political/cultural implications of valuing Horn of African beauty above other African women.  I’ve spent years convincing/educating my African sisters that the rumors of our ‘mixed’ heritage are without evidence. What form of mass colonialization took place in Ethiopia to justify the phenotypic features of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters? What special admixture happened in the horn of Africa that didn’t couldn’t happen to African slaves removed from their home, mixed with Europeans and Native communities? I’m not convinced. I need evidence. And if so, so what if we’re mixed? How does that diminish our role in any construction of an universal African consciousness? This whole ‘let’s exalt blackness by limiting it’ is problematic IMO.

4)   If you continue to promote the lie that Somalis are mixed with Arabs, I’ll have your spleen removed and dipped in ranch dressing. WE ARE NOT MIXED! Are there ethnic groups in the region with Arab ancestry? yes, they’re unique communities, and we’re aware of their existence. They’re aware of their lineage, too. We’re all aware of the roots of our ancestors, so as much as we appreciate self-made Archaeologists chiming in, we got this. And if you’re so inclined, do me a favour, grab a Kuwaiti women and a brother from Benin, and if they can produce a child that looks Somali, I’ll concede.  Till then, keep your Arabs out of my family lineage please. Shout-outs to my Arab brothers and sisters 🙂

5)   I will not have my ‘African-ness’ questioned in order to give legitimacy to those who’ve fetishized this region as that only consisting only of kente clothes, and West Africa. There are others on this continent too, you know. Those who do not conform to your fabricated illustration of what Africa looks like.  The Tuaregs are just as African as the Ashanti people. We can challenge anti-black rhetoric without reducing our continent to one phenotype; setting it as the standard, and dismissing everything else as something perverse and diluted.

6)   Non-East-African men who tell us we’re beautiful, please stop. We know! As are all African women (and all women). But we’re also suspicious of your need to single us out(the few that do). The texture of our hair is as ancient as cave paintings in Las Gaal( shoutouts to Somaliland), but I’m also aware of the cultural climate that allows you to value mine above a sister who has tightly coiled curls. I’m onto you. We’re onto you. And we do not need your fetishized gaze.  Go fetishize the women of your own nation, and learn to exalt their beauty as divine.

7)   East-African women, sit down and shut up once in awhile. Be present to how your looks can replicate oppressive ideals of what blackness looks like. Do not take pride in an aesthetic (although indigenious to your community) that is used to belittle the black bodies of your brothers and sisters. This is nothing to be proud of/ashamed of. It just ‘is’. Infact, pick a book, and be more than this high-fashion model caricature. I love you!

8)   Somalis, if I hear the sentence ‘Oh I didn’t know he/she was Somali, they don’t look it’, I’ll sentence you to the invasive enhanced pat down and a lifetime without Diana skin lightning cream. Just as those who seek to reduce Africa to a reductionist representation are guilty, you’re also indicted for reducing our diverse country to high foreheads and slender noses. Cut it out already! The only thing is that authentically ‘Somali’ is our love for welfare states 😛

9) And to my sisters from the region in question, have you been ostracized for not conforming to the standard of what it means to be ‘ an Ethiopian’, a ‘Somali’, etc?

Anyway, friends and foes, what say you of my questions and charges? I really wanna hear from the diaspora on this one. Is there a semblance of truth to some of my concerns and conclusions? Or I have constructed a fictitious world where people find East-African women beautiful?  runs off into the moonlight to work on the cure for five-finger Somali foreheads


From Mogadishu to London…

Check out ITV’s piece on Somalia’s Olympic Team. No words. Only the feeling of a proud parent made still. And to the king and queen Mohamed Hassan Tayow and Zamzam Mohamed Farah, thank you for carrying this broken nation on your backs.


An African guide on how to lose friends and alienate people

Warning: The following post contains an opinion held by a complete stranger that cannot be policed or silenced because it hurts your feelings 

        The Internet is a wonderful place.  Thanks to the internet, we have access to a diverse group of amazing African writers, humanitarians, Nicholas Kristof’s facebook statuses, comedians, paradigm breakers (this is a valid occupation, don’t you dare dispute it), and Kanye West’s tweets. Ideas are exchanged, narratives challenged, and experiences shared.  But there is unfortunately, a dark side to this public discourse medium, other Africans. Inspired by recent discourse on this blog regarding polemic African figures, my anxieties about the pressures of cultural and religious loyalties were activated. Cognitive dissonance became catch of the day, as I was caught between defending my political positions and navigating the various ways on how-to-not alienate my cultural and ethnic kin. This conflict is a reality for many Africans who espouse progressive ideals like ‘the gays shouldn’t be murdered’ and ‘how about we not take a saw to a female’s clitoris because God said so’.

    These Africans (really anyone with a soul) are usually berated by the cultural and religious thought police for promoting ‘western’ ideals and essentially ‘selling out’. I don’t deny that I’m capable of both crimes, but I suspect my status as a grad student blogger would make the plausibility of ‘selling out’ worthy of further inquiry. These cultural Gestapo merely exist to hold others to essentialized/subjective, and out-of- touch accounts of what it means to be an  ‘African’, ‘a Somali’, an ‘African women’ and quite frankly usually lead to a daunting exercise for those of us seeking to challenge  the implications, the conclusions, and the methods of our individual intellectual/personal journeys (damn that was a long ass sentence). You know those people, first ones to tweet scripture, surahs, cliched proverbs in response to a political/social position you’ve posited that may challenge their sanctimonious ideals.  As a famous Somali samosa seller in a market in Mogadishu once said, “L’enfer, c’est les Autres,” and this particular brand of Homo Sapien, I speak of, is a testament to that narrative-hell is indeed other people. These individuals often use culture and religion to mask their anxiety as marginalized people, and can make the process of unpackaging paradigms and ideologies, an exercise that leaves many in fear of being ostracized, ridiculed or reduced to labels- And at times, in fear for one’s personal safety. So how then, does one challenge and reprimand these miscreants?

    I think I’ve devised a plan, but gotta be careful with how I write this, as I could potentially be writing ‘exhibit A’ in my trial for apostasy in Somalia one day, and must be careful to not leave any traces of my supposed religious abandonment in this how-to-manual on decreasing the frequency of unpleasant human interactions with the cultural/religious Polizei. Guys, the religious/cultural apologists will leave you alone if you pretend to be an atheist. I swear to God, Atheism works. Let me explain, rather than give a treatise on my sociological position on the demerits/merits of theism, I’ll instead say, ‘Hi, I was raised in a Muslim Household, and Bertrand Russell broke my spiritual soul’. In navigating and constructing my position on the nature of humans/the purpose of life, political/social leanings, and/or the existence of God, I’ve come to realize that questioning religion (more popularly known as ‘the improbable’) in many African social circles, is usually the easiest path to party of one dinner dates, twitter un-follows, solo movie nights, and snickering relatives. For a Somali woman like I, the mere thought of professing solidarity with anti-theistic positions is criminal in many circles, and by many circles I mean, people who rhyme with ‘uslims’.  :/

    One minute, you’re overwhelmed with family, friends, and a community that claims and reveres you for the wonderful work you do in challenging that idea of Somalis as the ‘locusts predicted in the book of Revelations’, and life is grand. The next, you’re the subject of conspiracy theories and irrational speculations regarding your recent  political/social proclamations. Rumors like ‘ Why would she defend the gays? She’s definitely a Zionist and my favorite, ‘You know, now that I think about it, she doesn’t really look Somali,  definitely couldn’t be one of us’ become normalized and those who dare to challenge some of the implications of  cultural and religious dogma are branded ‘un-African’ and ostracized like Romania during an EU summit.  What you once considered to be merely inclusive and progressive political positions are instead used to relegate you to the periphery of an already outlier religious and cultural community.  Religious skeptics are easily two life points bellow women and one above homosexuals (the math ends up, don’t challenge me), rendering one’s life ‘FAIL, try again’.

   But fret not; It’s not all doom and gloom, and I’ve discovered the perks that come with secular living after turning in your God card (I didn’t say I was atheist. Important point here incase someone should indict me). For those of us more socially challenged, abandoning religion is the easiest way to lose dogmatic and irrational  friends and alienate annoying Africans. This is a good thing, guys.  Other than the obvious benefits of not being held to a subjective rubric of strict ‘African-ness’, and intellectual freedom, skepticism can also offer  something much more attractive…let me explain

   For example, remember that meddling aunt whose always critiquing your above-the –recommended derrière size? Or that time she berated you for your inability to procure the affections of your twice removed cousin, secure his monogamy, and make babies? No? just me? Well, for all 3 of you who’ve had the pleasure; I can safely report that outing yourself as a godless vagrant will end her meddling phone calls, and your aunt will only be stuff of nightmares. Goes as follows

Aunt: You’re already 28, you’re womb is poisoned and soon only 70 yr old men will find you attractive.

Moi: But auntie, it’s hard finding a good Somali man who believes in evolution

Aunt: wtf :/

It doesn’t stop there. It gets better folks- unannounced family members suddenly take on the role of absentee fathers, and disappear faster than most friends at the arrival of a dinner bill.  No more uninvited houseguests, and matchmaking attempts by well-meaning relatives. No one wants anything to do with you now. You’re no longer under the protection of God, and very few will stand by your side as the Almighty could very well potentially strike your vagina down with a Thunderbolt. You sacrilegious hoe.

     But wait, the perks don’t stop there. I remember I was recently on the receiving end of unsolicited and an unrequited sexual solicitation from an unsavory and an awfully boring man. This man was relentless. You know this type, the ones who post copious facebook pictures of  *insert your African city’ and write nothing but esssentialist and nostalgic bullshit about your shared homeland, usually between random declarations of love for his mother and Quranic verses. Anyway, this little gremlin managed to evade all my attempts to respectfully reject his advances, and tenaciously continued to harass my Facebook inbox. That’s when I decided it was time to bring out the big guns, and end this farce. The thing is, Patient X was a devout Muslim, and often spoke of a near future where he would settle down in some outrageously devout Islamic yet to-be-recognized state that would be known as the Islamic Republic of South Somalia (I suggested Ikhwaan-Al-Haaywan and he promise to entertain my recommendation) to follow the Quran and Sunnah. This was my in. I had one shot at ending this amorous hostage situation, and I took it. I told Patient X that I was unsuited for theocratic living due to my unwavering love for Russian spirits, atheist writers, unrequited fellatios, and found life according to Islamic doctrine to be quite honestly, a tad bit much. Before I could finish my rejection, I was subjected to an onslaught of choice epithets that rhyme with ‘clut’ and ‘hitch’, and then he un-friended me. It seems there was a God after all, as he answered my secular prayers. I’m kidding. There’s no God (that’s not an admission of apostasy either).

     And that’s when I decided to patent this genius, and use it as my go to mechanism for ridding oneself of unpleasant African company online and offline. This trick is particularly useful in reducing excessive facebook friends, annoying twitter followers, you’re too passive aggressive to delete and/or unfollow. We’ve all been there. Logged online, only to be bombarded with statuses and tweets like ‘God is good, keep him in your heart, and all will be great’, and my favourite ‘Ughh, just saw a bunch of men staring at a woman’s butt, so glad to be a Muslim woman!’, that left you wanting to Fisticuff babies quit earth and its wretched inhabitants.  But wait, why not fight back, and bombard your fictitious facebook friends, social media buddies with proclamations of your own to the beat of something like ‘Ayan Hirsi Ali is great. She’s my favorite’ and gleefully watch that facebook buddies quit you like a retail job.  It works like a charm. But I’ll warn you, it does get awfully lonely out there.  Not that I would. I’m a woman of God. :/

Two Girls and a Podcast: Ayan Hirsi Ali, Cultural Critic?

Welcome back for our second instalment of ‘let me count the ways in which Fatuma and I can bring pain to your ears’ or better known as our weekly podcast sessions. This week will be a tad bit controversial to say the least, as we will be discussing one of the most polarizing figures to come out of Somalia since the samosa. We’ve decided to tackle the Ayan Hirsi Ali (a tired conversation, but hardly addressed by Somalis) and really wanted to dissect and engage that silence. We would like to invite you to partake in this conversation, and give us your input, your frustrations, and your analysis on not only this discussion, but on the entire concept of the’ native informant’. A few disclaimers; Firstly, the internet wouldn’t let us be great, and attempting to coordinate a podcast session from two different continents is a lesson in sado-maschocism, so patience is appreciated. Secondly, I (@idiauslander) am notorious for my desecration of the english language with generous usage of profanity, and odd sentence structures. It’s my fancy way of saying ‘I swear alot and talk beaucoup shit) and that we want this project to be as authentic to our real voices and reduce usage of academic jargon (I used paradigm three times, sue me), and hope this set up does not take away from our arguments and conversation. With that said, enjoy, and look forward to your comments, critics, insight, trolling, etc. Bon Appetit!

Two Girls and a Podcast.

Fatuma Abdulahi (from the brilliant blog http://postcardfromafrica.blogspot.ca/) and I
decided to flirt with other forms of social media, and have a mini podcast series. The inspiration behind this stems from our conversations as two politically active Somali women who find most of the conversations around African issues too limiting, too stuffy, and not uncomfortable enough. The aim of this podcast is to deconstruct some of the discourse surrounding politricks, Why Europe ought to be nicer to coloured folks, identity politics, how to find the G-Spot, Niggas in Paris, Africa’s place in the new global order, gender identity, and other similar sexy topics in a radio format, well sorta. There are many blogs in the African blogosphere, but very little vlogs/podcasts, and we’re both fascinated by this medium. So here’s our first session, which is just an introduction to the purpose/aim of this project, and its implications. Give it a listen, and feel free to challenge/engage/troll us. Warning: annoying accents found here. You can contact us @idiauslander and @fatumaabdulahi.

Dear White Liberal Allies of the Marginalized: Thanks for Acknowledging your Privilege, But…

This one will be a difficult one. I’ve got a bone to pick, but I must pick it in a manner that does not alienate our allies and brethren in social justice, but rather politely asks that you let us speak. Before I proceed, this piece is aimed at addressing a particular brand of liberal hypocrisy prevalent in many movements for social justice, and not an attack against white people (I know some one will inevitably cry reverse racism within ten seconds of reading this title).  Now that we got that out of the way, let me start from the beginning. The KONY 2012 debacle is where my impending critique began to take form. The sensationalist KONY 2012 calamity personified the neo-colonist, paternalistic relationship the Western has had, and continues to have with marginalized peoples; And through the power of social media, the masses were beckoned to respond, critique, and analyze what all this meant in a globalized, post-social media world. We discussed the implications of ‘the White Saviour’, paradigm, dissected ‘white privilege’, chastised Invisible Children, and promises were made to honor indigenous voices. The marginalized masses shouted, ‘let us speak’, and but I don’t think many of you were listening. Here’s where I make enemies, and begin to formulate my misgivings about our recent and continuing conversations surrounding ideas of ‘white privilege’, ‘racial justice’,  ‘representation’, and indigenous ownership about the narratives of the marginalized.

I must say, it’s wonderful to witness 1st world, white middle class citizens acknowledging their privilege, and expressing solidarity with the struggle against western hegemony and racial inequality, both serving as paradigms that have not only underdeveloped nations and peoples, but silenced non-hegemonic voices. This is a great thing. As they say, acknowledgement is the first step.I understand social justice aims call for justice seeking persons to acknowledge their particular privileges so we can collectively address these inequities.  But there’s a problem. In acknowledging their ‘white privilege’, many are silencing sub-altern voices by now acting as the vanguards of indigenous experiences, and spaces. I’ve heard more non-Africans pontificate about the need for Ugandan voices in the Kony 2012 episode than actual Ugandans. Is it enough to just acknowledge your privilege, while you continue to occupy spaces of privilege? Am I the only one rolling their eyes at the sight of white liberals writing articles in left leaning publications about the importance of acknowledging and uplifting/reporting marginalized voices and stories? If you’re genuine about rejecting your privilege, then provide a platform for a non-hegemonic voice, and actively work against this system that rewards you for being white, and undermines others. I know this sounds crazy, but I have this idea that those affected by colonialism and racial injustice are better suited to critique it than you. Pretty radical, I know. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to partake in this conversation, but merely asking that you step aside, and not take the dominant role, especially when your dominance is the subject of inquiry. I almost feel like our concerns and demands for racial and economic justice are being satirized by the consciously privileged. It’s almost become fashionable to acknowledge one’s position of privilege while simultaneously benefiting from the same oppressive paradigms that bestowed you with spoils that come with your first world, white liberal middle class existence.

If you truly acknowledge your privilege and find flaw in the status quo, then I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to have to stop benefiting from those privileges (This will mean 90 percent of the writers, journalists, and commentators ultra-left publications would need to step down, and make way for more melanin-enriched faces). If you identify as a liberal, social justice loving white person, and happen to occupy media spaces that shun sub-altern voices, then you sir/madam, are implicit and collaborator to the same system you actively work to distance yourself from. You have no business commenting on the affairs of the Marginalized in regards to questions of representation if you’re not, wait for it, a Marginalized person.  I think this is a fair demand. We all have a responsibility to not only acknowledge our privilege, but also actively work to reverse this paradigm. For example, I’m a 1st worlder, a Canadian, and a member of the Somali diaspora, and as such, I’m mindful of this unique position of power my passport allocates yours truly. My passport provides me with the opportunity to seek ngo, development industry type employment on the continent and demand a higher salary than a local, in say, Somalia. So what do I do? I don’t apply for those jobs. Drastic I know. But I believe there are locals far more equipped and qualified than I – in manners pertaining to development, and social justice on the ground; And my acknowledgement of my privilege is meaningless if I fail to reject the oppressive system that rewards me for my privilege. I’m asking you to do the same, or shut up about your allegiance to the social justice aims of the ‘Other’.  This my way of saying, please step aside, and let us do the talking in matters that pertain to yours truly.  If not, atleast stop your disingenuous acknowledgement of your privilege, and proudly claim, ‘man it’s good to be white’. I’ll respect you for it.

Mogadishu rising. Courtesy of Radio Mogadishu

Last week, the Somali community, buried their souls in sorrow and disappointment as we witnessed the National Theatre bombing shatter our hopes of reconstruction and reconciliation. Today, Radio Mogadishu restored that hope with these images. Here are some recent pictures of Mogadishu’s reconstruction efforts taken by Radio Mogadishu. I’ll enclose the link (http://radiomuqdisho.net/daawo-sawirrada-dib-u-dhis-ballaaran-oo-caasimadda-xowli-uga-socda-iyo-bilicdii-oo-soo-laabatay/)for further images, and encourage everyone to check out RadioMogadishu.net. In the meantime, relish in this beauty. Mogadishu is rising.