To: African Women in the Diaspora
My dear sisters, please allow me to speak from the heart. I am sorry that I have offended some of you. I took the things we talk about in the privacy of our secret gatherings, and I put our business out on the streets. Many of you are mad at me for speaking openly about what has long been in our hearts and on our minds. But, how are we supposed to get anywhere if those we bad-mouth in private have no idea the hurt and anger they have (and continue to) caused us?
My letter To: African Men in the Diaspora was met with mixed reactions just as I had anticipated. I knew I was taking a great risk by sharing our private views with our men, and with the world. But, like the strong, enlightened, African woman that I am, I could not help but choose to make those frustrations known by confronting our offenders, rather than to keep it buried inside. I get it! African women are not “desperate!” We don't care that there are slim pickings out there! We are “single” and “happy!” And, we definitely don't beg for anything blah blah blah!
While many of you were willing to admit that there is a problem, many of you said I was speaking for myself because I was the only one who seemed “desperate” enough to “lick the feet of whatever African man comes my way.” Some of you referred to me as “Kolomental.” Some said I was “hell-bent on painting our sisters as desperate.” For that, I offer no apology because that was the point anyway. You can all go around pounding your chest in broad daylight talking about how you don't need an African man, you are fine without them, and how you are not limiting yourselves and whatnot, but who are you really kidding? Of course, you and I are the only ones who know that the wet patch you see on your pillow in the morning is not a result of the fact that you sleep with your mouth open. Or that that eerie feeling we get anytime we pass one of our men on the streets holding hands with his “other woman” is not really there. We are open-minded and we are broadening our horizons and all is good and well.
Two things before I continue: 1) One does not need to be single to desperately note that there is a problem with relationships between African men and women in the Diaspora. We got our wires crossed, and it is like we left our senses back home. 2) There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a decent African man to spend the rest of your life with. Fine, we can broaden our horizons all we want but if we are even a tad bit honest with ourselves, we will not hesitate to admit that our original desire is to be with one of our own before any other. And, we will not hesitate to admit that at the end of the day, our own has to snub us in order for us to go after our Plan Bs, or that our need to feel superior pushes us to seek others. Many African men and women who ended up on the other side of the fence were quick to note that they would have preferred an African but for … (fill in the blanks!)
Many times I have heard you say you are sick of Nigerian men because they are this, you are tired of Ghanaian men because they are that, you are sick and tired of Senegalese men because they are this and that. Like this girlfriend of mine – who will no longer be talking to me after she reads this – who keeps going back and forth with this “Ghanaian” guy despite the fact that she has been through with “Ghanaian” men for about four years now. Dude too, if only he will open up his eyes a little and see that sistah is now in America and has polished up her accent and mannerisms, maybe he too can polish his up small so they can just get along. How hard is it to speak with an American accent? He's been in the US what? 10 years? And he still sounds like he landed last night from some remote village farm.
“Kolomental?” Now that, my sisters, I am not – just keeping it real! In the name of progress and forward thinking a lot of us have taken foreign concepts and run with them without so much as a look at the detrimental effects such ideas leave on our identity as African women. Before you all go jumping on me let me firmly state that I am neither “kolo” nor “mental,” nor have I gone over to the other side. I do not side with backward thinking methods that degrade women and treat us as second-class citizens. Many have called me a conflicted FEMINIST because my views are not solidly in line with radical feminist thinking like changing the text in the bible to reflect he/her, him/hers wherever possible.
I consider myself a liberal feminist in the sense that I am open to the possibility that maybe women are naturally nurturing individuals and maybe hard labor like working heavy machinery in the sweltering heat and fighting wars is a man thing. That maybe there's a reason women develop feelings for a man after a few sexual encounters, yet it takes a man years to sleep with a woman and still not be sure what he feels about her! I still detest the “s” word just as much as you do. That, I can't help. I can see the word in a sentence totally unrelated to the way it has been used to subjugate women and I can get mad as hell.
Many of our men have said that real African women are hard to find in the Diaspora and I know exactly what they mean. No, it has nothing to do with our intelligence, or the way we dress or look. Even they know that we are under a lot of pressure to keep up with the new societies we're in with our long wavy hair, fake eye lashes and fake eye color. Even before many of us travelled to the Western world, we were aware of the fact that there was competition - with the dark-skinned women bleaching their skin to compete with the light-skinned women and all. Many of us will just not pass the beauty test with our kinky hair and unpainted lips – no matter what race we choose to date/marry.
What they mean by real is in our essence, our mannerisms and attitudes. Some of us don't want to speak our mother tongue or teach it to our children because we think it's the language of bush men and women. Why speak Igbo or Twi or Ewe or Hausa when there's English you say. Some of us think bayire, eba, banku, mpotompoto and okro stew are distasteful. “Why do I want to date a man who is always thinking of eating moi moi. Who eats that stuff anyway?” The other day I saw a refreshing African sight – one I had not seen in years. A lady with a baby on her back wrapped with a cloth Ghanaian style. I thought it was the most natural African sight I had seen in a long time. So, you can imagine my bewilderment when a few days later I happened to be driving with a friend and saw the same lady with her baby on her back. I pointed out how beautiful a sight that was. But, NO! My Americanized friend (who was born in Ghana, by the way) thought it was an eyesore – or did she say “uncultured?” Whatever!
What Feminism Means to Me (and Hopefully to You Too)
Some of us have taken feminism way out of context. When I think of feminist ideals, I think of what it meant to fight for women's rights before we took things to the extreme. I think of a world where women are free from rape in their marriages and on the streets. I think of a world where women are protected from domestic violence, and laws that allow men to beat on them like animals, deny them food and shelter, and imposed dress codes. I think of a world free from restrictions of movement and accomplishments based on one's gender.
Personally, I think of a world where men and women can communicate on an equal playing field, with mutual respect for each other, without male groins feeling threatened of being upstaged by an intelligent woman. One of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Adichie, put it perfectly when she stated “…those men who are scared by women who are accomplished are the kind of men accomplished women don't want…” I think of a world in which my labor is measured by the same worth and compensation that a man receives for the same labor. I see blurred gender roles in the sense that if I'm able to get out of the house and work a nine-to-five like my man does, I won't be expected to come home and find him sitting on the couch tapping his fingers and toes waiting for me to come in and heat his soup because it is beneath him to feed himself. I see an opportunity to advance myself professionally, intellectually, and socially without being punished for it. I see a relationship with a man I can respect not just because he's a man, but because he has earned that respect - a man I don't mind cooking and cleaning for not because it is my duty to do so, but because I choose to. Basically I think of a world of fairness.
Hint to Men: Women are innately nurturing individuals. It takes a real jerk to turn that nurturing spirit into something monstrous. I swore to the horror of my poor dad that I was never getting married because the concept of slaving in some man's kitchen and raising his babies - as portrayed by the Ghanaian media and society - just did not appeal to me. I knew I was more than that, more intellectually capable than that. It didn't help that my parents had a good marriage. As far as I was concerned theirs was one of the few lucky ones out there.
Then I fell in love for the first time and everything changed. He was kind, loving and caring and treated me with respect. He fulfilled my needs in a way I never expected a Ghanaian man was capable of. I found myself doing things I had vowed never to do for a man. The funny thing is that I wanted to do these things for him. I wanted to do his laundry. I wanted to cook for him (matter of fact, I loved it much to my chagrin) and watch him lick his fingers as he enjoyed my fufu and hot pepper soup with his nostrils wet from the fire! Nobody was drumming it in my ears that I was created female to cook and clean for him. I did them of my own free will without resentment or grumbling. Trust me, a woman can be as hardened as stone in her feminist views, but your love will soften her heart. If a woman feels she can trust you to treat her right and to take care of her needs, she will not sit back and watch you starve or throw you a sandwich with plenty Mayo on top – sorry I love Mayo – and ask you to be content. If you're in such a situation, first ask yourself what you're doing wrong. If you're doing everything right, chances she has no love for you are very high – she just wanted the ring and the title! Please someone tell me I'm lying!
When I think of feminism, I don't think in terms of “what men can do, I can do too, and even better,” even though that's generally true. Many of us have lost our minds in the process of enlightenment and acquired social values. We have lost our sense of dignity as well. It is no wonder a man expects we are going to sleep with him just because he took us to Chuck e Cheese and got us a cheese sandwich. We allow all kinds of men access to our bodies in the name of sexual liberation. Think of the way you felt the last time you slept with some undeserving loser! Did you feel proud afterwards? Or did you take ten showers in five minutes hoping to wash away the memory because you felt like a common whore? And be honest about it! I believe the kinds of sexual encounters we have should be meaningful to the extent that we have no regrets after all is said and done.
When I said “We will do anything to have you come back home, EXCEPT, of course allow you to put your “torture rod” you know where! You can keep Michelle for that as long as you come home at night,” in my letter to African Men in the Diaspora, many of you took that to mean settling for infidelity. But that is far from the truth. It takes an intelligent mind to decipher the underlying message.
Why We Are So Bitter
We all want fairness and equality, but in fighting for these rights, we have turned into domineering terrors who are impossible to live with, or relate to. I understand that many of us are angry and bitter and we are taking it out on our men and each other. What, with everything we've been through – domestic servitude, inferiority complexes (being compared to other women like it's our fault we were raised in the cultures in which we were raised), being subjugated and treated as toys for the sexual pleasure of men, forced to carry the bulk of the responsibilities at home while working corporate jobs just like the men, our children abandoned by the very men who lay with us and promised to be there to handle their responsibilities, watching our mothers and sisters abused in the name of tradition, being told what we can and can't do, where we can and can't go like we're senseless little children – we have every reason to be angry.
I remember sitting in the kitchen when I was a teenager back home in Ghana crying my eyes out because I knew it was unfair that my brother got to go and come as he pleased while my sisters and I were cooped up in the kitchen getting onion juice in our eyes. I remember hearing how pregnant teenage girls got kicked out of school while the boys went on to finish secondary school then university then medical school so they could end up marrying someone else's virgin. I remember thinking it was not fair that boys got a free pass while girls were made to pay for both their mistakes in shame. I remember being made to feel that as a woman I was not honorable unless a man found that I was worth a few bottles of schnapps and an insufficient amount of money so I could go live with him and have babies that would grow in my uterus, later come out of a place I do not even wish to imagine, so he can give them his name and take all the glory for their accomplishments while I was blamed for their failures. I remember the resentment and anger I felt every time my gender was used as justification for why I could not speak my mind.
You all know what I'm talking about. When you have lived a life surrounded by ideas that women are domestic beings, not smart enough, or capable enough, chances of becoming an angry enlightened woman are very high. I know a lot of you, my enlightened sisters, feel this way. But, that was then, and this is now. We have proven ourselves capable and smart enough – in some cases, even smarter than men. Many of us have gone on and achieved things our societies said a woman (especially an African woman) wasn't intelligent enough to achieve. It is easy to see why we are angry. We know that we were treated unfairly. But many of us have allowed this anger to control us to the extent that despite all our accomplishments and independence, some of us are so insecure with ourselves we feel the need to put others down in order to feel like we're on top. We walk around with our noses in the air and all things traditional are now archaic to us. We want nothing to do with the home of our birth because it reminds us of a place of suppression and limited dreams.
But, truly authentic enlightened African women (yes, many have managed to figure out a way to blend traditional values and morals with an educated and westernized mind) are gems not very easy to come by. They are the ones who know how to cook yam and nkontomire stew as well as alfredo fettucini when they feel like it. They are the ones who can eat banku and okra stew with their fingers and still remember how to use a fork and knife when it's fried rice. They are the ones who teach their children the essence of being African and proud and still know how to blend in well with their new societies. They are the ones whose babies are on their backs on Monday and in a stroller on Tuesday, whatever they feel like goes. They are the ones who can wear a powerful business suit to work, then come home and change into a bubu and walk boldly into a public place without embarrassment. They are the ones who can speak their mother tongue with such eloquence and pride on the subway and still speak flawless English where necessary. Yes, they are few and far between. Men have stumbled upon the unwavering waves of such women and fled because in their own words, they felt “undeserving of us.” They are not used to finding such well-rounded women. We love with an African passion yet we are not foolish in love. We are humble but to the extent that our humility is not seen as a sign of weakness. We are proud of our heritage yet we don't allow that heritage to hold us back. We are tolerant of others and yet we have zero tolerance for those who disrespect us. We hold our heads up high and we never falter for neither degrees nor accomplishments nor does money define us. It is our authenticity, our loyalty to that which makes us who we are and the very essence of our beings that we are most proud of, and that makes us rare diamonds – very hard to find.
It takes a special man, one who is unafraid and not intimidated to dig deep into the mud, willing to sift for days, and maybe years, through the chaff to find those few precious stones. And a special woman, one who is confident in who she really is, accepts her true heritage while embracing other cultures, to become one of those few precious stones.
(N. Amma Twum-Baah is the founder and editor of Afrikan Goddess (AG) Online.)