The Diaspora Wars of ‘She’s Gotta Have It’

Originally published in OkayAfrica.

British actors are “taking all of our roles” says Nola Darling to Olu, her British-Nigerian love interest in the latest season of She’s Gotta Have It (#SuperFunkyCaliFragiSexy). “We have dope, talented, trained, qualified, black actors right here in the States—and at the end of the day, Black Brits just come cheaper,” she continues, echoing Samuel L. Jackson’s real-life commentary on the subject.

In response, Olu argues that Black Brits are “free of the psychological burden” of slavery and Jim Crow, prompting Nola to inform him that he “just [has] Stockholm Syndrome and fell in love with your captors”—but not before explaining the basic facts of British involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade.

The backlash from the Black Diaspora in the United Kingdom was swift: Nola Darling’s sentiments were an insult to the experience of Black Brits. While a fictional character’s problematic views don’t necessarily reflect their creator’s feelings, when taken to task for the clip on Instagram, Spike Lee responded with a brusque “Truth Hurts?”.

The scene frames the British character as the villain in the interaction—”how can someone so gorgeous be so ignorant?” Nola asks. It’s an odd premise considering recent political history in the UK. Events like the fire at the Grenfell Towers, the Windrush generation scandal, and the ongoing Brexit debacle are all clear indicators that the modern Britain, like the US, has not shaken free of its white supremacist foundations. And why would Black Brits be “unburdened” by slavery when a large proportion also descended from chattel slavery? Given this clear misrepresentation, it’s understandable why someone like John Boyega would push back. In the exchange between Nola and Olu who is truly the ignorant one?

In a review for the initial season of She’s Gotta Have It, writer Zoe Samudzi criticized the show’s inauthentic feel and stilted dialogue, noting that “the result is an inorganic character constantly uttering strained, overly witty Gilmore Girls-esque banter…who feels detached from actual experience and conversation, living in a purgatory between 1986 and now.” In a series that strove to recapture the boldness of the original film’s perspective of modern Black women’s sexuality and life in Brooklyn, it fell short in both accords, settling instead for a paint-by-numbers plot update tethered to a facsimile of the original story, anchored with overwrought vocabulary that lacks the cadence of a genuine conversation between peers.

Season 2 continues on that note, unbound by the parameters of the original source material—resulting in a chaotic string of episodes composed of curious extended asides and plot contrivances used to make unwieldy points on gentrification, queer relationships, artistic expression and exploitation, self love, classism, and Black diaspora relations. With the latter, Lee tackles the subject with the precision of a sledgehammer.

Unfortunately Nola and Olu’s tête-à-tête derails any opportunity to properly examine the ability of Black British actors to take on and do justice to roles for Black Americans. The controversy flared recently with the backlash to Cynthia Erivo’s casting as Harriet Tubman and Samuel L. Jackson’s comments on casting patterns in which he inaccurately described Britain’s relationship with interracial dating. These nuances should be explored—but without projecting other groups’ experiences, or using language akin to xenophobic tropes.

There are multiple threads at play. Hollywood remains the West’s largest film industry with significantly more roles available for Black actors, prompting more Black Brits to cross the pond; and with the United Kingdom education system investing in arts training at a rate that far exceeds the scope of the States, casting agents are known to openly fetishize the “pedigree” of the British imports. This tends to come at a higher cost to Black Americans due to the more limited availability of top-billing roles intended specifically for Black actors.

All of this manufactured scarcity is, of course, due largely to white production companies and various other gatekeepers. As we work to build our own platforms and tell our own stories, it’s prudent to explore what equity in representation looks like in race-based casting and how we can work to expand the pool of available significant positions for Black people in the film industry on either side of the Atlantic and on either side of the camera.

It was especially jarring that Nola and Olu’s argument was further undercut by choosing to mispronounce the names of Chiwetel Ejiofor and John Boyega, an anti-black trope, and turning Olu into an incoherent mishmash of West African identities—a British Nigerian with a Yoruba name claiming the Fulani tribe while casually donning Ghanaian Kente regalia.

In an ironic twist, Nola’s character searches for clarity by tapping into Yoruba spirituality during a trip to Puerto Rico, failing to acknowledge the sources that she was previously so dismissive of. She is identified as a daughter of Oshun (an orisha made globally infamous after Beyoncé’s interpolation of Yoruba iconography in Lemonade).

The present-day African diaspora is more connected than ever, and nowhere is that more evident than modern-day Brooklyn, home to a large Caribbean population, the West Indian Day Parade, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) and other Black cultural institutions. This past Memorial Day Weekend, the streets of Spike Lee’s beloved Fort Greene were littered with BAM’s annual celebration of African Identity, creative expression, and performance, DanceAfrica, as well as newly established diaspora traditions like Everyday Afrique. By failing to recognize the rhythms of the borough, Lee reveals just how removed he is from the particulars of the experiences of day-to-day Black Brooklyn life, and he is only doing himself and the show a disservice by allowing the show to be dominated by his voice and direction.

As Black creatives continue to tell the stories that we find important, their impacts and themes tend to resonate broadly. It’s why Roots was a phenomenon that aired not just in the US but in Europe, and the story of the Haitian Revolution is universally recalled as one of Black self-determination and insurrection. That extends to marketing: BlacKkKlansman, for example, was an American story that Lee made efforts to connect with Black British audiences, similar in logic to the targeted global campaign that Marvel engaged in for Black Panther.

Engaging in the labor of storytelling is not a tradition of exclusivity; it’s one of exchange and collaboration, as long as all parties arriving at the table have entered into a safe space of mutual respect and understanding. It’s a loss for us all when a new piece of Black work fails to understand that framework.

Representation vs. Exploitation? Halima Aden’s ‘Sports Illustrated’ Hijab And Burkini Spread Sparks Debate Around Racial Capitalism

Originally published as a feature for BET Style.

On May 8, the 2019 issue of Sport Illustrated’s Annual Swimsuit Edition will hit newsstands everywhere, featuring a watershed moment— the first Muslim hijabi, a Black Somali-American woman, to be featured as a model, clad in illuminating burkinis in Watamu Beach, a day’s travel from the Kakuma refugee camp where she spent the earliest years of her life.

In the announcement of Halima Aden’s upcoming photos, editor MJ Day emphasized how SI Swimsuit reflected the progressiveness of the fashion industry and society at large:

“We both know that women are so often perceived to be one way or one thing based on how they look or what they wear. Whether you feel your most beautiful and confident in a burkini or a bikini, YOU ARE WORTHY.”

It’s a curious statement, considering that it frames the discussion around litigating the attractiveness of being fully covered as opposed to the inherent Islamophobia that can come with being visibly present in hijab or burkini. It also comes less than a month after fellow Somali hijabi and Minnesota resident Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who herself lobbied to allow hijabs in Congress, came under direct fire from the president of the United States, who used his Twitter account to spread a doctored video implying that Rep. Omar was dismissive of the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers to a following of over 60 million accounts, directly leading to an increase in death threats made against her.

Therein lies the walking balancing act that has played out in the public sphere: fashion brands as high end as Gucci and Versace to the Gap and H&M have made a recent and large pivot to embrace modest culture in U.S. markets, and to significant returns — the positive impact of the inclusion of a long-ignored demographic comes with access to a rapidly increasing portion of spending power in an industry where brick and mortar revenue is under threat, to the tune of $170 billion. But while that representation is happening, the climate for Muslims in America remains stagnant, with Muslims still subject to surveillance, proposed travel bans and various forms of tacit Islamophobia enmeshed in American social norms.

This dialogue is not new to the industry — Sports Illustrated faced similar discourse when Ashley Graham received the Swimsuit Edition cover in 2016, raising the debate as to the goals and objectives of plus-size inclusion in the fashion industry and how it fit into body-positivity movements and helped tackle fatphobia as a whole. A term that University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong coined, racial capitalism speaks to the overall trend of corporations commodifying identity to attain social and economic value, which can ultimately lead to feelings of exploitation absent feeling like there is any space to express their own agency.

From Aden’s perspective, she has been hands on with trying to ensure that all of her campaigns go hand in hand with highlighting the issues she champions, which is, as she told writer Najma Sharif for a profile in Paper Magazine, “encourag[ing] girls to dream big.” That objective has carried through to her Sports Illustrated shoot, with this statement she gave to BET exclusively:

“Being featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will have such a great impact on women and young girls who have never seen someone who look like them represented in the public eye. SI Swimsuit has been at the forefront of changing the narrative and conversation on social issues and preconceived notions. I’m hoping this specific feature will open doors up for my Somali community, Muslim community, refugee community and any other community that can relate to being different.

“This feature is proving that a fully covered hijab-wearing model can confidently stand alongside a beautiful woman in a revealing bikini and together they can celebrate one another, cheer each other on, and champion each other’s successes. It’s also putting the burkini on the map, which is imperative for young Muslim girls.”


I’m happy to see Halima book the jobs that she wants and what that might mean for other Muslim women and people who have never seen a girl in a burkini before. It still makes me question the motives of these brands that are suddenly so interested in their representation stats in 2019.

Ultimately, can the impact of representation supersede the corporatization of identity? Perhaps not completely, but at the very least it should maximize its impact by allowing the hijabis selected to champion their respective brands as free of a platform as possible to speak on the areas specific to their identity, beyond fashion representation, without censorship, until rhetoric around these campaigns will have reached beyond the notches of having accomplished all of these firsts.

While a brand can send out a congratulatory statement about them recognizing their first hijabi for her undeniable skill and talent as a model, a Muslim woman may be trying to wear that same burkini someplace far away from the glaring lights of a photographers’ lens — and in today’s society, that is still a much more precarious choice than it should have any business being.

An Examination of Aunty: Documentarian Laylah Amatullah Barrayn on the Historical Weight of the Word

Originally published for OkayAfrica as part of their annual 100Women campaign. 

Ask any Black person of the African Diaspora who their favorite celebrity aunty is and you’ll likely receive 10 different responses.

There’s Maxine Waters, whose tenure and temerity in Congress have endeared her to the Black community at large. In entertainment, you may get Jenifer Lewis, who has effortlessly played so many maternal figures on the big screen that she proudly titled her memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood. The music industry has given us women ranging from Mary J. Blige to Anita Baker—different eras of songstresses, but aunties all the same. And then there’s Bose Ogulu, mother of Burna Boy, whose no-nonsense persona reminds fans so much of their own aunties that she has been affectionately ordained “Mama Burna.”

The thread that binds all these women to this label is the sense of kinship, adoration, and respect endowed upon them by the Black Diaspora; the title is one that is earned, and to be carried proudly. “Aunty” is a name that surpasses its biological definition. It is a sentiment that photographer and documentarian Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and I discuss as we ponder our own transitions to such a position in our families—hers a pan-African unit several generations out of the continent—at the OkayAfrica 100 Women photoshoot. Barrayn is still buzzing from her go in front of the lens; it is not lost on the creative that the table—or the cameras—have quite literally turned. She is now the one being documented.

“Thanks for inviting me,” Barrayn says, switching out the wide brim hat she’s wearing to another one in her bag. Lately, she tells us behind-the-scenes, hats are her thing.

Barrayn’s greatest works focus on documentation, and reclaiming and preserving the so very uniquely African use of “aunty” came naturally. This composition of lived experience anchored by historical context brought Barrayn to collaborating with author and art collector Catherine McKinley on Aunty! African Women in the Frame, 1870 to the Present, a Brooklyn exhibit that unfurled the legacy of African womanhood and agency through the lens and timeline of photography on the continent. The term “aunty” as a titular framework for the collection is equal parts reverence, exploration, and reclamation of the word, drawing through-lines on how the perception of African women has shifted in tandem with the storytellers in charge.

In many African cultures, aunty is a label bestowed unto a woman as a term of respect or status rather than an indicator of any familial relationship; an inversion of its application in the colonial era, where white landowners used the term to mammify or subjugate African women as the laborers and caretakers of their European overlords. In this way, the manner in which we reclaim it present day is not dissimilar to the painful history of the word “nigga” in the United States.

“We can’t do a show called Aunty and not talk about that,” Barrayn says. “Aunty was a derogative, colonial term… It was not positive so we wanted to look at both of sides of what aunty means.”

In other words, as Barrayn says, “I like to show the whole conversation.”

The agency represented in Aunty’s photographs as new generations took hold of their images (and the words used to describe them) extends to curation as well, as Barrayn points out that a large portion of African works are mostly presented by white, male, European collectors: “It’s important for me to kind of have that pushback by two women of African descent to present the works in our own context and contextualize it in a way that wouldn’t erase some of the history and the culture of how and when and why these pictures were taken.”

Images from Aunty! African Women in the Frame, 1870 to Present , “Three Women” — Image by Oumar Ly, Podor, Senegal, Circa 1980

With that contextualization comes a reckoning of images she collected featuring African women before the establishment of African studios: colonial photography that reinforced a mammification (or inherent servitude) of the women not just on the continent, but also abroad. “They were used as postcards, they were used as part of the colonial project and regime to document what was happening on the continent as it related to their pursuits on the land,” Barrayn says, highlighting that African women were an object of fascination. (Think Sarah Baartman, the Khoi woman taken from South Africa and paraded around Europe’s freak shows.)

“What I didn’t show in the exhibition was the back of the postcard. There were a lot of negative messages—’look where I am, look at this ugly woman on this postcard, I’m in the jungle, I’m glad this isn’t you,’—and different things like that,” Barrayn says.

This derogatory collection is juxtaposed by photos of African studios in the 50s and 60s by legendary artists such as Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe—portraits and celebrations of young women engaging in everyday life—ultimately transitioning into the work of contemporary African photographers such as Fatoumata Diabate, using the camera as a medium to push the vanguard of representations of the African woman in present-day. As the African studios began to flourish, the photos veered away from third-person gawking to fuller depictions of daily life—anything from traditional ceremonies to young adults on their way to the club, with full consent of the parties involved.

Images from Aunty! African Women in the Frame, 1870 to Present, “Woman in Afro” — Image by Adama Sylla, Saint-Louis, Senegal, Circa 1970

“Now, a lot of African photographers are shying away from the photojournalism and documentary work and really using a lot of creativity and their imagination and creating new ideas about their lives and the world,” Barrayn mentions excitedly. “And a lot of the work now is fictionalized and storied which is really interesting and fun. It’s an experience to engage with because you get to see what people on the continent are thinking about themselves and what could be.”

Naming this generational collection of photos came easy. Aunty, Laylah says, is what intrinsically developed as she and McKinley went through the process of selecting which of the photos amassed would make the final cut for the exhibit: “We were like, ‘Okay let’s put this aunty to the side.’ We were calling these women aunties. We had seen the photographs before, they felt very close to us, even though they were photographs, they were African women from various African countries….it was just so intuitive.”

The century-long transition Barrayn’s project showcased rendered the dynamic of the subject of the photos from purely exploitative to more collaborative, allowing for the women to choose how they want their stories to be captured for themselves, as opposed to having a narrative foisted upon them. As was deserving of proper aunties, they were now being granted with the respect, deference, and agency they had long been denied.

Images from Aunty! African Women in the Frame, 1870 to Present, “Fela Queens” — Image by Bernard Matussiere, European Tour 1983, The McKinley Collection

In a manner, these photos had been seen before by many of us first generation children; a fair number of these images were reminiscent of the photo albums tucked away in the houses of our parents and grandparents. Our albums possess snapshots akin to the artifacts being gathered by the various white collectors across the globe—priceless commodities that preserved the legacies of the women who came before us. For Barrayn, they were a critical opportunity in allowing us to become our own archivists, as opposed to letting our stories continue to fall in the hands and context of said collectors, such as Andre Magnin’s collection of Sidibe’s work.

“Family archives are very important to me in understanding who you are as a person, as an individual, your familial and cultural identity, and also really documenting the time too,” she says. “Now, some of the photography that’s from the 40s and 50s are worth a lot of money—so if you don’t value it somebody else will.”

“Women Paying Respect to Mame Diarra Bousso, Prokhane” — Image by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Senegal, 2014

As she relays this to me with conviction, I think about my upcoming trip this summer—back to my family’s homeland of Comoros, where I’ll spend time with my many aunts, biological and otherwise, in a woman-dominant clan. For most of my life, I have called all of them Tata—the French word for aunty—but in recent years, as the next generation has started to come of age, I have been elevated to Tata status of my very own. Inheriting that mantle comes with a duty to preserve the family legacy before those memories are lost—or, perhaps even worse, defined by someone else.

For Barrayn, she hopes that her work encourages people to create platforms that continue to show the whole conversation, similar to Aunty and her project MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora—a publication that showcases the works of 100 women of African descent, and continues the tradition of using photography as a launching point for new perspectives and under-discussed narratives .

Chronicling our heritage through photographs is a privilege, and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted as our forebearers lacked the ability to dictate narratives on their own terms. And exploring the language used against us, and how our current colloquialism has turned it into something we honor, is an important context to our overall history.

Aunty is more than a photographic exhibit to change the perceptions of how African women were seen and how they see themselves.

“A reclamation of the word, yes,” Barrayn says. “And an examination of the word.”

A Neverending Quest for Sovereignty

Originally published for VerySmartBrothas ‘ America In Black Series.

I often jokingly tell people that I grew up in a household made up of three (occasionally four, depending on what station in life my father was in at the time) distinct American dreams—one for each flag or passport represented: Comoros, Canada and the United States. My mother, my brother and I are a trinity of the resulting products of varying circumstances that led to us calling America home. Continue reading

‘Hang the Whites’: Rapper’s Hate Speech Trial Exposes the Hypocrisy of Race Relations in France

Originally published for The Root.

The music video for 34-year-old French rapper Nick Conrad’s “Pendez les Blancs” (“Hang the Whites”) opens with a jarring visual akin to the title itself: the lifeless body of a white man on a noose, while Conrad (a black man of Cameroonian descent) stands beside him lighting a cigar.

It’s a role reversal intended to make even the most unperturbed person’s pupils dilate, with lyrics to match: In the opening lines, he speaks about entering daycares to kill white babies and then hang their parents.

Throughout the rest of the nine-minute clip, Conrad leans into a macabre inversion of anti-black violence via reenactments of culturally relevant and critically acclaimed films such as Get Out and American History X—including the latter’s iconic curb stomp scene—while wordsmithing references to actual atrocities committed against the black diaspora at the hands of white supremacists. Each line intentionally evokes a new horror, superimposed with a white face—from the whippings and lynchings described with syntax akin to that of “Strange Fruit” (“hanging from trees in cosmic emptiness/these filthy fruits provide a fascinating show”) to descriptions of torturing insubordinates to subdue rebellion to the endless wars waged for profit. Halfway through the video, a Malcolm X quote is put on the screen: “The price of freedom is death.” As a coda to his final verse, Conrad declares that he is “reversing the triangular trade” via “Black History X,” cleverly tying together themes of his song and the corresponding video by making the race reversal concept and the purpose of the cinematic allusions even more overt.

Uploaded to YouTube in September, “PLB” gained the attention of French politicians and organizations, and the backlash was swift: Far-right leader Marine Le Pen declared the video an instance of “anti-white racism” and a call to hatred and murder, demanding that the transgression be rewarded with appropriate penalties on all social media platforms. France’s interior minister, Gerard Collomb, responded in kind, stating on Twitter, “I condemn without reservation these abject remarks and ignominious attacks.” LICRA, France’s largest organization intended to fight racism and anti-Semitism, put out a statement calling the video “abject and incredibly violent” and called for legal action. YouTube promptly removed the video from its platform, claiming that it “violated hate speech guidelines.” In just a few days, Nick Conrad went from being a little-known artist with under 1,000 average hits a month to the No. 1 trending topic in France.

Pursuant to the outcry, French prosecutors investigated and determined that Conrad’s artistic license violated France’s codified press laws by causing “incitement to racial discrimination, hatred, or violence on the basis of one’s origin or membership in an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group”—in this case, Caucasians. The charge is similar to one made in 2015 against Saïdou of the well-known French group ZEP for their song “Nique la France” (“Fuck France”), in which he would be charged and later absolved of targeting hate speech toward those who were “Français de souche,” or French to the root—namely, again, Caucasians.

Proceedings began this past Wednesday with Conrad and his team facing off against complainants LICRA and the far-right leaning LAGRIF (General Alliance Against Racism and for Respect for French and Christian Identity). Reports of the trial describe Conrad enumerating in detail how the concept of the video was not only informed by multiple popular cultural and historical references (which the complainants allege are not ones that French people know well), but also the reality of his life and upbringing in France: “There is so much oppression and innuendo in society on a daily basis, even in a subliminal way; there are so many things that may elude most, but we see them.”

Conrad was questioned over his reference to Malcolm X, and the complainants implied that the deceased black liberation activist was an anti-white racist and black supremacist, unlike a more peaceful Martin Luther King. In a stunning but familiar pivot, one member of LAGRIF’s counsel team maintained, “It’s all the white man’s fault. But do we talk about the Arab slave trade and the black people who sold their brothers?”

Beyond these cartoonishly incorrect readings of history, implicit in the discussion is the assumption that racism is an equal exchange of offenses as opposed to a systemic construction. All sins are not created equal, and the collective weight of the black struggle is a debt that has accumulated over time. Under the guise of “universalism,” the French community’s continued reluctance to allow their nonwhite compatriots to confront those failings in an open space has long provided cover for oppressive tactics, to the point that France has worked to ban events and gatherings targeted for black people on the grounds of racism. It’s a farce of an exercise in a country that has yet to even track any sort of race-related census, consistently putting forth a narrative that race is not even a consideration in French identity as recently as the World Cup.

The scenes and lyrics played out in Conrad’s video are indisputably graphic, but that has hardly precluded people from understanding a performer’s artistic vision before. In Childish Gambino’s video for “This Is America,” a black man is shot in the head point blank, and a church choir is gunned down; released with similar shock value intent, it received acclaim and is currently nominated for a Grammy. Contemporaries notwithstanding, the question remains: If the scenes depicted in Conrad’s video were near-facsimiles of movies that have become cultural staples, why are we so comfortable celebrating and watching these same portrayals of violence against black people without discomfort?

Despite the perpetual efforts to distance itself from systematic wrongdoing against the black community, France has still been a site of unjustifiable black deaths: 24-year-old Adama Traore’s death in police custody in 2016 has largely gone unanswered by both the government and LICRA. Meanwhile, both institutions continue to hold court over perceived offenses of reverse racism. This dynamic evidences the power imbalance that Conrad sought to flip on its head, albeit crudely. If merely the visualization of violence against white people causes panic, however visceral, it should stand to reason that the accrued toll of centuries of brutality against black people at the hands of white supremacy is immeasurable. Whether or not Conrad is found guilty during his March 19 sentencing, there is a clear failure of France’s vocal white demographic to appreciate the magnitude of that calculus.

As Conrad’s lawyers stated, “[The song] is a violent, shocking, disturbing piece of art. But history itself is violent, shocking and disturbing.”

YesJulz Is the Latest Example of the Problem With Voluntourism

Originally published for Broadly.

In 2018, the scales on which we weigh morality have begun to slowly shift. Many of its detractors have derisively tried to attribute the change to the rise of “call-out culture” or “cancel culture,” but the reality is that the rubric of what defines goodwill is no longer limited to intent. Power imbalances, agency, and execution are all critical factors for assessing the merit of any charitable effort, and social media has increasingly empowered the groups whose spaces are being infringed upon to continuously hold people accountable on those merits.

Who Gets To Claim Their Identity In France?

Originally published for Buzzfeed News.

Atop Paris’s famous Champ de Mars gardens lies its even more prominent Eiffel Tower — a gargantuan lattice ironwork that millions of people from around the world flock to visit annually. Like all landmarks of cosmopolitan cities, the site is picturesque, nostalgic, and crowded — the hustle and bustle of citizens and visitors alike, colliding daily. About 15 yards from the main entrance, you’ll see a row of young men, largely of African descent, aiming to make as much money as they can from passersby, selling anything from mini Eiffel Towers to French flag pins. At the end of their day, some will pack up and take the Metro past the Périphérique to the banlieues; from the ritzy city center where they spend their day to the isolated, low-income suburb enclaves of mainly black and brown people who have been denied significant mobility or opportunity, the cité tower blocks in the shadows of the shimmering lights of the notoriously low-lying city.

Continue reading

Patricia Okoumou and the Dual Threat to Black Immigrants

Originally published for the Intelligencer at NYMag.

When New York–based activists Rise and Resist planned to use Independence Day to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies, their objective was simple: to unfurl a banner declaring “Abolish ICE” on Liberty Island. Patricia Okoumou, however, took it further, risking life, limb, and liberty in free-climbing the 100-foot-tall pedestal base of the Statue of Liberty and lying at its feet. During the three-hour standoff, she repurposed her shirt into a flag of its own, defiantly displaying the call to action to “Rise and Resist.”

Continue reading

Black Ramadan and the Importance of Finding Community in Isolation

Originally published for VerySmartBrothas.

When I was a child, my mom would tell me stories about Ramadan in our homeland of Comoros. Some parts weren’t the most idyllic—the idea of fasting under mosquito nets without air conditioning that close to the equator is not my concept of pleasant by any stretch of the imagination.

The one part that I always envied, however, was the sense of community enshrouded in each story. The collective participation in the holy month made the air crackle just a little differently, and you could feel the nuance in every vignette. Continue reading