Friday, 7 December 2018

Isabel Wilkerson on Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ and the Great Migration

Michelle in Kenya in a photograph taken by her then boyfriend Barack Obama.Credit :Barack Obama/Obama-Robinson Family Archives
Back in the ancestral homeland of Michelle Obama, the architects of Jim Crow took great pains to set down the boundaries and define the roles of anyone living in the pre-modern South. Signs directed people to where they could sit, stand, get a sip of water. They reinforced the social order of an American hierarchy — how people were seen, what they were called, what they had been before the Republic was founded and what was presumed they could never be. The signs reminded every inhabitant of the very different place of black women and white women in the hierarchy. There were restrooms for “white ladies” and often, conversely, restrooms for “colored women.” Black women were rarely granted the honorific Miss or Mrs., but were addressed by their first name, or simply as “gal” or “auntie” or worse. This so openly demeaned them that many black women, long after they had left the South, refused to answer if called by their first name. A mother and father in 1970s Texas named their newborn “Miss” so that white people would have no choice but to address their daughter by that title. To the founding fathers and the enforcers of Jim Crow, and to their silent partners in the North, black women were meant for the field or the kitchen, or for use as they saw fit. They were, by definition, not ladies. The very idea of a black woman as first lady of the land, well, that would have been unthinkable.

It was with the weight of this history in her bones that Michelle Obama walked onto the world stage as the first black woman to become first lady when her husband, Barack Obama, was sworn in as president in January 2009. Her memoir, “Becoming,” is a long-awaited account by a woman others have tried to decode for the last decade. The book was almost as closely guarded as the nuclear codes, and, as soon as the embargo was lifted, journalists tore into it for newsworthy bombshells of score-settling palace intrigue. There were few, aside from her blunt words for her husband’s successor, Donald Trump, whose birther attacks — “his loud and reckless innuendos,” she calls them — had put her family at risk. “And for this, I’d never forgive him,” she writes. But those focused on sound bites will be missing the larger meaning of a serious work of candid reflection by a singular figure of early-21st-century America.

While many of the 45 first ladies who preceded her were the daughters of wealthy merchants (Edith Roosevelt), bankers (Ida McKinley), judges (Helen Taft) and slaveholders (Martha Washington and Julia Grant), Michelle Obama was a descendant of the very caste of people that some of the previous first ladies had owned. She knew, as she held the Lincoln Bible at her husband’s swearing-in that frigid day in Washington, that she would be held to a different standard from that moment forward, her every gesture scrutinized. “If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors,” she writes, “I knew it was not likely to be the same for me. … My grace would need to be earned.” She adds, “I stood at the foot of the mountain, knowing I’d need to climb my way into favor.”

In finally telling her story, Obama is doing several things with this book. She is taking the country by the hand on an intimate tour of everyday African-American life and ambition, while recounting her rise from modest origins to the closest this country has to nobility. She’s meditating on the tensions women face in a world that speaks of gender equality but in which women still bear the greater burdens of balancing career and family, even with a forward-thinking husband like Barack Obama. And she is reminding readers that African-Americans, like any other group, experience the heartbreak of infertility, as she describes the challenges she and her husband confronted in order to become parents. The book is a Chicago coming-of-age story; a love story of a pair of opposites; and a political saga by a woman who was skeptical, if not outright disdainful, of politics, who tried to apply the brakes where she could, and who ultimately transcended her worries to become one of the most popular first ladies in history. As a measure of the public’s adoration, her memoir sold more than 1.4 million copies in its first week and quickly became the best-selling book of the year.

“Becoming” is refined and forthright, gracefully written and at times laugh-out-loud funny, with a humbler tone and less name-dropping than might be expected of one who is on chatting terms with the queen of England. One of Obama’s strengths is her ability to look back not from the high perch of celebrity or with the inevitability of hindsight but with the anxieties of the uncertain. She writes in the moment, as she saw and felt and discovered — as events were occurring. Even though we all know that she and Barack Obama end up getting married and having two kids, that he wins the 2008 Iowa caucuses and that they make it to the White House, she never takes any of it for granted. On the contrary, her tone is one of wonderment as to how this all happened. This gives the book’s first half, in particular, covering the part of her life we know least about, an unexpected suspense. She writes in the confident cadence we have come to recognize from her campaign speeches, looking back at her youth from within the aspiring heart of a daughter of South Side Chicago. Over and over, from high school to the White House, she asks, “Am I good enough?”

She was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, in January 1964, during the term of Lady Bird Johnson. Her family lived on the second floor of a brick bungalow owned by a prim great-aunt and her fastidious husband. Her father, Fraser Robinson III, worked for the city tending boilers for a water filtration plant, and her mother, Marian Shields Robinson, stayed at home looking after Michelle and her older brother, Craig. The Shields and Robinson families had fled the Jim Crow South for Chicago decades before, during the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South to the North and West. Her ancestors on the Shields side came from Alabama, the Robinsons from South Carolina. Both her grandfathers ran into obstacles in the North. They tried to enter the trades but found that many unions excluded African-Americans, and thus many well-paying jobs were closed to them. They carried a heaviness about them that Michelle didn’t fully understand at the time but which impressed upon her the need to make the most of whatever opportunities came her way.

This was a neighborhood, South Shore, where “people tended to their lawns and kept track of their children,” she writes. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles lived within blocks of one another, and her own family doubled up in their one-bedroom apartment with low ceilings and faded carpet. She and her brother had adjoining space in what was intended to be a living room, now divided into two makeshift bedrooms separated by a paneled partition and plastic accordion doors that their grandfather built for them.
Afternoons, piano keys plinked in her great-aunt Robbie’s rear room below — her young students practicing their scales. Aunt Robbie bore the unspoken disappointments of her generation and was an exacting elder in Michelle’s life. Perhaps everyone has had an Aunt Robbie, the one with the porcelain figurines that children were not to touch and the plastic-covered furniture that stuck to bare legs. Michelle would eventually take lessons from Aunt Robbie, too, on the older woman’s old upright with the chipped keys, and find it hard to please her. Yet the aunt’s tenderness broke through in an especially lovely moment at a piano recital, and Michelle would go on to admire Aunt Robbie’s “devotion to rigor.”

Full story originally posted by The New York Times

Sunday, 3 December 2017


Photo Credit : Taye Balogun
I am proudly associated with Mr. Taye Balogun.  He is a Producer, Lecturer, Photographer, social developer, Activist, Pan Africanist and he is “woke” among many things. Taye Balogun is without doubt one of Africa’s finest brains in the world of Art and certainly his name stands out on the global scene, too.   Taye is a Success; being friends with him promises a future of great inspiration and catching on the spark of ultimate sophiscation, because that is who he is: working with you was and still is something I will live to appreciate my brother, let’s rock on!

Taye is an intelligent, hardworking, kind and honest man; he will not just sit idly by and see talent go to waste, just like he can’t fail to speak up on social justice issues. Under “Music is our Weapon” Project, a documentary that tells of Sarabi, Taye Balogun passionately pushes for recognizing the unsung hero in Mandela —he says; “As a filmmaker, their back story was compelling and I could see that it was a good story. I never revealed to him that I wanted to make their film but in the middle of the conversation, I declared that, ‘You have a fantastic story and I want the world to hear your story”.—and to this; Mandela responded, “We just want to change the world, our environment and use this music to give a voice to the voiceless”.

As I earlier wrote in the Sanity in get writing, this is what we talk about when we talk about owning your voice; “I am a stubborn person at times; I don’t “fight small wars” or react [see; respond] to things that are so small, in most of the social media expletives and blogs I have written through the years (even in real life). If one thing, above the all motivates me, it is “the pride in me”. Yes, pride is a motivator, as is written: Prove people wrong. They say it can’t be done? Do it. They tell you it is a waste of time? Waste away. Never let anyone define for you how to be, how to use your time, or what you or anyone is capable of. Turn the naysayer into a competitive guidepost, recasting every doubting Thomas into a secret twisted cheerleader. However, be careful not to cop out into spite: don’t center on them, they are just ammunition. Take their judgment, harness it into your next pride, and ride them past the fools over the hills, and towards a dream. When I thought writing this piece, I told myself one thing, I was going to commit the writer’s chief sin: recommend it as my “babyfor my readers—read on.

The world needs men and women of courage, resilient souls; grace-filled brothers and sisters: a universe of personhood and human decency. Sometimes the most disturbing question isn’t whether I am doing enough to please the world but rather, whether I am doing extra-ordinary things. At times, the extra ordinary isn’t about doing much, it is doing a little but with a purpose of lightening someone’s burden, and in the end that is what is reflected unto the world. Save for the present-day social media melodrama, where “idiots” are making a “change”. In a world where there is hopelessness, the extra-ordinary is giving someone a glimmer of hope—that tomorrow, no matter how blurry it is today, is going to be better. In a world of lack, providence is the real hero. That is extra ordinary stuff, don’t look any further.

At EAC.L-R & R-L; Fahad, Grace, Taye. Sahlim, Gael & Kefa
At the East African Youth Summit 2017; where I was one of the bloggers, Taye eloquently told the youth solid truths; he said, “Talk is cheap; what have you done? Don’t wait for someone else; Do it. ” Precisely—become who you really are

As author and biologist, Bruce Lipton, so passionately explains, during the first six years of our lives, our brains exist in a hypnotic, trance-like state, such that we passively absorb, record and believe the things that are impressed upon us from the outside world.
And no matter which perspective appeals to you, it all boils down to this: authentic happiness and total wellness are your natural birthrights.

You have a unique purpose to fulfill in this lifetime, even when your role seems small. So, your second key to transforming your dreams into reality is to love who you are. From there you can revive the true self, rewrite your self-description, and rebuild the living temple of your authentic self.

Brother Taye; we got a whole lot of unfinished business but one step at a time; we are going to continue radiating to others what we find. Love you brother; I am at your service whenever you need me. Blessings!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


PC- Sandra Creason
Sandra, I don’t know the perfect words to express how much I love this portrait; it is the most beautiful gift I have ever received from anyone in this world, after my son Shane. I can imagine the time and carefulness you have invested in reproducing it this way—as beautiful as the original.  “Talent is genius,”- you are proof positive.

It takes me back to how we met four years ago—over there on twitter—and then facebook. I met a very talented writer; writing her musings under her ‘conspiracy theories blog’, her ink drew me to her. I discovered she was multi-talented. After a good number of twitter interactions, I asked her to be friends on facebook; she accepted and has since been in my corner. She has been the big sister I never had; the mother I no longer had and a strong confidant—she knows my “shit”. Two years ago—it was April 16th 2015—here on facebook, I asked a question of guidance on how I was going to roll with my career life (after a year without a job post- graduation); Sandra gave me the kindest, real and most influential piece of advice—it has pushed me through the worst adversaries since—my appreciation knows no bounds! 

Why limit yourself? You are young, kind, articulate, talented and handsome; you have plenty of time to explore the world and see both what you have to offer it and what it has to offer to you. Many successful people in the world have more than one passion. I say, take on the world like a child; explore, learn, be ambitious but be happy about things that matter to you. Eventually, you will find all the pieces that make you well-rounded and whole, and you will not get stuck in a rut of any single thing. Maybe you are meant to do and be many things,” Sandra commented.

I captured this in my first college degree story (on the blog) and will still share more about it in my book—a work in progress—and now that I have an official portrait for the book cover, I am game. Sandra, your kindness, maturity and unconditional love through the years has been a great learning curve for me; thank you for being all this to a stranger—now family. Thing is , If you are a loving, caring soul—like Sandra—it is hard to just not go unrecognized. The author and social activist Bell Hooks once said: “our culture doesn’t recognize passion because real passion has the power to disrupt boundaries. I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility. Not ‘in order to love you, I must make you something else.’ That is what domination is all about, that in order to be close to you, I must possess you, remake and recast you.” Sandra, thank you for being the friend who lets me dial in my own essence and be unapologetically me. 

I believe in a very simple notion ; we are more than just a single story; we are a vast compilation, composition, composites of a consortium of fantasy, fury, fascination, faith, trust, distrust, fear, pain, discomfort, comfort, joy, happiness, laughter, generosity, selfishness, greatness, failure, humility, pride, insecurities, boldness, confidence, unity, division, helpfulness, helplessness, optimism, pessimism, the list is too enormous for our brains; even the most intricately beautifully mind to conceive, at what moment, during which time, an unintentional, unrehearsed story will unravel, during the course of our schematically designed lives—we always gotta embrace it ; knowing it is not our defining moment; the story that has residence inside me is enough reason to love  every single story I have, whether expected or unexpected, it’s all a part of me.  God bless you and your dear family—and thanks again for this lovely portrait.

Monday, 16 October 2017

#Raw—Seeing the year through the ‘lens of a Camera.'

“Through Photography I learn to appreciate life as it is right now, instead of wishing better days ahead. I am so thankful for the way my camera offers me gentle reminders to have patience, slow down, and enjoy life’s moments as they happen.”

I write from a lens of truth. In the words of Lao Tzu, “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power,” –there is no in-between, successful people don’t grow by accident, they grow by design.The road of truth-telling is not an easy one for many but I will still be here to smack you awake. Most of the pieces I have written through the years intersect with real life—life as it is, not as we think it should be or wish it was—this one is going to be reflective, about 2017. This year has been tough. It has at times beaten my ingrained discipline of fidelity to resilience (sometimes I have logged out of hope). I have learned though; that resilience isn’t an end in itself—it is surely a muscle one can always reach and pick the strength to carry on—that’s life for you and I .I am tired. Tired of having to keep problematic people in my circle, just for breathing. Keeping people who in their convoluted mind think that just because they area round, I am privileged.I am going to put it cut and dry, playing a fool doesn’t mean I am naïve. This might not sit well on your nose but I am out of fucks to give, let’s shake the honest nest.

Consider these words from Justice Scalia: “Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for Courage to endure the scorn of the sophiscated world…Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophiscated world.” 
We all have friends—make friends in life—but what is the hardest thing is keeping the true kindred spirit of friendship (call it personhood and human decency , as I often love to say).Friendship is so watered down to materialism; to deception, to go-getting and to keeping up appearances—real friendship has dwindled down to nothingness. For people like me, that truly look for and hope for the best in people( not double standards and wearing facets), people like me that trust not because of naivety but rather in belief in the goodness of people often get terribly hurt. It is at times timely to have songs like Look what you made me do (by Taylor Swift) on the iPod or as favorite on your playlist. Sometimes, society has treated us so bad and so hypocritically that you don’t know who to share your fears with, hopes and plans anymore: that is what this year has taught me more than anything.

 Being the honest person, I have had a lot of trouble with people who keep up appearances albeit I have sometimes with the benefit of the doubt been played the ugly card over and over again—yes, I have lived a lie through another—at times from the same person( people).I have not just felt like drawing the curtain on these souls; I have been buried in anger, disappointment and the ultimate feeling of betrayal—you sure know what I am talking about if you have ever been let down, lied to and taken a fool by people you least expect to treat you like shit (some of them respectable  and others common place vultures) .

It was Aristotle who noted expansively on friendship: Not a few things about friendship are matters of debate. Some define it as the kind of likeness and say like people are friends, whence come the sayings ‘like to like’, ‘birds of a feather flock together’, and so on; others on a contrary say ‘two of a trade never agree’. On this very question they inquire for deeper and more physical causes, Euripides saying that ‘parched earth loves the rain, and stately heaven when filled with rain loves to fall to earth’, and Heraclitus that ‘it is what opposes that helps’ and ‘from different tones comes the fairest tune’ and ‘all things are produced through strife’; while Empedocles, as well as others, expresses the opposite view like aims at like. The physical problems we may have alone (for they do not belong to the present inquiry); let us examine those which are human and involve character and feeling e.g whether friendship can arise between two people or people cannot be friends if they are wicked , and whether there is one species of friendship or more than one. 

There is more than one way to reach out to someone who is struggling but one thing stands out—let us remember not to ask anything of someone who is drowning. Have you been wretched out that you feel everything is conspiring against you? Well, pain is an invaluable thing (ironically true)—‘Richard Rohr says, ‘The only things strong enough to break our heart are things like pain, mistakes, unjust suffering, tragedy, failure and the general absurdity of life. I wish it were not so, but it clearly is. Fortunately, life will lead us to the edge of our own resources through such events. We must be led to an experience or situation that we cannot fix or control or understand. That’s where faith begins.’
It seems that it’s only when our former ways of understanding , coping with , and controlling our own lives break down—through loss, crisis, failure, upheaval, or pain—that we are open enough to receive new life.
-If we experience this enough times and recognize the pattern, we begin to be less afraid of it and may learn to embrace it. On our best days, we may be able to look at the storm clouds gathering in the distance and say, ‘bring it. Let the storm come because I like what it made me last time.”

In my recent article –the sanity I get writing—I write, ‘the world needs men and women of courage, resilient souls; grace-filled brothers and sisters: a universe of personhood and human decency. Sometimes the most disturbing question isn’t whether I am doing enough to please the world but rather, whether I am doing extra-ordinary things. ‘I want to emphasize today that as a writer; a truth-teller, nothing overjoys me if someone is lifted because of my work, whether it brings an extra penny to my pocket or not. 

At she writes, I am in agreement with what they say about how much readership feels enough, that–‘Maybe most of us, satisfaction doesn’t stem from numbers at all. But if not, what does keep us going? How do we measure success?  For some of us, what matters is the quality of our readers. Panelist Chad Simpson, for example, aspires to “a small but devoted cult following.” For Kellie, too, it is not how many readers but the depth of connection that counts. “Who is my ideal reader?” she asked. “It’s the reader who finds my work compelling.” The readers who sustain us are those who let us know they understand what we have written, who show that they are moved by our works, who take our ideas to new places of their own. Even if these readers are small in number, they are large in impact.”

There is a beautiful friend of mine, Vera. We meet a few months ago ‘on the internet’, a few days ago; she wrote something about me that moved me. Yes I have had praise from very many people across the globe but I will talk about in particular, for purposes of this article. She wrote, ‘I met a friend. On here. He has a name-Grace Abaho. He is a native of an Eastern Country—Uganda. He can be described with many adjectives and adverbs even without meeting him yet- honest. Ambitious. Great Writer. He Writes. And more.’ She goes on to say, ‘Thank you, Grace Abaho (He Writes); I appreciate who you are and your distinct voice in the affairs of your nation and humanity.’

For this special soul up there (Vera), I don’t know how to express the gratitude I have for her being a point of light. I am glad I met her and if the future permits, I want to have a human moment with her: ‘human moments require energy. Often, that’s what makes them easy to avoid. The human moment may be seen as yet another tax on our overextended lives. But a human moment doesn’t have to be emotionally draining or personally revealing. In fact, the human moment can be risk, businesslike, and brief. A five-minute conversation can be a perfectly meaningful human moment. To make the human moment work, you have to set aside what you are doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from the laptop, abandon your daydream, and of course focus on the person you are with. Usually when you do that, the other person will feel the energy and respond in kind. Together, you quickly create a force field of exceptional power.” We both haven’t met but we have had a virtual human moment, at least she calls me and gives me attention when I am feeling lowly-for that I am thankful.

On my sister’s birthday earlier on 30th September, while telling my resilience story through hers, I wrote about hope being a function of struggle as I was agreement on being. I wrote, ‘hope is not an emotion. Hope is a cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when people have faith in our ability to get out of a jam. Which is different from this pattern of having faith in our children, which means telling them that everything they do is wonderful and shielding them as long as we can. But girl we know this, don’t we, this desire to create a beautiful world for the people we love? ” 

In a world where wealth and not wisdom is the most desired quality; where the top is rotten so you have to be rotten to get to the top. Where money generates the largest within us, those who speak about self-development that is not financially relevant are deemed unpractical. It is easy for those who wake up to realize there is something wrong with this world. The alarm has gone off in their soul to go and ask questions. In a world where the church rocks the cradle, when as many children ask adults questions, they are told to shut up or that they need more faith, the facts are not relevant. If they do not want to go to “hell” they need to keep quiet. This message is all that some need however there are those questions inside them that will not remain silent.

In one of my favorite works of C. S. Lewis (Weight of Glory), he writes about the inner ring, and he warns; ‘Of all passions, the passion for the inner ring is more skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humor or learning or wit or any of those things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in”. And that is a pleasure that cannot last. The momentary part of being part of the world, or the cliché is never worth the compromise. It only leads to a loss of integrity and an endless search for acceptance.’

Your fears will manifest if you allow them to be the primary focus that drives you. Be driven by unfettered view of what is possible for your life. Remember that you will attract an equal energy you allow to penetrate inward and radiate outward.Do nOt free yourself then, simply be the self that is free. Embrace the misunderstood “orphan” in the loving arms of awareness. Much of what we do in life is shaped by our values. Some people have the character of perseverance in the face of difficulty, while others give up when the going is tough. People who persevere have grit, they don’t give up when the times are tough, they don’t take shortcuts, they don’t compromise and they see things through to the end. If you can’t master this, going through tough times will be the real life equivalent of an ambition of pulling the sun out of the sky—embrace the darkness—as I wrote earlier

There have been a few times when I have deactivated my social media accounts( especially facebook, for a break from the noises in the background).I do a lot of “pro bono” (for half a decade now, I post free political commentary, play the fair arbiter and all you can think of ) , I share insights and I defend people who instead of being there for me when I am in the ruts, they watch in the selfsame silence as the very ones I can’t call friends—this , I have seen on many occasions—at one point I almost got imprisoned. I learned that I need to give myself space; I started to do troubleshooting on my social media platforms, using the block and unfriend buttons. Interestingly, some will still say that I am censoring them. I just can’t withstand draining myself. I keep my peace and ‘troubleshoot’ when I have to, regardless of who you are. All this I have learned isn’t far removed from reframing your darkside. In retrospect,our goal in this coming year shouldn’t just be about happiness, our goal should be meaningfulness. Instead of picking projects, hobbies and relationships based on how happy they will make us, let’s focus on things that will make our lives more significant and worthwhile.

Finally, as the years go by, my theme into the next months and the New Year will be, “it’s not about all the good you can do—it’s about the bad you can prevent. That’s less inspiring but it’s true.” As I wrote earlier, speak life. I need help at times; just like you and all else—help if you can—the fragrance always stays in the hand that gives. As I wrote on facebook recently, ascribing ones success to individual effort while ignoring all the support from society that made your opportunities possible is first degree conversation narcissism; we all have someone who has pitched in for us—be it your parents, your friends or whoever you are afraid to tell the world. Yes it is a ‘feel-good-thing’ to give yourself all the credit but it is not true that your intelligence, resilience or special tactics have mapped your way; someone always comes through the equation. What I am saying is that “I am because we all are”: Ubuntu. If only we can attune our minds to this thought perspective, maybe the world would be a better place. He chastens who loves well. Blessings