“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise.” Poet Laureate Maya Angelou.
“The Talk,” in the USA, is when parents discuss ‘how babies are made’ and other pre-adult matters to prepare their children for body changes and overall youth development. For Black folks in America, “The Talk” prepares you for being pulled over by police; being stopped in a store suspected of shoplifting; and how to address the high school ‘resource officer’ insisting on a ‘random locker search’. The list is long. CNN commentator, Van Jones, refers to “The Talk” as ‘fairy dust we sprinkle over Black children leaving home everyday, praying these words will protect them’. As the mother of 5 Black sons, raised in America, I know it all too well. Now it’s time to have “The Talk” with Ethiopia, and Africa in general, to prepare those not in the know for our desire to come home or at least be seen by Africa.
We watched America – from Wyoming to Washington DC – swim in seas of protest in reaction to the police murder of George Floyd. Responses from Africa spanned a spectrum of sentiments. On one end, ‘destruction is not the answer, this is embarrassing…Blacks in America must build themselves up with education, self knowledge, finance and then gain respect…they don’t appreciate the many opportunities…’. On the other end, ‘African Americans are our children, their ancestors were taken from Africa to build America, for free, burn it down if that’s what it takes to stop the cold blooded killings on camera…’. In the middle is, ‘Wow! We never knew it was really that bad…we should pray for the protestors and white people that God will change hearts and bring peace…”.
“The Talk” was placed on the table when AU Deputy Chairperson, Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, posted on FB, “We may be black but we are people too.” A floodgate of responses from African leaders including Year of Return, Diaspora Reintegration Champion, President Nana Akufo Addo, emphatically stated, “It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, the United States, this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism.” The President’s Office and Ghana Diaspora Coalition honored George Floyd at the Diaspora African Forum in Accra on June 5th. Head of Mission, Ambassador Erieka Bennett somberly stated, “George was our son… son of Africa, we’ll place his name on the Sankofa Wall amongst his ancestors and celebrate his short life which ended waking up the world to institutional racism…reminding Africans at home and abroad, we need to be connected.”
Ethiopia, Africa, let’s talk about the artists who so many of us love and appreciate. Bob Marley sang Burning and Looting in 1973, what did you think he was singing about? I remind you.
This morning I woke up in a curfew
O God, I was a prisoner too, yeah!
Could not recognize the faces standing over me
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality, eh!
How many rivers do we have to cross
Before we can talk to the boss? Eh!
All that we got, it seems we have lost
We must have really paid the cost
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight
Burnin’ all pollution tonight
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.
Remember painter Jean Michel Basquiat’s The Death of Michael Stewart, aka Defacement, created in 1983, a commentary on the 25 year old, black artist Michael Stewart, murdered by New York City Transit Police for allegedly tagging a wall in an East Village subway station? Keep in mind Banksy does the same thing today and sells for millions…jussayin’. Basquiat’s work not only explored black identity but expressed raged against police brutality and state authorities. Then we have Poet Laureate Maya Angelou. Her 1978 “Still I Rise” was recently circulating on FB translated to Amharic. An excerpt reads:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Finally, Ethiopia claims two artists who provoke us with images and words that exemplify “The Talk”. Ethiopian fine artist, Prince Merid Tafesse, created a version of “American Gothic” in 2015 inspired by African American photographer Gordon Park’s 1942 acclaimed “American Gothic”, portrait of black female worker, broom in hand with a US flag backdrop; inspired by Grant Wood’s 1930 “American Gothic,” the renowned work with midwestern wife and farmer with pitchfork in hand. Prince Merid’s piece questioned and confronted the tropes of the American dream and contradictions of said. Ironically, the USA Embassy in Addis Abeba is where Merid’s piece is displayed.
On the word sound is power side, 13 year Ethiopian resident, African born in America – I-Timothy -poet, historian, educator and more; has shaken up present day poets in the city, mentoring and providing platforms for a new generation of fresh free voices; contributing to the consciousness of young Ethiopians. A regular at Fendika, I close with his aspirational 2007 poem, “Buju At H.O.B.”
Walk like a champion
Love and Unity
Gain the world’s attention
Brings the spirit injection
Dance Natty Dance
Gather the World together
Charge the battery
Is where we wanna be…
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.