Pulse of the Motherland (a poem on African media images)

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover
But it has become appallingly clear
That you can judge an entire continent
By its media coverage

You can color a whole continent dark
With the paint of poorly placed perception
When you rely on the media
To teach you your Africa lessons
Because I come from a continent,
That the world thinks is a country
And to put it bluntly,
We’re all HIV positive
Until proven negative
In the eyes of the media
It’s like Africa is either one big safari
Or Kalahari with seethin’ heathens
With no sense of religion
And home to animals and animism
Because TV renditions of African afflictions
Have created a depiction
Of a land of savages
Where the world’s most dreadful diseases
Exceed the law of averages
And since American TV only shows the ravages of a select few nations
Most Americans juxtapose the mother of civilization
With phrases like “damnation” and “starvation”
So if we don’t control our own images,
We can’t expect to see
A true representation of our beauty
Most non-Africans believe that the most
Africa has given to the world
Are phrases like “Hakuna mtata”
And “Asante sana squash banana”
Along with exotic vacations in remote locations
‘Cause I’ve never heard an American TV news station
Even say we’re made up of 55 nations
In the eyes of the media,
We’re just underdeveloped wannabe Caucasians
Still searching for civilization
If you buy the media’s interpretation
Of who we are
But am I taking this too far?
Because to me,
The real problem be the WB, ABC, & NBC
Which are the real WMD:
Weapons of Mind Destruction
Because too many people
Including many Africans
See what they see
Through the smart bombs they call TV
And it’s not just the newscasts,
It starts at age 3
Because I grew up
Watching images of Bugs Bunny
Dressed in grass skirts and black face
Speaking in “African dialects”
And every 10 years,
There’s a new version of Tarzan on the TV set
And I don’t know about y’all,
But I recall seeing gorillas pass for Africans
In those “Tin-Tin” cartoons
And if you remove
Marvin Martians’ helmet from Looney Tunes
He’s probably an African illegal alien
Or a fallen, faithless, famine-stricken African child
With his belly protruded
And it’s these convoluted characterizations
That have helped create grown-up policy makers
Who partially base their opinions of our homeland
From films such as “Congo”,
“Gorillas in the Midst” and “The Air up There”
And we can’t forget “Tears of the Sun”
Which left too many tears on the sons and daughters of Africa,
Searching for a positive portrayal of who we are
But that won’t happen until we Africans
Take responsibility for our portrayal
Because the betrayal of our friends
From FOX, CBS, and CNN
Means that we will never see-an-end
To caricatures of the continent of human creation
Which has been made to look
Like she’s on her deathbed
And ready for cremation
But we must show the world
That our Mother Africa is strong, vibrant and defiant
Because the pulse of nearly a billion people can never die
When WE take control of what the world sees,
So we must never comply
To pictures painted by pessimists on TV of our homeland
For we are the pulse of Africa
And we must now show the world
How proudly we will stand!

***Purchase musical version on iTunes.***



To hell with the dark continent


While peacemakers cheer the new "peace process" and transitional government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), massive human rights violations are still taking place in the east, including rape as a tool of war and mutilations. Mass graves are still being uncovered in Bunia. Now I could say that this is a result of a war (supposedly ended) that has killed over 4,000,000 in four years. I could say that this war has caused a second genocide in less than 100 years that has gone without mention. I could say that the root cause of this war is the world's insatiable thirst for diamonds, coltan, copper, rubber, and gold that began even before King Leopold II infected the Congo with his Acquired Immune Dictatorship-from-a-distance Syndrome. I could even say that in addition to corrupted Congolese leaders caught in their own scramble for Congo, this war is a result of Western forces such as the United States and Belgium, who have participated in assassinations of democratically-elected Congolese leaders so as to insert a leader (Mobutu Sese Seko) whose 32-year dictatorship easily rivaled Saddam Hussein's. I could say that is why mass graves are still being dug up, the proliferation of child soldiers continues, and women are still be used as sexual toys. I could say all this but what's the point? Nobody gives a damn about the Congo, much less Africa.

I watched coverage of the war on Iraq from before day one. As much as I empathize with the people who suffered under Saddam, I kept asking myself why no one cares about US-supported dictators in Africa. I wondered, rather than debating whether America is responsible for Saddam because of the support he enjoyed in the eighties and nineties, why is it that no one talks about the current support that Rwanda and Uganda receive from America, even though these countries invaded Congo twice within the last decade? I wonder why it is that Americans do not realize that our purchase of cell phones, computers, and diamonds have indirectly supported this genocide. The reason is that no one gives a damn about Congo, much less Africa.

Once again, Africa has vanished off the map of human concern. The average American is resigned to the fact that whatever transpires in Africa is destined because Africans are savage and "unsaved." Africa is still the Tarzan-inspired, AIDS-infested country where people die because they are heathens. I even wonder how many readers will gloss over the fact that I just referred to Africa as a country and not a 54-nation continent. I can do this because, as you'll find in many of your conversations, we recount our travels to China, Brazil, India, Canada, and Africa. To the average American, Africans have been engraved in our mind's constitution as three-fifths of a person from three-fifths of a continent. I should actually say four-fifths since Northern Africa is so conveniently left out of the doomsday-statistics concerning the continent.

As disheartening as these facts are, as a former middle school teacher, I looked every day into the eyes of America's future and saw the cycle continuing. Before I showed videos of my travels to African countries, I had my students write about their images of Africa. I got the same answers you probably would have given as a child (or give now as an adult): far, half-naked heathens, "people" living next to wild animals, dirt roads, huts. However, after seeing my videos of African cities, my students asked to take a field trip to “Africa.” It was no longer far. It was no longer savage. In 15 minutes, I often changed images of Africa that these children had learned since birth.

While I never heard the word "spic," "chink," or "kike" used to refer to any of my Latino, Chinese, or Jewish students; insults such as "African bush-boogie" or "African booty-scratcher" roll off the tongues of my students whenever a dark-skinned student aroused their ire, particularly if that student had a "foreign" accent or name. Is this the melting pot that we are striving for in America? Is this indicative of a nation that promotes true understanding of diverse backgrounds and is open-minded towards the beliefs of others?

It seems that we Americans talk about embracing differences only when we feel threatened by a foreign agent or domestic upheaval. Since Africans in the Diaspora are, for all intents and purposes, complacent with the stereotypes put forth about them throughout the international community, Africa will continue to be that dark, faraway, unsaved country (yes, "country").

I could tell you about my cousin in Congo who died of tuberculosis at 22 years of age; which happened on the day I met him for the first time, because his family could not afford medicine. I could tell you about my other cousin in Mozambique who is living with AIDS and has already lost her husband to the AIDS grim reaper because he had to choose between money for expensive Western AIDS medicine or financial aid to feed his children. I could tell you that this great country that invaded Iraq to "liberate" the Iraqis has supported genocidal regimes in Africa. You would probably like that.

On the other hand, I could tell you about the warmth of the African people who opened their doors to me and fed me like a king though no one in the family was working. I could tell you how I honestly felt more safe walking the streets of all but one of the ten African countries I have visited than I do on the streets of America where I can have my life snatched away just as easily by a crook as by a cop. I could tell you that I often think about why I should give a damn about human suffering in Iraq or Israel and how I could never think that way because of an African traditional principle that my mother taught me hate hatred, not humanity. I could probably even tell you that each time I leave the African continent, I am more inspired that those "savages" are the hope for all of humanity's children. I could say all of this but what's the point? As long we do not have a government, an educational system, and a society that actively challenges its people on misconceptions of a people whose ancestors built this country, the same, irrefutable fact will hold for all eternity no one gives a damn about Africa.

A poetic tribute to President Nelson Mandela

They say never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes
But what happens when the man has neither shoes nor socks to walk in?
Would you willfully walk that mile?
Would you accept all adversity with a frown and a smile?
Would you still run the race against racism with grace and style?
Would you work wearily to weave a tapestry of diversity and shared fate
Against those who continue to practice apart-hate?
Would your heart shine bright when deprived of sunlight?
Would your spirit sing a song of liberation when it’s denied instrumentation?
As they tried at Robben Island to rob you of your soul
You literally rolled Rholihlahla with each punch as you crunched in your hole
We stand here because of you
We breathe freely because of you
And you walked the long walk to freedom with no shoes and socks
So that we will not have to
You walked for those without homes and even the land-dwellers
You, the son of Mother Earth
Father to a nation
Grandfather to our future
Brother to African liberation
From Cape Town to Kinshasa you led like no other
To remind us to put our arms down and hands forward to embrace one another
Because of you the world is encouraged to up rise like Soweto
So-we-too rise above the mentality of the ghetto
To claim the universe as our humble home
Overseas maligned media would disgrace the Madiba
But we saw through their lies as we looked at tattered posters into your eyes
Your hope in humanity helps us fly Tran-skeis
And when peace did not work on the path for a free way
You chauffeured us on the highway of Umkhonto we sizwe
And when so many believed that there was still no way
Your perseverance and piety led all of us nobly to the Nobel in Norway
And so we will make peace our prize
And we will walk on this path of freedom with our shoes on and heads held high
In a world where courage and pride can be hard to find like a Black Pimpernel
Because YOU have walked this earth Madiba, the future for all humanity bodes well