2019 has been, globally, a year of ups and downs, trials and triumphs – a year of troubled skies. A number of key elections happened across the world and particularly on the continent of Africa. World politics continues to march onwards on the road to perdition in the UK, USA, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Germany, Spain etc. And every area of life, sports, entertainment, education, finance, trade, the environment…demonstrates quite clearly that the personal is always political and the political, personal. If we do not get better at understanding how our yesterdays have brought us to today, our world will have no tomorrow. We, humanity, will have no more skies above us, no land on which to stand, as the waters rise up and cover us all.
On Writing, Silence, Race and Wilful Ignorance
Through the vicissitudes of 2019, I have tried as always to engage in wide-lens commentary and deconstruction of this present darkness. [You may want to check out my reflections on previous years, 2018: It Was a Year, 2017: Foluke’s Blogging Commandments, & 2016’s Gone Now]
In 2019, I opened the blog with, We Dream, We Write, We Change the World, a general exhortation to dream and write and envision new worlds. In this post I stated, with inspiration from Audre Lorde’s A Litany for Survival, ‘It is 2019. Do you. Write. Blog. Sing. Speak. But do not be silent. We are afraid, but we must not be silent. Speak. It is 2019, the world cannot afford our silence… And we have seen the negative effect of silence on othered bodies and othered lands. In 2020, remember, your silence is NOT an option, if we are to survive this wretched night.
During the 2018-2019 Christmas/New Year break, I watched ‘Detroit’ – a harrowing movie that made me write about how film can [mis]depict the realities of racism, often confusing personal bias with racist systems. In the post, The Movie ‘Detroit’: Tales of a Wretched Night, relying heavily on Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, I argue that the makers of Detroit, despite having very noble intentions, missed a fantastic opportunity to portray structural racism. Nothing that has happened this year has convinced me that the vast majority of people understand racism and how it works as an evolving system always mutating and reproducing itself. [Alana Lentin makes the same point in a Guardian article] Nothing has convinced me that people even WANT to understand racism. This refusal to understand may yet destroy us all.
In the spirit of writing to express and birth new worlds, I wrote quite a lot of poetry this year, including a post with a small collection of short verses titled ‘Equality is…’ and other very Short Verses’ I have always believed that in poetry or prose, verse or terse text… the written word can also sing.
On Freedom and Photos
Like race and racism, freedom is a concept I feel is somewhat not as easy to grasp as we often suggest. I guess, if we are unable to theorise and understand the nature and origins of unfreedom, the concept of freedom will also be difficult to grasp. I describe freedom as a becoming and an unbecoming of the unbecoming. Freedom as constant struggle. Yet, freedom is also now or it is never. I wrote a number of essays on freedom this year: The Essence of Freedom, The Day After, Freedom Takes Forever, We Who Believe in Freedom. My question still remains, despite all we know of humanity, or maybe because of all we know of humanity’s past and present: can this wretched earth learn freedom once again?
I would like to add different formats of posts to the blog and this year I experimented with a photo essay of the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory. The post was called, Come Fly Nigeria With Me. It seems to have been well received. Despite having the least amount of text, it had a proportionally large amount of views and a lot of people told me that they enjoyed looking at the pictures. I will hopefully have similar photo-essay as time goes by. Fingers crossed! The world is too big and too diverse for freedom not to be an urgent necessity. Maybe seeing other worlds, other lives, other realities can help us imagine better freedoms.
On African History, Future and the Hope of Together Forever
I often say that, for Africans and African descended people, we must go to the past to get to the future we want. In 2019, in 2 essays, I reflected on what this process means. In the first essay, Black History, Knowledge, Memory & Future I, I examined the subjectivity of the written record and how we often ignore the (mis)use of power in its [re]production. In the second essay, imaginatively titled, Black History, Knowledge, Memory & Future II, I explored the potential possible in solidarity and working together across time and space. Remember:
“‘Together’ is the cadence of every African language.
‘Together’ is the completeness of every African soul.”
Forever Africa (FACE) held its 2nd conference this year and I wrote a vision statement for the Pan-African Inspired Multiversity – a multidimensional space to advance and create knowledges for the survival of us all. Reminding us that a multiversal approach seeks to change the world for the benefit of everyone. I also published here, my opening address for FACE 2019, which included a land acknowledgement recognising the history and present of the city of Bristol, steeped as it is in the trade in enslaved Africans.
On the Academic Inaccuracy of BAME and Broad Academic Complicity
One of my most read posts of the year was, The Only Accurate Part of ‘BAME’ is the ‘and’ – a critique of the term ‘BAME’. A term which I argue (here and elsewhere) is unsound and inaccurate, because, among other things, it problematises and pathologises the racialised and not racism. Using it in any academic work in this present moment is wilful denial of the divergent histories of non-white people.
This present moment has witnessed lots of Global North universities ‘acknowledging’ their role in the enslavement of Africans. In Universities in the Global North & Legacies of Slavery, I asked that in this tentative process of acknowledgement, we focus not on what was financially gained by the Global North, but the immeasurable amount and nature of what has been lost and continues to be lost from Africa. In light of the somewhat flawed ECHR report on racism in universities, I also wrote an essay examining this legacy of illicit trade in kidnapped Africans as it specifically relates to the University of Bristol: Decolonising the University of Bristol. We need to do better in understanding race and racism and how much is rooted in an ever-present history [see above.]
On the Urgent Necessity but Potential Impossibility of Decolonisation
As usual, a lot of my work in 2019 was focused on the theory and practice of decolonisation. In preparation for a decolonial conference I convened in September 2019, I wrote, Decolonisation & the Law School: Initial thoughts, a reflection on why law teachers and researchers should think more critically about their work and where it stands in relation to the weight of a history of bodies being marked as other and thus cast into the sacrifice zone. We must think about the role that law has played in this process and how this process has produced the present ontology of law, with racial difference and racialisation’s effects written into its parent code.
As my thoughts on decolonising the law are closely tied to my experiences living and practising law in a postcolonial state, I also wrote about how the actual practice of law plays out in such a state. In An Anticolonial Lawyer in a Colonial Court, I examine, through an actual event, the effect colonial language use in postcolonial law and courtrooms. That post was a bit light-hearted. In a different post, Nigerian Rape Culture, I examined how the breakdown of the same postcolonial state, renders women’s bodies especially vulnerable and the law superfluous in their protection.
Towards the end of the year, I was tangentially involved in a project called Uncomfortable Truths, a project aimed at acknowledging ‘controversial’ truths about objects held by the Bristol Museum. Also this year, Jesus College has announced plans to return Okukor to Nigeria and a descendant of a soldier involved in the Punitive Expedition [I wrote about this Expedition in 2016], has also expressed a desire to return looted items which he inherited. In light of the foregoing, I wrote a reflection on the museum and repatriation, reminding us that repatriation should also be about the return of intangible and unquantifiable things. What has been lost, not only what is gained and kept. What is jettisoned… thrown overboard, these are also important in the conversation about return.
And on decolonisation in UK Higher Education, in Why I Say ‘Decolonisation is Impossible’, I reflected on the permanence of colonial logics and how standardisation practices within the neoliberal university hamper the possibility of decolonisation by profound lack of understanding of and disinterest in its urgent necessity. We need to do better to understand our present realities, our histories and where we can possibly go from here.
On the Departed, the Present and What is to Come
2019 has been a sad year in many ways. Particularly because of those we lost in Africa. So many daughters and sons of Africa went to be with the ancestors this year. Oliver Mtukudzi, Toni Morrison, Okwui Enwezor, Elijah Cummings, Binyavanga Wainaina, Gabriel Okara, John Singleton, Dorothy Masuka and Johnny Clegg, to name but a few. I wrote a tribute for the Late Prof Pius Adesanmi, whose work will keep him forever in the line of duty… and forever in our hearts. My beloved grandmother, who I have always called my first feminist, also died this year. Ikú ṣe ‘kà o! Ikú ṣe ‘kà. Death has done its worst and death can do no more than send us to home to rest. But for those of us who are left behind, as we march into 2020, we know that the spirits of the departed who fought for our freedoms are still screaming for us. The earth still remembers their names. The earth cries out their names. Daily. To give us hope. Their lights may have gone out on this earth. But we must continue their work, and so our light can burn for them and for those who are yet to come.
We do not know what 2020 will bring. We do not know if the skies will finally be blown out of the heavens, or if these troubled skies will continue to cover us. But we know that the history of the world and this present darkness compels us to continue urgent and necessary work. Aluta continua, victoria acerta. “The struggle continues, victory is certain.” Blessings.