An Overdue Update on “Excellent, 2017”

I know people usually post their reflections upon the year like a month earlier than I’m doing mine, but you are reading the words of a someone who might as well be a professional procrastinator.

A year ago, I published a blog post about how my theme for 2017 was excellence, and how tied my perspective was to the lyrics of Sho Baraka’s “Excellent, 2017.” And then I went silent on the updates, as people who make yearly resolutions tend to do.

By mid-year, I felt like the intended strife for excellence had completely failed and was without hope of salvation. By November, though, that sentiment had changed yet again.

Surprisingly enough, I would consider 2017 a success. I have both “flown” excellently and “fallen” excellently. All things considered, including the crippling depression right after the first third of the year, 2017 was good, in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, “good” is not always quite equal to “pleasant.” I suspect I have learnt a lot, in everything from the maturity of my physical (re)presentation, to increasing discipline in my actions and character.

The latter half, particularly the last quarter of the year, made me develop scales on my skin. There are so many things I no longer feel as deeply as I did at the beginning of the year. Things like the sting of illegitimate criticism, the lack of inclusion in groups, and the dysfunctionality of my interpersonal relationships, to name a few.  In general, I would say a lot of my (positive) character development was tied to the embodiment of the persona of “Akotz the Spider Kid.” There is something about having an overarching theme that makes all the aspects of my life coherent, that improves my quality of life. There’s a certain thrill when I walk into my room and see an illustration of Kuukua Annan on the wall, or when I hold my journal, notebook and planner at once and see the different colored stickers of the Ananse Ntontan adinkra symbol on their convers, or when I leave my room for the day adorned with my spider necklace and spiderweb earrings. There is power in personal, creative identity.

The process of being lifted from incapacitating depression (for the millionth time, and almost certainly not even the last) has involved locating and generating creativity again. I don’t know about you, but depression is bad – no, awful, destructive, an ultimate enemy – for my art. It does this thing to me where I barely have desire to create, and every time I do create, the subject matter is nearly always the same thing: depression itself. Old news. All it does is make me tired of myself as an existing entity, and of my art in particular. That’s not healthy for a person who wants to spend her life being able to call herself an artist.

For two-thirds of the year, the Spider Kid did something incredibly fun, in spite of how difficult it was to keep it up: she started a lighthearted, spidery short-story series called On the Ceiling. And she actually finished it. Saw it through from beginning to end. I can’t think of anything more excellent that I have done this year. That series was such a ride, in terms of developing consistency, creativity, work ethic et cetera – but I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say it kept me sane, especially in the midst of school’s BS and having to deal with the longest separation from Accra I have ever experienced (11 months). But I started and finished this one, long-ish-term thing. And even if I look back in a few months and think, “Man, my plot/writing was so wack here,” it won’t change the fact that I did the damn thing, so hallelujah.

At some point, I felt like I had temporarily fallen out of love with poetry. It became very difficult for it to move me emotionally – both my own poetry, and a lot of work from other people. There were a few exceptions: Rhetoric 2017, the PIA Tour 2017, and Propaganda’s Crooked album, for instance. But for so long, I couldn’t feel the fire that comes with making or consuming poetry, the fire that I so frequently felt in 2015 and 2016. This is something I still don’t think I have recovered from. (Pay close attention, and it might be obvious.) Nevertheless, even this crazy complicated relationship with poetry is part of and producing excellence, although I don’t quite yet have the words to explain why I think so.

The deepening of my expression, reception and understanding of love in 2017 has been excellent. It has involved and continues to involve a lot of pain. Details of this too are complicated, but a lot of it is inextricably tied to my relationship with my best friend. This story is terrifying, deep, and nowhere close to finished.

There is a lot about being let down by human beings close to you that makes you learn by force how to grasp your own reins and make sure the things you want to happen, happen. I have learnt not to waste too much time putting my creative life on hold, waiting for responses from people who aren’t sufficiently invested. I already sabotage myself too much, to be able to afford suffering sabotage at the hands of another. I am still a believer in the magical power of artistic collaboration, so what I am absolutely not saying is that I’ve adopted the mentality of “nobody’s there for me, I have to do everything myself and exclude the whole world from my creative endeavors.” That’s idiotic. But what’s even more idiotic is insisting on keeping around enemies of progress whose interference with your psycho-emotional wellbeing is counter-productive. That’s far from excellent.

Several of my lessons have been centered around what it means to be a writer. In particular, I have been forced to face the issue of what is in my control and what I must leave alone. Things that are in my control are of such a nature as the decision of who gets to do my cover art (or that I want cover art at all) and what my creative rollout looks like. Things I cannot control are of such a nature as people who say they love you (as a writer) never actually finishing your stories, and the pre-release hype often surpassing the post-release reception (that is, in terms of magnitude, not quality). The excellent thing is that the Spider Kid is very aware that the world turns how it does, so how she deals with that is to shoot a spider web, call it mad lit, and move on like a G.

To be frank, I have spent most of December (and a significant amount of January) burning with emotions threatening to be ridiculously destructive. However, more and more, I have been coming to realize that all things – even the things that get me burning with negative, potentially destructive emotion – work together for the good of those who love Him. It’s bloody unpleasant, but the “all things work together” phrase is nearly constantly at the back of my mind. So much so that I think it accidentally became my 2018 theme: #ATWT.




You go to sleep each night and wake up every morning looking forward to breakfast. It is your favorite meal of the day. On some days, it is the only proper meal you even have.

Breakfast is really nothing special. It’s nearly the same thing every time: eggs are assured, whether scrambled or fried – but they always need to be sufficiently salty. You usually add potatoes, and your favorites are tater tots – which surprises you because the idea of potatoes at breakfast used to baffle you strongly when you first arrived. You add on an almost impressive variety of fruits: pineapples, watermelons, grapes, bananas, peaches, orange slices – and you like to top the ‘fruit salad’ off with some Greek yogurt. You’ll often throw in something doughy: either a slice of bread or some sort of baked pastry.

Coffee is a constant. But you only drink specific brands at breakfast, and when you don’t get those, you aren’t happy.

You are a person of consistency. When it comes to what you expect out of each day, you want everything to be pɛpɛɛpɛ. When something small changes – like getting home fries when you expected tater tots – it has the potential to throw you off and upset you.

During breakfast, you often sit alone, because you nearly always walked in alone. Sometimes, one or two friends join you, sometimes they don’t. You always have breakfast in the dining hall, though. It’s the one meal you don’t abhor going there for. After all, you’re a morning person, and most people aren’t. In fact, it’s so cozy, you feel you could stay there for hours, and sometimes do.

From time to time, you remember how deeply it struck you, during your first few weeks here, how gorgeous the dining hall was. You’d never seen anything like it. It didn’t feel like a place you ate in. It looked like a slightly medieval movie set, but you liked it a lot. Those were the times when you were only just beginning to realize how much you enjoy the first meal of the day. Now, you almost take the it for granted, but not enough yet so that you don’t quite realize you are beginning to take it for granted. It is always at the back of your mind. Sometimes, it ventures to move to the front, and when it does, you feel the onset of breath-snatching anxiety.

Even outside of breakfast, you are so in love with coffee. You think about how enamored you are with iced lattes, and it terrifies and embarrasses you. There isn’t quite enough logic to it. In fact, it’s so absurd that it makes you want to burst out into deranged, hysterical laughter. What business at all does a not-rich, metropolitan Accra kid who has previously known only Nescafé, Milo, bread and Blue Band have, falling in love with – of all things – iced lattes?

Whenever you think of breakfast and coffee, and how much you are beginning to get too used to them, you desperately want to slap yourself out of your comfort. How long will you continue to have access to breakfast? Not long. Don’t get used to it. This is not your money.

Don’t you know you will graduate? Are you prepared to be stripped of your borrowed privilege? Stop getting used to it.

One, two forkfuls of food. Remember that you are reaping the benefits of a hell of a lot of financial aid. Chew. This is not your money. Swallow. All this is luxury. Another forkful incoming. Growing entitlement to something you will never be able to afford. Chew. Life after this will see you too poor for breakfast, and you simply won’t be ready for the hustle. Swallow. You are like a steward who forgot she owns none of the property she watches. Drink. When you are homeless, you are going to miss breakfast a lot. Chew. Breakfast does not belong to you. Swallow. Your brain won’t quit thinking. Your heart won’t quit racing. You start to sweat in the air-conditioned room. An air-conditioned room. You get to have breakfast in an air-conditioned room. Heartbeat. Loud breaths. Breakfast. Luxury. Not mine. Sweat. Heartbeat. Breakfast. Solitude. Beauty. Cozy. Private. Morning. Eggs. Bread. Coffee. Never mine. Heartbeat. Loud breaths. Sweat.

Brain blanks.

You are done eating. You put your plates away.  As you walk out the dining hall door, you think: When my destined poverty finally catches up to me, I will remember scrambled eggs and coffee.


“Do You Want To Talk About It?”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

No, person number five hundred and sixty-four, we do not. You know why? Because we are oversharers already. It feels like we have spent all our lives ranting and ranting and ranting to people physically and virtually, in private and in public, spilling all our thoughts and emotions into cyberspace and air particles…and all for what?

What can we tell you that we haven’t told the whole world already? What can you tell us back that the five hundred and sixty-three people before you have not? I tell you, we have spent ridiculous amounts of time “talking about it,” and guess what: we are the same. Why? First of all, because all talking does is burn our already rapidly-dissipating energy, and secondly, because we have remained in the same state ever since about person number ten. Stupid us, that it’s taken over five hundred people after that to realize that our speech is only draining us of everything we are made of, and that if we keep it up, we may not survive. So no, we do not “want to talk about it.”

For all the energy we lose, what do you gain? The opportunity to rant back to us about your own struggles? Did you only ask us to release because you wanted to? Do you gain the comfort of knowing that someone’s life or mind is in a worse state than yours? Is there pride, do you feel special because someone opened up to you? After we unlock our soul’s doors and give you a tour of our most intimate parts, will you walk away with a souvenir that says, “I was here, I expended your energy, and I went”? And what do we walk away with? Another signature in our mental guest book, and the parting thought, “Thanks for visiting. I remain a mess.”

We know some of you love us. We know some of you care about us. But do you know, for instance, that some of you care about us in the wrong ways, and that some of you can’t care about us enough? Understand. We have had five hundred and sixty-three visitors into our damage already, and we got over the “Wow, someone is actually here to listen” type of gratitude ages ago, yet it seems no one quite understands how far gone we are, how exhausted we are, how replying messages feels more tiring than a decathlon, how we are absolutely done with people taking and taking and taking from us while we ourselves have neither capacity nor strength to take a damn thing back from the world or even from you.

May no soul ask why our responses to “How are you?” are blasé and impersonal statements like “I’m alive.”

May no soul ask us for further expansion when we answer their questions with a smiley face emoji.

May each soul disabuse itself of entitlement to be opened up to about any intimate matter.

Our energy is not anyone else’s to decide how it should be managed. We will protect our energy and we will shut down if that is the only way we can stop ourselves from dying. So no, dear person number five hundred and sixty-four, we do not “want to talk about it.”


P.S. I struggled a lot to decide to post it, because I keep fighting the urge to apologize for my emotion. But apologizing or toning down more than I already have feels like dishonesty. I still feel bad though. That’s why I dey explain kraa.

Do Not Become That Person (Akotz’ Desiderata)

I was inflamed enough to write this as the result of an ugly and disappointing altercation with an older relative. I feel that the facts that he is middle-aged and male are extremely relevant.

During and after the painful discussion, something within me shifted, because I realized that I knew far too many people like him. The society I was raised in had made an army of clones with an ugly character disease. Ironically enough, a feature of this social affliction is the supercilious, personal belief that one is elevated beyond and significantly set apart from one’s peers, that one is nothing like them – when the reality is that they are all merely photocopies on different kinds of paper. It’s a painful thing to deep.

I realized that age only augments the ugliness of character, and that with time, it begins to produce an odor that in a few years, if not watched very closely, begins to stink to high heaven. And I never want to turn into that.

So I decided to write this, as I have written many other things, as a preventative guide. Perhaps my anger and frustration at my own experience will be evident. But whatever gold I can glean from a heap of dirt, I will take and refine.

I write this because I believe that the process of transforming into a monster need not be inevitable.


Do not become That Person. If you do, children will be traumatized. Even worse, they might turn into you, perpetuating the vicious cycle of intolerance. People will eventually learn from you, so there are 10 things you need to start learning now:

  1. Learn how to graciously be wrong. You will not develop a superpower that makes you impervious to being wrong at least sometimes, as you grow older. Disabuse yourself immediately of the harmful idea that you are wiser than everyone you are older than. It doesn’t have to be a shocking or humiliating experience if you ever get schooled by a child or a teenager. Here is how to be graciously wrong. The first step is to use your unbiased sense to check yourself. When you realize you are wrong, the second step is to admit it to yourself. Many make it to that step, but the hardest one comes next. Step three: admitting that you are wrong to whoever you are in conversation with. Yes, out loud. And I know conceding is painful, and much easier said than done. But if you start practicing consistently now, perhaps by the time you are in your middle ages, it will be second nature.
  2. Do not attribute to yourself virtues you do not have. Frankly, it will make you look like an idiot, and it is very likely everyone will realize it but you. You cannot say, “I am a very open-minded person,” and then refuse to evaluate the validity of someone else’s point. You cannot say, “Ask everyone at the office; I’m a very good listener,” and then talk for half an hour straight, protesting “I’m coming,” when someone else tries to get a word in edgewise. This is either delusion or hypocrisy. When you look into a mirror, you need to be able to see your reflection, not a hallucination. Otherwise, your words will expose your lies like neon paint in the darkness. Do not mistake everyone’s silence for belief; people are rarely brave or kind enough to let you know to your face that they see through your lies. But they will discuss your ghost virtues in the spaces where you can’t hear them.
  3. If you ever do get to that amazing milestone where you are able to recognize the flaws in yourself, you should never use another person’s flaws to justify your own. This is why ugliness is an epidemic: those of ugly character would rather comfort themselves with the fact that they know other ugly people, than actually face the process of becoming beautiful. When you realize you are intolerant with your children, reject the false comfort that comes with the memory of how intolerant your parents were with you. Do not become okay with your corruption because your fellow citizens are vile. Comparing ugliness might make you feel better, but remember that egos only like everything that is bad for them.
  4. Do not pretend material things can fix the troubles your ugliness has caused. This is what happens when many such people recognize in their subconscious that they have done something ugly and can’t shake the shame: they try to compensate in every way but the appropriate one. They would rather buy gifts for those to whom they have shown their ugliness than apologize to them. They would rather offer to take people out somewhere expensive than concede to them. Money and material gifts don’t fix character – especially when you are giving not for the benefit of others, but for the sake of your own internal guilt. People will remember what you did to them. Money doesn’t earn you a clean slate in someone’s heart.
  5. Do not reach for explanations instead of apologies. Do not try to blame the trouble you have caused on anything other than your ugliness. When you yelled and made someone cry, it was not because you had a bad day at work. It was because you lost your temper enough to yell. When you got a fact wrong, it was not because “it can be interpreted by another person like this,” it was because you didn’t read something right the first time. Own your actions and reactions. Own the bad like you own the good. Kill your pride long enough to find the source of your ugliness before you go attempting to recklessly profile external suspects.
  6. Learn how to deal with shame, and how to admit to yourself and to others, “I am ashamed.” That is how you kill shame: by owning it. Shame’s worst fear is to be acknowledged and accepted, because that makes it evaporate. It would rather fester and turn into arrogance and pride. Do not let it. Beware, because the potential strength of shame will increase as you get older, when you start thinking to yourself that you have fewer legitimate excuses. “I learnt this years ago; I should have remembered it.” “I’ve lived too long to still be this dumb.” “I’ve read and watched too much to not have known this fact already.” And that is how shame creeps in. But you must burn those thoughts to ashes. Understand that shame can still attack you whenever, no matter the circumstances, and you will not always be ready. When it happens, though, admit
  7. Assuming you are ever able to kill your ego enough to apologize, you should apologize for what you have done, not for how someone else felt. “I’m sorry you took it that way,” does not qualify as an apology. It is a prideful deflection. You cannot apologize for someone else’s feelings; they were never yours in the first place to apologize for. You can only apologize for you, your actions, and your ugliness. So do it, even when, even though, it hurts.
  8. Practice how to say, “Oh yes, you are right.” Become as expert at it as “Ah, I was wrong.” Both statements are gracious, and a lack of grace can cause your ego to swell too large or your self-esteem to shrink too small. What you need is a dead ego and healthy self-esteem. Practicing both statements – and meaning them – will take you closer to grace.
  9. Never, ever excuse your ugliness by attributing it to “unchangeable” elements of your nature. You cannot scream at people and insist, “This is how I am, this is how I hold conversations.” No matter how you spin it, you are being abrasive. You cannot be insufferably rude to anyone significantly older or younger than you and say, “I’m only used to talking to my age mates.” Have sense. Ugliness is not in the intentional design of anyone’s nature, and consequences of a Fall are not to be embraced. When you claim the ratty clothes you wear are part of your skin, you will never take them off.
  10. When you try to perform surgery on yourself, transform into a “good person,” try your best to erase the ugliness, and fail at all of it, you must rejoice in your failure. Rejoice so that you can lean heavily on the Rock that gives you strength. Goodness has only one source, and it isn’t you. When you fail at generating beauty, humble yourself and ask Him to fill you with His own. You will get nowhere otherwise.

An Unfortunately Political Post About the Importance of Non-Political Art

Warning: I circumlocute. (And I don’t mind it – or the fact that I just used a word which doesn’t officially exist – at all.)

Before we begin, let me establish that what I am not saying is that political art is not important. In fact, I am as capable of writing a whole post either about why it is so important, or even insisting that all art is political anyway – but that’s not what I feel the need to do right at this moment. Despite this introduction, I know from first-hand experience that human beings on the internet will roast whomever they want to roast no matter how legit, clear or how many the disclaimers are. I’mma keep writing tho’.

Now, I believe we’re all smart enough to barb that “political” implies far more than anything strictly governmental. It is with this broader connotation of “political” in mind that I am writing this post.

I know quite a number of people who seem unable to get particularly excited about any matters – especially creative matters – that do not, at least at surface level, have much to do with, for instance, the oppression of Black people in America, or political corruption in Africa, or fetishization, or patriarchy, or homophobia or, or, or…. So when it comes to art that seems to just want to exist because it can, art that although may contain some of these extremely relevant themes, does not necessarily make commentary on them their explicit focus, such people would rather just move on and try to find something more politically “relevant” to engage with. I genuinely believe that excessive display of this behavior/mindset is retrogressive. Now I’m going to go Jesus on you and give you a parable.

Once upon a time, there was a man who really wanted to be a landscape artist, to paint a variety of gorgeous mountains, rivers, deserts, and forests around the world. But one day, while in the paint shop purchasing numerous bottles of paint, the vendor told him, “I hope you know your paintings will never sell. Not with all this blue that you’re buying.”

The painter asked the vendor why not, and the vendor explained, “Because you’re wrong, as are all you landscape artists. The sky isn’t blue, never has been blue and never will be blue. It is only ever and will only ever be yellow.”

The painter got incredibly upset at the vendor and the two got into a heated argument. The vendor never acquiesced, though, and resorted to throwing insult after insult at the painter, who also refused for a long time to leave the matter alone, grab his paint and go. Hours later, the painter finally left the store.

Too upset to go home to his studio just yet, he sought the listening ear of his fellow citizens on his way back, seeking to vent to anyone. He stopped in a bakery and tried to garner sympathy for the ordeal he’d just been through. However, to his surprise, after listening to the painter for a minute, the baker responded, “But of course, the vendor was right. Who in this world ever heard of a blue sky?”

The painter was dumbfounded, but when he moved on, the haberdasher too took the side of the vendor. So did the grocer, the seamstress and the carpenter. It was past midnight when the painter returned home, despairing and wondering when the world had gone mad. But presently, the despair and confusion were replaced with a determined anger. He decided he was going to prove once and for all that the sky was indeed blue. So, he painted. He spent all night and all morning painting a blue sky.

Then, in the afternoon, with his latest canvas, he left his studio and went into town, and showed his beautiful sky to everyone he could find. Many people, however, were confused.

“What is it?” they would ask.

“Why, it’s a sky,” he would respond.

“But why is it blue?” they would criticize. “Skies are any color but blue!”

Consequently, this painter, for twenty years, painted blue sky after blue sky after blue sky. Rarely did he paint anything other than a blue sky. He became like a broken record, continuing to paint blue skies as the rest of the world moved on. At every exhibition and exposition, his messages were nearly identical. By the time he gave up the task, retired and put his paintbrushes down permanently, this man who had once wanted to be a world-famous landscape painter had never, even once, exhibited a single canvas of a whole landscape.


This Toni Morrison quote expresses what I want to say particularly with respect to racism:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” – Toni Morrison.

Distraction. Miso-whatever is distraction, whatever-phobia is distraction, discrimination is distraction. It’s all distraction.

As if you couldn’t adequately include blue skies in several pictures of wholesome landscapes. Why let yourself be reduced? By the time my hypothetical painter dies, the only legacy he’s left is a one-dimensional representation of nothing but the same thing, when he had the opportunity to be so much more, even without ever compromising his conviction that skies could indeed be blue.

White authors write about any topic they like and get away with it. But heaven help the African-American who wants to make art about anything except Blackness, the African writer who wants to tell stories of anything other than colonialism, war or governmental corruption. Please, please, ma yɛn dwen. Let us think. The white people don’t have to waste years proving their existence is valid. They write whatever they like because their legitimacy to be is taken for granted – as everyone’s legitimacy to be should be. So, you see, the irony of the matter is that, as long as we keep predominantly responding to the dominant powers’ insistence that everyone else isn’t legit, we’re going to waste our whole lives saying, “We’re legit!” instead of legitimately living. Distraction.

I still think the best way to fight the distraction, oppression and reduction is to just be the complete human beings that we are. Being, oo. Not constantly talking about being, or talking about why it’s so important to talk about being, or throwing hands about people who keep suffocating being – but actually fighting the suffocation by continuing to be. To be. To be!

I recently watched, and thoroughly enjoyed a movie by France-exiled Vietnamese filmmaker, Tran Anh Hung, called “The Scent of Green Papayas.” It was about a house girl’s journey from poverty to pregnancy. It was a quiet, sensual and intimate movie. The circumstance of this girl’s living condition was, of course, the Vietnamese war. But the story was about her, this single human being, who wasn’t a soldier, wasn’t politically involved, wasn’t being chased down. Just being a house girl. And this movie made me as happy as the filmmaker’s response to a question he was asked in an interview. It’s not that I like that movie so much for what it was not. I liked it because what it was was beautiful. The movie was just being, and so were the characters. Here’s what Tran Anh Hung said:

“At first I thought, well, I can’t not talk about the war […]. I could have included certain things like news on the radio, a neighbor whose son is doing his military service […]. It did occur to me, but all this had nothing to do with the poem I wished to create. I was just not capable of having such external historical details enter into the poetic whole of my effort.” -Tran Anh Hung.

Let’s return to my painter parable. There’s at least one major problem with it: in real life, there might have been a super-huge number of people who would have been encouraging this painter to stay stuck on repeat, lying to him that he’s doing the Lord’s work by painting blue sky after blue sky. Not knowing, they themselves are being enemies of progress. Distraction and reduction. Danger of a single story. Speaking of the dangers of a single story, let’s talk about how our contribution to single story culture is related to the person who recently popularized the phrase.

I could rant about the pigeonholing of African writers – although nothing I can say will be more eloquent than Taiye Selasi’s words in what is still my favorite article on the internet.

As I write this, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has three novels out. Her first is my favorite: Purple Hibiscus. It’s also her least popular.  This used to confuse me and make me upset, but now that I think about it, the way the system is set up, it makes all the sense in the world. I don’t like the way the system is set up; I just understand the way it works a little more now. Her second novel is my least favorite, though it’s a good book and I’ve read it twice: Half of a Yellow Sun. I’m not speaking in this paragraph of how well I believe each novel was written; I’m speaking of the stories that appeal to me the most. I like stories, and the story of Purple Hibiscus happens to be the Adichie story I like the most.

To this day, I still believe that the commercialization of Half of a Yellow Sun is reliant on the fact that it heavily involves the Biafran War. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is about the war – I think it is a love story – but I don’t believe it’s the love part of the novel that was its selling point in the commercial world. See, Those People love it when Africans be writing ’bout wars. Goodness knows why. But what I suspect is that to Them, anybody can write a love story – but don’t Africans have more important tragedies to be worrying about than love, anyway? Or, to put it in disrobed, Akotowian phrasing, “Aren’t Africans too busy being reduced to only tiny aspects of existence to be displaying themselves as complex, multifaceted, wholesome humans?”

“Can we really not imagine that the African novelist writes for love: love of craft, love of subject? Do we really believe that she is not an artist but an anthropologist, not a storyteller but a native informant?” – Taiye Selasi

Sometimes, I get sad because I feel like many of us don’t know how to simply let stories be stories when we’re dealing with any kind of product from creators we consider to be of historically or presently marginalized/oppressed identities. We always want them to do something, to challenge something, critique something, be representative of something – and not just any somethings, but the somethings we believe they should be doing, challenging, critiquing or representing – furthermore, not just anyhow, but explicitly; not like incorporating blue skies into our landscapes naturally, but making the blue skies take over nearly all of the canvas. Otherwise, the stories are not “relevant” to our societies. Ma yɛn dwen.

I believe many Africans I know dislike Americanah or find it inadequate because they came in not expecting to find a story about a Nigerian woman and a Nigerian man. They came in expecting the novel to do something political, like represent a nation, or a continent, or themselves, or to critique a nation, an oppressor, or someone else they don’t like, to do something other than tell you what Ifemelu and Obinze said, thought, did and felt. How can you be complaining that you don’t see yourself in the story or how it’s relevant to you, as if you hired Ms. Adichie to pseudonymously write your biography? Why is it so important for you to see yourself in Ifemelu? You live your real life, she lives her fictional one. But you’re too distracted by what you want one single character to represent for you, to properly lose yourself in a story that simply wants to self-identify as a story, or a character that simply wants to be herself or himself, a single character, not a template. Complaints that involve judgment about what kind of demographic an author’s audience is, or judgment of a character’s cultural relatability are in a completely different league from complaints such as “The story was boring,” or “The story was not well-told.” At least with the latter kind, you’ve paid attention to the story instead of being distracted by politics, reducing the art, reducing the author and reducing your mind.

I repeat: we fight distraction and reduction not just by talking about being, but by being. May we find the grace and the sense to let creators of various kinds be, and to let their creations be, and to realize that we are strengthening ourselves by being – and this, in the long run, is probably going to infuriate our oppressors more than nearly anything else we could do.

“People keep asking me to write about what I do (diversity, African scifi, powerful female characters, etc). I’d rather DO what I do.” – Nnedi Okorafor

Yasss, tell dem, sis!

We know we’ve made progress with being when the things we create aren’t seen as particularly extraordinary, earth-shattering novelties. Further expanded in a previous blog post (Stating the Obvious, I Think), and I stand by it.

Because of the nature of this post and how drenched it is in irony, I hope this is something that I won’t have to keep saying throughout my life. But the way the world is set up, I’m probably going to have to. Enough times to get sick of it. But even as I do that, I refuse to let it distract or reduce me. I have stories to write. I can’t waste my whole life trying to convince the world that skies can be blue. Ain’t gotta try to prove the truth everyday – although sometimes, the apologetics really dey hia. Moretimes, though, all I have to do is incorporate the truth without compromise. I am not a politician, I am not an academic, I am not a person who wants to spend my whole life critiquing, teaching or commenting on content. My personal responsibility as a creator is making content. Hell, I am the content. Selah.


I’m Probably Not Interested in Hearing How My Country Changed Your Life

I have begun to try doing everything I can to avoid the whole “Where are you from?” conversation, especially with old, white people. I’ll stuff food in my mouth. I’ll stay on the other side of the room long enough that you never get the chance to ask what my name is or what it means. (Do you ever ask a Sam or a Jane what their name means? I think not, because I taught a class of American kids where only one of them knew their name’s meaning. They’d probably have all known earlier if I hadn’t been the first person to ever ask them.) I will wear an American accent until my tongue gets tired. But please don’t… please don’t…

I sighed internally. The woman had just asked me where I lived. I’d thought I could avoid the conversation by telling her I was a college student in this very city, because I wasn’t really sure what she meant. I thought that answer should be satisfactory, but she posed the question again, and so I didn’t know what to do other than tell her. It didn’t occur to me quickly enough to answer flatly, “I live on campus.” After all, I’d have thought that went without saying.

Now see, by now, I’m used to the whole “I had a colleague who went to [insert African country that’s not mine here]” or “My friend gave me the most beautiful [insert artefact here] from [insert African country that’s not mine here]” and a whole plethora of responses that don’t have a damn thing to do with me. (I see the Africans abroad relating across the screen.) So, when this incredibly nice woman began with, “My daughter actually went to…” I tensed immediately.

She continued, “…Ghana, this past summer.”

Well. At least it was my country this time. I tried to replace my deadpan expression with one of polite interest, but politeness has never truly been a strength of mine.

“I see,” I replied.

“She was living around the…Gold Coast area…?” The woman looked at me for confirmation. I was, of course, initially confused by her mention of Ghana’s pre-independence, colonial name. I mean, wasn’t the whole country the “Gold Coast area”? But then it clicked that perhaps she meant:

“Cape Coast?” I suggested.

The woman’s expression remained uncertain. “The place with the slave castles and…”

“Cape Coast,” I confirmed correctively.

She then proceeded to tell me about what her daughter did, having lived with a foster family, learnt about Gold Coast/Ghana’s slave history, taught children English in the village schools and whatnot – the takeaways being that

  1. It was so good to be able to live in others’ shoes, be concerned with struggles other than your own. (Almost verbatim.)
  2. It was a life-changing experience. (Almost verbatim.)

I gave some polite equivalent of “Okay,” but I never smiled. I don’t think I had it in me to smile just then.


So far, every single time this has happened, only after the event do I manage to construct a coherent message of what I would like to have said back. It’s usually the very same thing, essentially: You didn’t need to go all the way to Ghana [/other African country/ other “third world” country] for your life to be changed.

It is a bit burdensome, for all my Ghana pride, to be from a country that remains so physically and geographically relevant to the history of the slave trade. It has consequences like making me upset that some of our greatest tourist attractions are fortresses in which events of one of the most gruesome periods in human history took place. Add the slave trade relevance to the fact that it’s a West African country the white world generally assumes to be destitute and very much in need of their contributions (or salvation), and you don’t get a lot of good stuff to work with.

I find myself asking so many questions about charities, missionaries and Study Abroads specifically targeted form the West towards Africa. There seems to be some sort of elevated perverse glory and nobility surrounding it. I feel like participation in these things is almost a fantasy for some people, something to check off their bucket-lists along with “visit the Eiffel tower” or “get on the scariest roller coaster at DisneyWorld.” Right there underneath them, “Teach illiterate African kids English (in a 2-hour lesson that will probably have no lasting consequence on the rest of their lives).” The parts in parentheses, by the way, are written in visible ink, so that the owners of these bucket-lists can’t read them and don’t even realize they’re there.

This would account for how pleased some people appear to be when they talk to anyone about their African gallivanting. I don’t think I ever see that much pride (I’m not saying no pride at all) when people tell you, for example, that they helped out in some schools in the suburbs of their own non-African city, or even that they gave a homeless man $5 on their way to work today.

Here’s my issue. If you really, really wanted to help out with and experience struggles outside of your own, you probably need not do anything greater than step onto your next-door neighbor’s lawn and helpfully engage yourself in their lives. If you think you must fly across the globe to make your existence impactful, you’re mistaken. Secondly, if it took seeing actual slave castles on the coast of West Africa to make you feel the depth of history’s significance, of your own history’s significance even, I fear you have either lived in a detrimental bubble your whole life, or your natural human empathy is a bit defective.

Thirdly, I think there may be elements of unconscious selfishness in this whole notion of travelling to an African country and being “humbled” and exposed to a “different reality” there. For one thing, I suspect some people try to use it as something like a method of atonement, to be absolved of the sins of one’s white ancestors. For another, it seems a bit sketch to me, that there usually appears to be more emphasis on what Africa has done for white people – “changed their lives” and whatnot – than whether anyone at all they came into contact with was positively impacted in a long-lasting way. I’m not saying impacted at all. Yes, you can go and install a water fountain or computer in a school or whatever…but when the thing breaks two months after you’ve returned home, then what? In other words, for all the serving they proudly recount that they engaged in, it seems they are the ones who appear to be coming out of their missions served. By the way, I’ve never even met a non-Ghanaian who can pronounce Sankɔfa correctly. I feel like if I hear “san-koe-fuh” one more time, I might fracture.

I mean, I see you travelling to West Africa to be helpful and experience a different reality, but have you ever been to Harlem? The parts of Chicago where there’s several shootings each night? Flint? the folks around the Dakota pipeline? I mean, seriously. You’re needed as soon as you step out of your backyard. (Also, in the weeks since I wrote this, the Orange One has done a lot more nonsense that needs your attention, if you’re really that interested in saving the world. If your country’s a superpower that just happens to be on fire, you can help the rest of the world by extinguishing it.) If you’re American, French, Belgian, whatever, try finding unfiltered documents about your own country’s history; not just what has been done to it, but what it has done to people. It’s all in your backyard. Plank dey your own eye wey you wan gyei speck for menners demma eyes.

As for missionaries, well… I come from one of the most religious countries in the world (reportedly) with a whole lot of churches and very little Gospel. I went to a Christian school with a whole lot of Religious and Moral Education and very little Jesus…and, might I add, very little sense. I can’t speak for the Muslim fraction because I’m not familiar with it. Either way, all in all, I am left a bit unimpressed when I’m told of non-Africans’ escapades in Africa. I would be far more impressed to meet a person who, after visiting Ghana, can properly pronounce the word Sankɔfa.

Rant over.


[featured image via]

Stating the Obvious (I Think)

I think everything I’m saying is obvious, but you never know in this world. In any case, things that are known don’t suffer from being articulated again. So, here we go.

As far as I can see, if anyone truly professes to be fighting for a cause that is in any way bigger than them, it is necessary to realize that exceptions simply cannot be the solutions to the problems. What we really should be making our main goal is not to be exceptional, but to be perfectly ordinary. Does that sound strange? Let me break it down.

A lot of the oppression and marginalization we fight is systematic. That means it’s all entrenched in our societies, which in turn means that there are definitions of normalcy from which the oppressed or marginalized are excluded. Progress is only made when that is no longer the case – when those we (used to) think of as the oppressed and the marginalized are included in this definition of normalcy.

For example, I, Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, am a Ghanaian, female student in a higher education institution. And, although we certainly still have a long way to go in terms of African educational gender gaps, the fact that a Ghanaian girl goes to college is not mind-blowing news. It’s not something for my country or continent to throw a party over. Several African girls go to college or university each year, and it is probably a noble cause to make sure that this phenomenon continues to get more and more normal as time progresses.

It seems to me that, at the very least, the societies I have been exposed to have developed some internal conflicts about the idea of being unique, exceptional, “other.” At the same time, minorities and the marginalized seem to be fighting to be recognized, liberated, integrated, no longer “othered.” I suspect we are becoming increasingly confused about “normal.” Do we like it or do we hate it? We despise normality for the things it excludes, yet the core of our missions at the very least should be achieving the status of normativity. This doesn’t mean changing ourselves to conform to existing definitions; most of the time, the trouble is that the thing that marginalizes us is something that is unchangeable about us.

I want to acknowledge that there are quite clearly moments when distinction is a necessity. As a matter of fact, I think it is crucial for difference to be recognized – and thus emphasized – even before it can be integrated. For example, black hair products, in a section distinct enough for black people to be able to find what works best for their natural hair colors and textures. The problem does not arise with the fact that something is labelled specifically by ethnicity but so usual, with the notion that white hair is “default.” “Majority” need not always be synonymous with “default.”

What I’m trying to say? Our mission is, or should be, to expand normal. It seems obvious enough, but frequently, our actions suggest that we’re not aware of this. We often praise exceptions not just for their merit but for the actual characteristic of being an exception. We are proud of someone who is “the only black woman in…” or “the only trans person in…” And then we’re so caught up in acknowledging the exception to ingest that the fact that our hero(ine) is an exception is troubling.

So. Be like Ava DuVernay. She’s lit.