Letter from Africa: Fighting ‘uniform hairstyles’ in Kenya

The spillover effects from the colonial era can clearly be recognized in the context of Kenya and its strictness on uniformity. Hairstyles are a unique identifier for different races and this is no different from that of Africans. However, high schools in not only Kenya but other African countries see these hairstyles as forms of distractions to academic success. This notion began during post-colonial Kenya when most of the teachers were still white. As such, there is no surprise when these young children are made to aspire to Eurocentric beauty norms as they are asked to brush their hair in order for it to be straight.

Similar stories have surfaced in the United States, with black children being expelled from school for not accommodating to white inspired rules. These oppressive practices hinders cultural expression, degrades Afrocentric cosmetic norms, and implies that the natural beauty of blackness is unprofessional, unkept, and unapt. Through this, Black people gradually lose this freedom of expression and encloses them within the confined spaces of these Eurocentric views. Professionalism then becomes a space of whiteness leaving no room for blackness. The irony of this beauty mishap is that African and African American beauty practices are used to popularize major fashion industries. Black beauty forms are only accepted by society when it’s not on black bodies. In prescribing a solution for the issue, society would need to acknowledge the implicit bias of black beauty being inappropriate.  Also, we must all realize that diversity is important and not everyone must conform to uniformity.





The Igbo Landing Legend

    I first learned of the “Igbo Landing Legend” from my class, ‘Jazz & African American Literature’. I had found it interesting and very moving. The legend takes place in 1803, and is referred to by some as the first “freedom march” in America.

    It begins in May 1803, when a ship full of captured West Africans (Igbo people from what is now Nigeria) lands in Georgia, where they are shortly sold later. After being sold in Savannah, the 75 Igbo people were chained and loaded onto a small ship on its way to plantations in St. Simons Island. During the sail to the island, the enslaved Igbo rose up, rebelled, and overtook the ship, drowning their captors.

    After overtaking the ship, it had crashed into land. The Igbo aboard had not wanted to become slaves, causing all 75 of them to commit mass suicide (theorized to be a command from a high Igbo chief). The mass suicide was committed by drowning, they walked into the Dunbar Creek. Many believe that the Igbo sung a tune local to them about, their “water spirit”, saying that the water spirit will take them home. Through this, they knowingly accepted death rather than the horrors of being captured and enslaved in America.

Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele is changing the way we think of horror movies. The first movie that he directed, Get Out, had a budget of 4.5 million dollars and has made over 255 million in the box office. Get Out is the story of a black man going to meet his girlfriend’s white family for the first time. The movie shines a light on the subtle racism that happens all the time when white people are trying to show that they are not racist. The movie had great reviews, won an academy award for best original screenplay and was one of the first mainstream horror movies that stared a black protagonist.
Jordan Peele has recently come out with a new horror movie titled Us. This movie is about a Black family that is on vacation. Us made a shocking 70 million dollars in the box office in its opening weekend. That’s the most money that an original horror film has ever made on opening weekend. The movie watchers of the world showed Jordan Peele and the entertainment industry as a whole that there is a huge market for horror movies with black people staring in them, not just being extras that die in the first seen. Jordan Peele has directed two of the most successful horror films ever and it doesn’t seem like he is slowing down any time soon. In an interview asking him if he is going to stop casting black people as the leads in his movies his response was “I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie. Not that I don’t like white dudes—but I’ve seen that movie.”

Little Rock Nine Today

While watching the documentary on the Civil Rights Movement for class last week I started to think more about the Little Rock Nine. They had always been an element of any class discussion or lesson on the Civil Rights Movement but I wondered what did they go on to do after graduating high school. A quick Google search uncovered an article from September of 2017 in honor of the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock.

Melba Pattillo Beals became a journalist and now teaches Communication at Dominican University.

Carlotta Walls Lanier is now the president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation along with being a real estate broker and running a company with her son.

Elizabeth Eckford dedicated her career to the military serving in a variety of capacities.

Ernest Green became an influential financial broker on Wall Street.

Gloria Ray Karlmark worked in journalism and telecommunications.

Jefferson Thomas served in the army and ran a family business. He passed away in 2010 from cancer.

Minnijean Brown Trickey was a social activist and an assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior.

Terrence J. Roberts was the CEO of his own management consultant firm.

Thelma Mothershed-Wair worked in  a juvenile detention facility and in the field of education.

Many of them also received advanced from prestigious universities, which are outlined in the article linked below. I found reading about them further to be inspirational and uplifting. They all seemed to lead very successful lives after their difficult high school transition. I am glad I looked into this further because it showed that they were able to do good things after they played their role in the battle for integration.


North Star Relaunch

On February 14th of this year, Brooklyn based activist and journalist Shaun King and friend Benjamin Dixon relaunched the North Star,  an abolitionist newspaper created by Fredrick Douglass in 1847. This time however, it is a modern media company serving a “modern hub for liberation journalism”. The North Star’s publishing agenda includes articles, podcasts, broadcasts and stories in many different forms. As written on the North Star Website, their mission is to be unapologetic freedom fighters who speak the truth from their own perspectives. This company is in many ways bridging the gaps between modern social-justice media by presenting a single platform for all of the different social-justice forms to come together. Since it’s launch in February, the company has built their own television broadcast studio (with broadcasts coming soon), created a website, published articles to that website, produced and released two podcast episodes and more. Oh, and it should also be mentioned that the North Star has been entirely funded by crowdsource funding by over 25,000 people and without the help of other big wig media companies.

Interestingly enough, after the North Star’s relaunch in February, many people were skeptical of their actual existence, as the North Star was not as active on their social media as some would have liked. The news that the company was not actually happening and that all employees had been fired spread throughout twitter and many people became worried. The North Star responded to this by providing links to their current articles and media out, as well as the news that studios that were being built. This almost immediate backlash and suspicion to the company is interesting to me. What does that say about the social-justice initiative today and the direction in which media approaches it? Perhaps the North Star will address that in their next podcast or article.



Just Mercy

A few summers ago, I read a book titled Just Mercy, written by a lawyer named Bryan Stevenson. The New York Times best seller tells of Bryan Stevenson’s work representing people that been victims of an unjust, justice system. The book shows the grueling task that Stevenson, the young, black, Harvard Law graduate had to go through to insure that his clients have a fair trial in the South. The book tells the stories of several different of his client ranging from people that are mentally ill, to abused children that were sentenced to life in jail for their crimes.

The person that the book focuses on, is a black man named Walter McMillian who was on death row for the murder of a young white women in Alabama that was killed in an armed robbery at a gas station. The only evidence that the prosecution had against him was a statement from a man that was also in jail awaiting his trial where it was likely that he would face the death penalty too. After he agreed to testify that it was McMillian that killed the women the system cut a deal with him that gave him 30 years plus parole instead of being executed because of his testimony against McMillian. After the trial, in an interview with 60 minutes, the man said that the story he told under oath was completely untrue and that an Alabama Bureau of Investigations agent pressured him to go along with their story to escape getting the death penalty himself.

On top of there being no evidence that he did this, there was lots of evidence that he truly did not kill that women and that he was nowhere near where it had happened. He was arrested 7 months after the murder. There were over 12 people that gave statements saying they were with McMillian all day at a church fish fry.  McMillian says that he has never even been to the town that the murder happened. Bryan Stevenson says that the reason that McMillan was accused of this was because he was having an affair with a white woman which was brought up many times during his trial. The trial only lasted a day and a half. It had a jury with 11 white people and one black man and after the jury sentenced him to life in prison, the Judge overruled it and gave him the death penalty. Bryan Stevenson took McMillian as a client after he was already on the death row and after appeal after appeal, all charges were dismissed because of lack of evidence and McMillian was a free man after 6 long years on death row. It was 1993 when McMillian was freed. One of the things that has grabbed the attention of people in this story was that if the judges didn’t overrule the jury’s life in prison sentence and make it the death penalty, the case would not have got the attention of Bryan Stevenson and McMillan would likely never been freed.

Brown v. Board of Education: Cold War Case

As we discuss the United States of America in the mid 20th Century, it is very important to realize how many eyes and cameras are pointed to the States’ direction.  Known as a world power and “hailed as [a] leader of the democratic world,” it makes complete sense for the USA to be held responsible for the actions of its government. The idea of ‘equal opportunity’ for each and every citizen is very contradictive and takes a large turn for what the US stands for and how it treats its people as a whole. When persecuting and becoming involved with other world nations about their actions against their own citizens, it’s imperative for the US to be held accountable. The governments own actions will completely shape how other nations see us and will determine whether or not they will continue to be held up on a pedestal for all to see.

As a whole, Brown v. Board was a step in the right direction letting the integration of schools happen and completely extinguish the terrible stigma of  ‘separate but equal.’  Said extremely well in “West African Pilot, published in Lagos, Nigeria… [the US] should set an example for all other nations by taking the lead in removing from its national life all signs and traces of racial intolerance, arrogance or discrimination for which it criticizes some other nations.”

Killing of Emmett Till

In the series, Eyes on the Prize, the death of a young boy, Emmett Till, was detailed in Episode 1: Awakenings. Before watching Episode one of Eyes on the Prize, I knew the basics of Emmett Till’s death and that one white man got away with the murder of the young boy. As I watched the segment about Till, I realized that the killing was even worse than I remembered it. Only visiting Mississippi to see family, the 14-year-old from Chicago was murdered and body mutilated for ‘talking fresh’ to a white woman in a store. One might think it is best not to voluntarily talk to a white individual while in the South during this era. The best thing to do is to keep it moving and to not pay much mind if you can help it. But according to the woman that Till interacted with, it was enough for two white men to up and lynch, and throw the boy’s body into a river. Not only was Till killed, but when found by authorities, only Mose Wright, his great uncle, could positively identify him. This made a major statement at the time and on a whole generation of enraged Black Americans living in 1955.

For a major statement made, like on JET magazine with a picture of Till’s body, another statement was made when it was revealed that Till never did such a thing and his death was only a result of a racist South out to disarm and harm Black Americans.



Kendrick Lamar and Empowerment

    Within the years 2015 and 2016 in the United States, violence against blacks as well as racial injustices reached a peak. With many unjustified police shootings (black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely to be murdered by police than any other group) and officers (most of the time) not being held accountable, racial tensions were, and still are, very high.

    There isn’t much we can do to combat this. There were and are still many protests due to these racial injustices with only few gaining justice or causing actual change. Many artists also attempted to combat against this, by speaking their opinions on the matter and attending events like protests to voice their support. Kendrick Lamar performed at the Grammys in 2016 and 2018. These performances were used as a voicing of the need for change, and as a device for empowerment of a race that has been held down by oppression for a long while.

    The 2016 performance begins with “The Blacker The Berry” and Kendrick coming out as part of a chain gang, with his accompanying instrumentalists being locked within cells. The intensity builds as the chain gang rips off their chains, leading to the performance of  “Alright”. Both of these performances include aspects of African culture. This performance showcases some of what it means to be black in America, the black experience.

    The 2018 performance begins with “XXX.”, a song that in itself tagrets political, social, and racial injustices. The first movement of this performance includes the song “DNA.” as well. There is a short intermission by Dave Chappelle where he says, “The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America, is being an honest black man in America.” The intermissions in this performance are started with a gun shot sound effect directed at Kendrick, and Dave Chappelle continues with more short phrases to move the performance onward. The performance ends with all of the onstage performers being ‘shot down’ one by one, reflecting current issues in the U.S. Kendrick is an example of an influential black role model in America who is bringing light to issues in ways that are empowering to fellow black Americans as well as youth.


Links to the performances:



Abraham Lincoln’s Last Speech, April 11, 1865

In 1865, President Lincoln’s last speech introduced his plan of Reconstruction for the US after the Civil War. Specifically, Lincoln addressed the state of Louisiana, which was the first former Confederate state to agree to the terms of Lincoln’s Reconstruction.

Lincoln was a man focused on reforming the Union and bringing the nation back together. This is reflected in his previous 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, by freeing slaves in Southern states to persuade the Confederate states to rejoin the Union. His efforts to continue the Reconstruction of the Union is reflected in his last speech. Interestingly, rather than addressing specifics of the Reconstruction plan, Lincoln’s speech emphasized that one should simply not acknowledge the previous existence of the Confederacy. Lincoln claimed that rather than acknowledging the prior separation, his plan for Reconstruction would run more smoothly without considering if states were in or out of the Union. This idea is highlighted in his statement, “Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad”(par. 4). Lincoln believed that to fully restore relations between the states it was simply easier to not acknowledge that they were ever separated.

Shortly after his Reconstruction speech, Lincoln was assassinated and was unable to watch his Reconstruction plans unfold, however, his successor, Andrew Johnson, attempted to carry on Lincoln’s Reconstruction plans.  Johnson worked toward continuing the plans for Reconstruction, but under his presidency the creation of ‘black codes’ and black violence and “fear mongering” was extreme in Southern states. Lincoln may have wished that the states would not acknowledge the divide of Confederacy and Union, but the separation was distinct and visible during the Reconstruction era.