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Hugo, in the article accompanying his images, contends that forgiveness, in this context, is not merely a matter of the victims being supremely enlightened: it is a practical necessity. “These people can’t go anywhere else,” he observes.
“They have to make peace…Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” The article then proceeds to feature the moving accounts of how these Rwandans managed to find hope amid horror.
Towards its close, there is a quote from Laurent Nsabimana, a perpetrator, who says of his victim – Beatrice Mukarwambari, whose house he raided and destroyed – that “her forgiveness proved to me that she is a person with a pure heart”. For her part, Mukarwambari is the model of grace. “If I am not stubborn,” she says, “life moves forward. When someone comes close to you without hatred, although horrible things happened, you welcome him and grant what he is looking for from you. Forgiveness equals mercy.” (My italics.)
Twenty years after the genocide, Rwandans are finding ways to reconciliation. But it’s too soon for the nations and institutions that failed to help to forgive themselves.
Would Nyong’o be on Hollywood’s radar at all if not for her discovery by Steve McQueen, an Afro-British director of Trinidadian and Grenadian descent? To be more blunt: Would an American director have felt comfortable casting a woman of Nyong’o’s hue as the leading lady of a major Hollywood film? A quick look back at film history and a discussion with an expert on skin color in American culture indicates that this is unlikely.
For starters, there has never been a black actress of Nyong’o’s ebony skin tone to ascend to Hollywood A-list status. And among those black actresses who have succeeded in Hollywood with deeper skin tones, like Grace Jones, they have not been positioned as leading ladies or, more specifically, objects of affection. Those roles have been concentrated among fairer actresses and those with more traditionally Eurocentric features, including Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Pam Grier, Shari Belafonte, Rae Dawn Chong, Cynda Williams, Halle Berry, Rosario Dawson, Thandie Newton, Zoe Saldana, Rashida Jones and Paula Patton—a number of whom also identify as biracial or multiracial. On the small screen, at least, Gabrielle Union and Kerry Washington have enjoyed recent breakthroughs, but while neither woman is fair-skinned, they might not always be described as dark, either.
Had an American been at the helm of 12 Years a Slave, it seems unlikely that Nyong’o or someone who looks like her would have been cast.
Writer Keli Goff at The Root states, “If Afro-Brit Steve McQueen hadn’t made the Oscar-nominated film, a lighter-skinned actress might have been cast in the role of Patsey.”
Read more from her op-ed titeld “Why an African-American Director Wouldn’t Have Cast Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave”.
- Omonigho Ufomata
In this highly globalized world where we are exposed to more cultures than ever before, the freedom to self-identify is both more liberating and more complex that perhaps it was in the past. Whilst to many, this may present itself as a liberating path of self-discovery, those of us who are uprooted and thrust from one environment to another often find ourselves in a no man’s land between two or several cultures we feel an allegiance towards, battling with questions of authenticity and belonging.
Personally, I have and continue to struggle with what British-Nigerian-American writer Omonigho Ufomata calls “multicultural-identity conflicts”. Due constant travel and moving from one country to another, I’ve found myself both consciously and subconsciously picking up bits and pieces of several cultures, all of which I identify with on various levels. So whilst I am not Kenyan, French, English, South African or American by blood or by birth, with my life being scattered in these countries and a few others, simply stating that I’m Nigerian doesn’t quite cover it. Then again, to say that I am anything but Nigerian sounds like a betrayal, even when many tell me that the dilution that cultural exposure has had on my ‘Nigerianness’ doesn’t quite make me truly Nigerian (something I will readily argue to the death of me).
What is truly a shame is when people (as seen in the comments below her op-ed) dismiss or derail the conversation to say that such complexities are simply ‘made up’ or that someone who has an ethnicity should be glad that they can single out all the pieces of their identity to the most minute detail and denominator. Aside from hijacking the greater issue at hand and making it about something of which it is not, such remarks make the individual at hand guilty for an oppressive hand in history they (and quite possibly their ancestors) had no part or agency in determining.
Perhaps some people may not be able to see the complexity in this form of self-identification, especially as it’s something that monoracial black people (Africans especially) don’t seem to be afforded (complex identities - we can be multi-ethnic/cultural too) but as a globetrotting young African, I can’t help but relate to the struggles and frustrations highlighted by Ufomata.
In secondary school, some boys in his class tried to throw Sochukwuma off a second floor balcony. They were strapping teenagers who had learned to notice, and fear, difference. They had a name for him. Homo. They mocked him because his hips swayed when he walked and his hands fluttered when he spoke. He brushed away their taunts, silently, sometimes grinning an uncomfortable grin. He must have wished that he could be what they wanted him to be. I imagine now how helplessly lonely he must have felt. The boys often asked, “Why can’t he just be like everyone else?”
Possible answers to that question include ‘because he is abnormal,’ ‘because he is a sinner, ‘because he chose the lifestyle.’ But the truest answer is ‘We don’t know.’ There is humility and humanity in accepting that there are things we simply don’t know. At the age of 8, Sochukwuma was obviously different. It was not about sex, because it could not possibly have been – his hormones were of course not yet fully formed – but it was an awareness of himself, and other children’s awareness of him, as different. He could not have ‘chosen the lifestyle’ because he was too young to do so. And why would he – or anybody – choose to be homosexual in a world that makes life so difficult for homosexuals?
The new law that criminalizes homosexuality is popular among Nigerians. But it shows a failure of our democracy, because the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority – otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic. The law is also unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems. Above all else, however, it is unjust. Even if this was not a country of abysmal electricity supply where university graduates are barely literate and people die of easily-treatable causes and Boko Haram commits casual mass murders, this law would still be unjust. We cannot be a just society unless we are able to accommodate benign difference, accept benign difference, live and let live. We may not understand homosexuality, we may find it personally abhorrent but our response cannot be to criminalize it.
The bottom line is R&B has always been pretty big and popular, especially among black folks. So what has to have changed is that white people either let go of something or embraced something.
And so the question for me is more like “What happened in business or the corporate world with white people?” I’m trying to figure out, what are the big things that made a difference? The fact that R&B is having this moment, that just means that there are a lot more white people at R&B shows now; a lot more people buying tickets and looking for that music to give them something.
And if we’re talking about what is it about R&B, I think that it is pretty visceral. It’s music that is situated in the club but is rooted in gospel. Gospel plus club music? That’s like a death stare. You can’t really fuck with that. If you hear a gospel run, something is wrong with you if you don’t have a reaction to that. If you don’t go “ooh” on some level. So I think that’s what some people have gotten real about. It’s like “OK, this is actually really, really amazing. I’m letting go.”
Before I think R&B was seen as basic or not advanced, not deep, you know? As someone who’s been singing this music since I was a kid in my bedroom, it was never about a trend for me. So I know who was embracing it at different times. And I can see what’s changed now. If you go to a Solange show, it’s one of the most diverse audiences. If you go to a Little Dragon show, it’s like this is actually really cool, wide-ranging audience. I’m trying not to think too much about it. I’ve been thinking about this just because I’m a nerd and an academic, but I don’t encourage other people to think too much about it because it doesn’t necessarily make sense [laughs]. I’m just like “Oh, now it’s here! OK, great! Awesome.”
Some pretty powerful commentary from Ethiopian-American singer Kelela answering a question posed by Billboard magazine correspondent Matt Fry on why she believes that the past few years has seen a rise in R&B musicians experimenting with electronic sounds - especially on the internet.
Her commentary on the racial aspect to music - both from a historical and cultural perspective, as well as behind-the-scenes and on the commercial side of the industry, is incredibly important in understanding the intricate dynamics of popular music and how racial politics often plays a pivotal role in the transformation, appropriation and commercialization of cultural commodities.
(Side note: did you know Kelela went to American University in D.C. where she majored in international studies with a focus on development in Africa?)