Artistic protest

In my school years, back in the old motherland, the teachers made no secret of the fact that the only students worth their time and effort were the future doctors, engineers and potentially wealthy lawyers. The irony of the fact that they were none of those professions was lost on them, as they pushed us to master theorems and formulas that have since been made obsolete by technology and other advancements.

I wasn’t daft in those courses, but I struggled with Physics so badly that both the teacher and I couldn’t wait for my second year in high school, when I was able to say goodbye to velocities and swinging pendulums for good- the man was at his wits end with me and I can’t say I blamed him.

I digress though because this post is not about my struggles in the sciences, but rather of the relative importance of arts over sciences in real life. The art of speaking for instance (which landed me on the noise-maker’s list one too many times) is a skill that has won more wars than the science of shooting bullets. Whether in the form of diplomacy, or a political leader that knows how to create just the right emotions in people using simple words, this has been a skill that should have been taught and developed more, especially in conjunction with its cousin, “listening”. Nelson Mandela is known more for his oratory skills than for what he created in a lab. So are MLK, JFK and more recently BO (sorry Barrack, your initials don’t lend themselves well to abbreviation). They stirred emotions that resulted in the kind of monumental change that may take another Einstein to produce in scientific terms and in most cases, we are the better for it.

However, the art forms that have me even more enthralled are music and drama. Listening to Bob Marley’s music, such as his songs “war”, “redemption song” etc. speaks so clearly to cultural and societal realities than any economist ever could. He was not beholden to prior ideologies when he stated that “until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior, is finally, and permanently, eradicated and abandoned, everywhere is war”, which was a call to colonized African countries to keep fighting for their freedoms then, just as much as it speaks to current efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement.

And who can forget Nina Simone, singing about Governor Wallace’s madness in real time, at such a time when black bodies could disappear without anyone as much as blinking an eye. Even in times when such musicians did not drive change directly, they inspired others by creating rallying cries that could reach more masses than the leaders’ words.

Who can forget Tupac: the one true prophet of my generation (in my humble and completely biased opinion). I still get goosebumps when I listen to  “changes” because the underlying feeling then, is one that so many today still feel: “is life worth living should I blast myself?” may sound morbid but it’s an honest question against the backdrop of issues like police brutality for the simple act of “existing while black”. In the same song, he castigated drug dealers who sold to children or used children as potters, an observation that carried more weight coming from an “insider” in the community and I’d like to believe that he may have saved a child’s life.

John Lennon’s “imagine” is perhaps an antidote to the hopelessness that Tupac felt because he creates an image of a time where we do not use god (small g intentional) to justify hate, or a time when we are no longer valued on the basis of possessions, or things but as human beings. Period.

There are so many such lyrical prophets across all musical genres but what I find interesting is that the most gifted ones died way too young, often times under a gunman’s hand or under suspicious circumstances.

Case in point, Hachalu Hundessa from Ethopia was murdered recenty, and while I don’t know his music, his story is no different from all other artists who knowingly or accidentally drove social change. Something about their messages drives those opposed to their ideals so mad that silencing them becomes the only way “out”. And yet that does not in any way diminish their music or art, infact it often amplifies it. I mourn with Ethiopian music lovers for the loss of their poet but also know that in death, Mr. Hundessa has created a generation of believers, perhaps even more than he would have in life; heck I am seeking out his music now, even though I don’t understand the lyrics.

So yes, as a mother raised on the “science is better” mantra, I do have to fight the nagging voice that wants to look down on the arts, which should rightfully be viewed as equal to sciences in terms of real change (yes science, we know penicillin was a life changer thanks to you- no shade intended at all)

 As a maturing mother though, I pray that I’ll allow my children to use their voice in whichever way God meant for it to be used. I want to give them the platform they need to hit people’s consciousness with their art because “one good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain”.

 RIP Bob Marley, RIP Tupac, RIP Nina Simone, RIP Hachalu Hundessa

Dogs….Racism

Growing up, a dog was not man’s (or in my case girl’s) best friend. Dogs were unpaid members of the household that were expected to guard and protect even to the death, but not be seen especially in front of company. Dogs in our neighbourhood were the poor man’s substitute for a watchman; a job that they did perhaps a lot better than their paid human counterparts.

They were given tough sounding names: simba was popular, so was kojak and our own life saver was named Tiger and fierce he sure was. To this day, I do not recall what breed our tiger was, only that like most other guard dogs, he was big and fierce and brown. This was a typical look, with slight coat various in shades of black and brown but nobody had time for tiny dogs.

Most were kept in kennels during the day, often ramshackle tin structures sometimes with a small window covered in chicken wire to allow them to see their prey (or maybe breath). Apparently, the angst from staying in all day circling the same tiny space ensured that once released at night, they would be most hungry (literally and figuratively because not much food was provided) to attack anyone that wanted to harm their owners. The few that were kept out all day were either not menacing enough, or were the retired, death bed versions of their former selves.

 I recall a time when Tiger broke through his flimsy door in broad daylight and found innocent and unfamiliar me hanging around “suspiciously” in the yard. He proceeded to give chase, while barking menacingly and for whatever reason, I ran away from the compound and 10 minutes later leaped across the storekeepers shelve to safety. He was shoo’d away by well meaning customers and I stayed there until one of my siblings who had watched the entire episode from inside the house finally arrived with the leash (and treats) for “our dog”

For reasons such as these, the process of releasing them at dusk required only their most trusted human to be present. Once released, they would stay within the boundaries of their homestead only if the fencing was sturdy enough and howl the night away. However, those who could escape, would pack together with their neighbourhood friends, as they searched for human or small animals to make a meal of. Meeting with such a pack at night was akin to walking towards a group of militias, only one that could only be bribed by a bite of your thigh or worse.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to the USA after University to find that dogs not only lived with their owners inside the same houses but were fed AND clothed too. Watching people walk their dogs initially gave me heart palpitations and 20 years later, a barking dog still stirs my heart. Learning that veterinarians were a big business, and not just to inoculate the precious and useful goats and cows like back home, but to keep a healthy check on dogs and cats was beyond baffling to me.

When I thought of my experience with dogs, it game me some empathy towards their view of me because they, like me, were cultured to see the world that way. For some odd and inexpiable reason, the darker people in society are viewed as “less than” and so even in their home countries, with their countrymen, treating such people in a discriminate manner is seen as maintaining social order, however warped that view may be. Having black and brown people cooking and cleaning after them and even (interestingly enough) raising their children is perfectly acceptable, so long as we remain in our kennels and do not request or worse still demand equal treatment under the law.

I have adopted to know that there are mean dogs who must remained muzzled , small dogs that have a loud barks but no bite, huge dogs that on first glance may seem threatening and scary (looking at you great Dane) but are super harmless and everything in between. I have found the same diversity in humans regardless of race, colour or creed and just as it takes patience and an open mind to understand dogs, so it should be with humans.

At the risk of not ending on a positive note, I can excuse those who were cultured differently and will willingly have the uncomfortable conversations to open their minds. However, I have no time for those that know all this, but still choose willful ignorance, hate and discrimination; to you all I’d tell tiger to “sika!”