Where Intelligence Meets News Analysis.

Christmas in the Hood

Christmas in the Hood

About this time last year, I wrote a lengthy and searing piece: Searching for Black Jesus.  The air, like now, was choked with holiday festivities and tidings; but it also had all the emotions that came with a black man being elected the leader of the heftiest empire on earth.

I have always loved the Christmas season.  Between my birthday and the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, I have often wondered if I wasn’t a hopeless sucker for the latter.  Something about the overwhelming theme of love the season brings; be it the rhapsodic carols or the smothering of everything that hangs with the color red.

So upon reading an op-ed some weeks ago by New York Times columnist, Charles M. Blow, titled “Black in the Age of Obama,” I felt a revisit of black nation since I wrote my aforementioned piece was timely.

Having spent a lifetime on three continents – fifteen years in Africa, one year in Europe, and ten years in North America – I sit at a junction in the road with a deep sense of my black nation.

Christmas is a religious holiday: A Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus, regardless of its over-the-top commercialization through the years with Santa and Rudolf and Mistletoe and everything else in between.

Upon birth, the Bible says young Jesus was taken into Egypt by His father Joseph to prevent Herod the Great from killing the young messiah.  He stayed there for some years before returning to Israel, according to the book of Matthew.

But oh, don’t worry!  I do not intend to take you to church.  Not today.  What makes such passing detail of any significance?  It is because now, more than ever, it appears once baby Jesus stepped off the African continent, anything and everything of eternal good left with Him.

The Africa on which Jesus once lived is today a stigma, one that even blacks taken from the continent cringe at the thought of being associated.  Today, black nation is as divided as it’s ever been.  In the Oscar-winning documentary about the Ali-Foreman fight in the Congo, award-winning director Spike Lee echoed this point in affirmation: “There was a time, if you called a black person African, you know – they’d be ready to fight.”

Although he made this comment only a few years back, the prevalence of the sentiment is still real.  I recently got into an un-winnable argument with a black sister whose black family came to the United States by way of France.  She swore vehemently that although at some point someone in her family “might” have emigrated from Africa (really?), she doesn’t know any African in her family; and per her reasoning, she’s not in the least bit African.  To paraphrase her sentiment, she’s American and for some odd reason just happens to have a dark hue.

As a native African, the same can be said for some of my African brothers and sisters here in the United States.  I know Africans who emigrate here tend to look at African-Americans as lazy amongst other things, with a “us-against-them” mentality.  What is lost in their reasoning is that generations of these “lazy” African-Americans fought hard and on so many occasions paid the ultimate price in making it okay for an indigenous African to emigrate here and not be called boy or have his family sit in “black-only” sections of local restaurants.  So what if you see the destruction that’s ravaging the community?  That, I believe, should warrant empathy and activism – surely not apathy.

All around, there’s just war in black nation.

“Symbols matter,” writes Melissa Harris-Lacewell in the article “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas” – written for The Nation Magazine and featured on Npr.org.  “They help shape our understanding of national culture and identity,” she writes.

And to this end, symbols have been crucial in defining black nation.  According to TV images, Africa is this “one country” where baboons and lions dine with human beings in their thatched huts.  So, to a certain degree, I can understand those who argue that this damps pride in black nation.

But I believe, now, in this age of Obama, such shame ought to be turned into confident anger that seeks to catapult black nation from the debris in which it currently lies.

Obviously, the presidency of Barack Obama has not changed the challenges that bind all black people together.  Black people in the United States have a higher rate of HIV/AIDS infection than any other race.  Two of the top three countries with the world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection population are in Africa.  Over a third of black children in America live in poverty and according to a recent Department of Agriculture report, more likely as a group to suffer “food insecurity.”  Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped continent; and according to a 2008 World Bank estimate, the average poor person in Sub-Saharan Africa lives on 70 cents a day while 80.5 percent of the population lives under $2.50 a day.  Is there a parallel here?

No part is greater than the sum of the whole.  I find it a form of treatable malady the belief that what affects one black over here does not affect another over there.  Charity begins at home and Dr. King’s words begin to take on a special meaning when brought closer to home.  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” he wrote, “tied in a single garment of destiny.”

To be black right now ain’t cool.  And that’s because to be from Africa ain’t cool.  Africa can only do as good as her children do.  It is high time blacks outside the continent pressured their home governments for aid, resources, and anti-imperialistic policies toward Africa.  It is high time blacks on the continent insisted and settled for nothing less than accountability and responsibility from their governments.  It is high time blacks outside the continents held blacks on the continent to task and vice versa.

It is high time we stopped living in this hood, and no I do not mean brotherhood.  As we celebrate this Christmas and enter this coming decade, black nation can do better and must do better.  America gave us Obama and Disney finally gave us Tatiana – a black princess.  But these are not privileges.  For when we forget where we’re coming from, we lose respect for where we are, and sight of where we’re going and ought to be.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to my black nation!

8 Responses to “Christmas in the Hood”

  1. Juliet

    Since Christmas falls at the tail end of the year, it’s a good time for reflection on those personal beliefs, ideologies and habits that we have nourished with reckless abandon, promoted without knowledge or abided by simply because it was easier to do it that way than to champion an alternative.

    But, reflection is only the beginning. In the new year, I think we have to take individual responsibility for our actions towards and against development in Africa. Often, as a people, we believe that it’s only the major steps that can make the true difference. Whereas, if we all commit to playing our own personal part in combatting HIV or fighting corruption or changing the minds of someone who has a skewed perception of the African continent, over time, we will all experience the difference. I, too, was one of the people ashamed to say I was from Africa. But, now, I identify myself as Nigerian first. Next, I will determine how I can better contribute my lessons from America to my country and its neighbors. But, no one can force me to take these steps. The decisions are my own and only I can ensure that next year we are further than we are this year from “Christmas in the Hood.”

    This is a great article. Thanks for writing it, Pelumi. I hear discussion about this very topic all the time, few offer solutions. May 2010 bring endless solutions!

  2. Amina Yakubu

    Yay to Black nation!

    Lovely Piece Pelumi.

    I like what Juliet said about us taking a step individually. One step at a time takes us forward. We definitely need to evaluate ourselves now that the year is over, and see what good we have done for our nation. If we haven’t, we need to think about how we can do something.

    Now, not to pick on you, but you have been here for 10 years yea, I hope you go to Naija every year? and I hope you try to make a difference? thats the only way we can we can be proud of our nation. Once we have pride, we can begin to influence and make a difference.

    We can take example from Muhammad Yunus and his Micro finance concept that has made a difference in Bangladesh (created the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh). We don’t have to wait for the government in such cases. What we need are entrepreneurs to save our nation; the laws & regulation might inhibit this progress, but it is a fight to make this happens that would get us to where we ought to be.

    As we end this new year, we need to reflect and bring out our inner entrepreneurial spirit so we can revive the black pride and our nation.


  3. 'Pelumi Olatinpo

    Thanks ladies! And I do agree with both of you, individual actions are paramount to any resurgence. And Amina you make a good point about entrepreneurship, because such pooled investments into Africa can only uplift black nation.

    Once again, thank you very much Juliet and Amina!

  4. john

    Hello Pelumi,
    I don’t think you know me so I will go by the name John. First of all I’d like to say that’s a wonderful piece and you’ve raised some great points.

    Nonetheless, I’d like to draw your attention to a few things. I think it will be good to back all of your facts with references and sources.I think this will do your audiences some good in that they can check these facts for themselves.

    Also you referred to Africa as a country (“Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped country…”), which saddens me. As an African myself I cannot let this slide by even if it was a slip on your part.

    Lastly you stated that you had “an un-winnable argument with a black sister…” I don’t know why you raised that point, but I think I will side with that sister if I was a black born in the US and my ancestors were once slaves or immigrated to the US several generations ago. (By the way that paragraph about the black sister is not clear: I can’t tell if her someone is her parents, grandparents, great grand parents, etc). I don’t mean to take that paragraph out of context, but my understanding of that piece is that though you didn’t win the argument you still don’t agree with her view that she’s not African. If I’m right, then I’d like to not beat this to death, but hopefully suggest another explanation which I hope will convince you to understand the black sister.

    First of all, what does it mean to be African? This is a big question that even some of the best African writers or minds out there find it difficult to answer. Funny enough even if you claim you’re something, someone else may think you’re not based on what they see you do. For example the black sister claims she’s not African, but then you may think she is.

    I for one I am Beninois specifically Dendi from the northern part of Benin. My tribe migrated from Mali in the 16th century. However I don’t and will never ever consider myself Malian. My tribal folks don’t consider themselves one. To claim that because one’s ancestors migrated from country A to B and one is of country B is totally outrageous. If so, then as there are some scientific speculations that the human race evolved from Africa, if this is true, then white, black, brown, etc, we are all Africans. Now you will agree with me that anyone that thinks that way is nuts.

    There is a sense that people of African descent should reconnect with their roots or bond with other African just because they share the same skin color. I don’t think the average Joe will even agree with this. Remember even in the US, people of European descent don’t affiliate themselves with Europe.

    It seems you’re shying away from “brotherhood”, but many of your sentences beg the question of whether you’re sincerely not talking about brotherhood. If I’ve misunderstood you, my apology.

    I like your write-up on Tiger and the Nigerian terrorist. Good work Pelumi

  5. 'Pelumi Olatinpo

    Hello John,

    I appreciate you visiting the site, your comments, and as well as your compliments.

    First, it will be quite impossible for me to “back all” my facts with “refences and sources” as you mentioned. As you can see, where I deem appropriate, I have provided those. If I were to do that for “all” the facts I state, this will end up looking more like a college term paper than an opinion piece.

    Second, I really appreciate you mentioning the slip-up in referring to Africa as a country. The irony, as you would have noticed, is that I chastised pricisely that line of thinking in a paragraph before that. So more than anything, it was an editorial error that I appreciate you bringing to my attention.

    Third, the whole article is about a kingdom of brotherhood leaving the “hood” or disarray in which it currently lives. And I do disagree with you, I believe all black people, because of the ancestry, should reconnect with one another. It’s useless to me what Europeans are doing, Europe is not in the same state Africa is, nor are caucasians(Europeans) dogged with the stigma affecting blacks(African). So John, while your people might have migrated from Mali to Benin, you’re still African and that’s the reasoning I expect from all blacks, inside or outside the continent.

  6. John

    Hello Pelumi,
    Thanks for your response. You are right that supporting all your facts with references will certainly look more like a college paper than an opinion piece. However, there are a few more important facts in some of your pieces without sources that I think will be helpful to your audience to provide. Since I’m a “fact-checker”, I think this will go a long way to aid your credibility as a writer.

    I think you may have misunderstood my reply a little. Regardless, I wish I knew you so we could have an honest debate about this issue of whether “all black people, because of the ancestry, should reconnect with one another.” In as much as you disagree with me, I also disagree with you. Let me spurt out a few responses to your reply.

    First of all may I ask what you mean by “should reconnect?”

    Secondly it seems to me (from your last paragraph in your reply) that you’re suggesting “black people, because of the ancestry should reconnect with one another” because:
    1. “Europe is not in the same state Africa is” and
    2. Caucasians(Europeans) are not “dogged with the stigma affecting blacks(African).”

    If you are suggesting these,then in the same logic, anyone can also recommend all Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Nigeria because of their common ancestry as Muslims, ‘should reconnect with one another. In addition they should reconnect since Europe/South America is not in the same state as their countries are, nor are Caucasians/Europeans/South Americans dogged with the stigma (terrorist)affecting them (Muslims). I hope you will agree with me that if this should be so, then efforts to find mutual respect, peace and appreciation for diversity, will utterly be in vain.

    My argument about my ancestors migrating from Mali to Benin is only in support of my explanation that because they were from Mali that in no way makes me Malian. I for one believe tracing your roots is a good thing. However (and I hope you did not misunderstand me when I said. “There is a sense that people of African descent should… bond with other Africans just because they share the same skin color.”) to bond with someone merely because of skin color is morally and ethically wrong.

    I will highly plead with you to ponder some more on what it means to be African. To think because one’s ancestors were black (or maybe Sub-Saharan Africans), that makes that person African, (with all due respect) is share ignorance (pardon me, I don’t mean to insult or offend you). If so, then Papua New Guineans are Africans, or better still, every dark skin Indian (from the country India) will be considered African. And if the scientific speculation that the Human race evolved from Africa happens to be true, then the whole world is Africa.

  7. 'Pelumi Olatinpo

    Dear John,

    I do not know how familiar you are with op-eds in national newspapers. But the next time you get a chance to pick up one, you’ll notice that not “all” facts stated are buoyed by sources or references. And per the credibility of the writer, you either trust the writer or you don’t. A “fact-checker” like you can always cross-check “a fact” in my piece or in any other medium at your leisure. It’s one of the great advantages of the internet.

    Your inclusion of Islam(Muslims) in your argument is totally inappropriate and misplaced. Anybody can buy into any religion, but what one cannot do is buy into a race. You are born with the heritage you have and it’s nonnegotiable. Religion on the other hand is, hence the invalidity of your argument on this front.

    Dark skin Indians, as you mentioned, are under the “Indo-African” umbrella. They are a result of mixed African and Indian heritage. So yes, there’s a legit part of them that is African. And I do believe civilization started in Africa, but that’s not the world we live in today, is it? I have no wish in crushing diversity, that’s why I’m encouraging black nation to be one amongst other racial groups that do exist.

    In short, I’m not saying anything Frederick Douglas, Martin-Luther King, Jr., Mohammed Ali, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, and others have not said. Thanks.

  8. John

    I hope my earlier comment was not insulting. If it was, my apology. That wasn’t my intent. I have a lot of respect for you solely based on a few of your pieces I have read far. I’ll not further any argument with you. I will respect your opinion. In addition I am happy African males like you are voicing their opinion on the injustices that pervade this little planet my Allah has endowed us with. I hope your words act through your heart, mind, hands and feet. Let me clarify a few things.

    I agree with you about your opinion on referencing especially when it comes to platforms such as these. I myself I am a journalist, moreover a law student and regardless of what this platform is, I’ll still advocate that a few more citations will go a long way to help you. This is just a simple humble suggestion from an African brother.

    I am a Muslim by the way and I believe my comment about my faith is in no way inappropriate and misplaced specifically with regards to the point I was making which I think you still haven’t understood. In addition you’ve left a couple of queries of mine unanswered. (By the way I am in no disagreement that, “Anybody can buy into any religion, but what one cannot do is buy into a race.” I will also agree with you that while religion is negotiable, race is not. But I will disagree that heritage is nonnegotiable. The word heritage has a lot of meaning and I hope you weren’t swapping that for race though they may be synonymous. )

    I am happy you have no wish in crushing diversity. At least I never got that impression from you. Also, I think there is a difference between “human race evolved from Africa” and civilization starting from Africa. I believe, more so it is a verified fact that Africa is the cradle of civilization, however that humans evolved from Africa is speculative and yet to be proven. Actually I doubt that can ever be justified, because one will have to give a verifiable reason for the change in skin color from black to white.

    HA! Unfortunately I haven’t read anything about the names you’ve mentioned. Maybe I will someday. So I am not in a better position to know if you are echoing things they’ve already said.

    Keep up the good work.

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