Jun 30 2012

Here’s Why I Love Kola Boof

“I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination…I could hear their blood going into the earth…And I know TOO MUCH.” -Kola Boof

Naima Bint Harith (a.k.a. Kola Boof)

Whenever I think of Kola Boof, I see an image of Naima Bint Harith, a little girl with gorgeous deep brown skin, a sweet smile and shining eyes, who, at age six, witnessed the murder of her parents.

Naima’s father, Harith Bin Farouk (a light-skinned Arab/Egyptian) and her mother, Jiddi (a blue-black Gisi-Waaq Oromo from Somalia) were both slaughtered in retaliation for Harith’s “crime” of speaking out against the enslavement of the charcoal-skinned Sudanese by the lighter-skinned Arab ruling class.

During the first night of her new life as an orphan, Naima’s innocence was dyed blood red as she spent the dark hours before dawn lying alone and traumatized with her parents’ lifeless bodies.

Within days of the murder, Naima’s Egyptian grandmother informed her orphaned grandchild—the only living child of Harith and Jiddi—that her skin was too dark for her to be welcomed into their light-skinned family. Little Naima was put up for adoption.

When I think of Kola Boof, I think of that little girl who should have been happily skipping along the banks of the Nile with her parents, but, who was instead violently and callously flung into a war against white supremacy that no human being should have to (but every human being should be willing to) fight.

It is not lost on me that had Naima’s father been unconcerned and complacent in the face of the injustice he saw, he would still be alive. Her abandonment and suffering are born of his sacrifice. Our complacency is a twisting knife.

If you don’t know who Kola Boof is, I’m going to have to let you Google her, because trying to sum up this writer/activist’s life and work in a few paragraphs is an impossible task.

Suffice it to say that the Sudan-born, D.C.-raised author of “Diary of a Lost Girl,” “Long Train to the Redeeming Sin,” and “The Sexy Part of the Bible,” writes edgy, thought-provoking, paradigm-shifting literary prose (and, at times, vicious, profane, irreverent twitter rants) that have led journalists, fans and haters to variously label her “genius,” “disturbed,” “talented,” “polarizing,” “brave,” “racist,” and, increasingly, among her hundreds of blocked haters on Twitter, “crazy black bitch.”
Though Boof can at times be found at the center of distracting social media hurricanes (like the recent drama in which she boasted about regularly sexing Djimon Honsou during his marriage to Kimora Lee Simmons), her impassioned and important message is that the earth’s dark-skinned black woman is systematically disrespected, hated, insulted and erased by those who, influenced by white supremacy, cannot or will not recognize her black beauty and her intrinsic perfection as a creation of God.

It astounds me that anyone disagrees with that message, as it is quite apparent that in every country or culture on this planet that is heavily influenced by European values, dark-skinned women with black-African hair and features are rarely held up (for its sons and daughters to look to) as models of what is beautiful, marriageable, or worthy of admiration.

Don’t even get me started on the American entertainment industry and its proliferation of images that relegate dark-skinned women to the roles of maid, mammy, slave or sex worker. But it’s not just the media that is guilty. Too many young dark-skinned girls are tormented by their family members and bullied from toddlerhood, with the terms “African,” “dark” and “nappy” being viciously hurled at them like profane weapons.

Insult is added to this injury when darker-skinned black women are uninvited or invisible in situations where light-skinned or biracial black women (whose physical features are closer to the “white ideal” of beauty) are welcomed to show off their “black” beauty. If you need an example of this blatant disregard for the plentifully pigmented sisters among us, click here, or here, or here, or here, or here.

It also astounds me that so many lighter-skinned people who profess to be about “erasing racism,” “honoring diversity” and “building unity” are so resistant to understanding Kola’s life experiences or at least listening with an open mind to her observations about the annihilation-by-rejection and psychic injury dark-skinned women are being subjected to around the world.

I get that folks are turned off by Boof’s caustic delivery and her irreverence-bordering-on-hatred for some of the world’s most revered institutions (such as Christianity and Islam). I get that people are offended by the sweeping negative generalizations she makes about the inhabitants of entire countries (especially since she so deeply and righteously resents the negative generalizations made about black women). I get that people are shocked and repulsed by Kola’s disregard for what she sees as repressive and oppressive Western moral codes.

What I don’t get is how there is this loooooong line of individuals ready to invest their energy in attacking Kola for her lifestyle, her opinions and her temper, yet there are so few champions who are willing to speak up about the HUMAN RIGHT so many black girls have been denied—the right to be seen, to be admired, to be protected and to be cherished.

I admit I am frequently appalled at the words Kola Boof uses to voice her rage against her detractors—especially the vitriol she reserves for black American men (whose psychic injury she acknowledges, but cannot forgive); but even when she is at her angriest, my gut feeling about this sister is that she created “Kola Boof” to be the warrior she needed but didn’t have on the day her parents died–a ferocious defender who should have been there to protect little Naima—the generous, intelligent, soft-hearted, world-embracing spirit that lives inside Kola.

Given the mountainous struggles that little girl faced (severe trauma, several abandonments by parental figures, adapting to American culture, learning English, rejecting colorism…) it makes perfect sense to me that her alter-ego Kola would (on the surface, at least) be so FIERCE.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a severe childhood trauma creates, knows that one of its key components is an easily triggered and exaggerated fight or flight response. It is an extremely difficult to control SURVIVAL response that has nothing to with intelligence or morals or wisdom.

Among the many symptoms PTSD sufferers deal with are:

Physical ailments with no apparent physical cause
Sleeplessness
Fear for their safety; always feeling on guard
Feelings of shame, despair, or hopelessness.
Difficulty controlling emotions.
Impulsive or self-destructive behavior.
Changed beliefs or changed personality traits.

I don’t know Kola personally and I don’t know the degree to which any or all of these symptoms affect her life, but her writings, her online presence and her tweets seem to indicate that there is much residual injury that she lives with daily. If she is suffering from PTSD, I see no reason why her life’s work to restore THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN WOMAN to her rightful pedestal of dignity and respect should be diminished by it.

“I am a very SAD, broken, damaged human being…And I live, literally, by the grace of GOD. The pain in my vagina I have spoken of…but rarely the pain in my brain and my heart.

My teeth and my bones hurt me like headaches, because I am so broken and damaged EMOTIONALLY.

People read my books and ask, “How can you write like that?” It’s because I live in constant emotional “psychotic” pain.

Don’t they understand that I saw my parents killed in front of me? Do they think a child can EVER grow up and get over that?

And now I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination. From that night, when I could hear their blood going into the earth. I suddenly had an “imagination”. And it’s very…

And I know TOO MUCH.

Much of the vicious attacking you see me do…is mainly to make people AWARE of the rage and bitterness that they create in the world…simply by accepting the world the way it is.

That’s why I tell people…don’t accept it…REBEL.

Because although it’s too late for Naima…it’s not too late for the daughters of the future.

When YOU SEE me hurt someone, strike at someone…I’m just trying to set a new example for the MULES of the world….that we mustn’t go down without loud screaming and fighting.

…I don’t see myself living that long, and I just want to give…as an artist….what the people NEED.

And I pray for my sons to be OK. I know I’ve taught them how to make generations and where inside themselves to find answers and to find me.” -Kola

Although I have never met Ms. Boof, I interacted with her online many years ago and did speak to her once on the telephone after she wrote an amazing poem for me entitled “Angels and Insects” which she posted at the African American Literary Book Club (AALBC) discussion board where she and I crossed paths.

An inter racially married white woman on that discussion board who called herself, “Moon,” had become the target of Kola’s rage when (among other things) she refused to acknowledge that white and light-skinned privilege exists at the expense of black women. Kola was trying to get Moon to realize that privilege and injustice are inseparable and that her white privilege had a cost that she simply chose not to acknowledge (which is another privilege).

Moon was the source of much conflict on that board because she was a white visitor to a black online forum who was always in “teach” mode, and she did not seem to respect the opinions of the black women whose life experiences differed so greatly from hers. Moon was convinced that simply by mothering her mixed children and teaching them that love sees no color she was actively promoting the unity of the human family. “I don’t walk in brown skin,” she wrote, “I can sure teach children about love.”

Being the product of an interracial union myself, I joined the debate. (Forgive the use of CAPS; it was an intense conversation):

“Your children deserve more than your LOVE. They deserve to LEARN what it means to live in a society that will try to convince them they are BETTER because they came from YOU. Who is going to WORK DAILY and DILIGENTLY to undermine that lie in your household?

I am not a hater, Moon. I KNOW in my SOUL that all human beings are ONE CREATION, and these designations of racial categories are not REAL. But that does not mean human beings are not behaving as though they [the labels] are real. WE are all affected by our socializations regarding race, skin color, hair texture, innate intelligence, morality, etc. etc. etc.

You cannot toss me indescriminately onto the heap of black women who you consider jealous of you and your husband, or simply hate your whiteness. My mother is white and my father is black and I can speak on the subject of white privelege personally, because having white skin and blue eyes I am treated with UNEARNED deference just about everywhere I go.

One of the few places my physical appearance is not automatically “respected” is in the company of black women I don’t know. That is when I humbly SHUT MY MOUTH AND LISTEN so that I can LEARN more about what it means to be a black woman in America — and thereby understand more clearly what it means to be a member of the human family.

I don’t agree with everything Kola says, but I don’t take what she says personally either. I know she is “FIGHTING for her life…” Her fight to lift up black women does not diminish me….WHAT are YOU fighting for MOON? The rights of all humans, regardless of skin color, to love and intermarry? That right already EXISTS. As you said earlier, your life is proof of that.

Show me proof that Kola’s BLACK SONS are held in HIGH REGARD by this supremacist society. She is fighting for THEM, MOON. And for EVERY BLACK BABY who will be shown and told (maybe by YOUR children) that they are NOT PERFECT EXACTLY AS THEY WERE CREATED. They will be told that if their father had lain with a Scandinavian or an Asian or a Mexican or ANYTHING but their AFRICAN MOTHER they would be more beautiful or smarter or healthier or… (you know the list you’ve heard it many times).”

Kola’s response to my post was immediate, and, I believe, sincere.

…I have never denied that I have many prejudices against Bi-racial people and white people—despite that fact that I am, technically, Bi-racial and that my White Arab birth father was a great, great man who dedicated his life to the dismantling of “White Supremacy”. He called it “the world’s only true religion”.

But my “prejudice” against Bi-racials and Whites is not what I…..REALLY…..feel when I’m alone, topless in the mountain streams praying. I feel LOVE for those people—only I keep it a secret, because I fear they are against me and my sons.

It seems there are two realities co-existing within this daughter of a slain freedom fighter. There is Kola Boof, the consummate REBEL whose words and actions are symbols of her RESISTANCE to being controlled, ignored or annihilated by the spirit of white supremacy that destroyed her family and threatens her progeny.

And then, there is Naima Bint Harith whose broken heart did not lose its capacity to love us all.

I wrote and posted this short poem on the AALBC discussion boards eight years ago. It still reflects why I love her:

Naima peels back her own skin
with life-sharpened nails
and we peer inside

inside her

and exclaim,

see, a huge heart
oh, and innards
soft, open, vulnerable

and in her exposure
we are exposed
safe, selfish, cowardly

and still
she names us
sister

Click here to read “Angels & Insects” by Kola Boof.


Jan 4 2012

Brown and Beautiful: 10 Children’s Books That Nurture Healthy Self-Esteem in Black Toddlers

More than 70 years have passed since Dr. Kenneth B Clark and his wife Mamie designed and conducted the “doll test” to study the psychological effects of racism on young children.

They showed four dolls, identical except for color, to black children ages 3 to 7 and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. When asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it, leading the Clarks  to conclude that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred.

In 2005, 18-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the Clarks’ experiment with 21 young black children, and included footage of the testing in her short film A Girl Like Me. The stunning and disheartening results mirrored those in the Clark experiment so many decades earlier:

“These children, even though they’re 4 and 5 years old, they’re kind of like a mirror and they show exactly what they’ve been exposed to by society,” Davis says. She hopes her documentary will help people see how subtle messages—like those in the media and through product marketing—continue to affect children.

Knowing our children will be bombarded with negative images that  can undermine their ability to look in the mirror and admire what they see, we must remain ever diligent to ensure that they are receiving daily as many affirming messages about their beautiful selves as we can give them.

Removing terminology like “good hair” from our conversations is a great place to start in preventing the erosion of our children’s self esteem. Not using or allowing the words “black,” “African,” and “nappy” to be used as insults in our homes is also a must. And, while we’re at it, one truly powerful way to give our children positive feelings about themselves is to read, with love, uplifting stories that feature children whom they resemble. Here are 10 books parents, teachers and librarians highly recommend:

It should be noted that these are excellent books to read to all children, regardless of their ethnicity or skin tone. The messages in them are universal, and the positive exposure to brown skin as something to celebrate is a lesson every child can ultimately benefit from.

This is where the breaking down of old barriers and old stereotypes begins.


Jul 22 2011

Abandoned at Birth Now an AIDS Activist: Hydeia Broadbent’s Life a Testament to Early Diagnosis and Treatment

Born HIV-infected to a crack-addicted mother and diagnosed with full blown AIDS at age 3, Hydeia Broadbent was not expected to live past the age of 5. More than 20 years after receiving that death sentence, this beautiful young woman blogs, tweets and travels the country to educate people about the importance of AIDS prevention, testing, early diagnosis and treatment.

“Early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death,” says Broadbent. “Too many people become aware of their status when it is too late for life-saving medications to be effective — I am in this fight because I truly do not want others to go through what I have gone through — but also keep in mind, a positive test result doesn’t have to mean a death sentence.”

Some uninformed people hear stories like Broadbent’s and believe that because HIV-positive people are now living much longer, prevention is not a big deal anymore. Broadbent warns audiences not to fall into that trap. This young lady knows firsthand that living with AIDS is no walk in the park. The drugs have serious side effects, are very costly and they must be taken every day. If you are following Broadbent on Facebook or Twitter, you know her emergency room visits are frightening and expensive.

“People think because I was born with HIV my story does not apply to them,” warns Broadbent. “Well, this same disease I am living with is the same disease you can get if you don’t practice safe sex and know your HIV status and the HIV status of your sexual partner. I ask people to use my testimony as a warning of what you don’t want to go through.”

If you have been thinking about getting tested, but still haven’t found the courage or will to get it done, let this young woman’s concern for you give you the nudge you need to be concerned about yourself.

“We are responsible for the choices we make and I challenge everyone to be accountable. Every 9 ½ minutes someone becomes infected with HIV. Knowing your HIV status is not only a representation of self-love but also states what kind of person you choose to be. Not knowing your HIV status and having unsafe sexual relationships means you could possibly be infecting others,” Broadbent says.

Visit www.HydeaiaBroadbent.com for more information on this awesome young lady.