Owning Our Images

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2009 at 8:40 pm

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ~ Audre Lorde


One of my greatest insecurities is caring more than I should about what others think of me.  I’m sure most of us, no matter how confident we appear, share this shortcoming.  One might concede that Western Society dictates this as it feeds us images that devour our self esteem and self worth.  However, as I grow and go, I realize how important it is for me to own my image, regardless of other people’s judgments of me, for in the end, it is my opinion that matters most.

As a collective body, as Africans here and abroad, we have lost our ability to define ourselves.  We somehow emerge to be just as confused as others “appear” to be when it comes to recognizing and presenting who we are(notice my quotations as appearances can be quite illusive). Don’t get me wrong, we are nothing if not colossal and non-monolithic- from the poor African farmer to the POTUS. However, as I sit reading a recent article in National Geographic concerning Somalia’s plight for a stable government and tweeting about Kanye West’s supposed “nigger moment” on the MTV Video Music Awards, I realize that all roads lead back to this- an outsider’s view of us being perpetuated as our inside view.

Immediately, we (including myself) dismissed Kanye West as a fool and a brute for observing that, in essence, Black people are being ostracized (if not completely omitted) from receiving accolades in popular music, when, in essence, American popular music has always been grounded in Black music (whether confessed or concealed). It took the beautiful mind of my friend Dwayne Rodgers (or @diggswayne on twitter) to make me ponder why we are so drastically not only against Kanye’s statements, but against Kanye himself.  We are so quick to condemn our own, rarely attempting to understand or offer healing.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that it is less West’s opinions, which whether we would like to admit or not usually hold some substance, and more the irrational and trantrum-esque manner in which he presents those opinions that leaves us up in arms. In the least, we should recognize that he needs therapy/healing more than he needs to be called names or publically emasculated.  Similarly, when we hurl these insults, and our inward opinions appear in sources outside of our community, we become enraged at what we consider misrepresentation- when the foundation of that misrepresentation begins with us.  It reveals us to be just as irrational as we perpetuate Kanye to be.

The same can be said of our callous reaction, or lack of reaction all together, towards the conditions of many nations on the continent of Africa. Today I concentrate on Somalia; a country that has gone almost twenty years without a sound government or the services that one would expect a government to provide.  How many of us made jokes about Somali pirates, and actually found fault with the Somali people for protecting their borders in the only manner available to them?  Anyone from the Horn will lament on the French and others using Somali waters as toxic dumping grounds, or faux vested interest from Western countries, pretending to desire a “stable” government for the Somali people, but instead really wanting to protect direct routes to the Middle East. I am elated that I have a background in journalism and keen reading comprehension skills that allow me to decipher the subconscious messages presented in articles like “Shattered Somalia”, but realize that, unfortunately, a mass of our people do not share that same foundation.  Statements like, “This land is bred for trouble” moves one to conclude that not only is Somalia un-savable, but it is evil- even treacherous, and undeserving of our mercy or concern. I’m waiting to hear the uproar surrounding this mis-information… *crickets*.

So whether here or abroad, on a silly minute level that affects a few (like the Kanye incident) or an enormous level that affects a nation (like in Somalia), we fail to own or images- and thus the manner in which they are manipulated and controlled. Until we change THIS, we can not change our destiny, which Frantz Fanon maintains “is White”.

K’Naan on Somali Pirates:  

Kanye is a nigger apparently… (a twitter link)

  1. Side Note: This might be a little all over the place but it was my immediate and honest reaction. As usual Jo, you had the wheels in my head turning. Great piece.

    Coming from a communications major and a Black studies minor, I’ve had many discussion that revolve around this general idea. For me, it all boils down to power. We can’t collectively own our images because not only are we not united but we don’t have the power to do so. Individual we can take steps to develop our own power. We can rename ourselves, we can lead a life outside of the stereotypes provided for us and we can seek to create and promote images that represent what we truly are. However as one body of Black people, naming and owning are things that can only be done when the ideology of white supremacy has been dismantled and no longer controls our societal norms.

    This Kanye incident has been ridiculous. I don’t believe he was wrong in what he said but his actions were far from right. However, my immediate reaction was nowhere near the reaction of that of the lynch mob that is now after his neck. I agree with you that Kanye has issues, he needs healing. We all do, especially as Black people but how do we get there especially when this is the type of reaction we receive when making a mistake. Like I said, Blacks act irrationally and their niggers but whites do so and their human.

    As for Somalia, I’ve always been appreciative of your need to keep the conversation of Somalia going. I know you’ve probably opened many peoples eyes to what is actually happening. Its imperative that we do so.

    Individually we have to power to share this knowledge, own our image, on a small scale. In these modern days of bloggers and twitter we’re able to be our own media, that is until we’re shutdown. Somalia has been severely misrepresented in our society but so has all of Africa, all Black people. There are reasons for that, many and it’s always been my goal to change it. I think we can begin to, because by talking about, by sharing it, by doing something about it – we are breaking the rules. Perhaps, slightly chipping away at their power and creating our own.

  2. As usual, filet mignon for thought! I think Kanye is guilty of not being 110% more excellent because he is black in a white person’s world. His actions are of a black man that doesn’t believe he has to act better because he is black. For that reason we both admired and vilify him. Folks that have been breast-fed the maxim: you have to be better than average to get at least average treatment — folks who have walked this particular walk will criticise him — understand that he hasn’t paid the dues we had to and he looks ignorant for it. His behavior drags down the images we’ve worked hard to attain.I’m still sitting on the fence because if I cast a stone, why not aim it at myself? Hell, I’m human and I’ve made the mistake of letting people see me at less than my best. I just happen not to have a camera on me the RARE times I’m being ignorant.

    Again, excellent exposition! Thanks Ms. Nubian!

  3. yet again, you, ever so eloquently, touch upon issues that people rarely take the time to think about, let alone, dissect and analyze. ownership on every level is something we struggle with as a people. you have tied two seemingly unrelated topics together seamlessly making us realize just how much our lack of sense of power empowers others to define us, for us. Brava my dear, brava!


  4. Good Stuff, Jonubian–I do wonder when watching Kanye’s exploits, if we may not be again ignoring a celebrity struggling inner demons acting out in a “cry for help.” Aside from that, while I agree the method used was brutish and wrong, to point and tell everyone “..the emperor is wearing no clothes”, was an honest move in relation to Taylor Swift. She is a young, willowy, attractive blonde, who CAN’T sing, but in my opinion, the effort was misdirected in trying to force the award to be given to Beyonce, who’s physicality too, seems to earn her more acclaim than talent. We (black women) are more than our sexuality, too. That said, I think your point is well-made and the comparison and effective one. Too often, “we” allow others to “color” our view of ourselves and “we” become our own worst enemies. In reply to my joke, that we were “cousins” to the Africans we were preparing to send school supplies to, I cannot express my shock when one middle-schooler I tutored passionately declared, “I am not from Africa. Ya’ll may be from Africa, but I’m not.” I asked, “Where you from then??” She replied, “…not Africa.” With the help of a young woman from Ghana who was in our tutorial group a few times, that young sister (now in high school) has changed that view somewhat. So, to any who think how the world frames “us” including Africa, doesn’t matter, they’re wrong. It matters to those who are unconscious and those who are “conscious” too, and it matters to young minds looking to find relation, but with little knowledge of WHO they are ARE, may end up running from themselves in the process…

  5. I am giving kudos to this blog, and I am going to send my opinion about it via email 🙂

  6. Peace,

    I don’t know how much you’ve travelled the globe but having been to several countries, I’ve heard so many things about Black America and how we’re perceived by a wide grouping of people of African descent. The common refrains of “rich”, “spoiled”, “privileged”, and even “lucky” have all been said to me in one form or fashion.

    Kanye’s actions, as I said on Harry Allen’s blog, were boorish and out of place — but not out of character considering his past. But he is human and flawed like a great number of famous people are. He does not represent every facet of us, but he IS one of us. The vitriol that’s being hurled his way is venomous in such a glaring way, but we cannot be floored by this. However, we know clearly the lines have been drawn in the sand for some time. He’s still my brother, He’s still black. He’s still ours.

    Somalia’s plight is heavier than I could have ever imagined. I almost feel a touch of embarrassment talking about the trials of my life in comparison to what’s happening there. Yet globally, we’re always portrayed as “unraveling” when other races are “struggling” or “disenfranchised”.

    There’s such an imbalance present in our world. There’s such an unfairness abound when it comes to media portrayal (and crucifixion). That just means we have to arm ourselves and steel up for anything that comes our way even more.

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