Project

Dear White People

Dear white people,

For as long as I can remember, I have always been white. Like you. I just didn’t know it.

Born in the bipolar Nigerian city of soaring skyscrapers and sprawling slums, Lagos, where the sun sometimes forgot to dim its fierce heat, I grew up thinking I was black like everyone else. All the signs were there – including my black skin, my shy head-hugging hair, and my Yoruba name with its lyrical tonality and vaunted meanings.

There wasn’t much more to that identity, however. Nothing special. When I walked down Jemtok Street to buy my dad a small cold bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, it wasn’t ‘black’ music that people were dancing to in street parties or ‘black’ movie heroes that people were speaking animatedly about. We were all bedazzled by Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, by the manner of speaking of those of us who were fortunate enough to visit your countries, and by your technological wizardry – evidenced in every gadget we owned or wanted to.

At school, we watched recorded clips of BBC news videos to learn how to pronounce English words properly. “Don’t open your mouth so wide”, our teachers would warn – not quite living up to their own imposed standards. During Christmas, my sisters and I didn’t understand why we were not allowed to hang our stockings on the front door[1], and cursed our misfortune when snow didn’t fall – like it did on TV.

Even though we preferred our own food (yours never seemed to have enough seasoning or fried chunks of meat), our own traditions (our elders felt kissing publicly meant you all had no proper ‘home training’), and our music, the soundtrack of our lives was the promise of traveling ‘Abroad’ and knowing the magic of meeting ‘oyinbo[2]’ people and living in ‘oyinbo’ lands. And living ‘oyinbo’ lives. The good life.

It was every thinking and non-thinking man’s dream. And for good reason: the West, your home, was heaven, and God lived there.

Needless to say, a steady undercurrent of self-loathing flowed through our lives – urging us to civilizational heights of whiteness. Urging us to wear three piece suits under a quizzical sun. Urging us to demonize our own traditions so that we could catch up with you.

We didn’t say it this way, but it was nonetheless inescapably true to us: if it was white, it was right.

But one day, at least for me, it ‘suddenly’ wasn’t.

I cannot recall when this shift happened – when I discovered to my dismay that underneath my cosmetic black skin was an inner whiteness, a Trojan guest behind enemy lines. Chinua Achebe’s story about Okonkwo[3] and his tragic fight against the white invaders might have had something to do with this realization. Reading Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, learning about Mandela’s struggle with apartheid, and my deepening fascination with difference and diversity certainly played no small role.

Soon, my entire energies were devoted to reclaiming my stolen blackness. The background music of redemption from ‘place’ to ‘space’ started to fade away, and feel less urgent. Less interesting. My once secure tethering to the ground of Judeo-Christian truths came unfastened, and every church service seemed an ethical invitation into an ignominious exclusivism – the very sort that silenced Okonkwo. And my enslaved forebears. And those Aboriginal and Native American children that were spoon-fed healthy doses of good ol’ whiteness in neat boxes – by your people.

I had grown to become another elite spokesman for ‘white’ knowledge systems, polishing the ossified walls of the ivory tower, walking past my own people with my laudatory gowns of academic achievement. An unusual, alien achievement. A House Negro. I however wanted to know what it felt like to be grounded in my own culture – whatever was left of it. To feel comfortable in my own flesh. To feel the whiplash against taut black sweaty skin and know the ferocity of conspiring breath thick with yearning and pathos. I wanted to feel an ancestral outrage; I wanted to be angry with you for what your fathers and mothers did to our fathers and mothers.

Though I didn’t see it this way at the time, when I sought out Yoruba healer-priests who consulted ‘smaller’ gods and spoke with cowries, ram horns, and elaborate rituals, it was my way of wanting to be indigenous again. It was my silent protest against the predatory universality of the West. I would later travel the world, wear African colours, tell stories about tortoises and trickster spiders I had only learned about in libraries, and…

Are you still there, white people? It won’t take long now – coming to the point of this letter, that is. Hang in there.

Where was I? Yes. Becoming indigenous. It’s all the rave now, isn’t it? In a stunning reversal of plot, you all came back to our lands. Well, many of you. This time, you didn’t bring the bible or tell us that we need schools in order to learn properly (though, some of you still do this), you came with paint on your faces, and trinkets and elaborate jewellery and mysterious ancient masks our more industrious brothers sold to you to help you feel ‘indigenous’.

In fact, it seems you are everywhere now, scouring the globe once again for a sense of home. A feeling of embodiment.

In India, where I now live with my Afro-Indian wife and daughter, there are so many of you here, clad in flowing kurtas, riding scooters barefoot, greeting others with a grave and heavy ‘Namaste’, offering symposiums on opening the third eye to the people who invented the concept, and flowing in and out of temples while the local folk scramble outside to erect kiosks to ‘support’ (read that as ‘extort money from’) your many pilgrimages.

I know you don’t mean to do many of these things: you do not mean to appropriate other cultural values, strip them of their embeddedness in context, package them into neat formulas or products and commercialize them. Or maybe you do, because you know no other way to approach the sacred. In any case, many of you have learned the painful lessons of colonial pasts and presents: you recognize that to displace another is to have displaced oneself. You understand – with silent whispers and hushed rumours – that white privilege isn’t working for you or anyone else. You realize that white exceptionalism is like a parenthetical remark in the middle of a sentence, pretending to be the whole book – and that to be perched atop a pyramid is to occupy a very small place.

The byzantine promises of modern transcendence that are ennobled in your exile from ‘nature’, in the big ‘G’ god you ordained to sit outside and above this fragile material realm of things, and in your insistence that you are at the centre of the universe (and can, as such, unilaterally tell a new story about the world), have been postponed indefinitely.

With every new account of an oil spill, or of a dolphin struggling on the shore to deliver itself of plastic shrapnel gestating within her stomach, or of a suicide victim whose bank account was richer than ‘third world nations’, or of a politics that feels more beholden to the whims and fancy of giant corporations than to real public concerns, you feel there is something not quite right with this particular configuration of things. And so you my white friends, orphans of a crowded sky, are seeking – like I am – a way to reclaim your place on earth. You seek your indigeneity. You seek a home.       

I suppose then that the point of this admitted longwinded letter is to let you know I see you and identify with your struggle.

I also seek a land flowing with milk. And honey. And romantic glimpses of sunset. And sacred laziness. And meaningful work. And calloused skin rubbing against calloused skin in ritualistic circles of co-becoming. And singing plants and sighing winds and an intense smallness – the kind that relieves you of that gnawing pressure to become ‘someone’ and simultaneously deepens one’s appreciation of belonging.

I want to grow my own food.

I want to hunt a lion, and speak to him before I thrust my knife deeper into his throbbing side – thanking his feline body for offering itself up for my tribe’s sustenance.

On the other hand, I don’t. I would no sooner have pizza that I ordered off the internet than embark on a quest to kill my own food. And while growing one’s food is a revolutionary interruption of the moneyed regimes that now govern our bodily appetites, identities, desires, sexualities, and environments, there are some days when I would be happy to have a meal that was crafted in a lab. And (to be unnecessarily honest here) I have often enjoyed the chemical blandness some of you fondly call dinner.

How do I balance these competing urges? Does this make me less indigenous? Less original? Less African? Less true to my quests for decolonization?

I do not know, but I do suspect that this notion of indigeneity as a fixed identity, as a static state of affairs, as something to return to, is itself a product of white frames of knowing. And by this I mean to say that no one knows what it means to become indigenous. Not even the ‘indigenous’.

Let me tell a short story here that might be helpful.

Long ago, some of your fathers divided the world into two realms – a realm of appearance and a realm of permanence. Echoes of this radical schism at the heart of things still resonate today. We live in binaries. Us versus them. Language versus reality. Agent versus tool. Mind versus matter. Self versus environment. Free will versus determinism. Human versus nonhuman. Man versus woman. Public versus private. Consciousness versus world. Cogito ergo sum. In the context of this bifurcation, some things came to be seen as ‘originary’ or superior and others, ‘derivative’ or inferior.

Rumours of this grand split, this radical out-of-touchness, infiltrated almost everything, and we all became possessed with a longing for reconciliation. For embodiment. For homecomings. We hoped that – like saints – when we go marching in, on some distant day of personal or collective rapture, we would know things as they truly are. We would finally be in touch, and then we would be true.

Indigeneity has the unfortunate dignity of bearing the weight of these civilizational and onto-epistemological expectations. As does ‘nature’. Like Enlightenment artists and theologians in their quest for pure foundations, we have learned to speak about ‘nature’ as if it were an uncontested place of arrival. A place devoid of conflict. A place of psychedelic assemblages of harmonious fractals. A heaven – where you might explore a verdant field of trees, bend a branch backwards, and somehow escape (by the virtue of being in heaven) the resulting backlash and scar on your skin. This ‘nature with a halo’, or nature as essentially ‘good’, blinds us to the many ways ‘nature’ deconstructs itself.

Just as nature is ‘undefined’ and enacted, what it means to be indigenous is indeterminate and fully dependent on practices of seeing. It is perhaps easier to see now how these Euro-American ideas about returning to Eden, about bridging irreconcilable realms, and about reclaiming an original have produced an objectified notion of indigeneity that is easier to exploit or appropriate. An indigenousness that is derived from, and responsive to, white gentrification.

In my own quests to decolonize myself and account for the trauma of my colonial heritage, I am learning some things that are probably clear enough to delineate:

  • There is no indigenous ‘self’: I have implied this already, but it is worth repeating. Becoming indigenous cannot be about accessing some kind of ontologically pure foundation. Stripping apart successive layers of an onion will not bring you to the essence of the onion. It is also worth noting that if indigeneity is not a ‘given’ or part of a binary situation, even modernity is a kind of indigeneity. Yes, the much hated neoliberal capitalism and the techno-utopic longings for permanence, for abstraction and dominance are just as indigenous (and ‘natural’) as naked dances by moonlight (and other such spectacular ways Hollywood likes to depict non-western people). I might even venture to say that modernity is the indigenous practice of denying the significance of the nonhuman or the agential vibrancy of the world. Does this make sense to you?
  • Decolonizing myself is not about reclaiming a pre-existing given: Decolonization might suggest returning to an original palette, an original practice, an ancient way – but the idea of originary paths and autonomous givens are themselves products of white frames of knowing. Anti-colonial and Pan-African movements often try to enact justice by appealing to an elaborate ideal – a romanticized vision of Afrocentricity. In so doing, they uphold a politics of identity that is blind to changing contexts and the ineradicable markings of our colonial pasts. A different way to think about decolonization is as intimacy with where we are. It is accounting for and opening up to our embeddedness, not grappling for a Plato-nic identity or transcendent quality.
  • I am black, but I am white also: A shaman once told me he was going to turn me into a goat. He seemed serious about it, because I had dared question an aspect of his practice. I later came to understand how his ways of knowing might accommodate the preposterous idea of shapeshifting into something else. For Yoruba people, the world isn’t populated by independent ‘things’, moving by their own internal logic or dynamism. The world is a web and, as such, boundaries are porous and ever-changing. In the place of a world of things, we have many worlds of relationships. We are constantly touching each other, infecting each other, so that it is impossible to trace out an original point. This suggests that my ‘blackness’ co-arises with your ‘whiteness’ – and that we are hyphenated aspects of each other.

I can trouble that last point further and say I am not only white, I am green as spirogyra. I am brown as tree and mountain and anthill. I am blue as sky. I am haunted by the chameleon, who has no qualms about the colours he takes on; I am troubled by the indeterminacy of open-ocean fish species that turn invisible while in stealth mode. I am no longer burdened by the need to enact an essence of blackness, because I now understand that becoming indigenous isn’t about finding essences, or fulfilling a cosmic imperative. To be indigenous is not to be original; it is to stray from original paths. It is to disturb calculable algorithms. It is about being sensitive and open to the world. It is about listening to the murmurings of place, sitting with the unnamed, following shadows towards unsayable adventures, and coming alive to a sensuousness that often resists articulation or conceptualization.   

I therefore propose a series of different challenges and questions to you, my white friends – those of you who are already troubled by the politics of city and are moving towards the borderlands. Those of you who feel like you’ve had your feet planted in mid-air, and long to rest in sanctuaries of belonging. Those of you who ask me when we meet: “How do I become indigenous?”

  • You are already indigenous: There is no need to ‘become’ indigenous. This is the narrative of gaps and distances all over again. It has become popular to think of ourselves as separate from nature. We tell stories about a stylized period in time when we were fundamentally delinked from natural temporalities, from the way the world ‘truly’ is. As such, the ethical imperative of our times – you say – is to re-join nature and, in so doing, become indigenous again. But this narrative suggests that this really happened – and that you really are separate from the world and must return to it. Well, what if you never left? What if your bridges and rockets and buildings and roads and technology and GMOs are just another iteration of nature – albeit one which many now find troublesome? What if you are just as embedded in, and dependent on, land, water and air (even though your particular enactment of indigeneity is about exteriorizing that dependence)? What changes when the anxiety of ‘arriving home’ or ‘becoming indigenous’ is replaced with a studious slowness and a curiosity about where you are?
  • Interrogate your whiteness: We are not ‘born’, we are ‘made’ and produced and fashioned by material practices, scientific discourses, economic constraints, and political frameworks. Whiteness is also made – first summoned into being by the American industry of slavery. It is often argued that slavery had no respect for colour at first. There were white and black slaves, comrades working in horrible circumstances, under the watchful eye of the prophets of profit. Whiteness became the administrative ruse to appoint mid-level managers over now ‘black’ slaves. The scientific world also became complicit in reinforcing this regime of treachery – by publishing research that showed that black people were three-fifths of proper men. In short, an ethico-politico-scientific apparatus produced whiteness, sustained it on the promises of scarce privilege, and cut you off from the abundance of the world around you. The soul of whiteness is the colours it excludes from mattering, the colours and voices that now haunt you from liminal places.
  • Saying sorry is not enough: Reconciliation today is often framed in terms of ornate performances of contriteness. Australia even has a National Sorry Day to commemorate and reflect on the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in that country. While this is no doubt important and powerful, seeking forgiveness is just a first step. Saying sorry is more likely to reinvest ‘white power’ with the sort of moral nobility a philanthropist acquires for spreading his wealth. A deeper sort of accountability is needed – one that brings us to the edges of ourselves. One that helps us notice that we are a palimpsest of colours, and that who or what we are is always in the making. Forgiveness is settling debts; reconciliation is troubling boundaries.
  • Listen: Notice the sacredness of where you are. The mysteriousness of where you are. This is a different notion of indigeneity altogether – not a provincialism, nativism or exoticism that objectifies identity, but a living breathing vocation of noticing the enchantment that is around us, in us, with us, wherever we are.

Is this my way of telling you not to travel, not to come to India, or say ‘namaste’, or practice yoga? Definitely not. This is not about sticking to a particular place. What is at stake here is a more ravishing performance of indigeneity that doesn’t require distance, doesn’t necessarily demand that we protect a pre-determined identity, and doesn’t limit itself to the human world. You don’t have to travel far in order to be indigenous. Where you are is already sacred…there is no realm to access, no subterranean secret to be divulged, no ‘inside’ to gain.

In reworking whiteness, am I absolving it of responsibility and exalting it even further – in spite of its unfortunate exclusions, some of which are edifying to diversity? The answer is also no. I feel that a deeper accountability and responsibility must move beyond making reparations to challenging the boundary-making practices that sustains whiteness. If we must have a politics of many streams and not just the mainstream, we must rejoin the mysterious, material unfolding of the world.

I think I have gone on long enough.

Let me close this letter by saying this, dear white people. Sisters. Brothers. Fellow pilgrims in this unfurling saga of sound and silence. We need a new politics that does not cater to or reproduce the exclusionary whiteness you and I are prisoners of. This is a time for straying, for losing one’s way, for asking new questions. A sacred activism. A slowing down that knows enchantment is not in short supply.

 

 

Bayo Akomolafe is globally recognized for his poetic, unconventional, counterintuitive take on global crisis, civic action and social change. He is the Coordinating Curator for The Emergence Network, and host of the online course, ‘We will dance with Mountains’. Bayo hopes to help pioneer expeditions to the frontiers, where inter-species and inter-cultural dialogue can happen. Join ‘We will dance with Mountains’ for an expedition to the frontiers of a new kind of politics and boundary-shifting indigeneity: http://course.bayoakomolafe.net

 

[1] One day, we did try it – but they were gone in the morning. The stockings, I mean.

[2] A Nigerian pidgin term for a white person or someone not distinctly African.

[3] In his magnum opus, the novel ‘Things Fall Apart’

37 Comments
  • Morgine on June 10, 2016

    Every aspect of the natural world (we call Nature) is always being guided, going with the flow, following that inner wisdom. Even when a human observes chaos, destruction and conflict, this can only be perceived…. through all the filters in which they have been indoctrinated. The truth still remains hidden from them.

    That is why they feel so “lost” in search of something they cannot articulate or describe with any kind of accuracy or feelings of confidence. So they substitute seeking their indigenous roots hoping there might be an answer there, someplace. Yet they merely substitute, as you stated so brilliantly, one thing for another, still experiencing it through the eyes of the “whiteness” into which, and through which they have always been living.

    Those who can afford it, often travel the entire world seeking what they are missing only to return home to find it. Sometimes just seeing the miracle in one single flower can transform their entire life.

    Loving you always, Morgine

    P.S. One of the most important things I gained from my time in your class were the constant reminders, it was actually a beautiful thing, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I felt at odds with some of my upbringing, certainly in school most of the time, in my culture, and so much more. Yes I am still releasing some of those things. And being out of touch with so much of my culture, put me more in touch with my natural surroundings in the wild hills outside the San Fernando Valley in California, where I spent many years growing up as a baby and into my teens. Desert hills filled with sage brush, tumble weeds, cactus, rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantula and black widow spiders. Yet our parents taught us as young children, what to do. We played alone all day with friends until dinner, and I am still alive to tell about it! No cell phones, no adults telling guarding us. We created our own worlds and I feel, that made a world of difference in how I perceive it today. Keep writing and inspiring us all again and again to remember who we really ARE!

  • Riel Miller on June 10, 2016

    Cathartic disruption is one manifestation of being sacred – thank you for giving life to sharing life and in such an austere medium! I’d offer as an offering that the future as hammer, anvil and prison can even render the chameleon monochromatic, or even worse than death, static. So one song and dance to sweat and laugh involves finding ways to liberate our minds from relying solely on the anticipation of harvests and dodging traffic when we cross the road. The fear of chameleon roadkill might make us nervous and resistant but we need to kick the habit. Imagine, invent, inhabit futures that we throw away as each instant of the emergent-now calls for sensing and making-sense of the previously unknowable. Spontaneity, ephemerality, and drinking the uniqueness of time/place specificity takes us past color and sound to the well-spring of infinity’s finite source, being.

    • Caz on July 8, 2016

      For poetry in motion many many gracias, your words sing and I resonate

  • Libby on June 10, 2016

    Shame by any other name is still just shame. Our lives are soaked in it (and by us I mean all people, not people of one skin color or the other), from the trivial to the personal all the way to the global. I choose freedom. By rejecting shame in all the many ways it comes at you in the media and in your daily life, you become free. Becoming free internally is the gift you have to give this world, this life. It’s powerful. It changes the game no matter your external circumstances.

    If you want to hang on to a word from a particular language, a piece of art from a particular geography, an icon from any period of time, and carry it with you on your journey to internal freedom, do it proudly without shame. I say choose freedom and every little thing’s gonna be alright. (did I appropriate that line from a beautiful song written by a man I never met? I don’t know, that’s semantics. But I do very much choose to join up with the spirit of it.) We are all of us engaged in the same struggle. I hold the belief that choosing freedom over shame is not an unearned privilege, it’s a spiritual act. Never apologize for that.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 13, 2016

      Sister, I find it very interesting that you bring up the subject of shame, especially since it might not be the issue that jumps off to most readers of this essay. Also I have been thinking about shame a lot. While I do share many of your sentiments about freedom – and about the ways we are conditioned to feel inadequate or inferior (a feeling that is perhaps responsible for escalating consumerism) – I think there are other ways of thinking about ‘shame’ that reclaims it from its pathological instantiation in western cultures. This has to do with how we figure the ‘self’. Dominant models of shame and guilt are usually based on the western idea of a stable, independent self; ‘shame’ is different in cultures where the self is not individual but collective. In those settings, shame is needed as a navigational tool. It’s the same thing with any other ‘negative’ affective state. Take ‘depression’, for instance. As a clinical psychologist trained in the western psychotherapy, I learned to think of depression as psychopathology – as something wrong with someone. Something probably reducible to brain states. When I started to learn from ny culture, I noticed that there was no word for depression. For them, the ‘depression’ wasn’t a pharmacological moment, it was a heightened state of spiritual emergence – one which called for care and deep awareness of other agencies seeking to be heard. It was a shaman in birth. A prophet awakening. A truth struggling from its cocoon. A leaf floating to the ground. In the same way, nothing is intrinsically ‘anything’. Shame is indeterminate – it derives its identity from discursive and material configurations. Here’s an interesting article about more liberating cultural ideas about shame: http://www.gruberpeplab.com/teaching/psych3131_summer2015/documents/3.2_WongTsai_2007_CultureShameGuilt.pdfhttp://www.gruberpeplab.com/teaching/psych3131_summer2015/documents/3.2_WongTsai_2007_CultureShameGuilt.pdf

  • Margaret on June 11, 2016

    “ANCIENT SPIRIT RISING” -book I just got that addresses this. Best, m

  • Astro on June 11, 2016

    A few years ago, we spent a couple of weeks in NEW ORLEANS. It was phenomenal!
    We went to many jazz and blues venues and, although I love jazz and blues music, I could not get over how great the music was! And it came from the Blacks! Some of it was multicultural, French, English, Spanish, etc. But it was the Afro-American people that created this music.
    It was from blues and jazz that they had a baby and they called it “Rock and Roll.”
    We must thank the Afro-Americians for giving us this music.
    I do it daily!

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 13, 2016

      I think offering gratitude is one way of becoming accountable and cultivating the kinds of responsibilities needed in these days of unfortunate exclusions. If we trace our roots, we will trace them back to ‘others’. We are all hyphenated. Lost in each other.

  • Diana van Eyk on June 11, 2016

    I love this. As a working class woman, I feel ‘othered’ too, and love how eloquently you express this feeling. I recognize that there are different degrees of otherness, and understand that your particular experience is much different from mine. Thanks so much for writing this letter. I hope it helps to make space for voices that are not mainstream.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 13, 2016

      This is my hope too, Diana. I wrote the ‘letter’ to invite a slowing down and to gently touch the angst and anxiety that come with the search for ‘home’, with ‘becoming indigenous’.

  • Joy on June 13, 2016

    From the bottom of my well, THANK YOU.

  • Karen on June 14, 2016

    Although I loved much of what you said, it bothered me that you had to frame it in racial terms. Whiteness is not the problem, just as indigeneity is not the solution. The problem is separation and domination, and anyone and everyone can be guilty of both, not just white people. Anyone who suffers, suffers because of separation. And although the Europeans did one hec of a bang-up job trying to dominate anything and everything on this planet, they are not the only ones to indulge in domination. Killing anything is an ultimate form of domination whether you thank them or not, and you will bear the marks of that indulgence. So how about not indulging in white bashing, and get on with being brilliant and inclusive?

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 14, 2016

      Dear Karen, thanks for your comments sister. I am not entirely certain you read or understood the essay – given your remarks about ‘white-bashing’. In fact, ‘white-bashing’ is exactly the opposite of what I intended, and this is what most readers are picking up on. The invitation in this essay is to interrogate whiteness and reframe it as indigenous also – which is in stark contrast with other perspectives that insist that white people must be stopped. In other words, I agree with you: whiteness, though exclusionary, is not the problem. Whiteness, in my analysis, is framed by economic/political/material agencies – and by identifying with white people (which is the very first line of the essay!), I am deconstructing whiteness as a pure racial construct. You are not ‘white’ because your skin is ‘white’ (it is not; it is freckled with red and hues of fleshy orange and tanned brown). I invite you to read the essay again…slowly (I tend to be overly effusive with words most of the time – simplicity is my Achilles’ heel). You might stumble upon treasures the second (or first?) time in.

  • Michael O'Brien on June 14, 2016

    It was around 3am. I was asleep in a cabin deep in the bush and I heard it – the song of a Butcher bird. But there was no cabin, there was no time, there was no Butcher bird, there was no song, there was no hearing and there was no I – only this pure, unspeakable presence that knew no bounds….

  • Riel Miller on June 16, 2016

    Oh poet, tempt us with the ephemeral! Or, to relapse to my roots: right on! And so inspired I offer a riff to your jam. Time and place and the challenge of making it easier to be transcendent. It seems to me that we already know the pleasure and beauty of what you celebrate, being. Not only in those glimpses or thrills we get now and again through living but also from the many voices that speak to the mystery and spontaneity and creativity of our universe. So what ails us? Poverty of the imagination. Not due to any lack of combinatorial excess or even ambition. I think the disease arises from a dearth of capability. Our imagination is yoked to a terrible pretension, certainty. Gods and science were both, wrongly, lashed to this vain task. Know the future, direct our capacity to see and do to colonizing the future. Bow to the imperative of “create the future”, the arrogance of trying to impose our current conceptions of tomorrow on tomorrow. Thus profoundly blinding us to the creativity of now – with all of its emergent novelty and ephemeral specificity. Perhaps there is an alternative? What if the source for the multiplicity of musics that could offer constant inspiration to dance the many dances of the improvisational identities you and I both dabble with is to be found in the orchestras of different anticipatory expectations and skills? Orchestras able to instrumentalise the future in many different ways, including the use of the future just for the sake of understanding the present – without the usual pretence of realisability or desirability. Would it then be easier, even obvious that we are actually boogieing to the syncopation of spontaneity and mystery?

  • Sadie Norcross on June 18, 2016

    I came here from a rebelle society instagram post…fully believing that it was another ‘white bashing’ article as someone else put it. Prepared to throw my walls up. It was nothing of the sort. I came here expecting more hate, divisiveness, separateness, but instead found beauty. I find my vocabulary currently inadequate to describe how your words moved and flowed through me (I didn’t stick to this one post, I read several). Thank you for existing in this world.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 18, 2016

      Sadie, ‘white-bashing’ would be dishonoring my ancestors, defiling my progeny and abusing myself. I am vast – as we all are. I am white, black and many colours. You can let those walls down, dear sister. We are hyphenated.

  • Maia on June 19, 2016

    “A different way to think about decolonization is as intimacy with where we are.” And where we are is on the way…changing our colors and our songs and our hearts. When I “hear” your writing, it feels like looking into clear water with branching creases and shimmerings…my interior waters respond. Someone said tears and stars are cousins, as a way of saying all elements and beings are relatives.
    A Muslim friend of mine who happened to be “Black”, suggested to me that I/we could choose and be chosen by a complexity of origins: all my/our threads braiding. Which freed me to embraced ALL my ancestors, troubled and graceful human branches and bird branches and starfish, Mexican petunias, and aquifers…
    I am deeply grateful to you for this essay (all of them, really), for your clear-water sharing of yourself with us, for all your exploration and questioning and grief-taught. joyous embrace of Life.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 19, 2016

      And I am grateful to you, Maia. Thank you for your voice, your quests and your words.

  • Lucy Evangelista on June 21, 2016

    Wow, this piece truly resonated with me. It has sent me spiralling into a perfect state of introspection and revising my world and private views. I thank you for that.

    I have also stumbled over your work at the same time as researching for social justice paper on cultural relativity. (Dang! of all the juke joints, in all the towns we had to stumble into this one. 😉 ) Anyway the more I read the bigger it gets and the more my view leans toward the contextual appropriateness of cultural relativity but that this context is paradoxical to cultural relativity being a white/ western construct necessitated by a need to specify difference. (as is well communicated with that last sentence, it is something that is still evolving and is a very big concept for this white, western woman to take in as well as try to intellectualise and communicate.)

    So in a really wordy way I am getting to this, Bayo Akomolafe may I please draw on the messages you have communicated in this freaking amazing piece? To this end, may I ask when it was penned?

    This latest paper (which my darling social justice coordinator has permitted me more time to indulge… hopefully enough to be able to actually express my burgeoning view) has started a whole bunch of new intellectual crushes for me, Akomolafe, you are my newest head-fellow. Thank you for this amazing perspective.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on June 21, 2016

      Thank you, Lucy! I’m of course happy to read your note – there’s an air of familiarity to it. I read your words and immediately say to myself: “Yup, that’s one of my sisters from the academic world!” We share that wordiness – so no problem! This essay was published here on the 10th of June. But you are likely to find it on multiple sites as well. It is gaining some sort of virality, which speaks to how much this conversation needs to be had. So, yes, you may draw from it freely and generously. Perhaps when your piece is done, you can send me a peek so I can enjoy its diffractive features.

      Thanks!

      • Lucy Evangelista on June 21, 2016

        Big smiles! I will humbly send it to you fantastic, Thank you.

  • Maria Eduarda Souza on June 29, 2016

    Dear Bayo,
    I am one of the 13 who joined the “Becoming Indigenous”course at Schumacher College last year. I was fortunate to have met you and learned from you. Maybe if I have read this letter before the programe I would never had joined, just kidding. That was an amazing journey and I am honoured to have had it. I am here to say that I couldn’t agree with you more, I can feel your inquiry and doubts, and at the same time, I can feel your certainty and clear mind when saying we are all already indigenous, indigenous to a modern world. Because all of us are living in the present, right? So time is our utmost condition, we belong to our time. Doesn’t matter how much we want to change that, to return or come home to a different time. We are also indigenous to our time.
    Thank you for your brave letter. It was much appreciated and valued.
    Hope I’ll see you again this year at Schumacher College, I’ll be around.
    Love, Maria

    • Bayo Akomolafe on July 1, 2016

      Thank you, sister! I’m looking forward to meeting you again – hoping you’d be part of the October course we’d be leading this year.

  • Dev Reddy on July 25, 2016

    Dear Bayo,
    Thank you for this awesome article. From Mama Africa to Mama India. What a wonderful journey that must have been. Peace, love and life to you my brother.

  • Joe Klein on July 26, 2016

    Thank you for your kind and insightful letter dear brother. I really resonate with your points here and especially your listing of the colors alive in all of us. Brown of Tree and Mountain and Anthill. Blue of Sky, Green of spirogyra. We are all relatives in Earth. I went through my own process of rediscovery the past few decades and i now know myself as indigenous to this earth walking in the form of a man. I am from taste of spring fed waters running down the valleys of these blue ridge mts. i am from the sound of tree frogs and pileated woodpeckers. from the sight of deer grazing at dusk in my neighbors fields. i am from wherever i find myself blessed to be a living being in this fertile round rock amidst vast empty space.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on July 27, 2016

      It was beautiful to read your words and to know how you responded to this essay, brother. Thank you for being here.

  • Jeremiah Cornelius on August 11, 2016

    Thank you. This is a set of complex and beautiful observations. Realizations like this didn’t occur “overnight”. I’m glad you had the honesty and sincerity through life, to persevere and arrive at these propositions – in this condition.

    You make me feel like I am not alone. Both a distinct product of my time and place, and unique in my synthesis from these.

    Again, thanks.

  • Malcolm Crocker on September 20, 2016

    Bayo,

    I found my way to your website, and this offering, after reading your keynote speech at North American Permaculture Convergence. My dear friend Alisa Keesey, who works with Ecological Sanitation and the GiveLove Haiti Eco-sanitation Project, shared your “Shit Matters” talk with me. I found that discussion very enlightening, and I thank you for it.

    I appreciated your passionate voice enough that I was compelled to dig a little deeper into your writings. Which led me to, “Dear White People”. I found your words, your thoughts, to be so colorful, and at the same time color blind. I am a white man of European decent, and I have never been exposed to words that better articulate the holistic topics of race relations, classism, and yes, privelilege (a word that usually makes me feel defensive). Traditionally, I have written off such human competition as unavoidable examples of Darwinism. Natural competition for resources, as ugly as that can be. Your perspective has me considering that we most often are competing for the wrong things, and therefore remain unsatiated. The drink for our thirst is only found within ourselves, In our individual natural and spiritual connections, with ourselves and others. Not in a specific place or construct, neither geographic nor social.

    That is what I am hearing from your words, and I hope it is not far from your intention. Thank you very much for sharing your insight. It was an enlightening and all-too-rare pleasure. I look forward to digging a little deeper. Love.

    Malcolm Crocker

  • Ally on February 5, 2017

    Bayo, this was an answered prayer to come across and make the proper time to read. Impeccable timing, as Life seems to have that. I am filled with gratitude – your words run deep, as well as the reflections from this that will inevitably bubble up through the days to come as the entire message sinks in. Thank you for sharing and for your work in the world.

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