Child of the World: Misogyny or A Massive Overreaction?

The thing with rape and sexual assault is, for whatever reason, you are either full of rage about it or you are not. The rage is neither good nor bad and it is not an indication of whether or not you support rape culture or how woke you are. For as long rape continues, the rage will remain. It will be right there alongside us angrily analysing gender politics and rape culture, whenever anybody, be it a stupid comedian telling rapey jokes or a pious rapper, decides to settle on the topic.

Introduction

So, a couple of weeks ago, Falz released his music video for Child of World. I read the lyrics (https://genius.com/Falz-child-of-the-world-lyrics) when the album ’27’ came out last October  and I was so put out by them that I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the song. I wrote a couple of bad-tempered unpublished posts and moved on. I read a few similar posts but most people hailed it as the most socially valuable song on the album.

Now that the video has been released, previous grumblings about Falz’s alleged misogyny, particularly in relation to his numerous songs about the evils of ‘runs girls’ have turned into loud, vocalised outrage. I was a bit gratified that other people have noticed this but  tried to contribute to the conversation in what I hope was a reasonable and even-handed manner.  Unfortunately I just happened to read the lyrics again and filled with fresh rage, have decided that now is the time to write the objective article that I vowed not to be distracted into writing.

Social Media Wars

Predictably, with the Falz dissent came Falz’s super-fans, ferociously in support of someone they deem to be the most ‘socially conscious’ musician in Nigeria. I don’t really understand why there is such a burden on Nigerian artists to produce conscious music or how this will make Nigeria a better country but there you have it. I can understand their outrage, if I’m being honest. Falz is a brilliant rapper and I too feel a constriction in the throat area whenever I think that people are criticising him unfairly. The fact is some people think that he’s a genius and, like Beyonce’s fans, feel real emotion when he is being attacked.

However, I was astonished that respected feminists and allies also praised and couldn’t see the problems with the song. They were conspicuously silent during the short period of backlash and counter-backlash. You can always tell a good debate by the number people who feel compelled to keep quiet to avoid being caught up in a mob – that’s what I say. Other people also expressed genuine bafflement at the outrage.

Incidentally I have kept a tally, in terms of likes and retweets, between Team Falz and Team ‘Falz Is A Sexist Little Shite’. Team Falz is winning judging by the retweets although there is a sneaky Team FIASLS tweet which may have more retweets than the most popular Team Falz tweet but I’m not sure I should count it as it doesn’t mention Falz by name. I am aware that this is not the most accurate way to judge the competition since sometimes people retweet to mock rather than endorse the original tweet.  However, I think any further analysis of the tweets would mean my descent into madness over this issue has finally become irreversible.

The Hard Questions

So! Is the song sexist? Is Falz sexist? Why are we so invested in the answers to these questions? Also, what is it about mild-mannered Falz that occasionally evokes such frenzied bursts of public outrage? Tracy investigates…..

The Lyrics and Story

Okay, the lyrics are graphic and triggering (I have hesitated to say this out loud because I don’t want to sound like I’m censoring his art) and the storyline is so clichéd that it would make a 1990s Nollywood director blush but is there anything actually wrong with the song? Is Falz not entitled to tell a story, dumb it down and sensationalise it as he sees fit like anyone else?

I will freely admit that very few fictional accounts of rape pass muster for me in terms of whether the triggering is justified by the story or message. I didn’t like it when Adichie dropped a rape scene into Half of Yellow Sun and I ain’t going to like it when Karashika Boy drops one into an album but even taking into account my personal bias, I do think that some of the lyrics are extreme (and by extreme I mean vile and disgusting) and I find it hard to explain why:

Uncle please stop…Shhh be silent Uncle didn’t stop till he broke the hymen”

“She don dey look for the thing she dey resist before
She never had a daddy figure so she need the love (?)
Uncle peter don create a beast he can’t tame the storm (???????)
She like make e rough, she can’t have enough
She met some ladies wey go like rub shoulder
On some quick business with a high turnover
Say if you ride the stick, you go ride range rover”

The first line above sounds like the imaginings of a rape by someone very unfamiliar with the topic with the kind of detail that can be harmfully triggering or be turned into a rape fantasy. It would take an extremely good point to justify such detail and as it turns out the song almost has no point at all.

Also, what the heck does “Shola ti mature, gbogbo body ti di large size” mean in English? Surely he hasn’t thrown in a reference to the victim’s figure. Not in a song about rape. Please tell me he hasn’t.

It appears that director Kemi Adetiba has tried to make something more out of the song by including captions  like ‘rape is never the victim’s fault’ in the music video. Well, who but a complete idiot could think that this particular rape was the victim’s fault? She was in her room, in the house she lived in when a trusted relative forced himself on her.

I once watched a trailer of a Nollywood film or series where a woman, played by Adesua Etomi (W), appeared deranged by her desire for a married man. She made it clear to all and sundry, including his wife, that she intended to continue a sexual relationship with this man for as long as she wanted to. She stalked the couple and subjected the man to unwanted sexual attention (it turns out that any sexual attention from your mistress in front of your wife is almost always unwanted – go figure). The characters ended up in a criminal court case as Etomi’s character accused the man of raping her when they were alone somewhere.

I don’t understand the jump from pursuing an affair to the rape allegation and of course, nothing, including any previous sexual relations between the victim and the rapist, negates the necessity of consent. However I can understand how this story could, in Nigeria, start some kind of discussion on how rape is never the victim’s fault. A man creeping into his niece’s room, on the other hand, is a bit bloody obvious!

As the lyrics above illustrate, the terrible thing that the victim becomes is a person who (1) likes sex (with the added unnecessary detail that he means rough sex – whatever the heck that means) and (2) starts to have sex for money which results in abortions and an HIV infection. She doesn’t, for instance, become the kind of person who empties a machine gun magazine into a crowded theatre.

I have no doubt that being sexually assaulted can have a traumatic effect on a person and may even change their sexual behaviour but the fact that he chose these fairly common things and doesn’t explain how they are inherently wrong to make his grand contribution to the issue of sexual assault makes for a very unimportant and clichéd tale and shows his warped thinking on the subject.

People have pointed out other aspects of the song. The girl laments that she has let her mother down when it is she who  has been let down by relatives. Nothing is heard of the uncle but of course the story follows such an obvious line that the missing detail about the uncle can only be a flash Christian conversion and the uncle clutching his wife’s knees, wailing that he will ‘never follow devil again’ before gratefully accepting a large plate of jollof rice from her. No, not jollof rice, it has to be some kind of starch and soup, eaten with his hands to show his astounding humility.

Falz is entitled to tell any story he wants to and the path from good girl to runs girls to abortion and HIV to activist is, however implausible and unevolved, just a story. One reason for the anger, I suspect, is that it reinforces what people think of as a sympathetic rape victim – virgin, not fraternising with strange men etc – therefore not disturbing people’s comfort with seeing a so-called bad girl being harmed. Worse than that, it attempts to distinguish the characteristics of a good girl and bad girl based on the very flawed assumption that a woman is to be judged as good or bad  by her sexual behaviour.

Gender Issues

The song touches on four very important gender issues and reduces them to a hodge-podge of mawkish sentimentality, pity and judgment, I’m afraid. Social media informs us that so many people are dealing with memories of sexual assault and abuse. It happens at every age, every where and to every type of woman with various degrees of sexual experience and values. Rape is not committed just by monstrous uncles but by thousands of young men who think that a girl stepping over the threshold of their house is the equivalent of signing an irrevocable consent form and men who think that buying a girl food or paying her bride price grants them  inalienable rights over her body. Falz knows this – he appears to be good friends with Nigerian comedians who advance and joke about these ideas. It’s committed by school boys who have made a pact with each other and lecturers who threaten to fail women who won’t have sex with them.

I don’t expect him to rap about rape culture (what a fun song that would be) but I expect him to speak about rape as if he understands that rape culture exists or not to speak about it at all. We don’t all become runs girls, we don’t all require redemption. We don’t live our lives completely driven by the experience and the most basic research could have shown Falz this. If we did, a high percentage of Nigerian women would be non-functional. It is always there in the background and in the forefront as we hear of more and more stories of rape; as nothing seems to be getting better. We don’t need someone telling us to ‘rise above our circumstances’, we need society to buy into concentrating on making it stop.

As to runs girls, there are conversations about agency and transactional sex and whether marriages and our more conventional sexual relationships have an element of the transaction about them. On abortions, conversations about reproductive rights. There is an entire television series on HIV and safe sex. There was no need for and no value to this triggering nonsense.

The Man Himself

I’ve watched quite a few Falz interviews and listened to a lot of his music because I am a fan. The most obvious thing which is now being pointed out about is his obsession with runs girls. This song might have passed under the radar if (1) Someone else sang it (2) Falz didn’t turn the victim into a runs girl and spend an entire verse lamenting the evils of the runs girls lifestyle or (3) he didn’t decide to make such a big, bloody production of it all.

When I started listening to Falz, I did notice his contempt for runs girls and women who didn’t fit his definition of a good woman – women who bleach for instance. At first I assumed he just thought that it was a clever thing to write about. That such women were an easy target and perhaps he didn’t expect to be challenged on it in sexist Nigeria . To be honest, I didn’t really expect him to be a feminist. If all Nigerian entertainers were feminists, that would probably be an indication that the gender issues in Nigeria are not as dire as they are made out to be. In my naiveté, I compared him to American rappers who wax lyrical about bitches, hoes and harming women who don’t behave

However the lyrics seem to be getting worse, as with Lekki Girls and even comedy rap Faize Yi, and it does make me wonder whether there isn’t something more to it. Also, I’ve noticed that it is frequently in the background of some of his non-runs girls songs – the girl he loves who doesn’t ‘drop for the cake’; the workaholic who ‘prices her body’ in the evenings.

I don’t know what his issue is with runs girls is.  It is however noteworthy (has been noted in fact on Twitter) that the male characters in his songs are often wildly promiscuous and don’t, according to him, require similar bashing or an idiotic backstory to justify their actions.

Actually contrary to the various rumblings about him and his mates and runs girls (said with startling confidence), he seems to have very specific standards for women that he would consider dating. These interviews , (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBBd-viX4hM, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ8Hnavvo5Q) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZKJlLNZNTk, show that he is blasé about his observations that ‘body count’ is a matter that is judged differently between men and women. Also, he appears to be highly suspicious of Nigerian women who aren’t themselves rich. The interview with Beat FM contains (just in case you can’t be bothered to watch it all) a long, self indulgent whine about why he is still single and the state of Nigerian women.

He is put out that women he meets often want to be openly associated with his fame or (and even I was shocked when he described this behaviour) want him to appear in their SnapChat stories!!! Even asking is indicative of deviousness. My conclusion from watching the video is that he requires a prospective girlfriend, upon meeting him, to focus immediately on the inner him (who she doesn’t really know much about) and put out of her mind any thought of his fame, wealth and talent (which apparently aren’t part of the real him). A woman who expects him to spend money on her is a no-no. Very idealistic in a country where women are sexually harassed, discriminated and shamed, for not being wifely enough, out of money making opportunities.

His open contempt towards runs girls is unfair and demeaning to them. It encourages us to think of them as less human – the hop to deserving of harm and not deserving of sympathy is not a long distance. It is also harmful to women in general. Imagine, if you will, a white singer who constantly sings about the bad things he thinks goes on the black community. Oh, but he is not singing about all black people – only the ones he thinks are bad. Would that have the effect of demonising and dividing the entire community or not?

There really isn’t that much to link between being raped and being a runs girls. And being a runs girl isn’t the evil thing that Falz thinks it is. I personally don’t think it’s great and I certainly wouldn’t want us to concentrate so much on protecting the validity of sex work that we accidentally leave swathes of women with this as their only career option (“I don’t know what she is complaining about? How is it different from working in, say, a Nigerian commercial bank?” How indeed.) but there really is a better discussion to be had about it before he plonks it in the middle of his moralising song.

Another thing I’ve noticed from his interviews is that his activism isn’t accidental. It’s highly unlikely that he is going to say that he was just telling a story in Child of World. The screenshots I’ve seen of the video, complete with the trite captioning and his outspread arms, definitely give the impression of spreading a message. But even if it did not, when asked about the song a Pulse Magazine interview, he made it clear that he wanted to speak about the societal problem of sexual abuse. He didn’t do a bad job in the interview- https://www.pulse.ng/entertainment/music/falz-rapper-talks-about-27-album-m-i-abaga-s-fix-up-your-lives-more-interview-id7532629.html. The only glitch was when he said the “upside” of it all is that sexual assault victims can always “bounce back”. Apart from being hopelessly inept phrasing, yes we do survive but we still think it’s a terrible thing and we still want it to stop happening to other women.

The interviews about ‘This is Nigeria’ also shows how serious he is about being an activist (as stated in this critical article about Falz – https://thenerveafrica.com/19168/woke-falz-this-is-nigeria/). In his view, things are messed up in Nigeria, people like him need to talk about these things and anyone who disagrees with him is guilty of something- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1HjXdELuhM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6u-ELxvWlM. It’s just that sometimes he, and other well-to-do socially conscious young Nigerians, get it wrong.

His detractors have asked him to concentrate on Yahoo boys instead of runs girls and his supporters have retorted that he has taken shots at Yahoo boys actually. Firstly, he talks about runs girls about 78 billion million more times than he talks about yahoo boys. Secondly, when he talks about Yahoo boys or other poverty driven crimes, his thinking is still confused.

He was lambasted for some very mild comments about praising known fraudsters in music in June 2017 and since then he’s spoken and sang about the topic more boldly. Fraud is of course bad and rich Nigerians seem to be aware of the need to make some kind of reference to political leaders who put Nigeria in the position that it is in. However they happily conflate all the issues and conclude that if everyone would just stop stealing, then everything would be alright. But it wouldn’t, would it? The rich will still have their loot and the poor will starve to death.

Peep the pearl clutching in his interview with Wazobia Max, linked above, – Do you mean to tell me that people actually commit property and theft crimes in a poor country with a chronic lack of opportunity??? Who would have thunk it?.The song ‘Confirm’ tells us how how you can go from being a plantain seller to flying first class if you hustle honestly but in reality, this is very difficult even in a relatively stable country and this kind of thinking in Nigeria is the reason why people give all their money to rogue churches in hope of ‘breakthroughs’ and ‘blessings’.

Falz is obviously very passionate about some real issues and I generally try not to be critical about his efforts especially in light of  the unnecessary pressure on Nigerian singers to be overtly political. Unfortunately, I don’t really believe, I can’t believe having read the lyrics to Child of the World, that rape is one of those issues. I think this song is the worst combination of his excesses – the desire to write a worthy song mostly for the sake of appearing ‘socially conscious’, too little research to convince me that he has any real interest in this subject, his failure to examine his own gender bias and his sometimes deficient activist tactics.

Why does it bother me/us so much?

Okay, I don’t like the song but why do I feel unreasonably aggrieved when somebody else likes or praises it. One obvious reason is Falz’s influence. He is not as popular as some of the other Afrobeat entertainers but people take him very seriously. He is at pains to emphasise his legal qualifications, perhaps because he uses poor people’s accents to promote his art. I see tweets demonising women for asking for ‘Something Light’, for being Karishikas (such a vague concept that it could include virtually any woman) or for being a ‘Lekki girl’. It’s even more disheartening because of his good guy image.

Also, I’m annoyed that, in his eagerness to cover every topic that he’s not qualified to cover, he could not take some time to do the basic research to dismantle rape culture just a little bit before producing this ridiculous song. Most of all, I’m glad some attention has been brought to his shortcomings, even if Team Falz won the Twitter war in the end.

But I have to admit that there is an element of irrationality to my reaction and the reaction of others. Even this post is a little incoherent in places. I can’t say I don’t understand why some well-meaning people are surprised about the backlash. However I have resisted the temptation to edit my anger out of this article.

The thing with rape and sexual assault is, for whatever reason, you are either full of rage about it or you are not. The rage is neither good nor bad and it is not an indication of whether or not you support rape culture or how woke you are. For as long rape continues, the rage will remain. It won’t always express itself properly or say the right things but it will be right there alongside us angrily analysing gender politics and rape culture, whenever anybody, be it a stupid comedian telling rapey jokes or a pious rapper, decides to settle on the topic.

 

World Views Round-Up: About the Royal Wedding and New Music

I write about last week’s royal wedding, the album About 30 and Falz’s ‘This Is Nigeria’.

The Royal Wedding

The royal wedding was last week and I found some of the opinions and takes on it to be a bit strange. I think it’s great that our beloved Prince Harry has found love. It’s also great that the couple were in a position to have such a stately and lavish wedding that was watched and adored by millions. As with William and Kate before them, it was like watching a fairytale come to life.

royal wedding 1

In terms of the wider picture, yes, it is a sign of progress that an American person of colour is now part of the royal family. I can’t deny that this would have been unimaginable just 50 short years ago. The same reasoning applies to the fact that she is an older divorcée.

The sentiment that the wedding ‘gives black women hope’ is obviously offensive and ludicrous but I’m mostly over my outrage – although I did tweet at Alex Jones who repeated it during the commentary to the wedding (she didn’t reply proving that she is committed to remaining an ignorant simpleton).

It’s the ‘this is what you have to do to became a princess’ takes that got to me. The advice included being a feminist, renouncing feminism (which Meghan Markle apparently did by giving up her career for Duchess-dom) and, of course, making sure that your first stupid marriage doesn’t work. But really, even if the princes (or every male with one drop or more of royal blood in England) decided to re-marry a minimum of 5 times each, how many women (even white women, Alex) have a shot at marrying into royalty?

Also, in respect of giving up feminism, the analysis of exactly what she’s getting in return – i.e. a bigger platform for her charity work – doesn’t hold water. May I go on a little side rant? I discovered during the many interviews in the course of the coverage that the end goals of one of the charities supported by the new royal couple are giving a disadvantaged group a ‘voice’, a ‘bigger platform’ and a ‘chance to change the world’. Yeah, I’m definitely not donating to that charity.

It seems to me that Meghan Markle’s decision to give up her career is less about any kind of forensic weighing of pros and cons and more about the realities of falling in love and deciding to marry a member of the British royal family. It’s clear that being part of the royal family is a demanding, scrutinised task if you choose full participation. It would be noteworthy if you didn’t and you retained your original profession, especially as a woman but it’s far more usual to give up your career and immerse yourself fully in your new role. Nothing more to it, I think.

The race takes were less annoying. Like I said, it’s impossible to deny the signs of progress – including the royal family having to deal officially with racism, previously conveniently ignored, and the slightly more diverse official wedding photograph. It was heartening to see the couple bring a bit of African American culture to the wedding, if only as a thumbs-up to people who are incredibly grumpy that Meghan identifies as mixed race instead of black.

Some takes and jokes were a little out there. It’s not that the wedding will change race relations; it’s that the wedding is a reflection of how society has changed for the more inclusive – a rather cheerful reflection given the race shenanigans going in both the United States and the United Kingdom. I also don’t accept that the ‘black elements’ of the wedding was a cynical ploy by the royal family to use black culture to remain relevant. If it was, judging by the tormented looks on their faces during the sermon (which I was astonished to discover was less than 14 minutes long – it seemed to go on forever!), they were definitely failing to keep up a convincing performance. The jokes about Harry’s previous girlfriends were sexist and in poor taste.

Nigerians uniquely took the opportunity to complain that Nigerian brides, in comparison to Meghan, wear far too much make-up on their wedding day. The theme was taken up by sensible and less sensible people. Debates raged as the twitterazi couldn’t decide whether to blame the brides or the make-up artists for this assault on their senses and whether brides had trial sessions or not; turning even (religious) feminists against (choice and sex positive) feminists.

From my limited experience, I can make two observations – yes, Nigerian make up artists can be a little heavy-headed and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the royal wedding.

About New Music

About 30

about30

I’ve finally got my new computer to download my iTunes library; thus permitting me to listen to About 30, the new album by the saintly and gorgeous Adekunle Gold. When I told my husband this morning that ‘it’s actually really good!’, he asked why I had bought it if I thought it was going to be bad. It’s not that I thought it would be bad but I have a theory about the apparent disappointment that sometimes comes with second albums, especially when the first album has been so well-received. I’m pretty sure this theory is not originally mine.

Firstly, the artist has had an unlimited time period, I think, to write their best material for the first album but, conversely, is under pressure to replicate their success in a shorter space of time for the second, often leading to shoddier songs. Secondly, even if the album is as good as the first, their audience is no longer in awe of their particular type of music. If their second album is too similar to the first one; they are accused of ‘not growing’. If it is too different, they have abandoned the original sound that endeared them to the world in the first place – striking the right balance is a difficult challenge.

I’m pleased to report that I don’t think this album has any of the above problems. I honestly thought, having bought the first album and then heard the intermittent singles Call On Me, Only Girl and Money, that the second album would be more of the same. I was prepared to put up with it because of AG’s beautiful` voice and above-mentioned saintliness and gorgeousness. However, he has somehow managed to strike…well, gold (I can assure you that AG has never before and will never again hear this particular pun about his music). My favourite songs so far are Yoyo, Mama and Mr Foolish (honourable mention to ‘Back to Start’).

This is Nigeria

Falz has also released his video and song version of Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ called ‘This is Nigeria’. Reactions can be roughly categorised like this: the vast majority, I’d say over 85% and that includes me, think it’s really good, creative and clever and the rest are griping about it.

The complaints range from the fact that Falz didn’t use symbolism or as much imagery to the alleged shoddy production of the video (?) to disrespect for Christian and Muslim religions to something else that even I can’t understand but sounds suspiciously like trying to prove how clever they are by refusing to be impressed by Falz – someone who ‘woke Nigerian twitter’ insist continually and aggressively is the cleverest thing to happen to Nigerian music and only the truly thick can fail to agree with everything he says. Incidentally, if there is any general antipathy towards Falz, I suspect this type of thing is the source. Like Beyonce and the Beyhive, I think that he will rise above it all and the world will continue to appreciate him for his brilliance.

thisisnig

The negative comment which has attracted the most gob-smacking is the accusation that he copied the concept from Childish Gambino’s video and song. Yes, that’s it. In a clear remake of the song, using the similar music, choreography and cinematography, a large group of people have decided to make political capital out of the fact that it’s kinda like the original, isn’t it?. Some people have grumped that he has no right to complain about yahoo boys if he is just going to steal someone else’s concept (proof that some people will NEVER EVER get over his yahoo boys comments) and wondered whether he obtained all the necessary copyright permissions (something that, as long as he doesn’t try to pass off the concept as his own, is actually none of our business). This reaction has provoked a pained video response from the man himself in which he couldn’t seem to decide between his comedy accent, pidgin English and regular English, sometimes switching mid-word, and more than one embittered ‘lol’ type tweet from him.

Somehow amongst all the contempt (as demonstrated above) that I have for the criticism, I have unwittingly fallen into the category of ‘haters’. This is how it happened. I retweeted the video as soon as I saw it – a simple reaction to a brilliant video, especially since I hadn’t seen the original. I didn’t actually see the negative comments at first, because I follow woke Nigerian twitter mostly; just the responses to them. I searched ‘falz’ to try and understand the furore, started reading unrelated tweets about how sexist some of his music, in the way that he and fellow ‘clever’ artist, Ajebutter, demonise women, is. I was so delighted that other people finally got it that I started liking these comments indiscriminately, trying to find the one that encapsulated my thoughts most precisely. Therefore my handful of followers, if they pay any attention to my tweets, may be forgiven for being slightly confused as to how I feel about Falz (I really like him and his music but his sexism discourages me in a way it wouldn’t if it came from someone like Wizkid).

Falz said in his response that the video is “moral instruction”. He  is a brilliant writer but his attempts at moralising sometimes fall flat mostly because he has a gender privilege blind spot and like the vast majority of well-to-do Nigerians, is quite classist. ‘This is Nigeria’ is actually one of his successes as far as moralising is concerned. He hasn’t said anything that he hasn’t said before, but he says it very well in the song. He understands that it’s not enough to pass on the message; he still has to fulfil his artistic obligations. It’s a great song and video.

As for being unique, he approached the song in a different way from Childish Gambino (and if he understands ‘This is America’ completely, then Falz is a much more intelligent person than me). As far as I can tell and having watching some explanatory videos, ‘This is America’ is directed at the distractions of celebrity/insta/popular culture (black or not) with an undercurrent pointing to the disregard for life and freedoms in America, presently and historically, while Falz took a more straightforward approach of pointing out various ills in Nigerian society.

Both are good. Falz’s is not better than Gambino’s of course – don’t be silly – you only have to see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_LIP7qguYw to appreciate that the original version is as intricate as Falz’s is literal. And there’s nothing wrong with either approach. Well done everyone. Wehdone.

Worldviews Christmas Special: What Terrifies Me About Christmas, Flash Fiction and 2017 In Review.

My first world terrors about Christmas, Phobia, a very short story, and my celeb obsessed 2017 in review.

What terrifies you about Christmas?

christmas bells

Of all the first world problems, Christmas (in the run up to Christmas) seems the most terrifying. There are so many things to consider. Take Christmas dinner, for example. This is a meal you only cook once a year; its different dishes require a level of co-ordination unlikely to be repeated for, again, the rest of the year. And here’s the killer (as my exercise video would say): No shops are open so if you cock it up, there’s nowhere to go. Why do we do it? Luckily this is not entirely my problem. My husband (shall I annoy everyone and call him ‘hubby’ for the rest of this article?) cooks the Christmas dinner so my role is limited to managing the kids and stress levels, should anything go wrong, and occasionally chopping up the vegetables.

The two things that terrify me about Christmas are the run up to Christmas and the dreaded 3-day vigil. I’ll deal with the latter first. My family is scattered around the globe (I’ve definitely made that sound more exciting than the somewhat grimmer reality) so I rarely see them during the festive season. When I first met hubby, he had quite big family gatherings so I could get lost in the 3-day vigil (oh, before I forget, the 3-day vigil takes place roughly between the 24 and 27 December where families are forced together in cramped accommodation and not let out until a big enough fight has occurred) . His family was new and exciting to me (strange and exotic even!). Also, there were enough of them to entertain each other so I could, whenever I wanted to, escape to a quiet corner and read a book while stuffing my face with cakes.

Two things have changed. I have small children who I’m required to in check.  Also, family Christmases have shrunk, in terms of the number of people who attend. I now want out of the 3-day vigil. I don’t want to go to someone else’s house and have to ask every time I want a snack (“Ooooh, are you having another biscuit, dear? I hope you leave enough room for lunch.  I’ve worked very hard.”), or when I want to park the kids in front of Christmas telly so I can vegetate for a while. Another thing is, while I quite like Christmas dinner, 3 special meals on the trot (eve, day and boxing), cooked by someone else over which I have no say, is a bit much for me. What I would like to do is eat something tasty but simple on Christmas eve with lots of alcohol and a good dessert, have Christmas dinner and spend boxing day snacking on leftovers and delicious unhealthy party food like sausage rolls and pork pies, as well as scandalous amounts of sweets, cake, mince pies and biscuits (and Baileys at 12pm).

I also don’t want to negotiate strange television channels, try and understand why the wifi won’t work or try to figure out any of the stuff that goes on in someone else’s house. I want my children to be somewhere familiar where I don’t have to scream at them for knocking figurines off someone’s shelves or have to worry about them cornering strange dogs who, no matter how angry they look “are only being friendly/curious/carnivorous”. This is before you take into account the social duties – constantly having to talk to family, when all we do is ignore each other in my own house, and having to arbitrate on festive fights.

“Okay!” Sez everybody. “We hear you Tracy, loud and clear. You’re a mum now. You can’t be expected to pack up presents and children. You can’t be expected to make sacrifices and take other people’s feelings into consideration. We’ll come to your house for the 3-day vigil. You can’t complain then.” I bloody well can. Sorry. No. It’s mildly better than being at someone else’s house but I work, I’m battling addiction (alcohol and Twitter) and I have to be in the office between Christmas and New Year days. I can’t stand all the good cheer. I’ll have to keep the house tidy. I still have to entertain you. You’ll still suggest going for a walk after Christmas dinner forcing me to come to terms with the fact that I can no longer zip up my winter coat.

Then there’s the run-up to Christmas. I spend the latter half of October and the month of November answering people who ask me if I’ve started preparing for Christmas with a smug smile and this “No, I really don’t start preparing until the 1st December. That’s when I put the tree up. As a society, we can get so obsessed about Christmas. I mean, it’s alright for the children….”. Then 1st of December arrives and I realise that I don’t have 24 days to prepare for Christmas, I have about 2 ½ to 3 weekends. That’s 6 days at the most. 6 days! To….buy presents and the tree, decorate the house, order the Christmas bird, order the Christmas food (not the same thing), co-ordinate my leave with the school holidays, fix all the stuff in the house that has to be fixed before people come, send out Christmas cards, buy Christmas crockery, glass etc, attend Christmas do’s and nativity plays. What was I thinking?? I don’t have enough time! It almost goes without saying that I need some time to nurse my growing resentment (well, resentment to rage) against people who have bought 90% of their presents or whatever by 2nd December.

And this year, I lack motivation. I know I say this every year but this year is really, I mean, really bad. Take this weekend for instance. We were lucky enough that the first day of December fell on on a weekend. What did I do? I unpacked the Christmas tree and brought the decorations out of the garage. I then freaked out because I couldn’t figure out how to put the Christmas tree lights on and also couldn’t find the receipt for the tree. I spent the next hour rifling through the bin for the receipt and then another hour on my computer trying to find out how to get a duplicate receipt (with frequent Twitter breaks to calm my nerves). For some reason I thought that having a Tesco Clubcard would give me an advantage.

In that time, the children took every single decoration from the box (quick tangential question – why is it when I get the Christmas decorations out of the garage, they invariably disappoint me with how crap they are?) and either broke them or hung them on the tree. This apparently tired me of Christmas preparation for the rest of weekend. If I was on target, I should have sent out the Christmas cards and fully decorated the house this weekend. That should have been the least of my goals. Maybe if I quit writing, just for December, I’ll be able to get things done (but then how would I get this important article out to my 8 followers?).

What would be my ideal Christmas? I moan when I have to go to them and I moan when they come to me? I complain that I am expected to take some responsibility for organising the day. I don’t know. I think I’ll try to (1) focus on the reason for the season (this is supposed to be a faith blog after all – thankful for the birth of our Lord and Saviour, thankful for the gift of salvation and faith, thankful for all we have, give to/pray for the people who have less)) (2) ‘do’ Christmas prep for at least 30 minutes a day (3) remember that when it actually comes, I usually enjoy it.

Have a happy Christmas and a blessed and fruitful New Year

Flash Fiction: Phobia

rat shadow

“It’s ridiculous!”

“Adam, you really have to calm down. The therapist said…”

“She’s not a bloody therapist, she’s a charlatan.”

The therapist said family and friends would..may react like this. I know it seems mad but this is something I have to do. For me. For my sanity”

“Waaaaaaaah!”

“We are spending 350 quid, which we don’t have…”

I’m spending 350 quid…”

“WAAAAAAAH”

“I’ll go and get Chrissy.” Big sigh. Dramatic shuffling to our bedroom.

Hmmmmm…that didn’t go as well as I might have expected. I just don’t understand why he can’t see that this – hypnotherapy – isn’t some sort of mad trend. I wasn’t just saying it. I really need it for m-.

Squeak-squeak-squeak. Scratch-rustle-scratch. Tap-tap-tap.

Frozen. The familiar horror washes over me like cold water. My throat is instantly dry. My skin is crawling. I break out in goose pimples. My heart seems to contract. My stomach cramps so much it feels like my insides are being put through the spin cycle. I am petrified with disgust and fear. One foot starts to manically scratch the other. I can’t move. How can I protect Chrissy if I can’t move? IT! It’s here again.

“Here’s mummy. Here’s mummy. Shhhh…Fola? What’s wrong?”

Ragged whisper (Good. At least I can talk. If I can talk, I can call for help. But call who?) “Did you hear anything?”

“Hear what?” Handing Chrissy over to me. Another bonus. Arms seem to work. “Oh for Pete’s sake. Not that again! They are all gone. You’re mental, you are!”

Squeak-squeak-squeak. Reassured by Adam’s presence (cranky as it was), I wasn’t expecting that. I almost dropped Chrissy. Unfortunately Adam noticed.

“What’s wrong with you?!” He started to reach for Chrissy and decided that I could be trusted with the baby as long as he sat uncomfortably close to me.

“Didn’t you hear it?” I was suddenly angry.

“That’s the dodgy fire alarm, babes. It’s not a rat. The exterminator got them. It.”

Usually I’d laugh at myself at this point but today I felt defiant.

He continued “Don’t worry. It’s just the hormones. It’s only been three weeks. You’ll snap out of it. No need to spend-”

“I’m going to see her, Adam.” Firmly.

He said nothing. Just starting cooing at Chrissy and stroking her cheek in a manner that infuriated me. I turned myself and Chrissy away from him.

“Let’s see if there’s anything in the other booby, Chrissy!”

Inside I was seething at him. But beneath the anger, I felt foolish. When did I become so terrified of rats? When did I become such a child? I honestly cannot pinpoint one single event that kicked off this insanity. I remember seeing rats when I visited my grandparents. Not many. I didn’t like them but I don’t think I was unreasonably scared of them. Somehow years of myths, books, news reports of poor babies in various cities being half-eaten alive by rats before being rescued by distressed parents, not actually seeing a rat for a long time and probably being pregnant had culminated in absolute and immobilising terror when, one month before my due date, I was confronted with a rather large one in our little kitchenette.

It scurried away. I barely saw it but I was horrified. Jesus! I was a wreck. However, I can understand why Adam is a bit sceptical about spending over £300 on a hypnotherapist. We’ve just moved into our own place. The deposit was a lot but the flat itself is what you expect two broke (broke because of being overeducated, over-expectant and under-fulfilled, career wise) people to be able to afford, hence, I suspect the rat. The landlord acted very quickly. The terminators were in and out before I had the chance to enjoy being back at mum and dad’s. My parents were very pleasant indeed now they knew that I had somewhere to go back to.

I keep having waking nightmares about what I would do if I walked into the bedroom and discovered a rat on Chrissy’s face or body. Even in my fantasies or daydreams or whatever you want to call them, I can’t make myself walk over to Chrissy, lift up the rat and fling it out of the window. I freeze then back out of the room in terror and leave my three-week old infant to fend for herself. I have to get therapy. I have to beat this phobia. I don’t care how much it costs.

……

“How was it?”

“It was okay.”

“Yeah, but what did you actually do? C’mon. It’s £350. ‘It was okay’ doesn’t cut it, yeah?!

“Adam. Don’t start. It’s £350 for three sessions – ”

“Practically a bargain.” Huge, endearing, grin. I felt a sudden rush of affection for him for a few seconds.

“Adaaam! Anyway, I’m not sure I want to talk about it. It was weird. I just want it to work.”

That did the job. The idea of spending over £300 and it ‘not working’ was enough to send him into silent introspection. The truth is the therapy didn’t feel like much. She asked me a whole load of stock questions – When did you first start feeling this way (about rats)? How do you feel when you see a rat? – and then didn’t seem very interested in the answers. We didn’t talk about Chrissy and she didn’t even show me a picture of a rat. Well, I’ve paid already. Let’s hope things pick up, eh?

….

That was more like it! I was ‘under’ for some time at least. I think I feel asleep but Ana (one ‘n’ of course) assures me that a lot of work was going on “beneath the surface”. I feel quite positive to be honest. I almost feel ready to look at a picture of a rat – the first time in a long time. I think it’s the going under that helped. And Ana seemed far more animated. Maybe she was grumpy about something the last time. Cash-strapped and living in a rodent-infested shoebox in a very expensive city? Yeah, I know the feeling.

……

I’m cured! I’m cured! After three sessions! I touched a rat. He (his name is Veg, you know, because of the film, Ratatouille, where the rat-chef makes a great French veggie dish, Ana told me). It turns out he’s been there the entire time. Watching me. Only kidding. I’m not insane anymore! They really are quite ordinary, you know. There he was, just running around in his little cage, minding his business and I have them ruling the world. Ha! I’m cured. Well worth it. But I’m not going to rub it in Adam’s face. I’m just so happy.

……

Off to the park with Chrissy. I’m still feeling elated over a week later but also bored out of my mind. I still feel a bit weird – buzzy (if that’s a word) in my brain half the time. Still. Well worth it. What was I thinking of cooping myself indoors for all that time?

Frozen. Throat dry. Skin and insides crawling with terror. I think I’m going to pass out. My baby! I gather Chrissy up. I pull her out of the pram and she cries out. I guess I was a little rougher than she would have liked but in the back of my mind, behind the terror, I’m glad I am still capable of picking her up.

My heart is pounding. I am unable to move for a few seconds and then I start running; pram in one hand, Chrissy in the other. Fast, surprisingly fast, but not fast enough. Uh-oh. Chrissy’s slipping. I’m starting to lose her. Better put her back. Now, I’m running as fast as the pram will allow me. But they are everywhere. What are these monsters? Red eyes. Oversized fangs shining with saliva. Huge huge monsters, some of them, running towards me and my baby! So big and fast!! I’M NOT FAST ENOUGH! What is that awful noise? What is that roar coming from them?

“Oscar! Here boy! Come on.”

“Max! Heel! Right now!”

“Daisy! Good girl, Daisy! Nooooo…”

One is heading for me. Me and my baby! He’s making this horrible noise. I can hear another horrible noise.

“RRRRRRR-EEEEELLLLL-RRRRRLLL- URRRRRRL. Get. Him. Awayyy! RRRRRR-URRRRRL. GET HIM AWAY!!!!”

“Is she alright?”

“Are you alright, dear.”

“It’s okay. He doesn’t hurt. Oh dear. Your baby is falling out …..”

The end.

dog shadow

2017 – My celebrity-obsessed year in review

`2017

2017 – What a year! We dealt with the fall-out of the Brexit referendum and invoking Article 50, found out what Trump really was like as President, declared Cardi B the best thing since sliced bread and discovered that Jay-Z cheated on Beyonce. We lost our collective cool over a Dove advert. We were the horrified witnesses to the rise of the far right, neglect in the face of national disasters and conflicts (Grenfell Towers, Puerto Rico, Texas, Burma, Maidugiri, Sierra Leone) and a modern-day slave auction.

What are the, mostly trivial, things that moved me (or almost moved me) to writing action. Let me check my notebook:

February 2017 – Tuface pulled out of a national protest against bad governance. How could he do it? Was he only pretending to care all this time? Is this the first time he’s pulled out…ever?? Sorry.

March 2017 – In this month, I wondered bitterly why women could decide not to be feminists because one feminist was rude to them but continue to groove to certain artists, no matter how many women they beat. It must have been around the time Karreuche successfully obtained a restraining order against Chris Brown.

April 2017 – In this month, I raged and raged at AY’s joke about Big Brother Naija contestants. No one paid me the slightest bit of attention. Probably because most of my raging took place in my notebook.

May 2017 –  BAAD2017-mania started this month – I fell in love with a tiler and now I’m getting laid (that was sent to me by my charismatic Christian friend. I was shocked. Shook even.) – and ended with Adesua Etomi-W traumatising an already bruised nation by revealing, during her honeymoon, that her legs didn’t connect directly to her back (sorry again).

June 2017 –  I started this blog. It was spurred by the need to share my musings on the Falz/Yahoo boys social media debate. One thing I never found out was what the presenter from Hip TV asked Falz in the first place. I can only imagine that the conversation went something like this:

Presenter: Wow! That’s a great outfit you have on, Falz. Can you talk us through it?

Falz: It’s funny you should mention Yahoo boys….

August 2017 – I started to receive an education on the transpeople – transwomen in particular – so of course immediately assumed I was qualified to write the first draft of my article on all things trans and TERF-related (the article is on its way!).

September 2017 – I wondered why charismatic evangelical churches seemed to be failing so many people but decided that I definitely wasn’t qualified to write an article on that (despite being a Christian all my life. Unlike the trans issue, I lacked a ‘fresh perspective’, m’kay?)

October 2017 – A very dark period of my life as I wrote a planning law-themed #forthedick challenge.

November 2017 – Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged. I love a good Royal wedding. In this case, we are still feeling the ripples of the announcement (well it is only early December!) as black girls are being told by journalists who should know better, that this particular engagement represents “hope” for them (for anyone who doesn’t already know this, Meghan Markle is only 25% black at most, identifies as mixed race or heritage and looks remarkably similar to the Duchess of Cambridge). Ridiculous. However, occasionally, I still find myself replicating my mother’s mad Nigerian prayers for her (“Anyone who wants to block her happiness, Father God, block their respiratory system in the mighty name of JESUS! Amen.”)

December 2017 – Here we are. It’s Christmas time! This month has started with the #ENDSARS campaign. SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) seems to be made up of a sometimes uniformed, unchecked force that has taken to acting like armed militia. The tales and videos are shocking. They remind me of my youth (oh my lost youth!) in Nigeria and the mobile police force, which I believe was created while I was in Nigeria are apparently still around (why do they need SARS then, I wonder?). As a young girl, I watched with fascination and morbid excitement as these mobile policemen dragged people out of cars and beat them. However, even at that age, violence was very much normalised for me – it seems I’ve been re-sensitised.

Again, Happy Christmas! Let’s hope I spend less time next year cyber-stalking celebs.

Trending on Twitter: Falz, Yahoo Boys and the State of Nigeria

This is rapidly becoming old news  but I thought I’d add my tuppence worth.  Falz gave an unusual (for him) interview a couple of days ago. He criticized musicians for glorifying fraudsters in their music. He said that such music encourages young people to think fraud is the thing to do, musicians should honour their status as role models, and was especially critical of singers who name fraudsters in their songs. Nigerian twitter has linked his comments to 9ice’s single, ‘Living Things’ as he appeared to quote some of the lyrics.

Coming from a relatively ignorant angle (I’ve neither been a victim of fraud nor of the type of anti-Nigerian prejudice that assumes all Nigerians are fraudsters), this seemed a reasonable statement to me. However the social media backlash had me wondering, did Falz say something wrong?

First came the badly written tirades. Did the terrible grammar and writing mean we could dismiss the authors as idiots or simply yahoo boys defending their trade? Or had Falz struck a chord among working class people –  people who are unlikely to have access to well-paid jobs in Nigeria, because of lack of connections or influence, or who will struggle to have his kind of career without investment from dodgy money? Some of the very people who Falz mimicks when he puts on his comically exaggerated Yoruba accent; who with a little money and opportunity may well turn to internet fraud for whatever reason (although I recognise that people from all classes in Nigeria engage in internet fraud).

Then came the twitter intelligentsia and ‘woke’ twitter expressing disbelief that anyone could possibly criticise Falz for his comments. Despite their condescending put downs and over-egged, ostentatiously dumbed-down authentic-Nigerian-twitter-speak (“Is Nigeria ok?” “I tire oh”), I found myself unable to fault their logic.

Then came the more articulate attempts to defend 9ice. Toni Payne, Fumni Iyanda, and some poor guy on a timeline debate (“I quit!” he declared “I’m overwhelmed!”). They made some good arguments but didn’t quite get there, for me, in terms of putting together a convincing defence.

I should mention that 9ice popped up once or twice but didn’t do a good job of defending himself; if indeed you feel he had to. “Erm…the song wasn’t about glorifying internet fraud. It’s about…oh yes..it’s about going to work in the morning….you have to be in the realm”. In his second attempt, possibly buoyed up by the online support he had received, he asked Falz to report anyone he had mentioned in his song to the EFCC if Falz had the evidence to do so.

I’m going to dedicate some space to the very special people who follow Falz on Instagram. They seem to hang around his page waiting for him to make any kind of political or social statement just so they can shout at him about his father. I thought Femi Falana was just a human rights lawyer myself. According to Instagram, he is a thieving, villainous rogue who, armed to the teeth, went from polling booth to polling both during the 2015 general elections, forcing people to vote for the APC. So vicious were the comments that I actually caught myself indulging in some victim blaming (you finished annoying everybody and you now went to put your face on Instagram – to borrow some Nigeria-speak from woke twitter – yes, of course I do it too.  You’ve never heard of a hypocrite?).

However, there was some real emotion in the Instagram comments. People said how dare you, Falz, with your privilege and your opportunities? HOW DARE YOU?!? ‘Yahoo’ fed me and my sister, sent us to school! Despite the misery that internet fraud causes for millions, I must admit the sheer hopelessness in that last statement got to me a little bit.

One of the questions that Falz’s fans asked him on instagram was who do you think attends your highly priced concerts? Who can afford your tables of 10 for one million naira but yahoo boys and corrupt politicians (the consensus appears to be that the latter are the underlying cause of crime in Nigeria but not of course an excuse for internet fraud)? In those circumstances, can you really afford to criticise internet fraudsters?

Now the point has been made that Falz wasn’t having a go at internet fraudsters as such, but saying, gosh guys, let’s not glorify fraud in our music. Things are bad, maybe crime is inevitable but that doesn’t mean we have to act like it’s a good thing; a viable moral choice.

Having absorbed the above information, what’s my (still ignorant) view? I don’t think Falz can be sensibly criticised for his comments. I do think however that people sing and rap about all kinds of crap and other people have their personal crusades. Nigerians’ reputation as internet fraudsters is clearly one of Falz’s bugbears. You can’t really blame him. He has made himself clear on the matter in many of his songs and was recently almost denied entry into Kenya because of completely unsubstantiated claims that he and his mates were fraudsters (shouldn’t have let big-boneded Shody carry the laptop then, should you? Ha ha).

However other people with other bugbears could pick at the lyrics in Falz’s songs. As gender equality is my current crusade (had to find a way to crowbar feminism into this article), I could object to Reminisce’s lyrics in Falz’s song ‘Clap’, or Olamide’s first line in ‘Bahd Baddo Baddest’ or even Falz’s character in ‘Soldier’ who is essentially telling a woman that she has no choice but to date him. Couldn’t it be said that  these lyrics are glorifying violence against women or at least  chipping away at the necessity of consent?

So long story…less long, I think Falz made a reasonable point but I think he could have had a more complex, sophisticated discussion about it. Perhaps one that didn’t involve him telling his colleagues what to sing (“Tell a story. Paint a picture”) and perhaps one that didn’t involve him using the same accent which identify those who have been robbed of opportunity because of the state of the nation.