[Thank You for Reminding Me That] Black Lives Matter
My heart has been breaking, this heart of mine that is never fully healed before a fresh onslaught, over White America and what it is doing to the children of the people it stole and enslaved to produce its prosperity.
(Fuck America. Fuck Whiteness. Fuck them to hell.)
The articulation of Black pain, American Black pain, is inescapable. Even for those who prefer to pretend that they deserve what they get, it is inescapable. And at times like this, even as I grieve with and for them, I wonder about how they manage to force the world that creates their pain to confront itself, over and over and over again. I wonder about their history of resistance, of bearing witness, of taking their blood and painting the streets with it to force even those in denial to see how carelessly it is shed. I think about their insistence on the validity and value of their lives in the face of powerful narratives to the contrary.
And I wonder; why do we not do the same here? What are the things that stand in our way?
Because I am pretty sure that the lives of those who fall in our streets, in Lagos and Enugu and Borno, matter too.
Is it that we do not have an enemy as easily named as theirs? Is it that we do not have the same long memory as them? Is it that we ourselves do not really have faith in the value of the lives of those who are killed and violated by the many failures of ‘God’ and the Nigerian State?
My heart breaks for Philando and Trayvon, Sandra and Rekia, Islan and Keisha, Aiyana and Tamir. I know their names. I know their faces. I know (some of) their stories. Every time another one is yanked roughly from this world, I am reminded that their lives mattered. And all of their names may not be said with the same fervour, but they are being said. They are counted. They are lifted up before the eyes of the watching world as if to say: “On your watch, their blood was spilled and spat on. On your watch. What will you do about it?”
Meanwhile Awa, Maryam, Rhoda, Rikatu, Esther, Saraya, Magret and Maimuna are still missing. And they are only eight of 250+ girls whose first names a few of us might know. Thousands others live, are violated and die in obscurity. The toll that Boko Haram takes on human life is captured as little more than numbers, statistics, an infographic on Reuters; but perhaps I ought to be thankful that those who are killed at least get counted more or less one by one. The maimed and displaced are relegated to the realm of estimates; foggy numerical concepts that only infrequently take shape on our social media in the form of photos of emaciated mothers and children with outstretched arms and plastic buckets to eat from.
But what about the rest? The invisible dead? The invisible murdered?
The deaths by unpaid Resident Doctors’ strikes, unregulated public transport, bad roads, adulterated kerosene; bodies, corpses, ‘remains’ that we rarely have names or faces for. These too are human beings, stomped into freshly-dug earth by power-drunk police who beat and torture incarcerated people/streetwalkers/teenagers passing a joint — or those who happen to be all three and then some. We die, you know. Everyday. Like chickens at Christmas in countries where people can still afford chicken at Christmas.
It wearies the soul, all of this. There is so much violence, so much hatred, so much disregard for life. Why is anyone’s humanity negotiable? And why do we not question our knowledge of the names of our cousins who were stolen from us generations ago, when we do not know the names of our siblings at home? I grieve over America, I do, but it makes me wonder about all of the grieving I could be — should be? — doing for Nigeria too. And still, in all of this, I feel like I have no right to any of this grief or sorrow.
Here I am, typing this lengthy wail on my computer that cost more than the university education most Nigerians will never get, using internet services most Nigerians will never have, talking about things I will likely never see or experience. But my personal proximity to these things is a non-issue, isn’t it, because the fact that they’re happening to other people doesn’t mean I am safe. I am privileged, yes, but I am not safe. I am still (a woman) living in a country that doesn’t work, that will kill me in a millisecond and go on ticking after my death like the lunatic lovechild of a slowly dying grandfather clock and a time-bomb. Personal safety is an illusion when death and destruction dance as wildly and as publicly as they do here.
But Black Lives Matter. Black Lives must Matter. All of them. Everywhere.
The reason we can’t escape the fact that Black Lives Matter in America is this thing African Americans did and are doing: organising. They rally and rise, and of course it is not perfect, but it is working. We know their names. We know their faces. We know their enemy. They think about it, write about it, sing and rap about it, create around it. They use the power of the collective. They recognise a common struggle. They stand together and raise their voices in a unified cry. And it is working, slowly but surely.
This is not because they are the same, or believe the same things, or come from the same blood. They have a shared history, yes, but so do we. Nigerians spend so much time focusing on the things that divide us that we forget that we have commonalities. We are so hell-bent on finger-pointing that we cannot hold anyone accountable. We are content to suffer a horrible fate until we can get enough power to improve our own lives. And we are so invested in our illusions of personal safety that we chug along, adapting, cursing at the more powerful (and thus, arguably, less likely to die), reminding ourselves; e go beta.
We no wan die. We no wan quench. Mama dey for house. Papa dey for house.
I’m tired o. My heart aches. Hopelessness sits on it, right next to great sorrow. I don’t have any answers but at least, I go ax my question. We all agree that Black Lives Matter when African-Americans raise their voices in defence of their own. But we dey here, black as all fuck, and we just dey die anyhow. Anyhow anyhow. E tire me, I no fit lie you. E tire me.
Ndi Kato says it so well in this speech. “If Nigerian lives don’t matter, what is Nigeria?”
Help me answer.