Book of the Month: Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham

Hello, and welcome to another book of the month, continuing along the lines of black female authors. Before we continue, what did you think about this post on dual identities and speaking up against injustice?


Okay  moving on. The book of this month is Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham. It tells the story of twin sisters and their brothers (so four siblings) over the course of two decades as they experience poverty,  betrayal, and deep-seated pain. When we first meet the sisters, their family is not rich rich but they live a comfortable life in Lagos, Nigeria. Due to the volatility of a military dictatorship, for one reason or another, their family falls into hardship after their mother, the breadwinner loses her job. Following this, they also fall prey to a large fraud scheme, which triggers abandonment and a manner of unraveling no family should have to endure. I am being deliberately vague because I don't want to give it all away as reviews tend to do. 





The novel's chapters alternate between the siblings' points of view and I think Tola Rotimi Abraham does a masterful job with the language and writing. The book also explores interesting themes like religion, abuse, poverty, and socio-economic conditions that perpetuate the worst types of cycles. These themes are compelling and very poignant, enough to move you deeply. It felt really familiar in that sense, especially as a book based in Nigeria. I recognized how a society can fail its citizens as Nigeria so often does. And when someone tells a story about a place, it matters that they know that place really well. Tola Rotimi Abraham KNOWS Nigeria and as usual, I love how she does not try to cater to a particular audience. She just tells her story as is. I LOVED that. She's such a brilliant writer, I have to reiterate. 





Okay now onto what I didn't really like about the book. Navigating a book through four different characters is hard so I don't really blame the author as much as it's the style of the book itself. It was difficult for me to know who was whom. To me, this meant each character was not distinctive enough. I am now realizing I was the only one with this problem. Others found it easier and very much distinctive. So maybe the problem is me and not the book. I just felt like it was not cohesive, like it was different short stories in one book rather than a novel. In that sense, the siblings' stories were not woven as perfectly as I would like. I did not connect with the characters at all, and if you know me you know I can be a bleeding heart and can be deeply empathetic. Not for these characters though. Of course, I was sorry that they went through all that but...that was it. Weird. Again, the common trend here is my problems with this book seem to be a me problem and not the book per se.


On to writers more generally: something that irks me about writers is definitely how they try really hard to be poetic, um no Lol. Similarly, when writers try to demonstrate an esoteric knowledge by imposing that knowledge on a character in their book; chileeee.  Like how does someone who grew up in the slum have this depth of knowledge about 18th century French literature. These are not referring specifically to this book of the month, I'm just saying more generally now. Perhaps I need an entire post on things writers do that annoy the heck out of me haha.


Anyway, for being so masterfully written, for the ingenuity, and for showing Lagos the way she did, this deserved to be the book of the month. 


If you read it, let me know what you think.


Love,


I

Are you Nigerian Enough? Linking Social Justice to Your Identity and Online Brand

It's funny because until that fateful Tuesday when men in military uniforms fired at UNARMED peaceful protesters, this was the post I thought I would write about the #ENDSARS movement. Then Tuesday happened, and of course you all know the rest. This post is long overdue (I wrote most of it on October 24, 2020) so bear with me if some of the stuff I mention seem like old news. I'm going to start by saying I WILL mention names in this post not because I want to further vilify anyone (more than they already have been) but because frankly, it makes the storytelling easier and I think it opens the opportunity for conversations and we definitely need more of that. Okay?


Okay.





When the ENDSARS movement started and it was trending on social media, Ronke Raji (a prominent social media influencer) posted a rather insensitive post after having gone a while without even mentioning it. There was a brutal backlash. The problem was not that she did not post early, but that it was some type of footnote to her actual post about...bicycles. It was especially weird because I think she was adamant about not messing up her Instagram aesthetics and color scheme, but at the same time knew her audience was already murmuring about her lack of posting about the movement. So she crafted a caption about bicycles and then at the very end, in two or three lines, dropped some notes about the protest. The backlash was swift. At first, she doubled down, cussing out people in her comments and ultimately locking the comments. It did not stop. She started to lose followers and subscribers. Then she and her husband made a video, which only worsened the situation because her husband's condescending tone made people even angrier. The backlash was even more intense, so much she had to ultimately take down the video. She ultimately wrote a long apology. The verdict is out on whether people actually forgave her.


Hers is just one story among others. Other notable Nigerian-American influencers were all initially conspicuously quiet. Nigerians did not understand. How was it that just less than two weeks before on Nigeria's independence day, many of the same people wore the most outlandish outfits and made ridiculous Tiktok videos about Nigeria? All of a sudden, everyone was saying they were protecting their mental health by not speaking about police brutality and oppression in Nigeria or how they first needed to do "research" before they could say anything. If you need to do "research" before you can decry police brutality, you are not a serious person AT ALL.


How is it that a sizable number of your followers are Nigerians but you could not care to bear the burden of your followers? And most of all, how is it that a few months ago during the Black Lives Matter movement, this same people were able to champion the movement, risk the same "mental health",  forego "research", and decide to not choose silence? 


And yes I got it at first. As someone who has completely lost interest in social media in recent times, I get not feeling like posting on social media. In fact, this movement had been happening for days (maybe even weeks) and I had no idea what was going on. So yeah maybe they didn't want to come online and post perfunctorily just because everyone else was. Perhaps, they did not want to come across as performative. That's okay. But what is absolutely not fine is posting empty words as a sidebar or footnote to your perfect picture that complements your Instagram's aesthetic or petty little palette; because any other alternative messes with your *oh so pretty* color scheme. No. Not only can your followers see through your BS and sniff out inauthenticity, it is also disrespectful to the actual people on ground protesting police brutality and oppression in Nigeria. It is disrespectful to those whose freedoms have been threatened and who continue to suffer injustice while you and your perfect Instagram page continue to benefit from their following. 


The influencing world is annoying enough as it is with its obsession with materialism, no need to even further anger people. Just post whatever you want to post about the latest lipstick or handbag or whatever but please don't post for the sake of posting. Care about black lives whether the black lives are in New York or Lagos. Or are Nigerian lives not black lives? So where was everyone? Black lives should matter whether the black life is in New York or Ogbomoso. So no, your Instagram aesthetic is not more important than oppression and injustice.


Which begs the question, are these Nigerians in America and other developed countries who were at first so indifferent, are they not Nigerian enough? Ijeoma Kola who also received some backlash for not speaking out (but quickly apologized) wrote a post about this issue,


and I wrote a lengthy comment, which I will now expand upon in this post:


I think this is such a complex conversation and it’s really great to take the  effort to dissect it like so. I think it’s also important to understand the nuances of a topic like this. I, too, always marveled at the idea that someone could be accused of not being “Nigerian enough”. Whatever your Nigerian experience is, whether home or abroad, it is VALID. It’s weird because some Americans too would try to otherize us and tell us to “go back home”. So it’s an ever confusing “in between” to be in. I remember someone  abusing me a year ago for criticizing Nigeria (VP Osinbajo, to be specific) when my family and I didn’t even live there, like how dare me. It's weird because this babe has some slight obsession with me and nurses a particular anger  about the fact that I don’t live in Nigeria. But I digress.


I said all this to say I knew where Ijeoma was coming from. That said, in this case, Nigerians in Nigeria who have been criticizing those of us in America for not speaking up against injustice in Nigeria are a hundred percent correct. 


I think for me personally, it’s been maddening to see some Nigerians abroad treat Nigeria like a “vibe”, but don’t actually care for the country. That is why the initial conspicuous silence of a lot of Nigerian-Americans was deafening. How could they? Again, merely two weeks before, they were all on Instagram celebrating independence in the most outlandish way? So when it comes to making jokes, when it comes to the caricature accents, when it comes to “jollof”, when it comes even to ankara and gele or whatever, they could be loud and proud. But when it really mattered, they either had flimsy excuses like “we are conducting research” or remained quiet. That was mighty disappointing. 


I think us Nigerian-Americans must ask ourselves why it is easy to [rightfully] empathize with and fully understand the plight of African-Americans, but then find it so hard to empathize with Nigerians in Nigeria facing injustice? It’s not about any one of us, this is about justice and the fight against oppression so I think if we took a step back, we would understand the charge that any Nigerian who did not speak against SARS is not Nigerian enough. I don’t ever think a bunch of strangers have a right to define my identity [or anyone else’s]. But pungent as it is, this is the one time I can understand monopolizing identity. This is the one time I can understand the gut reaction that propels the accusation “you are not Nigerian enough”.


And it's not just Nigerians. Beyonce, I'm side-eyeing you too. Although she ultimately spoke up and against the injustice, I don't think it was unfair of Nigerians to feel especially betrayed at her silence.


When it's time to tap into our culture, they use social media to promote things that do no more than showcase a caricature of who we are. They make money off our backs.  But now "social media doesn't make you an activist"? There is literal scientific evidence that shows that posting on social media works. Shaming people into action on social media also works. So please, find another excuse besides "not everyone does their activism on social media". 


I was especially furious at white academics who do research in and about Nigeria, who collect data from Nigerians, and USE Nigerians as their research subjects to further their own career but were conspicuously quiet about Nigerians' suffering. We see you. 


Ultimately, of course, it became too big a movement that people couldn't ignore. But I think we have to really think carefully about why we are so attuned to some  people's stories and would readily ignore the plight of others.


I'm not going to tell anyone to fight against every single injustice or post about every single thing (because truly some people do all the work in real life and not on social media). Not to mention, there are so many things to be angry about and everyone won't and can't be angry about every single injustice. Choose to amplify what you want to. 


But every significant juncture like this presents an opportunity to evaluate yourself. Truly, search your own heart and decide for yourself which way to show up in this big, bad, complex world.



Love,


I