Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Black Lives Matter and More

Black Lives Matter

After the many tragic deaths of young black men at the hands of police in recent years, the movement Black Lives Matter has gained traction. It’s a way of saying that these deaths are not excusable. For me it means that when a black man dies because the police were acting on a stereotype of black men as dangerous, were too quick to shoot, or failed to ask questions, that death is unjust.

So I believe Black Lives Matter has an important message for all of us.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

Last week in my town someone or some group of people tossed messages saying #White Lives Matter into driveways. Dan Woog posted a question in his blog 06880 asking if anyone else had seen these.

A day later we learned that the same thing happened in three other towns in Connecticut, and in some of those messages there was hate speech attached. Two days later, Dan posted again, saying this was clearly motivated by racial hatred. Then he updated the information with some of the links to and comments from websites where the haters hang out.

Susan Ellis, a member of TEAM Westport with me, posted an outstanding comment: “It can be easy to dismiss these virulent racist and anti-Semitic comments as the work of deranged kooks. But I don’t want us to let ourselves off the hook. We need to confront the continuing legacy of racism and anti-Semitism in Westport and to recognize the existence–and benefits–of ‘white privilege’ which the majority of us enjoy.”

TEAM Westport and others are organizing a response with a community conversation this coming Sunday afternoon, 4 pm, at the Library.

What do you do when you confront racism whether you are a direct target or you see it in action?

Our Biased Brains

Nicholas Kristof addressed the question of race and racial bias in his op-ed piece a few days ago. We seem to have a bias almost from birth that predisposes us to prefer those of the same race, he says. This bias is unconscious; we may have it even though we deplore it.

He said, “Scholars suggest that in evolutionary times we became hard-wired to make instantaneous judgments about whether someone is in our ‘in group’ or not — because that could be lifesaving.”

He suggests that those who doubt the bias take the test at Project Implicit.

He points out that we can take action, saying, “we can resist a predisposition for bias against other groups.” He says one method researchers have used is to test, then have the subjects look at images of heroic African-Americans. When they re-test, they are less likely to show bias against people of color.

He quotes Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychology professor who has helped create tests of unconscious bias. “If you actually have friendships across race lines, you probably have fewer biases,” Banaji says. “These are learned, so they can be unlearned.”

Lagos Modernized 

Lekki - Ikoyi Bridge which Sam drives over regularly.

Lekki – Ikoyi Bridge which Sam drives over regularly.

Max Siollun shared BBC’s photo album of improvements made in Lagos, Nigeria, over the last eight years.

The first image, and the one in the picture, is the bridge from Lekki where our younger son Sam lives and Ikoyi, where I lived during all my years in Lagos.

Sam now drives over that bridge to take our granddaughter to school at St. Saviours, the same elementary school that all our children attended.

It’s really amazing to see the changes in the photos; I’ve seen many of them in person. But despite the upgrades in the traffic and infrastructure, it still took us nearly three hours to get to the airport in January!

Africa Wins Again

A couple of weeks ago my Google Alert told me that Sam had gone to Namibia to take part in a musical event. So I emailed Sam to ask about his trip. He was surprised that I knew. But I was surprised to learn that he didn’t actually go!

Namibia used to be part of South Africa. It's been independent since 1990.

Namibia used to be part of South Africa. It’s been independent since 1990.

He said that he had gone to the airport with one of his staff to find there was no Namibia Airways, although the tickets they had been sent by the Namibian authorities were for Namibia Airways.

Eventually they found they were booked on South African Airways, but only to South Africa. They would have to make their way to Namibia, next door but hundreds of miles away. They couldn’t book their luggage through since they had no onward flight. And the flight was delayed.

Sam decided on the spot not to go. But his staff member went and said it was wonderful.

We learned during my Peace Corps days to say, “West Africa Wins Again,” or WAWA. I’m sure a similar saying exists in other African countries. There is development, arrangements seem well and carefully made, but unexpected glitches appear and thwart the best-laid plans.

Monroe Connecticut 

Speaking at the Monroe CT Library with the table prepared by Aline.

Speaking at the Monroe CT Library with the table prepared by Aline.

On May 11 I spoke at the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe, Connecticut. The library is lovely, spacious, and well laid-out. My talk was in a room in the lower level that was just the right size for the audience of 18.

I knew several people who came, including my friend Anita who’s been on the Search Committee and is in three choirs with me at the Unitarian Church in Westport. Another church member, Bob, was there too.

Sherry, a former Peace Corps volunteer, made the arrangements. She also made a video. Another former volunteer Kathy whom I’d met in December came.

Aline, my publicist, did a great job of setting up the table display, introducing me, taking pictures, and handling sales of my memoir Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad.

Do you have somewhere you would like me to speak?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

2 Comments

  1. Catherine — What great storytelling! I, for one, am hoping you get MANY invitations to speak!