Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Will President Buhari Find the Chibok Girls?

Flag of Nigeria

Flag of Nigeria

Buhari in Washington

Nigeria’s President Buhari has gone! In his three days in Washington DC he met with President Obama, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Nigerians in the Diaspora, and Vice President Biden among others.

“In talks on Monday, Obama promised to provide Buhari’s government with greater U.S. support for counter-terrorism operations,” according to Bloomberg News.

He spoke at the U.S. Institute of Peace and was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN. He told her and others that he would negotiate with Boko Haram for the Chibok girls if he could be sure of the other side’s credibility. “Our main objective is to secure their release and return them to their families and school,” he said.

Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour

Buhari said his government intends to recover stolen oil money, and the U.S. has agreed to help. “The amount involved is mind-boggling.”

Reuters put out a very brief video showing Secretary of State Kerry with Buhari on their way into a working lunch. It was the first time I saw Secretary Kerry with his crutches!

Now Buhari is back in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, where he will continue seeking candidates for his cabinet. In the Nigerian media I read that at one point he had a list of 36 people, but only 3 came through ‘corruption tests’ unscathed. Not a pretty picture of senior people in Nigeria who should be holding top offices today.

Will Buhari even be able to find enough ‘pure’ ‘ men and women to fill the posts?

Is There Hope for Race Relations?

“A new New York Times/CBS News poll reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse.”

I had just come back from a meeting of TEAM Westport, my town’s official committee created “to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural community,” when I read about this poll.

We met today to prepare for our next community conversation on race. We decided on the format – a facilitated discussion with black Americans who will describe their experiences with race in the town.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

We devoted at least 30 minutes to finding the right title for the event.

  • We want to make the topic clear and inviting
  • We don’t want to put white people on the defensive
  • We want to raise awareness.

I suggested ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but didn’t get support.

We talked about using ‘driving while black’ in the title as a way to signal what the conversation would be about.

I thought that might not be clear. I explained to the other eight people present that I had been surprised earlier in the day when that my good friend, liberal Unitarian, and strong supporter of civil rights and racial justice, was not familiar with the phrase.

The other six white women present were sure everyone in town would understand it. Our chair and secretary, both black, weren’t sure.

What do you understand the phrase ‘driving while black’ refers to? Share your comments, please!

I’ll let you know what the final title will be.

Part Five, Using White Privilege Against Racism

The final suggestion from Wiley Reading in Everyday Feminism’s article about using white privilege to confront anti-black racism is to decide on one or two actions you can take.

“Pick one, or two, and give them your time and energy. Support employees in your organizations who do anti-racist work. Support your friends and family members who do anti-racist work,” he says.

It might be voter registration, it could be having a difficult conversation with white friends about race, or you may find an opportunity to act as an observer when there is harassment. I am using some of his suggestions, and some from another writer I’ll tell you about next time, in the sermon I’m preparing for August 9 at The Unitarian Church in Westport Connecticut.

What Happened to the Ending?

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

My book group, Baker’s Dozen, met last night to discuss All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I had read it, or rather listened to it, several months ago for my Mount Holyoke book group. I listened again to the first couple of chapters – as much as I could in two or three sessions at the gym!

I loved the book and would have happily listened to it all again, but other books and podcasts required my attention.

Everyone in the group last night was equally enthusiastic. It was the first time since I’ve joined the group when there was unconditional praise from all of us!

But I was surprised by someone’s comment about how she especially lived the updates on the characters’ lives at the end. “What?” I said.

I had totally missed that. So this morning that’s what I listened to at the gym! I’m not done, but will certainly get to the end this time!

That’s one of the dangers of an audio book – you don’t necessarily know how much is left. I must have thought I’d come to the end before, and no one had mentioned the updates in the other book group.

Are you in a book group? What are you reading?

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.

8 Comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about your question in this post and I think using the “Driving while Black” title would be a good thing — if there are folks in town who don’t know what it means, they should. Understanding that this experience of getting pulled over/questioned/ticketed for no real reason, just based on racial profiling, is a fact of life throughout our country is important. Talking about the perceptions/assumptions/fears which lead to it might help increase self-awareness among those who attend the discussion, who then can help to advocate for change. I look forward to hearing more about when the event will be, and I hope to be able to attend!

    • Thank you, Jacquie. I also like the title “Driving While Black,” but we’ve finally decided on something that we hope will be more attractive to potential audience members. Some felt that using DWB could be provocative and keep people away. We will try to increase self-awareness in other ways at the conversation. Meanwhile, my sister is here from Cincinnati so the news about the University police officer who shot and killed a man driving, not even on the campus, has captured our attention; we’re pleased that he’s been fired and indicted. I’ll blog about it today.

  2. I didn’t like the ending as well as the rest of the book. Although it was satisfying to learn what had happened to some of the characters, It seemed, in a way, to just tidy up the lose ends.

  3. A book was recommended to me by a friend of my sister and brother-in-law. The author, Joel K. Bourne, grew up in rural Tarboro, N.C., and he dreamed of becoming a farmer. He earned an agronomy degree from N.C. State but quickly realized the barriers he would face as a would-be young farmer. He then earned a masters degree from Columbia Journalism School and got a job writing for the National Geographic.
    However, he remained loyal to his roots and began research on the looming global food crisis. His highly regarded new book is titled “The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World.” It’s carefully researched, very well-written and conveys a sobering message about the shortage of resources that we face as the world’s population grows out of control. I strongly recommend it.

    • That’s a great recommendation, Steve. I’d like to read it right away, but have to be realistic! I’ll add “The End of Plenty” to the list our book groups keep for what to read. ‘Baker’s Dozen’ switches monthly between fiction and nonfiction and plans for three months out. Mount Holyoke Alum book group decides each month what to read next.

  4. Dear Catherine,
    Here are a few thoughts from my viewpoint as someone who has lived in Europe for most of my adult life.
    I learned a lot the year I shared my office with an intern who had been born and brought up in the Ivory Coast and who had just spent 6 months in the US. She didn’t have the black-white divide as part of her mindset.
    It would be ideal if your town had a “common read” so that a large number of people would read “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. It is so helpful to see the polarization black-white in the US through the eyes of a black non-American.
    I am not comfortable with the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” It emphasizes that the US has a division between black and white and it comes from the point of view of whites speaking to whites.
    The message needs to be something like “Race doesn’t matter” or “Race shouldn’t/mustn’t make a difference…”
    This week in the International NY Times there was an article about Ti-Nehisi Coates’s controversial new book. At the end of the article it quoted Coates: “It’s not, as King said, little black girls beside little white girls….It’s looking at little black girls and little white girls and not seeing any difference.”

    • Thank you, Dorcy. The town of Greenwich common read this fall is “Americanah.” I will suggest it for our town as well, though I think they’ve already decided on something else. The “Black Lives Matter” movement was, I believe, started by black people, and for me, shows that we have hundreds of years when black lives didn’t matter, that we need to make up for.