ZAM Reporter

Can we dance? | Elnathan John’s lecture in 12 quotes

“I am not interested in revolutionary speeches by corrupt and ineffective leaders who have lived, along with their families in stupendous wealth while their countries have remained beggar nations.”

Decentering whiteness
“How can we tell stories, counter injustice, create fresh narratives unrestrained by our daily constraints, build beautiful complex worlds rooted only in our wild free imaginations?  How can we dream? And how can we convey these dreams and ideas to the world without centering whiteness, whether in our struggle against it, or in the labor we often find ourselves engaged in, to explain ourselves to it.”

Colonialism and slavery
“As a Nigerian, I am neither taught nor encouraged to reflect upon British colonialism or even upon historical slavery as a whole.”

University years
“For two semesters we were marxists, ready to demolish the white, capitalist, colonialist world and its racist, imperialist narratives. Until we discovered university dating life.”

Being ‘African’
“A culture of being ‘African’ does not make it inherently better for use than others or incapable of inflicting hurt or discrimination because of its baggage.”

“The internet has in many ways flattened the earth.”

International media
“The international media often gets high on an African giving racist or ignorant white Europeans and Americans a good dragging.”

Double standards
“It is far easier to mock Trump for calling African countries shithole countries than it is to mock a state governor in Nigeria for turning his state into a shithole. And only one of those actions can lead me to jail or cause me to disappear.”

Corrupt leaders
“I am not as interested in revolutionary speeches by corrupt and ineffective leaders who have lived, along with their families in stupendous wealth while their countries have remained beggar nations, as I am interested in tackling and calling out the two worst oppressors we have today: poverty and corruption. Revolutionary speeches are sexy, but roads and schools and trains and hospitals and human rights are even sexier.”

Nelson Mandela
“I think again of Nelson Mandela and of all the things he achieved and even the things he failed at. He did not win through the power of rhetoric or of bold speeches speaking truth to power. If powerful speeches and speaking truth to power worked he would not have spent 27 years in prison. Changing systems is hard and often slow and painful. It is even harder and more painful to change people’s attitudes.”

Xenophobia and nationalism
“There is much reason for urgency among minorities and among black people in a world that is increasingly driven by fear and greed, by xenophobia and nationalism. There is much reason for black vigilance in professional spaces where we are often judged by the highest standards as we queue up to occupy the few slots the world, driven by the new fad of diversity, has reserved for us within their power structures.”

Don’t ask, don’t tell
“So, if you see a black person who stops to breathe, who doesn't feel like showing up, who does nothing but stands and stares, leave them alone. You may need desperately to ask for directions on your way to Town Diversity or Town Decolonization. Don’t. Let them have the same luxury you have, to not always have to talk about race, or explain themselves to you. Let them dance in the rain, and when they come back into the room, hair dripping, still laughing, take them seriously.”

How do we truly decolonise?
“I do not know.  But I can give you a summary of what we did tonight for those of you who love summaries and bullet points.

  1. We can be, and have been just as bad as you. But it is not a competition. When we speak of your responsibility with regard to things like decolonization, it is not the time to talk about our complicity in the mess. We will get to that later.
  2. Cover your mouth. Not just because of the coronavirus. But power imbalance, like a flu, may not be your fault, but when you are implicated in it, it is your responsibility not to pass it on.
  3. Covering your mouth also applies to the next point: Allow us dance in the rain. Life is hard.
  4. Organic and Bio food, is for food and plants. Not for humans. It is not your place to determine which African is more authentic when you try to consume culture or literature in and from Africa. You can not from ignoring black voices to deciding who is a more authentic African depending on where they live.
  5. And finally, if you feel guilty or if you are lost and you stumble upon black people dreaming, don’t ask them for directions. Use Google. It works.”