Facebook Has Taken More Than Just Your Data

Last week I waved goodbye my Facebook account. It wasn’t for the first time; anyone else who has deactivated only to end up coming back, knows how easy it is to return. Facebook keeps everything just as you left it so you can just pick up where you left off.

Deleting Facebook

But this time it feels different. I use Facebook a lot less, and it’s easy to see why.  Firstly, the platform itself has changed; the News Feed seems to show only a small selection of the almost 700 friends I’ve collected over the years; whereas before, a notification meant that someone had actually interacted with you in some way, now I can be notified just because someone has uploaded a photo or updated their status. The feeling that Facebook is trying to manipulate me into interacting with people is off putting.

Secondly, I have changed. I no longer think it’s appropriate to share my innermost feelings, or personal experiences with virtual strangers. And yes, I consider the majority of people on my “friends” list to be strangers, added during the “friend grab” phase of my early twenties when meeting someone for the first time was a good enough reason to “friend” them on Facebook.

That’s why for me, the best thing about the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, is that is finally pushed me from contentedly finding Facebook boring and bizarre, to completely being over it. However, before news of the scandal even broke, I had been conducting my own mental analysis of the social networking site.

If we didn’t already, we now all know the extent to which our Facebook data is shared with third parties. I shudder to think just how much of my data has been gathered over the 12 year period that I used the site. But Facebook has taken so much more than just your data. It has taken your time, your development of social skills, the importance you attach to privacy and so much more. I now consider it completely insane that people are willing to share the most personal details of their lives with virtual strangers. Though only a handful people will actually respond to something we have posted, we forgot about the hundreds of others lurking silently in the shadows, watching our private lives play out in the open, and witnessing our triumphs and tribulations. And the only effort they’ve had to make for this open access to our lives, is to sign in. It is one of sadder consequences of Facebook, that people are less willing to reach out to people by actually picking up the phone to call them, or even more revolutionary, meeting up with them in person (*shock horror*).

Still, there was something else about Facebook that began to sit uncomfortably with me, after a lightbulb moment occurred a few months ago. A “friend suggestion” appeared and it was someone I had known many years ago. What was so remarkable about this moment, was that until I saw the “friend suggestion” I had completely forgotten that this person even existed. And so I should, because that’s what’s supposed to happen as you pass through various stages in life. You do forget people from your past. Or at list you did before Facebook was invented. Now, even that person you met one time at a party is forever with you because you “friended” her, and 10 years on you know every country she’s ever visited, “met” each successive boyfriend, and know what the inside of her fridge looks like.

Facebook has taken away that experience of bumping into an old face, taking a few seconds to piece together where you know them from, and sharing in a brief moment of nostalgia as you realise how much you’ve both changed. Now when I bump into an “old face”, there is no surprise, only a feeling of awkwardness as you know you can’t even pretend not to recognise him because he commented on your post the other day, and you already know the names of his three children and respective baby mothers. The taking away of the ability to forget certain people, should not be overlooked.

Since leaving Facebook this time around, I’ve not looked back at all. A final reminder as to its oddness came as I was taking the final steps to deactivate. “How will you keep in touch with your friends?” Facebook asked me, as a desperate attempt to try to manipulate me into staying. That won’t be a problem Facebook; I’ll call them.

 

 

 

International Women’s Day – What are We Celebrating?

It seems apt that today on International Women’s Day, I break my spell of writer’s block and write my first piece in 2016.

It was Twitter that brought my attention to the occasion that is being commemorated today. It was also Twitter that drew my attention to yet another social media storm surrounding, arguably one of the most famous women on the planet; Kim Kardashian. It seemed to me a twisted irony that Kim K’s name was trending on two separate topics at the same time as #InternationalWomensDay.

In 2016 it feels as though there is not much to celebrate about being woman. The job that I do means that I constantly come into contact with women who are victims of domestic abuse. Some figures show that globally, 1 in 3 women will experience violence at the hands of a male partner but I have a strong suspicion that if all cases were actually reported, the figures would be far higher. Other uplifting statistics show that there continues to be an increase in sexual crime against women.

It is becoming apparent that the women that are celebrated the most are the women who consistently appear in public without clothes. I may have burying my head in the sand, but I am at a loss to explain how this has happened.  Could Western Feminism be to blame? The type of feminism that I describe as “Western” defends the right of women to do whatever they want with their bodies, including exhibiting its naked form whenever and however they choose. It was out of Western Feminism the ridiculously absurd “Free the Nipple” campaign was birthed. I can think of no finer example of what can happen in a society to rich with privilege and comfort that a woman’s chief concern is about cultivating the right to be indecently exposed.

One of the problems with this new wave of “we have the right to wear what we want or wear nothing at all” type feminism is that it ignores the question; “why?” After all, such behaviour goes against our natural instinct to preserve our modesty. To illustrate my point, if you were out in public somewhere and experienced a wardrobe malfunction that meant you behind was exposed, would you just carry on as normal, or try and find something to cover yourself until you got home? To those that do not appear to have this instinct, we should be addressing the question, “why do want your naked body to be seen by everybody?” Do you just want attention? Are you insecure?

But that’s the trouble with Western Feminism; it asks no questions, and it ignores all consequences. Is it a coincidence that in a day an age where images of the naked female body are displayed at every opportunity and saturate  media and advertising to an inescapable degree, there is an increase in sexual violence towards women? I was horrified to read a piece by Lucy Managan in the Stylist, describing how a man on the tube was staring at her creepily and then staring at his phone, only for her to discover that he was watching pornography on his phone, openly on the tube. This is the world we now live in.

There may have been a time when feminism was all about ensuring that women were treated fairly, and afforded the same rights and opportunities as men, but now I can’t help but think Western Feminism is only adding to the problems that women face today. That’s why I believe we must stop the practice of accusing people of “slut shaming” simply for pointing  out that the absence of clothes on prominent females does nothing to raise the esteem of women who are made to feel their own bodies are inadequate. It does nothing to highlight important inner qualities and capabilities of women or recongise their achievements. And it certainly does nothing to bring an end to the objectification and subjugation of women all around the world.

Cursed Culture? Why Laissez-faire does not Fare Well

The spotlight is on Nigeria once again. I cannot discuss aspects of African culture that could do with change, without mentioning the casual, nonchalant, and often too relaxed outlook seen in parts of Nigerian society. Nowhere is it seen more, than amongst the Nigerian Government. The utterly pathetic search “effort” for the 274 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok a few weeks ago, is just one recent example of this. Thank God, 50 managed to escape. And now another blow; today, it has been reported that Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group responsible for the kidnapping, have kidnapped a further 8 girls from another school in Borno.

 

When atrocities such as these happen, it becomes so apparent why the laissez-faire attitude of the Nigerian Government is so disastrous. The plight of the missing girls, and their families is heart wrenching, and has sparked a global outcry. The hash tag “BringBackOurGirls” is currently trending on twitter. America and the UK have now offered assistance in trying to find the girls. Kind offers they are, but isn’t it a little embarrassing that these Western nations have had to offer help to a seemingly incapable Nigeria? I sincerely hope the Nigerian government will learn from some of the mistakes made in connection with the Chibok girls, and act with much more zeal in searching for the 8 girls kidnapped in Borno. It is little hope.

 

It could be said that it is easy for me to sit here in London and criticise Nigerian leaders, so I will pause with a link to a well written article on the same subject, written by one who lives in Nigeria:

 

http://www.postcardfromlagos.com/2014/04/remembering-chibok-200.html

 

And now to draw this mini-series about culture to a close; one could be forgiven for thinking that I have nothing positive to say about African culture. That isn’t the case. For example, I love the warmth, the resilience, the ingenuity, and ability to deal with hardship with a smile, present in so many Africans. But there is no harm in fine-tuning the culture, and when it comes to certain aspects of it, such as the subject of the post, in my opinion, it is positively harmful not to.

 

 

For more commentary, follow me on Twitter @adressrehearsal

Cursed Culture? Spiritual vs Superstitious

It is rare to meet an African atheist. Africans generally believe in something. A lot of Nigerians I know are “Christians”. I would included myself in that number, but I am a little unusual in that I don’t attend a church pastored by a megalomaniac, who struts up and down a stage shouting and sweating in front of a congregation who sway, swoon, and ultimately empty out their pockets to fund the profligate lifestyle of the said megalomaniac. In other words I don’t attend the ever popular charismatic church.

 

At times I find it mystifying that so many Africans do attend such churches. In the days I used to attend, the pastors would have the cheek to declare that theirs is the spirit filled church, and the more conservative and traditional churches are “dead” churches. It was a similar story at home, after I left the charismatic church. Whenever my mother would be watching Supernatural on the God channel, and I would decline to join, informing her that I do not believe in such things (as people being transported to Heaven and back), she would declare that I have no faith. On the contrary I do not need to witness lying signs and wonders in order believe that God exists.

 

In the end I’ve concluded that the reason there is so much delusion in African churches, is that African people are just too superstitious. I know Africans that don’t like it if a black cat passes by in front of them. Or apparently if you’re pregnant you should not look at something scary or unpleasant, otherwise your child will be born ugly, to cite but a few examples.

 

In many parts of Africa herbal doctors, or “witch doctors” still operate and are heavily relied upon. I’m almost convinced that many African pastors are nothing more than “Christianized” witch doctors. Witch doctors will tell you to bring personal items to be prayed over; so do the African pastors. Witch doctors tell people that if they do something, or neglect to do something, a curse will fall upon them; so do African pastors. Witch doctors profess to possess special powers, and command respect and authority; so do African pastors.

 

It is just so annoying that so many African pastors are able do all these things in name of Christ, with no biblical precedent or authority. It is just so frustrating to see people in their thousands being sucked in. When African churches are caught up in a particularly peculiar folly, the secular media have a field day. I wonder if the members of those churches are aware of just how… for lack of a better word… utterly idiotic they look. Did any of the Rabboni Centre Ministries members who obeyed instructions to eat grass feel a little embarrassed when they saw pictures of themselves sprawled out on a field like goats, printed in international press?

 

What aggravates me the most is when superstition has destructive impact upon peoples’ lives. It can range from a person marrying the wrong spouse because a pastor “had a vision” that it was meant to be, to a sick person throwing away vital medication because they’ve been told that God doesn’t want anybody to ever be sick, and they should there “receive their healing”. Church goers can see their life savings depleted by believing the lie of the pastor, that as they sow (financially) they will reap blessings.

 

But perhaps one of the cruellest results of blindly following people who claim to men or women of God, is the suffering of children. Just today I read in the Evening Standard of a woman named Helen Ukpabio, who is currently in the UK, from Nigeria. Campaigners want her to be deported because she accuses children of being witches. She has been quoted as saying that any child who cries at night or is feverish is “a servant of Satan”. Her preaching has led to many children in Nigeria being abandoned, starved and abused. It is appalling that this disgusting practice of labelling children and babies witches still continues. Lessons still have not been learned since the Victoria Climbie case that shocked the media all the way back in the year 2000.

 

An excerpt from the book "Prayer Bullets for Winners" (War against Haman 8). I guess there were previous books waging war against Haman 1-7

An excerpt from the book “Prayer Bullets for Winners” (War against Haman 8). I guess there were previous books waging war against Haman 1-7

One of things that I can’t help but find slightly amusing though, is different names given to various “spirits” or “kingdoms”. Ms Ukpabio or “Lady Apostle” claims to deliver people of “ancestral spirits” and “mermaid spirit”. Many will also be familiar with the terms “enemy of progress”, “spirit husband/wife”, and “household wickedness”. A more sobering thought is of the endless prayers, or rather energetic chanting, uttered within superstitious churches. With so much time and energy dedicated to these supposed dark forces, do those prayer warriors realise that they are actually idolising those dark forces, and so in effect worshipping them? Wouldn’t it be a miracle if those worshippers in their thousands, devoted the hours they currently spend chanting, into to actually studying the bible and finding out what it really says. Maybe that would help to avert the problems mentioned above, and perhaps avert the greatest tragedy of all; false conversions.

Cursed Culture: Don’t say the F word (feminism)

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If a survey was carried out amongst FGN and SGN Africans alike, asking whether one would class themselves as a feminist, I wonder what the results would be? Perhaps slightly more numbers amongst the SGNs I imagine, but probably still a low figure. That’s because most Africans still associate feminism with negative connotations, as observed by Chimamanda Adichie in her TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists”.

 

I, am one of those Africans that shudder at the word “feminist”. I believe that the determination to have a society where men and women are treated and deemed as exactly the same, is misguided and unhelpful. That’s because men and women are different. For example those who follow that line would argue that a man should not give up his seat for a woman who is pregnant, because that would mean the woman is being treated differently! I also find it irresponsible when feminists argue that women should have the right to do whatever they want AND the right not face the consequences.

 

But if we take the feminism at its most basic level and meaning, even I would be forced to admit that ideology should not be entirely frowned upon. I looked up feminism on Wikipedia and found the following definition: “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.”

 

Ok so that doesn’t sound so bad. In fact perhaps it a good place to start in terms of educating future generations about the way both men and women should be treated in society. The difficulty I have with African culture, is that there is often a noticeable adverse difference in how women are treated, starting with within the family, and then in society at large. To clarify, I do not think that there is a problem with society treating the woman as a “weaker vessel” (only in the sense of physical strength) if that means that the woman is treated more delicately, with respect, and in a chivalrous manner. What I do have a problem with, is society treating the woman as though she is an inferior vessel, less important, and is to be disrespected, and even treated as property.

 

Earlier this month International Women’s day was celebrated, which coincided with a long train of thought I’d been having about the inequality African women, in particular, face. It started with this picture, I saw online:

Asian Meme

 

This picture, although alluding to Asian culture, pretty much summed up my childhood. The fact that my brothers were allowed to go out and about as pleased, whereas the girls were not – that was just the start.  I was also frequently told that it’s not a boys’ job to cook or clean, and that I must learn to cook otherwise my future husband would leave me. From what I gather, it tends to be the same in many African households. How many boys who are the “only boy” in the family do you know that aren’t spoilt? Whereas if you’re the “only girl”, it’s most likely you’ve adopted the role of house girl.

 

I’ve tried to evaluate these experiences and consider whether there was any legitimate reason why male and females should be treated differently in this, starting from such a young age. I could think of none. I could however think of good reasons why both male and female children should be taught how to cook and clean. For example, until such a time as a man marries, and has a wife to do those things for him (if such arrangements still exist), then it would be useful for him to know how to boil and egg and not burn toast, and to maintain a hygienic environment. In terms of going out, as long as both male and female have safe arrangements to return home, do risks not otherwise exist in respect of both sexes?

 

I sometimes observe inequality when I come across African women in the line of work I do. There was once an Egyptian woman who could speak no English and had to have everything she said interpreted to me by a male interpreter. The Egyptian male interpreter was domineering, and at times tried to advise me as to how to do my job in between interpreting. The Egyptian woman had an abusive husband, and she was seeking protective help. She was trying to communicate her frustrations to me, and the interpreter told her to “shut up” in Arabic instead of interpreting what she said. She stood up for herself, but the interpreter deemed this as disrespectful and threatened to walk out. The woman started crying tears of frustration and helplessness. It was hard not to feel bad for this woman who seemed like another victim of a culture that oppresses its women.

 

Then there are the stories I hear of African women in oppressive marriages where the husband has fallen on hard times, leaving the woman to work and provide for the family, and do all of the cooking and cleaning, and once home, do all of the child care too! I hear of men treating their wives as property, though should this be surprising in a culture where a man has often paid a bridal price in exchange for the woman?

 

I have to be thankful that I’ve been exposed to certain opportunities in Britain. I’ve heard about how difficult things can be for the average non-connected female living in Nigeria to try and make a living. That female if not married, is therefore not being taken care of by a husband, and is put in a vulnerable position, because she does not have the power or status to take care of herself. When it comes to inheritance, her brothers will inherit everything and she will be entitled to nothing.

 

All these matters are concerning. Do we want to see a perpetuation of this aspect of the culture that demeans and sometimes even dehumanizes women? Is feminism the answer? Certainly not the traditional, white middle class type feminism that ignores the perspectives of other ethnicities. Maybe a repackaged, re-branded feminism that simply presents the woman as an equally intelligent, and autonomous being who like any other citizen, deserves basic respect and recognition.

 

 

If the fact is that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we must make it our culture

Chimamanda Adichie

 

Follow me on twitter @adressrehearsal

Cursed Culture? A View from the Second Generation Nigerian

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts about African culture. Of course I know that culture differs from country to country within the continent, but there are common themes that I have identified through my meetings and experiences with various people.

My attempt to analyse and critique what I perceive to be typical Nigerian, and in particular, Igbo customs and traditions, will be done through my Second Generation Nigerian (SGN) eyes. I anticipate I may be prone to bias, as I have dual cultures and therefore part of me – and I have to say, a larger part of me – does not relate to certain Nigerian/Igbo customs. I describe myself as SGN because my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, but they chose to settle and have children in Britain. In my opinion you do not have to have been born in Britain to be an SGN, but you would have spent the majority of your life living here, including during your formative years. Similarly, if you were born in Britain (you can also read America here, or any other Western country), but grew up in Nigeria, you probably will not identify as an SGN.

The SGN experience will of course differ from person to person. In sharing my personal experiences, I do not purport that they are shared by all SGNs but I feel there may be some commonalities. I’ll come to language first. If I had a pound for every First Generation Nigerian (FGN) that, with a face twisted with disgust, spat out the words “you don’t speak Igbo?” I would be a very rich woman. The moment created thereafter is always painful, awkward, and embarrassing for me, yet I don’t judge the speaker too harshly. After all, the heart of any people is their language. It is what unites them. It is often how they can seek each other out in a crowd. However where does that leave the SGN who was not taught the language by their parents? As an outsider, a foreigner, and a fraud. Notice how the SGN is the one castigated, even though it is the PARENT of the SGN that has failed in their duty to pass on the vital element of belonging. I am tempted to say so much more on this point alone, but I may save it for another post dedicated to the (decline of the) Igbo language.

On a separate note, what happens when Nigerian culture clashes with the other culture experienced by the SGN in the land of their habitation? I am speaking of when the FGN feels that things should be done in a certain Nigerian way,  as though Nigerian culture is superior to all else. The SGN may have experienced something different, and might have a different view on things, but the FGN, (usually the parent) will rarely question whether the Nigerian way actually is the best way. For example, my experience of the Igbo culture is that parents see themselves as demigods who are to be obeyed by their children in all things no questions asked. This continues even when said children are actually grown adults. From a British perspective, parents guide their children as best they can, but when they are adult, they acknowledge that they can no longer tell them what to do. In my opinion, on this particular point, what is typically British, is a better way. But an SGO expressing a desire to do things another way, can lead to a lot of friction and uproar.

Another problem an SGN is likely to face is, where do they belong? For an SGO that has known a Western environment for all of, or most of their life, living in Nigeria is not an option. This is simply lost on a lot of FGNs. When I am on holiday in Nigeria I’m often asked by my relatives “when are you coming back home (to Nigeria)?” This question presupposes two things: 1) that I left Nigeria, when I actually I did not start out there, and 2) that Nigeria is my home. If Nigeria is just a foreign place to the SGN, why is it expected that they will decide to live there, especially when all they’ve known is a life of relative comforts. It also begs the question, why do the parents of the SGN invest in so much land in Nigeria, under the assumption that their SGN offspring will want to leave everything that they are accustomed to go and inhabit the land, in order to ensure it remains in the family?

It is so tempted to go on and on at this point as I find these topics very interesting, and would like to see more discussion about them. However I will stop here, and leave certain other topics for other posts. It will be revealing to see how many traditions and customs survive into the Third Generation, and whether the dominant Nigerian culture will finally begin to adapt and synchronize.

Where Are The Black Owned Businesses?

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“I remember when there used to be two black owned shops here next door to each other” my mother said from the passenger seat as we were driving through Deptford High Street one afternoon. This sentence preceded a very strange sounding tale of rivalry and revenge. It was prompted by our passing a row of shops, all of which were now owned by Asians.

The tale went something like this: Once upon a time there were two shops selling African groceries, sat side by side on Deptford High Street. One was owned by Mrs A, the other was owned by Mr B. Mrs A’s shop started to do very well. Soon it became obvious that Mrs A’s shop was far more popular than Mr B’s. Then one day Mrs A became very ill. Within a few days she died in hospital. Mr B had been jealous that her shop was doing much better than his and so he had poisoned her! Mrs A’s children were left devastated at their loss, and soon the shop closed. In the meantime, word began to spread that Mr B was responsible for Mrs A’s death. People began to boycott his shop, resulting in its steady decline. Then Mrs A’s son seeking revenge, one day went and dowsed Mr B’s shop with petrol and set it alight. He succeeded in burning to a cinder Mr B’s shop, but he also got badly burned in the process, and scarred for life. Both shops were never to see black owners again. The end.

I had some questions about this story. How did people know Mrs A had been poisoned, and that Mr B was responsible? According to my mother, there was no confirmation, but people “just knew”. After all, these things happened in Nigeria, and so it followed that these things could happen in Britain amongst Nigerians. But whether or not the details of the story are true or not, it is a story that perhaps identifies some of the key reasons why we do not see more black owned businesses. Maybe if black people worked together more, instead of against each other, like the Jews do for example, then the tide would start to turn.

I am always puzzled by the fact that shops selling African and Caribbean food, and African and Caribbean hair and beauty products seem to all be owned by Asians. These shops stock products that African and Caribbean people will always flock to buy. They are cash cows. Has no black person cottoned on to this fact? I doubt that is the case. One theory is that Asians have ring fenced the hair and beauty industry, and force out black owners, either by their economic position of power, or by other means. For example I think of another tale that I have been told, this time about a black hair and beauty store in Peckham, owned by a Nigerian woman. Allegedly, Asian shop owners of the neighbouring shops had their eye on hers. They were constantly in touch with the Local Authority to find ways to have her shop shut down. Eventually they succeeded, and swiftly took over the shop.

With the knowledge that black people are to a large degree frozen out of the market dealing with products specifically tailored to many cultures found within the black race, I can’t put the blame entirely on black people for not owning more businesses. There are probably other factors to take into account as well, such as legacies, and connections that immigrants, or children of immigrants may not have to the same degree as those who come from a long line of descendants settled in the UK. However, I would like to see more black people in enterprise, because I often meet black people with ideas that could work. Those of us who are of the second generation, let’s leave behind the tendency of our parents to distrust one’s neighbour, or for one-upmanship for the purposes of showing off to others within our community. I feel other racial groups are respected more, because of their power, which is fed by their wealth. I believe those of African descent need to undo the damage caused by the “divide and rule” tactics of colonialism, and rise to their full potential of generating wealth and pioneering new ideas.