James Baldwin’s unfinished business

Few writers’ words still resonate thirty years after their death, but James Baldwin was no ordinary writer. It’s believed that Baldwin died of cancer on 1 December 1987 aged 63 while starting, what is now his final manuscript – Remember This House. Comprising only 30 pages at the time of his death, the focus of this manuscript were personal recollections of the lives and assassinations of 3 juggernauts of the civil rights movement in America – Martin Luther King Jr,. Malcom X and Medgar Evers.

james baldwin
The Oscar nominated (2017), BATFA award winning (2018) documentary, based on James Baldwin’s last unfinished manuscript – Remember This House.                                           Photo credit: Block Party Cinema

The lives of the former two have been compared throughout history. The ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X even came up during the commentary surrounding Marvel’s Black Panther movie, directed by Ryan Coogler. The ideologies of Black Panther (T’Challa – played by Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Kilmonger (played by Michael B Jordan) were likened to the two civil rights activists. Some thought Kilmonger’s desire to arm all oppressed people so they could protect themselves reflected Malcom X’s rhetoric. While T’Challa’s (what some would deem) measured approach was like that of Martin Luther King Jr.

I watched two men, coming from unimaginably different backgrounds, whose positions, originally, were poles apart, driven closer and closer together. By the time each died, their positions had become virtually the same position. It can be said, indeed, that Martin picked up Malcolm’s burden, articulated the vision which Malcolm had begun to see, and for which he paid with his life – James Baldwin in a 1963 TV interview

Medgar Evers died on 12th June 1963; a World War II veteran and university graduate, Medgar Evers was instrumental in overturning segregation laws at the University of Mississippi, public facilities and collating evidence from witnesses in the Emmitt Till murder case. Malcom X died on 21st February 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. died on 4th April 1968. All three of these civil rights activists were killed within a 5 year period and none of them lived to see their 40th birthdays.   

In his array of writings and novels where he documents the civil rights movement, Baldwin’s words are still pertinent today. Events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and similar situations, played out over social media is testament to this. When the civil rights movement started there was no social media, now we all have front row seats to witness injustice and oppression. While there has been progress, there is still some way to go for black lives to be seen as equal to others of the human race. There’s still unfinished business to handle…

Clip from 1963 where James Baldwin is asked about his view on the future of America.

“The future of the Negro in this country, is precisely as bright or dark as the future of the country. James Baldwin 


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 Featured image credit: Screenshot from ‘I am not your Negro’ trailer YouTube


Muhammad Ali – “Black and Pretty”

 “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see, rumble young man, rumble!”

I’m writing this while watching the multi faith funeral of Muhammad Ali live on television. We all know him through boxing, his rhymes, his poetry, his boldness (some may say arrogance), his highs, his lows, his triumphs and failures. We all feel like we knew Muhammad Ali. Transcending sport, a black man, civil rights activist and philanthropist.  

mandela & ali
Ali and Mandela

Ali in Ghana in 1964

Born a black boy in Louisville Kentucky at a time when black people in America were considered to be 3/5th of a human and no right to vote.

I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky — my name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me.

Ali punched his way out of poverty, travelled the world and on the way ‘got back to his roots’ as he, an African-American embraced Africa.

ali kid
Cassius Clay – the boy
Ali and his mother Odetta Lee Clay during a training session three days before the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight vs George Foreman (1974). (Photo /AFP/Getty Images)

#Alibomaye: Rumble in the Jungle  – Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

 ali zaire car

Ali is a symbol of inspiration and hope, but also a picture of a boxer who boxed too long. Probably because of money and all the people who relied on him.

Parkinson’s disease – It’s been widely believed that Ali’s illness was linked to some of the injuries he suffered from his prolonged career. But in true Ali form, he didn’t let that define him.

A positive was that he brought the neurological disease to the forefront, a need for a cure.

“God gave me this illness to remind me that I’m not number One. He is.”

 ali and mlk

The world will always remember The Greatest bBoxer Of All Time (#GOAT), for the champ he really was – inside and outside the ring. Ali wasn’t perfect but he made a difference.

 “If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise!”


“I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
Just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”



Pictures: Google, Getty

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Ghana’s art scene is taking shape

 It’s been 59 years to the day since Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonial rule. Currently there are many issues affecting the country, which will probably reach boiling point during what will be a hotly contested election in November.

Despite all the politics, the country is basking in its burgeoning contemporary art scene. Gallery 1957 is opening in the country’s capital Accra, marking independence day, by showcasing a history of Ghanaian art and the work of current contemporary artists. The Ghanaian art scene has been struggling for decades, requiring funding, but those within the industry, like Creative Director of Gallery 1957, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, are passionate about providing Ghanaian artists, like Serge Attukwei Clottey, an environment where they can produce and showcase their creations, while earning a living from their art.


Ghana art, African art, ghanaian artists
Passionate about African art: Gallery 1957 Creative Director, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim.

 Pic via Okayafrica: Artwork: Ibrahim Mahama. Photo: Alice McCool

Creatives in the diaspora are also drawing on their heritage for inspiration. Ghanaian-American animator Abdul Ndadi created a cartoon, who’s main character, a young African girl called Orisha takes on adventures.

The cartoon has a Pan-African feel, covering Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Gambia and Guinea; from the characters, storylines to the music. It aims to show children a different narrative to what they usually see and provide black children with an additional character they can physically identify with.

“As an artist I felt a responsibility, even in a small way, to have an image of a beautiful African girl our youth could identify with, doing cool things. The main reason my main character is female is because not only do black women deal with the problem of racism, they also have the added burden of sexism as well.” – Abdul Ndadi 

The cartoon has already had audiences at various festivals, including the 2015 Cannes Short Film Corner and the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in Japan. Check out an interview with Abdul Ndadi at OkayAfrica and a snippet of Orisha’s Journey below.

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Featured image collage: Serge Attukwei Clottey courtesy of Gallery 1957 and Abdul Ndadi.

Fashion and race: The forced marriage

Fashion isn’t just about clothes and models; it’s supposed to be but it isn’t. There’s been a lot of talk about racism in the fashion industry, from those within and those outside the industry. Racism is a problem in many industries, fashion isn’t unique here. No matter how creative/chic/stylish the clothes are on runways in the West, the lack of ethnic diversity is always on show – race and fashion now come hand in hand.

The fashion industry has been a certain way for a long time and change is difficult to embrace. It’s not just about having more ethnic models on the runway, but ethnic people in positions of power and influence behind the scenes of the industry, whether that be designers or casting agents etc. Fashion designers get inspiration from various cultures, but generally display their creations on a white canvas. This has been done for years, but now with everything else that’s going on, it seems we’re grappling with race in nearly every facet of Western society. Whether it be in the education system, in the corporate world, the film industry, the judicial system – the issue of race lurks.

Black models have been complaining for years about makeup artists unwilling to work with them, not having the makeup they need for photoshoots and sometimes resorting to bringing their own make up. It’s also been voiced about how much harder it’s for black models to actually get modelling jobs, compared to their white counterparts. For one famous black model, Sudanese beauty, Ajak Deng the industry became too much to bear and she announced  that she was quitting! Ajak didn’t explicitly say that racism was the cause of leaving a career that millions of girls around the world covet, however the media has drew its conclusions.

“I am happy to announce that I am officially done with the fashion industry, I will be moving back to Australia in order to live the life that I fully deserve. Which is real life.” – Ajak Deng.

Ajak Deng quits modelling, racism in fashion industry, racism in america, black models
Ajak announced it was all over! Pic: fashionhauler.com

Ajak arrived in Australia as a child refugee, and has been photographed in renowned fashion publications and modelled for world famous designers, such as Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs. She has appeared in Vogue Australia before, but it was earlier comments by her manager Stephen Bucknall, which gave further indications that her decision to quit had something to do with discrimination. Bucknall claims he finds it difficult to book jobs for Ajak in Australia, and was quoted in an Australian newspaper saying, “The Australian market doesn’t want to take the risk of using darker models as mainstream models…“They’ll book the big Caucasian girls, spend the big dollars, and fly them in from LA, but I’m yet to see them book a dark skinned girl in that way.”

Psychological and emotionally it’s hard to accept that a country you call home doesn’t accept you just because of your skin colour. However, when I heard that Ajak quit modelling I thought it was a bit premature and so did she! A few days ago, after a week ‘in retirement’ she announced she is coming back to modelling!

Ajak Deng quits modelling, black models, racisim in fashion, African models, dark skin models

photo credit: fashionhauler.com

Even if she can’t get work in Australia, she does well in other markets! When you’re put in a position of prominence sometimes you have to stick it out and pave the way for those to come after you. She is part of a bigger picture and summed it up nicely:

“I feel like I have touched so many young people’s lives, gave them hope. Just because I come from NOTHING does not mean that I can’t make something for myself and for that I will still want to continue to touch more lives. Yes sure giving up is easier but who will fight the war that we are so in denial about? … I apologize to every kind souls/hearts that I have broken in the past week. I thought giving up was easier but I am going to stay and fight this war with kindness, forgiveness, love, and support to all humanity.”

Good for you Ajak!

“Representation” is another word you’ll find dancing around the fashion/race row boxing ring, but like most things in life, the solutions to this issue are not black and white. During Zac Posen’s show at NYFW 2016, 25 black models (including Ajak), walked the runway, displaying his designs.

Zac posen New York fashion week 2016, black models, haute coture, high fashion
Zac Posen’s NYFW2016 show – In living colour.

Photo credit: Daniele Oberrauch.

This rubbed some people up the wrong way. There were white models in the lineup, but some spectators were not happy that black models were in the majority, in a country (America), where black people are a minority. In general Posen’s show was well received but some were not filled with the same sentiment. Is it simply a case of mirroring model quotas to census data of the general population?


Part of this problem is that there isn’t any balance in the world, full stop. If the fashion industry in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America was as established as it is in the West, then maybe there would be a larger pie to eat from? The race issue in fashion is no longer dormant. If the industry wants to divorce itself from its unsavoury companion, then it will have to change. That may only happen if society changes, after all the fashion industry is run by human beings. If the fashion industry is prejudice, it’s because society is still prejudice.

Whatever the cause / intention of one of the shortest retirements in history, the fashion and race discourse continues. Watch this runway…

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