[Reposted on UrbanCusp Magazine]

Yesterday, I hugged Dr. Cornel West, I shook Professor Angela Davis’ hand, and spent the evening chatting with Rodnell Collins, the nephew of Malcolm X. What’s more, all of this happened in Oxford, a museum of colonial dreams and bastion of White elitist culture. Yesterday was also the 50th anniversary of the date when Malcolm X addressed the Oxford Union, less than three months before he was assassinated. And yesterday, a Staten Island grand jury chose not to indict the police officer who held Eric Garner in the choke hold that would claim his life. A lot happened yesterday.


Image courtesy of University of California Press

On December 3rd, 1964 Malcolm X was invited to The Oxford Union, the most prestigious student debating organization in the UK, to argue in the affirmative that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”. Fifty years later I sat in the same place, across from Angela Davis and with a group of other students, listening to the audio of this historic speech. Seated in my row was an elegant elderly woman of colour who, as it turns out, was involved in organizing the original debate in 1964. As she looked around, I heard her remark to my friend (another woman of colour) that when Malcolm spoke here, there was nothing but a “sea of white faces”. I turned to look at the crowd, and was also encouraged by the spatter of colour across the room. But as we listened to Malcolm’s speech, his words quickly reminded me of how incremental this change was in the grand scheme of things and given the current state of affairs.

I don’t encourage any act of murder nor do I glorify in anyone’s death, but I do think that when the white public uses it’s press to magnify the fact that there are lives of white hostages at stake, they don’t say “hostages,” every paper says “white hostages.” They give me the impression that they attach more importance to a white hostage and a white death, than they do the death of a human being, despite the colour of his skin. I feel forced to make that point clear, that I’m not for any indiscriminate killing, nor does the death of so many people go by me without creating some kind of emotion. But I think that white people are making the mistake, and if they read their own newspapers they will have to agree that they, in clear cut language, make a distinction between the type of dying according to the colour of the skin.

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bob-geldofImage courtesy of Reuters

It’s been 30 years since this ridiculous excuse for a song was released. What have we learned in that time? Apparently nothing. Sometimes, if I’m in a particularly forgiving mood, I can come to a place where I understand the social and political context that would make someone in 1984 believe that releasing this song could be anything more than criminal noise pollution. But it’s really hard to forgive when you’re never allowed to forget! Every year I am thrown into an existential fit when I find myself in a car or shopping centre and this song begins to play. As the nausea sets in, I look around and wonder…is anyone else listening to this? Can you hear what they are saying? Is the DJ a robot? Is this real life?!

There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and…

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Refugee Boy – A Review

March 26, 2014


Refugee Boy By Alpha Abebe

As I stood in line ready to enter the Oxford Playhouse, I overheard the conversation between the staff person collecting tickets and a father and daughter who stood before me in the line. She warned the father that she was advising all guests with children that the play included strong language and difficult situations. Undeterred by the warning, the man smiled politely, lovingly put his hand on the shoulder of his adolescent daughter and proudly proclaimed, “That’s alright, she read the book. And she’s lived in Africa before, she’s seen real refugees”.

Refugee Boy is a theatre production based on the teen novel written by Benjamin Zephaniah and adapted for the stage by Lemn Sissay. The story follows Alem Kelo, a fourteen-year-old boy of Ethiopian and Eritrean descent who is seeking asylum in England. Before coming to England, Alem and his parents were forced to move…

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An event to explore and display the role of the arts in understanding, expressing and experiencing diaspora

I am part of team at Oxford Diasporas Programme organizing an event exploring diasporas through the arts. Please note that we are accepting artist submissions until July 31, 2014, and the event will be held at The Old Fire Station in Oxford on November 1, 2014.

The arts have served as a platform for the creation, expression, and negotiation of diasporic experiences across generations and geographies. The term ‘diaspora’ emerges from the literary world, and many of the key thinkers in diaspora studies have looked to the arts as a source of inspiration, insight and information. In fact, artistic mediums of expression are often flexible enough to engage with and articulate the complexity and fluidity of diasporic experiences.

Exploring Diaspora through the Arts, supported by the Oxford Diasporas Programme and hosted by The Old Fire Station, aims to bring together artists, scholars, students and the general public to explore aesthetic manifestations and representations of diasporas, and reflect on what the arts contribute to diaspora studies.

Call for Artists
Submissions are sought which shed light on a range of perspectives on, and diverse experiences of, diasporas across the globe. Read the rest of this entry »

“To live ‘elsewhere’ means to continually find yourself involved in a conversation in which different identities are recognized, exchanged, and mixed, but do not vanish. […] Our sense of belonging, our language, and the myths we carry in us remain, but no longer as ‘origins’ or signs of ‘authenticity’ capable of guaranteeing the sense of our lives. They now linger on as traces, voices, and memories that are mixed in with the other encounters, histories, episodes, experiences.” 

— Ian Chambers (1994) Migrancy, Culture, Identity.

My graduate studies have been dedicated to the deconstruction of cultural identity and the understanding of its mechanics. Nations are ‘imagined communities’, borders are a political construct, identities a product of socialisation. I know these things. But I also know that my life has been organised and shaped by my connection to and relationships with Ethiopia, despite the fact that I’ve only ever vacationed there. It’s the quintessential diasporic story.

This photo essay includes a selection of images I took in Ethiopia while travelling there for my doctoral fieldwork in 2013. This was not part of any data collection, but rather, the moments and encounters in between. They were the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes I knew I would want to remember when I left.

This photo essay is published on the Oxford Diasporas Programme website. To view it, please click here.