Matigari at Auburn
Matigari is a fictional Character in a 1987 book of the same name by renowned Kenyan novelist-in-exile Ngugt wa Thiong’o. The character “Matigari” is disappointed by what has become of his homeland, and how the masses have not yet been freed from the yoke of oppression […] by the ruling party. Meanwhile, stories about him begin to spread, as his adventures are retold and recast. He is in many respects Christ-like. He affects “an air of mystery, and some of the near-miraculous (or so at least they sound in their re-telling as they pass among the masses) happenings also help, as Matigari embraces his role to the fullest” (Orthöfer). On this sticker at the historic Auburn Avenue in Downtown Atlanta, Matigari is used either as an embodiment of, or as the saviour from a current presidential candidate.
In the following paper I will briefly reflect on my experiences and embed them in my biography, as well as briefly explore how the experience of the fellowship is likely to shape my social justice work in the future. I use a selection of my original photography taken during the fellowship to explicitly situate my perspective to local contexts in Atlanta. The John Lewis Fellowship ( JLF) was indeed a transformative experience whose impact is only beginning to unfold as the program ends. I now have a network of fellows from all over Europe and the United States who I can work with and fall back on. I will briefly discuss some of my experiences and explain why they signify my learning experience in the first part. The second part will link my experience to biographical aspects of my identities and my work.
I now have a network of fellows from all over Europe and the United States who I can work with and fall back on.
In the first two days of the fellowship, two Black men were murdered by police officers.
The anger and desperation was palpable, and thousands across the USA, including some of the JLF took to the streets to express their anger and concern.
The aftermath of the shootings, which have become a familiar unwritten script, played out before the country’s eyes. The involved officers were reluctantly sent home pending investigations. No arrests were made, and the chances of the involved officers ever facing a jury are very slim. The anger and desperation was palpable, and thousands across the USA, including some of the JLF took to the streets to express their anger and concern. It thus remained etched in my mind when Dr. Daniel Black, in commencing his lecture, declared that:
“America is killing black People”
At the time of writing this paper, yet another black man had been shot despite lying on the ground with his hands up and calmly explaining to the police officers that he was trying to calm down an autistic patient of his who had gone out of the group home he lived in and was sitting in the middle of the street. He lived to tell his story: Upon asking the officer why he had been shot, the officer replied that he didn’t know. Dr. Black infers that:
“Racism is America’s Lifeblood and [that] nobody challenges it more than a black person who forgets their place”
He embeds his claim historically, citing that,
“The hierarchy of the slave ships [has become] the story of the Nation.”
He speaks to a specific historical and systematic situatedness of racism in America, and how Race is fundamentally a defining factor for any conceptualization of the USA.
It was an amusing surprise for me to find a sticker that spoke to (either) Matigari’s salvation from or comparison to Trump. Here, the current presidential race is perceived as warranting a superhero’s (Matigari’s) intervention, or as having a candidate who embodies Matigari’s theatrics and ‘second-coming’ or ‘return (to greatness)’ rhetoric. In a country that stylizes itself as post- racial on account of having achieved the first black presidency, Trump arguably signifies and (mis)articulates the unspoken backlash that parts of white America have been harbouring since President Obama entered the white house.
While it is clear, as Congressman John Lewis was quick to note, that claiming nothing has changed since the Civil Rights Movement would be incorrect, parallels can still be drawn between the violence that Black bodies have been subject to. According to Dr. Thomas, the mundanity of Lynching at the time fulfilled the function of…
“lending stability to whiteness in unstable times, a collective [form of] identity-building, and a dramatization of the boundaries between power and powerlessness”
The negligible amount of police officers who are arrested or face charges after fatally shooting African-Americas on camera, reinforces the idea that wanton injustice against Black bodies is just the way it is, and that alleged police on-the-job experience of African-Americans’ proneness to violence justifies blatantly criminal acts of fatal violence.
Ode to Violence
Violence against people of color has historically been associated with heritage and tradition, in America even with greatness. The irony of a Atlanta, the city that hosts a center for non-violent social change is apparent; following Fanon, “Colonialism is violence in its natural state […]”, its purest, most absolute form (Fanon). Should violence and the oppressor be glorified, or should we restore human dignity by acknowledging and being accountable to the oppressed and their suffering? Naming
Squares after them would be the very least attempt in that direction. (Strikethrough is intentional.)
social justice work is no longer a choice one has the luxury of making, it is rather our responsibility as citizens.
The USA is a contradiction in itself. The global champion of democracy, human rights and the rule-of-law is systematically undermining these very things within its own borders. A lot of parallels can be drawn to the rise of the populists in Europe, and the death by drowning of thousands of Refugees at (fortress) Europe’s borders, who come believing that Europe will be as fervent in defending their Human Rights as it is in promoting these in various countries of the Global South.
I have also learned the value and role of Allyship from the work of Mitchell Esajas who is involved in the anti-black-Pete Campaign in the Netherlands
As a consequence of ongoing global developments, social justice work is no longer a choice one has the luxury of making, it is rather our responsibility as citizens. A quote by one of my fellows resonated with me in this respect.
“I did not want to be an activist. I had no choice, living in a country that constantly tells me that I shouldn’t exist”
I have also learned the value and role of Allyship from the work of Mitchell Esajas who is involved in the anti-black-Pete Campaign in the Netherlands. Allyship is an important component of Social justice work, because without Allies, it can be extremely difficult to achieve concrete results, especially concerning minority issues where a large number of people feels that it is not affected, and hence does not see the issue as being fundamental to harmonious coexistence in specific contexts.
In summary, I have learned a great deal from this fellowship, and this essay only captures a small fraction of my experiences. I believe that my experiences with the fellowship in Atlanta will sustainably shape my approach to social justice issues in the future, and provide me with resources of various forms to be able to do that work in an effective, strategic and systematic manner. I wish to express my profound gratitude for all that I have received, and all that I will continue to receive from the JLF fellows, staff and community and to state that nothing shall not go to waste. This fellowship could not have come at a more significant time and space.
- Orthofer, M. A (2010): Matigari, the Complete Reviews
Review. Online: http://www.completeQreview.com/reviews/kenya/ngugi4.htm
- Fanon, Frantz (1965): The wretched of the Earth. Grove Weidenfield: New York. Page 60