“So if a colored woman is raped and killed, why do the Days rape and kill a white woman? Why worry about the colored woman at all?” Guitar cocked his head and looked sideways at Milkman. His nostrils flared a little. “Because she’s mine.”
– Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (p. 223).
December 4th, 2014:
I had the great pleasure of meeting Nuruddin Farah, an internationally acclaimed Somali writer, who came to Ottawa for a talk on violence against women. There was a dinner party thrown for his arrival prior to his presentation the next day; I vividly remember many people in the room, myself included, at different points throughout the night in awe of the man with the orange scarf, intently listening to Farah’s sort-of-British accent banging on about Somali politics and whatever evocative question (and there sure were a couple) thrown his way. It was a wonderful introduction to a charismatic man, indeed.
It was following Farah’s talk that a few of us, including Farah, shuffled into my aunt’s home for a quick Thai dinner and some tea to close the night. Somehow a conversation came about regarding Somali males, so I chimed in to relay my experiences working with Somali youth last summer in an employment program as I was flummoxed and alarmed by the stark differences I noticed between the young women and men not just in their approach to employment but how they articulated their futures, the former being far more ambitious and optimistic than the latter. The purpose of my comment was to spark a larger conversation about how culture, child-rearing, and gender intersect in interesting ways, but instead got different response; Farah essentially dismissed the comment by noting that Somali women should not deal with the ‘lagging’ of Somali men, saying us women should not feel burdened to clean up their mess (mess in this context meant the issues of crime, drug addiction inter alia, that many men face), and that marrying non-Somali men should be a more common practice.
I was stunned.
I guess the joke was on me as I wasn’t privy to the legacy of Farah—a man who, at best, has very provocative views about the state of Somali culture and of Somalis generally. Yet to be clear, I wasn’t shocked by the endorsement of ‘marrying out’ but rather the fatalistic view that the serious issues Somali men face are caused by them and thus are theirs alone to deal with.
I am still haunted by this dangerous response.
Tying loose ends:
After recalling this conversation in relation to the shooting story I suddenly felt like Guitar, the zealous character in Toni Morrison’s brilliant novel Song of Solomon; a man who believed every attack on his black brethren was personal; a man who loved and wanted to protect blackness so much he was willing to kill and be killed for it. Farah’s comments felt like a personal attack. I thought, how can another Somali man not only feel this way but say it out loud amongst other Somalis?! For lack of a more elegant turn of phrase, what in the actual the fuck? Now, I do understand that just because one ascribes to a given culture doesn’t mean they share an innate affinity towards members of said group. However, I myself can’t shake the fact that I do care about what happens to Somali men, our men.
So here lay bare what I feel are the problematics of this “flight” mentality. Not only do Somalis exist in a world where we are considered disposable but have begun to, sadly, endorse this problematic view of ourselves. This way of thinking within our community about our community only bolsters negative perceptions from without. This is not to say that I support expunging individuals of accountability on particular matters. Though what I am noting is the fundamental break between Farah’s perspective and my own: What Farah deems as personal failures are what I consider complex systematic workings of (rather frayed) institutions—ranging from the family to the state. Because the lives of the two men killed are not the only ones to be accounted for; we must not forget the shooter who lay waste within the confines of the prison, nor the bereaving families of both victim and perpetrator, nor the way the Somalis are seen by other groups following such an event. There are far more people implicated than just the three men news outlets focused on. So when I recount the times hooyo has gotten off the phone letting out a major sigh as she breaks the news to us of another Somali man killed in either intentional or unintentional acts of violence, they are lucid outcomes of disinvestment that we as a community must engage with seriously; the view Farah champions is not only illogical but downright irresponsible.
So what should those who feel like myself do, exactly? That I am less clear about. Though what I am clear on is that running away from critical issues that our community face is neither a prudent nor a sustainable route to take.