Ushering in another Black History Month: Journeys into Tolu′ Akinyemi’s Black ≠ Inferior

Title: BLACK ≠ INFERIOR

Genre: Poetry (a collection)

Author: Tolu′ A. Akinyemi

Publisher: The Roaring Lion Newcastle LTD

Year of Publication: 2021

Date of Review: 30th of September, 2021

Word Count: 1,490

Reviewer: ENANG, God’swill Effiong

‘From every mountainside, let freedom ring’—Martin Luther King Jr.

Black ≠ Inferior was spurned with everything compared to what makes a man a living thing and a perfect being. It was made from the ground (the beginning), carved into a striking collection of poetry (the book); poured into it emotions (anger, admiration, disgust, love, self-appraisal and many more) which the reader can detest and from which we can tell the poet’s moods. Finally, the breath of life — which makes it a living thing, because it is simply like man. And this review will embark on a journey to display the motifs as a living thing because of his relations with man.

It is inarguable that a traveller into this collection won’t miss out on the bold theme of the devastating effects of racial prejudice against blacks (both at home and in diaspora). In the first stanza of ‘Black and Unique’, the persona wishes his words be taken by blacks about the fact that their skin basks in glory like ‘a dark armour (line 5). He chooses to praise the colour of Blacks. In the second stanza, he states the main theme of racial prejudice, as earlier stated. The poet wishes they ‘can rise above the tides of hate /and the contraptions of oppression’ (lines 6 and 7). He further re-affirms, wishing they can see through each day that they are ‘black and unique’.

In the third and fourth stanzas, the persona wishes blacks can rise above voices that think them ‘under-represented’ and the ‘labels’ of ‘false identities’ fixed on them. This act has been a continuous tense and is becoming a future tense.

Furthermore, ‘Black Girl: Stinking Hair’ vomits an atmosphere of trauma on a three-year-old girl schooling in a white environment. The poet says her ‘[h]er hair’s scent makes her white friends want to puke.’ And he laments on how prejudice and discrimination found their way in classrooms. This implies that many more blacks in diaspora are passing through the same gruesome fate.

As a doctor, Akinyemi thinks of how to heal the child’s heart, where constant devaluing words have been etched in her heart by the girl’s teacher. And he suggested a possible solution by writing a poem; praising her hair and skin and ‘hoping that through these pages/she finds her healing’. Moreover, in ‘Black Sheep’, the poet hits on the same theme more strikingly and potently, like the snake adder. He says: ‘Don’t clothe an entire race with the toga [gown] of fraudster/ because of a few bad eggs.’

In the succeeding stanzas, he then narrates of him listening to three ‘black sheep’ who claim to embark on collecting the lootings of the Whites (colonial masters) on the blood and sweat of their forefathers which the persona shuns by calling them ‘Ambassadors of trickery’. He then historically alludes to Ramon Olorunwa Abbas (a.k.a. Hushpuppi) who spent so much of life on cyber deception. And as a teacher, the persona, through his angry mood, declares:

Don’t paint us black because of a few rotten apples.

Remove the weighty tag on our shoulders.

This weight of prejudice is depressing.

A thousand Black Sheep are not the archetype for an entire

race.

Also, this theme is evident in ‘Africa Arise’, ‘Black and Beautiful’, ‘Black as a Portrait of Criminality’, and ‘Sadness’.

Another theme worthy of note is racial violence and the annihilation it possesses on blacks. When a race by default sights another race to be ‘demonic’, there is no limit to their sheer violence on the ‘less perceived’ race. And in the throes of Akinyemi, he pens in his poem, ‘The Police is Your Friend’—an irony for bitterness. He establishes police brutality; saying they come in divergent shades of colours.

The dashes introduced indicate a short run into the suggested brutalities of the police (which aren’t only pointing to those in Nigeria but oversee). They come like friends but disguised like a poisoned goblet, which one cannot tell. Lastly, the last stanza encapsulates the whole message on the police that we hold them in fear—fear of dying: ‘an unripe yam uprooted from earth.’ Akinyemi has simply compared the mistreated people to unripe yam removed before its time, which is a clear picture of death. We can also get the same theme on ‘Not Another Elegy’. One commendable aesthetic the poet used in the poem is in his graphology and syntax. The introduction to the stops at the end of each word connotes importance and an empathetic mood:

                                             …police is a synonym for untimely death.

I.  CAN’T.  BREATHE.

To the white supremacists, the vibration of our soul stings

theirs with our mantra “Black Lives Matter.”

In addition, there is the theme of racial injustice standing as a tower in the poem. ‘Black Boy: Hollow Vibes’ preaches this in its lines. In the first stanza, the poet persona mentions districts in South London (‘Peckham’) and (‘Brixton’). He says that gangsterism is now the vogue. Because the aforementioned places are multicultural even down to their markets in the UK, and Lewisham (South East London, England) has also been corrupted by the immigrants is not exempted. The crown of it all which brings us to ‘racial injustice’ is the reference to the town, ‘Harlem’, where injustice takes cover on black boys and then results in being just a number in the prisons—a justice denied. A fact can be seen: ‘Black Boys suffer miscarriages of justice/before they become just numbers in prisons.’ Also, the poet reiterates this theme in ‘Not Another Elegy’, comparing equality to a forgotten child and a world where racial injustice walks tall. Taking no sides on both races, he also says that justice is a mirage in Africa (Nigeria as a limelight).

Now, to continue in this same light is quite exhausting because there are so much racist issues to journey through. So, to spice this journey, this review will take another bus down to Nigeria, to take a halt. Nonetheless, it will in ways match the previous journeys. This is because Nigeria is only a chip off the old block (colonial masters—hence, they are neocolonialists).

Making this last transport, it is crucial to discuss the theme of hatred and corruption as one of the drawbacks of Nigeria, which is as a mirror of the colonial masters as regards the aim of this review. In ‘Black Out’, the title ‘bewilders’ me because of its tendencies for ambiguity. It could mean that ‘a black fellow is dead’ or ‘power supply has been cut-off’. Either ways, the meanings still align in the poem. Such is the author’s mastery of morphology. Tolu’ Akinyemi disapproves of a black killing another black, who in turn could have been a significant person; not just to the country, but the world. All this can only happen because of hatred in a man’s heart for another; a bye-product of the colonial masters when one recollects the killings at will; bleeding out sweats in plantations etc. All in all, the poet says that when blacks fight one another, they reduce their ‘light’ and a ‘black out’ ensues in both meanings. More can be seen in ‘Black Unity 1’. In the poem, the poet says that the blacks sold their unity for food and the ‘bitterness’ in their hearts overthrew ‘their quest to promote Black Unity’. The last poem is on ‘Nigerian Lives Matter’ (stopping by corruption junction). Here, Akinyemi speaks of people who fund Boko Haram to war against Nigeria (her motherland). Achebe has an answer for the end of such an act in his powerful novel, Arrow of God, in which he says that ‘no man however how great [is] greater than his people’ (1964: 230). This implies that no one (Boko Haram) can win over his people (Nigeria).

And so, Akinyemi clamours for an ‘#EndthewealthbuildingmachineBokoHaram’. He goes on to condemn black out (absence of electricity supply) which is because of ‘man’s darkened heart….’ To cap it all, he says that the unholy union between the Almajiris (Islamic immigrants seeking for knowledge) and the Fulani herdsmen is an omen, due to terrorism wrought by this pair in the nation.

Therefore, Blacks can still be said to be in cages because of racism, hatred for self, one another and the practice of neo-colonialism. On this note, it can be said that Akinyemi, using his collection (Black ≠ Inferior) has not only spoken like Martin Luther King Jr. but also risen ‘from a generation of wordsmiths,/ [a man] who stir hearts with words.’ He is an immortal; a god—and ‘gods don’t die!’

                                                            He Lives On!

Long live Blacks! Happy Black History Month!          

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