Flo, Not My Job & Rejecting the Idea of the ‘Strong Black Woman’

Written by Anita Mowete

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Florence Aina

Black women are often expected to put their heart and soul in relationships, even if it is to their own detriment. However, just because you can, does not mean you should.

This feeling of frustration is the central theme of the song ‘Not My Job’ by the girl group Flo. Releasing music since 2022, Flo continues to see a steady rise in popularity. The group has a late 90s/early 2000s RnB and Hip-Hop style, reminiscent of groups like Destiny’s Child, SWV, and TLC.

It is clear the woman in ‘Not My Job’ is at a breaking point in her relationship. She reminisces back to when she “had the patience” to put up with her partner’s problems but now she has found her voice and is making her boundaries clear (Flo, 2022). It is a situation most people can relate to, by either being in it themselves or witnessing it happen to someone else – our mothers, aunts or friends overworked and underappreciated in relationships that do not fulfil them.

However, finding the strength to cut the rope and leave these relationships behind can be the ultimate act of self-care and liberation. Going from that low point of realising you have become a shadow of yourself to taking back ownership of your life is one of the few glimmers of light that can shine through a bad relationship. This act of rebellion is contrary to the role black women are expected to play in relationships. In the black African and American community, the idea of the steadfast wife or girlfriend who takes a man at his lowest and transforms him into the most successful version of himself is very common. Women are even expected to put up with abuse or infidelity as too many people give excuses for this behaviour. Black women are taught to forgive first and foremost when dealing with these types of behaviour, therefore rejecting the docile and submissive role placed on their shoulders is a powerful act of resistance. 

Throughout my course studying journalism, I have not had the chance to analyse songs specifically; however, music is a vehicle of pop culture that can help understand the thoughts and feelings of different communities at any given time. Gaining the skills to look at media critically granted me the ability to see that a catchy song on social media is also a window to look at important issues. It is thought-provoking to see how a simple song can also serve as a doorway into the thoughts and emotions of black women. In this sense, ‘Not My Job’ would fit well in any course that involves finding the background and deeper meaning behind pieces of media.

‘Not My Job’ can also be a useful piece in a historical context. The theme of the song presents parallels with the 1953 song ‘Hound Dog’ by Big Mama Thornton. Although decades apart, the two songs have similar themes as they both come from the viewpoint of a black woman leaving a man who is not good for her. When Thornton sings, “cause you ain’t looking for a woman, all you’re looking for is a home” (Big Mama Thornton, 1953), this draws parallels with the line “never been my job, never been my occupation” in Flo’s song (Flo, 2022). In both situations, the men in the relationships are not looking for the woman herself, but what they can get out of her. Whether it is somewhere to stay or someone to invest in them fully, they do not see nor care about the pressure they are putting on their partners. It is also a reminder that rebelling against the role black women are burdened with in relationships is nothing new for them. 

On a wider scale, the song can serve as a more zoomed in focus on the emotional labour expected of black women in general. From Rosa Parks to Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, in using their voices to stand against racial bigotry and fight for justice and equality for black people, black women often get caught in the line of fire as a result. While we regularly see the great acts of resistance taken by black women, how often do people consider the toll it takes on them? We are expected to educate over and over even if it means reliving unpleasant experiences on top of the added stress of being a full-time employee at a job thinly veiled as a relationship. 

The emotional labour expected of black women in relationships is a symptom of a bigger issue. While on the surface the idea of the strong black women may seem empowering, this strength comes at a great cost. When you are constantly on the chopping block you end up being seen more as a mascot than a real person, even within your own community. Although building up someone regardless of its effects on your wellbeing is a brave and selfless act, it is not something that should be assumed or demanded. Truly, as the song says, it is no black woman’s job to make a man something that they are not. 

Anita Mowete is someone who loves to find deeper meaning in seemingly simple things. Currently a BA Journalism student at Robert Gordon University, she’s particularly interested in the experiences of Black people in the UK. She also has a love for history and travel, which both allow her to explore different cultures. 

Works Cited

Big Mama Thornton, ‘Hound Dog’, Peacock Records, 1953.

Flo, ‘Not My Job’, Island Records, 2022.

Hope is a Nigerian citizen in ‘Of This Our Country’

Written by Oluwaseun Famoofo 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Grace Kaluba

I still remember the days my parents and their friends would sit in the living room, ardently discussing the politics of the land. I used to be scared someone would knock on their doors and arrest them for even daring to speak. Freedom of speech in Nigeria is an illusion, and so is the right to vote. To be a patriot or to not be, I have spent my life asking myself this question. But I ache for this country, a country where a lot of citizens keep saying their daily “what-ifs.”: what if we were never colonized, what if the amalgamation did not happen, what if we all united? Reading “Of this our Country” reminded me of  “There was a country,” by Chinua Achebe – the Nigeria he grew up in is so different from that which has been handed to us, the new generation of Nigerians.

Nigeria is a land filled with contrasts: inter-tribal hate and inter-tribal marriages; a wide income gap between the lower class, the middle class, and the rich; startling differences between the experiences of the citizens in the diaspora who come to Nigeria occasionally and the citizens who live and breathe the country. In “Of this our Country”, the most captivating sentence I read was “If you want to know a country, read its writers,” a quote by Aminatta Forna. The storytelling of the book shines a light on the hidden crevices, it points out the abnormalities and peculiarities of Nigeria I have come to regard as “normal.” A selection of first-person experiences where Nigerians highlight the authors’ strong ties to their ancestry. Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bolu Babalola, Abi Daré, and Ayobami Adébayo are a few of the authors present in the collection. Finding both well-known and lesser-known Nigerian authors is easy within the book. I found compelling how at ease the authors were describing the places they called home; some of the authors are skillfully able to persuade their audience of their love for Nigeria.

The story by Chimamanda Adichie provides a hysterical and horrific view of life in Lagos. One’s response to their stories, which serve as a powerful representation of the author’s other works, should be able to inform if one will be interested in other books by these authors. Despite the fact that throughout the book many of Nigeria’s negative characteristics, which may discourage those who have never been there from traveling there, are highlighted, I believe readers will enjoy the descriptions that highlight the country’s timeless features and some may even feel an affinity for it as a result of reading the book.

The personal short stories by twenty-four writers from different parts of the country contained in “Of this our Country” is an accurate representation of the country. A symphony of colors and languages, of cultures and traditions, of religion and politics. It can make people awfully happy in a moment and the next second the smile is wiped off their face. In Nigeria, one never particularly knows what the day has for them, or even the next hour, they just hope for the best. Hope, they say, is a Nigerian citizen.

The book shows the nation that formed in the year 1960, which is still heavily scarred by colonialism and looting, civil war, and corruption, but which still stands tall regardless. Nigeria moves day by day through the sheer will of its people. The currency for surviving in Nigeria is the dream – everyone has it. It burns like a fever in people’s eyes when they see what they can accomplish. One might say this is also the factor that drives greed: the bottomless pit of want our leaders keep shoving the collective resources of the people into, and that person would be right. The complexity the country displays on a daily basis is intertwined with so many beliefs. Nigerians are a proud group of people, and it has led to generations of people who have a hard time admitting their mistakes. That the way they are leading this country is wrong or the hate for fellow Nigerians is baseless. They will not admit that we need better leaders, empathetic leaders, and that we have been wrong but with measured steps and goals, Nigerians can begin the long and tumultuous journey to start healing the land.

The writers’ time in cities like Lagos, Abeokuta, Enugu, Jos, and many more has been a transformative experience and inspired them to produce an enlightening book. Any foreigner who previously believed Nigeria had nothing noteworthy or interesting to offer would have their opinion altered after reading these testimonies. The authors are not all native Nigerians, though; some of them were raised abroad and have just recently chosen Nigeria as their permanent home. Every single piece in the collection is astounding, but those by Helon Habila, Lola Shoneyin, Yomi Adegoke, Okey Ndibe, and Abubakar Ibrahim will stand out as particularly unforgettable. 

Works cited

“If you want to know a country, read its writers.” – Aminatta Forna, ‘Survival instincts’, Guardian, April 24, 2009.

Of This Our Country. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Borough Press, 2021.

 

Oluwaseun Famoofo is a passionate narrator. A lover of comedy shows and wine, you will mostly see her glued to her laptop revealing one story or the other. Creating her novels and building their characters gives her the utmost satisfaction. Her works have shown in media such as Peace Insight, Black Ballad, Adventures from the bedroom of African women, Yellow seeds magazine, Noisy streets magazine, Resonate, Shado magazine and HypeQ Magazine.

Digital artwork - a blue background with circular shapes overlayed in yellow and black. On the left hand side there is an outline of the African continent

History as Imagination: Black Dreaming as Liberation

By Alma Alma

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Natasha Ruwona

Words are important for history as it is through words that history is told. So, what is the language of an untold history? It is the language of imagination, dreams, of interpretation of the tongue. For marginalised communities, history is the study of loss – a loss that is sometimes irretrievable. Without conventional historical sources, the past remains a locked door, but with an imaginative approach through a combination of personal experience, memory, and creativity there can be a re-construction of the past. With black history often found in oral traditions, folklore, and music, these stories are frequently at odds with more conventional historical practices such as written documents and official records, thus leaving them unexplored and untold. The work of black women writers such as Dionne Brand and Toni Cade Bambara shows how this hurdle can be overcome through an illustrative and imaginative writing practice.  

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A moving image with an Instagram filter. The image was taken by the writer in Jamaica on their family's land. It is a beautiful landscape with rolling green hills and the ocean on the horizon, a beautiful blue sky with white clouds.

Communing with Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon

By Kamara Dyer Simms

Artwork by Kamara Dyer Simms

Edited by Hannah McGurk

Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon was the focal novel for my undergraduate dissertation on Black futurity, nonlinear temporality, and imagination. While I’m not convinced that diversifying the curriculum within the current academy has enough bearing on any decolonial or anticolonial work that disrupts the academy, I still meditate with how I’ve been gifted by this novel and my accompanying piece of scholarship — how the philosophy ritualistically grounds me as a scholar and creative, how the prose holds me tenderly and with fullness, and how the metaphors guide me to dream futures for myself and my loved ones “with no hope of gratitude or remembrance” (Brand 21-22). Brand’s prose is poetry, and communing with her work continues to move me to imagine beyond what the carceral and linear structures of time dictate.

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The otherness of South Asian Art in British academia

Apoorva Singh

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Chila Kumari Burman was a member of the British Black Arts movement in the 1980s and one of the first South Asian women to make political art in the UK (Buck, 2020). Her work was most recently exhibited by Tate Britain in 2020, where her piece remembering a brave new world, filled with imagery of iconic Hindu deities and South Asian aesthetics, was the gallery’s winter commission. South Asian feminist perspectives on post-colonial Britain are centred in Burman’s work, which spans multiple media, from printmaking and painting, to installation and film. In my exploration of Chila Kumari Burman, I started to wonder: How do we read and understand her artwork? Is it post-colonial, South Asian, feminist or British? How should we define the artwork’s aesthetic and cultural underpinnings?

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A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM PART FOUR: VOGUING

PART FOUR: VOGUING

By Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

As I continue to write this Utopian Curriculum series, it feels important to address questions raised from previous essays. In online conversations and email exchanges around parts two (Black Panther) and three (Sultana’s Dream), a particular point raised was whether something can be truly utopian if it is only positive and ideal for a specific demographic. It is apt, then, to dedicate part four to the art form of voguing.

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A tintype of an African sculpture from the artists home

‘Decolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time’: Mark Sealy’s decolonial perspective on photography

By Maya Campbell

Artwork by Maya Campbell

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

In comparison to older visual languages such as painting, the relative newness of photography as a creative medium and the vast quantity of images it generates for consumption can be disorientating, especially when we want to evaluate the history of photography. As a tool, the image is highly flexible: historically, images have been digested by the public as a representation of social realities, despite their highly subjective and malleable nature. During my second year studying BA Photography at London College of Communication (UAL), we started to delve into theory surrounding contemporary photographic issues and practices. However, there was a noticeable vacuum in our lectures and recommended reading lists when it came to post-colonial critiques of images depicting the ‘Other’ throughout history. Though fascinating, all of the main thinkers whose theories our curriculum centred were greatly limited, their concepts produced through the prism of whiteness, masculinity and economic agency. 

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Lino print of French-Mauritanian film director, Med Hondo. Hondo is depicted holding a loud speaker and standing in front of a banner emblazoned with the national motto of France and Haiti, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité".

The Visionary Films of Med Hondo

Illustration and article by François Giraud 

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Although he worked at the margins of the film industry for half a century, pioneer French-Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo (1936-2019) is not an obscure artist. As recently as 2020, the German publisher Archive Books compiled almost fifty years of interviews with Med Hondo, which shows the interest that his transnational and anticolonial cinema continues to elicit, decades after many of his films were released. In 1970, his first long feature film Soleil Ôwhich powerfully denounces racism in French society and the exploitation and discrimination of African emigrants in Paris—received exposure at Cannes Festival and was awarded a Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Festival. Some of his later films, such as Sarraounia (1986) and Black Light (Lumière noire, 1994), have been studied in academic journals specialising in African and postcolonial studies. 

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A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM PART TWO: BLACK PANTHER

PART TWO: BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

Welcome back to the Utopian Curriculum series with Project Myopia! In this post, I will look at the first case study on the curriculum, the 2018 Marvel film Black Panther. Directed by Ryan Coogler, it has received a renewed level of attention and love since the tragic passing of actor Chadwick Boseman.

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