Black and White Love: From Port Harcourt to Pennsylvania
“Put it this way, if you sit on a park bench with your sweetheart, an hour seems like a minute. If you sit on a hot stove by mistake, a minute seems like an hour.” This assertion was made by Albert Einstein on his vacation at Deep Creek Lake in September 1946. I have not eaten one of his favourite meals, a corn-on-the-cob. But, I’ve drank as much water as he did and sailed from my world to Beech Creek, from where my first gift of an artwork was sent by Jenny, a white Amazon from Pennsylvania.
In these present times, with successive replays of Muddy Waters’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ revolving on the gramophone of my mind, I’ve been wondering about how our paths crossed beyond boundaries deemed commonplace for a black man and a white woman. Oftentimes, the song seems to be drawn to heights that give credence to the virile powers of Tutankhamun’s mummified erect phallus. But alas, never! It is a truism no doubt that, beyond the bag-of-tricks finesse of an African man, which steers a retired woman to come live with and enjoy the salubrious tranquillity of an ideal Gambian beach, white women actually like to be loved by black men.
When Jenny made her love concrete by sending me a marvellous art piece across land and sea, I realised what transpired between her and me some five years before. It had little to do with the excitation of the erotic hormones that characterised the Covid-19 season when movements were restricted and the postulate of the World Health Organization on unplanned pregnancies accrued to about 7 million under lockdown – a time when sexting, a form of erotic exchanges between correspondents on social media platforms for the satiation of the Rabelaisian fires that burn in their midriffs and which, by its exhaustive charms presents a wide cusp for the penetration of the proboscis tip in seasons stifled by drifts to the milieu inhabited by the meadow, trended.
Jenny and I met at the Gibraltar that is Mark Zuckerberg’s room. Our dialogue ensued for many days and nights, burdened by the prospect of our nuptials. A flashback to that time burgeons from my subconscious, the wondrous pixels of her voluptuous physique so phenomenal in my psyche as she sat in her studio armchair engrossed in the dexterous charms wrought by her brush in pastel for a papier-mâché design. In that moment, I was quelled by the distance between us, but the values we shared were potent enough to enhance our membership into the community of humanity which Mark Twain touched upon in an article to be trivial on lines which cut across creed, colour, complexion and to rest upon the real meaning of being ‘human’.
It was some months to the annual Felabration event of 2017. Commenters poured their adulations, like spots of divinity on the body of an Oro worshipper at Sagamu, on Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Facebook timeline. We call him Abami Eda, the fearless one. While he lived, Fela Kuti was the representative of Obatala because he sang truth to power on behalf of the common man. One of a few hallowed Nigerian offshoots who decided to butcher common societal class notions by relinquishing their thrones to witness, firsthand, the sufferings that characterise the world of a Nubian whose resources were once boundless as reminiscent of the tributaries of black gold from Oloibiri.
Typical of Ginger Baker and the likes of him, Jenny understood the underground spiritual game medley of Anikulapo Kuti. When black and white lives commented on his a new post on Kunti’s Facebook page posthumous post in 2017, I remembered how I became aware of his music and my mind drifted to those nascent years at Eleme when my father proved to be the only one who had the material apron because he owned the first transistor radio in our neighbourhood. He’d reached his Jerusalem of social justice. He’d signed up as a member of his company’s Trade Union, but I couldn’t tell which of his roles were meant to advocate for workers who did scut work and whose rights were being denied by top management, just like when Black and Asian people were being discriminated against in Cornwall through the legitimisation of cruelty by the UK government, which reigned when racial prejudice took a toll in the UK. Those days when Fela’s voice blared through the eyelets of my father’s radio set as he sang ‘Yellow Fever’ were characterised by affinity for protests in a military regime against a backdrop of open disregard for democracy by the plenipotentiaries of our times who derided the postulates of Montesquieu for a better democracy. I have seen a full-fledged creased-uniformed gendarme flash his nozzle at the head of a ‘bloody civilian’ to affirm how he would be killed and nothing would happen. An extension of the Zaria massacre was re-lived in my time when at the university I saw a student protester turned into manure by the trigger-happy gendarme, who had arrived in one of their vans at the scene of the students’ agitation to curb the menace with a sense of harmless professionalism, but instead chose to top his marksman charts with a fanfare of decimation emboldened by a bias bullet.
While my father lay supine on our sprawled-out black and white chequered cushion, taking successful nosefulls of Marlboro tobacco just to drift to his utopia and be freed from the problems rife on the terraforms of a fortuitous Nigeria back then, I couldn’t ask what inspired him to listen to Fela’s music at such a time – it was perhaps 1998. But I heard an Afrobeat sound pour through the rims of the speaker at a resonant frequency that licensed the maximum level at which the current could be measured relative to the very Hertz desired for a coherent bandwidth. I heard that vodun sound and it rammed my hippocampus like a thousand torrential downpour of gorges at Victoria Falls where in the dead of night, negro spiritual songs from sangomas send their ripples upon the tranquil high seas of Dahomey.
“That is the Pan-African voice!” I had written to Jenny on Facebook. She replied, ” Oh yeah! I have a copy of Black President.” Up until then, I hadn’t set my eyes on that album in any record shop in Port Harcourt. This is just testimonial to the post-modern conversion of musical inventions from hard copies to soft copies distributed across legitimate and illegitimate online music platforms.
When I started to converse at length with Jenny and soon taught her some pidgin, I didn’t blame cancel culture or Karens or Supremacists anymore on the reason Afrobeats – which evolved from Afrobeat, solely originated by Fela Kuti – would in a post-pandemic era take precedence over other music genres. People now love to watch Burna Boy perform on stage as he spins around like whirling dervishes with his Afro-moonwalk and enacts the consciousness of the pizza-variety form of his Afrobeat invention that he has dubbed Afro-fusion.
Jenny proved to love Africa through more than just her writing. I had not at any time envisioned a moment of familiarity with any white person because up until then, I had only had opportunities as a child, and they were: to wave my hands at the sky whenever an aeroplane flew high above our rooftop or to watch from a distance when, while on the school bus, we saw white expatriates whom we called “Oyibo” being driven in flashy cars to the Refinery. I had always wondered what would have made it possible for a white person to like a black person except perhaps when I attributed, due to my mistaken analysis, their admiration to the material that bore its brunt on our resources, our virility, and our intelligence, which collectively has the potential to elevate a slave to a free born as posited by Frederick Douglas. I was happy and surprised to discover that Jenny’s admiration was founded on the fact that the legend, Kuti, was a multi-talented instrumentalist whose deftness on the piano and the saxophone cannot be corroded for many generations to come!
But I was straggling through broken walls like the contused roach running pell-mell through the fated chink. I couldn’t see the possibility of us retaining our complexions and still exuding the intrinsic traits of our humanity regardless of our being black or white. The state of being black here doesn’t have, at the very least, any relationship with the miasmic or the sinister. But rather it deals with originality: the originality of our melanin, which is valued at $150 per gram in comparison with a gram of gold valued at $49. The originality of the creamy obsidian brew of a trophy lager beer par excellence christened Peter Obi’s Beer by Jesse Jagz, the Hip-Hop legend who lives in the vineyard of Engeddi and the valleys of Bether atop the hill of Jos. The originality of the Songs of Songs confession of the woman who confessed, “I am black, and comely, daughters of Jerusalem, and I dwell in the tents of Kedar….” Indeed, black skin, body, and mind don’t crack, like the obsidian pebbles of Enugu that cast their charms under the slivers of the sun as one trudges along the path to River Oji. Jenny knew all this but she listened intently, the way the goddess of the river is amused by the chants of Aja in the dead of night at the river banks.
She informed my intellect, and she had a more profound knowledge of our two worlds than I did, living only in a world encumbered by black countenances. I imagined how as a teacher to students in an interracial school based in Philadelphia, she played the role of the Madonna and the child, due to the ease with which she told me of her love for Africa, the way Susanne Wenger was drawn to the Osogbo Grove and boasted of the Sacred Groves’ thousand wonders of the universe in her work.
“Madam, I would like you to introduce me to a good white lady.”
“It would be best if you really don’t expect much from us over here. Trust me, you can always find love wherever you are. But, I’d advise you to visit Fiji,” she told me. She then told me that ignorant young white girls were being bloated through sex by chaps and that their ignorance was greatly constraining their plans to further their education. I was appalled.
It soon became obvious that Madam Jenny and I were like-minded people who appreciated each other’s differences. We worked out the possibility of sharing salt and pepper memories from our worlds at length before, along the line, my account was hacked.
Thinking of those times warms my heart. I can see Jenny through Nwanyi-Ocha, the Swiss woman whose undying love for her Isuofia husband is stronger than steel. Jenny makes me remember Rebecca Carroll’s Sugar in the Raw – the lamentations of black girls who were schooled in white neighbourhoods and experienced a lot of rejections. Indeed, she and a thousand other sweet souls are neither Karens nor Supremacists. She proved that in July 2017 when she couriered one of her artworks on what Fela Kuti’s woman should look like. I received the gift from the chaplain at Corpus Christi Cathedral.
She also sent her heartfelt appreciation to me with the artwork. It read: “Dear Chibby Anyanu, THANK YOU FOR LIKING MY ARTWORK.” I wasn’t concerned about the missing ‘w’ in my surname. I saw her note to me as a flashback to those times when in the middle of our conversations, she’d excuse herself to attend to her routine chores at home. I only wish at this very time of my life to have known what it means for a woman to fall from the sky; it would only suffice if Jenny, adorned in a gown made from Aba Akwaete material, would dance the fire dance which characterises the identity of the African woman.
Chibuikem Anyanwu is a Pan-Africanist whose writings deal with themes of existential freedom, the human condition, and social justice. His works have been instrumental in informing the intellects of a select group of intelligentsia who aspire for their voices to be heard from their jurisdiction to regions around the world where there are threats to human dignity. He has contributed to the Rotary Club Of Chinchwad Pune online magazine for peace and has written for the Indian Community in Port Harcourt. A graduate of Port Harcourt University who finds fulfilment in reading, writing, playing chess, and sudoku, he is also the founder of The Nubbin Writers Society. He splits his time between the tranquil city of Enugu and the bustling town of Port Harcourt.