FUNMILOLA FAGBAMILA – A LEADING FIGURE IN THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT, A SCHOLAR, AN ACTIVIST, A PLAYWRIGHT AND AN ARTIST

Q: So, I read a lot about you and you were and still are, a leading figure in the Black Lives Matter Movement. What do you want to achieve? What is your wish for black people in the US?

Ms. Fagbamila : So, what I want to achieve in my work with BLM is to advocate for a political system, a social system, that will essentially make it, so that black people have equal access to the law, equal access to justice in this land. That black people are able to move throughout the world and know that they actually have the ability to have equal access to opportunity So, that they know that it is not because of institutional racism or institutional anti-blackness that they are not able to live up to their fullest compacity because of some kind of bias system. So really, it is just advocating for equal access. And once that occurs, then black will be able to live healthier more fulfilled lives, and not have to be worried about navigating institutional inequality.

Q: Do you think that it will be possible for Blacks to live in the US without being oppressed? What can black people do, in order to be heard and taken seriously?

Ms. Fagbamila: I do think that it is possible for black people to live in the United States without being oppressed. I think that, it will take transformative movement, in order for that to happen. I do not think that black people will be liberated overnight. I think that it will take sustained movements that would encourage the transformation of legislation, the transformation of criminal justice in this country and beyond.  And a number of different things will have to take place, in order for black people to actually be freed in this land and so, I believe that it is possible, but I do not think that it will be just a matter of people being nice to each other and that will end racism and oppression.[…]. The end of systemic oppression of particular groups, the only thing for that to happen is, if there is transformational, institutional change and not just change of opinion or change of feeling, or some other kind of surface level unsubstantial, kind of representational, cultural shift. […] Black people can advocate for themselves without being worried about how external groups may view them […].

Q: What do you think is the main problem in the US, regarding oppression of different ethnicities?

Ms. Fagbamila: I would say for my own personal opinion, that I think that the main problem in the United States is that there are a core intellectual level of fear and intimidation, of difference or intimidation by difference. I personally believe that people are conditioned and trained really early on to be intimidated by that which is different.And that is why we have so many different kinds of xenophobic behaviours and laws and cultural practices that exists in the United States and beyond.

Q: You are a Nigerian-American scholar, activist, playwright and artist. Which of those works, do you prefer to do and why? 

Ms. Fagbamila: I would say that they are deeply intertwined, but it will be really difficult for me to choose one and to announce that as my primary identity.  I identify as a scholar… specifically, not necessarily as an academic. Because yes, while I work within academia, scholarship is just the everlasting pursuit of knowledge, pursuit of information… and that is the center of my life and experience in this world. […] In any real way I consider myself as an activist because I think we all should be activists. I feel like really at the core of it, we should all fell compelled to do something, if there is something wrong… that we should all feel compelled to attempt to be helpful and to shift society, if there is something societally/ socially wrong. I think that we should feel compelled to engage when something needs to be changed. So, rather than viewing myself as an activist, that should be acknowledged for her social/ political contributions, I think that it would be an amazing thing, of we could culturally normalise activism and make it, so we all feel compelled to do something when something is wrong, rather than uplifting the activist in this world. Playwright: …I write stories, I think that stories move people. I feel like stories move the heart…they move the emotion in a way that studying cannot necessarily. I think that people can consume data, stats and logistical information, and they can understand something intellectually but not feel moved or feel compelled to do anything about it, until they hear a story or see some type of compelling imagery that brigs to life , the information that they have just consumed via (whatever) intellectual process.  And as an artist, my duty is to move people at a heart level and almost I would say cellular level, so they feel compelled to do something about what they know, rather than just knowing and knowing more and knowing more.

Q: You are the founder of #TheIntersection: WokeBlackFolk, which is a stage play. Tell me, what inspired you to create it and which message do you want to share?

Ms. Fagbamila: The stage play I was encouraged to write this story because I saw the contentions and difficulties that existed in the political spaces that I was occupying as an activist, as a community organizer, as an academic. I was in all of these different black social political spaces and I was hearing the ways that each group was talking about the other groups. And I identified four different types of groups and I created characters that were reflections of what I was seeing in my actual everyday life. People that I know truly in person, but I wanted to personify them, to humanize them in a way…because we live in a social media era that is very much and can be depersonalized, that can almost be dehumanizing because we are looking at people through a screen, we are looking at peoples images and their brands online and were are not seeing real humans in real life. What inspired me to created it was my ignition to communicate more effectively across political difference, across the difference of political ideology. And I made character, who is a black afro-centric cultural nationalist, I would call him… and also can held a many patriarchal tendencies but he feel very much what he is doing is the best bet for black people and their straight for liberation. The second character that I made, was a black feminist academic. She can be very pompous […]. She takes on with her academic training, but she is also very much advocating for the people that are un-advocated, for unseen, unheard and underappreciated and underacknowledged often times in black communities. So, there is a complexity there. The third character was an activist who was always on the front line, always protesting, always marching, always picketing, always at the meeting, always organizing and is doing the ground work, the foot work which is necessary to challenge social norms and systems that are harmful and dehumanizing and threatening black lives. But also, they can be quite judgmental in their kind of critique of black people or of people who do not do grassroots organizing the way that THEY (emphasized by Ms. Fagbamila) do. And of course, activism for social justice looks like many things, grassroots organizing and engaging in public demonstrations is one articulation of political engagement. And so, I think that that person is very much represented in black communities as well. And the last character was what I identify as a “political moderate”, who thinks that maybe they are on the left, or kind of liberal. But their political ideologies are informed by a lot of what we will call respectability politics. One minute they are a respectable person, but also this person even though they have some kind of force rules in their political assessment about black peoples kind of state in the country, they really have every intention on advocating for greater community incapability for black people to be more countable to themselves in their communities and stop necessarily always looking externally to name the problem as something that we have no control over; that somebody is doing to us; that we do not have any control over changing because the boogie man is racism and nothing that we have done to our own self, which can be a very complicated and complex conversation.  Again, it can easily spill into a conservative, avoidance of systemic inequality, but I think the character has good intensions and my intention is to observe that characters intentions and see whether or not we can engage her with the necessary nuance.

Q: People like Erykah Badu and Angela Davis honoured your work #WokeBlackFolk. What does this mean to you?

Ms. Fagbamila: It means a great deal to me. It means so much that people that I have looked up to could look at my work and be inspired by or appreciate it or to see value and worth in it. It is absolutely moving to be honest…like to speak about this all day but I am honoured that I can offer this contribution and that those who had offered beautiful contributions in the past see it and feel moved by it.

Q: I saw a video in which you were performing “Black Girl Fly”. It is obvious that this is dedicated to black women/ girls. What was the reason you wrote that piece and what did you especially want to trigger towards black girls? 

Ms. Fagbamila: I wrote that peace because I was asked to write something for Black History Month. […] And throughout my adult life, I have considered the condition of black people and even more specifically the condition of black women and girls under a system that I can identify as a white supremacist patriarchy. And the way which that can limit the potential of black women and girls, and I wanted to advocate in this poem that I wrote, I wanted to advocate for black girls being freed to be, to thrive, to learn , to grow, nor not feel their human being is going to be intimidating or challenging to others. And even if it is, to continue, to pursue their evolution, admits pushback socially. Or even, whatever personal of pushback and resistance they may experience in their own lives, so I relay just encouraging black girls to fly. You know, its is called ‘Back Girl Fly’. Speak, write, lead, learn. Do not worry about if your advancement and abolition, brilliance, your brilliance and your brilliance is intimidating to a system that assumes that you are not supposed to personify by those things within your black girl body.  So, it is really a message to say that black girls can do whatever it is what they desire, admits racism and patriarchy, that we can still strive and that we will challenge these systems that say that we are less than.

Q: To which degree a do you think, society has an influence on the way, black girls see themselves? And what do you think could be done in order to change the negative self awareness of black people/girls?

Ms. Fagbamila: I think the society has a very huge influence on the way black girls see themselves. If we are talking about the way the world views women and girls in general, limiting girls are judged more on their physical attributes, the way they look more than what is in their mind and what they have to offer intellectually. Culturally, that is starting to shift in the West a lot and in the world in general, where women are more being appreciated for what they have to offer via their minds and their menAgain, women and girls are more heavily policed via their physical appearance. Black girls specifically, are not afforded the same leniency that often times their white counterparts are, for the same behaviours that they might engage in. For instance, black girls are much more likely to be criminalized in the classroom setting, whether that being sent to an authority’s office, or even having the authorities called into the school on them for engaging the same behaviours for their white male or female counterparts. tal capacity […] . I think that socially, the resources need to be made available for black women to hear for black people to heal. So, even within black communities there can be greater dialogue around what healing looks like, so that future generations do not have to take on [ the kind of] intergenerational traumas and passed those down. […]in order to change the kind of negative self-imagery, we need to be very careful of what kind of media little black girls are consuming, so we can let them know that even though, that television screen might tell them that loose crawly hair is the best natural hair. That their kinky curly afro hair is just as good: it is beautiful, it is perfect, it is divine, it is ideal and that their beautiful black skin is perfect, beautiful, divine and ideal […].

Q: On which topic would you like to work on in the future and why?

Ms. Fagbamila: The topic that I like to work on in the future is the relationship between black people throughout, the Africans or the Black diaspora. So, one thing that I would like to explore in my future work, is the relationship, for instance, West-Africans or Nigerians and Black Americans. I plan to do that and discuss the way blackness is viewed or engaged globally.

Q: If you had 3 wishes free? What would that be?

Ms. Fagbamila: I never really thought of that, but I think if I had 3 wishes free, I would wish: 1) a greater compassion in the world and logic, for people to employ logic and compassion together. Because I think it would eliminate so much of the pain and suffering in the world. I think that if the majority of the world’s population or if all of the world’s inhabitants were really employing logic and compassion in their behaviours, that there would be no poverty and hunger and a lot of the other things that cause harm. There would be less greed etc. 2) I guess my number one wish is my primary wish. But another wish I would have is, for people to be able to deal with difference with a greater grace and dignity. Meaning, they are no longer afraid of engaging things that are different from them or that they are unfamiliar to them. And one other wish would be reverse a great deal of the damage that has been done, historically. So, that people can be healthier and not have to deal with the damage of the trauma that has already been done […].

Dear Ms. Fagbamila,

thank you very much for all the detailed answers. I thank you for working on so many important issues, regarding Black people. You inspire many people out there, including me. Thank your for your precious time and your dedication to such interesting and important topics. I wish you all the best!

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