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ChatGPT: Africa

From my first session with ChatGPT   

I find most of these ChatGPT answers unsatisfactory. ALKEBULAN is the ancient indigenous name for the continent we call Africa. In Kemetic History of Afrika, Dr Cheikh Anah Diop writes, “The ancient name of Africa was Alkebulan. Alkebu-lan “mother of mankind” or “garden of Eden”.” Alkebulan is the oldest and the only word of indigenous origin. It was used by the Moors, Nubians, Numidians, Khart-Haddans (Carthagenians), and Ethiopians. The word *Africa* is European (derived from Greek or Roman words referencing Northern Alkebulan People). This chat dates everything to Roman and Greek occupation. The continent is obviously much older than those civilizations.

LJ: Where was Judah in Africa? 

ChatGPT: Judah was not located in Africa, but rather in the Middle East. In ancient times, Judah was a kingdom in the southern region of the Levant, which is roughly equivalent to the modern-day regions of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. The Kingdom of Judah emerged around the 9th century BCE and was centered on the city of Jerusalem. It was one of two kingdoms that emerged after the division of the united Kingdom of Israel following the death of King Solomon. The other kingdom was the Kingdom of Israel, which was located in the northern part of the Levant. 

LJ: What does the Kingdom of Whydah translate to in English? 

ChatGPT: There was a historical kingdom known as the Kingdom of Whydah, also spelled as Ouidah, which was located in what is now the West African country of Benin. The name “Whydah” or “Ouidah” is believed to have originated from the local Fon language, and its precise meaning is not entirely clear. However, it is thought to be a combination of two words: “wé” meaning “water” and “dah” meaning “shore” or “landing place”. Therefore, one possible interpretation of the name “Whydah” is “landing place on the water” or “shore by the water”. 

LJ: Why do people think Whydah and Ouidah are the same as Judah? 

ChatGPT: There is no factual basis for linking the names of the Kingdom of Whydah (Ouidah) in West Africa and the Kingdom of Judah in the Middle East. The two kingdoms were located on different continents, separated by thousands of miles, and existed in different historical periods. 

It is possible that some people may have been confused by the similarity in the sound of the names and attempted to draw a connection between them, but such claims have no basis in historical fact. It is important to rely on verifiable sources and evidence when making historical and cultural connections, rather than relying on unsupported claims or misconceptions. 

LJ: What is the original name for Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia? 

ChatGPT: The names of Africa, Egypt, and Ethiopia have evolved over time and have been referred to by different names in different periods of history and by different cultures and peoples. 

The name “Africa” is believed to have originated from the ancient Roman word “Africus,” which referred to the winds that blew from the north across the Mediterranean Sea. The term was later used to refer to the land to the south of the Mediterranean, and eventually came to encompass the entire continent. 

The ancient Egyptians referred to their country as “Kemet,” which means “black land” in reference to the dark, fertile soil of the Nile River delta. The Greeks and Romans called the country “Aigyptos” and “Aegyptus,” respectively, which is the origin of the modern English name “Egypt.” 

Ethiopia, which is located in the Horn of Africa, has been known by different names over the centuries. The ancient Greeks called the region “Aethiopia,” which means “burnt-faced” in reference to the dark-skinned people who lived there. In the Amharic language, the official language of Ethiopia, the country is known as “Ethiopia” or “Ityop’iyā.” 

It’s worth noting that the names of regions and countries are often influenced by the languages, cultures, and perspectives of the people who use them, and may change over time as a result of shifting political and cultural dynamics. 

LJ: What did Egyptians and Ethiopians call Africa before the Greeks and Romans arrived? 

ChatGPT: The ancient Egyptians and Ethiopians had various names for their respective lands, but there is no record of a name that referred specifically to the entire continent of Africa before the Greeks and Romans arrived. 

The ancient Egyptians referred to their land as “Kemet” or “Kmt,” which means “black land” or “the land of the blacks,” in reference to the dark, fertile soil of the Nile River valley. The term “Kemet” was later used to refer to the entire region of Egypt and Nubia (modern-day Sudan). 

The ancient Ethiopians referred to their land as “Habesha” or “Abesha,” which is still used today as a term for Ethiopia and its people. The name “Ethiopia” is believed to have been derived from the Greek term “Aithiopia,” which referred to the lands to the south of Egypt and was used to describe the people who lived there. 

It’s worth noting that the concept of a single continent known as “Africa” as we understand it today is a relatively modern construct, and was likely influenced by European colonialism and the scientific exploration of the continent in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

LJ: What was the longest reigning civilization in Africa? 

ChatGPT: The question of which civilization was the longest reigning in Africa is a difficult one to answer definitively, as the continent has a rich and diverse history with many different civilizations rising and falling over time. 

However, one of the most well-known and enduring civilizations in African history is Ancient Egypt. Founded around 3100 BCE and lasting until its conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, Ancient Egypt spanned thousands of years and saw the rise and fall of many different dynasties and rulers. During this time, Egypt developed a complex system of writing, religion, art, architecture, and government that influenced not only its own people but also neighboring cultures in Africa and the Mediterranean. 

Other long-lasting African civilizations include the Kingdom of Kush (also known as Nubia), which flourished in what is now Sudan from around 2500 BCE to 350 CE, and the Aksumite Empire, which ruled over what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea from the 1st to the 8th century CE. 

LJ: What do Africans say about the transatlantic slave trade? 

ChatGPT: The transatlantic slave trade is viewed as a deeply traumatic and tragic event in African history. Africans were forcibly taken from their homes and families, and sold into slavery in the Americas, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world. The effects of this trade continue to be felt today in the form of economic and social inequality, as well as cultural trauma. 

However, it is important to note that Africa is a diverse continent with many different cultures and viewpoints, and there is no single “African” perspective on the transatlantic slave trade. Some Africans may feel a deep sense of loss and anger over the atrocities committed during the trade, while others may be more focused on the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. 

LJ: What is the relationship between Egypt and Canaan in the Bible? 

ChatGPT: In the Bible, Egypt and Canaan are often depicted as neighboring regions with a complex and sometimes adversarial relationship. The biblical account of the relationship between Egypt and Canaan begins with the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt. Eventually, Joseph rises to become a powerful figure in Egypt and is able to bring his family, including his father Jacob (Israel) and his brothers, to live in Egypt. 

In the Book of Exodus, the relationship between Egypt and the Israelites, who are living in Egypt as slaves, becomes strained as Moses demands that Pharaoh let the Israelites go. After Pharaoh refuses, a series of plagues are sent by God to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. Eventually, the Israelites are able to leave Egypt and begin their journey to the Promised Land, which includes the land of Canaan. 

Throughout the Old Testament, there are references to conflicts between the Israelites and their neighbors in Canaan, including the Canaanites, Philistines, and other groups. Egypt is sometimes depicted as an ally or a potential enemy, depending on the historical context. 

Overall, the relationship between Egypt and Canaan in the Bible is complex and multifaceted, reflecting the historical realities of the ancient Near East. 

LJ: What is the relationship between Egypt and Israel in the Bible? 

ChatGPT: The relationship between Egypt and Israel in the Bible is complex and multifaceted, with various events and interactions recorded throughout the Old Testament. Here are some key points: 

  • Exodus: Perhaps the most famous event involving Egypt and Israel in the Bible is the story of the Exodus, in which Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and towards the Promised Land. This event is recorded in the book of Exodus and is a cornerstone of Jewish and Christian theology. 
  • The patriarchs: Before the Exodus, the Israelites were living in Egypt as a family of 70, as recorded in the book of Genesis. The patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had all visited Egypt at various times in their lives, and Joseph (one of Jacob’s sons) famously became a high-ranking official in the Egyptian government. 
  • Interactions with pharaohs: The Bible records several interactions between Israelite leaders and Egyptian pharaohs. For example, Joseph was favored by Pharaoh and helped him during a time of famine. Later, Moses and Aaron had a series of confrontations with Pharaoh, demanding that he release the Israelites from slavery. 
  • Conquests and alliances: After leaving Egypt, the Israelites frequently came into contact with Egyptian armies and other neighboring nations. At times, they formed alliances with these nations (such as the Amorites) in order to conquer other enemies. 

Overall, the relationship between Egypt and Israel in the Bible is complex and multifaceted, with a mixture of cooperation, conflict, and cultural exchange. 

LJ: Is there historical documentation of the Biblical interactions between Egyptians and Israelites? 

ChatGPT: Yes, there is some historical documentation of the Biblical interactions between Egyptians and Israelites. The most well-known historical event involving the two groups is the Exodus, when the Israelites were said to have been enslaved in Egypt and then led out of slavery by Moses. While there is no direct historical evidence for the Exodus story as told in the Bible, some scholars believe that there may be some basis for the story in historical events such as the Hyksos invasion of Egypt in the 16th century BCE, which involved a group of foreign rulers and may have led to a large-scale displacement of people. 

There are also some references to Israelites in ancient Egyptian texts, including the Merneptah Stele, which dates to the late 13th century BCE and contains a reference to “Israel” as a group living in Canaan. Other Egyptian texts mention a group of people called the “Apiru” or “Habiru,” who may have been related to the Israelites. 

Overall, while there is some historical evidence for interactions between Egyptians and Israelites in the ancient world, the exact nature of these interactions and the accuracy of the Biblical accounts remains a subject of scholarly debate. 

LJ: Does ChapGPT include data from African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries?  

ChatGPT: Yes, as an AI language model, ChatGPT has access to information from various sources, including data from African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. The model’s knowledge is based on the training data it was fed, which includes diverse sources of information from around the world. However, it is important to note that ChatGPT’s responses are generated based on patterns and correlations in the training data and do not necessarily reflect objective truths or the full complexity of any given topic. 

LJ: Why does it feel as if I’m receiving westernized answers to my global and historical questions? 

ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I strive to provide unbiased and factual information based on the data available to me. My responses are generated based on the information that I have been trained on, which includes a wide variety of sources from different parts of the world. However, the availability and accessibility of data can sometimes be limited by factors such as language barriers, cultural biases, and historical perspectives. 

Additionally, it is important to note that the perspectives and interpretations of historical events and cultures can vary depending on the source and the person interpreting them. It is always recommended to seek out multiple sources and viewpoints to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a topic. 

LJ: How many languages are you able to read, translate and communicate in? 

ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I can understand and generate text in many languages. My primary training data includes English, but I can also work with languages such as Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and many others. However, my proficiency in each language varies based on the amount and quality of training data available. 

LJ: What would I have to do to relocate from the United States to Dakar, Senegal or Accra, Ghana or Cairo, Egypt? 

ChatGPT: Relocating from the United States to Dakar, Senegal, Accra, Ghana or Cairo, Egypt would involve a number of steps and considerations. Here are some general steps you may need to take: 

  • Research the country: Before moving to any new country, it is important to do your research. This includes learning about the culture, language, customs, and laws of the country you are considering moving to. 
  • Obtain a visa: Depending on the country you choose, you will need to obtain a visa to legally reside and work there. You can find information on visa requirements from the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to relocate to. 
  • Find housing: Once you have obtained a visa, you will need to find housing. This may involve renting an apartment or house or purchasing property. You can use online resources to research housing options and connect with real estate agents in your desired location. 
  • Plan your finances: It is important to plan your finances before moving to a new country. This includes setting up a bank account, obtaining health insurance, and understanding the cost of living in the country you plan to move to. 
  • Arrange for transportation: You will need to arrange for transportation to your new country. This may involve booking a flight and arranging for transportation from the airport to your new home. 
  • Learn the language: Depending on the country you plan to move to, you may need to learn a new language. It is important to start learning the language as soon as possible, ideally before you arrive in the country. 
  • Connect with others: Finally, it is important to connect with other expats or locals in the country you plan to move to. This can help you navigate the culture and make new friends. 

Overall, relocating to a new country can be a challenging but rewarding experience. It is important to plan carefully and do your research to ensure a smooth transition. 

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Poem: It Shouldn’t Take Courage to Love a Black Woman

Courage shouldn’t be required to love a Black Woman. 
To accept a heart given freely or a life offered for reciprocal tribute. 
Where is the danger in respecting one who aches with neglect 
from being habitually dismissed and discarded  
throughout centuries of generations? 
What terrors does this global shadow craft present? 
False images of projected insecurities, self-hate, irrational anger,  
exasperated impatience, and I-got-this-don’t-need-you independence.  
The illusions formed by men of hypersexuality, low morality, and mean-spiritedness to assuage  
their proclivities of abuse, torment, separation, abandonment, rejection, and destruction 
Society built a totem full of grievances, animosity and dissatisfaction and  
called it Black Womanhood. Onto this altar are thrown the most violent human attacks. 
Yet despite this intentional sacrilege, the Black Woman’s labor is expected without delay 
or complaint, her support is claimed as an entitlement right,  
her nurturing care as a duty of her skin, gender and status.  
Indeed, no part of a Black Woman’s body or existence is expected to be under her control. Everything she is, society and man claim as their droit du seigneur. 
The world delights in telling Black Women we are nothing.  
We are the least desired and even then, only wanted for what we give.  
We are rarely valued for our personhood; often only praised for  
the volume of our production and serving unto depletion or death. 
Yet ask a Black Woman who she is and be prepared to bask in the light of her glory. 
We see ourselves as the embodiment of love, conduits of grace, dispensers of mercy.  
We are Wisdom, Discernment and Truth.  
We are Unbroken, Unbowed, Still Standing.  
Society sees one thing. We Are Another.  
We are not who you say we are.  
We will not perform to your expectations.  
We will do what needs to be done, but we will be who we be. 
We are Love, ergo we do not require courage to love ourselves. 
It shouldn’t require courage for others to love Black Women. 
We are humans with human needs, Women with human desires. 
We, too, want to be loved, held, cherished, respected and honored. 
We desire to be accepted as fully as we accept others; 
Invited into spaces so hospitable we forget the hostility of the world; 
Spoken to with a gentle understanding that elicits the same kind response. 
We gleefully pour all of ourselves into everyone connected to us 
Even when they feed us nothing in return 
We, too need to be poured into. 
We, too, desire to bask in the radiance of another’s glory 
To be bathed in joy, peace and tranquility 
To rest without anxiety and wake without urgency 
We don’t need this grace from everyone 
Nor do we expect a societal shift out of gratitude for services rendered 
But for our men… 
It shouldn’t take courage to be a man of character, substance, integrity, conviction and discernment 
A man with enough strength to support a leaning respite.
A man who follows his heart and spirit instead of social norms and biases, 
But alas here we are praying for courage to exist, to relate, to be who we are. 
It shouldn’t take courage to live well in this realm,
But alas, here I am alone and unwanted in a world unable to eliminate my joy, exploring life with an unmitigated gall derived from loving myself.

LaShawnda Jones
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Exploring Love, Compassion & Character w/Cory, Ketanji, Chris, Jada, Will

In this video I explore love, compassion and character through recent public interactions with Senator Cory Booker, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Will Smith.

“I want the world to see your character.” ~ Sen. Cory Booker


Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Character: the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual

Love: an intense feeling of deep affection

“I want to be a vessel for love.” ~ Will Smith

Reference verses:

Philippians 2:1-4 (love and compassion)

1 John 3:12-16 (love and compassion)

1 John 4:7-11 (love)

Romans 5:3-5 (character)

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Pyramids: Uxmal, Chichen Itzá, Teotihuacán, Giza

Click to listen to podcast of post.

All my travels are planned with the intention of conducting myself as a cultural photo-journalist of sorts. However, without fail, I return home, transfer my travel photos to my hard drive and essentially forget about all the good intentions I had for my images and travel notes.

This week, I’ve been focused on creating an attractive online portfolio to better promote and share my work. While reviewing example portfolios, I came across a lovely minimalist style with simple headings: People and Objects. I have a lot of work to do before I can trim down to that level of simplicity, but I can work with the spirit of the concept and have begun organizing my work under People, Places, Things, Ideas, Change and Books.

Pyramids at Giza

While sorting through years of images to select portfolio samples to represent my work, pyramid shots from my 2019/2020 trip to Egypt stood out. Giza was the third pyramid site I’ve been to, which led to a search for pictures from prior visits to other pyramid sites.

Pyramids at Chichen Itzá and Uxmal

My first flight and international trip was to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico for my high school senior trip. We spent a morning at the ancient Maya city-state Chichen Itzá site and honestly, that was the day I fell in love with Mexico. Fourteen years later, I visited a friend in Mexico City and we took a day trip to Teotihuacán, an ancient Aztec city.

“The Maya originated around 3,000 years ago in present-day Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico.”

Correction: My photo albums are in storage but I took pictures of my high school scrap book on my phone. Another Maya site, Uxmal, was also visited. The below images were taken on 35mm film, possibly on a been a Fuji in 1993.

“[Uxmal] is the largest, most elegant, and most important ruin site in the Puuc area. The Pyramid of the Magician is a truly magnificent structure….The majority of the structures seen today date from 600-900 A.D..”

The Mayan Ruins Website

Pyramids at Teotihuacán

By the time I got to Mexico City in 2007, I had been living in New York City for two years and I didn’t think there was another city that could blow my socks off. I’ve been happily mistaken several times on that score. Americans talk about being the best and biggest at everything and I never realize how indoctrinated I am with such rhetoric until I explore other environments. Mexico City secured Mexico as one of my favorite countries. The architecture, colors, style, sounds, history is so present and available every where you look – and it’s a short flight from anywhere in the United State! During my visit I got to see an excavation site in the center of town where the ancient city Mexico City was built on was discovered. Amazing!

“Teotihuacan was founded as early as 400 B.C., though the largest structures of the city weren’t completed until about 300 A.D.”

The below images were taken with my Olympus digital camera that held a whopping 1mb memory card at the time (2007). I had never edited any images from this trip until now, they were all hazy, flat, and mostly uninteresting. I certainly didn’t capture the awe of the place. I didn’t do much editing, but removing most of the haze was enough to make them look good. Lightroom does wonders! I stitched some together in Microsoft ICE, adjusted color and sharpness on all and did some final touch-ups in Photoshop. Fourteen years after they were taken with a digital point and shoot. I’m so glad I don’t delete images! 🙂

#phototographer #photography #travelphotography #pyramids #ancientcities #citystates #giza #teotihuacan #chichenitza #uxmal #mexico #egypt #culture #photoediting #archives #revisiting #oldwork #portfolio

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Treaty-breakers: The Genocide of the First Peoples by the U.S. Government

Red Cry – Today’s Genocide in America

I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath. Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our children’s children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.

Henry Benjamin Whipple, Negotiator for the U.S., Bureau of Indian Affairs, Annual Report, 1876

[The Indian] must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ and ‘This is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours.’

John Oberly, 1888, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs

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Book Review: BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the back of the book, his bio states simply: Trevor Noah is a comedian from South Africa.

Enigmatic is a word I would add. This is not the story of Trevor Noah’s rise to fame. Indeed, there’s no clear connection from the stories he shares to where he is now.

I’m sure a great deal of the book was intended to be humorous and purposefully irreverent, but I read undercurrents of resentment and extreme selfishness. At some points there was incredible incongruity in the retelling. He writes that he felt (and still feels) no guilt for the enormous repercussions others faced for his actions (i.e. unemployment, homelessness and jail time)…. when those others were Black South African domestic workers and their children. However, he then writes how guilt ridden he was when one of his buddies brought him a stolen digital camera to resell (as part of his regular hustle) with images of a white family vacationing. He actually went into detail about how that one thing, so insignificant compared to other stories he shared, had the power to make him evaluate the direction his life was going in. He was devastated by the thought of a well-off white family being robbed of their vacation photos… even as he sat on a corner in the Alexandra slums taking advantage of his fellow oppressed Black South African neighbors. That was difficult to read and hard to swallow.

Instances like this and others made it feel as if he were playing to an audience. Throughout the book, he played to several different audiences: Americans, Black Americans, the World, South Africa, white people. All large scale and somewhat large in scope with little to no intimacy.
That being said, Born a Crime is a good read. The pacing is consistent throughout. Noah’s commentary on various cultural and societal norms as well as the history of South Africa is insightful and at some times, eye-opening. There’s no real chronology to the stories, he actually jumps around quite a bit with no solid grasp of time period or age, but the stories flow well together.

Early on the book comes across as a loving tribute to his mother. He shared some beautiful moments and teachings from his mom. Towards the middle the underlying resentment becomes quite prominent. I got the sense that there’s quite a bit he has yet to come to terms with, to accept or to forgive. He explains situations and rationalizes experiences but he doesn’t really express any real understanding or empathy for the people he’s writing about. Which is surprising, considering how he prefers to talk about his mother’s courage and devotion to providing for and protecting her children. There are also stunning moments when he belittles his mother on the sly… while propping himself up. His intelligence. His speed. His independence. His logic and realism. Eventually, at a very young age, he became better than his mother. He doesn’t explicitly say this, but it is implied throughout. Ironically, one of his biggest tributes to his mother is her insistence that he learn to think for himself, that he question authority and systems. It becomes evident that his critical thinking and questioning led to an internal rejection of his mother, her faith and cultural beliefs. Due to the way life flows, there is also hope that his thinking will bring him full circle to a wholesome appreciation for everything his mother is and represents.

Common Themes:

Church and faith: Christianity as a white man’s religion. Trevor Noah appears to have equal low regard for the practice of Christianity and tribal mysticism. He writes a great deal about his mother’s faith but nothing of his own. In this way he provides the scope of a panoramic image (mother, tribe, cultural history) without the intimacy of his details (is he a Christ believer, follower, practitioner?).

Critical thinking and breaking cycles of bondage: Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah is a rebel with a cause. She didn’t so much spend time questioning the systems and norms as much as figuring out how she could get around them to live her life on her terms. From an early age, she made decisions for her life and grew from the consequences and results of her decision. She was determined not to live in her mother’s home on tribal homelands in obscure servitude as the second girl child in the family. She was even more determined not to raise children who were beholden to the past and the tribe. Her intelligence, her perseverance, her dexterity, her independence allowed her to venture where most Black people did not dare in apartheid South Africa. Bit by bit, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah carved out a space for herself in a world that was completely against her. Then she made room for her son, Trevor. Eventually, she enlarged that space to include her growing family. When I first read the below passage, I thought, “Even if showing Trevor that the ghetto was not the world was all she had done, she would have indeed accomplished a great deal.”

People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu – the things of white people. So many black people internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom. “Why do all this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?”

“Because,” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”

Ms. Noah, you’ve done a superb job!

Independence and outsider: Trevor Noah writes about being an outsider everywhere he went at each stage of life he shares about. Perhaps more from that feeling than his mom’s teachings, he grew to be fiercely independent. It also seems clear that his fondest days were when it was just him and his mom. Before the family expanded and he became an outsider in his own home. In some instances it seems the idea of independence and being an outsider morphed to mean the same thing and become somewhat interchangeable in the retelling of his stories.

Power and impact of choice: At one point he writes: “Nobody wants to be rich. People want to have choices. Money gives you choices.” Perhaps overall, he dissected his movement through the world as varying levels of opportunity and choice. On some level, he may truly believe that money equals choice and translates to power. Perhaps he thought as he took advantage of his opportunities he could create the power to choose his life as well. Ultimately, he has. However, the glaring power moves he made in Born a Crime were when he accepted the benefits of being mixed/colored/lighter skinned in black and white communities when doing so put other black people at a severe disadvantage and occasionally harm’s way.

My mother used to tell me, “I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return.” I was a product of her search for belonging. She never felt like she belonged anywhere.

Love, discipline and rebellion: Noah thinks his mother was too hard on him, but it seems like she let him get away with a lot just from exhaustion. In many ways he parallels his life with his mothers’ life. Her quest for love and belonging became his. Her need to discipline him birthed his need to out-maneuver her and perhaps show her how little he needed her in general. On the flip side, he also viewed her rebellion as his natural inheritance.

Freedom: There is a strong cord of freedom flowing throughout the stories Trevor Noah shares. As a concept, reality, illusion, wish, hope… as something somehow always out of reach. A couple of times, regarding his own troubles and the poor Black South African community in general, Noah writes, “They’re free, they’ve been taught how to fish, but no one will give them a fishing rod.” At one point, he thanks someone from a privileged class for giving him a rod. The analogy has a false ring to it. Or perhaps it’s simply incomplete. The poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people of the world are not incapable of enjoying their freedom because the lack the tools to nourish it. The poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people of the world are prevented from accessing resources (farmable lands, drinking water, washing water, bodies of water with fish, etc.). He actually writes about how the South African government purposefully removed groups of people from their tribal lands and forced them onto near barren lands and locked them in with walls and guns. When apartheid fell, the people pretty much stayed where they had been put for the last century, i.e. Soweto and Alexandra. The irony of looking to your oppressor for a handout is painful. The way around that is to exercise your freedom. Make your way to the resource you need and figure out how to nourish yourself with the tools on hand. Usually the only tools we have are our own two hands. However, necessity is the mother of invention. The poor, oppressed and disadvantage people of the world have been made to think that their better life is on the other side of a wall. In other words, that they need their oppressors. They don’t. They only need access to resources that cannot be owned, but that men the world over continue to capitalize on and create barriers around.

Language and Communication: One of the most beautiful illustrations in Born a Crime, is Trevor Noah’s use of language. He speaks several languages and learned at an early age that language, not skin color is the true indicator of belonging and community. When you speak a person’s language you are able to speak to their heart (paraphrased). Even as he shared how he was able to switch from being an outsider to an insider by speaking the language of the group he was attempting to appear like or to infiltrate, he also showed how speaking the same language with no common understanding is as disastrous as speaking different languages while working towards the same goal. In some ways, Born a Crime is a micro study of how communication between and within groups can go awry and also how it can tie us all together.

View all my reviews

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Exhibit closed June 27, 2015

I wandered into this exhibit on Saturday while walking around my neighborhood. It is a truly magnificent portrayal of the evolution of a creative life. As I told someone in the gallery, “Gabriel Figueroa sounds like someone I have heard of, but I would not been able to pinpoint why…. Though I am absolutely sure he has been referenced in countless works I’ve seen, heard or read.” The exhibit explores his career from the beginning as he learned photography by doing studio head shots to his transition into film with still photography and onward to creative collaborations with directors and other artists.

If you are in New York City and have any appreciation for photography or cinema, I encourage you to go see this exhibit before it closes on Saturday, June 27. It’s on display at El Museo Del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th St.