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tv   Talk to Al Jazeera  Al Jazeera  February 22, 2015 5:30pm-6:01pm EST

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they're out there. >> techknow's team of experts show you how the miracles of science... >> this is my selfie, what can you tell me about my future? >> can affect and surprise us. >> don't try this at home. >> "techknow" where technology meets humanity. tomorrow, 5:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america. >>taiye selasi [ ♪ music ♪ ] this week on "talk to al jazeera." author, globe trotter and commentator on race and culture, taiye selasi. >> there is a sense that certain people have to explain their presence. to say that racism is not that race isn't felt. >> the london born twin daughter of african parents raises the question where are you from? >> it may mean a bit about your
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background, or i'd like to know who you are as an individual but it may mean why are you here. >> her novel "ghana must go", is a sim biographic hl novel. >> i inhabited the minds of all the characters and the parents. i came to love them. >> taiye selasi embodies a term afro-politics. >> if i knew it was going to last 10 years i would a picked something else. >> racism exists in america, as shown by the recent police shooting. >> there are unarmed people killed on the veets of the united states and left for dead. no one is charged. >> i spoke to the author as she passed through new york. >> i read that you do not like to be asked where you are from. >> it's not that i don't line to be asked the question. it happens so often, that it
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would be - it would create internal tension if i got mad every time i heard it. i have begun to question what it means, and where that convention comes from. i think that when sun says "where are you from, and is waiting to hear a country" that person is not accessing information that i think is essential to who i am or to who we are as people. >> there's another part of that which i know as an asian american wh i'm asked that question "where are you from?" sometimes i take it to many you are not american. >> it's like a code for why are you here? if someone asks in the state where are you from it's like you say. it may mean tell me a little bit about your background or i'd like to know something about who you are as an individual. it may also mean are you here - same in germany, italy and england. there is a sense that certain
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people have to explain their presence. and for other people they are entitled to that presence. that question i think, innocent as it often is in the hearts and the mouths of the questioner i think it has become code for a lot of conversations that are difficult to have. asking you that question is a complicated answer because... >> forget the answer. >> you were born in london raised in the united states your father is from ghana. he left when you and your twin sister... . >> yes, were young. >>..about a year old. pick up from there. >> he went to saudi arabia where he lived for most of my life. mum, from nigeria, was born in england and had us in england and brought us to the states and is now in ghana. my sister and i, for all of that grew up with a firm sense of identity.
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i was her twin and she was mine. >> identity was being a twin. >> it was being her twin yes. her twin. we joked that there were two people in the world to sync with your strange assents, which is mostly american and loss other things in it - she and i. you go no the world, and the world tends to speak of itself in terms of categories with this vocabulary. that was difficult for us we were raised by a single mum who is proudly and ferociously yoruba. for her, it's her ethno linguistic cultural identity is more important. my mum is yoruba we ate food from yoruba and we did this in chestnut hill massachusetts, not the most headero genus of
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suburbs. >> when you grew up in boston a white suburb chestnut hill. >> especially when it snows. >> when was it apparent to you that people saw your skin colour first? >> that's interesting. i think when i heard people refer to us as black people. >> you didn't think of yourself as a black person. >> it's an invention. one has to learn to think of oneself that way. i have brown skip i spend as much time as i can in the sun to get browner. to call me black, what does this mean? this refs to a category it refers to a race that we know is a social construct constructed to support sociopolitical and sociopolitical hierarchy, they are not power categories, not culture or biological. >> did you feel oppressed by racial stereotypes existent around you?
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>> i felt - well yes. and that's the thing i should say, to say that racism invented is not real - i may not consider myself a black person. i may find other categories more salient. that will not stop someone who has incredibly simplistic and derogatory views of black people from treating me poorly alas. you can't be racism, i don't believe in it. >> how you see yourself is not necessarily how others perceive you. >> not at all. time and again we were discriminated against on account of our skip colour in boston massachusetts, time and again. no one in our family was blind to that reality. at the same time when my sister and i got to high school we spent time with brown skinned people who were not all from west africa. african american people who were very unconvinced by our cultural
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identity. and who would say "you don't act black" or "you don't talk black, you talk white." you felt you weren't fully effected by the blacks in america, the african-americans. >> it was clear that we didn't belong fully to a white american demographic or a black american demographic so there wasn't a third option available. we were very much in between. >> when you think about the racial stereotypes, going back to your upbringing in boston did you feel the need to emphasise to people "hey look my parents are surgeons." to separate yourself perhaps, from unfair racial stereotypes. >> it's a tricky space to negotiate, i think. there were times when the assumptions of other people were just - they just became noxious.
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it happens now in subtle ways. i remember i was at a table, across from someone, and someone said "who is that?" pointing to me. this was an italian, someone said "that's the author", and the person he spoke to said "no, the black woman" and the other person repeated "no, that is the author." and it's the subtle moments where something about the way i looked made it impossible for that man to believe that i could be the author of the hour. mum had the same thing. she is a doctor as you know and my father and sister as well, in the family business. they'll walk into the consult room and the patient will say "this must be the nurse, it can't be the doctor." >> is it an american problem, a world problem that people cannot accept the truth of what people of african originsers capable of doing, of what they are doing? >> it's not an american problem. though i think that it takes on a slightly different - the united states has this
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particular and particularly grews some history -- grew some history with regards to people of african dissent. the slave trade is a hor scror of unique -- horror of unique proportions and brutality and leaves a legacy of what we are watching. i came to united states to hear the rules in ferg where are and staten -- ferguson and staten island. it's heartbreaking to think that my friend in west africa and western europe are asking. but let's get this straight. there are just unarmed people killed on the streets of the united states, and left for dead. and no one is charged for this and to say correct, that is what is happening. that is in every way a continuation of a history of brutality unique to this country. >> what is your relationship to africa and specifically to ghana? >> we went to ghana when we were 15. >> besides the fact that that's
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where your mum lives, does it feel like what home does feel like. >> we went back and forward between england and the states and nigeria, more often when we were young. when our father came into our life we went every year to ghana. when we first went i thought we'd feel this open armed embrace, like a welcome home prod gal whatever but it wasn't like that. there was no - there was no instantaneous sense of belonging. in fact i felt the same combination of belonging and unbelonging in ghana as i did in england and the states. for a time that was heart-breaking. it occurred to me that there was no place, there's no one place in the world that i can say why this place is mine", and i started thinking of myself as a deter tollialized brown person. it was when i got to graduate school and i thought about that
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experience of being a deterritorialized person knowing yourself home in many places but not wholly at home in any. it occurred to me this is not just my experience there are, maybe, three or four other people. >> i think there may be a lot of people. i think it's part of the modern experience. did that lead you to write this "history is real cultures are real but countries are invented." was it the feeling of not having a geographical home? >> no. that's not what led me to write that. what led me to write that was going to grad school, studying international studies, and how we came to here in the first place. i was curious about what the countries were. it was clear to me from an early age that there were something off about the concept. or something i wasn't told
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because my mum is - we call her nigerian, and father ghanan. when my mother was born nigeria didn't exist and neither did ghana. how can your salient identity be younger than you? >> so this was in my own personal history, there were calls to question. i carry u.s. and u.k. passports. i do so because i was important in england at a time when that was enough to get a british passport, at a time when the post-colonial moment was still leading to a different approach to immigration than european countries are taking. i came to the united states at a time when it was enough to live and be a law-abiding citizen to get a green card and convert it into citizenship. i have the u.s. passports. they have not existed for the
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last 15 years, and i'm aware that there's something so arbitrary about that that my nationality, which is is meant to be important, is an accident of history. some would say the construct of nation actually helps to litigate those conflicts. >> how so? >> well i mean in the sense of the united states you have a shared national identity. you have a country that was formed from people that came from all over. >> do you think michael brown's family would say that? >> do you think that eric garner's family would say that? >> do you feel they are left out. >> i wouldn't dare to speak on behalf of the grieving but i can certainly say that as i have written, i don't speak on men
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from american violence. you never hear american on american crime, american on american violence, why. we don't expect that identity to operate in a way. that would preclude that violence that leads to the injustices seen now. >> you are saying that african-americans to a certain degree feel left out. >> i'm not talking about a feeling, i'm speaking about a reality. it doesn't matter how you feel. if you are shot and killed your feelings don't matter. you are very right from a citizens, they've been champ pd upon. the countries in which you live say that's okay. you don't have to feel any way about that. as far as i'm concerned, it's self-evident. i'm clear as a brown skinned woman, a proud west african, that this is a context in which
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it becomes very very difficult to feel entirely safe. to feel valued and to feel at home. >> still ahead on "talk to al jazeera". taiye selasi talks about a debut novel. and a buzz word - afropoly tan.
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i'm stephanie sy you're watching "talk to al jazeera". my guest author taiye selasi you coined a term in your essay "bye-bye babar" afropolitan. can you explain what it means? >> this is what i wrote when i left grad school and when i was thinking about deterritorialized
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brown people. after writing an article, i was thinking of that context. it occurs to me that what i'm describing is something one finds all over the world. i describe it has being in an anteroom, a waiting room. there's a door - i could be american. there's a door i could be british. there's i could be nigeria. i could be ghanan. no one in those places looks at me and says "yes she is ghanan", there's no doubt in anyone's mind here. >> what is an afropolitan, what are the characteristics. >> in 2005, 10 years ago, all i was describing was the experience. i didn't mean to suggest everyone that shares the experience is not the same or can be defined by seven criteria, i was fascinated by the experience by what it is to come into your 20 into your 30 into your self without there being one place in the world to
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be displaced. to be someone who knows yourself though your relationships through what - though your passions, through what means most to you, also through your heart breaks through the discrimination racism through the misunderstandings and so forth, but who does not fundamentally tie the sense of self to just one place. that is what i was describing. >> do you regret that this afropolitan arose out of what essentially was a brain drain out of parts of africa? >> the question would be what would i be regretting. do i regret that my parents were both born incredibly intel gent and poor in soon to be countries, the governments of which made it impossible for them to pursue their dreams in the places that they love. of course i do. that is heart-breaking.
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i can't imagine what it would be like to be born in ghana, to love ghana in the way that i do. to love the smells the food my family members, but to feel on a fundamental level that i was not going to be able to become who i wanted to be if i were to stay. my mum, as many do created a world in boston massachusetts, full of nigerian people. >> coining a term like afropolitan, and gaining control of your identity was that empowering or part of an exercise or empowerment? >> looking back on it i think perhaps it was. i'm loath to say i coined the term, i know i heard it and applied it like all good writers. that was powerful enough. what i was doing, enough with people telling me what i'm not, people saying you're not really american not really black, not
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british. enough with the notes. i am this. >> and one of the things you are according to a prestigious list is a great writer. your debut novel "ghana must go" earnt you a spot on a list of best young british novelist talk about your inspiration behind that story. >> that's the hardest thing to talk about, the hardest question you have asked. >> why is that? >> i quote - often i quote leonard cohen, the songwriter and also the poet. someone asked him where his best songs come from and he said if i knew i'd go there more often. i feel that way completely about everything i write. this novel and everything aside. i don't know really know where it comes from. i don't know - i just don't know. what i capn say is from the time
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i was four years old i knew i wanted to be a writer. it's the only thing i loved this much, this long. i said to myself when you turn 30 you need to know how you can do it. i saved up enough money to live for a year and paid off student loans. i quit my job and wrote for a year. >> the main character and birth father were surgeons in ghana, abandoned their wives and children. was this book cathartic in any way, a way to address your own feelings about your biological dad leaving when you were young? >> i think that - yes. the answer is yes, but perhaps not in the way i would have imagined. which is to say that writing
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this novel - i so completely inhabited the lives and the minds of all the characters but, of course the parents as well. i came to love them deeply. they are flawed in mother and father, and it makes them pretty spectacular mistakes. i mean with horrifying and heart-breaking consequences for their children. but living in them as i did, i came to understand how it was possible for them to make the mistakes even though they loved their children. when you are a child judging your parents, you think, and the whole psychobabble industry leads you to think okay but you did that because you didn't love me enough. if you loved me more you could have never done that it wouldn't have been possible. it's proof positive of your insufficient love for me that you made this decision end of story. i guess everyone is supposed to
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cry, argue and rug and you move on. it turns out i found writing the book that i had enormous empathy for the parents, and i had equal empathy for mine. it occurred to me my mother and father were doing damn well the best they could for all the mistakes they made. >> this is "talk to al jazeera", coming up what is the most modern definition of identity. taiye selasi shares her thoughts. stay with us. >> "techknow" where technology meets humanity.
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tomorrow, 5:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america. so where did you guys meet?
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this is "talk to al jazeera". i'm stephanie sy. speaking this week with taiye selasi, author. i'm trying to figure out through this conversation what drives you, what makes you tick. all of it or a lot of it tell me if i'm wrong, seems a reaction to things that have tried to box you and pigeonhole you. >> i am a free spirit. i was born that way. i'm first and foremost a storyteller. i love human being, i'm obsessed with travel as we were talking about earlier. i moved around mostly because i want to see the world, taste different cities. i was born into a physical reality that means that the world didn't treat me as - the world didn't receive me with as much open possess as i would
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have wanted it to. in order to be who i wanted to be to be a storyteller, appear into human being and know them as human first and black, white, african, asian, european i have to elbow out the space. i think my animating project is to create the space within which i can know the world and know myself in the world as human. first and foremost. >> in some ways is that the most modern definition of identity the pure research center found that millions of americans changed their racial for ethnic identity from one sentence to the next. >> really. >> yes. over 10 years - so are more people realising what you realise, maybe a decade ago, two decades ago? >> maybe. some people really resisted. people have been she's talking
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mystical goosy kumbaya expletive nonsense. >> world citizen. >> what is this world on about, we are not going to hold hands and sway and sing. it's not going to happen. i'm not so naive. i know that many of the people in my family, many of the people i love people from which i believe myself to come, have been given for too long too little room. just too little space to be, to breathe, to create to express, and i will do everything in my power to - to create that space, to clear that space, and to defend it. >> taiye selasi thank you for talking to al jazeera. >> thank you. >> great to meet you. ^ below >> thank you. >> great to meet you. and maintaining hope. >> austin tice is alive.
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>> find him and get him home. >> a special "talk to al jazeera". next sunday, 5:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america. announcer: this is al jazeera. welcome to the newshour from doha. coming up in the next 60 minutes. >> there were some women and children, we refrained... >> egypt's president defend his country's attack on i.s.i.l. tarts in libya syria brands a turkish operation into its territory