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Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

Laura Nsafou Is the French Author Teaching Black Girls to Love Their Natural Hair

Her children's book, "Like A Million Black Butterflies," addresses race and bullying—rare topics you don't read often in French literature.

Growing up, French blogger and writer Laura Nsafou was bullied for her appearance, specifically her hair and nose. One day after a girl put down her hair, she came home and asked her mom to undo her braids. Her mom said no and told her that she had to accept herself as she was.

When French publishing company Bilibok approached Nsafou years later after reading an article on her blog on representation and diversity in literature, they asked her to write a book based on a Toni Morrison quote from the book God Help the Child: "Her clothes were white, her hair like a million black butterflies asleep on her head." Nsafou used her past experience to write a book called Like A Million Black Butterflies.

For her, the goal was to write a book about bullying and race that would bring a "more accurate representation of a black girl dealing with her hair and facing others."


Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

A popular afro feminist writer, Nsafou had started her blog 4 years ago, writing openly on issues related to race, classism and sexism. Although she had published her first novel prior to that, she had, by then, almost given up on writing because of diversity issues. "The books I saw in stores excluded people like me. I felt like my novels wouldn't be published because they were against the norm." So when the chance arise of writing Like A Million Black Butterflies, Nsafou was finally able to write the book she would have loved to read as a child. "I wanted to use all this conversation of afro hair and salon and focus on responsibilities that comes with racism in school," she says. "People tend to dismiss children's worries about it, but they should be addressed."

As one of the faces of the French afro feminist movement that aims to empower black women by reappropriating the spaces that are not open to them, Nsafou was aware of the tropes she wanted to avoid. Her main character, Adé, doesn't define how little black French girls should look like, instead it's about considering her as one of many possible black girl heroes. In the book, it was important for her to portray a variety of black girls, both in words and pictures by working closely with the illustrator.

The book was released in 2017, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, riding on the coattails of the global conversation on representation in literature. For Nsafou, it's due to the fact that people were supporting her on social media, as well as bookstores and libraries and schools expressing a strong interest for it. They saw the book as an object that could inspire and bring better representation in French children's literature. On top of it, there is a demand from parents, especially black parents, to have access to books for their children they can relate to—books not full of stereotypes.

Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

Despite the great reception she had when the book was in stores, she has frequently been accused of "ethnocentrism"—"One school refused to have my book because they felt it was excluding children because the main character is black. We have dozens of books about white boys, no one believes that it is excluding. Why can't black women be universal too? Do people want to teach children that some of them are invisible?"

She recalls an anecdote. She was at a book signing event with her mum when a white woman looked at the book cover and asked her if she could open the book. Nsafou agreed. The woman explained to her that her child has frizzy hair, but wasn't sure if the book was for her. Nsafou's mum was there and said: "Why? Black people don't see themselves in many books, and yet we still read them."

It is important for readers to understand that they need to take a new path in the way they relate to books. "There can be Asian, Arab; Latino characters in a book, and readers can still feel concerned."

Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

Her hope is that people carry on having a conversation on diversity and what it means. Often, it's not just about having people of color as main characters, but about who writes, produces and illustrates these books.

But change will come in the popular, yet rigid children's literature world in France when the publishing industry will understand and receive Nsafou's books and the many others that exist. She notices that, the very few children's books portraying non-white characters tend to be translations of English books. It's easier for the English-written ones to arrive in the French market rather than the other way around.

As for Nsafou, the adventure she had with Like A Million Black Butterflies is coming to an end. She is now working on her next novel—an urban fantasy trilogy about a woman going to Senegal for the first time where she meets a djin who would lead her to discover the story of her family.

She's still looking for a publisher for this one.

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Janet Jackson Returns With Afrobeats-Inspired Song & Video 'Made For Now' Featuring Daddy Yankee

The icon's latest is a nod to the sound, fashion and culture of the diaspora.

Ms. Jackson is back.

The iconic artist returns with her first single since the release of her 2015 album Unbreakable, and it's a timely nod to the "made for now" influence of afrobeats fashion, sound and culture.

On "Made For Now," which features Puerto Rican reggaeton titan Daddy Yankee, Janet Jackson does what she's done successfully so many times throughout her decades-long career: provide an infectious, party-worthy tune that's fun and undeniably easy to dance to. "If you're living for the moment, don't stop," Jackson sings atop production which fuses dancehall, reggaeton and afrobeats.

The New York-shot music video is just as lively, filled with eye-catching diasporic influences, from the wax-print ensembles and beads both Janet and her dancers wear to the choreographed afrobeats-tinged dance numbers, even hitting the Shoki at one point in the video. The train of dancers travel throughout the streets of Brooklyn, taking over apartment buildings and rooftops with spirited moves.

It's obvious that Jackson has been studying and drawing inspiration from the culture for some time now. She even hit the Akwaaba dance, popularized by Mr Eazi, during her Icon Award performance at this year's Billboard Music Awards.

The bouncing video, directed by Dave Meyers, features contributions from a number of creatives from Africa and the diaspora who were involved in the creation of the video, including designer Claude Lavie Kameni and choreographer Omari Mizrahi. Ghanaian health guru, Coach Cass pointed out some of the many dancers involved in the production on Instagram, who hail from Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Grenada and the US.

Ahead of the video's release, it garnered attention on social media when Jackson was spotted filming in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, wearing what many thought was a questionable fashion ensemble. The outfit in question only makes a small appearance in the video, and we're glad to see that Janet's other looks appear, at least slightly, more coordinated.

Watch the music video for "Made for Now" below. The singer is set to perform the song with Daddy Yankee live for the first time tonight on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, so be ready!

Audio

You Need to Hear Juls' New Single 'Saa Ara'


New hip-hop and highlife grooves from the celebrated UK-based Ghanaian producer.

By merging the diverse influence of growing up in Accra and East London, Juls has managed to cultivate a hybrid afrobeats style that has set him apart from the rest.

For his latest single, "Saa Ara," he teams up with award-winning rapper Kwesi Arthur and gifted lyricist Akan.

The brilliant fusion of vintage highlife instrumentals and booming hip-hop beats, along with Kwesi Arthur's lively chorus and Akan's fiery delivery gives the song a very spiritual and classical feel.

Soothe your soul this weekend with these tasteful sounds from Juls.

Listen to "Saa Ara" by Juls featuring Kwesi Arthur and Akan below.

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News Brief

FIFA Refuses To Meet with Nigeria's Sports Minister as Ghana Takes Steps to Avoid Ban

This could jeopardize Nigeria's qualifier against Seychelles in September, while the Ghanaian government has pledged not to dissolve its football association.

In lieu of the ultimatums Nigeria and Ghana's football associations faced from FIFA, one country is on its way to dodge the threat of being banned, while the other is not going down without a fight.

FIFA has refused a proposed meeting with Nigeria's sports minister, Solomon Dalung, to discuss problems in the country's football federation, BBC Sport reports. They say their leadership and the FIFA president is unwilling to meet during the proposed time period.

FIFA is giving the NFF until August 20 for Chris Giwa, who was acknowledged by the courts as the president of the federation, to leave the NFF offices.

Giwa's lawyer Ardzard Habilla asserts that FIFA can't ban Nigeria as the federation's issues need to be sorted out internally by the country's judiciary.

Habilla questions, "Do we take it that FIFA laws are superior to the judgment of the highest court in our land—the Supreme Court, and has FIFA elevated itself before the constitution of Nigeria?"

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