“Where Are the Bodies?” – The Discursive Violence of Tiffany Haddish
I was a fan of Tiffany Haddish — perhaps oddly — not because of her stand-up or her movies but because of an interview she had with Stephen Colbert. Her journey, as she touched on in that interview, and her resilience left an impression on me. Later when I read of her trip to her ancestral Eritrea and saw images of her in traditional Eritrean clothes on the red carpet, I found her to be even more relatable. It was easy for me to identify with what I perceived to be her quest for roots, belonging, and a fuller understanding of an identity that was rightly hers, but one she was periphery to by circumstance.
This was my impression of Tiffany until I re-encountered her recently in decidedly different circumstances. Seven months into a brutal conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia that is quickly becoming one of the worst humanitarian crisis with all indicators pointing to deliberate genocide orchestrated by the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments – I, to my dismay, came across an audio clip from a Club House discussion in which Tiffany quite inexplicably asks “Where are the bodies?”
This was quite rightly met with a significant amount of disbelief, shock, and anger amongst Tigrayans. Such callousness seemed almost incomprehensible to those of us battered by collective trauma as a result of consuming an unending catalogue of horror on a daily basis for the last 219 days and counting. To the many processing the loss of family and friends as well as the unrelenting anxiety of not knowing about the welfare of loved ones, such a statement could only be considered downright abusive.
Having made this statement, Tiffany not only doubled down and defended her unforgivable statement, but she went on to taunt Tigrayans on social media by amplifying the worst examples of atrocity denial and those voices promoting state-sanctioned violence, including the weaponization of rape on a scale rarely, if ever, seen.
More particularly Tiffany shared an easily debunked propaganda piece by the Eritrean government and an article written by Jeff Pearce, a Canadian who for reasons known only to himself, has made a career of denying and justifying the atrocities being committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes. In behavior that can only be described as toxic, Tiffany also continues to attack those who engage her to provide explanations with bizarre accusations that barely make sense.
And yet, not only have there been little to no consequences for a Hollywood celebrity who is taking advantage of her privileged perch to mock, ridicule, and deny horrific brutality, there is little expectation that she will suffer any backlash. This, it seems to me, speaks volumes about the value of Black Africans’ lives, particularly those from the continent. It would seem that the world has become so inured to the mass deaths and almost perennial misery of Africans that someone who ululates at our deaths and who declares our suffering an act barely raises eyebrows.
Even worse, some have justified Tiffany’s statement in saying that the situation is a ‘polarizing’ one and characteristic of complex African realities. When it comes down to it, such justifications are nothing but variations of statements like “there are good people on both sides” or “we don’t know the whole story” used to excuse systemic abuse the world over. The African American and the Jewish communities, which Tiffany claims to belong to, have firsthand experience of how these euphemisms are deployed to excuse state-sanctioned violence against minorities whose deaths and suffering are relativized, politicized, and even glorified for the better good.
What is happening in Tigray is not complex. We have seen it before only too many times — most recently in Darfur and Rwanda. It is the systematic elimination of an ethnic minority. As the world watches seemingly helplessly, women and girls are being gang-raped with, what perpetrators acknowledge, to be genocidal intent. Young men and boys are massacred lest they resist. Priests are being murdered. Cultural and religious heritage is being destroyed to irrevocably erase a culture and identity. Today, more than 5 million people are being driven inexorably to starvation.
In light of all of this, that Tiffany asked to see broken and bloodied bodies transcends the terrible to the nightmarish and the ghoulish. That she will probably be allowed to go on with her career regardless — even portraying such a global Black icon as Florence Griffith Joyner — is only a testament that African lives, bodies, and stories, especially those of African minorities, are barely a part of our global consciousness.
I can only hope that one day continental Africans and the descendants of Africans across the world will learn to value each other, our deaths, our bodies, and our stories enough to not let such disregard and abuse pass unchecked — even from one of our own. I hope too that we will no longer allow any arguments that try to justify or relativize violence against us under the patronizing guise of African problems being complex when what is really meant is that there are instances when it is alright to look past African deaths and certain conditions under which African Lives do not matter.
Meron T Gebreananaye – Omna Tigray External Contributor, June 2021