Ifeoma Ike is a Bedstuy resident and a woman of many trades. From her consulting with Think Rubix, to her entrepreneurial moves with Wild Okra, she is the true definition of a go-getter. Also, if you are looking for political commentary for us and by us, take a listen to her podcast, PoliTea.
Ify and I first connected over music and good food, but deepened our connections when I facilitated an arts and social movements session for one of her many projects, Black and Engaged, a series of civic engagement trainings for Black activists and advocates. Recently, we sat down to talk about Black activism, PoliTea, and of course, Black Abundance.
Let’s talk PoliTea. What is it and what are the segments people can look forward to hearing?
PoliTea is a 45-minute political podcast where people can listen to me and my sister-friend, Turquoise talk passionately and offer our unfiltered takes on the latest political happenings.
The segments are ‘The Brew,’ which is the things that are being talked about at the moment in the news, it’s quick and funny. ‘The Sip’ where we go in-depth on important issues, and 'The Pour,' which are final thoughts. We also have a concept called ‘Spilling the Tea’ that represents under-known policies and people where we get to sit in other people’s worlds and the communities they serve. For the 30-45 minutes in the morning, people have choices of what they listen to, and we just hope that people are ready for the day.
Originally, we were thinking we wanted to pitch it to a network, but then decided, no, let’s just do it, so, at the top of this New Year, we started it. Yes, there’s a part of capitalism that we aren’t engaging with, but that doesn’t mean that we gain or give nothing. We aren’t making money off of this, but when we tell people they can use our platform, it’s important. People share with us that it’s important. On my back, I have an Italian phrase that translates into “the art of making something out of nothing” because I love Eat, Pray, Love, for one, but also though, I feel like that has been my journey. Just when people tell me I can’t do something, I say well sit back and watch me.
Ify, I’ve loved listening to you in the morning. I’m extremely selective about the ways and amount of politics I’m taking into my day. I don’t want to hear a repetition of what everyone is saying, and you all make me feel at ease in this unease. Can you share a bit about the intention and creation of PoliTea.
In terms of the creation, both Torqoise and I were really bothered by the lack of representation in who is giving political commentary and also the style of that commentary. Everything is breaking news now, and everything is breaking, but the things that are breaking in our lives, they aren’t even reporting. Also, we are both attorneys and often times that is how we are introduced to the world. For us with PoliTea, it disrupts that. It’s early in the morning, and we haven’t put on our codeswitch makeup yet. We wake up, do a brief check in, and just go right into it.
We’re not trying to be your politically correct Black women. There’s no time to be light with politics when it’s fuckin' our lives up. We’ve had people say your show is amazing but you curse a lot. Our response is well when people are shitting on you, you say things like fuck, sooo don’t share with Grandma. I don’t expect it to be played in a school auditorium as an official announcement. I expect it to be played by people that lead non-profits, policy think-tanks and teachers. Those people are telling us that they will let their students know and spread to people who are learning.
How do you feel like PoliTea is changing things in terms of media representation?
Turquoise lives in Harlem, I’m in BK, we are African and Southern, light-skinned and dark-skinned and all of those perspectives get into the show. There was a poll that the median age for viewers watching MSNBC, CNN and FOX is 61, and that’s how we fucked up in 2016. What I hope Turquoise and I are doing is filling in a bit of a gap.
Look at the outlets that are supposed to give us news from the 6 o’clock hour. The view of them is social entertainment with a little political commentary. Then there is Bill Maher dominating airtime and being problematic as he always has been. Even in spaces that don’t want to deal with politics, you can’t avoid it. I like when people say that they can’t tell that we’re attorneys. We don’t ever want to come across as talking about or down. We take the perspective of explaining why that intuition people have is right and adding to that knowledge with some other things people might also want to know or do. There are some episodes where we are calling out Congressional Black Caucus members, and I love these people, I’ve worked with them, and served with them, but that doesn’t mean I can’t name when they’re being problematic. We want the full expression of civic engagement.
What really got you going with this?
Last August, I was at a civic data training, and there were two people from New Orleans going at it about who was going to win the mayoral race. I’m an outsider over here thinking New Orleans is great either way because the race is with two Black women, but it was a serious discussion. Watching this debate, it started off with the politics of it, but then also went into the “you know, I heard that she, etc etc,” and it got really heated, like running around the room HEEEATED, and I thought oh ok we got some PoliTea going on here. That’s how it started.
I know you wear a lot of hats. What are some of the motivations for you and your work generally?
You know, the way I’ve met a lot of people, like how I met you, is through hands-on social justice work in the sense of being on the ground with people who are facing certain kinds of injustice. I think in a lot of ways the policy side of me has been the dominant side for about a decade but I grew up very much as an artist-writing, drawing, and singing, opera specifically. There is a part of me that is missing that. Art has always been really personal and important for me. It was so important as an outlet to help me connect with myself and other people.
Is that something that has continued to be an outlet for you?
Something after Ferguson shifted for me. Even though I was a writer, I felt like my writing was about breaking down systems, creating thought pieces especially in the civic engagement world with Black and Brown People Vote. A lot of our work was about how to break down civics and connect the ballot to our bodies because people were doing such a piss-poor job at communicating with us about why we needed to go out to the polls. It was disingenuous and people knew that.
You can’t go into a community and blame them for the representation that they have without doing a full power analysis of economic and social life. If you aren’t economically stable then you aren’t going to have as much free time to discuss what the most recent city council meeting was about or be available to go to it. Any ill in the world Black people are blamed for, but every two years, every four years we’re expected run to the polls, not even knowing if your vote is going to count. All of that, I call it civic fatigue, engagement fatigue.
What we were doing with Black and Brown People Vote is we were intermediaries to people we used to work with in various institutions, on the Hill, etc. Some of these folks are people of color that are more interested in respectability politics than our own people. Taking the stance, we will fight for these people but we won’t sit with them. I’m not saying that everyone needs to go to Ferguson, but I am saying you have the means to get to Ferguson and you are choosing not to, when the reverse is not always true. Not everyone in Ferguson can just up and go to DC.
I think being on the ground with my people was important. No one thought it was smart and no one was funding our idea- something that was criticizing the establishment and validating the experiences of people that others would label “low propensity voters.” We validated why they were not participating and also acknowledged the way they were participating civically through civil disobedience. A lot of my writings were around that.
In the midst of this, I was talking to my friends about cultural activism and understanding the Black art movement. I took art classes while I was in school but it was taught in a very academic lens and focused on white achievements. Most of my Black art exposure has been music, but not in the visual world. Through this art exploration for myself, I started a project of my own called Wild Okra.
Yes, more projects! Let’s hear about it. Tell us more about Wild Okra.
The word ‘Wild’ comes from a few places. The history of Okra in this country is interesting in that it has been long believed to have been smuggled in here by enslaved people from Africa, so that’s wild in itself. Also, part of the reason I called the project Wild Okra is that among my cousins I’m called ‘the western girl,’ so they see me as American. That’s typically how first-generation Blacks are seen. I’m from Trenton, NJ. I’m hood, and hood is fun. When I was in the street, it was Treton, NJ. When I was in the house, it was Coming to America, and that’s just all I knew. Them calling me that though always made me feel like a bit of an outsider. I wasn’t able to name it as a child, but now I understand it as anti-Blackness. It’s rooted in “we don’t want you to be THAT kind of black” “to be Afro-American” as they would say.
I am a first-generation Nigerian-American who doesn’t fall into my parent’s tradition of Nigerian norms, and also has interesting identity issues with Blackness here. I am very comfortable identifying as Black and Black American, but I also get the sense that people think I shouldn’t for a lot reasons.
What does Black Abundance mean to you?
When I think of abundance, I think of more than enough, so Black equals abundance. We are rivers, we are currents. We are literally what is current and we are the current. We aren’t lacking ideas. We aren’t lacking anything. In spite of the oppression we face, we give. We give to each other, that is a sign of abundance. People try to take from us because they recognize that abundance, even if that’s not said. You don’t take from something that is lacking. Why would you want something you viewed as less than? You wouldn’t. We are the embodiment of abundance.