I Spoke With a Frightened Afrikaner the Other Day…

“You do know it was the English who brought apartheid to South Africa. Everyone thinks it was the Afrikaners, but it was the English!”

I raised my eyebrows in mock amazement. I did this for my inquisitor’s benefit. Generally, men feel more at ease when they feel like they are in a position to teach you something, and I wanted this man to feel comfortable in my presence. After all, this opportunity is what I had asked God for just a few hours before at dusk, wasn’t it?

“Really? Yes…yes I read something about that somewhere,” I replied.

Of course I knew the British were responsible for bringing apartheid to South Africa. Anyone who has read closely on the subject knows the role that Rhodes and Churchill played in laying the foundations for the unholy regime. But we also know that the Boers built on that groundwork and took it to unparalleled heights. I attempted to make this point.

“But what about Verwoerd and…”

“No, no, no,” the man said patronizingly. “The English.”

You may at this point be wondering what the substance of my prayers was on the night in question. Having just come from the Walter Sisulu and Hector Pieterson Memorials two days before, I wanted to have the opportunity to speak with a South African of Dutch decent – to ask them to give account and defense for the Bantu Education act (which one older Boer once told me was of great benefit to the native blacks because it gave them a “trade”), for the level of force employed by the police at quelling upheaval and what could be done to bridge the gap in wealth and opportunity that 50 short, but grueling, years of apartheid had thrust upon the country. Now before me stood a mountain of an Afrikaner man, who is at least a foot and a half taller than my husband’s 6’2”, who had a voice like a disturbed pool of water, and who – despite vowing never to speak the English language a day in his life (so proud was he of his heritage and so great was the contempt he had inherited for the English) – had deigned to do so for the benefit of the “American girl”. This was my gift horse, and I was not about to crank open its jaws and inspect its molars. I let him talk.

“The thing about apartheid is that both sides were responsible – both black AND white,” he continued.

Now I was genuinely shocked. This, I had never heard before. I steadied the beat of my quickening heart before I whispered my next question. I felt he was about to tell me some horrible secret.

“How?”

“Both sides were wrong,” he said as he made to touch my shoulder, but came centimeters away from doing so.

I looked at him quizzically as an image flashed through my mind. If unprovoked, you put your boot on my neck and I manage to slap your balls in order to free myself, how do I share blame in the wrongdoing? He could see my mind racing and offered me a little smile.

“You know that picture of the guy carrying the boy?”

“You mean Hector Pieterson?”

“Ja, ja. HIM.” His tone was not kind. “Do you know how the shooting happened?”

“All I know is what I’ve read. That the students were protesting because…”

He interrupted my speech before catching himself. I must’ve said something out of the ordinary.

“Tell me what you read.”

I told him that the students were protesting because hitherto, their instruction had been in English, and that not only did they have the task of mastering their mother tongue, but they had to be proficient in a foreign language that was generally adopted already. Now the law said that all study must be in Afrikaans. (Which was ironic because it was the British who first attempted to force English on the Boers, who rebelled against the effort.) It proved to be too much. Black teachers (or their pupils) couldn’t speak Afrikaans and therefore couldn’t instruct their students in it. Matric rates fell to all time lows as did morale in education over all. The students of Soweto decided to march and deliver their mandate for education reform to the local police station where they were fired upon by officers.

He seemed satisfied with my answer. And a bit smug.

“Ahhh…but what they didn’t tell you is that those students were also armed.”

This was nonsense.

“What?”

“Yes! “ He said triumphantly. “The history books will not tell you that there were weapons found among the students. They were not so innocent. The history books will never tell you the whole truth.”

Then perhaps the history books need to diversify their sources, I thought. Because on Wednesday, my family spent the evening with a woman who is an active member of the PAC and was present when the massacre took place. The PAC supported the student march and its members did indeed carry firearms and weapons as it flanked the students. I’ve seen no stats on how many officers lost their lives in the uprising, so no one in attendance went there with the intention to shoot to kill, obviously.

As I contemplated all this, he must’ve taken my silence for a concession of defeat, because he repeated himself on the one point that I found (and still find) utterly repugnant.

“As I said, both sides were to blame – both black and white. The history books only show you the faces of white police officers, but there were black officers who shot at those kids as well.”

“Yes, I know that. In any system of oppression, you will always find members of the oppressed group who will betray their communities for their personal benefit.” (Cue KRS-One)

He became adamant.

“But you can’t revolt for everything you want! Anytime these…workers or students want something, they toitoi and that’s not democracy.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

“But the French might say that is the only way to achieve democracy. Remember when the working class stormed the Bastille and…”

“Ja, but you can’t replicate everything you see and think it applies to where you are.”

Y’all. He actually SAID that to me.

Since we were at a ministry conference and he was clearly not going to convince a woman who’s read far too many books that her race shared equal responsibility in its own demise (something I can actually accept, because if Black South Africans had given the Boers the same medicine they administered to the British, they’d be better off), he switched topics to something he thought we might both agree on: religion and its role in the abysmal state of South African education. I was ready to engage, because education is very important to me.

“Do you know! They are teaching my son – my 12 year old son – about forefather worship in school?”

“Yeah…my daughter had to study that as part of social studies last year. Along with Hinduism and some other things.

“It’s nonsense,” he declared.

“I don’t think…”

“No, no! Nonsense! You know ZUMA does forefather worship? That’s why he and Mugabe are thick as thieves. In fact, they go to the same fetish/voodoo/spiritual woman. She sits out under a tree with her bones and leaves. That’s how Mugabe has been able to stay this long. Because of HER spiritual influence.”

I asked him the question he must’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but dreading.

“Do you think Zuma will be able to maintain control as long as Mugabe?”

He gave it something before he answered. “I don’t know. All I know is that the ANC is a mafia and Zuma has a lot of dirt on top people. That’s why they won’t confront him and that’s why he kicked out Gordon…because he wasn’t able to corrupt him.”

 

And then I looked into the eyes of this mountain of a Boer man and saw that he was afraid…that he was actually afraid. We’re human, so we all harbor ours fears. It’s only natural. What I saw was a man who despite declaring his position as an anti-racist, was too afraid to allow his child to learn about the cultural norms of the racial majority around him. That though he may be a Christian, perhaps neither he nor his white Christ was not strong enough to mitigate for his child the spiritual influences of a 500-word blurb in a history book. I saw a man who is afraid that history will judge his race and his Afrikaner culture as they deserve, which is fairly. Because if the truth were to be told, it would condemn them in the eyes of generations to come. I saw a man that despite his efforts to portray the contrary, was afraid of change.

But I also saw his efforts.

In the hundred or more people who gathered at that conference, he was the only white male, and a proud Boer to boot. That certainly counts for something: That he was able to overcome his myriad fears and place himself in an uncomfortable situation…the sort of situation that is not so unfamiliar to Black people: That of “token”.

In my reading, I’ve known the Afrikaner to be many things: Greedy, stubborn, subversive, passionate and proud. But I’ve never known them to be described as frightened. They’ve always seemed (and portrayed as) incapable of possessing that particular trait. Knowing that the mountain of a man harbors fear comforts me; not because I would seek to use it against him, but because it assures me that his is an Afrikaner, yes, but he is human first.

 

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I Can Guarantee You That Blessing Okagbare Was Far From Embarrassed About Her Wig Falling Off.

Blessing Okagbare is a much-decorated Nigerian athlete who competes in in sprinting, long jump and triple jump. She’s competed in the Olympics, Common Wealth and All Africa Games, and most recently, in the Oslo Diamond League in Norway. It is here where the world became acquainted with Okagbare, not for her prowess on the field, but because of her hair. As you probably well already know, she and her wig parted ways during the long jump.

 

 

Are you finished laughing? Please let me know when you’ve composed yourself so that we can continue. Ahaaa. Let’s go!

One of many headlines declaring Blessing is embarrassed. Has she told you she is embarrassed? You dey lie bad.

In the wake of this gravitational wig snatching, headlines and commenters from around the globe have bandied about the idea that Blessing Okagbare must have been embarrassed about her wig falling off during her event. There’s no way she couldn’t have been, right? I mean, your hair (or in this case, some Chinese manufactured form of it) literally separated itself from your body on an international stage. Mortifying, yes?

No!

Let me say it again: No! This will not get you down. Not if you’re a Nigerian woman, or a Black woman in the Diaspora of a certain caliber.

Let me tell you something about Nigerian women: They have bigger concerns than worrying about feelings of embarrassment, despite what the western media would have us believe. Though I do not share their nationality, I have had the blessing (pun fully intended) of calling many Nigerian women sisters and friends, and have shared sacred space with them online. One of those spaces is FIN – an acronym for Female In Nigeria. It is a closed group with strict rules about disclosure, so I certainly will not betray the group’s trust or risk my privileged access to the site by going into specifics. I can say this: There is no woman – no person – who suffers like Nigerian women. Between the Church, the in-laws, some random Honda Accord-driving bozo who demands wife material (and service) on the first date, Boko Haram and your random lascivious Senator, the things that are done to and said about Nigerian women’s bodies create an incredible amount of pressure on this group. Nevertheless, they persist and continue to excel.

Look at Luvvie.

Look at Chimamanda.

Look at Folorunso.

Their accolades and achievements did not come without sacrifice, hardship and ridicule. Chimamanda has spoken about an essay that she wrote while she was in college. It was apparently the best essay in class, and the professor wanted to acknowledge the student. When she raised her hand, he looked at her in disbelief before repeating his inquiry…As if how could a woman from Darkest Africa produce such excellent work? This is just one of the myriad indignities women of color are continually made to suffer. The abilities of our minds and potential of the body are frequently downplayed and suppressed, unless it’s in the service and for the benefit of someone else.

Ahaaa. Let’s continue.

I don’t know why Blessing Okagbare chose to wear a wig in Oslo this week, but I can hazard a guess. Despite India Arie’s postulation to the contrary, Black women are and will continue to be our hair. There is a fair amount of handwringing from the New African and Hotep crowd online who have shamed Okagbare for her choice to wear a hairpiece. The most vocal have been men. Female critics have taken to sniggering, rather than perform outright criticism.

“She looks better with her natural hair!”

“It is an embarrassment for an African woman to go and look for some dead Indian woman’s hair to tape on to her forehead. This is not QUEEN behavior.”

“When, oh WHEN will African women release their minds from this mental slavery!”

And yet when a dark skinned woman with 4C hair shows up at the club or for an interview for a receptionist’s position, she is routinely passed up and overlooked for either a) a lighter skinned woman or b) a dark skinned woman who has sense enough to straighten her hair. I am here to testify that I have seen it myself with my own two Ghanaian eyes. When you add to that matrix the strength of body that a woman like Blessing Okagbare possesses, the comments and stigma outside of the safety of the sports arena is nothing short of bestial.

In an interview conducted a few years ago, Ghanaian pop singer Wiyaala discussed how growing up with a “strongbody” affected her. Wiyaala is an incredibly strong woman with lean muscle mass. She described how walks about her hometown would invite taunts from local boys who would shout for her to raise her shirt to prove she was a girl. She responded by embracing her androgyny and opting for a high-top close crop.

Image source: Music Unites Africa

I suspect that Blessing Okagbare – who, like Wiyaala has been active in sports since high school – has faced similar taunts. It’s probable that the hurtful words of strangers (perhaps even choices) have had some level of impact on her sartorial choices, including how she wears her hair.

You might well recall how the Black community savaged Gabby Douglas during the 2012 Olympic games over how she styled her hair. Douglas made history by becoming the first American gymnast to win gold medals in both the team and individual all-around. That vicious attack was the direct result of centuries of conditioning, and it’s something we’’re yet to be healed of.

Female athletes (Black women in particular) have added pressure of performing femininity on the field while in the midst of competition. One will have to give way to the other, because you can’t have slayed edges and slay the hundred-meter dash. The 4-6 hours required to sit in the salon while you wait to get your sew in or cornrows done is valuable training time lost. Any serious female athlete would forego the salon in pursuit of that extra second on the clock. But I can just see some pastor or some too known auntie coming to ‘advise’ the Nigerian team:

“Eh ehhh… You know you are representing the whole kontry. When you go there, don’t go with that unruly hair, eh? Let os pray…”

I’m telling you, I’ve sat at dinner with the son of a Ghanaian mogul who nearly spat his whiskey in disgust over the idea that the Pretoria High girls who were fighting to wear their natural hair and locks.

“There is no way in Ghana that we will ever allow a girl to come to class with that BUSHY hair!”

Look: Any woman who wears a wig knows that there is always a hazardous risk with making that choice. There is ALWAYS a chance of it getting blown off, snatched off or simply slipping off. It’s a fact of wig-wearing life. But you can’t let a little bit of synthetic stop you from putting in that work. Blessing Okagbare responded to losing her wig in the same way generations of Black women who have felt compelled to cover their natural hair for social acceptance have for years: She simply put the mask back on and went about her business like a BAWSE CHICK. To get to this level, she has been through greater trials than her hair falling off. We should all just stop forcing her to feel embarrassment that she’s not experiencing.

And now: A short video representation of other notable African women who have (or nearly) lost their wigs while putting in that work. Honorable mention to my girl Gloria of TFH, who routinely tests the adhesive integrity of her wig glue while in the midst of praise and worship.

 

Kiki Sheard: Nothing, not even the separation from my wig, can separate me from pursuing the love of Jesus

 

Queen Bey: A fan is not a halo, but it tried it.

Kim Z: I’ll give you my wig why you pry it from my cold, icy head.

Why Are White People Pushing the ‘Two Parent Household’ During Slavery Narrative So Hard?

There is a push by both liberal and conservative white circles to reimagine – and now, to rewrite – the devastating effects that slavery had on the Black family unit. I first became aware of this trend (one that is part of a larger effort to whitewash horrors of the Trans Atlantic slave trade) when a University of Tennessee student named Kayla Parke posted a Facebook live rebuttal to the assertion that Black families held in bondage were led by two parent families. In a quiz administered by now retired (or fired, depending on who you ask) professor Judy Morelock, the ONLY question regarding slavery asked, “Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that…”

Parker answered “C”: “Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners.” Professor Morelock marked the answer as wrong, stating that the correct answer – according to ‘research’ revealed that the correct answer was D: Most slave families were headed by two parents.

Anyone who’s read slave narratives published the Federal Writers Project, or read Frederick Douglass’ account of his years spent in bondage (from which he eventually escaped), or read Booker T. Washington’s ‘Up From Slavery’, or hell, spent time talking to an auntie over the age of 70, you’d know that answer D on this multiple choice quiz was some mayonnaise slathered BULL. It is not unlike that time McGraw-Hill referred to African American slaves as “workers” under its 9th grade textbook discussing patterns of migration.

To refer to a person restrained by the bonds of generational chattel slavery as a ‘worker’ gives room to reimagine that that person had rights and more importantly the capacity to decide whether or not he/she put their efforts towards labor. The word “worker” allows the student to imagine that the laborer had the freedom to determine the conditions under which they worked. None of this was the case. Slaves – human property – were roused for work well before the sun came up and toiled until long after the sun went down. They were not “immigrants”…they were people kidnapped from their native lands and forcibly displaced across the Atlantic. To call an African slave an immigrant is about as accurate as referring to the Trail of Tears a cross-country marathon.

And yet, adherence to these sorts of historical inaccuracies (read: lies) is what separates students from a passing grade and possibly, graduation.

A quick search on slavery’s effects on the strength of familial bonds and how the institution and Jim Crow contributed to the creation of a welfare state will yield some interesting results. I came across at least five right-wing outlets (none of which will I link on my blog) that advance the idea that the institution of slavery honored and fostered strong filial bonds among African Americans and that surge in single parent households is largely due to misguided liberal policies. Did FDR’s New Deal have unforeseen consequences for the poor and Negro populations? Absolutely. But to place blame for the plight of the African American family today solely at the feet of Democrats is ludicrous and disingenuous. The institutions and laws that have contributed to the erosion of the Black family are not linear and are tentacular in nature.

So why this push by the white majority to repaint the scarred image left on the Black family by slavery? The question is rhetorical, of course. History shows Europeans as the conquering victors over almost everywhere they invaded (Ethiopia a noted exception), but it also reveals them to be inhumane barbarians who meted out unspeakable human rights atrocities during their conquests. This truth flies in the face of the romance that white people have told themselves and sold to the people that they’ve dominated over the centuries in the process. ‘Whiteness’ equates to purity, goodness, niceness, heroism and holiness. How therefore could one be white and then separate a child from his mother at the auction block and then go home to nurture one’s own children? How is that goodness? How could one rape a woman while her husband stands helpless outside, privy to every agonizing moment of the attack and still deign to call oneself heroic?

Said George Wallace in his first inaugural speech as Governor of Alabama,

“It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

Notice the language. Southerners, Anglo-Saxon southerners in particular, are referred to as the greatest people that have ever trod the earth. This is a theme that repeats itself throughout the teaching of white history. Let us not forget that President Woodrow Wilson – a staunch supporter of the Ku Klux Klan – referred to the portrayal of completely fictional events in the film The Birth of a Nation as historical fact. Said Wilson, “It is like writing history with lightning.” In the film, Black men were portrayed as lascivious, rape-driven brutes while their white, male Klan counterparts were genteel and valiant. The thousands of unprovoked and documents lynchings, church burnings and rapes of African Americans do not reconcile this portrayal.

Of course, it is easier to deny that any of this ever took place and to rather craft a story that suits the agenda of the oppressor. This tactic is one well adopted by cowards who are unable and unwilling to face the gravity of the sins of their forebears, sins that have benefited them socially and financially. Thomas Jefferson, master of Monticello bears this out. Historians have described him as a man ‘trapped’ in the system of slavery, however any ambivalence he was feeling about the institution and his role in it was soon tucked away in the wake of the exorbitant profits he made as the owner and driver of human chattel. In his book ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’ he says:

Jefferson, a respected statesman and businessman was a revered subject matter expert in his day. His notions about race and observations about human behavior helped inform and shape the future of slavery in the antebellum South. He has been credited with conjuring the idea of the African as both superhuman and subhuman, as a being that is power but whose power is a danger unto himself if not contained and controlled. The Black slave is ‘helpless’ in this way, and it is the white man’s burden to ‘guide’ the African. Jefferson needed to believe this to justify his role as jailer to several generations of families. The language of this narrative may have changed today, but idea remains the same. (See Donald Trump and his repeated references to Law and Order on the campaign trail.)

The white need to believe that slavery did not destroy the familial bonds of an entire population of people who did not request residence in the United States is understandable. The moral obligations to repair what was lost are heavy and the spiritual ones more so. And so it becomes imperative for a professor like Judy Morelock to refer to Frederick Douglass as an “articulate man” when confronted with the reality that he was separated from his mother in his infancy and only saw her 4 or 5 times thereafter than to deal with the meat of that real trauma. The casual observances of a privileged white male concerning disparity and injustice in America carry more weight than the testimonies of those who have had to endure. Because again, in whiteness there is imputed truth and honesty, whereas people of color have the burden of proving that truth. It’s easier to dismiss the anecdotal evidence from slave narratives about husband and wife discovering that they are brother and sister precisely because their parent(s) were sold away to another plantation and they grew up with little-to-no knowledge about their genealogy. Its easier to pretend that the Vagrancy Act of 1866 did not exist because African Americans were desperate in their search for displaced families following the Civil War, but rather because Black people are given to idleness and truancy. And then of course, there is my personal favorite from America’s newest Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, who must’ve been in a coma during conversations about Plessy vs Ferguson and the unique challenges children of color have faced in education from Reconstruction to 3 o’clock this afternoon.

In a White House statement to HBCU presidents, she says: “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

She’s exactly right.

…And then Ma and Pa left the plantation with their earnings from agricultural work and paid out of pocket for the tuition(s) of their 2.5 kids (family planning y’all!) without ever having had to take out a student loan. And then the Daughters of the Confederacy served everyone tea. (Insert quip about white lies here.)

 

 

 

 

RompHims Are the Next Logical Step in Men’s Fashion

Let us be honest with one another: Where men’s fashion is concerned, it’s been a race to (and in many cases, from) the crotch for a very long time. I don’t generally keep a keen eye out for male fashion – primarily because it’s so repetitive and boring – but I did note when hemlines on men’s trousers began to shrink and raise about 3-4 years ago. The look raised many eyebrows, but seemed fairly innocuous.

It’s not as though we expected the look to go from the runway to the mainstream, right? So few of these trends actually make it from the glitz of Fashion Week to the racks of Old Navy.

And yet…this one DID.

Your younger brother’s trousers are now considered “formal” wear.

Nevertheless, we ignored what was up until 2014 considered a faux pas in men’s fashion. The hem of a man’s trousers ought to fall on the bridge of his shoe and that was the end of the discussion! If a few men wanted to disgrace themselves by tossing out this hallowed rule of professional presentation, we’d let them. They were probably slackers who didn’t deserve society’s concern anyway. Now, look! They’ve upped the ante and made as an addendum a close cut to these suit pants. They are called “skinny suits”.

It went mainstream, y’all!

This look was crossing the line of what is acceptable presentation of the male body in public, but we have endured the presence and penetration of the saggy jean for a quarter of a century or better, so perhaps we could make an allowance for this overcorrection in terms of fit.

And then – while we eschewed diligence – along came men’s jeggings…commonly referred to as “meggings”. I have nothing intelligent to add to this point of discussion. Does “GAH?!?!?!” count as an intelligible remark? The picture speaks for itself.

I mean. Really. This is just BEYOND.

Still, the denizens of fashion were not through with us yet. The spring/summer season of 2016 was dominated by the chino: those crotch-hugging trousers with elastic in the ankles. Not to be confused with the utility of a sweat pant which can also feature elastic at the ankles, the chino affords the wearer the respectability of a coffee filter sales man, coupled with the carefree whimsy of a professional skateboarder. When my son’s luggage was lost in transit last year, we were obliged to purchase this item of clothing in several colors including khaki, camo and grey. These were the only cut of trouser available for boys his age, the only other alternative being school uniform pants. However as a boy of stocky build, these booty-hugging trousers made him look more like a frustrated Musketeer than a happy-go-lucky ramp rider.

These “baggy” chinos only work of you have no butt.

And that brings us to the RompHim: rompers for men. People are conflicted about how to take this new sensation, primarily because unless you’re a rock star named Prince, or a tiny English prince, or a dude named Mr. Brown, there’s really no protocol for grown men in rompers.

On one hand, a group of people wholeheartedly reject the idea of RompHims (or BropHims, coming in LV and Gucci print in a ‘hood near you) because it represents the next wave in the deterioration of what many consider definitions of masculinity. On the other, there are many who are excited about all the thigh meat and man bubble that will be on full display as the weather warms up. While we may not be able to agree on whether or not this trend is to be embraced, I think we can all agree that we are all intrigued. And by intrigued, I mean utterly mesmerized. Have you been able to stop thinking about BropHims since you first heard about them? No. Me neither!

So yes, given what has been happening in men’s fashion under our very noses for the past few years, it makes perfect sense that your uncle and/or prospect boo would aspire to show up at the family reunion or graduation in a onesie. This is metrosexuality run amuck. Gone awry. It’s gobbling sixteen different types of steroids. And I am here for it.

Next time we convene, we will discuss what’s new in men’s grooming. In anticipation of that conversation, check out this video of a brother sealing the cuticles of his beard hairs with a flat iron.

I know you *think* you’re ready but you’re not. None of us is.

 

So! What colors will you be wearing your RompHim in this year? I hear there are already ankara prints available. You know Nigerians will never carry last…

Even God and Your Daddy Know #MenAreTrash

Beloveds: I won’t be keeping you long this morning. I just stopped by to share a word that God confirmed in my spirit late in the midnight hour.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and the occasion was nearly overshadowed by the kvetching of a certain group of people who have taken great offense with a hash tag that has been trending on Twitter for several days. That hash tag is #MenAreTrash. The source of their consternation (‘they’ in this instance being emotional men and the patriarchal princesses who enable their melodramatic tendencies) is that the proclamation that men are trash sweeps all men with a broad stroke.

“Is your daddy trash?” they ask rhetorically.

“My boyfriend certainly isn’t trash!” another exclaims indignantly.

Soon to follow, as always, is an attack on feminism. “You feminists say you want to be equal to men. And yet here you are today saying men are trash!” The idea behind this pseudo Socratic line of thinking is that feminists – and all women by extension – are ultimately trash because they want to be equal to men.

Please.

No one is interested in “equality with” men. What all people of good sense want is equal access to the privileges, resources and rewards that men routinely enjoy simply for the sake of their gender. No feminists that I have encountered has the slightest interest in partaking of the behaviors that led to the genesis of this hash tag in particular: that behavior being the routine and accepted violence against women, the economically disenfranchised and other marginalized groups. If you are unfamiliar with the birth of the hash tag, it gained groundswell after the discovery of Karabo Mokoena’s body in a veld. She was beaten to death, her corpse singed with acid and finally ‘necklaced’…the process of putting a car tire around a human body and lighting it aflame. It leaves the flesh nearly unrecognizable. Women all over the world have been sharing horrific stories about the physical, sexual and emotional violence that they have faced at the hands of men with whom they share close proximity, and the almost dismissive attitude from members of the communities in which the attacks have taken place.

I will agree with those who quake with fury that #MenAreTrash paints all men with the same brush. It does…because men (and many women) have facilitated as system in which men are rewarded – and even expected – to behave with trashy tendencies. The hash tag is broad sweeping because the problem is systematic. Therefore your loving uncle and doting father are outliers and do not operate within the expectations of typical male behavior. Men are unpredictable, and women have been socialized to police ourselves based on that capricious nature. A user online explained it in a way that should be simple enough to grasp with this illustration using snakes.

Yes, yes. I know! Not ALL men. But when an issue becomes systematic and has a high(er) likelihood of occurring, anthropologically we speak in broad terms. Like:

  • People sweat when it’s hot, or
  • White women don’t age well, or
  • Africans love rice

There are always exceptions, however these events is what history and experience have taught us to expect. Even the Bible shows us this is the case.

 Boaz and Ruth

Ruth 2:5-8

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

As we see, Boaz had to command the young men not to harass Ruth. In other versions, Boaz says, “have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?” We can see that as a matter of routine, men in that district made life difficult for women either by verbally debasing them, touching them without consent or both. Boaz had to give than command because he knew men were trash.

Jesus and the adulterous woman

John 8:3-9

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

The woman was brought for condemnation before Christ specifically for the act of sex outside of her marriage. Not for stealing. Not for blasphemy…for having an adulterous affair. That Jesus would then refuse to look her accusers in the eye as they challenged his authority meant that he was already confident in his knowledge about the types of lives that these men led. Why did they not also drag the man with whom this woman was having an affair with before the Christ? Because doing so would incriminate them as well, possibly setting a precedence for being drug into square when they might find themselves in the throes of adultery. Not a single accuser stayed to throw a stone, because they inwardly knew that they were trash. The difference is, that had the consciousness of mind and integrity to admit that.

You and your own father

“Akos! Make sure you are in this house by 6pm.”

“But, Daddy! Why? You never tell Kofi to come back in at any specific time.”

“Herh! Don’t argue with me. Insolent girl! In fact, you can’t leave the house at all. Go and sweep the hall.”

Your father wants you back in the house by 6pm, before the sun goes down, because even he fears what men lurking in the dark could potentially do to his daughter. He’s a man, and he knows men are trash.

Not convinced? Then ask yourself why you would never take your young daughter into the men’s bathroom, but have full confidence that your young son is safe in a public toilet full of women. Why do we expend so much energy on telling girls how to dress to avoid rape, rather than driving home the message in men that they have no right to access to anyone’s body…not even in marriage? So many factors contribute to the base (or trash) instincts that men harbor and exhibit. The entitlement that men feel is a direct result of global society’s refusal to demand responsibility from men.

Boys will be boys.

That’s just how men are.

Because, biology.

If more men were really honest, they would admit that they are equally afraid of their fellow men. Rather than admit this, they permit sexist behavior to continue and endorse misogyny with their silence. I’ve had a man admit to me that he was in a room when a girl was being raped and did nothing because the other men around him threatened to beat him up if he intervened. She was sexually assaulted and he got to live with the guilt of being a coward, but lives unscathed nevertheless.

I’ve had a man admit that he sat silently while his homeboys plotted on how to ruin a woman’s reputation because she did not acquiesce to his unwanted advances. They would proclaim her to be a slut and that would be the end of it. Rather than risk the ire of his friends and look like “punk”, this guy sat by and let the scheme unfold.

I’ve had a man confess to me that he was at his friend’s house as he was punching his wife and did not intervene beyond a “Come on, man. She said she was sorry!”

This is all trash. And while you as a man may not be guilty of exhibiting trash behavior personally, you are not innocent if you do not call out trash when you see it. Now the challenge becomes not only to unlearn this thinking and abolish this fear of challenging the status quo, but also to raise a generation of men who will not find themselves victims of trash influences and eventually become trash themselves.

If you’re sitting there condemning #MenAreTrash because it offends your sensibilities, build a bridge and get over it. This is not the time for respectability. Not when women/girls are being burned with acid for refusing marriage proposals, or shot in the face because they want to get an education. Not when presidential candidates can grab women by the pussy and become leaders of the free world. You like hash tags like #MasculinitySoFragile because of its vagueness and because it provides no immediate provocation to inspect an issue or force introspection. But you do recognize that at the end of that conversation on fragile masculinity is the conclusion that men are trash. The former ruffles your feathers on the onset, and that’s what has you unsettled. That, and not the fact that 70 year old women in India now have to learn how to use swords and staffs to defend themselves from marauding young men in their communities.

And you patriarchal princesses: For you to sit there and demand a “better hash tag” because you’re thinking of the one guy who gives you orgasms or the other that sent you a couple of dollars to get you onto a flight is insane, frankly. It beggars belief. You are as asinine as the folk who demand peaceful (read: quiet and convenient) protests in response to police brutality and other forms of systematic oppression. All you are doing is enabling the perpetrator at the expense of the victim for the sake of nicety and for the benefits of patriarchy.

Girl, you trash too.

 

James Comey Discovers White People Behavior Can Have Black People Consequences.

Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey this week. What is unclear is if Comey’s firing came on the heels of a recommendation from the Deputy Attorney General or – if as Trump announced on Lester Holt’s interview on Thursday – he had made the decision to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation. Prior to this on Tuesday, Kellyann Con-all-the-way went on Anderson Cooper’s show where she spun her lips into a lie that would have us believe that Trump’s decision to fire Comey had nothing to do with Russia.

We all know that the FBI Director’s termination had everything to with Russia. Who asks for extra resources to do an investigation into Trump’s links with Russia and then loses their job a day later? What’s worse, who loses their job and finds out not from their employer, but from some third party…like TV? This is not treatment that powerful white men – particularly not men in high profile positions such as director of the freaking Federal Bureau of Investigation! – are accustomed to. I tell you who is accustomed to this maltreatment, however: The rest of us.

How many of us know a co-worker (or have been that co-worker) who lost their job for asking too many questions? Surely you’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with that woke brother that caused way too many waves by challenging the status quo at the office? How long has that employee lasted in the corporate world? Not longer than the affable, porn watching, coke-snorting sales executive in the corner office, I assure you. Tristan O’Brien the exec is going to last a heck of a lot longer than Tyrell Brown in customer care. I’ve chanced on the backroom meetings where Tyrell’s firing was being discussed.

“Tyrell just doesn’t seem to fit in with the corporate culture here,” says a team lead.

“Yeah…he really struggles to understand basic concepts like why we don’t pay for sick leave or why we reuse the coffee filters in the office,” adds another.

Nodding his head in agreement, the department head confirms that Tyrell and his incessant questioning are bad for employee moral. It is decided that Tyrell is to be terminated on Monday morning.

“Why ruin the weekend?”

The room agrees. Everyone skips off for margaritas after work, Tyrell included. He doesn’t know it, but this Friday happy hour is actually his going away party, sans cake and kudos or nary a word from his co-workers. It is only on Monday morning when his futile attempts at swiping his badge to gain access to the building that he discovers the awful truth: He no longer has employment with CareerMaster.com.

Frantic and confused, Tyrell calls his team lead to find out what happened.

A voice on the other end of the phone says calmly, “You were let go today. Didn’t you get the email? It was sent out on Friday after work. Don’t worry… your personal affects will be mailed to you, along with your severance check. Ah…Ah! Tyrell! There’s not need for that sort of language!”

The rest of the office surreptitiously listens in on the call that the team lead “happened” to be taking on speaker. I hear one of the new hires say not quietly enough, “Gosh…I hope Tyrell doesn’t come in here and shoot up the place!”

“I know. He was SO militant. He always made me a little uncomfortable.”

“He was nothing like you, Malaka!”

“Yeah! You’re so easy to get along with! And you know how to say ‘ask’. It always grated on my nerves when Tyrell said ‘ax’ when he wanted to ask a question.”

“Three cheers for our magical African Negro!”

Naturally, I was disgusted by this display of liberal white benevolence for my benefit, but Tyrell, and all Tyrell’s like him everywhere, also happened to harbor deeply sexist beliefs. And while I was sad that the brother lost his job, I was not sad to see him go.

What makes James Comey’s ouster so stunning is that white men aren’t typically punished for asking questions. Asking questions shouldn’t get an FBI director promoted to private citizen. The effort ought to catapult you to minor deity status. It’s a trait that is encouraged in that particular demographic. Pop culture bears this out. Who is the last person often standing in a horror flick? A white male. (Get Out being the most noted exception that comes to mind.) Who’s always the first to die? The Black guy…and he ain’t even want to know what that strange rustling in the bush was in the first place.

Questions guide white male existence. Questions like:

  • “What’s that noise?”
  • “How many guns would it take to colonize an entire continent?”
  • “If I poke this lion in the nose, will it really try to bite me?”

So when a powerful white man like James Comey asks questions like, “What are the Trump’s family links to Russia and what – if any – involvement did Russia have in this election”, I’m sure Comey did not see his sacking coming. In fact, he probably expected Fuhrer Trump to commend him for his queries. After all, it was only a few months ago that the Orange Fuhrer praised Comey for the “guts” it took to investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Questions are not supposed to lead to a public humiliation for white men. Seeking truth and accountability is a noble calling – one that minorities are frequently punished and reviled for. Who can forget how we were all disparaged for calling for investigations into the mysterious and unexplained deaths of Sandra Bland, Edward Crawford and Sheila Abdus-Salaam? When Black people ask questions, we are being difficult. When White people ask questions, it’s an admirable effort. I imagine it must have come as a shock to Comey and his team when he received this untoward treatment that is generally set aside for the lower castes of American society.

Welcome to the other side of the tracks, James! Now that you’re down here with the rest of us, let me tell you where you went wrong: You were too visible. You were too flashy. You were literally the Flo Rida of FBI directors: all over everybody’s’ tracks. Every time there was a television broadcast, your name and face where on it. Every time there was a discussion about the election and the influences, your name popped up. Real Gs move in silence…like gnomes. Consider your predecessor, J. Edgar Hoover. The man shaped much of American history, and we’re still discovering all the nefarious deeds that are attributed to his decisions. But you? You left yourself too open. You were too exposed. You were too often caught in the crosshairs of a camera! That has consequences, bruh; People of color consequences.

The wages of working on Donald Trump’s behalf to influence an election is an Apprentice style firing. That ho ain’t loyal, James! I bet you never, ever thought…. But you gone learn tuhday! *cackle!!*

I Was Asked To Make A ‘Grown African Woman’ Decision Today…

Part of living in virtually any part of Africa is the expectation that you will employ house help to aid in the running of your home. No matter your socio-economic circumstances or class, the chances that there will be someone less fortunate than you are always extremely high. In the absence of a formal employer-employee arrangement (such as the one I am involved in now), many African families will barter shelter, school fees or a chance to get out of the village by “hiring” out children to more fortunate family members in metropolitan areas. It’s a sort of foster care arrangement and gives the child an opportunity to work, get an education or see life outside of the village.

It sounds idyllic, but these arrangements can frequently go badly for the child or young person involved. Benefactors emotionally and physically abuse their needy wards with more frequency than we on the continent care to admit. Hunger, name-calling and physical violence are all methods used to control and incite submission in the recipient of the arranged benevolence. It breeds mistrust and creates negative attitudes around the employer-employee relationship, often resulting in a master-subject paradigm instead. What often happens is that once the former subject grows or is promoted out of that station and now has the opportunity to lord over someone else less fortunate than them, the cycle of work and relational abuse continues. This happens in homes, offices and commercial spaces all over Africa. Ask yourself why the security guard at your local bank has the confidence (and gall) to shout at you as you park your car. It’s because he has been given a little bit of authority and because he was never given respect in his formative years now feels it imperative to demand it. Now a man, it’s his way of retaliating against oppressive authority figure(s) that he was not equipped or permitted to in his youth. This is why the bible tells us not to promote our children to wrath: they grow up to become unreasonable watchmen and bank tellers.

I digress.

I may have mentioned some time ago why one of the reasons I’m thrilled to be back on the Continent is for the simple reason that I have so much help around the house. I believe every woman should have a wife, and if she cannot get a wife then she must have a housekeeper. I LOVE my housekeeper. She keeps our house spotless and she always comes ready to retell the craziest stories about life in the Crags, the themes of which generally center on death, destruction and witchcraft. She looked after us during our 3-month visit to SA in 2011 so it was a no-brainer that she would do the same once we moved here in 2016 if her schedule permitted. She’s still as efficient as ever, but has slowed down considerably –as she put it – over the past five years. We asked if she needed help with the work, but she declined; I suppose out of fear that another (younger) woman would eventually take her job from her altogether. However, the house we’re renting is fairly large and a LOT for one person alone to look after. How could she keep her job (which was never in jeopardy) AND stave any competition? Enter: her destitute niece from Oudtshoorn. This was someone our housekeeper could control and boss about in that typical African auntie fashion.

Woohoo! I’m a feminist in the big city!

Oudtshoorn is in the Karoo, which is an aberration of a Khoi word meaning ‘desert’. There’s nothing in Oudtshoorn but some heat, some rocks, some ostriches, racism, unemployment and liquor. Lots and lots of liquor. It is from this backdrop that this niece (let’s call her Shelby) arrived. She is a coloured girl of 23 who lived on a farm with her next-door neighbor because her mother has been a drunk for the majority of her life. For her, coming to Plett had the same effect as Mary Tyler More arriving in New York. The world was big, bright, fast moving and exciting. Unfortunately, unlike MTM, Shelby did not immerse herself in work or hatch schemes that would eventually make her a woman of the world. She has made a series of poor decisions that have landed her in a pretty bad situation with dire consequences, one of which is the eviction from her aunt’s house, and consequently the loss of her employment at our house.

Four months passed without Shelby working alongside her aunt, and it was clearly very hard for her. Our housekeeper recruited a cousin to come and work with her, but the woman only lasted a week. When it became obvious that our housekeeper couldn’t handle the workload, she coaxed Shelby back, saying that I had requested her return. (A lie.) En route to our home last week, she then told my husband that I requested him to pick up Shelby because I wanted her to return to work. (Another lie. I said we’d discuss it; nothing was final.) It was against these untruths that Shelby returned to our employment: under the assumption that I desperately wanted her back in my home, when in reality it was her aunt who could not get on without her and was too proud to admit it.

I let it all slide, and that was my mistake…one that could have been potentially lethal. Fortunately, I have a bit more sense than what my face lets on.

In addition to getting Shelby her job back, our housekeeper wanted me to take on the role of counselor. She wanted me to talk to the girl about her life choices, her responsibility to her children, her colon health… Ugh! This was all too much! But this is the rent one has to pay when you have help in the house in Africa. Their problems become YOUR problems, whether you want it or not. So I did as I was requested and had a big girl talk with Shelby with the aid of some friends who spoke Afrikaans. The poor girl was reduced to a watery heap by the time we were done. The singular question: “Are the lifestyle choices you are making now helping you to become the woman you told us you want to be?” seemed to be enough to set her mind right. She has thrown herself into her work in the days since that chat on Friday.

I thought all was said and done until our housekeeper pulled me aside and began whispering to me this morning. It seems I had left something undone.

“Nehna*, you promised me last week you would shake Shelby, and you didn’t do it!”

I was utterly confused. “What? What are you talking about.”

“I ASKED you to search her and you said you would. The talk was fine, but you must also search her Nehna.”

I was about to object, but she cut me off.

“No. Please! You must do it for me! You must search her so that she feels afraid. You MUST shake her!”

I sighed and said I would. I am always doing things for my housekeeper out of obligation. But this didn’t sit well with me at all. This wasn’t a cake for her grandchild or a ride to Pick n’ Pay. What she was requesting was a violation of this young woman’s privacy based on a suspicion that I didn’t harbor in the first place.

If you are confused about my ambivalence, allow me to explain. What she wanted me to do was pat this girl down, feel through her clothing and rummage through her handbag if she had brought one. I was to do the same to her, so that it wouldn’t look like she was being singled out. Her rationale?

“I see the way she looks at the things you have brought for the kids from America. All these nice panties and clothes. I think maybe she’s going to steal them, because she has this boyfriend and she wants to look nice for him. Always she’s watching these things, and that’s why I can’t leave her to clean alone in the house. You MUST shake her, Nehna!”

Holy Christmas. Sweet Father! This was just ridiculous. After I thought about it, I was certainly not going to pat another grown woman down for any reason, most certainly not over some used tween draws. If my housekeeper wanted her niece searched, then she was going to have to do the deed herself. I was not her errand girl for this one. I had another plan instead. And at 4pm, when my housekeeper whispered that it was time for me to pull them both aside and execute my search, I informed her that she was not going to like what I did next.

A worried look clouded her face. “Hai, Nehna! You cannot ask me to pull down my pants and remove all my clothes!”

“Hei,” I grunted. “You asked me to do this thing. You can’t now tell me how you want it done. Even if I ask you to remove your underwear, bend over and cough, you must do it!” I demonstrated all of the movements for emphasis.

She laughed nervously.

Got her!

We went to my crafting room – as my housekeeper had suggested – and I turned to face the two women.

Feigning confusion, my housekeeper asked, “Oi! Shelby…what does this lady want? I wonder if everything is okay?”

Shelby shot me a worried glance.

“Everything is fine,” I assured her. “Have you decided you want to come back here to work? Do you want to keep this job?”

She nodded that she had. I smiled at her.

“Good! Then in that case, I wanted to give you something.” I produced a new packet of ladies underwear from Woolworths wrapped in a gift bag. “I picked this up for you today. I also made these for you.”

I pointed to a pair of earrings made from shweshwe that I’d sewn and assembled after my conversation with my housekeeper.

“You can have one – or both. It’s up to you. It’s just something to say welcome back, and to tell you I trust you. If there’s anything in this house that you want – or need – in this house, don’t just take it. Ask me, and if I can get or give it to you, I will. ”

Shelby’s face broke out in the biggest grin I’ve seen from the girl in the 6 months I’ve known her. She thanked me and picked up the pink earrings. Then she thought better of her choice and took the two.

Good girl.

My housekeeper began applauding, admonishing her niece to take note of how good of a woman I was.

“You see the sort of woman she is, Shelby? You see?”

I waved the compliment away and told Shelby to have a good night. She made her way toward the gate with her aunt at her back. I stopped her. She had a smile plastered on her face.

“Oh, Nehna! I love the way you did that! If not for God’s wisdom, you wouldn’t have done that!”

“Listen to me,” I seethed, cutting her off. “If you don’t trust her…if YOU suspect her of being a thief…then you can’t bring her here any more.”

“I just see the way that she looks at the things…”

“I get that. But you can’t ask me to search people that you have brought to this house because you suspect them of being a thief. If you want to search your niece, you will have to do it yourself from now on.”

She bristled. “Ok…But can we go in the room and close the door while we talk?”

I shook my head no. “Nah. We gon’ talk right here out in the open. I’m serious. If you don’t trust her, then she can’t come work here. You understand?”

“I will watch her,” she said, nodding her head.

I hated it. I hated that whole event. I know several women in Ghana specifically who would have relished the chance to force that girl to undress herself and dump out the contents of her bag in hopes of finding evidence of theft. Finding none, they would still boast to their equally privileged friends about how they “shook” the maid.

It’s good. It’s good! These young girls from the village, you can’t trust any of them. They come to the city and their eyes become wide…

What I hated even more than all of this was how my housekeeper, whom I have trusted and have much affection for, would use me as a pawn to carry out a deed with the aim of denigrating her niece because she was too cowardly to do the act – or just talk to the girl – herself. That made me feel sullied. My sister, Ngosa put it best.

Alas, this is what it means to be a ‘big woman’ in Africa: to be cruel, unreasonable and unrepentant about it. I am not naïve. I know that giving Shelby new panties and custom earrings won’t necessarily prevent her from stealing from us if she wanted to. Kindness if often rewarded with treachery. But feeling her up or shouting curses at her is no guarantee as a guard against theft either. All I know is, offering kindness allows me to sleep much better at night, and I will choose kindness wherever possible.

 

Are you still here? Great! Talk to me about your experience with Big Women/Men either as someone under their authority or as one yourself. How do you relate to people who are in less fortunate circumstances? Do you browbeat or kill ’em with kindness?

*Nehna is the pet name my housekeeper assigned me in 2011.