South Africa

We continue to say No:Why Akona Ndungane’s story still matters

The We Are The World days are long gone.  We’re currently smack in the middle of a culture that sees activism and story telling stripped from main art forms: music, literature, photography, painting etc.  I wouldn’t say stories aren’t still being told, of course they are, but not as honestly as they used to be.

And I guess I understand why.

As art becomes a business, image becomes [slightly more important than?] the craft itself.

For some. 

To those who continue to give us their truth, and teach, and inspire, and strengthen: Thank you.

 

 

I was going through my music collection when I found a gem.

The POWA  Mixtape. 

 

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Born from Akona Ndungane’s chilling account of her rape ordeal, POWA saw artists such as Tumi Molekane, Reason, Zaki Ibrahim, Zubz and Tuks, just to name a few, and Akona herself, collaborating to bring a project that will leave you emotionally wrecked, to say the least.

 

 

 

 

But it’s the truth.

It’s her truth.

And it’s the truth of many young women out there.

The reality of it is, we don’t talk about these things.

Society whispers to us to maybe, just maybe try and deal with the fact that this is our reality.  Few people have the lack of empathy and ingrained misogyny in them to say “Get the fuck over it. You’re walking targets and you will be preyed upon,”  but some do nonetheless and they really just verbally express what we’re shown.

It’s why sharing your rape story gets you stigma and shame, being shunned, instead of support.

It’s why people ask you what you did to deserve it before even considering that you aren’t the problem.

It’s why, when your partner rapes you, nobody calls it what it is, in their minds you signed over your rights to your body the moment you agreed to the relationship.

It’s why I’m writing this.

Because I can’t explain why I’m constantly crying at stories that other people tell me don’t affect me.

Because I’m constantly trying to explain to my male friends that at the very least, we live life constantly vigilant, if not terrified.

Because when I log on to Twitter it’s a shock to constantly see the number of women who share their stories of abuse.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow, that we’re all THIS connected… by trauma.  That we’ve formed a sisterhood because of all the things that’ve tried to break our spirits.

I’ve been an emotional wreck.

It’s not that it took me 5 years to realize that somebody violated me, it’s that there are countless other women who can either relate or never accept it, so never will.

It’s not that I know what I know, it’s that other women don’t.

It’s that I constantly have to find a new way to use everyday objects as a person.

I got excited when I found out that KEYS can be used for self defense.

 

Fucking. Keys.

 

That excited me.

And then it hit me how tragic that is.

 

 

Akona’s story, four years after it’s first telling, fourteen years after it happened, still needs to be told.

It needs to be repeated, felt, understood,for as long as is necessary.

Until our women aren’t being hunted anymore, until our men don’t think that’s a normal part of our lives, until the destruction of our society is halted.

But this is where we’re at now.

This is our reality, now.

 

Think about that.

Really think about it.

 

*Visit ISaidNo here

 

 

These Blurred Lines: On racism in South Africa’s school system and the White Psyche

In my Literature class we’re currently reading a book about a said racist killing, how race, class & culture are the blurred lines that intersect and the correlation between them in a South Africa that has just found the Big D known as Democracy.

Now if you’re one of six people of Colour in a classroom of 30 teenage white supremacists, with a teacher who knows no different, everything about this arduous experience will tension you.

Let’s huddle up while I tell this story.

Nearing the end of that period (which was five to the end of the day), I took my cellphone out, because that’s what teenagers do. The teacher reprimanded me & told me to hand over the phone. Now I know I was well within the wrong. Naturally however, you’d want to negotiate your way out of the situation, because yo! Who wants to be without their phone? During this though the teacher hit me with a “You’re going to call me racist for confiscating your phone, now?!”

That burned as much as her shouting did. My natural & instinctive defence was this equally loud response: “Why are you bringing up
race? Which is completely irrelevant to the situation at hand. So no, I am not going to hand it over.” Mind you, this altercation is taking place infront of a class of 30 people who can’t wait to see the action being taken against this opinionated Black girl with a shitty attitude, right?

Not only was the statement she made unnecessary & humiliating to me, it sprawled out the white privilege that she possesses which enabled her to even say that to me in the first place. Or think that it was okay, for that matter. Help me understand the white psyche. We ended up in the principal’s office whose argument remained that I had broken a rule & had every right to be reprimanded. Again, sure. But nothing was said of the cemetery growing inside me, where I’d bury my tolerance for white supremacists like them. Nothing of how stupid it is to throw what the teacher said to me around as a lame defense mechanism (Against what, by the
way?) Instead, she kept telling me about how good of a person she is, because she “hugs all the black kids”. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to laugh.

At the end of the day, that means absolutely nothing. If you’re able to make statements like that & not see your racist thinking, then I don’t know hey.
They acted like I had no idea what racism is. Or what sexism is. Giving me textbook definitions, because this dreadlocked township raised Black girl knows nothing of what she’s talking about.

Help me understand the white psyche.

Why lazy racist thinking like “We don’t see race at this school” is something they deserve a cookie for? No, sir. Please see it. My race & I are not invisible. I’m pretty sure that you can see me. Yes, I am getting a good enough education. But why is it that people don’t want to educate themselves of things that we aren’t taught at school? Especially one where adaptability & the acceptance of change are so stagnant.

Why is it that people don’t get that racism is much more than just openly treating another race badly?

Why is it that the principal so quickly & easily referred to me as a housewife & then as someone in a leadership position in the corporate world; when making an example of how I’d feel in the future if someone broke rules that I set? Because it’s already hard enough to imagine that the Black woman will ever amount to anything besides being a maid. This is the exact internalized &
deeply rooted thinking of superiority towards blacks that whites have systematically been taught.

You, a white person living under the privilege that you attained at the hands of us, Blacks, can be as nonchalant when it comes to race as you like.

I, a Black South African woman, living by a post apartheid doggie bag, cannot.

As a result I have become an openly defiant & opinionated Black girl who can never shut up. I am constantly being taken deep into the white headspace but can never truly grasp it.

People need to understand that the problem is not the skin colour the person is in. The enemy is
the white supremacist thinking. The racist thinking.

Help me understand this “I am above Black people” white psyche.

-Siwo Mata

*More of Siwo’s brilliance can be found on Twitter

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Botswana to pregnant women: “You’re either a mother or a murderer.”

Currently, the average sexually active Tswana woman’s choices are rather grim should she fall pregnant and not want to keep the baby, for whatever reason:

  1. Have the baby
  2. Have the baby and give it to someone to take care of
  3. Have an unsafe abortion
  4. Resort to whatever comes to mind to “fix” the situation

All of which are rather damaging emotionally, physically or both.  These women feel powerless and misinformed, and society tells them “You’re either going to be a mother or a murderer.”

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Things I’ll probably never fully understand: Men, Race and Gender

  1. What it’s like to be  a Man

It’s easy to complain about men’s behaviour isn’t it? So many of them mess up so effortlessly when interacting with women.  If one isn’t calling you a bitch he’s groping you or one of the straight ones is going on about how “homos” are an abomination. They’re quick to point out how they don’t do certain things because they’re “not bitches”, think feminists “are just angry lesbians” and when out, it’s shocking to find one who isn’t getting sloppy drunk, sexually harassing a woman or looking for a fight.

Now no, I’m not saying that ALL men do this, I’m saying a lot do. Too many.

And some genuinely have no remorse. Some think this is what it means to be a Man.  Some are unwilling to grow.

Why? Because this  is what they’ve been taught it means to be a Real Man. These are the thoughts that’ve been ingrained into their minds.

A man doesn’t cry.

A man doesn’t read books that aren’t about nude women, sex or money.  Wondering about the World and feelings is for women and homosexuals.

Nobody’s opinion matters more than a heterosexual man’s.

You need to be your own man, but only as long as your father and society approves.

Do not feel. Do not think anything you haven’t been told to think. Do not be anything other than what you’ve been told to be.

And a lot of men refuse to acknowledge that they aren’t living for themselves. That they live with a chronic fear of being considered feminine because, whether they’ll admit it or not they believe a woman is a horrible thing to be.  That it gets heavy sometimes, having to always be on your toes because someone may catch you slipping and wearing pink, only to question your sexuality.

That they’re often confused and feel confined by the word “Man.”

With the help of one, I have little difficulty understanding their experiences and their behaviour. I encourage my male friends to explore their feelings. To be honest about their desires, their fears and their dreams. To draw the line between What Society Wants and their Wants.  And there, I’ve found a lot of pain. A lot of confusion.

A lot of women are guilty of stripping males of their humanity too. Girlfriends who laugh when their partners cry or confide in them, mothers who tell their sons to “man up”, there’s always someone ready to continue the process of dehumanizing the Man, and yet who complains when said Man begins to act like the animal he’s been led to believe he is.

Men need healing too. They need acceptance too and for us to acknowledge their struggles with identity etc. They need to be taught.

I know some of you, especially women, are reading this and saying “Well they don’t do that for us” and I know, they don’t. Some of them are lost causes. But some men really do want to be better. They know there’s more to Life than being “Real”. If you come across one, nurture them. Is all I’m saying.

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2.  What it’s like to be Black, In America

“Diaspora”. I first heard the word in High School as my History teacher discussed “the African diaspora”. The conversation led to how hard life must be for Black people  in America. We all rolled our eyes.

What was he on? Evidently someone didn’t listen to Hip Hop. Hadn’t he seen all the sexy women with long weaves chilling outsides their yards, hanging out with their high yella lovers as kids played on the streets and expensive cars passed by with drug dealers behind the seat? Hadn’t he ever witnessed that Utopia? Well..yeah..random shoot outs would occur and that was sad..Yes, Tupac said it was rough over there but..It couldn’t be THAT bad, right? Right?

We thought for a long time that because America was “civilized”, because everything that we knew to symbolize success came from there or was somehow connected to it and the American Dream, it wasn’t possible for anyone to be unhappy there.

We thought Black Americans were ungrateful.

You need to understand, we got to see them through the eyes of the privileged White people who create the shows and the videos.

So we thought: Thugs. Prostitutes. Crackheads. Drug dealers. A few trying to make it out of the hood. Black on Black violence.  Unappreciative. Lazy.

We were led to believe the circumstances that many live under were of their own doing. That America, the land of Milk and Honey, provided equal opportunities to everyone. Everything was there, the Blacks just wouldn’t get up and take it because they still believed they were victims, that they were still being oppressed.

Delusional Blacks, living in the past. Tut tut.

It wasn’t until I stopped paying attention to the media that I began to somewhat understand the effects of oppression, the difference between what Is and What’s Shown etc. Social networking sites began my growth as a person, as a person of colour, as a woman, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. Meeting and interacting with not just African Americans but Black South Africans and hearing their stories made me appreciate my country and experiences that much more, as I understood theirs.

Botswana’s never really had any hostile experiences. Our country’s filled with Batswana and to be honest, most of us are shocked to see White people among us walking.  They’re an addition to our society, we aren’t an addition to theirs. We don’t know what it’s like to be Othered.  To be treated as Less Than. To be viewed as parasites in our own Land.

When the Trayvon Martin case began, some ignored it because they felt many more kids had been murdered, why focus on one? But I remember someone saying it would be an iconic case and we all waited to see whether that would be true.

Zimmerman was acquitted.

The case was simple. We all knew.

He saw a young Black man walking, he stalked him, confronted him and murdered him.

And he was let go.

It’s not that we didn’t know chances were this would occur, it’s that many were hoping it wouldn’t.

Now?

The racists are coming out to play.

Black boys are scared.

The Black community is outraged.

Simply, the facade is falling apart.

I cried.

I still do.

It’s heavy. It’s heavy on the heart and it’s heavy on the Soul.

I continue to watch this all unravel.

Me

3. What it’s like to feel like a stranger in your own body

Growing up I thought you were either a man or a woman. It was that simple to many. If you’re a woman, act like one, is you’re a man, act like one.

I didn’t acknowledge the Trans community til later on in Life, and even then, even now, it’s still something I’m learning about. Someone explained it to me simply “I just don’t feel comfortable this way. It doesn’t feel like who I am. Who I should be” and it’s something I still think about.

To a lot of people, the fact that they can’t relate means they should  reject something.  I thinks it’s silly.  I don’t relate to your struggle but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t understand it.

One of my closest friends is undergoing hormone treatment. When she told me she intended to go along with it, she was cautious. I could shun her. I could tell her it was a waste. I could tell her anything that would dismiss her feelings and crush her spirit. I understood why she tiptoed around it.

My main concern? Was she sure? Would it make her happy? Then sure.

We already live in a society that’s dismissive, you don’t need to be one more person who’s a total asshole to  people because they aren’t like/don’t feel like you.

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I’ve had my own experiences as an African Cisgender Woman, and I am always aware of what and who I am. I appreciate it. But I’m always fully aware of the fact that there are so many more stories out there. An endless array of feelings and experiences that I’ll never fully feel, and I appreciate that too.

The World is larger and more diverse than your existence and your experiences, I’ve learned.

Back to Black

Oppressor: Well I’m not harming you directly anymore, why are you still mad?

Oppressed: Because I want you to apologize.

Oppressor: But it’s done.

Oppressed: Not for me it isn’t, which is why I can’t move on.

Oppressor: I can’t do anything about how you are now. It’s your fault you’re still sad, let go. Look at you, you’re pathetic.

Oppressed: But….

And this is how it goes.  I never understand why as people we put so much weight on apologies, especially in today’s society where a person with a true conscience is hard to find.

In an ideal world, empathy would be normal, we wouldn’t need to remind people to sympathize.  Remorse would be a rare yet powerful thing to feel, as would shame.  We would not know the confusion that comes with being a victim, we wouldn’t know what it means to put yourself in another’s shoes just to try and figure out why they act a certain way.

In an ideal world, equality would not be something to fight for, freedom wouldn’t be an illusion, we would not be fighting our own thoughts everyday to remind ourselves that we are worthy of respect, or that respecting another human being is necessary, right.

I have never seen, and still don’t, the point in expecting oppressors to all of a sudden feel remorse because you can finally show the pain that they’ve caused you.  Do you not understand that the whole time they hurt you, they knew they were causing you pain? It was intentional. They chose to ignore their conscience,  their “humanity”, therefore there’s truly nothing to appeal to anymore.

As I thought about some Black people’s need to see some sort of genuine remorse, a sign of the accepted equality from those who have hurt them over the years, The Whites, The Boers, basically, the colonizers, I said to myself, Really, it’s kind of like a woman who was abused for years on end going back to her husband, scars still visible, confidence shattered and heart still bruised, and saying ” I don’t care what you think of me anymore, but I need you to say Sorry for what you did.” Does it make sense? How do you think he’ll react?

Can people accept that they may never get an apology for what has happened? That there may never be any real change between our relationship with them and, to quote Janelle Monae “… [they’ll] add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal”? Can we accept that they may not even think they were wrong?

I read once somewhere that the whole Black  community needs counselling. I was young at the time and remember immediately being offended. What did they mean? I understand if they mean Black Americans but we’re fine. Besides how dare they make it seem like we aren’t able to get up off the ground? Don’t they know that black don’t crack? We shall overcome, always. Fuck their counselling.

As I’ve grown I’ve picked up on the subtle and apparent things I missed out on growing up.

Firstly, media.  I remember in High School when Obama got elected for the first term.  People were walking around campus with “GO OBAMA!” signs and I remember thinking “Man, the hell? We’re in Botswana though.” It all seemed disconnected to me and yet I marveled at how the American media could get us all into a frenzy over what was seemingly none of our business. “He’s Black, he’ll help” was the general feeling and I agreed for a bit until I remembered that even back in Slave times, there was always a House Nigger. The one who stayed close to Massa and made sure things ran smoothly. There was always the villager who learned the White man’s tongue in order to easily communicate when and how the people  planned to fight back. What was stopping him from being one such? The fact that he has sat by and watched what’s happening to the image and life of Assata Shakur happen, has been a sure sign for me.

I was pleased at Black people’s excitement over another’s advancement, and yet saddened by their naivete and how years of wearing “The Mask” as Maya Angelou put it, had actually made them forget that there is a bigger picture.

I’ve learned that we are not unrelated. People of Colour in the diaspora, and us, we feel a certain way that others cannot.  We understand pain, the Blues, we understand another’s behaviour not on a scientific level, but through feelings. We watch a news clip where an exasperated Black man jumped of a building and we don’t try and figure out why through interviews and behavioural analysis, we know that sometimes, things just get heavy on the heart. We aren’t bewildered when a starving mother who lives in the slums murders herself and her kids, we are saddened because it happens, and we know.

A lot of people are unaware of the fact that the media plays a huge role in the lack of drive and peace People of Colour seem to be susceptible to.  We look at the surface of it, yes they show us as unintelligent, rowdy neanderthals. Pawns in schemes. Loose, talent-less individuals. Sheep. Nothing worth being respected and a lot of people think “Oh no, I’m unaffected by it.” But do you consider just how much you take in on the daily? Commercials, the internet, news, shows, cartoons, magazines, advertisements, almost all of them have a hidden agenda that they’re pushing and a lot of us take them in.

I flipped through a magazine the other day and was furious.  Why were the women portrayed as airhead chefs whose main mission in life is to ooze sex appeal? Teen magazines that teach young girls to get their degree, but always remember to look pretty while doing so because a guy may be watching.  Married women who’re being emotionally abused being told to pray about it because God doesn’t like divorce and I decided, the media isn’t here for your benefit. You, in the grand scheme of things, are just a customer and a guinea pig. A part of a system that one can never really escape, but one doesn’t really need to be an active part of either.

Young Batswana men wearing fake Trukfit and calling us bitches as we cross the streets.  12 year olds with barely noticeable breasts trying their hardest to walk with their asses out. Parents who are too busy making money and keeping up appearances to bother with their children. Who are unable to discipline their kids because Dr Phil said not to, and a generation, a people, who’s convinced that bettering yourself makes one pretentious, and we still think we’re unaffected because we’re in Africa and some of us have never really had any real political struggles.

Raised knowing Botho means that for a lot of us, being treated badly comes as a shock. We don’t know how to act and that could possibly explain why we wait around, attempting to appeal to others’ humanity, but to quote Assata ““Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them”.

You cannot go to your rapist and ask him to return your dignity/joy, it is something that you have to gather for yourself and force to thrive.

As people, we cannot continue to separate ourselves based on trivialities like we don’t have better things to do like repair our own Spirits and learn.   We’ve gotten comfortable with the abuse and the feeling of being Less Than and we don’t even know it.  We walk around with inflated egos based on the fact that one is lighter/ thinner than the other and raise kids who are willing to act mentally deficient by choice because that’s what we teach them and we’re shocked at the fact that we’re still treated like shit?

That we still get the “You speak so well, not like the others” mess. The way certain White people look at you like the owner of a proud puppy when you can use a smartphone and how the moment racial issues come up, they’re quick to play the victim too and attempt to relate.

Because a lot of us are still happy to be servants and lapdogs.

It’s true.

It’s the way ten Black people will squeeze on a bench to give the White foreign exchange student space for 3 people to sit comfortably.  How we can pronounce their names but they can’t pronounce ours because they’re “too hard” and we giggle it along with them and allow it. How we laugh at the “deep” ones of our race and our men are trying so damn hard to be “real niggas” and abandon as many kids as they can while drinking themselves into a stupor. How we as women try to hard to be Ass Out, Airhead Bad Bitches and we still think we’ve somehow earned Respect from the world at large? Do we respect ourselves?

Listen.

You can be a Real Nigga if you understand that the only reason that they came to get us, truly, was because we could do what they couldn’t. Niggers were strong, intelligent. That’s why even in the modern day they try to pin Aliens on the pyramids because they can’t wrap their heads around how years ago Coloured people were able to do what they did. Niggers were strong, intelligent and hardworking. If you could be that, then by all means, be a Real Nigga.

If by being a Bad Bitch you meant you focused on yourself, worked hard to better yourself by any means necessary and were strong, intelligent and assertive, I’d respect that.

But do you?

We fight so hard internally it seems for freedom and what have we done with the little we have?

A lot of us don’t even know how far we have to go, what we need, who we are.

A lot of us are earning the title of Modern Day Coons.

What are we doing?

Evidently we aren’t surviving anymore, it seems to me we’re rushing towards destruction willingly and trying to pretend to enjoy it.

You, as a person of Colour, whether male or female, what are you doing for your Life?

What do you know?

The meek will not inherit the Earth, they will die. They told your ancestors that because it’s one thing to enslave the body, and another to enslave the mind.

And so I ask you again, what are you doing and what do you know?

“‘Bend over. Touch your toes. Lift her titties. Examine his balls.’ It damn near sounds like a hip-hop song, but it’s slavery at its peak.. A circus for all the freaks,they’ll warn you “Caution when you speak, can’t afford the truth to leak”..”

Sunni Patterson, We Made It
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