Quiet Should Not Be Confused For Peace

This post was first published on connectedafrica.com

 

“Le roi est mort, vive le roi!” As the birthplace of humanity, the African continent has seen many a King and Queen pass over the millennia, yet one truth has remained impervious to change: the power of the youth. We as the youth of Africa need to disavow the moniker of “leaders of tomorrow,” and instead embrace being the “change agents of today.” The youth are a paragon of vitality, and through having young people at the forefront of amassing every opportunity from augured economic growth, Africa can be the quintessence of longevity.

I believe in the promise of Africa’s tomorrow which I am committed to being a part of building today. I refuse to be a child of Africa who writes off my continent having not done anything to be a proponent of progress. I foresee an Africa who today’s economic difficulty will be the nadir; the dichotomy between sustainability and sustenance will be a thing of the past when Africa utilises her most precious asset, her people.

When the African continent was invaded by Europeans, they found a land whose caves had been filled with stories. Those halcyon days before Africa being colonised may have passed, but the storytelling has remained with us. Disseminating information is an art form that Africans perfected eons ago. I believe my most powerful tool is my words, which is why I have been writing about the experiences of African women since I was 18. We need to dismantle patriarchy to create an equitable Africa for all her people, something we cannot do if we pretend it doesn’t exist.

As a young person in 2016, I am a member of a generation that can mobilise itself and share information at a remarkable pace. A generation that whose imagination is not fettered by man-made boundaries on a map. A generation who longs to see Africans fixing African problems the African way – through communication and sharing of ideas.

As young people, we are at an advantageous position where we can question and query, as the channels for communication between us and appointed leaders become easier to navigate. The things we take for granted like the right to vote were fought for by these leaders, and I hope that when the next generation of youth hear that there was a time in my country where women couldn’t open bank accounts without spousal approval, it leaves them disbelieving because by then we would have built a utopia for everyone in Africa.

Young people have been pivotal in the independence of their countries. Although independence has been achieved, Pan-Africanism lives on in the mission against neo-imperialism. Africa needs to be emancipated from the residual effects of colonialism, and her resources need to remain with hers. The onus is on us to make sure that the image of Africa that goes out into the world dispels the template of ubiquitous poverty. It would be disingenuous to pretend that poverty is not a reality in Africa. Nonetheless with young people who are less risk averse than their elders, we can channel that ingenuity towards ideas geared to sustainable development. This Africa Youth Day, I intend to launch a blitzkrieg across all social networks sharing the reality of an Africa with an expanding urban community and bright future. In 50 years when I am asked what we won by changing the world’s view of Africa, I hope to respond that our victory began when we lost the mental shackles that made us view our home as a dark dystopia.

In a world where the apology is the punctuation to the woman’s sentence, it’s so endearing to watch young women realise their potential and their abilities. Intersectionality is not just about destroying white supremacy, but about destroying black patriarchy. Women have been expected to be supportive of emancipation movements, but remain in the background. Nevertheless, this has never deterred us, and now more and more women are embracing their magic and embodying the revolution. Harnessing the potential of economic growth to create a more solvent tomorrow for our continent requires all our people to have a voice, irrespective of gender. I am an advocate for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Africa cannot progress if a key demographic remains disenfranchised. Culture is not oppressive by nature, but it has become a mechanism for misogyny. Dismantling patriarchy is of pivotal importance in creating a peaceful Africa; peace is inextricably linked to the empowerment of women. Equality is not equality if it is not equality for all. I believe this is an age for the uncomfortable conversation. As the youth, we need to confront the many demographic privileges we have, be they gender based, classist or even geographical. In the choice between what is right and what is easy, remembering that we are building an Africa for tomorrow. Quiet should not be confused for peace; despotic rule is not Africa’s portion.

Africa is alive with possibility, if adequate investment is made in the leaders of tomorrow today.

 

The Pernicious Burden of Strength

 

This post was first published on connectedafrica.com

 

 

The expectation of strength when you’re a black woman is really self preservation. It’s not strength – it’s survival.
I hate the “strong, black woman” narrative. In a society where mental health goes largely unrecognized and untreated. The stigma around it makes seeking healthcare, even for those who can afford it, an uphill battle.

Depression may seem small in the grand scheme of a world ravaged by war and human trafficking, and so many other issues that systematically target brown people, but it is real death-threatening pain to anyone who suffers from depression. People die from depression, the only difference is the death certificate lists suicide as the cause of death. Belittling sufferers of depression just perpetuates the stigma.

The vituperative nature in the way mental health is discussed in our society is even worse. “Crazy” is more often than not used as a gendered slur, without recourse to people who actually suffering from schizophrenia, which is a long term disorder that may lead to faulty perceptions and a sense of mental fragmentation.

Ableist epithets are flung far and wide. Ableism is not just about a list of bad words that morally upright human beings should remove from their lexicons. Language is one of the many tools of an oppressive system. Being cognizant of one’s language can help us understand how pervasive ableism is. Ableism is violent by nature: it is the systematic, institutionalised devaluing of minds deemed deviant, abnormal, or defective. It is structural disregard of a plight that affects many people, who have to suffer in silence.

I am a huge proponent of the self-love movement, but I too must admit it is nowhere near enough addressing the issues affecting black women. Self-love will not cure depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, just like self-love wouldn’t cure diabetes, heart disease or tuberculosis. Prozac and Xanax are prescribed by psychiatrists not hugs.

It is hard to describe depression to someone who’s never suffered from it, especially when pop culture defines depression as sadness. Meanwhile, it can manifest in despondency, anxiety, irritability and a host of other feelings, or none at all. Depression is not a feeling, it is a state. Imagine the human capacity to manage thoughts and feelings as a 6×6 box. In a person who does not suffer from clinical depression, they have the entire space to sort their thoughts and cope with everything that is in their life, and their box is never full because they can empty it at any time. Meanwhile when one has clinical depression, they can only house their feelings in a 4×4 area of the box and it is always over brimming. The rest of the area is an ominous, dark cloud acting as a constant harbinger of doom on the life of a depressed person. That is how I view depression, but there are many analogies. Others view it as drowning with a brick tied to your ankle, while other people walk by because the pool looks shallow to them.11

Black women face a higher risk of mental illness because of the cultural and social issues that are unique to us. Under the burden of being strong, we are inundated with misogynoir, which is prejudice against black women. Prejudice because we are black, and prejudice because we are women; sexualized racism and racialised sexism. Lethargy is ubiquitous among black women, and when we normalize “walking it off,” we are ignoring the fact that chronic tiredness is a symptom of depression. Self-harm extends beyond cutting or idealized version of depression is all over tumblr; self-harm can be extreme activity in lieu of self-care. The zeitgeist for the 21st century successful black women is to wear pain as a crown and not rest. That crown is one we must all reject.

Let us be a society which rejects any narrative that can burden and often entrap black women. Let us instead be a society that challenges our leaders to make mental health a priority.

My Existence Is NOT Up For Parody

This post was first published on connectedafrica.com

 

 

“People are so uptight now. You can’t tell a joke without offending someone.”

Yes, we are woke now. We have learned and unlearned, in so doing have grown and shifted our thinking, and have since become aware of how egregious the things we thought innocuous really are. The acolytes of people who say and do offensive things under the banner of art say they long for the halcyon days when being politically correct wasn’t status quo, but I have come to realize that political correctness is a metaphor for treating people with respect and dignity.

A good example is Leon Schuster. His use of blackface went unchallenged until we realised how offensive it was. His use of blackfaced characters isn’t just historically offensive, though that in itself is more than enough reason to permanently gag him. The characters he portrays in blackface are the worst caricatures of black culture. Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used by non-Black performers to represent a black person. Blackface goes beyond the caricatures; instead of hiring black actors and fleshing out their characters, white actors are dressed as the shallowest perceptions of what blackness is. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes. A decade ago he was the most popular comedian in Southern Africa, but the wokeness has led to the realisation that the laughs were at the expense of black people. The beauty of living in the golden age of the internet is that one can educate themselves with the mere click of a button, as well as choose to not support problematic causes such as the aforestated films. The biggest source of power as a consumer is your wallet; the loudest statement you can make is to withhold your coins.

 

We realised that we had internalised prejudices and are working hard to overcome them. Also, those jokes that perpetuate stereotypes? Yeah, we realise how problematic they are.

 

It’s important to be cognisant of the things we say; it goes beyond semantics. An episode on the past season of Scandal, or the Fixer as it is known in some African countries looked at the topic of “dog whistle politics” which are words or catch phrases that don’t seem offensive to anyone outside the demographic they are meant to offend. For example “thug” is the new age k*ffir, “competitive” is a euphemism for conniving, and the minute someone says “she is well spoken” the implication is there is a silent racial qualifier.

The idea that an offensive statement loses its offensive nature when clouded under the veil of comedy loses sight of the fact that comedy is commentary on real life. A few weeks ago, a petition was created in South Africa after a comedian named Skhumba decided to body shame protestors at the #FeesMustFall strike in South Africa. These women had literally laid their lives on the line to fight for the livelihoods of millions of people who want to study, yet they were relegated to being talking points in a skit because they were not perceived as being attractive. Women’s bodies do not exist for voyeurism. Cognisance of people’s right to dignity and freedom of speech are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are two sides of the same coin.

Womanist in a Patriarchy

This post was first published on connectedafrica.com

Erin McKean once said ‘prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked female.’ This isn’t to say there is something wrong with being pretty, but you don’t owe anyone prettiness. The world is being rocked by a self-love movement steeped in melanin. One needs only search the hashtag #melaninmagic on Instagram and see images of black girls loving themselves and their beauty.

There is a school of thought that says we must tell girls they are smart instead of beautiful, and I agree with the principle. Women’s value lies beyond her aesthetic. Nonetheless, I think it is important to also tell young black girls that they are beautiful because society doesn’t. Black girls, particularly darker skinned black girls, aren’t adequately represented in pop culture; growing up and only seeing people who look like you playing stereotypical roles of struggle on TV can jade someone and make them feel inadequate. The same society that touts self-esteem as an attractive trait in women is the same society that tells women that they need to look a certain way to be worthy of love, acceptance and dignity. My awakening came when I realized that every time I hate a part of my body, an old white man becomes richer. Billion dollar cosmetic dynasties have been built on exploiting black women into believing our aesthetic is unattractive.

I genuinely appreciate the women who are trying to love themselves in this world. A world that has made our insecurities into commodities. A world that has said our features are flaws. When I learned that I could not love myself into a version I would love, I started appreciating that I could stop chasing an image of beauty that does not even exist. I have more to offer the world than just pretty. Insecurities are part of life, but I am committed to not comparing myself to a Eurocentric beauty standard.

We need to move beyond allowing ourselves to be defined by compliments, particularly because a lot of these compliments are slights. Some things may seem innocuous but words have infinite power. When you compliment a black woman by telling her she looks like another ethnicity, you’re saying to her that the traits that make her attractive are her non-black characteristics. It’s not endearment, it’s offensive. It’s saying “you’re too beautiful to be just black” as though being “just black” isn’t enough.

We aren’t beautiful in spite of our blackness, we are beautiful because of it.