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.

words have might

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 inspite of our blackness, we are beautiful because of it.

Proud ugly feminist

Whenever someone says feminists are ugly, I’m just like “sooo…?” Claiming that feminism being filled with women who don’t fit arbitrary beauty standards 100% validates the movement. It absolutely gives more credence to why absolutely necessary feminism is.
Whenever someone calls feminists ugly, all they’re doing is trying to discredit women based on their own ideas of what’s attractive. Men’s voices are heard irrespective of aesthetics, yet women are expected to look a certain way for their voices matter. Moreover, womem can’t be too aesthetically appealing lest her opinions be discounted on the grounds that she’s too pretty… if feminists are ugly, then I’m okay being ugly. There are worse things to be.

fvck your friend zone

The sense of entitlement that the purveyors of the “friend zone” have is so annoying. Since you are a supposed “good guy” a woman must date you, whether she likes you or not? Haaaska.
a “good guy” is just a man who lusts after beautiful women and expects the women to want to be with him, despite him bringing nothing to the table except that entitlement.
The worst is you can list any number of reasons for not liking someone, but the only reason they will listen to is “I have a boyfriend,” because they are only willing to respect her rejection if it’s supported by another guy. Moreover, one shouldn’t need to list reasons, not wanting to date someone is reason enough. The idea that you can convince someone to like you is tantamount to saying you know that person better than they know themselves, which is the height of narcissism. Of course the ‘good guy’ cannot accept a situation where a woman can think for herself, and has complete ownership of her own feelings and choices.

Kerry Washington for Pres

Kerry Washington is the hero we didn’t know we wanted, but we definitely needed. After Adweek photoshopped her pics, she released this statement.
“Look, I’m no stranger to Photoshopping. It happens a lot. In a way, we have become a society of picture adjusters – who doesn’t love a filter?!? And I don’t always take these adjustments to task but I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it’s a valuable conversation. Yesterday, however, I just felt weary. It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It’s an unfortunate feeling.”
Yes Mama, in a choice between what is right and what is easy… always choose right.

Boy, BYE

Piers Morgan is huffing and puffing because Beyoncé’s new album is not about placating male ego or continuing to cushion them the way patriarchy has been doing since time immemorial.
For him to equate this album as Beyoncé “going political” as if being black is a trend, is typical of the 2-bit journalist he is. Also Beyoncé has ALWAYS been political in her music. Songs like Creole and Black Culture were celebrations of her roots. Just because you weren’t watching doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

I Ain’t Sorry

In a world where the apology is the punctuation to the woman’s sentence, it’s so endearing to watch so many strong women in pop culture owning themselves and shunning the requirement to be demure. Beyoncé, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Rihanna, Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, Zendaya Coleman… the list goes on and on.
Intersectionality is not just about destroying white supremacy, but about destroying black partriarchy. Free black women are always expected to be supportive of emancipation movements, but remain in the background. Black women and their magic ARE the revolution ‪#‎boybye‬ ‪#‎Lemonade‬

Classism vs Feminism

Intersectionality matters so much because while we may be equal as women facing partriarchy, the opportunities offered to white women far exceed those offered to black women. The same goes for us in our quest to fight racial injustice – black women may be black, but we’re still women. Black partriarchy is real and it’s a pandemic. Moreover, classism acts as a divide – i can’t pretend my middle class upbringing didn’t afford me a better life than a Swazi girl who grew up in a mud hut kaLonhlupheko, a name which literally means “a place of poverty.”
As Swaziland tries to move towards achieving His Majesty’s dream of Vision 2022, the Kingdom needs to acknowledge the disparities in wealth. Furthermore, there needs to be a clear definition of what Vision 2022 will mean to the 67% of the population living beneath the poverty line. I believe in my country. I believe in her future. But a lot has to be done in the present to guarantee that future for all her people.