It’s Becoming Harder to Root for Black Men

Trigger warning: street harassment, molestation, rape culture, misogynoir 

I wasn’t going to write about this, but it’s been a week and I still get anxious every time I see him.

Writing through this may not make me less mad about it, but it will ease my troubled mind somewhat. For some of us “poetry is not a luxury, and writing is not a past time. It is survival. It is revival; it is the healing process of probing deeper into the collective memory of the soul“. (Word to Taylor Dominique Mason )

I was fixing to get into a taxi at Bree when one of the taxi marshalls groped me in full view of the people in the taxi. I immediately hit his hand away and told him, “Please don’t touch me.” The women in the front row laughed. Unfazed, he held out his hand; as though we were doing some kind of foreplay, and smiled like I was being a tease and actually liked that he had just violated me.

not a public space yo

Source: BuzzFeed

 

What I really wanted to do was kick him in the balls and tell him to go to hell. I wanted to turn to those women and call them out on their endorsement of such appalling behaviour. But what, if I was able to inflict any type of pain, would that achieve except retaliation? 100 bucks says the people at Bree would probably pull me off him, or he would turn even more violent. They did think my ordeal was funny, after all.

I love Black men. I am always the first to root for them. As a matter of principle, I never even use the N word, though I am myself Black. Heck, I want to marry a Black man one day. If you read this blog, you’ll know I’ve written about my love for him too (Ubuhle bendoda: on the beauty of a Black man.

But I’m finding it harder to root for him, and I am painting ‘him’ with a very broad general stroke unapologetically, because I can. He has a whole army of fvkboys who will come to his defense always, anyways.

Being a Black woman in this country is traumatic. On a daily basis there are at least 10 men who insist on calling me “My size” / “Sweedat” / “Lovey” etc and/ or pulling my arm and demanding to see my tattoo, get my number, start a conversation. Where is it safe to walk down the street without being a accosted by seventy men? And when?

From an article I wrote for The Con about a year ago:

“From the time a girl enters puberty until the age men stop seeing her as ‘desirable’, the idea that her body is not her own is systematically imposed on her. On any given day, as she moves from A to B, she will have to fend off unwanted attention, she’ll be whistled at, grabbed, groped, insulted for not responding, and, in some cases, the attack becomes serious. For many men, there is just no desire to see street harassment as harmful – it is just harmless fun, and is often perceived as doing women the ‘favour’ of complimenting them. But harassment on the street is nothing less than an attack on women’s bodies.

[…] Men’s failure to empathise with women is also because the harassment is not really about the women themselves. It is about male sexual entitlement and it is about performing manhood – perhaps more for the sake of other men than for women.”

I have conversations with my girlfriends almost weekly, I see tweets and Facebook posts from friends almost daily, about such experiences. No matter how many times we say, “Leave me alone”, or show no interest, or put earphones in to block them out, they just don’t seem to accept that “No means NO”. This is rape culture, how a man can assume that each woman who passes by is fair game, how he can touch her intimately without knowing her or asking for permission to do so, how he can grope a woman in a public area because he knows no one will challenge him, how he can be amused by her anguish, how he  can forget her face and move on with his life while she panics each time she sees him… The list is too long.

Left: K Funk + right: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Their message is clear – our bodies belong to them, they are here for their pleasure. Because you know, I generally woke up wondering how I could please randoms. The idea that I love myself is beyond their understanding. I look good because I want to, not because I’m looking for validation. But looking good is besides the point, because even on a Frumpy Fred day, some dude thinks he can come up to me and try to be all up in my space. The clothes aren’t the problem. The attitude is.

The liver! It still shocks me shem. I mean, it shouldn’t, but every time something happens I’m like, “HOW is that an acceptable way to treat a human being?!” Like, there’s no logic to the messed up way that men insist on performing this masculinity schmasculinity.

But we will overcome.

Have you seen this video of men talking about ST? You’ll laugh. Shout out to Tiq for being the real MVP. We need more men like you. As for those men making this about them. I can’t even.

All of the SMH,

Dusty,

“When Black men are willing to do the work to challenge their own internalization of oppression and reject the dehumanization of Black women and themselves by proxy, they engage in a very radical self-love. […] Many Black men fear this because in their eyes, not dominating Black women means admitting to being weak. They have mistaken the utter weakness, destruction and oppression that patriarchy is and the fragile volatility of patriarchal masculinity for strength and courage. It is neither. It is an endless book of matches placed there by the hand of White supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Black men use them to set Black women on fire as they too die from smoke inhalation. My desire is for us to live and thrive, not to burn.”

–  Trudy/ Gradient Lair

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Ubuhle bendoda: on the beauty of a black man

The Black man is a beautiful thing. This assertion is a declaration of faith; because every day I am told that there is no hope for him – in the news, by the testimony of others, by media. I need to believe against hope that he is more than a burglar, an abuser, a lazy man, a rapist. This assertion is a reminder to myself that my Brothers are beautiful, despite the shame that has haunted them through the ages.

Yes. Indian, Chinese etc men are all God’s children too, but I write about the Black man now because he is the one I had lost faith in. He is the one I believed was built too weak to love. He is the one history saw systematically abused and de-humanised.

During the National Arts Festival I had the honour of sitting through the amazing Sibongile Khumalo’s concert, Reflect. Celebrate. Live.  at the Guy Butler Theatre in Grahamstown. The concert was the kick-off of a tour meant to look back on her journey as a singer and actress, to celebrate her achievements, and to appreciate those who have brought her through in her life. She has an impressive career spanning many years (it’s been two decades of a professional career), and as the “First Lady of Song” of South Africa, she has made a name for herself as an outstanding, talented, skilled musician to trump all others. Anyway, the concert was interspersed with anecdotes from her childhood and young adulthood; inlcuding stories of her family, her growing pains as a musician, and her lessons along the way.

One of my favourite moments of this concert came when she described going with her father to visit the homestead of Princess Constance Magogo Sibilile Mantithi Ngangezinye kaDinuzulu (1900–1984); composer, poet, singer, and authority on Zulu traditional music; in her youth. [click here to listen] She tells how she never knew, back then, sitting with Princess Magogo on the stoep of her hut, that she was “on a date with destiny”. She later represented Princess Magogo in an operatic role portraying the Princess’s life, masterfully written by Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo. uMam Sibongile Khumalo told how, as she sat at the feet of Princess Magogo, learning songs and watching her play her traditional instrument; she mused over many things, including that age old saying, “ubuhle bendoda zinkomo zayo”. Directly translated, and the Zulus will correct me if I am wrong here, the saying means that “the beauty of a man is his cattle”.

Before that evening I had always dismissed this adage, regarding it as what I had deemed an indication of the emphasis on material goods to measure the worth of a man. I could not have been more wrong.

In the days of old, when an African man was in possession of cattle, he indeed was considered a beautiful thing. To herd cattle requires discipline, persistence, cautiousness, and hard work. A man who had healthy cattle was seen as beautiful because of the implication of that possession. Seen through those eyes, the beauty and honour of a man was in his ability to care for something more than he did himself, his ability to commit to discipline, to persistence, and to hard work. The beauty of a man was in the sweat of his brow.

In a world that is overwhelmingly misogynist, it’s hard to believe sometimes, that there are still men of honour amongst us. It’s even harder to believe that there are Black men of honour who exist. But hearing uMam Khumalo speak about her encounters with Princess Magogo, learning history from her remarkable father (Professor Mngoma, who was a historian), and hearing her sing one of the songs from the Princess Magogo opera, reminded me that indeed, the Black man is not all vile and villainous.

As she burst out in song, singing about ubuhle bendoda, my heart swelled anew with pride and respect for him.

One of the best music bands to emerge from the South African live music scene in the past decade has to be the indie-afro-soul-jazz band The Muffinz. A mixture of various musical genres thrown together into a delicious mix (hence the name “The Muffinz”), they are not only five guys with guitars and a set of drums, they also happen to be immensely talented, skilled, and well, easy on the eye.

What I love about their music, besides their skill and talent, is their socially conscious lyrics. These dudes aren’t just packing “baby, baby, baby” into three minutes of a song, they are commenting on the socio-political issues of our day.

Umsebenzi wendoda (translated: the work/duty of a man), a song about single mothers who raise strong Black men in a society that is unkind to them, is another song which made my heart appreciate anew the beauty of the Black man. Every time I hear the song I feel like breaking into ukuxhentsa, or a Zulu dance.  Anyway, the song was written as an ode to their mothers, many of whom had to raise them in the absence of their fathers, in a society that considers raising men to be the work of a man yet provides few positive male role models.

During the National Arts Festival at Radio Grahamstown. theDustySoul with members of The Muffinz and the Cue Radio/Fest Focus.

The song is a tribute to single mothers, and journeys through her sacrifices, waking early and toilling all day to put a meal on the table. It speaks about how their mothers can finally rest, because the load she carried alone is lessened now that her son has grown into the young man she always hoped he would.

The duty of a man is to maintain his honour. Can’t forget the image in my mind from Ben Okri’s short story, The Secret Castle, in which he describes one of the characters thus, “He looked like the word ‘honour’, in ragged clothes”. No matter his position in society, the Black man has especially the duty to respect himself and others and to maintain his honour. I believe in you, Brother, against what I see to the contrary you are Black Gold and I believe in you. And to paraphrase Garvey, there is no shame in your blackness: blackness is a badge of honour.

Strength, Pride, Honour,

DustySoul

“Hold your head as high as you can/ High enough to see who you are, little man/ Life sometimes is cold and cruel/ Baby no one else will tell you so remember that /You are Black Gold…But you’re golden, baby/ Black Gold with a diamond soul/ Think of all the strength you have in you/ From the blood you carry within you/ Ancient men, powerful men/ Builders of civilization… Baby no one else will tell you so remember that You are Black Gold, Black Gold/ You are Black Gold…”

                                   –     Esperanza Spalding, “Black Gold”

“The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”

                               – Marcus Garvey