Written by: Tsholofelo Ranyane | Image By: Zanele Muholi
Homosexuality is as unnatural as blackness equals inferiority – to a bigot
I can distinctly remember the first time I went head-to-head with a black homophobe. It’s a strange thing to recall, especially distinctly, but the encounter was so profoundly upsetting that it towers above every other incident of bigotry I’ve ever come upon. Not to mention that the homophobe in question was my boyfriend at the time.
We had decided to flee the humdrum that comes with being two pitifully broke, young people living in Johannesburg and headed to a nearby hangout spot in Braamfontein. Tipsy on boxed wine and welling up with exuberance, we queued up for a night of mad, rhapsodic dancing. Upon entering, my ex noted that the place was crowded with homosexual men. It seemed an odd thing to note at the time, because in my tipsiness, all I could see was a continuous band of brown, carousing bodies.
Although the night was thickening in its vigour and festivity, witnessing my ex’s increasing discomfort caused a dwindling to my own exuberance. I’m not quite sure what led up to the argument (music and wine addle my brain) but I can clearly remember my face soaked in tears, my glass of wine trembling in my hand and my voice audibly reaching for the cosmos. Right there, amid the wild gyrating and budding hook-ups, was me, head-to-head with a man whose hatefulness was revealing itself like the sun of a thousand dawns. All the points raised in the argument are too lengthy to note here, but his one prevailing sentiment was that it was OK to hate gay people because of the unnaturalness of homosexuality. “God created man and woman to procreate, not two men or two women”, he’d say. His weak attempts at using religion and biology to justify his unwavering hatred for people because of their differentness took me back to the first time I read The Venus Hottentot:
If he were to let me rise up
from this table, I’d spirit
his knives and cut out his black heart,
seal it with science fluid inside
a bell jar, place it on a low
shelf in a white man’s museum
so the whole world could see
it was shrivelled, and hard,
geometric, deformed, unnatural.
These are the words poet Elizabeth Alexander imagined Sarah Baartman would have said on her autopsy table as Georges Cuvier dissected her lifeless body and, in the greater context of her troubled life, her humanness, in the name of science. She was taken from her native South Africa and shipped to London where she lived as a freak show for the bulk of her adult life. She was gawked at, proverbially tarred and feathered with her ‘otherness’ as her one great crime, while white fingers pointed at her in delighted mockery. Her exhibitions occurred at a time when scientific racism was frequently used as justification for white imperialism and even slavery. Scientific racism is the usage of scientific techniques to sanction the belief in racial inferiority and superiority.
I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt he was any different to the white man of yore who felt justified in placing people like him and me on a spectrum of existence somewhere between civilised European and barbaric ape – somewhere between human and animal.
In his thesis, naturalist Georges Cuvier compared Baartman’s genitals to those of orang-utans and ‘her vivacity when alive to the quickness of monkeys’.
Cuvier is one of many scientists of the 18th and 19th century that likened Africans to apes and used their respective studies as proof of a natural racial hierarchy. Along with misinterpreted Bible verses, scientific ‘findings’ were used to perpetuate the notion of innate, black inferiority and to justify oppression.
And as my ex was harping on about the unnaturalness of homosexuality and alluded to God’s disapproval as proof of homosexual inferiority and heterosexual superiority, I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt he was any different to the white man of yore who felt justified in placing people like him and me on a spectrum of existence somewhere between civilised European and barbaric ape – somewhere between human and animal. He is an educated man; he knows that wherever bigotry thrives, the air is drained of freedom and an entire people are made to suffocate. He knows of the transatlantic slave trade; of apartheid; that his very parents were oppressed at the hands of bigots who held the belief in this spectrum so dearly. He sees how the effects of this oppression has trickled down to his welfare and will trickle down to the welfare of his future offspring. How is he saying gay people are “morally inferior” any different to Dudley Kidd describing Africans as “hopelessly deficient”? He uses Leviticus 18:22 as ammunition against gay people while the ammunition used against the Africans of old was Genesis 9:20-27 – both bullets in the same barrel of prejudice used to wage terror against anyone non-white, non-straight, and non-man.
And herein lies my gripe with the black homophobe. He will complain about the wage gap between him and his white counterparts , bemoan poor service received because of the colour of his skin, is riled when he is called kaffir but has no reservations about yelling “don’t touch me, faggot” when accidently stroked by a gay man. He tries to glean sympathy from the world because “being black in a white man’s world is so hard!” while the gay man and lesbian woman who live under his foot are constantly brutalised. I will not venture into which struggle is ‘harder’, but my humanity will not allow hatred to fester in places where compassion is needed, without raising my voice about it. Black homophobe, I will tell you what you are so fond of telling your white neighbour: CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE! Examine your history and dig into the depths of your humanity to garner empathy for your fellow marginalised man. Check yourself.
Untangling the mystique behind braids.
Box braids and twists have a long and beautiful relationship with South Africa and black women all over the world. No matter the length, or size or style, braiding has been used for centuries to protect African hair while swagging it out.
Affectionately referred to as “Da Bratz” in South Africa, thick braids became popular with the emerging hip-hop pop culture of the afro conscious youth in the ’90s. According to an article on www.Essence.com, they were made iconically famous by Janet Jackson when she wore waist-length box braids in the 1993 flick Poetic Justice.
In the same year, Boom Shaka came out with their single “Its about time”; where the female duo consisting of Thembi Seete and the legendary late Lebo Mathosa sport waist length twist-outs in the equally iconic high ponytail. Over the years following that, Mathosa informally trademarked the iconic waist length blonde braids in South Africa.
Jada Pinkett Smith was styled in a braided bob when she played the role of Stony, who was the youngest of the female bandits in the 1996 classic Set It Off. Short braids are a favourite for young girls because they’re easier to handle, and they’re often embellished with beads to make them fancier and unique from the next.
Braided hair has remained the go-to everyday hairstyle for black women over the centuries. Unfortunately, “go-to every day” does not mean instant, as most of us know that getting braids done is a long and sometimes tedious process to accomplish all its majestic beauty.
To add to the mystique behind this historical hairstyle, research shows that Queen Nefertiti, who lived during the fourteenth century B.C was known for wearing dark blue wigs, and festive wigs were sometimes coated in a thin layer of gold. Dr Zinga A. Fraser, quoted in the Essence.com article says that historically, a specific look could indicate age, marital status or which clan one belonged to.
Braids in the 21st century come in every colour imaginable, and are still being worn for their intended purpose of protecting the complexity that is African hair and not so much as a reflection of age or marital status. SA pop star Sho-Madjozi is well known for her out of the box braids (see what I did there), that show influence from various African countries/Tribes as well as the world, the complexity and detail on her hair look nothing like the assumed “out-of-the-box convenience” that we all wish for.
Twars have even been fought over who is “allowed” to box braid their hair, such as the Kardashians being slammed for cultural appropriation. Plenty of arguments have also been had over the “appropriate” way for “African” hair to be worn. However, evidence shows that apart from protecting the hair, hairstyles are an expression of self and creativity. In the context of a global community, everyone should be able to wear their hair as they please.
Written by: Zilungile Kanye
For Black Girls Only – Unity In Segregation?
Black is beautiful.
Black is so beautiful it ought not to go unnoticed, praised, idolized.
Black is strong, as hardened as the tough, unmaleable hide of Smaug.
Black women are love. Gods within themselves.
And black women ought to be treated as such, and never the lesser.
Late afternoon, it must have been just after 3 p.m. when Lola and I walked through the steel elevator’s door and a step past the sliding glass, oddly labelled ‘Exit. A’. Her long red dress hugged her Coca-Cola physique in such a way only a man could vividly describe. We stopped mid-flight and returned to the car where I swiftly changed from my Alice at Woodstock, black-punk lace tutu dress into a back-up 70’s California-style dress-top kaleidoscopically painted with water-based rainbows. It felt awkward and honestly intimidating at first, seeing all that black. Like a swarm of black bumble bees, buzzing everywhere.
Photo by | Rita Kantu
We walked back in with a more Russian-influenced confidence, pink camp chairs, a cooler box of liquor and cake, Cheese Curls crack and a shit-load of bread rolls – swaying our Svedka cups like we just stepped out of another dreary episode of ‘That 70’s Show’. Looks and stares met our eyes as we tried to manoeuvre past the black crowd to find an available space at the far end of the Old Fort, against the wall. Women dressed in their Wednesday-inspired regalia of black with a remix of West African head wraps, beads and gladiator shoes. Braids, weaves, locs, fro’s, chiskop, – the works! Some were lesbian, and others you couldn’t really tell. Beautiful black and brown and beige bodies all ins support of the repatriation and reassertion of the black female’s power, Godliness and respect.
some ladies, as I walked inside looking for Thokozani, said ‘get that Asian out’
We couldn’t hear what anyone was saying on the microphone, apparently the sound had been inaudible throughout the event. They might not have known it, but that was #ForBlackGirlsOnly’s biggest contribution to the overall failure of their initiative. In less than an hour of being scrutinized and misjudged, did my eyes befall an unfamiliar creature that stood out like a queen bee in a honeycomb. Somehow, Emilie and I got to talking in French and expressed our shared interest in art. We spoke about the nude art exhibition on black female bodies that I will showcasing in Women’s month and her role at Afronova. As a Caucasian/ Japanese French woman living in Africa for over 7 years, Emilie wilfully exposed her vulnerability to me when she said “some ladies, as I walked inside looking for Thokozani, said “get that Asian out”. Of course, my facial expression was met with shock and confusion as I pried deeper into her experiences of prejudice and racism. She told me how she had been following the social commentary on Facebook and other such platforms and was uncertain as to whether she should attend – to which she wouldn’t if her friend Thokozani hadn’t invited her. The music grew louder and our conversation came to an end, but little did we both know we’d be conversing again soon. The crowd went wild for Ne-Yo’s rendition of ‘Miss Independent’, swaying drinks and dirty dancing. No one was interested in what the MC had to say a part from the crowd at the edge of the stage. These women were happy, and I suppose that’s what mattered most but was that the underlying aim?
Photo by | Rita Kantu
I lodged a direct inquiry onto the #FBGO event page that turned into a viral whirlpool of racial remarks, prejudice, hate speech and total disregard for others. I openly asked how they, the organisers, defined what constitutes one as ‘black’ in light of South Africa’s racial diversity and within the context of the event’s aim. I was met with a generic Steve Biko response followed by hundreds of accusations that I was against the event, didn’t understand it, and was too entrenched in protecting white supremacy’s infallible image. However, I wasn’t the only one that was interested in knowing why women (and men) of other races were excluded using blatantly prejudiced language, the same language of racial discourse.
When as black women did we become so selfish? Our minds so entrenched in the pain our forefathers endured that we carry that pain as if it were our own; as if we experienced the 20 lashings daily; as if we were the ones fleeing from the gattas in illegal shebeens ; as if we were there holding hands and singing struggle anthems during the women’s march to the Union Buildings; as if it were our shantytowns that were demolished. Yes, we inherited the freedom (or illusion thereof) that came with a newly democratic party and reaped the rewards of financial access through systems like Employment Equity and Affirmative Action. But I can’t help but wonder, when did black women become so self-righteous and blinded to the truth that all women, black, white, Asian, Indian, Cape Malay etc face the same existential problems suchlike rape, abuse, unfair work practices, health & sanitation and socioeconomic inequality? Of course, if you’re black and you’re a woman, your life is thrice as difficult as that of a white woman – however, as women we face the same challenges when patriarchal power comes into question. When did the well-educated black female victimise herself to the backlashes of her mother’s experiences? At what point did black women become so weak within their sense of self-security that they began to feel as though their pain is suspended above that of other races when they haven’t even begun to question the other, to engage and learn from their experiences? How is black love not white hate when you so unashamedly express your disregard for another race in so far as saying they don’t belong in the same space as you, dancing to the same music and hanging out with the same black friends?
Photo by | Rita Kantu
Although books by black authors (and white publishing houses) were exchanged, black businesses were supported, poetry was read, women openly expressed their pain, and a wild turn-up was had; For Black Girls Only failed to answer my undying question: “Okay. So what now?”. What happens after the event? It provided a safe space for women to drink their liquor, dance like Atlantic City performers without patriarchal judgement and share a meal. Okay so, what now? What are we to do with this experience? How does this affect what Emilie’s understanding of black women after I instigated between her and an associate who strongly felt that she shouldn’t have been there? In what way does this build our self-confidence not just among ourselves but within the socioeconomic and political reality of racism and patriarchy in South Africa? Wearing black in sisterly solidarity whilst trying your very best to individualize yourself through radically colourful braids, turbans, and punk-rock make-up doesn’t make you a revolutionist – it makes you someone who doesn’t mind wearing black in 34 degree weather and spending some quality time in cliques of friends turning up and getting wasted “without worrying about if a guy’s gonna spike your drink”.
Did we become so entrenched in racial ideology that we define ourselves, our past, our experiences and the outcome of our future based on the shade of our skin? Or are we so naive to believe that in solving our ‘black problems’ first before helping others with theirs, that we create a stronger unit of power without using the same segregatory tactics that got us here in the first place? I love women, all women. But it’s time we let go of these systematic binary categories and get to addressing the real problem of inequality and inequity that all women face, no matter how skewed the scale of experience may be.
Words | Rita Kantu
See more images from #FBGO below
A Cup Of Advise: How To Ease Out Of a Writer’s Block
Words By: Lineo Segoete | (photo by Drew Coffman via Flickr/CC)
Writer’s block doesn’t exist; you’re simply over-thinking it. Inspiration comes from the strangest of places, last year the people at Chiko came up with a design for sandals inspired by a spider-web. Innovative! Who is to say your next piece or song will not be inspired by some silly thing you heard a toddler speak as you walked/drove past, or the rhythm of your movements while mopping the floor? The trick is to be present even through the most trivial tasks. Here are 3 ways (for practicality’s sake) to unclog your writer’s block:
- The great outdoors do wonders for a cluttered mind.
Just think about all the gallivanting Richard Branson does around the world. Chances are each adventure inspires his next multi-million Pound venture, merger or investment. If hiking, paragliding or off-roading and the likes aren’t your thing, that’s cool, just find something doable within your area, heck even a swim will do. Our ideas of adventure are different, so if yours is to talk to a complete stranger you have nothing in common with then do that but by all means invite some adventure into your life.
- Do household chores
Engaging in seemingly mundane tasks (i.e chores or some manual labour) clears the mind because one is focused on efficiency and not hard mental labour: You want those dishes clean because quite frankly your kitchen just smells better that way. Clearing the laundry frees up space in your house and in your mind, not to mention you’ll smell all kinds of fresh in clean clothes. A well-prepared tasty meal takes one’s insides to happy places, especially because it means you have successfully managed not to poison yourself and/or your guest(s).
- Walk around the block
Take more walks. Walking has been proven to have therapeutic qualities that enhance creativity because you are guaranteed to bump into something new and different each time. You can soundtrack the activity by compiling a playlist to suit your loitering about for observation’s sake your. Or you can leave your headphones at home so you can hear noises, voices and unusual sounds. The newness and even unpredictability of what you might encounter stimulates the mind by giving it something different to digest. Conversely, if you feel that all you see is the usual stuff that too presents an opportunity to exploit your imagination. With each step you take you have the liberty to picture your ideal reality.
Writer’s block? It’s all in your head Holmes, stop traumatizing your creativity with that kind of thinking. If anything, it’s a cover-up for being lazy 😉
The makings of a Yellow Bone…
Written by: Bonolo Modise | Photography by: Sydney Mori
By definition, skin is the thin layer of tissue forming the natural outer covering of the body of a person or animal. It’s the external layer that shells and protects all the tissues and organs that form part of the body.
Skin is personal. It’s unique.
Living in skin can be rather tricky. For some, it is liberation personified. It’s independence. It’s individual expression. It’s freedom. On the opposite end, skin can be isolating and embracing it can be a challenge. Skin can be restricting, divisive, sensitive and even hold one captive.
The varying pigments are all undoubtedly glorious, each beautiful in its own way, adding to the diversity of the world. It, therefore seems fairly natural that there are descriptive terms in popular culture that label particular skin segments.
Let’s face it, how many of us stop to look into a stroller with an incredibly dark child? Not taking a peek to play with the baby because it’s “so black” is terrible behaviour!
As a black South African woman, different shades of our colour have always been alluded to in my community. Okay, maybe the assortment of the multiple tones have been blatantly pointed out.
Growing up between Dobsonville in Soweto and the neighbouring Doornkop in Thulani, there was no going unnoticed. Kids on nearly every street knew who was what complexion and had specific nick names for each.
I, being on the lighter side of the pigmentation scale, was always referred to as “witties” (derived from the Afrikaans word ‘wit’ for ‘white’). The traditionalists in our township would also call me “ipentshisi” or “peach” because I was supposedly yellow and ripe like the fruit.
There seemed to be some kind of enchantment associated with being a brighter kind of black. People walking down the street would gleefully chat up my mother and compliment her on having such “a beautiful baby”. (Let’s face it, how many of us stop to look into a stroller with an incredibly dark child? Not taking a peek to play with the baby because it’s “so black” is terrible behaviour! Unfortunately this mentality exists even today.)
Of course “witties” was not always a term of endearment.
When kids wanted to be mean they would hurl insults like “coloured bastard” or “ibhunu” (a Zulu term meaning ‘Boer’ loosely used in township slang to refer to Afrikaners). There were times when it was more painful to be “milky” and “pale” compared to “dark beauties” who were way more ebony in comparison.
When one reached teenage years, particularly around matric in high school, you were referred to as a “mooi van ver” aka MVV (translation: beautiful from afar).
When a light skinned person walks down the street, they tend to attract attention. There’s a bit of excitement that builds up amongst those watching you trot along anticipating that a breath taking creature is approaching their midst. That is until you are up close. Should your beauty not meet the expectation set by your glowing complexion, you are referred to as a MVV.
There was therefore no love lost between “ama dark dindie” (aka black beauties) and “abo witties”. Each tended to flock to their own and if not, one was the “white sheep” of the group.
Fast forward to what’s nearly 2015 and the same divisive mentality is what permeates through society. Women are separated by size, age, sexuality, parenthood, career, culture and wait for it – skin complexion!
Segregation of any kind is a notion that leaves me irate. Particularly at the world’s perverse obsession with highlighting the differences in skin.
Yesterday I was “witties”, today it’s something utterly new. Being a light skinned black woman has evolved to the term “yellow bone”.
It’s a supposed compliment, but growing into your skin can be quite an exercise. It can be emotionally taxing, mentally draining and exhilarating at the same time.
There’s such candour in exploring who you are, where you are going and what you hope to become despite society’s preconceived ideas about what you should be.
Am I “witties”, “ipentshisi” or a “yellow bone”? Sure. But there’s more to me than just light skin.
Fiery, bold and ambitious. Steadfast and opinionated. Proudly South African. This is the woman I would like you to become acquainted with.
Tag along on my journey as I explore the intricacies of being a light skinned African woman in modern day South Africa.
On this venture, nothing is ever as simple as it seems nor does the good guy always win. At the end of the heaviest storms though, there’s always a rainbow and a sprinkle of sunshine.
These are the Misadventures of a Yellow Bone.
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