Tomorrow’s Daughter’s are Today

Nelson Mandela- Photographs by David Turnley

In celebrating the big global movement and the shift in consciousness where womyn are putting our bodies on the line and frontiers of patriarchy that has pitted gender wars as well as calamity against the black female body, I now declare that the beautyful ones are here. We are here marching with the dance and song of generations of womyn who have had mind-bending and spirit-altering war meted against our bodies and psyches, who have been programmed to hate our wombs and battle against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Womyn who have been shamed through adages such as “slut”, “nymphomaniac”, “ugly duckling”, “whore”, “witch”, and relegated to the margins of society where our image of ‘who we should be’ trapped us in schizophrenic identities that further alienated ourselves from who we are. The deep and internalised alienation wrecked and butchered our wombs, our divinity, our femininity, and left our gentleness foreign to us. We are now here, tomorrow’s daughters, today, using those very denigrated bodies to confront and expose the male whoredom of anti-female ideology in the brothel of history.

I speak in wake of students at Rhodes and Wits Universities; with the voice of Dr Stella Nyanzi at Makerere University whose “unethical” antics against an unethical system was articulated through her black naked body; I speak with the suffocating voice of Sarah Baartman who could not breathe under a colonial gaze informed by perverse white patriarchal fetishes; I speak in the wake of Beyoncé’s Lemonade (the visual masterpiece) where she puts her own body on the line crusading against a violent structure that advocates womyn not being enough; with the voice of Pumla Gqola whose embodied life work preaches the baptism of fire suffered by the black female body scorched by sexual violence over the centuries; in the voice of our mothers who built houses of pain with a fierce love that finds its reverberations today. I sing with Thandiswa Mazwai whose generational voice strives to challenge history’s lopsided narrative that villainized womyn and launched a witch hunt on any of us who strived to be tomorrow’s daughter in the hollowed womb of yesterday’s violations. I recite with Lebogang Mashile in her poem ‘Tomorrow’s Daughters’, that strives to bring the voice of “pretty black girls” from the margins to the centre of discourse:

I want to write a poem                                                   Pumla-GqolaAbout pretty black girls
Who don’t relax and lie their dreams away
Voices that curl
The straight edges of history
Hair thin slices of a movement
Turning the world kinky
I respect the disciplines silent screamers
Who expose the holes

I revere people to my own detriment
Perhaps you did too
But when I enter your hallowed hearth
Please don’t turn me away
I want to show pretty black girls
How to look at their hearts
With eyes blaring full blast
The way you did
Together we can build a bridge
To the promise in their faces
And pull them towards poems
By pretty black girls
Wearing crowns of change

Mashile and our mothers’ daughters of tomorrow are here, retrieving a wholesome past poked with holes and lies about forbidden fruits in the garden, to make it whole again. We are reasserting the enduring unchained spirits of our foremothers; redefining a life of our own making that does not cross-reference patriarchy’s rules; and rewriting a history that repudiates adherence to the straight edges of a singular story by celebrating homogenous histories and dynamic genders through intersectionality. Pretty black girls have suffered more negligence, violence, dehumanization, rape, and marginalization than any other group throughout history; and we are here, refusing to “relax and lie our dreams away”. We are doing anything but relaxing. We are bushy, unkempt, sooty, fierce, animalistic and fighting for visibility. You cannot look away. The lie and the lye of maleness and whiteness corroded the fabrics of our being and aborted our dreams for centuries that break our backs. We are here with sjamboks, and we are loud, emerging from centuries of ravage and ruin, celebrating and wearing crowns of change.

I am reminded of Wanelisa Xaba’s pondering of schizophrenic traps set for womyn, in which she laments, “You shame us when we love sex. You shame us when we’re not interested in sex. You shame us when we want to use contraceptives. You shame us when we don’t use protection. … You shame us when we’re virgins. You shame us when we need access to abortions. You shame us when we choose adoption. You shame us when we’re single mothers. You shame us when we wear too much makeup. You shame us when we don’t wear any makeup. You shame us when we don’t fight back. You shame us for throwing a punch. You shame us when we’re too thin. You shame us when we’re too fat. You shame us when we’re sad. You shame us when we’re happy”. And the list goes on and on: trusted hotep brothers and Fanon-quoting ‘brothers’ peddling a brand of unattainable female goddess which most certainly always relegates any outspoken and sexual black female to whoredom.

That has been the life of a black womyn under the constant and unnerving gaze of the cis het men in the inner circle of ‘safety’, from our fathers, uncles, and male cousins to our boyfriends, and the entitled cat-callers whose derision is always a threat more than a compliment. Even the phrase “cat-calling”, most certainly a discursive practice cloaked in generations of inequality and normalised sexual possession of the black female body, is a perverse allusion to ‘calling the pussy’. Nobody is indignant of that ongoing abuse! We are enmeshed in centuries of oppression as black womyn, that even the language is gendered to perpetuate our subjugation (hence ‘womyn’ instead of ‘woman’ or ‘women’). Our subjectivity over the centuries has been engendered by the male gaze, rendering us commodities to be consumed by any Tom, Dick and Dickie, subject to discipline and punish, just like slaves—misogyny is surely meted out if we do not live up to those unattainable standard mentioned above of what constitutes the ideal female. Who is the quintessential female if even Jesus’ own mother was shamed, violenced and silenced?

The male gaze over the centuries has been one of the most powerful strategies of oppression and domination over the black female body, and we still witness the force of its power today. One who has the power to look, particularly in this power play where the one looked at cannot look back, has the power to objectify, classify, and subject the observed. The observed’s hypervisibility (owing to the fact that we constitute half of the population) renders us powerless because they are firstly subject to identification, and secondly cannot speak back against being labelled “sefebe” (whore), “lefetwa” (womyn who is not married by a certain age, literally translates to ‘not picked’), “letekatse” (prostitute, even though there is no name for men who essentially make us prostitutes through transactions), or “moopa” (barren womyn, where it was always assumed that the couple is childless because the womyn is infertile), because commodities do not speak. This ambivalence of ‘othering’ the black female body whilst simultaneously desiring to consume it is mostly what underpins male sexual violence against the black womyn, which is essentially male violence against itself.

The frailty of that brand of masculinity exposes itself through rampant contradictions: men-made laws against breast-feeding in public are riddling at best and evoke memories of how we were told to close our legs and wear long skirts as not to wreck patriarchy’s ship. This is all to protect male desire that simultaneously presents itself as disgust. It is the same nipple you proudly and haughtily reference when you claim to be a “tits guy”. This is also found in the disgusted reactions against menstruations and the advertising of them with blue blood. It seems patriarchy is frail indeed, and cannot stomach the inherent complexity of humans, where desire and disgust can be carried with grace: the duality of birth/death. Their colonial brothers also desired and were disgusted by the black female body, treating it with contempt while consuming it. This leads me to conclude that maleness cannot stand milk/blood of creation, but are very happy with blood of destruction as they continue to spill blood over the centuries.

Warsan Shire/Beyoncé puts it like so, “I tried to change, closed my mouth more … tried to be softer, prettier, less awake”; and those are the silencing, disabling, disfiguring, and debilitating effects of the male gaze upon the black female body. There is no winning in that hallowed hearth of hate they have created because the rules of their power games elude even them. Black womyn are done downplaying our inherent ‘wokeness’. We will never know the extent of our mothers and their mothers’ power; the textures, colours, breadths, and depths of their strength. But their strength is our strength and it comes back once more in hundred-folds in an unstoppable wrath, seeking to dismantle this unconscious consciousness and resurrect the womb from the tomb of patriarchy’s morgue. We are here, we are not going anywhere, and we speak with a timeless voice of generations.

RUR nude protest

UCT RMF

Audrey Lorde

 

We are Creators Living in our Prime

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You’ve often heard me say that we all possess the power and creativity to create. We are creators, all of us. We can create something out of nothing. Creativity knows no bounds. We all borrow from popular culture, from history, music, art, oral tradition, crafts, design, graffiti, film, sculpture, architecture, dance; these things all know no bounds and have no keepers once they enter the public sphere. They are not static but are continuously evolving and taking on new meanings. We all traverse space and time in our different context and imbue those structures and forms in our lives with new meanings.

Or so we should. If you entered our house this week you were sure to be met by these scenarios: there was jazz playing in the background, flowing simultaneously in the corners of our minds, rousing various sensations and urging us to create our respective arts. Reinier was writing script for a short film, and I was, and continuously am, researching and writing my thesis. You would probably scoff if we told you we were ‘working’ because you would find Reinier watching a National Geographics clip about Birds of Paradise, and me reading about how the Wu Tang Clan appropriates symbols, images, and messages of the East.

ImageYou see, it’s all about appropriation. Creativity that is. It knows no bounds. What you see with your eye, hear with your ear, taste with your tongue, touch with your fingers, and smell with your nose, all interpret into a creation. It is a continuous flow of ideas, smells, tastes, and feelings; it is a mating of sensations secreting creative juices that give birth to what we refer to as ‘fresh’ and ‘new’—creation is an offspring of inspiration. Be careful not to thwart your creativity.

I would be reading about Wu Tang Clan, which would lead me to playing their albums, and that would be a day’s job for me; researching and appropriating: the Wu Tang Clan appropriate ancient Chinese spiritual and art forms, and by reading about it, I may learn to appropriate the jazz from Harlem in the 1960s to make sense in a way that I desire for my thesis. And I would of course have to listen to that jazz whilst reading Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry. It’s a cultural and creative flow. Creativity knows no bounds. We have the power to channel it or limit it.

Which brings me to this final thought: the term ‘cultural appropriation’, as used in popular culture today, most famously for ridiculing Miley Cyrus’ stunts at the VMAs, presumes a kind of purity of well-enshrined, well-protected cultures around the world. It actually presumes that there is no point of conjuncture between cultures, neither is there an evolution in those cultures. It limits creativity, inspiration, and cultural flows as we have come to know them. Actually, the rejection of cultural appropriation is the denial of modernity and its attendant ease of air travel, plus popular culture. If everyone stayed where they are and never moved around, the cultures would never appropriate one another. There is nothing bemusing about Miley Cyrus twerking or Beyonce rocking the Pantsula dance as much as there is nothing bemusing about the English language and French language, amongst others, being spoken in Africa.

So if we are to take creativity serious, all of us, not only those who ‘work’ in creativity, we will channel it and let it in instead of limiting it and rejecting it. Creativity knows no bounds; it is in the noodles you cook in your kitchen, or your hairstyle (or at least I hope). Let us be open to this ‘cultural appropriation’ and strip it of its misnomer status. It is our creative inheritance and has no currency. It’s a free-for-all, up-for-grabs non-commodity, and it can only function to bring us closer as a global village. You are a creator! Create.   

Life is but a Dream

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Last night was the first time I heard about Beyoncé! Of course I have heard her music and seen her disciples belting out lyric after lyric of every song on her albums, but I had never taken any interest in her. Until last night, when watching her biopic ‘Life is but a Dream’, which introduced me to this young lady. Before you judge me for living under a rock, let me just put it out there: I don’t own DSTV, I don’t watch TV, I don’t listen to radio; which all means names like Drake and Lupe Fiasco sound like yogi-sip flavours to me, and I have never heard a song by Kendrick Lamar, Khaya Mthethwa, or Ray Jay or whoever it is.

I am an avid jazz head [even writing my PhD on jazz], and before that I was deep underground with the hip hop [I still have an extremely extensive Hip Hop library on my hard drive]. My playlist is all the music that predicates the era we now know collectively as pop; I listen to the originals of all that is being sampled today. The closest my playlist comes to being ‘hip’ is through Robert Glasper, Charles Bradley, and Gregory Porter, whose art I truly respect.

Back to Beyoncé. Her biopic introduced me to a young lady, our age mate, who set goals for herself and went out into the world shit scared, and achieved them. And I believe, through her words, that she’s not even there yet. I saw in that narrative, not a star or an idol, but a human being with fears, hurts, dreams, successes, failures, and humility.

She cut professional ties with her father to follow her dreams of going solo. That was the biggest step she’s taken yet. That taught me, or rather validated in me, that whenever you have a vision of your own life, it is yours and yours alone. Yes, you may share this vision with others, but they may not fully grasp the nooks and crannies of it all.  When you have a dream, a vision, about your life, you have to stand up and forsake non-enablers, embrace challenges, and consolidate that dream in the manner that you envision it; not in the way others do. We are all unique in our own ways and own talents. Fear must not keep us down.

She showed me that all human beings, despite of class, race, gender, and politics, seek love, acceptance, companionship, purpose, and passion, outside of their successes/careers/goals. We are all tied by a common need to find ourselves in this world. We are all tied by common virtues: trust, honesty, communication, faith, love; and in the transgression of those virtues we are cut down to size and brought back to the human level. She yearned to be a mother, faced challenges, mourned, and came back the second time around with the comfort and acceptance that it is an ordained and anointed time in a woman’s life. It may not be forced to happen necessarily.

Love and passion for what she does, being true to her calling as a singer, and forsaking naysayers to go for what she wants is what makes Beyoncé who she is today. It is a simple formula. You must set your dreams, and be unapologetic or uncompromising about them. The life is yours; treat others with the same respect and compassion that you’d like to be treated with, be assertive when needs be, but never step on others’ shoulders to get to the top—those are the building blocks to true success and happiness. Wealth is sure to follow.

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