The machinery that is media is perfectly encapsulated in Kanye West’s music video for Famous. Pop culture is the biggest distraction of the century; a vehicle that tramples on the female body and voice, over and over again. Kanye West is in my view a lyrical genius and talented producer; his lyrics speak to the frustration of being black everywhere, especially in Hollywood, but in the same breath Kanye vindicates black women and their personhood whilst giving praise to their genetic proportions of their bodies; black women are only good for sex but their personhood is totally vanquished whilst their aesthetics are relished and even more on lighter pigmented women, case and point the Kardashians.
In 2011 Beyonce declared that girls run the world in a song and music video that captured the attention of the world. Beyonce in the video was sexy and danced with other sexy womxn; lions, horses make an appearance as well as two dancers from Mozambique whose styles she infused into her own choreography.
Before Beyonce was a solo artist she was in Destiny’s Child; an female group which at times had more reshuffling of members than the South African members of parliament; they had the song Survivor which was empowering but not as much Run the World- “survivor” satiated for that era.
Her self-titled album Beyonce was released two years later in 2013, a sexually explicit and aggressive album; singing about fellatio in the back seat of the with her husband and giving him a private show; everyone thought of the album as brave because it was perceived only men could boast about how good they are at sex in the music industry and Beyonce, it was said, had changed the game. My male friend begged to differ and we fought tooth and nail about how Beyonce was regardless still a feminist; empowering women economically, emotionally and otherwise.
“You cannot play to the male gaze and call yourself empowered” he stated. We fought about Beyonce being a feminist while hopping from club to club, until we passed out and woke up with hangovers- the topic of Beyonce still on our tongues. We agreed to disagree. His stance: Beyonce was not a feminist, mine: Beyonce was feminist and knew how to profit from the male gaze and he returned by stating that if she were a feminist she would find other ways to profit from her talent other than getting naked, gyrating enacting and replicating what the male gaze requires and I volleyed back stating that sexual empowerment had nothing to do with the male gaze. Beyonce was saviour for all who needed shelter from the likes of Kanye, who was talented but did not possess the capacity to empower and liberate women and homosexuals.
We all sang praises for Beyonce forgetting that she most probably ate at the same table as Kanye and slept in the same metaphoric bed.
This year she released Lemonande, an album that answered the burning question of why
Solange was beating Jay-Z in the elevator; in it she co-opted the feminist movement to the
fullest extent, even reciting British Warsin Shire’s prolific poetry. Bell Hooks wrote a piece on the capitalist hijacking of feminism by Beyonce but everyone including her fans and critiques were in the same boat about the album and branded Hooks as a bitter feminist.
Following the waves of unnecessary deaths of black men and women at the hands of cops, Beyonce decided to invite the mothers and female family members of the deceased to the music videos awards; they were also featured in some of her music videos for Lemonande. I decided a while back to stop watching award shows of this nature because they are a machinery of media built only for distraction- this is not to say some artists are not deserving of accolades and awards- it is to say these awards do absolutely nothing for my well-being but I digress. I watched the awards via Twitter and when I saw that Beyonce was performing on stage, a piece inspired by the killings of young black men and womxn, my point of contention with her feminism rose. It just did not sit well with me; taking black pain and putting it on stage for viewers who probably do not care, only those involved and engaged with these killings would be touched; otherwise for most it was pure entertainment.
The question is who is allowed to perform on feminism and socio-political issues and on
which stages? Do these performance stem from good intentions or are they solely for profit and the sake of performance? Why does Beyonce bring these issues to her music, do they help garner attention to the racism in the USA, do they aid in changing the narrative of African Americans and what effect does it have on those struggling to walk every day without getting shot? Who is to say which artist can perform on this subject and which artist can’t?
If we go back to the Famous music video, the questions posed above are answered. The
media only controls the lens, what and who you focus on is your choice and how you act after being embroiled on those people’s lives is up to you.
Is your feminism bettered by Beyonce’s performance, or do you believe that the struggle
really does not care for famous bodies?
Beyonce may title herself as a feminist but she must not forget that she is also a capitalist
who does not think twice before encroaching and co-opting feminism for financial gains. She unlike Kanye may not care for the aesthetics of a black man but she must be reminded she is the epitome of the aesthetics popularised and sought for in women and this specific gaze is what runs the world and not girls.
I am over the age of twenty-five but have yet to go to a funeral and peel vegetables. My grandmother is eighty and almost every week on a Friday or Thursday evening she goes out to peel vegetables somewhere in the neighbourhood where there is a funeral. She has to dress decently, wear subdued colours, cover her head and speak in low tones once she gets there. Once there she will go meet the deceased’s family, give some encouraging words and go outside to find work to do. This is etiquette at any black funeral in my neighbourhood for ukududuza; an act of going to console the deceased’s family in any way possible. I would go with her except I do not want to, also I do not know where my skirts are as my wardrobe is filled with pants of various types- over all funerals are depressing and overwhelming. This is not the spirit my grandmother and others like her in the neighbourhood embody; they seem to carry an unexplainable lightness when attending funerals, no matter how painfully the deceased passed or how devastated the family left behind is. They share the sorrow like it is a main course at a lavish buffet, managing to slip in jokes to blow away the dark cloud over the family and even singing in beautiful low tones. The peeling of vegetables and overall preparation of the funerals are to busy both the body and mind to make it forget the heavy burden of the death that has resulted; the routine is a reminder that life must go on, people must eat and most importantly we as a community have each other.
With the advent of bustling catering and funeral services the act of ukududuza might fall wayside, people can hire these services and with the so called black middle class rising, this trend is becoming more popular. At some funerals one forgets they are at funerals because of the lavishness of it all, what this leaves behind is a gaping hole for those who go to the deceased’s family as they then have no way of showing their kinship in the pain shared, with no labour no act of love can be shared, all they can do is show face and sit outside twiddling their fingers, making the death even more emphasised without any activity to busy both the mind and body.
Young people such as myself are busy with work and school and other side hustles; especially in Johannesburg; that such tradition are deemed not important to us. How many of those Braam cool kids know how to slaughter a cow or a goat or a chicken for that matter? The excuse always is we are working and we will hire people. This busyness affects even our time to share sorrow and mourn together as our ancestors did. We are constantly in touch with each other through social media but how difficult it would be to look a person, a friend, an acquaintance in the eyes and give them verbal consolation instead of writing on their Facebook wall.
The human touch cannot be artificially recreated, it is one of the purest forms of the human condition engagement; ukududuza is that touch and we are slowly losing it. How many of your friends can you look at and truly know that should a death event arise they will be there silently holding your hand without needing to check their social media, doing what they can to be there without saying the words, like fetching water for elders, cooking, peeling vegetables or simply just holding you. I myself am not sure if I can be that friend, social media has made us so comfortable in our aloneness, couple that with my hermit nature- it will be difficult but for those I love I will try ukuba duduza in the best way without using social media.
It is said that when Jan Van Riebeeck first encountered the KhoiSan on the shores of Cape Town, he thought of them as a lazy people always high in spirits; it is unknown whether he means they were drunk, high on cannabis or just jovial people. Jan van Riebeeck did not stop to think that maybe the KhoiSan were resting from a long journey or hard hunt, to his colonialist eyes he saw a people spread out on the shore having a good time without a care in the world. And why would there have any cares, the land belonged to them, so too did the time, they had no bosses; the only responsibilities were to ensure that all members of the clan ate, were healthy and were safe.
In today’s time every action and event is determined by time and this is not a problem, only it is based on Western notion of time. The adage goes that black Africans, wherever they are, cannot keep time; in the United States of America they call it coloured people time; cpt for short. The question for me, always, is whose time are we keeping and why?
Psychologists have, through numerous studies, allocated periods of time for child development and school development– should the child fray from the median they are deemed abnormal or slow. I walked at eighteen months, because I knew I was in Africa and there was no pressure or so I thought. My mother said she was not worried about my development because I had a full set of teeth and could utter some words- she figured I would walk when I felt like it.
Today much of the youth of the country is pressurised to achieve certain goals at a certain time, people go into depressions because unlike their peers their achievements are lacking but this is not so. Everyone is on their own path and timing; it makes a minute difference should one get their degree at twenty-eight instead of the usual twenty-two or twenty-one, or if they have their first baby at thirty-three instead of twenty-five; I hate to sound like radical pan Africanist who has gone of their rails but these achievements are new and Western. Everything in the continent of Africa went well and according to its time before white settlers arrived. I often lament travelling from my home in Soweto to work in the northern Suburbs, the trek is not only long and arduous but also a constant reminder of spatial apartheid, making me feel unsettled, unwanted and not belonging once I arrive at work. Were it not for the Queen’s people arrivals, boarder gates, watches, work hours and traffic would not be factors that add to our stresses in life.
When we truly look at our cultures we realise our ancestors were quite organised. There was a time for everything; a time for sowing, a time for reaping, a time to initiate both young womxn and men in preparation for marriage, a time to mate, a time to be apart, a time to celebrate and a time to mourn. We, Africans, were not sitting on our behinds not knowing which time of the day or year it was. To this day my grandmother knows when the various season equinoxes are without having to look at the calendar, time itself does not even abide to the Gregorian calendar we use. African time like everything else in Africa was colonised by the colonisers.
I think it is important that we as black people rethink the concept of time because of the socio-economic conditions within which we exist, time like many factors in this white cis heterosexual world is oppressive. This is not to say one should not be organised or goal oriented; it just means relax and persevere should you not reach them; as long as you are breathing there is still time.
My first time like my first love was not planned; living a closeted life could have possibly attributed to this, media contribution of the lack of visibility of the other sex can also be to blame. All movies, shows and stories I read were heterosexual, it was ingrained in my mind that people fell in love with the opposite sex and had sexual relations with them. I knew I was queer but because of the lack of the constant reinforcement of love and sex scenes which heterosexuals had plenty of, I was somehow castrated of being a sexual being. My imagination helped in that I had same sex dreams which scared at me first and had me thinking I was being attacked by demons; back then I was quite religious and so would pray away the dreams; they went away but then they came true when I had sex for the first time with the same sex.
Many drivers will know of autopilot syndrome when driving, how one drives from home to work, mall, school, doctor and back home without actually being totally aware of the routes taken, or the time taken or the numerous gear shifts one has to complete- this was how I fell in love, it was unplanned but felt totally natural; a route of relating and navigating each other automatically. A feeling of fullness without the pain of a full stomach, where each nerve seemed to be alive and activated along with an awareness only Zen masters know. This was how it felt to be in love.
I did not plan for the first time but I did read numerous books on coitus all of them about heterosexual sex and so was totally unprepared, not to mention that I was a late bloomer and rarely took time to get to know my body but the first time with the person I loved went well. It was a hot night and my body together with hers was on fire. I felt heat and vibrations in places I never knew existed. I felt like Goku going on super sayain six and like a winter’s dawn slowly came through and settled in the euphoria. The next day we did not speak of the events that occurred on that night and for a long time, possibly a year we never touched on the subject even though we maintained our relationship slash friendship. It ended and when it ended the person claimed they did not know that it had even started; I had overvalued our intimacy. We remain friends.
A few years later I met a man, not the best man, but we feigned a relationship and when it came time to have sex I remember asking him if he had tested and if he had condoms. It baffles me to this day how I never questioned the various womxn I have slept with. Safe sex for same sex couples especially womxn who have sex with womxn is lacking; it is the least risky form of sex but given how people swing with their sexual preferences, anything is contractible and safe sex for all forms of sex must be emphasised. I believe an all-inclusive sex education should be in the school curriculum from primary school.
Love cannot be placed in a curriculum, at least not the romantic kind of love, it is a privilege to have been in love, for it to come so easily and for its effect to this day. I sometimes wonder if I will feel the same away again for someone else, maybe if I stop comparing everything to the first time and first love, maybe then I will find myself on autopilot again, falling in love but not forgetting to practice safe sex.
I was about fourteen years old when my younger brother asked me how to kiss a girl, he was twelve. An ordinary teenage girl would think of this as cute and novel but I was not ordinary; I was and still am, queer. I grew up with four brothers, three older and one younger than me. I was never fully aware of myself growing up, I was an inward being, always engrossed in a book or some form of learning. I performed poorly at games that required hand eye coordination, games that girls would play like ingedo or skipping rope or umgusha and even hopscotch. I enjoyed time spent with my girlfriends but somehow always knew I was different. My family remarks that they noticed at seven years old that I had a funny walk; an unusual masculine gait; I could not respond to this because I automatically walked, never thinking if it was feminine or not. In the years before puberty struck my aunt would teach me how to walk like a lady and said I needed to place a box of cornflakes on my head to get rid of my slouch. I agreed because I did love her and she was much older than me; I thought she knew best. My mother was a hairdresser who straightened my hair with chemicals and plait it in various styles that had my school mates green with envy. She also bought me very feminine clothes, the ones usually adorned on Sundays at church; blouses with flowers and mini heels. I smiled for the camera when the time came to take photographs of these outfits but deep down inside I knew it was not a full or even the real representation of me. Growing up with brothers I had no hand-me-downs to wear but I wore their clothes regardless, my grandmother would scorn me often but I did not care. I watched them play soccer and was sometimes allowed to join and sometimes, reluctantly, they would allow me to tag along to the fields where they caught cat, mice, doves and other small animals and spliced them open, investigating their internal organs. Sometimes they roasted the doves they had caught over an open fire- I was not there on those days. My heart ached when they got slingshots and I did not but then again there were no doves to shoot in the yard or in the kitchen where it was deemed I belonged. At twelve years old I already knew what my difference meant but there was no outlet for me and so I kept in.
At twelve years old my younger brother knew he liked girls and when he asked me the question on the technicalities of kissing, I thought he had found me out but he just simply wanted to know from a girl’s perspective. Over the years my brothers had girlfriends, were shouted at for having them sleepover; my younger brother once was found with two girls in his room. My family was livid and always threw light on how good I was and had never brought trouble. They did not know or maybe threw a blind eye at the fact I was queer. Being queer does not afford one privileges like telling your parents about your girlfriend or being scolded at for sleeping at a girlfriend’s place or vice versa. My family is pretty homophobic despite being non-religious or traditional in anyway and so over the years I have had to keep flings and relationships hidden, going away to university made that simpler but still I feel I am being cheated out of living a full life and I wonder at times if I am not to blame because of my reluctance to explain myself, but also, I have a strong feeling on how it will turn out once I affirm my queer identity outwardly to them- basically it will not be good. I highly doubt they would cast me out but they would very uncomfortable and I hate uncomfortable situations. Other points for not coming out is that I believe it is quite evident what I am, I do not want heterosexual people’s affirmation of me as if I am winning a medal for being me and I am gender queer which would be difficult to explain to a people who only know about gays and lesbians. I would like to believe that my family loves me and I love them too, they have stopped trying to rectify me and so for now that is enough. The uncomfortable comfortable silence on my gender and sexual identity is but a small hindrance which over time, I hope, will no longer exist.
We humans are not only diverse in race, culture and language; we are also diverse in the fears we have. The origin of the fears of snakes or closed spaces can be found for instance in childhood trauma of being locked up in a closet or cultural teachings of reptiles as being evil. Phobias are real so much so that they can induce negative mental and physiological effects.
The one phobia I have never understood is that of homophobia because people who claim to have this fear are fearless when they come into contact with a homosexual, so fearless in fact that slurs roll of the tongue like hot black molasses, so fearless that raising their hands to the unknown homosexual who did not provoke them is done swiftly, so fearless that they throw curses loudly in the homosexuals path and so fearless that when the word “gay” is uttered in their direction, it becomes grounds to attack.
People “suffering” from homophobia are the only ones to have a type of phobia that is towards another human being whose sexual expression is different from theirs as if it is poisonous ot infectious.
After news broke of deputy minister Manana’s beating of a young womxn, social networks and news media condemned the act until they found out reasons for his actions; many thought they were justified. He was called (according to the responses) the worst thing ever; he was not called a rapist, it was worse than that; he was called gay by the victim.
We live in a culture that insists on the binary view of life instead of a spectrum. Gender, sexual expression and even race is seen as either this or that, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual and if it’s not white it must be black or at least a variation of black. Heterosexuality much like race is built on a theories which many are lazy to refute, much like the creation of whiteness which is a veneer created to protect privileges and absurd notions of superiority; much like the variation of melanin across the human species so is sexuality.
The fear in homophobia is that it challenges the dichotomies that we have been raised with. In a beautiful piece about how parents and society kill the friendships of young boys Mark Greene sites that when boys reach adolescents they concentrate on what they are not, this means they look at the other sex and derive who they are supposed to be by being or doing the opposite. They are not girls, they are not flimsy, they are not emotional- all virtues that are traditionally believed to be traits of the feminine- young men will sever in the creation of their identities and manhood. What this creates in young men is a repression of the true and full exploration of themselves because much as we like to think men only have a masculine energy they also embody a feminine energy, same with womxn. The repression therefore of what is traditionally believed to be feminine traits in men creates volatile beings whose identities are always threatened and provoked when compared or likened to what some believe is feminine. The feminine is weak, disposable, non autonomous, dependent and other such misconceptions, therefore the word gay to an individual who expresses that they are heterosexual is an insult. The word gay means one is less than a man and more like a womxn. This view forces us also to look into how womxn are perceived in societies; there’s no need to extrapolate as many know this is a man’s world and womxn are either obstacles or trophies to men even in the year 2017.
The fear in homophobia therefore is that one would be treated like a womxn, as vulnerable, exposed to and deserving of violence which Manana proved in beating a womxn. The fear in homophobia is that it challenges societal constructs which many have adopted as natural occurring, typical or normal- a variation must be rigorously investigated and discarded which the outrageous responses defending Manana proved. The fear in homophobia is a dangerous phobia as it is oriented towards the most vulnerable group of humans who like heterosexuals are trying to navigate life but find themselves prone to violent attacks because of a harmless variation in the sexual spectrum. The fear in homophobia is dangerous because it maintains the status quo which is womxn deserve violence be it physically, verbally and even sexually. The fear in homophobia is a social construct which enables the abuse of power towards other humans and under the guise of homophobia protects the abuser. The fear in homophobia exposes the lie of morality and points its creation to the position which lies in those lucky enough to be born with testicles and a penis.