After my *‘Dear White People’ article, my usually restrained brother – emailed and called rather distressed. He felt I was perpetuating the feeling of victimhood amongst Black people when instead I should be asking them to interrogate themselves and ask why everyone conquers Africa – the Europeans, Americans and Russians; now the Chinese and Indians are getting their turn. ‘You can be sure that when ET finally makes first contact, little green beings will be lording it over Africa!’ he said.
For hours after I hung up the phone, I mulled over what I would write. There have been finer minds before me who have appealed to our situation – Steve Biko, through his much acclaimed ‘I write what I like’, urged the Black man to understand that liberation would not only come from fighting for structural political changes, but also from psychological transformation in their minds. One of my favourite quotes from Biko is, ‘whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior’
The likes of Obama, Sol Plaatjie (a South African intellectual, journalist, linguist, politician, translator, and writer) and Chika Onyeani (the author of Capitalist Nigga) – have in some way or other highlighted the value of economical and mental emancipation… for me to repeat their insightful expressions defeats logic. Black people – seek out the literature by these grand men and submerge yourself in it.
As for me, I am no intellectual nor am I a famed leader. So in appealing to you for progression, I will take you through my journey using 10 brief points; hopefully in this you will find some answers:
The first thing I would tell you is that I cannot heal your wounds but I can heal mine. When I was about 8 years old I was raped. The result of this experience meant for years I was angry. On top of this I grew expectations of the world and anticipated that it will grant me certain things because I had it so tough. This did not happen. Instead I mismanaged my life, by 21 I was pregnant. While expecting, I started having deliberate and honest conversations with myself. I interrogated, ‘if I am to raise a happy child, how can do so in this miserable state?’ After some candid internal deliberations, I realised that I had to change. The road to happiness was not easy. It was through the help of therapists, writing, good wine and a lot of crying that I gradually began to heal. As I stopped expecting the world to reimburse me for my childhood trauma – my life became easier. I learned to use the pain and memories to propel me, not destroy me. Black people, I ask you to do the same, heal your wounds.
Second, you must know that the pain will often come back, but despite this keep on going. Last year I heard that the man who had raped me died. You would have thought I would’ve been happy, but I was livid. I felt cheated. So I allowed myself the luxury of self pity and hid in the corners of my dark thoughts…. for a while. I remembered how heavy it felt to be cross all the time. I had grown sick of it. ‘Argggg!’ I bellowed out at the dead man, ‘I’d be damned if you took my life too!’ So, I decided to substitute my soreness for drive and ambition…. Black people, if today’s news bulletins are anything to go by, you will have moments that rejuvenate your hurting – despite the pain of these occasions you need to eventually pick up the pieces and move on.
Third, no matter how much injustice I have been through; I am now at a point where everything I am – I consider. Everything I have – I earned. When I am cold – the sun does not shine brighter for me because I have this particular bad history. When I need shelter, the trees do not offer me more shade exclusively. Black people – no one will construct a ladder for you to climb to the highest peaks of success. No one is going to handover farms and mines to you, not even Malema. It is you that has to find means and ways to get these things back. Education and entrepreneurship are a great start.
Fourth, you cannot change the past; therefore don’t let it ruin today’s experiences…. When I had to have consensual sex for the first time I wanted my virginity back. I assume when other girls go through this right of passage they worry about wearing the perfect matching underwear? I, on the other hand, was wondering if I would experience the same revulsion I experienced 10 years prior. Eventually I realised that if I didn’t overcome my fears – today I would be a 30 year old ‘virgin’.
Fifth – you have to know that I am sorry for everything that has happened to you. Just like I tell myself on many quiet nights when the ghosts of my past come to haunt me. History has been cruelly unfair but we cannot continue to be stricken for this will ensure a ghostly future. So love yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Find ways to soothe your ghosts till they settle down.
Sixth…. Black is Beautiful! You are strong and smart and damn sexy! If you cannot bring yourself to believe this – surround yourself with affirming friends and family. I am blessed with an incredible support system – the more they tell me how capable I am – the more I engage life with more effort because I do not want to disappoint them.
Seventh, self worth is not acquired through putting your brother down. During my teenage years I tormented my poor mother. I either lashed out through some bizarre behaviours – or I would remain elusive and distant. She did not know what had happened to me – yet I expected her to know. Doing this to her was mean – plus it did not give me closure or relieve me of my pain. All I did was I created a situation where I alienated someone who I should have allowed to be my support. So please, stop killing each other senselessly. Communicate. Be there for your African brothers and sisters. In some way or other – we have all been tortured.
Eighth. Respect women. Do not bully me into submission because I will pass on that fear and discontent to your children. I have been fortunate to have had the aid of rehabilitation – both professional and in my writing – other women are not so privileged.
Ninth – Teachers are all around us, just be willing and open. I had an inspirational mentor and father figure, Pat Hopkins. Other than his love of writing (he was a reputable South African author) we shared a common past, he had also been sexually assaulted as a I child. So he got it. He got me. I could randomly shed tears, and without any explanation from me, he knew where they came from. He made me write about my thoughts, ‘darling, write! Make something memorable out of your trauma’ he would say. I was an open and willing apprentice. He took me on wild motorbike rides and during drunken dinners he told me about a hooker called Candy that broke his heart. Everybody needs a Pat. Someone who teaches you about love – love for work, love for self and love for others.
Lastly – no matter how persistent the shadows of your past are, expose yourself to situations that put your life in perspective. Recently I read ‘Say you are one of them’ by Uwem Akpan – I felt huge compassion for the children mentioned in the book, one a Muslim boy killed for his belief, another a pair of siblings being readied for child slavery and so forth. Not only did I feel compassion for them but I felt immense gratitude. My rape experience was cruel and pitiless. However, if I am honest with myself, I cannot find the words that would describe the torture of child slavery. Black people – look outside yourself and allow yourself to feel different things.
I pray this intimate journey through my past gives you insight into how you can move forward. The time for toi-toing, picketing and burning tires is over. The time for mean aggression and violence has long past. Haven’t we all been raped? Haven’t we had a terrible past? We have. Can we take it away? No we can’t. Should we wait for apologies and things to be handed back to us as some sort of peace offering? Probably not. In fact such expectations are precisely what make us weak as a Black race.
And as it is with me – I am breathing while the man who raped me is dead. You are alive. The past is gone. Can you really dig up the bones of dead people and demand an apology that is not forthcoming?
The people who have hurt you…. some acknowledge it, some don’t. You cannot continue to let this hinder your progress. It is time we move on and uplift our communities – one person at a time – one school at a time – one street at a time….yes, even with our legitimate pain.
*To read the Dear White People article go to – http://www.mahala.co.za/reality/dear-white-people/
*Dear Black People was originally published by AfricaBe.com