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To Be Human

Human habits that bind and free us

Things I learned from Jane

 

Her participants walk in and from the door are separated based on eye colour into two groups of brown eyes and none brown eyes then meet her again in a designated room as she introduces herself as “Bitch For The Day”. Jane Elliot’s Brown Eyes Blue Eyes Exercise forces everyone in the room to come face to face with the subtle, overt and covert nuances of racism. The idea was sparked by the death of Martin Luther King during which time she was a school teacher and a day after his shooting she conducted this experiment in her primary school with an all-white classroom. She has since conducted the experiment many more times with adult groups with astounding effect on participants and observers like me.

Here are some of the (few) critical things that I learned from Jane Elliot’s Experiment

 

“I don’t see colour I just see you” is a racist cop out

People who refuse to see anything about you are essentially saying it is some kind of anomaly and in order for them to relate to you they have to ignore it. Like ignore your skin colour its blackness, its rich pigmentation in order for you to be a relatable human being. Tell me something, if you are a black man and you identify as such would it make sense for anyone to ignore the very things that make you a black man in order for you to be relatable? Does it make sense for someone to ignore that you are black and that you are a man in order to see that you are human? I’ll wait.

I love the way Jane made her point here because it exposes a subtle racist give away that most of us have come to accept as a compliment. Where we accept and relish that we fit in (as black people) with white people and other races because our blackness can be ignored. The irony blew my mind.

 

White people and people of colour are different

This lesson is an add-on to the previous point and another subtle racist apologist way of trying to rectify their racist notions. How often have you heard or seen “At the end of the day we’re all people”? Now let me ask you this; why must people be reminded that at the end of the day we are all people? I’ll wait.

Truth is we are different and racism and pretty much every social segregation concept out there aims to make us see our differences as a problem that we have to fight each other about. Not the case beloveds. Our differences are what allow us to practise traits that separate us from the (wild) animal kingdom; tolerance, acceptance, kindness, empathy, sympathy because in order to experience, enjoy and learn from each other’s very difference lived human experience we first and foremost have to understand that even as humans we are different.

Jane makes this point brilliantly when she asks a black male participant to stand next to her and she asks the rest of the group to identify differences between them. The group quickly and eagerly say height, age, gender, the presence and absence of reading glasses and the thing that she almost has to force the group to mention is colour. We are different and each one of our differences matter, because those differences are what make us human at the end of the day, my dear.

 

Colour does matter to people of colour

For what I hope is the obvious reason that people of colour have colour, pigmentation on their skin, colour does matter to people of colour. Anyone who believes otherwise please see the first two lessons. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not something to be ashamed of nor is it okay for someone to discourage you from emphasising when you have to; the colour of your skin matters. It matters as much as your gender, your sexual orientation, your upbringing and any aspect of what makes you the amazing life worthy human being that you are. You know which hashtag stresses this and let it be known that any dispute is void.

Colour would matter comfortably to any and all other races as well if they stopped seeing pigment, a physical trait that determines something we can’t control, as an anomaly. For a lot of reasons we can’t seem to escape, our colour does matter; when we’re applying for school, applying for a government job, applying for a bank account, insurance, buying a house, for all of those things your colour, your race matters. Why must we dodge its importance when we are socializing? Colour should be important to everyone in so far as it (at best) being seen, acknowledged and accepted so that anything that directly relates to experiences that are determined by colour can be seen for the validity they hold. Colour matters to people of colour because it’s what fuels a lot of our attempts for social justice, a valid (and deserved) place in society along with every other human being.

Dear beautiful black man, woman and child

Do not let anyone ignore your magical black skin in an attempt to see you, “accept” you or reduce the importance of your beautifully hued skin. You will always matter the way you are.

Jane Elliot’s work continues to open eyes across the world and her original workshops can be found here www.janeelliot.com

Acclaim for the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise.

“It won’t help much to be prepared to face Jane Elliott. This elderly woman will tear down any shield. Even we, the spectators in BLUE EYED, can’t get rid of this feeling of uneasiness, embarrassment, anxiety and utterly helpless hatred when she starts keeping people down, humiliating them, deriding them, incapacitating them. No doubt about this: for three quarters of the time in this documentation Jane Elliott is the meanest, the lowest, the most detestful, the most hypocritical human being hell has ever spit back on earth. But she should be an example for all of us”. – Stuttgarter Zeitung

 

Twitter @nollyodbanks

This blog post can also be found on the Madison Jay website

Congratulate, don’t hate

It was with great pleasure that I saw and retweeted a graduation picture from someone I follow and admire who has achieved his second Masters in his academic pursuit in Psychology. I was particularly glad to applaud this achievement for three reasons;

  1. The graduate is black
  2. The graduate is pursuing an academic path that I too wish to venture into
  3. The graduate is black

Now, throughout this year many people have been sharing and posting their graduation moments, some graduating for the first time, others achieving their first post graduate degrees and other achieving theirs after many setbacks all worthy of applause and ululation. Unfortunately what has also seemed to follow these great moments for the people who have worked hard and diligently to achieve them are the nay sayers who for whatever reason they deem fit cast a shadow of ill will on the graduates.

Let me also say, that my own graduation was over a year ago and I cannot wait to go back to school to pursue another vocation I discovered while achieving the one I have now. I don’t recall sharing this moment with my most beloved social media; Twitter. Recent events suggest that if I didn’t, it was probably a good idea. However, how does one even begin to not scream on top of the world (figuratively) that they have achieved something that they have worked hard for. It is with a heavy heart then that I see so many graduates be put through what can only be described as the “Put them down” syndrome. What doesn’t make sense is the fact that, regardless of whether you do or don’t have an academic accolade to your name, what legitimate gains do you stand to make by being an entire asshole and raining on someone else’s parade? Have you not heard Formation?

It hurts me for the same reason to see this shadow of ill will cast for the same reason that it makes me happy when the graduates come out in their glory; the nay sayers are black, the graduates are black. I mean honestly we live in a world where we have to work extra hard to get even half way there. We go to schools where we are faced daily with the cognitive dissonance of wanting to be great with achievements that we can only attain in institutions which seem to be systematically against us and our existence. Why then is it so difficult to simply be happy for one another? My goodness we made it and are continuing to make it every other day and yet we still find reason and energy to cast a shadow of doubt on each other’s path to greatness? I don’t understand how we can allow ourselves to be instruments of satan like that.

Let’s look at the concept of education from a black person’s perspective; for one chances are you are not paying for it from your own pocket, so you’re on a bursary that requires that you be an A+ student in order to keep getting funded. If you are using a loan, there is the burden of paying it back on top of paying it forward at home once you start working. As we all know you have to show everyone that you are grateful for whatever sacrifices they had to make for you or you simply have to be an additional income now that you are employable.  If you are paying for it, it’s often because of whatever calculator they use to decide whether or not you get a loan or bursary has decided you are “well off” enough to pay for your studies. Meanwhile the reality is, even with the income of both parents a black child still (typically) cannot afford to pay for four years of university.  You may be the first one to get a degree, so already it’s a “Mama I made it” moment for. If you come from a family where you are expected to be an academic wiz because one or both of your parents are graduates, there is even more pressure because now there is precedent in your family. That pressure is of course also laced in history that goes back to when black people could not go to school as relatively easy as you have. Then of course there is troubles you experience from being in university, where you slowly realize that academia is not pro-black therefore not pro-you but you must be willing to succeed in it and grade your humility on your ability to do so without making a socio-political spectacle of yourself. Then you finish your studies and everyone looking for someone who has your qualification also wants you to have 5 years of experience in that field, a car and be fluent in Mandarin. Naturally no one wants to give you a job so you can accumulate those years of experience, you cannot get a car because your finances are drowning in student loans so no bank will touch you and you cannot speak Mandarin because well, what do you need Mandarin for in South Africa?

Now, dear black child, consider this and the many other issues I am not yet woke enough to account and tell me again what grounds you have to not congratulate each other or simply shut your dumb hating ass up if you have nothing constructive, congratulatory or celebratory to say? I can assure you it’s not that hard. Whether you have a degree or you don’t, I honestly think you should as a black child see what a big deal it is to graduate whether for the first, second or fourth time. What hurts me more is that, there have been several ways in which one’s graduation moment has been used against them. Others have had their appearance thrown in their face while sharing that moment of pride others have had their online/offline history flung at them while the most recent case has been the validity of one’s achievement as though being black disqualifies you from being THAT  accomplished. It’s as though instead of saying “Look at you, you made it” people would rather ask “How dare you be great?” to which in the great words of @Mijeaux I have this to say “Because bitch, it is possible”

 

Twitter @nollyodbanks

 

I’m not racist but…

I’m glad we have established that just about anything that comes after that generally is racist. No one ever has to really defend what they say before they actually say it unless they know the potential that their statement has to be harmful in some way. Several things bother me about this particular statement; why must you tell me that you are not racist and why you can’t just say what is on your mind without preparing me with that. I am compelled to think that whoever you are, you know damn well that you are in fact racist, what you are about to say is racist and you are merely preparing a defense in case someone calls you out for saying some unnecessary racist bull.

 

To have to prepare me for your statement like that it already gives away your true thought, whether what follows is true to you or not I already know that you expect pardons for a likely racist offense. I must be honest that there is no pardon for racism and you will get none from me, especially since you already know that what you are about to say is foul and in fact racist. What grates me is not just that what you are about to say is racist but the refusal to accept that it is just because you are so desperate to hold onto that fake “I’m not racist but…” face you prepared. If you truly are not racist, then say what is on your mind and be open to it being corrected for the racist hogwash that it is so that you don’t make the same stupid racist statement or gesture again. It’s a racist’s worst and common trait to have to defend their racism instead of taking the damn L and moving on wiser, if you truly are not racist then close your mouth and open your ears so that you may listen to understand, acknowledge and accept that what you just said is actually racist.

 

The only thing worse than the racist comment that comes after “I’m not racist but…” is the insistence that the statement is not racist. I’m now convinced that not only are people desperate to defend their racism but that in their effort to do so, they have convinced themselves that as long as they say that they’re not racist then the statement therefore isn’t. How poor can your sense of logic be? It’s as though the logic leaves when racism enters because let’s face it there is no genuinely plausible reason for racism and its ability to thrive today. Typically a black person would correct you, I would correct you and I think that is also the reason why racist white people refuse to accept that a racist comment comes from a racist mind; because a black person corrected you. It’s not just a refusal to accept that you are racist but more than that I think it comes from a place of not wanting to accept the validity of a black person’s pain and not wanting to accept that we can articulate that pain and a refusal to accept that they (white people) can still dish out that pain but now with consequence.

 

Obviously a person of color is going to correct you, because that is who is on the receiving end of your bigoted flamboyant arrogance. Who else and who better to do it? When you offend someone and they tell you that they are offended, surely regardless of your intention once the offense is delivered its valid and worthy of correction? Why then when that offense is of a racist nature, do you insist on defending overt or covert racist comments? Being racist is not cool, it’s not a trend and it’s not something that you should be defending just because you said “I’m not racist but…” before you made the statement. Saying you’re not racist before making the statement also takes away the element of error because now you already know that you are about to mess up but my goodness that drug called privilege has you so strung out you don’t even think to stop and pause before you say something racist and unacceptable. It’s that same drug that makes you wilfully “oblivious” to the harm that your words can inflict and because the harm you cause is unto people of colour you definitely won’t think it’s a big deal to be racist and say things that reflect that racism and furthermore refuse to acknowledge.

 

In the South African context, the refusal to accept that one has said or done something racist in company or even social media for all the world wide web to see, the extent with which racists want to be allowed to get away with it is seen when they either cry freedom of speech or tell us the receivers to get over it because “apartheid ended years ago”. Please stop. My pain is not for you to dictate and decide how I should go through it or how long I should feel it. Was it not enough that white people controlled where we took a shit, now they want to control how we experience the racism they are bold enough to still dish out because “apartheid ended years ago”? Who lied and said racism ends just because it’s not law? Who lied and said apartheid is over now, no one can complain about racism? Racism was never just about the law it was about what you could systematically do to our minds, our lives and way of living and apartheid was the law in place that allowed you to legally weaponize it.

 

Tell your white friends and your black friends who always find a way to “not be like them” that no amount of “I’m not racist but…” is going to grant them the jail free card that they don’t deserve. You will either open yourself up to learn so that you don’t have to say you’re not racist before saying what’s on your mind or you will be yourself so we know to avoid you and your unbridled hate for black people and people of colour.

 

Twitter @nollyodbanks

Kin Limited Respect for Woman

This notion that men respect their mother and therefore don’t have to respect other woman is by far the best misogynoir’s cover up and has sadly been bought and lapped up by the very group it harms. I’m going to tell you something that has been sad a million times but that you may have never seen here or said by me before;

Men don’t respect their mothers, sisters, daughters or partners who are woman because they are women, they respect their relationship (ownership) over them because of the relationship they have with them. MY mom. MY daughter. MY sister. MY girlfriend. Yes I said it.

Has it never crossed your mind why that respect is only limited to women in their own lives? Its all about ownership over another being and having that ownership respected (by other men) because it speaks to their fragile woman vulnerability dependent manhood. Beloved, a man who loves his mom is not indicator that he will love and respect you, it simply means that if he feels he owns you he will protect his property. Have you ever seen how men lose their minds when their single mothers get a new boyfriend? Let me tell you something, it’s not because mom’s boyfriend is a shady character its because here comes a man to take custody of MY mom who’s love life, integrity and agency I own because dad isn’t here.

This is also why men don’t understand how other men can stand up for women they have no kin or relationship with or how men on social media can make protective/positive blanket statements about woman. To men it unfortunately only makes sense to speak good of women you know, or are related to but I’m here to tell you that they are not doing that for the women, but for themselves.

Daughters. I don’t really know at what point men view their daughters as adults or women because even when you get married today, granted that your father is alive he is the go to person for your hand in marriage. Its done even now to seem more romantic and sincere and I can’t help but laugh at the irony of how men ask other men to exchange ownership of women from daughter to wife and that’s seen even by woman, as a romantic gesture. Keeping it old school, they say. At its core its based on an exchange of ownership because everything that a woman owned or acquired was relegated to and by her father when she is a maiden and then her husband when she marries.

Point of the matter is, when a man says he respects the woman in his life the emphasis is in “his life” and not their womanhood because if we were to expect that to be true and okay of every man we might as well say  to men as a population “Keep your respect, my daddy/boyfriend/husband has got me”. That’s not productive to the greater scheme of things and the sooner men get on board with that the better for us to move on and not have to correct problematic ideals that translate into violent, abusive words and actions.

Black Enough Feminist Enough Woman Enough

For a while on social media, being a feminist seemed like a trend and like all trends I expected it to come and go like all trends do. Surely enough feminism proved itself to be here to stay and thrive (on social media as it has done throughout time). Blogs and website posts were shared left right and center and the information super highway did as the information highway does and bombarded me with information I had to sift through and decide what’s useful and what foolishness is. My best find was a black feminist writer whom later became the most intimidating because they were older and at a place in their journey of a path I thought to be a destination.

 

Reading her work I would tend to feel (and sometimes still) like I was not woke enough, which I could accept because it’s a journey not a destination and by the time I get there she may have evolved to another dimension of wisdom. What soon became apparent when pop culture picked up on the black feminist and woke movement was that women were now being put up against each other (at times by each other) to see who in their feminism was black enough. There was a point where I thought maybe you have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, read certain books and be well acquainted with the works of every feminist black writer there is or ever was on the planet. I was studying a strenuous degree the only thing I had time for reading was textbooks and the occasional newspaper article online at the time when I became aware

of feminism’s online presence. That I couldn’t find the time to read the right books was also a  dead give-away that I am not only not black enough but will never amount to be black feminist enough. Because how will you feminist legitimately if you can’t quote Alice Walker and Bell Hooks at the drop of a hat?

 

It later became apparent to me that in order to call myself a feminist and be one that is true to what I believe is the ultimate cause of equality among sexes; I had to be an agent of my own agency to look a way that made me feel comfortable. No one could dispute the legitimacy of my feminism just because I didn’t look like I bath is Shea butter and coconut oil. The mere fact that one’s feminism becomes more or less legitimate proves to me that society will do anything to put women in opposing binaries and make them break each other down to see who survives and therefore reigns supreme, a common tactic that racists institutions use to see which person of color is better and therefore more acceptable to whiteness. The notion that my feminism is not enough just because my skin is not dark, my hair is not afro or my vocabulary is not higher grade feminist academic enough only crosses my mind when black men and white people criticizes the legitimacy of my feminism. The notion that my feminism is not enough just because I put on make-up for the sole purpose of looking pretty for an occasion or that I like looking pretty and appearing feminine only crosses my mind when other often older woman criticize my legitimacy and obviously back up any argument they have against me by using my youth as a negative (a factor that I cannot change or control).

To be a feminist and black is not about appearance, that’s how you become a gimmick and not a representative of your cause (I will discuss this in a later post). I will not model my belief in equality for all genders, respect of all bodies and dignity of all sexual orientations in a way that pleases anyone and thank goodness, because it is not about anyone but me and my ability to live with my own conscious knowing that I respect human beings as I warrant their respect by being.

Strong Black Woman

In the past two years of South African pop culture and media, many “scandals” about black women has come to the fore and subject to much debate and public opinion. One particular issue I am still learning to digest and maneuver is that of the strong black woman. Black feminine strength has been the mode since time and unfortunately what has remained constant while the black woman has grown, evolved and changed is the expectation for us to model black strength the same way. In a recently shared thread of tweets by a womanist whose work I am finally ready to follow, it occurred to me that the “strong black woman” narrative often cooked up by everyone but the black woman, tends to place woman at odds with themselves, each other and in harms way.

For one the strong black woman is often someone who has been through personal and social injustices that people just shouldn’t deal with and has done so to the best of her ability while maintaining an aesthetic that is used as a measure of all other women. She has been abused/dumped/lost a child/lost a job/been sidelined for a job and other things that most adults may or may not go through, but in the face of it all has maintained decorum and elegance. That is a strong black woman, one who essentially goes through the most without “being a burden” to the rest of the world by showing us the full spectrum of her turmoil and triumph. No one actually cares how she does it, why or for who as long her pain and joy is modeled in a way that fits the black man and white people’s idea of black feminine strength.

Now along comes another black woman whose strength does not look like the one described above, she is not well put together, or meek or quietly going through it, no. She is challenging, she interrogates everything that is proposed to her as the status quo and does so in a fashion that is painfully uncomfortable to those who wish to but cannot silence her. She is as explicit about her joy as she is about her joy and this makes her a problem because she is not a model figure of black feminine strength. She retreats often to regroup and comes out guns blazing when in need of catharsis, unapologetic and with no permission necessary but from herself. She tells you how to treat her and not merely accepts what you are capable of because “that’s the best you can do”, no.

No one black woman can ever satisfy the “strong black woman” aesthetic because there are just too many contradictory descriptions that form that woman. We rock, we are care free, we are magical, we are smart, we are capable, we are beautiful and my dear I do not accept your “compliment” of my strength if it is on the basis that I can put up with your/the world’s foolishness because I don’t accept your foolishness.

Use Henna to Dye Hair PLUS D.I.Y Avo Deep Conditioner

For Black Girls Only

For Black Girls Only

Who for too long have been told due to their skin and gender that they are not enough. For black girls only who have been given no space to call theirs or allowed to create a space of their own. For black girls only who are tired of smiling politely and laughing nervously when they are told “You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl” or asked “How do you know you don’t like men if you’ve never slept with one?” For black girls only who were born into the wrong body and refuse to accept that as ‘natural’ because it makes the binary conformists comfortable. For black girls only who identify as black because that’s who they are despite ‘passing’ as something else to the naked eye. For black girls only who are sick and tired of trying to fit into everyone else’s ideal but their own and have decided to create a space made for them, by them, governed only for and by them.

 

Our need to uplift each other has everything to do with uplifting each other and nothing with what we think about the people who have to not be welcome in that space. Black women are open to double prejudice; racism and sexism. The nature of these prejudices which have gone on for so long that people think it’s normal is that the people who are for it are sensitive and defensive when women say ‘Fuck their approval, let’s look to each other for freedom. Let’s give each other the emancipation they deny us’. We have for too long expected and waited for racist, sexist and the allies to give us our humanity that we’re fed up of waiting and have made our own, and of course when you take or create your power the one who has monopolised it reacts and show their truth.

 

It hurts, its offensive and its tactless of you to tell us we cannot be there for each other, just because you didn’t give us permission to do that. There is a time in history when the congregation of black people was banned because it would threaten a government that declared black people subhuman, I can understand how you might not find this triggering, you tactless privileged racist sexist.

 

The unfortunate part is that with every oppressive rule there are those who feel the oppressors cannot be beaten or overthrown and as a measure of either self-preservation or validation they align themselves with the oppressor. They agree with the oppressor’s ideals even though it’s depreciative of their own kin, they reject the norms and attempts of their kin to be themselves on their own terms because it goes against their ‘massa’s’ plan. They believe in terms like ‘reverse racism’ and think that by wanting to be on our own we treat white people and men the way they have treated us for decades forgetting that our starting points are not the same and our motivation to have our own space is wildly different from that of their beloved master who banned us from so many spaces we still battle to get into now and feel safe in.

 

We do not want to have to discuss issues like why it hurts white people and men to accept that we want to be left alone to our devices to better each other. We want to talk about how we can be there for each other, every day and every way and how we can be patient with each other. We want to teach each other about how to accept ourselves and each other without feeling like we are betraying the other. We want to validate each other’s existence because we know better than anyone else how it hurts to have it invalidated by people who have no grounds to speak of our experiences and lives.

 

Even as I write this I have to work hard to not feel defeated by the need to have to say this because to be perfectly honest, black girls should not have to justify the necessity to congregate alone to people who do not believe that black girls are worth protection, love, acceptance and understanding in a space created by and for them.

 

@nollyobanks

 

Friends like you

Growing up I was an antisocial, gender role rebellious, chubby, awkward often youngest in the group, child and I found it extremely difficult to make friends with any other child unless they were as awkward as I was or their parents were close friends with mine. Since then, growing up and learning to take social cues for what they are, I have learned that I am still selective about who I call friend and what I mean when I commit to someone as a friend. At this phase of my life I maintain that I have four people in my inner circle of friends, three of which are my friends. I have maintained that circle for a good three years now, not budging even a bit to add or remove any of those precious beings who love, tolerate and accept me and my strange ways.

I’m not particularly sure what the standard protocol for friendships is but I have found that mine are very intimate. By intimate I mean with regards to the things that we share with each other and the conversations we have and the few disagreements that we have. I have often had my circle come to me just to talk and the first thing they say is “I know you won’t judge…” These words come as a great comfort to me because let’s face it, I’m heteroflexible, semi polyamorous submissive masochist, I’ve never been so in need of no judgment in my entire life.

Going into the New Year, I take with me this inner circle and of course my general circle of friends and wish that each and every one of them finds in their own circle what I have found in mine. Love, kindness, acceptance and loyalty.

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