The Revolution Will Be Tweeted: Why It’s Not Enough To Talk The Talk

Throwback Thursday? Originally published on The Odyssey on October 10th 2016.

Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. Steve Biko and Huey P. Newton. Robert Sobukwe and Malcolm X. African liberation movements and the American civil rights movement, and their corollary of Black Consciousness have mirrored and borrowed from each other for years, forging connections between the US and the continent that most people either aren’t aware of or choose to ignore. Kwame Nkrumah, in his vision for Ghana’s independence, borrowed a lot from Marcus Garvey’s thoughts on Pan-Africanism, which were in turn taken on by many African countries in their independence movements. Over time, however, Pan-Africanism has been diluted and taken on multiple meanings. Politicians like Thabo Mbeki called for “economic Pan-Africanism,” leaders like Robert Mugabe and the late Muammar Gaddafi sought “political Pan-Africanism” and the proponents of the Negritude movement engaged in what one could call an “intellectual Pan-Africanism.” The point is, ideals of Pan-Africanism have intertwined black people everywhere for a long time, and this has not always been for the better.

In our day, social media has become a platform for the sharing of content, ideas and movements. There’s a new kind of black experience, where we – via Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and the like – are connecting with each other, and with this hyper-exposure we’ve been forced to grapple with ideas about what it really means to be black. Siyanda Mohutsiwa in her TedTalk coined the term “social Pan-Africanism” to indicate this sense of interconnectedness, particularly on the interwebs. And although she meant it in a distinctly positive sense, the flip-side is that “Africa” ceases to be a real place with real people, and instead becomes a romanticised, exoticized entity.

We latch onto this new version of Pan-Africanism without stopping to think about its implications. Festivals like Afropunk try to cash in on this new sense of shared identity, and artists like Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar embrace it in their music videos and performances, all the while refusing to tour on the continent or really try to gain an understanding of all the symbolism they like to employ. This has often erupted in heated debates such as the whole debacle about Black Americans appropriating African culture sparked by Zipporah Gene, which tend to spiral unnecessarily into Oppression Olympics. Most recently, however, this issue has been apparent in the parallels between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and movements on the continent like #ThisFlag.

6361164588222812791176049866_7

#BlackLivesMatter has been a force to be reckoned with for a while now. Sparked by outrage at the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012, the movement has been bringing awareness to and resisting the modern day genocide against black people in the United States. Protests against police brutality and systemic racism have gained so much traction that #BlackLivesMatter has received solidarity from all over the place – including the continent.

6361164477339766541429380051_1.jpg

Ryan Lenora Brown interviewed South African students for an article in the CS Monitor, and wrote about a student activist who said “We are lamenting the same pain we are feeling with them. We are here to send the message that black lives matter everywhere in the world.” Africans have taken on the Black Lives Matter movement, in the spirit – I would argue – of the social Pan-Africanism that Siyanda Mohutsiwa speaks of. The problem, however, is a profound lack of reciprocity.

The #ThisFlag movement of Zimbabwe was born in much the same way #BlackLivesMatter was – it’s a movement of the people, protesting unjust systems that have been in place for too long. Pastor Evan Mawarire, “through his social media movement… has been backing a stay-away campaign this month to protest about perceived corruption and economic mismanagement” (BBC News). When police arrested him on trumped-up charges and he was likely to disappear mysteriously into the bowels of the judicial system, when police were beating old women in the streets for carrying their flags, when people were assaulted for staying home from work in protest, Zim Twitter’s outrage spilled into the streets and held the justice system accountable for its actions, ultimately resulting in Pastor Evan’s release.

636116456899252144-1806119063_3

 

Africans all over the continent, frightened for loved ones and angry at the state of affairs, jumped onto the hashtag, raising a complete ruckus. But there was a blanket of silence from African Americans. In the week of the climax of the #ThisFlag movement, I would scroll through my Twitter TL and nobody outside of people directly affected was talking about it. Ditto with Facebook. Ditto with Tumblr. I was perplexed. Where was this Pan-Africanism that African-Americans were so defensive of in the cultural appropriation conversation? In the Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar conversation? In the Afropunk conversations? In the wake of all the solidarity received for the Black Lives Matter movement, where was the solidarity for Zimbabwe?

636116457268259439-965970929_Screen Shot 2016-10-09 at 5.31.08 PM.png

Pan-Africanism is about more than just wearing kente headwraps and knowing a couple of words of Swahili. Pan-Africanism is about more than just the intellectual traditions of the 50s and 60s. Pan-Africanism is about more than just lip service. And while it’s spiralled into so many different tributaries and taken on many different meanings that we’re all still trying to figure out, showing up for each other is the first step.

So if you’re willing to talk the talk, please be willing to take the first step with us.

Cover photo from http://trueafrica.co/article/student-leader-sell-fees-must-fall-protests-split-two/

Living While Black Will Get You Killed Out Here

black body burns in the streets tonight.
black heart
black soul
black body burns in the streets tonight.

black pain spills in the streets tonight.
black screams
black tears
black pain spills in the streets tonight.

black love grows in the streets tonight.
black love
black love
black love grows in the streets tonight.

Poison Ivy: The Pervasive Malignancy of the Educated Elite.

This is a difficult post to write. Partly because I haven’t written a stream-of-consciousness-type post like this in such a long time, and partly because it requires admitting some less than palatable truths to myself: I have witnessed myself becoming governable.

I probably wouldn’t have caught myself falling down this rabbit hole had I not physically removed myself from the bubble that is my so-called institution of higher learning for a solid 72 hours. This school has been one of the best things to happen to me – distinguished faculty, renowned degree, etc. But it has also had some of the most unexpectedly pernicious effects on not just me, but on people I care about. I’ve watched friends get sucked up by a system that does not care about them and would spit them back out at the first convenience. I’ve watched the revolutionary black men that I hopped on a plane with, with the intent to disrupt Western peace and cause a ruckus, abandon the black women that have been holding them down since they got here for the comfort of white spaces – or as A Tribe Called Quest put it, “time is running out on black power Africans in the day and white thigh supporters at night//every time you see them they’re chasing some white woman with their tongues hanging out”. And then there’s me. I’ve watched myself get diluted. I’ve watched myself turn into a shadow of my true essence, and I literally didn’t notice until I was physically removed.

That, is terrifying.

There’s the story you’ve undoubtedly heard somewhere before – I, like countless black women, have continued to protect black men. Even black men who honestly care more about what I can do FOR them than about the person, because I’m a caregiver. It’s my biggest strength AND my biggest weakness. I’ve allowed myself to fall into the Work Mule role of the black woman, and with that have allowed “community” to take precedence over my own boundaries and my own health. I’ve allowed threats of violence to make me less vocal in public spaces and I’ve allowed myself to stray away from writing about things I’m passionate about for fear of the age-old Hotep. And the worst part is – this is nothing. Though undoubtedly unacceptable, there is nothing here that I did not expect. For me, the most shocking thing has been the white folk that I’ve found myself adjusting for. I, smart-mouthed and sharp-tongued, I, Bukiwe *insert-my-7-middle-names-here* Sihlongonyane, have found myself moving out of the way for whiteness (and I mean this both metaphorically and literally – looking at you frat boy who shoved me out of the KAF line last week).

WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?

This place has made me hyper-aware of whiteness even though I didn’t grow up in a racialised society in the way it is in this country. As Feminista Jones so succinctly phrased it – white people take up a lot of fucking space. And even though I notoriously give nary a single solitary fuck about hurt white feelings and am known to have dangerously little patience for anything even vaguely hinting at white supremacy, I’ve internalised racism (and misogynoir) in the most frightfully subtle ways. I’ve allowed micro-aggressions to convince me that I don’t actually want to walk out of my room with my baby afro out. I’ve allowed professors (remember that distinguished faculty we spoke about earlier?) to treat me less-than because they assume I, as a relatively money-less black African woman, can’t possibly be as intelligent as my peers (I must have used juju to get into this damn school in the first place then huh?). I’ve allowed loud, strategically-placed debates about affirmative action in the Hinman line (by white women no less… lol) to make me doubt my own capabilities. I always assumed that my upbringing and my UWC education would make me immune to any kind of inferiority complexes, but I’ve caught myself folding inwards – speaking softer, with less of an “accent”, not calling out bullshit (like that professor who spent hours trying to convince me that Africans have smaller brains, until I eventually gave up… who trains these people?!), and not bothering to protest when these people insist on pretending they don’t know what the words “excuse me” mean.

I’ve caught my subconscious assimilating.

And the thing that people don’t understand, is that mental health is a Real. Thing. You know there has to be a very, very deeply ingrained problem when nearly every woman of colour you know has some kind of mental health battle they’re going through. This is not a coincidence. Elite institutions of higher education, especially ones kept running by racist systems, are attempting to turn us into soul-less productivity machines, and resistance is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing. It requires constant screening -“am I still here? are my people still here with me? surviving? pushing back?” And sometimes the answer to that question is no. Because God forbid you slip up and forget to maintain that 4.0. Giving in to the system can be so much smoother on the soul sometimes, and so I caught myself becoming governable. But 72 hours of warm weather (shaarats to San Fransisco) and the aura of hundreds of magical black womyn later, I’m reminded of how important it is to transcend the image these spaces are trying to feed us of ourselves. I’m reminded that we’re more than just the productivity these spaces demand of us, or the multitude of “a real woman is”s that the patriarchal gaze has consistently tried to project onto us. And, arguably most importantly, I’m reminded (and I’m here to remind you just in case you’d forgotten and seem to think it’s okay to try me) – that I really, truly am not the one.

Photo-Cred: Sandile Dube.