Whilst you were still sleeping, mummy cut through the tough plastic of the clipper she had ordered online last night. The weight of her tangled afro filled with lint from sleep heavy on her head like the pressure of femininity and fatigue combined into the fallacy of the strong black womxn. She knows you noticed, the ways in which the tangles of soft, kinky hair tore through her being as each day passed in lockdown and the way she wrapped her head in her golden doek each morning to try to look presentable for you - a little bit together. The veneer of composure wears thin in these times. She is tired. You ask her if she is wearing her day clothes, consisting of torn sweat pants and old sweaters, to bed again. She laughs nervously. "No, I changed I promise," she says denying the truth that she again fell asleep while putting you to bed instead of staying awake to shower, change and start her next shift: of laundry, dishes, tidying the house and work. Change into something new and clean. You heard her say faintly to someone that it was easier to care for the little human she loved than it was to care for herself, what you did not hear her say is "what an unfair burden that my child would have to grow up and believe that I lost myself to my role as her mother because I was tired." The truth is, I am not tired of mothering you - watching your eyes struggle to stay open as your words pour out in a flurry of rainbows. This world, our home, is your safe place, and it is rightly so.
So whilst you were sleeping, she boldly chose to cut her own hair with the new shiny clippers - reading in dimmed light because for the second time in two weeks the lounge lights had gone bust. She didn't want you to see her panic at the darkness, more symbolic than present. So she made a plan, just like she made a plan to cut her own hair and step into something she wanted you to bear witness to: even as the world is falling apart and filled with chaos and uncertainty, mummy is still a womxn who is worthy of care. She hoped that this would be something you would embody in your consciousness, while she had slept on it for close to two months in lockdown. Sometimes, we have to parent ourselves into well-being and hold onto hope as a lifeline.
The line of the clipper cord trembled as she began to cut, with wafts of knotted hair falling to the floor. Was the trembling from the vibration of the clipper moving past her ears or her fear that she needed so desperately to come back to self while continuing the love work of pouring: into you, her child, her community, her family. The airhosts lied - of course mummy would put your mask on first in the event of loss of air pressure; and hope that her lungs had enough air to withstand the mounting fear of doom. As cigarette smoke wafts through her breath, she realises that this pandemic is a continuation of seen and unseen struggles that. The hair cut, close to her skin, reveals the folds at the back of her neck and the s-curve in her spine that has her constantly contorting her head for release of tension. She goes on, changing from 6mm to 1mm. Closer to her skin.
Whilst you were sleeping, mummy put on make-up, the second time in two months. She knows you love make-up, she feels directly responsible for this.
"Why don't children wear make-up mummy?"
"Because it might give them a rash," she says scrambling for answers as your questions get more sophisticated. What she means by rash is not the tiny bulbous growths that cause itching, but rather the pressure of femininity she has embodied and the ways in which she looks tired and unrecognizable without the paint that helps brighten her eyes. The truth is, sometimes, especially in pandemic, mummy is tired and unrecognizable to herself - but still the same upbeat and energetic, active participant in life to others. One can be both, these things are complex. She secretly loves going out make-up free, but the dark circles under her red eyes betray her. She also secretly feels unseen.
Her tired fingers flick open the cellphone camera. She rotates it away from it's normal view: capturing your spirited dances, singing and jumping. You don't know that she also uses it to capture your sleeping self, at ease in the comfort of her bed which you colonize each night because of the loneliness of your own room. There are no friends, no play dates, no escapes from the space - just the two of us, it is also incredibly hard and tiring for you - and yet you sing. The camera brings into focus the buzz cut, with a faux fade and a painting of the mother you once knew pre-lockdown: eyeliner, lipstick, foundation. Except now the audience is herself. She knows she is tired, confronted by the contrast of herself as more than mum: as a womxn, a deep-feeling, curious, sexual, playful, flawed being. She feels beautiful, and she did it for herself.
You won't see this painted face tomorrow morning. But perhaps you will wake to a mother who did not fall asleep accidentally while putting you to bed. Maybe you'll see that the tangled bed fluff has disappeared from her head and that she no longer dons her golden doek every day - you will see her hair. While she hopes it might signify something beautiful and encouraging to you (as it is to her), you might instead do the age-appropriate thing and laugh that she looks like a boy (especially with her face unpainted).
This is more than enough of a response, a reminder that there is still the brute normalcy of age-appropriate guffaws in your belly, and our shared pain at the pain of the world as it is, does not outweigh the safe space we've built to have tangled hair one day - and buzz cuts the next.
Na lingui yo.
I'm anxious. The words sit heavily on my chest as I try to process the pain. It's been almost a week in contexts of being a racial minority, and reality is warping ever so subtly as to make me second guess myself. The anxiety sits on my chest like the unmarked graves of the womxn who died before the world could know their name. I decide to write.
I Google with haste 'racism in Tunisia' to validate my perceptions. The responses on Trip Advisor are somewhat reassuring, but in large doses of gaslighting. "Stop playing the racism card you soft soda," a respondent writes. "[B]lack ,white or brown ,we all get discriminated against at some point but you gotta get on with it, but can't see you standing out too much seeing as though it's in AFRICA." One respondent writes. I pause before reading on from other black reviewers in groups. It is indeed Africa... I question my perception.
Last time I was in a MENA country, laughter between me and the hotel staff was responded to in a slur of Arabic that I could not fully understand. What I did understand was the term 'kaffir'. I know that it means something along the lines of unbeliever, or heathen. I know that in the context of dialects it does not come with the same racist twang that characterizes its domination in Apartheid and 'post' Apartheid South Africa. But it stings and makes the hair on my skin stand up. A former colleague, in love and kindness, asks me about the racism I experience being a black African working on civic space in the MENA region, I solemnly take in her words of acknowledgement of this. I sit with it and tuck it beneath myself, I store it for another day. I guess that day is now.
Tonight as we are on our way to dinner post-conferencing, I need to go to the pharmacy. My host says I should be fine to go into the mall and meet them at the restaurant. I want to say 'please don't leave me alone,' instead I sheepishly whisper 'okay, I'll meet you there.' Every time I stop to speak to someone on my own, hunting for a pharmacy, I'm greeted with a look that I cannot articulate. It feels like it takes a few seconds before the people I am asking for help from realise I am human, and deciding that I am not, whether or not to help me. None of them do. I do not find the pharmacy. Even thereafter, I do not find the restaurant I am meant to go into for dinner because I am told that there is no one there waiting for me. It takes a white and Arab colleague finding me standing in the street looking lost for me to be allowed into the restaurant, despite having gone there to ask for the group a few minutes prior. I say nothing. As the only black womxn in the group, black fat, African womxn, I say nothing. It might not translate, I say to myself. My ancestors dig their derrieres deeper into my chest so that I hear my heart beating in my ears.
I laugh gaily in a crowded tram in a pretentious European city. Last time I was in this city, an old white woman was offended that I did not speak French, and in the true spirit of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, threatened to hit me with her walking stick after following me onto a crowded bus for my lack of post-colonial assimilation.
This time around, in the same city, I've spent the afternoon drinking post-work pints with an old crush. We talk about life and his decision to move and stay abroad in the context of great need back 'home'. The elusive home, AFRICA, that we want to believe binds activists together in commitment to justice and reparations. It is not always so. An article written previously highlights the disconnect on racial justice across African countries. I say earnestly, because I feel earnestly, that our shared work space was laden with race related issues that broke me. He empathizes sincerely. We're both tipsy as we get into the tram. In our laughter, he jokes that I am being loud and it is the alcohol. As we part ways this stays with me. I am loud, but am I made louder by being black, fat and womxn? The next day he walks by with a white colleague as I sit at a sidewalk table with a cigarette. He pretends he doesn't see me, or at least that's what I perceive to happen - though being 'loud' I find this hard to believe. I stop in my thoughts, both too loud and invisible at the same time.
This article smacks of privilege. It highlights my journey across different contexts doing work and, as the Facebook check-ins might indicate, jetsetting across the world. Travelling. Or more apropos, travelling while black. Travelling while black and fat. Travelling while black, fat and womxn. Alone. A friend says that I make everything about race. Another remarks that a project on race that I've poured my soul into is nothing new. Still another tells me of all her wonderful adventures around the world as a sole white woman traveler. A different one remarks that I should not play into race-related victimhood. And yet, I feel sharply in the meetings as the sole black person this disconnect between this sage advise and my reality.
My words hang in there air oftentimes. After delivering weeks worth of content and evidence, an official from a colonizing government remarks that I was so articulate. I pause. I then press her on the substance of my contribution. The blood drains from her face and she falls silent. I stay resilient despite the second and third and fourth remark on my articulation of the English language and not the substance of my contribution.
After a week outside of the echo chamber of 'woke' black politics in South Africa, I am scared and tired. I internally shout a tearful prayer on the psychological torment of being black, while being fat and being a womxn. I lament how insidious these moments are, and how they affect my parenting of the love of my life. Will she too be hyper-aware of her race, her size and her gender? I feel numb at the ways in which these moments cumulatively play on my mind.
In a crowded airport line where I scan the room for other black people, I see none. My mind drifts towards any confrontation that might happen and how I am outnumbered in a space where anti-black right wing racism has been on the upsurge. If a fight were to break out because of the wrong look or grazing into someone, I would lose. The paranoia is crippling.
It's crippling but not unfounded. It is a response to real events that I have sought to document to embolden myself to be aware of danger and seek spaces of safety. It is not a sustainable way to live, but it is a way in which black people are living. In a space of privilege, I can navigate these spaces and live with the discomfort. But the truth is that for many black migrants, and even those born in their countries of residence, EVEN within the continent, their right to exist as entirely human is constantly questioned. Even in the most oppressed societies, black, queer, womxn bodies that have moved themselves are almost always subject to additional layers of scrutiny and questioning.
This questioning is added onto the questioning of rights to self-determined existence even in spaces of origin. As a black South African womxn living in relative privilege, I've seen this when an employer has told me 'a chance' was taken on me in recruitment despite my credentials; when I've been asked as the only black womxn on staff to clean a white professor's office as a Senior Researcher; when I've been erased from projects and budgets; or my child has faced discrimination and I have been expected to be grateful for the opportunity to exist in white spaces - EVEN IN AN AFRICAN COUNTRY. How much more for the bodies of womxn who work to support entire care industries, entry level service jobs that are being automated or engaging with other languages not as their own.
And this ultimately is my point: As eloquently as I can say it, post-racialism can go fuck itself. The psychological torment of questioning this reality is exhausting. Not seeing race does nothing for acknowledging the insidious nature of racist, sexist, size-ist violence enacted on our bodies on the daily. If anything, it gaslights us into believing that the mental work we have to do to remain sane is not work. It makes us believe that the exhaustion and paranoia are outcomes of our feebleness, and not of the psychological power exerted on us by white supremacist misogyny. We are tired, and afraid, and sad, and hurting. We do not need therapy to deal with this shit. You do. But while you get to the point where you are ready to do the emotional work of not being trash, we will continue to thrive and take up space, as our very existence depends on it. And we includes the restless, unmarked graves of the womxn who have died in the process of our fight for voice.
As you were.
Elikia nanga, there are small labours of love I do that you do not see, and perhaps shouldn't. But when you are old enough to read these letters, I want you to experience the things I remember and feel this love I have for you that seeps through my skin and collects as dew when I hug you or give you millions of kisses until you protest that I'm in your space.
Right now you are sleeping warmly in my bed, a pillow tucked on the edge to protect you from falling over. What you don't know is that every evening after you fall asleep in your bed, I anticipate your arrival in mine by preparing my space to be comfortable for you. I lay down pillows, but on an extra blanket, dim the lights and clear your side of the bed - for as long as you need it to be yours (despite that I often think of throwing you out because you snore, steal blankets and kick me in the gut throughout the night).
There are other things I do, in love - like play games with you when I'm really tired. Tonight, when we were driving home, we played games in the car. We made lion sounds, cow sounds and remixed 'Old McDonald's' as though it was set in a fantastical world featuring monsters and unicorns. And we played a game, 'Too many of...', where we listed the things we could see in the night that were many - street lights, red traffic lights, dark trees, cars.
And then, I think to myself, there are things that my inner world has too much of'; that are hidden in the darkness. Things that I have struggled to give words to, things that occupy my mind when we are apart or you walk in on me in the lounge staring blankly at the wall.
One of these things is not knowing how to be okay. I mean, I know how to be fine and jovial, but that deep-seated sense of security in-self often evades me. This, you will come to learn, is one of the reasons I am incredibly restless and busy, because it helps settle my mind when I have projects and plans to keep on the cusp of burnout. It is not sustainable to be this way. But you will come to learn that it is the outcome of a world of trauma that has required that I do not stop, lest I snap like the tightly wound elastic band that I am. I once read that 'falling apart' was not a luxury that black womxn could afford, by virtue of the fact that there would be few (if any systems) around us that could catch the fragments of our souls that need to fall.
I think in the context of raising you, this is very true for me but it is one of the things I am working to address so that you know you can fall apart and I will be here to catch you, at 3, at 5, at 10, at 20, at 40 and god-willing at 60. I work hard at big problems on which my contribution is a drip in the ocean of love that is seeping through the world. It is good that way, because otherwise I would develop a god-complex. But there is an even bigger problem that I need to work hard at as an unseen labour of love to you - learning how to be okay.
This is something that evades me by virtue of my need for survival and my constant expectation that I need to perform to survive and provide for you. It is both the lifeline that will pull us out of economic uncertainty and the rope around my neck that will strangle us. It will create a false sense of surety that hard work would truly bring true joy (as was my high school motto) - when in fact racism, sexism, homophobia, trauma, misogyny, selfishness, vanity and many more vices will diminish the gains from hard work because of the world and who we are in the world.
And so being okay requires a sense of calm and comfort with this trauma and a recognition of the small gains that make life worth living. It requires not always looking for problems when the dust has settled from the joyous stomping of our feet. It requires you seeing that inasmuch as I cry, I belly laugh and roll on the floor with you. It requires saying no. It requires getting up and leaving when we are unsafe. It requires resting and sleeping enough hours. Holding ourselves with gentle hands. Having fun. Being in solitude and being around people who build us as we build them. It requires trusting our intuition, listening to the ansisters that breathe within our gut. It requires rebellion that looks like rage, like kindness, like deep love-co-creation, like laughter, like swearwords, like vices, like complexities.
Perhaps this rebellion would be the making of a nuanced (rather than nebulous) joy, where you recognize that my tears of sadness are in an intimate relationship with my tears of joy. That I could not know the joy of making cow sounds with you in the car, if I did not know the sadness of isolation and rejection. That the same love that drives me to prepare my bed for you in joy, is the same love that has me doing our laundry at 10.30pm at night despite exhaustion. These things can co-exist beautifully and the chaos can be part of the love affair we have with ourselves. The important distinction here is that these are acts of choice by which I exercise my full agency to be your mother, at the same time that I am a living, sexual, social, political, emotional being.
That said, this is an early attempt at articulating to you that I know I am not always okay, and that I am learning what it looks like for me to be okay in the weeping and in the rejoicing. For now, it looks like sitting near you as you sleep confident that you are my closest connection to the ethereal in ways that push me into these spaces of self-exploration. For this I am grateful to you.
Na lingui yo.
Mummy, hold my hand. These were the last few words Elikia offered under her quiet breath before she fell into a deep sleep on her last night as a two-year old. As I reached for her little hand, I quietened myself to her needs as her eyes closed. How profound, on this night before her transition into the year of three that she would reach out for me to walk, or rest, alongside her. This is not a new feeling for both of us, although hearing her articulate her needs does something to my heart. We have moved from me hearing her only in my essence, through my womb, to me hearing her cries, and now me hearing her words.
I stumbled into motherhood with anxiety and depression, off medication to cope with my own crises of change - I sat awkwardly with myself, now compounded by the sense of responsibility growing in my womb. At the time the mental health specialist I was seeing offered to me that I was anxious because I resented Elikia for interrupting my life. Despite being raised to be generally agreeable and diplomatic, I pushed back forcefully arguing that the prospects of motherhood are daunting for most women at best but that my anxiety did not mean resentment towards my brown child. This minor act of disagreement has since compounded and become a critical part of my mothering - demonstrating, I hope, to Elikia that it is important to disagree and there are ways to do this. In many ways, this has been me holding my own hand through social anxiety that has been mediated by being agreeable. The politics of niceness for black women are the outcome of self-preservation, at least for me, to survive the onslaught of abuse that characterised aspects of my childhood. In those times, there was no one to hold my hand and so I was never taught to need others.
To my surprise, Elikia is not like this. She is able to disagree, need others and self soothe and if like to think this is despite myself. Fast forward to the day of her birth, Elikia and I are both drugged from a relatively pleasant (although unexpected) C-Section. She spent the entire night on my bare chest sleeping, both of us bare and welding into one another. She was at once fully dependent on and carving out her independence from me. I made promises that night that I would be a version of human to her that gave her space to be a child when she needed to, and to craft her voice in a world where she would always be loud by virtue of her skin, her sex, her class. The first few days were filled with such moments, she needed to be held continuously. And even though it was challenging, I suppose I needed it too.
Over the next few weeks, which have accumulated into months and now years, she has needed and un-needed. This has been equal parts exhilarating (using the loo without company is always a plus) and equal parts unnerving (a la, look mummy I can jump off this flight of stairs). We have both come undone in the process of learning when to need each other and when to self-soothe. It has fascinated me to no end that she can tell me that I've hurt her, not just with accidental bumps, but with my sometimes short demeanour. She knows pain and articulates that to me. She knows she can tell me this and sometimes we can disagree. A recent conversation about the order of numbers culminated in her proclaiming I know nothing, much like Jon Snow, I was floored by the verbal cut to which I had no come back.
And so on this night of transition, I look back at the person who Elikia has helped me become with gratitude. I do not take for granted that I like my kid and we have a generally pleasant relationship, although filled with the robust tantrums and debates that come with raising a toddler... I know it is not a given and that it will not always be this way. In unlearning my own coping mechanism of self-reliance to a fault, Elikia holding her hand out to me tonight offered me another way of being: when we transition and we are scared we can go together, even if it is not for the full journey. For as long as I can, I will be there to reach for her tiny grubby fingers and rest with her in the midst of change.
Happy birthday Elikia nanga, na lingui yo.
Elikia nanga, how wonderful is holding out hope in your hands to the goodness of life and drinking deep in the well of optimistic comfort? You my child are the embodiment of that hope, both aware of the challenges of trusting in a life that is structurally against the very essence of who you are - a black womxn - but also charging forth in hope that in leaning in (even with its difficulties) the universe filled with the breath of the ancestral women before you sighs. And it is that sigh of relief, that in spite of it all you would try and press in, because you have hope that their breath would carry you - and surely it will my honey. With all of that meandering, hiking, tumbling, strolling and falling of life, the universe will hold you in the same hope that you embody and you will flourish.
I didn't always have this hope, and even now that I have it - I don't always grasp it. Naive I am to think that something so ethereal and divine could be grasped by my mortal hands. The truth is, in spite of myself, God(s) and (t)H(i)er nurturing unfold this hope around me like thick lotion, covering my cracked ashiness and multiple folds. Sometimes, it is in my hand and I hold on to it tangibly - daily looking to it to strengthen my heart when it is weak, and often to renew me. Other times, the sky in my soul becomes overcast and I have to trust that, even without touching or feeling, I am covered by the victories of the universe made of the victories and hopes and prayers of black women that have gone before me, and when my time comes - before you.
In November 2017, I traveled to Norway to see the Northern Lights. This was something I had desired to do since I was a little girl, and I put it on my bucket list optimistic about the possibilities of seeing the rays of the sun dance in the night sky. I had only one night in Tromso, and the forecast was not hopeful that week. Furthermore, as you will learn when you're older, it was a very difficult time in my life. But there I was, standing heart wide open to behold with a 33% chance something I had dreamt of for many years. In the snowy cold of Northern Norway, I boarded a bus as a solo traveler (everyone else was in a couple) and listened as the guide said people had come and gone to Tromso without seeing the lights over the past week. But within minutes of our drive there was indication that luck, and the universe, was on our side. That night I stood by myself with my eyes wide with child-like wonder as I saw the Northern Lights dance across the sky - my breath disappeared and cried alone looking upwards while others held tightly onto those they loved. And in that moment, my heart was strong and full of hope. Despite the small odds, the laborious journey and the lonesome travel, the sky opened up for me by way of promise:
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
Paul Coelho, The Alchemist
I didn't always believe this, but it has been in this challenging season of sitting with my things and unpacking the texture of my joys, pains, hurts and healings that I have come to believe that it is hope embodied in our selves, and trust in ourselves, and love for ourselves that are the truest expression of the universe conspiring and sometimes we just have to stop and listen to ourselves. Listen to the parts of us that are yearning and give name to those things, and submit them in faith to the knowledge and wisdom of those who have come before us. We must at once acknowledge our frailty and be strengthened by the truth that it is not unique to feel pain and hurt. We must at once acknowledge our hopes and aspirations and at once sees these as the outworkings of our selves in tandem with all that breathes and lives around us - the humans, the leaves, the trees.
And when we have done all we can to thrive in spite of ourselves, we must stop and rest in this relational conspiracy that despite the odds we will make it, and we will make it well. This heart exercise can hold our minds and spirits, as it should, because your heart truly is the well-spring of life my honey. Strengthen your heart by embodying for yourself a hope (and action) for all things good. Even when the odds are not in your favour, and you get on the bus, and your drive out into the snow, trust that the lights will shine for you because you've stood up and shown up for yourself. And commit to, at the end of your life, releasing your breath and melding into the cosmic love of the universe that spent your life changing the structures for the next little brown girl child that will look to you for hope.
This and all of the goodness that is in you is the hope I believe will never fail.
Sometimes the things you are dance freely,
Light and feathery, like air.
They evoke the rhythmic yearning for life in lungs,
And mouths will suck you in with their praises.
Stop here, dig deep your feet in the words that they speak -
And be at peace with the shining.
Most times, the things you are are lead and weighty,
Sooted and shadowy, dark like some berries.
Here, you may find that it is you alone to drink.
To sit, to think. In this space,
Open your eyes though they may be weary, see yourself fiercely.
Grab the tassels of your tearing, be yourself gently.
All times, you are mosaic - a melange of light and shadow.
Fleeting to the gaze that seeks to fixate: you, dark and light.
You may escape the archetypal story, though you may be many colliding at once.
Stories of me, and the women before - of the men during and after.
Shapely narratives of victory and defeat, made up of you, made up of we.
Here, dare to know and un-know, to breathe.
Dare to speak and un-speak.
To see and un-see, as to be seen and unseen.
Take fiercely the shadow as you do the light.
And unfold crinkled into the art that is love.
A poem for Elikia.
(For maximum emotional effect, play music video while reading)
My Keeks, as I write this your father is desperately attempting to put you to bed. I'm sitting in the lounge with a glass of wine, listening to him belly-laughing as you babble about - he cannot contain his absolute love for you. It swells my heart to hear you make him laugh, and to be able to share those moments with both of you - even if from another room.
I probably won't be the first to tell you this, but that experience is one of love - complex and indulgent, painful and liberating, soothing and wrecking. Love.
Love is so hard. One thing I have learned and continue to learn laboriously is that the substance of love does not come easy to me, with all of the hurt that I carry from the past. I am at once stubborn, unforgiving and overly certain. Within a moment, love in its purest form (without all of the window dressing) ruins me - brings me to my most basic childhood tendencies and forces me to relent into the entirety of my interrelatedness.
The love from your father, your grandmother, your grandfather, your (biological and adopted) aunts, and you do all of these things for me, and despite hating the parts of love that are grating - I would be 100% id without it, responding to my most basic instincts for survival.
I want you to know that when I speak of being strong, I do not speak about carrying it all on your own or having all of the answers. Trust me when I say, those who know it all do not know humanity and its complexities. Rather, in holding yourself gently and humbly, I want you to realize your humanity, your ability to be wrong, your ability to be weak, and your ability to need support - love. I emphasize ability here because it is a choice that you have the power to make - a choice you have to give love, and also to receive it.
The narrative of the strong black woman bearing the brunt of humanities evil is overrated for its inability to recognize that no one should have to carry the obligation to epitomize love & selfnessness without making that choice. It is a choice to love, but you will find that as a woman (especially a black one), it will be easier to give love than to receive it. And for this I implore you to open your heart - into the mess that is human love, the condition of mxn in its purest form.
I implore you not because I have the answers or because I believe it to be easy, but I do believe true love has the power to hold and heal you - because it is for better and for worse. It is a decision you make to give, but also to receive: the gift of acceptance with all of your beautiful scars (some which will be inflicted by the people who love you the most in this world, like your dad and I).
As you hold others gently in this world, giving grace and love to others - also remember that we, too, are here with a choir of lovers, holding you up and holding you high with our love. Always.
For this post, there were a number of catchy titles that roamed through my head. Some included
'On pulling up your clan' or 'On the type of woman you should be' (too prescriptive). What I want to capture for you, during 'Women's Month' in South Africa* is that you have options on who you can be, and I have dreams of who I'd like you to choose to be - regardless of whether there is a month in a year to celebrate that. You did not choose your genitalia, and even if I try hard to moderate it, you may not choose your gender straight away - but in the interim, I'd like to share with you a woman's manifesto - a set of principles and aspirational reflections that I hope will counter the Cosmo narrative that is headlined by things such as '30 Things All Women Should Do/Stop Doing/Have Tried/Must Know by 30'. It is A Woman's Manifesto, because it is my manifesto and not anyone else's, it is meant to be a guide and not a biblical text and I hope it presents to you options of the woman you can be, if you so choose. And if you do not choose this, then all that matters to me is that you have choice.
A WOMAN'S MANIFESTO
To venture boldly and unashamedly into all of the different parts of self,
including mind, body, soul, spirit, and sexuality.
To be at peace with all of the tensions, contradictions and syntheses that make one whole.
To choose to whom one must reveal themselves, unafraid to be bare when it feels safe.
To choose from whom to hide oneself, recognizing that all eyes see, but not all eyes see truthfully.
To say yes, when yes is meant.
To say no, even when it disappoints.
To be selfish with your self-preservation, recognizing that the world prioritizes the preservation of some - and that sometimes you must fight just to be.
To choose the channels you switch to, aware that watching comedy series on TV and drinking wine can be as important for your truth as fighting on the front lines for liberation.
To be angry when you are angry.
To be sad when you are sad.
To be delirious with joy bellowing from the deep crevices of your lower belly, unapologetically happy.
To not make yourself small for love because true love will allow you to be the fullest version of yourself.
To hold your heart gently as you do those of others.
To defy the mantle of 'strong womanhood', choosing instead just to be - woman.
To choose and have the power to exercise that choice.
To nurture the earth as it nurtures you.
To stand for justice, even at the price of calm.
To recognize that calm & peace are different, and peace can be disruptive when it is based on your truth.
To be humble where it is informed by your truth.
To be heard as much as you hear.
And, to rest - recognizing that you too are just flesh & bones: human.
*It's bizarre that there is only a month for women, black history and just real people. The canon is dangerous this way, it gives away 'special times' for garnering recognition of the crises at hand, without drastically changing the nature of violence people experience in the other 11 months of the year. Be weary of this. Inasmuch as it is important, it is window dressing for larger structures that need dismantling. This can only be done by those of us experiencing violence saying enough.
I learned too late that rage was a necessary response in life, not only for its quality but also for its impact on my survival. Despite the church narratives of 'righteous anger' captured by Jesus throwing up the tables of those selling goods in his father's house, rage remained elusive to me because it was validated by said righteousness. What determined whose rage was righteous? How could I know that my rage was righteous? And what would I do with my rage that was unrighteous?
Night after night, I would ruminate on my anger - at the state of the world, the killing of black people, the impact of colonization, the rape of women and children and many other woes that befell the world. I felt personally responsible for this, not because I believed I was the answer, but because I believed that these things were not just about people 'out there' in the world. They were about me, my family, my community, my country, my continent, my people. But the terms of righteousness felt illusive - that I could not feel rage for these things as intimately linked to my blackness, my womanness, my selfness.
Until June 2017, when my frustrations culminated into a voice that was unapologetically linked to my blackness, my womanness and my selfness. And the thing that got me there was my fatigue. My tiredness at being nice, relatable or articulate. The burden of representation was too heavy on my shoulders. While sitting in a room of people, talking about their experience of inequality as a moment that they stumbled upon as a matter of interest, I lost it. And by it, I mean the thin veneer of the relatable, magnanimous black woman that I was raised to be.* Inequality and my awareness of it have been my whole life, in different spaces I have been acutely aware of my relative privilege and relative disadvantage. That this is not the experience of others, is not something that I lament. But that this experience of mine, and that of many other people of colour (and women in particular), is lost in the narrative of good intentions is tiring.
I do not want the world I leave you to be a world where you have to be the only reference point for the black feminine experience, and I especially do not want you to wait until you turn 29 to recognize how exhausting that is and break into rage. If anything, I want you to rage against the dying of the light. Here the light is you. You embody the light you contribute to the world, you determine its scope and its limits and your rage to survive the physical and structural violence that it comes with is yours to shape.
Your rage keeps you alive - and you can determine if it is righteous by the following parameters:
'We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist'
- Robert Jones
So here lies the path before you and me, dear Kiki. Our contribution to the world is our truth. I hope that our truths would be different because the nature of my truth is difficult and it is not a truth I would wish on anyone. My truth is that my name is Masana Mulaudzi Ndinga-Kanga, born to a Doctor and a Geologist in a country facing the roots of its evil hatred about me and my kind. I grew up in a middle-class home on mines, made possible by the grit and sacrifice of my parents - themselves caught in a vicious and brutal cycle of black love. I was raised speaking English, which bode well for my paternal grandparents, themselves tainted by the colonial agenda (necessary for survival), but which meant that I have never had a real conversation with my maternal grandmother - ever. I am a survivor of three instances of sexual abuse, but the scares of these affect the very core of my sexual, emotional and physical health. I am a chronic over-achiever and I am struggling to just be. But more than that, at my core - I am a woman. Like Sojourner Truth asked, I have answered for myself that I am a woman, a black woman and I am a mother to a black daughter, who too will be a black woman.
To guarantee that history does not repeat itself I must rage for this truth, because it is mine to own, and to contribute to the narrative that ensures you get to determine yours freely. And my hope that my new found mantra of angry black woman would carve out a space in your self, your home, your community, your country, your continent, your world and your self to choose whether or not you want to be angry.
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
* This is a common experience amongst black folk, and black women in particular - where your survival in the world is contingent on the degree to which you make people feel comfortable. Even if their comfortability comes at the expense of your very truth and very life.
Elikia nanga, na lingui yo.
Kiki you probably don't know this, and I would have probably told your two year old self some version of this story - but when I read your name for the first time, I knew it was yours. It felt like a gift from above that you would be called hope. Indeed, you were and are my hope for not only myself, but the world - that it would be open, and accepting and embracing of your entire being, wrapping you in light and filling you with joy.
The year before you were born, I decided to commemorate these reflections by tattooing the saying 'Elikia ne decoit jamais' onto my arm, as a way to say that the hope and light that you embodied would never fail. It was my first tattoo and it seemed beyond fitting that I get it in 2014, as a way to hold onto the verse in Romans 5:5 - because hope never disappoints us, it is only made possible by unconditional love. This is the love that has carried me through, even at my darkest moments, where it felt like there was no way out and despair hung heavy around my neck like an anchor throwing me into the darkness. At the time, I had no idea that a year later on the same day, I would be holding you in my arms, confronting my own strength and fragility. The truth is that at any given moment I am both incredibly strong and bizarrely fragile as a mother to you, existing on both ends of the spectrum simultaneously.
This is why I write this blog for you. To share with you not only my love (and crazy obsession) for you, but also the things I've learned and have struggled to learn. To share with you the things I know and un-know concurrently. To share my experience of the world in ways that are complex, painful, joyous, infuriating, liberating, scary, edifying and meaningful in life. My deepest hope is that my ceiling would be your floor, that you would continue in the lineage of strong-willed matriarchs that have carried our family and that you would find some refuge in my words.
I hope more that when they finally mean something to you, that they would be outdated - that the world would embrace the beauty of your blackness, the ferocity of your femininity (in whatever form), and the complexity of your intersectionality. My desire for you to is to push the boundaries wherever you find yourself, and to be at peace with your difference and aware of your sameness - and for you to embrace yourself in ways that the world may despise.
I do not know much Elikia, but what I do know is Na Lingui Yo... always, fully, and fearlessly.