“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
“I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.” Frederick Douglass
The rise of feminist thought in our spaces has made conversations on gender and sexuality important and worth having, despite the nonperformance on the side of many other black women to merge the politics of their blackness with that of their womanhood. For instance, should gender and race be afforded the same agency, as per intersectionality, or race before gender, while recognising the two as individual parts of the same complex? In this piece, however, I want to discuss the idea of manhood not only within the context of blackness but also attempt to provide an African epistemic understanding of the subject.
In black communities, for example, when a man is not working and happens to be in a relationship with a woman who is, and she begins making means to look after herself and him; when there is conflict, the woman would harshly remind the man of how she had humanised or made him umntu (a person). The above quoted text is therefore translatable to: “I civilised you.” I have elected to use this exclamation to illustrate how black manhood has as its base the total humanity of the African; while arguing that the current state in which he finds himself implicates negatively on our idea of manhood. Furthermore, to understand hallowed feminist synthetic terms such as toxic masculinity, the right questions should be asked: 1) what is masculinity? 2) is it inherently toxic? 3) if not, what has made it so?
Manhood is generally defined as the state or period of being a man, whereas a man is an adult human male. However, I here wish to provide a more closer-to-home connotation, using as a point of reference the initiation of boys to becoming men in varied African cultures. The boys, even after initiation is complete, they are not regarded as men, until they have a wife, children and property. Until then, they are abafana (young men); not amadoda (men). In this regard, manhood is clearly defined as a parallel to womanhood. In some communities, men without wives, are not considered as people worth listening to. Manhood, as stated in the opening sentence, is that period of being a man, moreover, when one is thought to be old enough to marry, have children and property.
The fact of blackness
Frantz Fanon makes a description of the world as founded upon value systems that constantly exclude the African where “his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that he did not know and that imposed itself on him.” The African therefore threads on as undesirable and repugnant; and barred from a living as a human being, because he is materially excluded from the category Human. As mentioned in the second paragraph, the total humanity of the African implicates on black manhood. If the world does not regard the African as human, are black manhood and womanhood not then contradictory?
The existence of the African is overdetermined from without; and has lost the right that came as reason of their position within the universal idea of humanity. As Hegel wrote: “In Roman law […] no definition of man was possible, because it excluded the slave. The conception of man was destroyed by the fact of slavery.” The African as an repugnant and nonexistent being threads on as a slave and continues to be excluded in this temporal world, through political, economic and social means. These existential dilemmas of blackness affect both black men and women, and implicates on their collective humanness and personhood.
Analogously, womanhood, in the sense manhood was defined in the third paragraph, is that period where one is considered old to get married, have children and property. Otherwise, girls or young women are regarded as iintombi until such a time comes.
Ndumiso is a member of the Black Space. Read more about his blog here.