By: Ndumiso Mdayi kaGaba
“To live sober is to die countless times!” – Veena Malik
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.” – James Baldwin
On Monday, Mandisi Gladile submitted his response to Nkateko Mabasa’s twoarticles, a pair that foregrounded the supposed ‘standoff’ existing between the black man and black woman – an affair characterised mainly by the former’s domination and subordination of the latter. In this piece, however, I want to pose a challenge to popular feminist discourses. I wish to unpack how feminist theories are not enough to account for the whole black male experience and inter-subjective relations between black men and women, bounded in Blackness – a perpetual state of outsideness.
As I began engaging Mabasa’s first article, I immediately thought about Busisiwe Deyi’s piece on redefining black masculinity, published in Frank Talk (2013). In the said piece, Deyi, a trans-feminist, draws theoretical relations between Black Consciousness and feminism, in understanding and resolving contradictions surrounding gender and violence in the black community. I therefore want to put Mabasa’s thought against Deyi’s, to bring forth the latter’s poor ideological grasp of Blackness (as a reality acted upon from outside, one that is imposed) and how this consequently translates into inter-subjective relations between black people themselves.
Steve Biko’s idea of Black Consciousness conceives the collective mind of the oppressed as an integral part to them attaining their emancipation. Before the gender question could be resolved, Deyi advises that “one has to first understand the psychosexual and political structures that have been created by the history of oppression in South Africa […] and what that means for the psychological development of the black man in contemporary South Africa.” On the other hand, instead, Mabasa suggests there is an imagined “terror” existing within the black man about the black woman and does not spare a thought to assert, without regard to South Africa’s history of oppression and how those patterns of subjectivity are imbedded in stable structures, that the black man “fears [the black woman’s] liberation because in his concept of reality this will be the death of him.”
Mabasa, in his verbose biography at the end of each article, spews rhetoric about looking forward “to the upcoming revolution and the demise of the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal society.” Which revolution is this, when he and those like him fail to understand the complex of the aforementioned systems and relations of each to the other, in creating out of black people, in the case of this entire writing, a people who are not people? The other aspect of the complex, to which he has probably not given attention, is epistemic. Western modern scholars continue to document the colonised peoples of countries outside Anglo-America, as meek non-communicators, with no questions of their own about themselves, the spaces they occupy and the relations of each to the other.
The above results in the colonised, visible in Mabasa’s logic, using methods that are conceptualised out of their experiences and reality, to solve problems that are an upshot of the same reality and experiences. I here want to bring to the fore the idea of manhood, empirically conceived in most African traditions. As a point of reference, in Xhosa communities, even when the initiation of boys into being men is complete, the boys are not regarded as men until they each have a wife, children and property. This draws to attention how analogous to each other black manhood and womanhood are. The bogus assertions Mabasa makes about black women being subordinate to black men in African communities, is unfounded. Black manhood and womanhood were always meant to complement each other, and not one being the demise of the other. The claim that the black man imagines the black woman’s liberation as his death, is ludicrous. Mabasa needs to sober up.
If then, in African societies, black manhood was/is defined analogously to black womanhood and the stability of the companionship measured according to how they would use their marriage to produce healthy children and own property or produce wealth, does the oppression of both black men and women, brought upon by colonialism and slavery, not then disrupt such important history and morph it into a situation of broken relations, where inter-subjective violence is a possibility? I think we have taken lightly the dispossession of Africans of their land and the effects it has on relations between the same; as well as how it changes their worldview since their “customs and the sources on which they were based were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that [they] did not know and that imposed itself on [them]” (Fanon, 1952). What does an African’s manhood or womanhood mean if there is no healthy companionship, children and property to own and from which to produce wealth to sustain coming generations?
As mentioned in the first paragraph, I here wanted to problematize bourgeois feminist discourses in their theorisation of the black men. The same are not enough to account for the whole black male experience, because they are conceptualised around the lived experiences of females/women, where the black man is but an other, a feared abuser, who has failed dismally to honour his companionship with the black woman. As black men, we owe it to ourselves to look into our own subjectivity and how we continue to live in a world where black manhood is contradictory. We should not wholly depend on popular feminist discourses to make sense of our own manhood in relation to black women, lest we end up like the likes of Mabasa who are sorry for being black men, without a grasp of understanding of the situation in which they find themselves, in the greater scheme of things.
On Tuesday, Siphokuhle Mathe submitted his response to Mandisi Gladile. I stopped reading when he made the following accusation against Gladile: “In furtherance of [a] sly centralisation of white supremacy in a gender relations conversation, [Gladile] then postulates that black men are “fundamentally structured as non-men”. It is from this that one can deduce that Gladile’s mission is to misplace the agency and accountability of black men in the setting of our own meted dominance.” Mathe’s accusation here has no basis. Blackness over-determines our experiences, since we thread on marked by historical and well-established dispossession and dehumanisation, as a collective of Africans, man or woman. Being a black woman or man is to live without that context of Blackness as a woman or man. Notwithstanding, inter-subjective violence within the race needs to be continuously problematized, but without dissolving the fundamental contraction qua white supremacy, since blackness does not exist on its own but analogously to whiteness.
Ndumiso Mbira Mdayi is member of Black Space and PASMA Setsheho Matlabe Branch, in Bloemfontein (kha Bloemo, tau.) Twitter: @mbira_tafari and @1BlackSpace