I would like to use an analogy of which I am aware how complex and emotionally charged it is, with the risk of being misunderstood. My hope is that you will see in it, the desire to resolve those struggles within the black family which can no longer be left unsaid. Furthermore I hope it will also answer some of the critiques of the previous essays by Mandisi Gladile and Ndumiso Mdayi kaGaba as well as also pay homage to Siphokuhle Mathe.
My critic of black men comes from a love of my brothers and fathers, and a belief in our potential and capacity to be empathetic as well as a wish that we would take our place as leaders in confronting that ever toxic patriarchy.
So here we go:
This is a simple recount of a particular day I went down to MTN taxi rank to catch a taxi just like most black people who have to use public transport to commute back and forth to work. I stood in line with everybody else as we waited for our transport. It arrived and we began to get on.
The taxi driver, on this particular day, started shouting at two women who were carrying bags and holding their children. He instructed them to move from the four front seats and that he does not want any luggage there. He said they must sit at the back. It seemed like he kept that space in front immaculately clean. As fellow passengers we helped them put their bags under the seats at the back and even carried their children as they boarded.
Please note that this is not a bash against taxi drivers, nor do think any less of them than any other black person. They provide a valuable service to many of us who are without cars and would otherwise be stranded.
Now it’s common practice that those four front seats be reserved for commuters with luggage and women with children. But on this day he did not want any of it, he refused them the comfort they pay for without explanation.
He had different rules in his taxi and we were all finding out about them in real time.
But we all know that when on those rare moments one encounters a less than friendly driver, it usually means it will be a very long and hard drive. All of us in the taxi looked at each other with that knowing look of solidarity. We were aware that we need to be extra polite and careful in how we show respect to him because what he says goes and we might be in danger of not going anywhere if he so desires.
His responses to simple questions like “How much is the taxi fare?” or “Can you please show me Engine garage next to Oxford road” were all sharp and dismissive. We were asked “why did you get on the taxi if you don’t know how much it is?” and “I am not going that way, I am not a delivery man”.
We were at that moment under his mercy. And that if one of us was to stand up against him, all of us would pay the consequence. We kept our silence for the sake of peace.
Ofcourse it might have been that he had a rough day before coming to work, or he was going through some things in his life. Who knows! He could possibly be the kindest person on other days and we unfortunately encountered him on one of those days where being black wears you down more than most days.
The point however is that we were captives to his mood. And no matter how beat up that taxi was, and even though it might have been just a taxi and not corporate South Africa, it belonged to him. We were all forced to carry his burden: his anger and his frustration at the world.
In that space he was the owner, judge and executioner, the rule of law. We were all just passengers under him with no powers to resist, especially if we all wanted to get to our jobs where the White man will put us under another form of oppression.
And so yes, the black man might not own vast hectares of land nor does he have economic freedom in this lifetime, but the little crumbs that he has; that taxi, the freezing shack or even a 3 bedroom house, belongs to him: all that is inside that small piece of property, and those who live in it. They are all a consolation prize for his struggles and fragments of the riches that a white-supremacist society has taken from him.
In his house he can be the man that he is denied to be by the world. Out there he is a boy, but in here he is A Man. Here he has dominion, and he makes sure everyone knows it if they don’t already feel it. His mood, his anger, his feelings are all that matters and nobody else.
I am also aware that there are fathers and black men who have a capacity to feel and do make it a point to show it, especially to their children, wives and family, but by and large that is a rare minority. Besides we all know that this is if and only if a man decides he wants it to be that way. It all depends on him and the rest must deal with what he dishes out.
Most people have to deal with whatever the man decides for it to be in their households. Whether he is just or cruel, it all depends on him. Women might talk the most but the man’s word is final.
If as black men we were to decide to feel we would realise that black women and our children are in the same boat as us, they are riding the same taxi that we are driving. That we are better off allowing them to help us carry that heavy burden of living as a black man in a white-supremacist society than closing ourselves up and being hard to the world.
One can be oppressed out there by the world and then come home to oppress those under him. And the violence in private life stems from an inability to deal in a healthy manner the way white-supremacy has emasculated black men.
And so since the white man owns everything else, the only thing the black men feels he can own is the black woman. His control of her, whether by physical abuse or money, is threatened by her independence, her freedom from his grip causes him to go through an existential crisis. What kind of man is he if he can’t control his woman?
If black men decided to feel, we would be closer to the revolution than where we are now.