#FeesMustFall – on the importance of diasporic solidarity

When #MikeBrown was murdered in Ferguson by a white pig by the name of Darren Wilson, I was studying abroad at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The news broke and I didn’t what to do with myself. I considered organizing with fellow students because I felt so alone, so hopeless. But even though the students around me weren’t discussing it, if I had gone to twitter I would have seen over a million tweets from all over the world, including South Africa. But there was little to no international footage on the few channels I got in my apartment.

I was a Black American living in a country with some of the worst white people you will meet, attending a prestigious, historically white university, and I just wanted to march in the streets with my friends and family. What was going on in Ferguson was disgusting. And then seeing the photos of how the police brutalized folks in Berkeley and Oakland broke my heart in a very personal way. I knew that being out there meant potential arrest, teargas, and fractured bones in this Black body of mine. I knew that even if I was home in Oakland, I might not have marched for fear that my mom might get a call in the middle of the night saying that something had happened to her son. But even if I didn’t march, I just wanted to be home. So I was there. In Cape Town. Isolated. I had a twitter account but I wasn’t active during that time and even my Black American friends at the university weren’t talking much about Ferguson. I had this burning desire to be back in the country where my blackness was so reviled just so I could be with my people. All the while living in a country where my blackness was equally reviled, but at least I was surrounded by people who looked like me.

Needless to say, I needed to talk. But I also knew that talking wouldn’t bring Mike Brown or anyone else back. Even the notion of organizing a march or protest in South Africa felt useless.

Looking back, I don’t know if I would have done anything different now, except for go onto Twitter. It took days for Ferguson to truly reach the news and even Facebook, but twitter covered it as it happened.

What I do know, though, is that I’m happy to stand with the #NationalShutdown, to stand with #FeesMustFall, to stand with #EndOutsourcing. Not just because I felt so alone during Ferguson—felt is key here, as I definitely wasn’t alone, I just didn’t know the proper channels at the time—, but because white South Africa has deprived Black South Africans of food, shelter, and education for too long. The ANC devolved from a revolutionary organization to a money-hungry political party that has aided in the deprivation of Black South Africa. All Black lives matter, not just those who have been murdered, not just those in Western countries, and definitely not just those with the rand or dollars who can afford a formal education.

Education is a right, not a privilege.

Educational opportunities should not be decided by the color line.

Educational opportunities should be be decided by class.

Educational opportunities and white surpemacy should be go hand in hand.

If white South Africa truly wants transformation (spoiler alert: they don’t), then they need to listen to the voices of those who have been historically marginalized: Poor. Black. People. Poor. Colored. People. Poor Indian people. Poor immigrants. Does the white devil and the Black ruling party think xenophobia sprung up out of nowhere? No, it’s the result of capitalistic white supremacy that the ANC once fought against.

Europeans created artificial borders, competition for low-paying jobs, and conditions that drive people out of their homes into a new unwelcoming country due to globalization and capitalism. Why do Black folks themselves now uphold and extend these systems?

I write all this to say that the women leading #FeesMustFall are right: we must strive for free education for all. A 6% cap in fees is not enough of a “compromise.” To create a more equitable South Africa, a South Africa that adheres more closely to the Freedom Charter, access to quality educational opportunities is one of the best ways paths.

Moving from personal to political–although these are intertwined–I’d like to speak to those on the ground. To those who are at home for fear of deportation, out in the streets fending off rubber bullets and tear gas, and to the mothers who worry about their children: thank you for everything you are doing. Even if these are just words I type that only one person sees, I’ve helped somebody. I’ve made somebody feel less alone. During Ferguson I clung to the articles I read, the Facebook posts that brought tears to my eyes, the firsthand accounts of my friends. If their words helped me–and I say this with the utmost spirit of service and humbleness–I hope my words can help you. Thank you, South Africa, for your support of Black America. I hope we can help you further.

Amandla!

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#AntinAfrica – Black Panic

“Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

Strange Fruit

I honestly feel so insignificant and powerless. Not in the sense I have been feeling here in South Africa when I look at the structural problems that have led to the creation and the maintenance of the townships. But on a very different level. Viewing what I have in South Africa is one thing, but seeing what is going on in my country is quite different. With the Darren Wilson verdict I feel so…at a loss. I’m not here to go into an analysis of what is going on, as many articles do that very well, but I am here to share my feelings. This morning Melissa asked me if I had heard the verdict, which I hadn’t, just like her. But she looked it up and we had a very normal conversation about how Darren Wilson was not indicted. I did not feel the fire burn inside me or feel my eyes well up. I didn’t talk about how fucked up this whole thing it. It didn’t hit me until a few hours later when I went on Facebook and looked at my feed that:

1. I was not surprised.

2. I was in shock.

While I’ve been here in South Africa I have gone through a lot of emotions and tons of introspection.  But this morning I just accepted what my friend said to me without any outrage, without any Black rage. I accepted it, and it wasn’t until I saw there cries of others in the world that I really realized how sad it was that I felt so unaffected this morning. But it wasn’t that I did not care. I was truly in shock. Not the diagnosable shock that someone may experience after a traumatic event, but a more subdued kind. I have become so accustomed to this system and I am so far removed—being physically out of the country—that the news this morning did not hit me in a way I expected it to. But the more I stewed, the more I realized that I need to work. The more the photos of Darren Wilson showed the utter injustice of what happened to Michael Brown, the more I realized that we really need to figure out how to fix this shit. The more I got mad at the Facebook statuses that chastised people for their anger in light of other news events, the more I thought that I need to figure out how I’m going to change this fucked up system.

I’m no fool, changing my profile photo and my cover photo are not doing anything to change the system. I’m quite aware of that. Reading Biko—which is what I came home to do instead of going to the used book store like originally planned—is useful for my thesis and for brainstorming but not for practical solutions. But at the same time, it is frustrating to read the dismissals of this lack of an indictment. I see people, particularly some of my fellow Black people, thinking unilaterally. I do not sit well with people telling each other to be silent and be quiet when outrage is a natural reaction to this bullshit. I’m a 25-year-old Black male, and the sad thing is that that is an accomplishment in itself. Making it to 25. Alive. What the fuck kind of world do we live in where making it to 25 is something to be celebrated for people of color? For anyone? This is something that my White friends do not have to think about because their lives are rarely threatened in the ways that mine, my brothers, my sisters, and all of those in-between have been threatened. Outrage over Darren Wilson does not mean that we are ignoring Black-on-Black crime, LGBTQI-targeted crime, gender-based violence, or any of the other atrocities of the world. But can’t we have this one day, at-fucking-least, to discuss how the system is jacked up? This one day to reflect on how there is a PATTERN in the murder of young people of color by White police officers? We can be mad about this and be mad about gang violence within our own communities. It is not an either/or situation. But at the end of the day, if those who are meant to protect and serve us are those killing us, doesn’t that trump everything else? If you want to talk about rape or murder within our own communities but the cops we call to handle the situation ignore our calls or are so militarized that we are afraid to call them, what is the next step?

So, back to the work. I’m really not sure what is next. Truly unsure and properly frustrated by this sense. But let me tell you, I’ve been reading “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodsoon and the parallels are terrifying. I won’t go so far as to say “ain’t shit changed,” but I will say that there has not been enough change. Period. If you choose to ignore the everyday interactions and laws, you can at least choose to look at the statistics and the science that show us that people do not believe that #BlackLivesMatter. I’m on a track to get my PhD in Sociology because I want to teach, I enjoy sociology, I am interested in research, there are not enough people of color in academia, there is the potential of power that a doctorate can lend me in making change, and ultimately because I think I can inspire small changes in the people I teach that will have a ripple effect. But until I’m teaching formally, I will continue to educate informally. My friends, my coworkers, people I meet. I want to make people realize the reality of our situation that is much more than just this case. But outside of these small acts of education and resistance, I’m not sure what to do. The protests in Ferguson have definitely raised the consciousness of some, but looking at this final verdict? I can’t help but wonder how I really make a change as one person, or even as a collective unit. Until then I will do what I do in academia, write—so that others can see through the eyes of another and so that I can sort out my own feelings—, and create art that hopefully awakens people to issues that may be new to them. If you have any suggestions for what else I can do, let me know. Seriously. While my PhD track is pretty set—meaning I do plan on working within the system—, I am really looking for ways in which I can DO more instead of theorizing about it. Because at this point I am at a loss and I am so disappointed that all of this has happened and that none of it is shocking. For my friends who are reading this who may not be people of color, please be an ally. Don’t be complicit in the slaughter and mistreatment of people of color, of anyone.

Just remember that the jury found no probable cause to indict Darren Wilson. No probable cause. Buckets of money and support for Darren Wilson. No trial. No probable cause. No probable cause.

#AntinAfrica – Why I failed to delete my Facebook

“It is as if facebook has this stranglehold on me and many of my friends, but why do I really go on it?”

–Myself, May 22nd, 2011, “The Social Stranglehold”

*Be warned, y’all, this shit is long and you may just want to skim and read the quotes, beginning, bolded sections and the end. I wrote it to explain the situation to people who had asked, and it got kind-of-a-little-just-a-tad out of hand

Aiight, so here’s the thing. I feel like I am damned if I do, and damned if I don’t and I’m stuck in the middle confused. The above quote is from an entry I wrote on this blog over 3 years ago, talking about the first time I deactivated my Facebook profile and the way it changed my outlook on my social media addiction. The feeling of deactivating it and the way I my use greatly declined afterward was surprising and delightful. But given my recent attempt to delete my Facebook profile, I wanted to write about the reasons I still want to delete it and also the sad reality that I’m not sure if I can. Lots of people have asked me why, and it is really hard to put into a few sentences because I’m dramatic, because it truly is multifaceted. The pros and cons (in no particular order) I have listed below may resonate with you, but they are all my personal, honest experience as to why Facebook makes me feel like it is eating away at my soul.

Cons:

  1. Continual Facebook use can purportedly lead to addiction because of the endorphins release. [Source]
  2. Facebook has been proven in multiple studies to make people depressed, sad or frustrated. Outside of the studies–I’m not sure of their methodology or their theoretical soundness–, I have noticed I often don’t feel good about using Facebook. I’ll break this up a bit below. [Source]
  3. Social norms and customs of Facebook have had a negative impact on me. Unfriending someone or being unfriended often transforms from a mountain into a molehill. The movie “Easy A” captures it well with this line: “Roman is having an okay day and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof.” Sometimes I read statuses that I just don’t care about. On the one hand, I am entitled to not care and to scroll on past that. On the other hand, if I consistently don’t care about what you are posting or feel like we cannot engage in a health debate, why I am I still “friends” with you on Facebook? Facebook shows a side of people that I do not always need to see. It sometimes shatters the illusion you have of people or even creates a new one. Yet social norms and human behavior often make it difficult to delete someone in your social network. People take it personally, myself included, but the truth is that I can like you as a person but dislike your social media presence. So instead, I have taken to “hiding” a few people from my timeline because the I did not like having negative responses to harmless posts. But if you’re my Facebook friend, that last comment may have even had you asking ‘Am I on that list?’ My intention is not to create that paranoia, but just to state the way in which I work on this platform to maintain my sanity. These norms even apply to people’s birthdays. I often feel bad (and I might be the only one) if I write “Happy Birthday” on one person’s wall if it is also three other people’s birthdays. Instead I try to message or text them, but that is not always possible.
  4. Tied to the previous reason, Facebook breeds negativity in me by way of comparison and jealousy. I look at a friend who just booked a commercial gig, or who did something craaaazy and amazing here in Cape Town. Now, ordinarily, these are instances where I would be purely happy for the person. But seeing a flood of them on my Facebook can occasionally lead to envy and jealously, but more often lead to comparisons. Generally my congratulatory feelings for my network outweigh any negative feelings, as I am truly  happy that my friends are succeeding. In fact, I’m impressed that I have people in my network with their doctorate, on TV, published in books, empowering Black and queer youth, etc. But the comparisons are where it gets tricky. For example, I’m 25 and still finishing my undergrad. Despite the fact that I am still young, it took me some time to actually accept that this path was right for me and that the socially prescribed path is right for others. But it doesn’t help the pangs of “I should be there” when I see friends completing their Master’s degrees as I complete my Bachelor’s. I am–we are–constantly comparing ourselves to each other and a little friendly competition is good, but comparisons breed negativity that I’m just not a fan of.
  5. I had over 1,100 friends, up from the 500 I had in 2011. Now, why is this an issue? Believe it or not, I’m a private person. I’m also an open person, so I like sharing some of my opinions and thoughts with people, particularly in person. But Facebook can feel so impersonal and nosey sometimes. I just want to say “get out my business,” because even if I don’t post something, sometimes someone else will tag you in something.  Sometimes I want to share a funny photo with everyone, but other times I want information to only be for a select few. I’m glad that people get to live vicariously through me and my study abroad experience via Facebook. But at the same time I don’t like my experience being trivialized to the photos of cool events without people also realizing the work it took to get here, the work it is taking to continue to be here, and the emotional labour of being here in South Africa only 20 years after apartheid. Yet I don’t plan on posting “shit’s hard out here”  because I don’t want a pat on the back or sympathy, I just want people to know it isn’t all sunshine and dandelions.  And since my decision not to delete my FB, I have slowly started to go through my friends and unfriend people who I do not actively engage with or have not actively engaged with for years. I’ve always been someone who knows a lot of people, and I enjoy that. But just because I know someone casually or because we went to high school together (but haven’t spoken since high school) does not mean we have to be friends on Facebook. And just because I am friends with you but not your best friend is not any indication that I dislike your friend, it just indicates that I am closer with your friend or do not mind sharing tons of personal information with them.
  6. I don’t like to shit where I eat. One of the reasons I have over 1,000 friends is the mixing of circles. Between my jobs, family, theatre, school(s), studying abroad, and everything in between, Facebook is often much easier than email or phone call.  But even if I never post anything, there is so much information about me available on Facebook that is shared between my various circles of friends, coworkers, and potential employers. In this way, my personal business is mixed with my work business. Actors, directors,  casting directors, tech, etc–who are also sometimes my friends, so the lines are blurred–are all mixed in with my regular friends. So then I post about my life and they get that. I post about acting and my friends get that. It is not so bad a thing, except when I am posting personal things that a casting director or a casual playwright friend may not need to know. Facebook does allow you to create lists that limit the posts available, but I do not want to always switch between those lists. Additionally, it feels weird to section and essentially alienate someone who is on my “friend’s list.” How do I discern what may be important to them, what may make an impact on them?
  7. Facebook is the norm, and if you are not on it you are weird or missing out, but Facebook allows for passive friendship. How often do you actually email a friend? In discussions with friends, many were saying how much a pain in the ass it can be to get in contact with friends who are not on Facebook. It is inconvenient because Facebook is the norm. Multiple people got mad at me because I was trying to delete my Facebook. One of the key reasons is that it passively allows us to participate in people’s lives. We do not have to make an effort to stay friends with others “because we are friends on Facebook.” In many ways, I would lose contact with a lot of people (is that necessarily a bad thing?) if I permanently deleted my Facebook because neither party would make the effort to actively keep in contact. I’d be that guy without Facebook who does not get invited to things because the invitation is only on Facebook and people forgot I didn’t have a Facebook. The fear of missing out is real, y’all.
  8. I don’t like being snooped on or snooping. As someone said yesterday in our discussion about the social network, “I like to know who is pregnant.” Facebook ‘stalking’ is normal, meaning that you become friends with someone and go through much of their information. But why is this normal? Often I have known something about someone because I saw them tagged in a picture, read a status, or something similar. But I’d much rather hear it from the person and it is weird that I know personal details about people from their Facebooks.
  9. Facebook is a show. It is so superficial in many cases. I’d much rather be messaged, emailed, called, or texted than have something written on my wall in many cases. If it is something for you and I to share, why not share it with me directly? There are definitely times that I want other people to see it, so the wall posts can be great. But if you’re writing “call me!” on my Facebook wall when both of our phones are working perfectly fine…why? This is only one aspect of FB being a show that I dislike, but I’m sure if you are reading this you are familiar with the other ways it is a show, like…
  10. Facebook changed my thinking, the way I share news. Recently I got a high mark on an assignment and thought ‘let me go post this on Facebook!’ What the fuck? When I didn’t have Facebook I didn’t go around telling everyone in a mass email or one-by-one that I got a high mark. Yet Facebook is where I sometimes want to share my news, while at the same time not wanting to share it with over 1000 people, many of whom do not care. And why do I want to do it? Partially because of that endorphin rush of likes, but also because I want to be publically recognized patted on the back. I want the attention, deep down inside, even if I do not on the surface. I want the approval and recognition (of a job well-done) that I should be fine in getting from myself and those in my inner circle.
  11. Facebook guilt-tripped me not to leave by saying “So-and-So will miss you.” This message was repeated with pictures of five of my Facebook friends when I scheduled deletion of my Facebook. It’s bullshit like this manipulation that makes me very wary of Facebook. They want to keep you because they want your information. They want your information because they can sell it to advertisers.
  12. Facebook is creepy. It once told me that a friend of mine had hiked a mountain, but when I asked her she had not “checked in” to said mountain. Additionally, the user owns their content, but Facebook has certain use rights over it. You can change the security and sharing settings on your Facebook, but it still retains your information on servers even if you delete your Facebook. So in many ways, Facebook owns your information forever [Source].
  13. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Thanks, senior year economics! In the age where few people will pay for an app on their phone, you have to be wary. We scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree,’ all the while obliviously using the service without acting knowing the terms of the service. Facebook isn’t free, we pay with our information. We are constantly datamined and the more information your put on Facebook, the more they like you. Facebook is worth so much money because it has figured out how to monetize offer a ‘free’ service and convince people that if they aren’t on it, they’re missing out.
  14. Eversilly policies and shady politics. You’re going to make drag queens change their drag name to their original name? Really Facebook? And then Zuckerburg is going to spout some bullshit about how having two identities indicates a lack of integrity? I’m pretty sure Facebook and all society media revolves around the idea of multiple identities, but correct me if I’m wrong. Additionally, messaging is a huge issue. If you want your message to be seen and it happens to someone you aren’t friends with, you can actually pay to have it seen. Or just know that it may never be seen. That’s great for spammers, but what if you don’t have someone’s email and you aren’t their friend? I’m not here for it [Source] [Source].
  15. Facebook is socially engineered. Facebook literally constructs who and what you see based on algorithms. Currently I see friends who share a lot of articles that I repost. Currently I see a lot of study abroad students because I’m here with them. Currently I see x, y, and z. But Facebook eliminated the option to chronologically see everything (do you even remember that?). (EDIT: They didn’t delete it, I was incorrect. It just defaults to the “Top Stories” option). Now I see something from 9 hours ago at the top of my feed, then yesterday, then 11 hours ago, and then 3 seconds ago. All to ensure that I am seeing “what I am interested in,” which is decided by Facebook. So then I purposely have to go to certain people’s pages to see what they are up to, as my feed won’t tell me. A good majority of people may not have even seen my status update about deleting my Facebook because we do not interact enough to warrant me showing up on their feed (or they hid my updates).
  16. ‘Necessary Evil.’ The idea that Facebook is necessary is gross. At a party I had a discussion with someone who I casually know who essentially say that I will eventually need Facebook, so it is kind of dumb to delete it. It rubbed me the wrong way, because do you really need Facebook? No you don’t, we are made to believe we do. At at the same time though, in many ways [the weight of the] cons of deleting your Facebook–which is different than if you have never been on Facebook, as it is not expected–outweigh the pros, for most people. Facebook is poisonous to me in some ways and I severely dislike the notion that without it I am committing social and career suicide.
  17. Habitual. I have been on Facebook for seven years, and much of the anxiety I felt leading up to the deletion of it was the result of losing something I am so used to. It feels weird and wrong to feel so attached to a fucking internet profile, you know? The idea that it is this thing that I cannot get rid of because for so long I’ve typed in google as one of the first websites on my browser? I really don’t like it.
  18. Facebook Messenger/Facebook Mobile bullshit. Who knows if they will really use the access to your camera and your microphone to spy on you? I don’t. What I do know, though, is that it is too close to being an invasion of privacy and I don’t like it. Sure we give many apps this access, but they have limited information about us. Facebook has a wealth of information, and more access is not what I want to give it.
  19. Procrastination destination #1. We all procrastinate a little bit, but we do it in different ways. I could be using my time in much better ways, yet sometimes–as I wrote in my 2011 blog entry–I waste time on Facebook without learning anything new, getting my work done, or generally being productive at all.
  20. I just spent over an hour writing a 3700 word essay about why I didn’t delete my Facebook. Girl, really? This issue is important to me, but sometimes I wish I didn’t care. Many of my issues on FB stem from the fact that I care too much about other people’s feelings, truthfully. Some of the issues stem from the fact that I care too much about what other people think of me. And finally, I think Facebook is going down a strange path and I’m not sure I want to be onboard when it arrives at its destination.

And finally, Hamm Sammich and Toni Morrison in the same breath:

“But if our existence is to be this tightly bound up in social networks, we should at least give ourselves the chance to agitate and improve them in our favor, since, at the end of the day, an arbitrarily enforced real-names policy is a scary prospect for everybody, not just those of us named after dildos and sandwiches. ”

Hamm Sammich, September 18th, 2014.

“Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

–Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon, 1977.

Facebook does weigh me down, but here is the positive that I saw before I deleted my Facebook and even more so after my failed attempt. By attempting to delete it, and failing utterly, the conversations that spawned were like going to my digital funeral without actually having to stay dead. I got to know what a select few people thought of it and it shed some light on the way Facebook can connect people and how differently everyone uses it.

Pros – Many are self-explanatory and so the descriptors are much shorter.

  1. Ease of use and communication . 9/10 people I meet have a Facebook. While everyone I meet has an email, Facebook is often the default and makes people feel comfortable.
  2. Platform to voice my opinions/views.
  3. A tool to network, get jobs, scholarships, and strengthen friendships. I have actually been approached for acting jobs through Facebook about as much as I have through email. In fact, I first saw the posting about BrickaBrack needing an Assistant Director on Facebook, followed up on Facebook, and eventually got the job and became a company member.
  4. Friendly competition by way of those pesky comparisons.
  5. ‘Free’ service that asks as an image/video host, blog, and soapbox.
  6. Amazing well of articles/thoughts from likeminded and contrary friends that can spur intellectual debates. Kyle, Nicolette, JC, Mandisa, Mlondi, Micah, and many more of my friends share great articles. In a lot of ways, Facebook is a filtered news source. It can be a little bubble, but it is nice to have.
  7. Ability to reach a wide audience with spamming them through mass emails.
  8. Casting tool. I used Facebook to see what actors really looked like–outside of their headshots–when casting for never fall so heavily again.
  9. Keeping in contact with people from around the world. One of the reasons I wanted to delete it here in South Africa was to get used to it. I knew it would be harder to delete when I got back home because of all of the friends I’d meet here. The positive side to keeping it is staying in contact with all of these people.
  10. Publicity for this very blog to get feedback on my writing and ideas. I want to get my PhD, which involves a lot of writing. I want to write a book. I want to do lots of thangs, and FB is a platform from which to share my creative endeavours.
  11. Online resume. I have LinkedIn, but it is also nice to have my
  12. Digital archive. My friend Clare recently pointed out how it is great to look back on my seven years of Facebook use and reflect on where I am, where I’ve been, and where I might be going next.
  13. Repository of pictures that friends take. I grew up hating pictures, but as I grew older I learned to really love their use. While I might not want to take a picture in the moment, it is great to look back and say ‘oh, that’s what I did, that’s what I looked like.’ Especially since my stubborn memory plays tricks on me.
  14. Community. As opposed to feeling like you are missing out, Facebook is an online ‘community’ of sorts. Especially with my Black community all over the world. I was raised in a primarily white area and I go to a PWI, so having the feeling of solidarity that Facebook and it’s various ‘groups’ provide is stellar.
  15. Mindlessness. Sometimes you just need a picture of a cat or a meme of Black people who are not amused by White people.
  16. The ability to deactivate my Facebook and take a much needed break.

Going through the process of deciding to delete it, scheduling it for deletion (they give you 14 days of deactivation to cave in make up your mind), ultimately coming back and feeling like a dumbass, and finally writing this? Definitely useful in seeing the perceived necessity of the evil known as Facebook. Facebook can be toxic (for me, as opposed to some friends who login once a day and use it as a tool) because it is easy for me accidentally spend too much time on it. But as I mentioned, I’m altering the information I write on Facebook, my friendcount, and the way in which I actually use Facebook. While Facebook has a lot of issues itself, the largest issue is my personal use; I was aware of that and still am. And by deleting Facebook I was taking responsibility in my actions by completely ridding myself of the addiction. I may still eventually do this, but giiiiiirl, I gotta wean myself off of it first. So I’ll start by using it on my terms instead of allowing it to use me and by deactivating it when I feel like I’ve gotten out of hand.

tl;dr (too long;didn’t read): I’m back on Facebook and I love/hate it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts/criticisms/praise/burritos. Please comment below, email me, message me, or hit me up on Twitter @anthoknees

#AntinAfrica – “White Ignorance” and “Black Rage”

Yoh,

South Africa is doing a doozy on me. As you might recall in my first #AntinAfrica post, Post-Apartheid Thought, I discussed how South Africa has made me feel some type of way. The best way to describe it has been Black Rage. I do not embody “The Angry Black Man” outwardly, but if you have talked to me recently you know that the injustices I learn about and experience myself have definitely made me both very introspective and outspoken (ask my “Race Class and Gender” classmates). Keep in mind that I pass a statue commemorating the infamous Cecil John Rhodes on my daily walk to campus. Why? Because he donated the [stolen] land to build the University of Cape Town. Keep in mind that this was a former Whites-only institution. But to be fair, UCT did admit POC during the 1920s before closing off admissions to new POC at a later date. Keep in mind that I’m in South Fucking Africa, the home of Wouter Basson and apartheid.

Today’s post was inspired by a discussion I had with two White South Africans, one male, one female, both around the same age as me. We had just met on the day of the discussion and quickly got into a friendly conversation. Another friend was involved, but his contributions were not what woke up the sleeping giant that is my Black Rage. My friend, a fellow American, wanted to know more from these two people just like I did. And to be clear, this has not been my experience with all of my White South African peers, just these two. I left out their names because they aren’t important and they were genuinely speaking their minds, but I took issue with some things that were said (and I made it clear to them). I don’t want this to be misconstrued as a representation of my whole experience here in South Africa. That being said…

While discussing the differences between South Africa and America we stumbled upon the topic of race relations and White privilege. I have to give it to everyone involved: our honesty created a great conversation, albeit uncomfortable at times. But back to race, as many of the conversations here eventually become. A few months ago I wrote a small piece about White privilege (Black at Cal) after the Tal Fortgang debacle. For reference, when I brought Fortgang’s article up, my male peer said that the article was really good. Alright. Now this was after we had been discussing privilege and I shed some new light on my female peers understanding of her privilege. She cited Black Economic Empowerment, the Black majority government, affirmative action, and UCT’s current–which is potentially changing soon–admissions policy as ways in which she is not privileged by her Whiteness. And she is correct, there has been a shift since apartheid toward Black empowerment in the largely Black South Africa. She is correct in that Whites are the minority and that they are discriminated against in many ways, much like Blacks are still discriminated against and disadvantaged. She is right in that for some students of color it is “easier” to get into UCT because of programs that exist. If one listens to Patricia Hill Collins, no one ever the only oppressed one, instead we must shift the axis because there are privileges within all groups. But what I did not hear in her assessment, was an acknowledgement of her privilege, instead I heard a lot of statements that essentially meant “it’s not my fault.” True. It isn’t her fault, especially since a majority of people of all races in South Africa opposed apartheid. But that does not change the fact that Whiteness is still a privilege, even in 2014 with institutional ‘Black empowerment.’

What really got me was not the discussion I just talked about, but two statements that stuck out to me. The first statement was in reference to my question about her domestic worker. After discussing White guilt, I asked if she felt guilty that she had a Black domestic worker who “was like a second mother” to her, in her own words. No, she replied. Her family has the economic means and it is normal here in South Africa. For her, her domestic worker was like a part of the family, she even lived in a room within their home. Cool, makes sense I guess. My issue, though, stemmed from the fact that her domestic worker still did not have ‘a place at the table.’ She would never and has never eaten dinner with them, despite the fact that she is ‘a part of the family.’ Because in my peer’s words, ‘it is still a job.’ In fact, her family did a lot, even paying for a portion of their domestic worker’s grandchild’s education. Chill, they pay her well, they treat her well, and they even help her out financially. They discuss politics and she is like a second mom. She’s one of the family members…who doesn’t eat at the table, even though they feed her. Alright. I’m not South African, I did not grow up with a domestic worker, but it still sounds a lot like how people talk(ed) about their slaves…hmm.

Let’s just leave that there to digest and move on to the next part, the statement that stuck with me: “She’d be dead if it wasn’t for us.” My peer said this statement to justify having a domestic worker, as there are high rates of unemployment. What I do understand is that domestic work is a legitimate thing out here in SA and almost all middle and upper class families have domestic workers. This includes the Black middle class employing other–often from different African countries–Blacks as domestic workers. Alright, whatever, employ people as long as you treat them with dignity, a fair wage, and everything that goes with that. But the idea that this particular domestic worker is indebted to this particular family because unemployment is so high? That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. Again, outside perspective; I am an American. I do acknowledge the huge unemployment rates here in South Africa. I do acknowledge how easy it is to replace a domestic worker because there are so many people, almost always women, willing to do the job. But does she really think that this woman could not have survived without the ‘patronage’ of her family? Hm.

Now if you’re reading this and not having the same reaction I am, I understand. But you probably will when I drop the second statement. While discussing how Black people can say derogatory things about Whites but Whites cannot do the same about Blacks I did not even have the chance to explain racism and reverse racism because I was stopped in my tracks by a word she used. We couldn’t really discuss how Blacks and Whites need to be able to critically discuss race without one side shooting down the other or making them afraid to speak their opinions. Why? I can’t think of any other way to phrase it but as profound ignorance spewing forth from her mouth:

“For example, if we call the government monkeys–” says my female peer very casually.

“–Wait, why would you call them monkeys?” I cut her off before she was able to finish. I’m not sure how my face looked at this moment, but I was definitely more than a little shocked. (The ANC runs the government, and they are Black, just for context).

“Well, they are monkeys,” chortles my male peer.

“Why are they monkeys?” I say as calmly as I can. Surely I am misunderstanding? I look over to my American peer to see if he is picking up on what I am, he is.

“Because they are,” relays my male peer, still laughing.

“But wait, explain to me why you use the word monkey.”

“That’s what they are, they’re retarded,” states my male peer, very confidently.

Monkeys, you say? I’ve heard criticism of the ANC and so I get using a term that isn’t so flattering. But monkeys? I proceed to have him break it down for me further, also explaining to him how retarded is derogatory, of which he was well aware, but I wasn’t cool with it. He says that he would use the word ‘monkeys’ whether they were Black or White. But I had to explain to him that you cannot always use the same words for different races when they have different weights. I had to then explain scientific racism, which was a new concept for them. I proceeded to explain why the word monkey is never okay in relation to a POC, despite the fact that “we live in a country with monkeys, so…” (female peer’s words).

So I looked it up, and she’s definitely not the first to use words all willy-nilly and most definitely will not be the last. But it is experiences like this that make my Cape Town experience…I’m not sure. On the one side I have an amazing backdrop in which to study. Cape Town and South Africa in general is gorgeous–except for when it’s not, like the extreme poverty of some of the townships–but then I also have the Black Exhaustion that comes with the Black Rage and the White Ignorance. I have to exert a lot of energy to explain these things back home, and as friend of mine once said, I have to be careful. It shouldn’t always be my duty to explain why what you said was wrong, as eventually I’m just going to get tired of it. I shouldn’t have to think about the fact that these two White students almost hold a grudge against some Black UCT students for getting in. Regardless, I’m glad that I had this conversation today because it gave me an honest look at two individuals (who grew up Johannesburg) that I hadn’t heard before. Up until this point I had only had a few extended conversations with White South Africans and they weren’t about race. I talk with many Black South Africans as well as other Black expats about race all the time, so hearing the one of the other sides is interesting. Next time, though, I’d like to be pleasantly surprised instead of dreadfully disappointed.

And since I no longer have a Facebook, I’d love to hear any thoughts, responses, questions, or corrections below or on Twitter @anthoknees

#AntinAfrica – Belated Introduction

Exploring San Francisco before leaving to Cape Town, South Africa, July 2014.
Exploring San Francisco before leaving to Cape Town, South Africa, July 2014.

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this post about a month ago and never published it, but I’ve since added a few recent details.

“So, why South Africa?”

This question comes up in almost every introductory conversation from the cashier at Woolworth’s to my fellow [North] American and international students.

I knew I wanted to study abroad at some point in my undergraduate career. I stepped down from my full-time job in 2013 to begin my junior year at University of California, Berkeley at the age of 24. And just recently I celebrated my 25th birthday. By no means am I much older than the majority of students in their junior year, but I had specific goals when entering Cal. One of the benefits of taking the long road to university was my coworkers, who encouraged me to study abroad and take advantage of the opportunities that are available, despite my limited time as a transfer student.

I walked the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time before leaving for South Africa, July 2014.
I walked the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time before leaving for South Africa, July 2014.

The first step towards studying abroad was deciding my country of choice, which was a daunting task. With at least 35 locations in the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP), I had to set some guidelines. I knew I only wanted to study for a semester, and I picked the Fall of 2014 as the goal. This narrowed it down a bit, but not enough. Then for countries I decided early on that I only wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, an African country, or Brazil. I took two years of Spanish in high school and an immersion program sounded exciting. But after reviewing the programs they did not seem like a great fit in terms of classes I was interested in. I think a large part of me was terrified of venturing into the unknown with my rusty and frankly, lackluster Spanish skills. Brazil took it a step further, with limited English options. I do not consider myself a linguist, and the thought of trying to learn my subject and Portugeuse at the same time was a bit intimidating. Finally I looked at the African countries and was drawn to Ghana. The potential classes sounded great, it was on the African continent, and language was not a large issue.

My going-away party at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA, June 2014.
My going-away party at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA, June 2014.

Now if anyone is interested in studying abroad, make sure you do your homework. UCEAP requires you to take a course that somehow relates to Africa if you want to study in the continent. And because I started in Fall 2013 and wanted to leave in Fall 2014, I needed to have it done by Summer 2014. But summer was not an option, as I needed to work. Instead I looked at the classes for Spring 2014, of which there were few options. I ended up going with South African History, promoting South Africa as the logical choice. While I could have studied South Africa for a semester and gone to Botswana, I figured I might as well put a face to the name and explore race relations, sociology, and sexuality in South Africa. It actually worked in my favor as well, as South Africa is the most accepting country of homosexuality in the continent of Africa, according to polls (I’m definitely dedicating a later blog post to this discussion).

But I must add that South Africa was not my first choice. As a Black man, I wanted to visit the massive continent of Africa at some point in my life because some part of me most likely lies somewhere within. As a human in general, I wanted to visit the continent of Africa because it’s the motherland. But with almost 60 countries and no clue as to where my lineage lies, it felt slightly inaccessible. What I did know, though, was that South Africa felt too close to home in many of the historical parallels and race relations. Why go to Africa to see a very similar composition and even language to what was at home? This was my naiveté speaking, as South Africa is not the same as at home and while there are parallels, the United States has a very different history. After studying for a semester I actually became really excited to see what South Africa had to offer and I’m glad I realized the error of my judgmental ways. As a side note, at least a brief history should be required before studying in another country, particularly in the social sciences. While I’m a huge fan of the arts and happy that some people could take some form of African dance as their requirement–word up to my African dance cohorts here–it has given me such a better understanding. All of my classes reference events I learned in my history course, and one course in particular required that basic understanding of events and apartheid legislation to truly move forward. Coming to study within the social sciences without a background in any of this would have put me at a great disadvantage in comparison to the South African or other students of African origin. That being said, it is completely possible to keep on trucking without this knowledge, but the background put a lot of things in context for me.

So after over two days of travel from SFO to Heathrow, Heathrow to Joburg, and Joburg to Cape Town, I finally arrived on July 5th, 2014 and I won’t be leaving until December. Throughout my time here I hope to continue to blog about my experiences, my impressions, and all of the wonderful things I’m learning both formally an informally. Until next time!

Cape Point, South Africa, July 2014.
Cape Point, South Africa, July 2014.

#AntinAfrica – Post-Apartheid Thought

“In January 2004, Nelson Chisale, a black farm worker, was tied to a tree, beaten unconscious and then fed to a pride of lions by his former white employer, Mark Scott-Crossley. Another black worker, Simon Mathebula, was an accomplice in this murder” (Erasmus, 2008: 173).

As I read the above quote in my Race, Class, and Gender reader I gripped my face and exclaimed “no!” out loud, within my quiet apartment at 11:35pm on Friday the 15th of August. On that same Friday I participated in a Marikana march from 2pm until about 5pm, impromptu Marikana protest theatre, and saw Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creatures before going back to my apartment to read. And of course we have the infamous Mike Brown case back home, spurring the hashtag: #iftheygunnedmedown. Abroad we have the Gaza conflict on one side and recent Ebola outbreaks on the other. Needless to say, I’ve been in a very emotional state of being recently and I’m not quite sure what to do at the exact moment but write.

You know that phrase, ‘knowledge is power?’ Knowledge is also pain. The more I learn, the angrier and more powerless I feel sometimes. How do I effect change? Where do I go from here? Without being too melodramatic, what the fuck can I do?

I have the privilege to study abroad, and I chose South Africa. The parallels to the United States are many, but what has been most stimulating for me has been my response. Since arriving I have been on my own a lot. And I like it, it gives me time to process. I have thought about the privilege of my American passport. I have thought about the privilege of being able to actually leave my country and enter another with relative ease. But mostly, I have confirmed what I already wish I didn’t know; the world is depressing. From learning about the sordid history of European colonialism in my South African history course to humiliating tests such as the pencil test or the 1950 aptitude tests, I find it hard to take it in stride. It would be one thing if this history was just that. Then I might be able to separate it and think “well I’m glad it isn’t like that anymore.” And yes, South Africa and the U.S. have made progress in many ways, I do not deny that. But the more I read, the more I learn, the more oral history I receive, the more I realize that it is a very slow process. And just like Michelle Alexander asserts that the prison industrial complex is ‘The New Jim Crow,’ apartheid still rages on powerfully within South Africa today, despite many attempts to deny it.

I’m not being an idealist, though. I realize that 20 years of democracy make for a young country, but it [irrationally] upsets me that I constantly have to be both shocked and unfazed at the tragic events I read about. What is going on with the Mike Brown case is not surprising, given the history of countless other incidents. It is sad that I, like many of my fellow Black Americans, expect it. Reading about Nelson Chisale’s beating was not surprising. Reading about him being fed to a lion, on the other hand, I mean…what the fuck? The physical reaction and accompanying tears gave me a tough time. I know this was an ‘isolated’ incident and that there are some sick people in the world, but the way we treat each other is sometimes really hard to process.

My journey to the dawn of my ignorance began with UC Berkeley and has continued here at the University of Cape Town. I don’t know shit. And to generalize, a lot of people don’t, and that’s okay. Except that so much of what happens on a daily basis, primarily to “non-White” people, is not okay and much more attention needs to be paid to it. It is clear that there are systematic issues back home in the U.S. and here in South Africa. And when you factor in Gaza, and all of the horrible things going on that are not even being discussed, it gets overwhelming. I’m truly at a loss of what to do.

On this same Friday I’m referencing, I skipped my lecture to attend a Marikana march. I stood outside of the Cape Town police station with around forty other protesters in solidarity against the police brutality that seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. Two years ago, on August 16th, 2012, 34 men were killed in the Marikana massacre. I’m not sure if I was busy getting ready for my birthday that year, if I wasn’t reading the news very diligently that week, or if the news just never made it over to my side of the world. But the sad fact is that I did not learn about this massacre until I landed in South Africa. Much like I have only recently been learning about many events and key players within the Black Power movement. Much like I didn’t learn about HeLa cells or the Tuskegee Syphilis study until about four years ago. This is not to blame anyone, as I am a 24-year-old Black male. I can choose to educate myself with the power of the library or Google, but it does not make me feel good that many of these life-changing events are not taught in school, at home—in some cases—, and definitely not discussed enough in general. I’ve taken to reading more because I’m behind. I need to catch up. I shouldn’t have to be an African-American Studies major to learn about Solomon Northup. I shouldn’t have to be a Chicano Studies major to learn about Che Guevara. I shouldn’t have to…you get my point.

But then that brings me back to my question from earlier. What is the next step? As I consider the fact that the contracted unemployment rate in South Africa is over 25%, but obviously much higher when you factor in discouraged job seekers, I can’t help but think: fuck. The cost of living is lower, yes, but still. R7 for a U.S. citizen is cheap, but doing the math as a South African domestic worker is a little different. When you consider than a taxi from Rondebosch to the city is R7, times two trips a day, times five days a week, you come out with R70. Multiply that times four weeks in the month, and you have R280 going to transport if you do not have a transportation subsidy. And that’s not only if you have a job in the city, but also if you are just seeking work. I’m not even sure of the costs from the townships to the city, but I do know that many workers come from the townships to the city to work. Whether that is in the factors, as domestic workers, or as the taxi drivers themselves, commuting is not easy, fast, or cheap [relatively]. So what do the citizens of Cape Town do? What do I do? For now:

I write.

I talk.

I [try to] listen.

I hope that the plan to pursue my doctorate is the right decision.

I hope that feeling wronged, powerless, mistreated, misinformed and under informed continues to leave me pissed off and generally disgruntled until I start the cycle all over again and do something about it.

I learn that I cannot take every issue personally, and I cannot be Superman; I cannot solve all the problems of the world. But the anger I feel sometimes can be cooled to passion, and that passion can act me to move. Outside of the money I have donated, strikes I have participated in, and theatre I have hoped made a difference, I’m hoping that my future scholarship will spark ideas. I hope that the protest theatre I was involved in on Friday brought out some curiosity, courage, or fighting spirit in someone else. I hope that among my friends and colleagues we have another Angela Davis, Bayard Rustin, or Fannie Lou Hamer.

To quote the famous philosopher J. Cole, “STOP FUCKIN KILL US.”

If you’re curious about my adventures, follow me on instagram under the hashtag #AntinAfrica. Reference for the first quote below.

Erasmus, Z. 2008. Race. (In Shepard, N., & Robins, S. (eds). New South African Keywords. Ohio University Press: Ohio. Pp. 169-179)