You are black and queer, what are you doing in church?

Somizi Mhlongo is probably South Africa’s most popular gay celebrity, this past weekend he walked out of Grace Bible Church because of homophobic preaching. The pastor at the church was preaching that homosexuality is not found in nature, that dogs and lions do not practise homosexual behaviour. After walking out of the church, Somizi posted videos on his Instagram account talking about his ordeal at the Grace Bible Church. I was surprised that Somizi Mhlongo actually went to church. I am always under the impression that interesting people, worldly people, fabulous people, artists, academics, and generally people who don’t give a f*#% don’t go to church.

Of course, like most homophobes, the Ghanaian Bishop Dag Herward-Mils thought he was being clever, referencing nature as proof of the unnaturalness of homosexuality. The bishop is blithely oblivious to the hundreds of examples of homosexuality in the “natural” world. You can read more about these examples, here, here, and here.

According to Wikipedia “no species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all. Moreover, a part of the animal kingdom is hermaphroditic, truly bisexual.” There are hundreds of studies that have debunked this widely held belief that homosexuality is not found in animals, indeed it is thriving in animals.

Also, the idea that “not even animals are homosexual” used by Dag Herward-Mils is based on the assumption that humans are above animals. The notion that we don’t do what animals do because we are better than animals is rubbish. We are a kind of animal. We are part of nature, no matter how far we try and distance ourselves from it. In fact, some environmentalists will argue that it is the problem, that we have distanced ourselves from nature so much and this has lead partly to environmental problems. Humans are not an entity existing outside of nature – we are part of it. The view that sexuality exists on a spectrum has been around since the publication of Alfred Kinsey’s study on “The Sexual Behaviour of the Human Male” in 1948. So the varied ways we experience and express our sexuality is part of the human experience. I doubt if Dag Herward-Mils has ever heard of Alfred Kinsey, or any other study about human sexuality for that matter.

I wonder if we show bishop Dag Herward-Mils that homosexual behaviour does exist in animals, will the bishop approve of homosexuality then?

This is not the first time the church in South Africa is implicated in homophobic rhetoric. The church has a history of homophobic speech throughout post-apartheid South Africa. There was the resistance of the inclusion of the protection of sexual orientation against discrimination in the South African constitution. Once the protection of sexual orientation was included in the constitution, there have been a number of talks about having it removed. The church was resistant to same-sex marriage. Church leaders and members of churches have been known to gather at Gay Pride marches in protest of Gay Pride. There was the court case of the lesbian woman that was dismissed by the Methodist Church because she revealed to her congregation that she was marrying her girlfriend. The homophobia in the church has never been shy, and so this incident with Somizi Mhlongo is an incident in a long line of homophobic incidents.

In the past I have written about how I view the church and the construction of Jesus as violence on black people. My views on black people and the church are clear: black people have no business in believing in god and the concept of Jesus. The concept of Jesus is enslavement. It is a concept designed to tame people, to make people unquestioning, to make people passive in their approach to life’s issues because something out there will solve their problems. It is a tool to quell, a tool to create a submissive population of believers instead of agitators. Therefore my view on black queers and the church is the same: black queers have no business in attending church and believing in the imported story of Jesus.

The most important question for me in this whole Grace Bible Church saga is: what are black queers doing at church? What is Somizi doing attending Grace Bible Church? Grace Bible Church has a “statement of faith” on their website that reads:

“With regards to sexual behaviour, we believe in heterosexual relationships between a natural man and a natural woman within the confines of lawful matrimony. Adherence to this stated principle of sexual behaviour is an inherent requirement of membership of Grace Bible Church.”

In other words, this is a place that has made it clear that it does not want Somizi. In one of the Instagram videos posted by Somizi, he laments that the church must state clearly that it does not want, or like LGBTI people. The “statement of faith” is a clear indication that the church does not endorse LGBTI people. It is clear to me in this statement that Somizi was never welcomed at this church. What is puzzling to me is not that the church is homophobic, that is expected, what I am struggling with is why did it take him so long to realize the church hates him. Why does he think THIS church won’t be homophobic when homophobia and other forms of discrimination are the bedrock of the church?

Let me be clear here, even if the church didn’t have this statement, I would still ask the same question: what are black queers doing at church?

I really wasn’t interested in engaging the Grace Bible Church “debate” but the violence of the church on black queers necessitates that I write this.

I have attended the funerals of black queers in South Africa. I have had conversations with my black queer friends about the omission of not only the sexual orientation of diseased black queers, but the omission of life partners, all to save face for the church.

I have seen black bishops like Dag Herward-Mils who preach homophobic hate on the Sunday sermon, but don’t make the connection of the hate they preach to the brutal often fatal violence experienced by black queers, particularly gender non-conforming black queers. The black queers who have survived physical and sexual assaults have told stories of how the perpetrators use the language of “not even dogs do this” or “this is the way God intended it.” With this in mind, I find the statements made by the Grace Bible Church spokesperson Ezekiel Mathole when interviewed by Eusebius McKaiser deplorable. To speak about the homophobic position of the church as if it doesn’t have consequences for people is irresponsible. This is not only irresponsible for Grace Bible Church, but it is irresponsible for all churches in South Africa.

The church in South Africa gets away with murder with being able to preach homophobic hate, and then turn around and call it their “biblical view”, their scripture, while black bodies are mutilated by people using the same rhetoric as the church. The homophobic taunts and jeers that black queers experience on a daily basis are partly born in the church rhetoric. The people who violate us are granted permission and then immunity by the church because people have “the right to believe” their homophobia and to preach their hate speech according to Mr. Ezekeil Mathole.

In South Africa there is a fear of the church. There is often a quiet diplomacy on the wrong doings of the church. The church has too much power in this country. The constitutional ruling on the case of the lesbian Methodist preacher who was let go from her post after she announced intention to marriage is indicative of the power of the church. Even the Constitutional Court shies away from calling the church into order. I am not going to be silenced by the church. What bishop Dag Herward-Mils said at Grace Bible Church is hate speech. That type of speech has no place in a constitutional democracy, in a country that’s recovering from a history of discrimination.

As I have shared before, I find it puzzling that black people are united in the idea of fighting against white imperialism, but do not see the church and the construction of Jesus as part and parcel of white colonial ideology. Jesus, just like Jan Van Riebeeck came on a ship. Jesus might as well have been on the Dromedaris. The concept of Jesus is as foreign as the Jacaranda tree in South Africa. As far as I am concerned, you are not serious about anti-colonial politics if the construction of Jesus remains intact. In fact, I don’t think anti-colonial politics can work with the ideology of believing in a white God and white Jesus that black people are supposed to pray to and submit themselves. The psychological calamity is of epic proportions. You don’t have to go far for evidence of the church madness; black people are eating grass, and drinking petrol for salvation.   There is video evidence of this madness, here and here. The one that really gets me is the buckets of money; I mean literally buckets of money black people give to the church.

The church is a place of hate production. The venom that has also been unleashed by churchgoers on social media platforms in the aftermath of the Grace Bible Church incident is indicative of the hate. The homophobic statements uttered by Dag Herward-Mils are the kind of statements the church thrives on. The statements are not shocking, they are something we expect from the church, which is why the church is not a place for black queers, and not a place for blacks in general. Black people need to abandon the church. Black people need to abandon the fictitious idea of Jesus.

As for Somizi Mhlongo, he has an interesting life and doesn’t need Grace Bible Church. He is probably South Africa’s best choreographer and certainly the most famous gay South Africa celebrity, and I think he should follow in Kathy Griffin’s famous footsteps and tell bishop Dag Herward-Mils “Jesus can suck it.”

Striving for Frantz Fanon’s Universal Human Emancipation

The relevance of Peter Hudis’s Frantz Fanon: philosopher of the barricades on Frantz Fanon’s revolutionary ideas to achieving universal human emancipation cannot be overstated. Hudis has been instrumental in helping me make sense of the current student politics, amongst other things, in South Africa because he writes Fanon for our times. Hudis sees it as a matter of extreme importance that Fanon is read in context. Fanon mostly writes in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During this time the Algerian revolution is underway, African countries are “receiving” independence from Europe. The word “receive” independence is deceiving and therefore problematic. Firstly it’s as if Africa’s independence was Europe’s to give, and secondly wars were fought for independence, it was not given. Nonetheless … In 1960 alone 17 countries gained independence from Europe, most of which were French colonies in West Africa. The African national movements were instrumental to ensuring independence. A very specific time in history, with very particular politics, and all of that has to be considered when discussing Fanon’s thoughts and how they are applicable to the South African context in 2016.

This is not a book review. I am pulling out three sections from Peter Hudis’s book that are helpful in making sense of the current student protests in South African universities. Of course the philosophies of Frantz Fanon are applicable to life in South Africa beyond the academy. The three sections I take from the book, for me, speak to the complexity of the current political moment, but also how we can think through this moment. The sections I have decided to highlight and write about in thinking through our current political climate are: the lack of ontology of blackness, the necessity to engage colonialism as a genesis of where we are, and lastly Fanon’s ideal of achieving universal human emancipation. The selected sections from the book, I write about them insofar as they are relevant for us in South Africa.

The philosophies of Frantz Fanon have been part of the current student movements in South African universities. Lines like “we can’t breath” have become part of the vocabulary of the movements. This was a statement screamed out by Eric Garner in NYC when he was being strangled by white police officers. Before Garner popularised this powerful line, it was a much-quoted Fanonism: “When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” Fanon has been heavily invoked in the student movements in university campuses all over South Africa. The current political climate at university campuses across the country necessitates a close, contextual reading of Fanon. It necessitates an engagement that asks, what does Fanon mean for us in the current South African political climate (which universities are part of), because surely what it taking place at the university is linked to wider social issues.

Peter Hudis’s book is invaluable in helping us think through the current political moment using Fanon’s philosophy as a guiding light. Fanon’s philosophies are powerful, and they contain within them the roadmap to liberation, but they require immense intellectual labour. We need a meaningful engagement with Fanon’s theories if they are to aid us in grappling with the current political moment. It is this considered engagement that will potentially aid us in formulating an appropriate response to the moment. This is why I think philosopher of the barricades is a necessary read for ALL of us interested in the current political moment. Firstly, this book helps us understand Fanon’s preoccupation with the lack of ontology (existence) of “blackness” – which I see at a point of departure in our engagement with the South African political moment. Hudis writes:

“Unlike the Jew, who (as Sartre discusses in ‘Anti-Semite and the Jew’) is over-determined by the view of themselves that they have interiorized from gentile society, blacks, Fanon contends, are ‘over-determined from the outside’ – that is, they are ‘slaves to their appearance.’ Colonial domination, a rather arbitrary social construction, creates over time a certain way of ‘seeing’, in which skin colour is presumed to have determinative importance. The individual becomes fixated on the supposed ‘fact’ of the person’s blackness. This defines not only the colonisers view of the colonized, but also the colonized view of themselves; they are ‘fixed’ and defined by the ‘gaze’ of the Other. Their ‘being’ is defined by the other – not by themselves. The black comes to see themselves as ‘black’ because of the distorted gaze of the white – who is unaware of the peculiar nature of colonial and racial domination. And since white society tends to associate ‘blackness’ with every negative trait imaginable – again, as a result of its need to justify its domination over them – blacks come to view themselves as inferior to whites. For this reason Fanon writes, ‘the black man (people) has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man (people).’ Ontology refers to the nature of being – it is the study of what constitutes the real. Fanon contends that there is no ontology of blackness, since ‘blackness’ is not a ‘natural’ reality – it is not a form of being that just ‘is.’ Blackness is instead a construct of specific social relations. It is produced, fabricated, not simply given. The black ‘exists’, as black, only in relation to the white: there is no pre-existing black essence that a black person can fall back upon. In other words, blacks ‘exists’ and are defined in negative self-relation to what they are NOT.” … Understanding this is a crucial starting point to understanding and genuinely engaging what’s going on around us.

Linked to the first point about the lack of ontology for “blackness”, a major problem with our analysis and discussions of the current political moment is the lack of historical context. Discussions about why we are where we are are often without any historical considerations. Racism as we have come to know it developed under very specific economic conditions of domination and exploitation such as slavery and colonialism. In South Africa colonisation is something we seem to skip over when we talk about our current political milieu, but it is the genesis of the struggle against white racism. It is the current student movements that have brought the issue of colonialism to the fore by demanding a decolonisation of higher education institutions. When the black students at campuses around the country are talking about economic hardships, having no access to residences, bringing a shack to campus to demonstrate the lack of housing not only on campus but in their communities, they are highlighting (intentionally or not) that the inferiority that plagues the black psyche has it’s origins in economic subjugation, but obviously thereafter “takes on a life of it’s own that surpass that of the economic.” So the socio-economic problem is not divorced from the psychological problem. In South Africa the phrase “human dignity” is often loosely thrown around without any real considerations on what it means for everyday life of black South Africans. This is something the ruling party is very guilty of doing. There is no dignity in poverty. There is no dignity in not having proper sanitation. Poverty is often wrongly framed as a personal failing, ignoring all the colonial history that created the social structure that enables poverty and sustains it. As Hudis demonstrates racism can only be overhauled by dealing with it on both the socio-economic and the psychological level. Hudis notes:

“Fanon adopts a socio-genetic approach to a study of the psyche because that is what is adequate for the object of his analysis. For Fanon, it is the relationship between the socio-economic and psychological that is of crucial import. He makes it clear, insofar as the subject matter of his concerned, that the socio-economic is first of all responsible for the affective disorders: ‘First, economic. Then, internalization or rather epidermalization of this inferiority.” Fanon never misses an opportunity to remind us that racism owes its origin to specific economic relations of domination – such as slavery, colonialism, and the effort to co-opt sections of the working class into serving the needs of capital. It is hard to mistake the Marxist influence here. It does not follow, however, that what comes first in the order of time has conceptual or strategic priority. The inferiority complex is originally born from economic subjugation, but it takes on a life of it’s own and express itself in terms that surpass the economic. Both sides of the problem – the socio-economic and the psychological must be combatted in tandem: ‘The black man (people) must wage the struggle on two levels; whereas historically these levels are mutually dependent, any unilateral liberation is flawed, and the worst mistake would be to believe their mutual dependence automatic.’”

“On these grounds he (Fanon) argues that the problem of racism cannot be solved on a psychological level. It is not an ‘individual’ problem; it is a social one. But neither can it be solved on a social level that ignores the psychological. It is small wonder that although his name never appears in the book (black skin, white masks), Fanon was enamoured of the work of Wilhelm Reich. This important Freudian-Marxist would no doubt feel affinity with Fanon’s comment, ‘Genuine desalienation will have been achieved only when things, in the most material sense, have resumed their rightful place.’” … In South Africa things are far from resuming their “rightful place” – The uprisings on campuses across the country are indicative of this. They are also symptomatic of a larger socio-economic and psychological national problem.

Fanon 2

Lastly, Fanon’s ultimate goal was to create a roadmap to achieving universal human emancipation. Although he endorsed nationalism in Algeria and in other African states, Fanon understood that nationalism had limitations. In South Africa and in other Africa states we are very aware of the shortcomings (mostly downright failure) of national movements post-independence. The big question then becomes how do you achieve universal human emancipation, while endorsing nationalism? It is clear that Fanon’s wants us as black people, as Africans, to move us towards what he called New Humanity. Not the European kind of “humanity”. According to Hudis “Fanon’s central philosophy message is that instead of trying to copy or catch up with Europe, it is time to leave it behind – not because all of the values and ideas that arose from it were necessarily wrong, but because they remained unrealised by a Europe which speaks of “man” (humanity) while slaughtering man en masse. Europe has failed humanity; but humanity is not a failure. Its renewal IS possible.” So how do we achieve the New Humanity set out by Fanon while straddling nationalism and full emancipation? Hudis through Fanon seems to think that the seeming contradiction is a necessary one, a contradiction that we need to think through. This contradiction did not come about because of Fanon. “Rather, the contradiction is endemic to the revolutionary process itself.” Hudis states:

“‘Fanon’s commitments revealed a contradiction in his position that he, in effect, never fully resolved, between the wholehearted endorsement of nationalism, and his hope that it would nevertheless produce a nation prepared to transcend its limitations of nationalism.’ This is questionable, since in the Rome speech Fanon does not issue a ‘wholehearted endorsement of nationalism.’ He wholehearted endorses the struggle for national culture and national liberation, which is not reducible (at least in his eyes) to nationalism. Nor does it appear that in the Rome speech he ‘remains divided between the genuine commitment he had to the Algerian movement on the one hand, and the continuing concern he felt for the predicament of black men and black society.’ Fanon plunged into the Algerian movement not because he moved away from concern for ‘the predicament of black men and black society’ but because he viewed the Algerian struggle as the vanguard force in weakening French colonialism and leading to the liberation of black Africa. He did not embrace Algeria’s fight because he became won over to Arab nationalism, but rather because he saw it as a catalyst to the liberation of Africa as a whole. From the start of his career he understood that ‘blackness’ is a creation of colonialism and that embracing any ontology of ‘blackness’ buys into the very logic of racism. [It is crucial then, as we talk about blackness in the current student movements in South Africa, that we don’t get trapped in the very logic of racism we are fighting against] To transcend the fixation associated with racism it is necessary to posit, as an absolute, a particularity that is not fixed or essential but which is the conduit to a new humanism. By the late 1950’s Fanon had wagered that he found that in the national liberation movement.”

“Still, is there not a contradiction between supporting a national struggle, which clearly has a nationalistic component, and seeking to achieve universal human emancipation, which transcends any form of nationalism? There certainly is a ‘contradiction’ here but it is not one that is a mere product of Fanon’s making. Nor is it a matter of him being ‘ambivalent’ about his commitments. Rather, the contradiction is endemic of the revolutionary process itself. Any effort to achieve emancipation entails a development through contradiction – a development from posing particular demands and perspectives to reaching for universal human emancipation. As Marx once put it, ‘the transcendence of self-estrangement follows the same course as self-estrangement.’ There is a tenuous, contradictory relationship between means and ends, and there is no guarantee that it will be successfully navigated – whether we are speaking in terms of struggles over race, class, or gender. An automatic, predetermined teleology is out of the question here. It is not possible to reach the goal except by certain means, but there is no guarantee that the means will be universally recognised as but a step to something else. It is always possible to fall prey to fixation, even in the struggle to liberate oneself from it. This problematic defines the very project of emancipation. One can wish the contradiction away, but it will not disappear. One can seek to deny it by skipping over the particular in order to leap to the universal, or one can ignore the universal in favour of the particular. But in either way case the contradiction is unresolved and remains to haunt us.”

It is my hope that as we strive to achieve a universal human emancipation that we do it in the Fanonian way. Because as Hudis so beautiful put it: “A movement is ‘Fanonian’ not because it consists of peasants, lumpenproletarians, or shackdwellers, any more than it is ‘Fanonian’ because it consists of the working class, students, women, gays and lesbians or blacks and other national minorities. A movement is ‘Fanonian’ insofar, and only insofar, as it ‘re-examines the question of humanity’, rejuvenates it, and actualises it.”

The inclusion of Sexuality, Gender, Transgendered issues in the #RhodesMustFall movement

I first went to Azania House (formerly known as Bremner Building) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), on the Saturday after the first night of the occupation. The energy was amazing, the discussions were vibrant, and at the time I wasn’t sure if the Rhodes statue would ultimately fall or not. I was just excited to be in the presence of black students who are fighting for transformation at the university. I was excited to see students demanding to see themselves represented at this African university.

On my next visit to Bremner I witnessed a heated discussion on the issue of Gender Neutral bathrooms on the first floor because there are transgendered students in the #RhodesMustFall movement. One of the transgendered persons in the room suggested that the female and male bathrooms on the first floor should be made Gender Neutral. Others met this request with resistance for a number of reasons. The cis gender woman mentioned reasons of safety that they do not want to go into a bathroom where males can also go. One of the guys sheepishly voiced not wanting transgendered women entering the male bathroom.

The cis gender woman tried to explain that firstly she respects the transgendered person, but she really doesn’t understand transgendered issues and why the bathrooms have to be Gender Neutral. The concerns of the cis gender woman about safety issues in the bathrooms are valid in the climate of sexual violence on women in South Africa. But transgendered persons and other gender non-conforming bodies also face physical and sexual violence in this country.

The transgendered person in the conversation tried to explain that they also feel uncomfortable going into male or female bathrooms. Male bathrooms are often hostile and you are treated like someone who is there as a voyeur on male penises. The trans person also voiced that female bathrooms are also filled with cold stares and judgements and sometimes-verbal abuse.

While listening to this conversation I couldn’t help but think of how Simon Nkoli conscientised some of his comrades about homosexuality while they were arrested in the Delmas Treason Trial in the 1980’s. Simon Nkoli’s fellow comrades in the treason trial often spoke about Simon Nkoli with affection and how they learned about gay and lesbian rights from him. The transgendered person in the conversation at Azania House was conscientising fellow comrades on transgendered issues and I was moved by this interaction. It was a real and honest moment and although these students had different opinions and feelings about Gender Neutral bathrooms, it was an open discussion; it was on the table and the students were grappling.

In the end the students decided to stick paper signs designating the first floor male and female bathrooms Gender Neutral? and Gender Neutral. What I saw was the first of many discussion that I would witness about transgendered issues in Azania House and in the #RhodesMustFall movements as a whole. In the following weeks during the occupation of the Archie Mafeje room the politics of gender, sexuality, and transgendered also became central as intersectionality as a framework took shape within the movement.


The #RhodesMustFall movement has adopted Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness as the foundation for the movement. The Black Consciousness movement has in the past been critiqued for not incorporating gender struggles within the movement. The #RhodesMustFall movement made it a point to incorporate gender, sexuality, and transgendered politics as they fall part of the emancipatory project of post-apartheid South Africa.

The inclusion of gender, sexuality, and transgendered issues within a predominantly black student movement is no small victory. My sense is that continuously invoking gender, sexuality, and transgendered issues in the race conversation is what is going to deliver us. The battle for gender, sexuality, and transgendered rights has always been ghettoized and only fought by people directly affected by these issues. Our strength actually lies in our ability to see that the race issue is connected to the gender issue and the sexuality issue and the transgender issue and the class issue. In the piece How Black Women Claimed Their Place Mbali Matandela articulates the significance of having black women’s voices in the movement to amplify the specificity of the pain of black women in this country.

The psychological, emotional, and sexual violence that black women, gender non-conforming people, transgendered people are subjected to is from predominantly black men. And this needs to be addressed. The violence these groups of people are subjected to is because of the systemic patriarchal order in this country that black men are part of and need to be part of its undoing. And so it is critical then that a movement created for the dismantling of white supremacist patriarchy embodied by the Cecil John Rhodes statue must include the dismantling of black patriarchy.

Addressing the issue of black patriarchy remains an issue as some black males within the #RhodesMustFall movement remain stubborn about their conservative views about gender, sexuality, and transgendered issues. There is hope because many are willing to learn and strong black feminists and gender non-conforming LGBTI people challenge these black men.

The adoption of intersectional politics in the #RhodesMustFall movement was a genius move because intersectionality is immensely beneficial in understanding the multi-layered South African context where race, class, gender, disability, and sexual identity intersect with complex results. The very lives of black students at UCT are an example of the complexity of intersectional identities in South Africa because black students come from different class backgrounds, have different sexualities, and have different gender identities and all of these must be navigated in this often hostile white environment.

For me the #RhodesMustFall movement represents the hope for the future. A future where black students see themselves in the architecture of the universities they study in. Perhaps this is a sign of how future South Africa movements will look like, that they will recognize how struggles are connected. It is in the recognising the different ways that we as black people, as poor people, as LGBTI people, as women, as disabled people, are all chained by systems of oppression. This recognition then becomes the impetus for us to come together and dismantle the systems that oppress us.

Lwando Scott 

Miss Uganda, Miss Gay Ekasi – constructions of African beauty

                  Miss Gay

Written by Lwando Scott 

I was recently asked to be a judge at the Mr and Miss Gay Ekasi pageant organised by the Desmond Tutu Aids Foundation. You can imagine my excitement when I was asked to be a judge at the pageant. The competition took place at the Delft Community Hall in Delft. After giving the crowd a Queen Elizabeth wave as I was introduced as one of the judges, I took my seat and waited for the contestants to come on stage in their casual wear. When I arrived at the competition I was under the impression that Mr Gay would be women in drag, as in dressed up as men to compete for Mr Gay and the Miss Gay would be men in drag. To my surprise both the Mr and Miss contestants were men. I suppose the Mr “Gay” and Miss “Gay” tittle should have been the first clue, but that will teach me to assume the gendering of gay pageants. Although after the pageant I couldn’t help but think about whether there are any Mr and Miss Lesbian pageants? I don’t ever remember attending one, or hearing that it’s taking place, which brings up a number of questions about gender in LGBTI pageants.

As soon as the competition began I realised that this was going to be a tough job, but I was ready and willing with my scoring sheets. The contestants strutted on stage trying to impress us in the second round with “wild life” themed outfits. The contestants came out in swimsuits and other “wild life” interpretations including what looked like goatskin. This round was followed by eveningwear, which was the last round the contestants could use to impress the judges. Throughout the competition the crowd was really not shy about whom they thought should win, and became more aggressive about it by getting closer to the stage towards the end of the completion.

After much debate and deliberation we, the judges, chose the top five Miss Gay and top three Mr Gay and after questions and answers we came to a conclusion of who should win.

The Mr and Miss Gay Ekasi pageant is community centred. It is an annual celebration of young LGBTI people who are living their lives, the best way they know how, under extremely harsh social conditions. In the participants I saw young people who are brave, who challenge their communities gender expectations and defining for themselves what it means to live free. In the participants I saw a determined spirit that I hope burns on in other areas of their lives. I was inspired to be in the company of black LGBTI people who are marvelling in each other’s presence. The energy in that Community Hall can’t be described it had to be felt.

I am not new in the world of beauty pageants. My fascination with beauty pageants began in the mid 1990’s when I still a primary school going little boy. I used to watch Miss South Africa every year and then watch Miss Universe and then conclude the holy trinity of pageants with Miss World. I used to have a note pad and a pen and I would closely watch the scores and write them down so I could predict the winner. I became very good at predicting the winners because after watching religiously I picked up on the patterns of the competitions. I think maybe these were the first signs of my interest in social science.

As I grew older and began to have a more nuanced understanding of the world, I began to see beauty pageants in a different light. Pageants are not divorced from the racialized ideas of beauty. The politics of apartheid ensured that black women were excluded from entering the national beauty pageant but after apartheid fell Jackie Mofokeng was crowned the first black Miss South Africa in 1993. The following year Basetsana Khumalo (Makgalemele back then) was named Miss Africa 1994.

It is important to note that the black women who win Miss South Africa in the post-apartheid era are women who closely resemble white ideals of beauty. These ideals include slender figures, relaxed hair or hair extensions, etc. By saying this I am not condemning black women who choose to straighten their hair and wear weaves, but what I am saying is that beauty pageants seem to ONLY accept this style of black women to enter and win. This was largely replicated in the Mr and Miss Gay Ekasi pageant, although the woman who won Miss Gay Ekasi had a shaved head, which was refreshing for the judges.

The racialized politics of beauty continue as we have seen with the crowning of Leah Kalanguka as Miss Uganda 2014/15 and the amount of abuse she has received because she is seen as “ugly.” On social media platforms Ugandans and other people have called Leah Kalanguka all kinds of derogatory names and have said that she does not deserve the crown because she is not beautiful. People often talk about beauty as if it is something that is “natural” but society is actively involved in the process of constructing beauty. The ways in which beauty is constructed in society, including African communities, does not take place outside of the notions of white supremacy. I would argue actually that current constructions of beauty are based on white supremacist foundations.

We live in a world where black people are obsessed with “yellow bone” beauty. I have written about the white supremacist foundations of the term “yellow bone” and I think calling Leah Kalanguka “ugly” is a manifestation of “yellow bone” narratives. I don’t think Miss Uganda 2014/15 is “ugly” she has dark skin and it is her dark skin that people are equating with ugliness. In a world of “yellow bone” beauty, where beauty is measured by proximity to whiteness, of course people will find her “ugly.” The statements made by people on social media platforms about Leah Kalanguka do not shock me. This is not a surprising at all. Actually, sadly, it’s quite expected.

This story about Miss Uganda speaks to the desperate need for black people to deprogram themselves of white supremacist notions of beauty. Although there are many platforms like magazines, books, websites, twitter accounts, Facebook pages that celebrate African beauty, the venomous colonial narratives of beauty persist. We live in postcolonial times on this continent, and post-apartheid in South Africa, and the possibilities of constructing African beauty according to our own ideals is infinite. As people who are working towards the realisation of an African Renaissance it would do us good to shed the limited conceptions of beauty, of love, of sexuality, of the good life, of success, of gender, of Africa-ness, left behind by colonialists.

Achille Mbembe articulates quite successfully the essence of what we should be striving for when he states “we need to reopen Africa to the circulation of ideas and mobility, against models of post colonial, internalised boundaries.” We need to break the narrow confines with which we work with to define African beauty and identities.

Jesus is destructive for black people

There are two times in my life that I started to think critically about Jesus and all that he represents. The first moment was when I was in school and my friend NomaA said to me that she thinks Jesus is horrible and hates black people. NomaA said that God hates black people because he gave black women ugly hair and they have to go to so much trouble to get their hair as silky as white women’s hair. NomaA said that if God loved black people he would have given black women straight, beautiful, flowing hair and not the type of hair that needs to much labour to make it beautiful. I remember this conversation because it was the first time someone had spoken so openly to me about dissatisfaction with God.

The second time my young mind had to critically think about Jesus (I use God and Jesus interchangeably, they are after all the same person) was when I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. You will remember Pecola in the book and the sadness of her yearning for blue eyes. Pecola, a black girl who prays to God to give her blue eyes so that she could also be beautiful. I remember reading the following passages and weeping:

“Each night without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. To have something as wonderful as that would take a long, long time.”

After praying very hard for a whole year for blue eyes, Pecola does not get her blue eyes. She then goes to see a Psychic Reader and who said:

“Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty… a little black girl who wanted to rise out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes. For the first time he (Psychic Reader) honestly wished he could work miracles.”

As you can imagine I’ve had other experiences that have made me question the concept of Jesus, but these two stand out because I was so young and both of these encounters have stayed with me. What also made these encounters special is that when I read about Pecola in The Bluest Eye, I immediately thought of NomaA and how she must have felt about black women’s hair.

Now I am a little older and I have sat through many Sociology classes that have enabled me unpack these events in retrospect. There is much to unpack from the statements made by my friend NomaA and by Pecola about the intersection of race, religion, gender, and beauty. In this piece I want to concentrate on religion, on God, on Jesus and why it is destructive for black people to believe in this construct.

The statement made by NomaA back in school about her black hair and Jesus not giving black people flowing white people hair was problematic because it relies on white supremacist concepts of beauty. What NomaA believed about Jesus on the other hand was correct to a large extent, because it is clear that if there was such a thing as a Jesus, then he really doesn’t like black people, women, disabled people, and LGBTI people. The important question then becomes why would black people want to worship a God that doesn’t seem to like them? Back in school both NomaA and I didn’t have the analytical tools to help us understand the way South African society was shaped and how race, God, and white supremacy are linked. Even though we didn’t have well developed analytical skills NomaA already felt that there was something wrong with the Jesus picture.

The character of Pecola was instrumental in helping me see the violence of Christianity on the black psyche. The way Pecola prays to white Jesus for blue eyes made me weep. I couldn’t (still can’t) get over the destructiveness of how she prayed for a whole year for pretty blue eyes, blue eyes she will never attain. Here is a black girl praying for blue eyes from a white God – it is the essence of white supremacy – black people asking to be saved by a white God by making them white. To think that black people continue praying to Jesus so that “they can be more like (white) Jesus.” You have to appreciate the wackiness of it all, that although black people have been “emancipated” from colonialism and in South Africa also from apartheid, they continue to be enslaved to a Jesus that was an instrument in their colonisation.

The question of Jesus is a pressing matter for black people’s liberation because the construct of white Jesus is one of the strongest ways black people are held in captivity. I have already written about the dangers of the concept of “The New Jerusalem” and “storing your wealth in heaven” while others, predominantly white others are enjoying wealth right here on earth. The concept of Jesus is the biggest scam on the African continent and the only people who do not seem to see this is black people. It is a scam because the very people who brought Jesus here do not give two shits about him. It is people who used to worship ancestors before the arrival of Europeans who are willing to die and sometimes kill for Jesus.

A friend of mine recently sent me a video from Stan The White Guy who has some interesting things to say about black people and about Jesus. Stan says a number of things that are true including:

“We use white supremacy and religion to mind fuck brown people.”

“If you believe in a God of your enemy, you are an idiot.”

“We gave you this God because we knew by worshiping a white God you will be worshipping us (white people).”

“You will never fight against us because subconsciously you will be fighting God.”

 Watch the video here.

The relationship between Jesus and white supremacy is destructive for us not to pay attention. The relationship black people have with Jesus is psychologically damaging for us not to critique it. We need to question the concept of Jesus and the things black people do in the name of God. The construct of white Jesus is part and parcel of  the systematic structure of white supremacy and it needs to be challenged and even if God is not willing, it needs to be overhauled. I would rather black people worship dead grandmothers and dead grandfathers a.k.a ancestors than to worship a white, blue eyed Jewish guy who was born from a virgin.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Township life and black psychological impairment

Going back to where I grew up is always an interesting experience because I run into my younger self in weird ways and I am confronted with the many ways I have changed since I left Port Elizabeth. I am confronted by the life I knew I never wanted hence I escaped to Cape Town. This past week I visited my mother who still lives in KwaZakhele, Port Elizabeth, where I spent the first twenty years of my life. I often visit at least once a year. It was depressing to visit the area I once called home, I suppose in some ways it is still home. Although, now I call Cape Town home – politics of a black person from the “Eastern Cape” calling Cape Town home notwithstanding. When I arrived in KwaZakhele from the airport I was welcomed by a smell of disappointment and total neglect. Instead of the area improving in post-apartheid times, it is depreciating. When entering KwaZakhele, from whichever direction you are welcomed by rubbish everywhere. Old decaying buildings close to people’s homes have turned into dumping grounds. People are living amongst rubbish and life just goes on. My mother told me that she takes her own rubbish to a waste-disposing site about 10 kilometres from where she lives because waste pickup in so erratic and inconvenient.

When I arrived, about 5 houses from where I grew up, the floodlight that provides light for a massive area at night was lying on the ground. My mother informed me that the light was taken down around March/April 2014 to be fixed and it’s been lying on the ground ever since. The area gets really dark at night and people don’t feel safe, not to mention that some people still use the outside lavatories at night and so it’s difficult for people who don’t have well lit back yards. Some homes are so poor in this area that having a light bulb outside is a luxury. Rumour has it that when the people asked the ward councillor about why the light was taking so long to fix, he keeps on giving people nonsense excuses about parts of the light coming from overseas, but the best one was that there’s only one person who can fix the light and he was currently in Cape Town on another project.

The minute I arrived home it was one horror story after another about crime in the area. It’s so unsettling to realize that your family members are living in such a dangerous place particularly because I live in a predominantly white neighbourhood in Cape Town – which of course does come with it’s own set of issues. Most of what I saw and experienced in KwaZakhele this past week I have read about and I have seen it in townships in Cape Town, but what really struck me about KwaZakhele was the continued downward spiral of the area and people’s lives. Since I have left KwaZakhele, every time I go back it seems to be more depressing than the last time I visited. The area feels like people have just given up on life. It looks and feels like young people have no dreams about their futures. Many of the people I went to school with are unemployed and wake up to stand on street corners and ask for spare change from a passer-by who looks like they might have a coin to spare.

Like many townships around the country, KwaZakhele is a product of the Group Areas Act. KwaZakhele is an area created during apartheid to house black people in Port Elizabeth. There are many other township areas around South Africa that are just like KwaZakhele. So, in a sense there’s nothing unique about KwaZakhele. Like many townships KwaZakhele has 4-roomed matchbox houses that were built by the apartheid government in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The area was even nicknamed “4rooms” after the houses that were built in the area. Some families added more rooms to their houses using either bricks and cement or corrugated iron, or plywood amongst other materials. What is troubling is that these matchbox style types of township houses and areas are still under production by the ANC government. New houses and areas have been created to house black people and often these new areas are in the outskirts of cities, which is really the continuation of apartheid geography where black people live far away from white suburbs and the city centres.

My trip to KwaZakhele left me asking myself, why are people not more upset about the state of things where they live? Why are people not doing more to improve their lives in townships? Why are people not putting more pressure on their ward councillors for better services? Why aren’t people shaming their ward councillors on local newspapers? Why aren’t people taking care of the areas they live in? Why aren’t people requiring better infrastructures in the new areas where they live? I am sure there are a number of possible answers to these questions, and I won’t try to tackle all of them.

Although there are many service delivery protests around the country, I think one of the major problems in KwaZakhele and possibly other townships is that people don’t really believe they deserve better. This is captured succinctly by the popular phrase in Xhosa “ubungenayo nale indlu” (you didn’t even have that house) that often shocks me when I ask people about rejecting poorly build government houses. People often say that you can’t reject what you have been given by the government because you didn’t even have it in the first place. So people accept whatever they get. I find this troubling because it speaks to a deep-seated inferiority complex.

Although there are a number of processes in place in post-apartheid South Africa aimed at redress like affirmative action and land redistribution, although both imperfect they are mechanisms to redress South Africa’s gross inequality. What has been neglected in post-apartheid South Africa in the quest to redress the past is the psychological effects of colonisation and apartheid on black South Africans. I think as a country we underestimate the psychological violence that has been visited on black minds by the past regimes, a violence that continues in varied ways in post-apartheid South Africa. A more cynical view would say that white capital and the black government understand the psychological impairment caused by colonialism and apartheid of black South Africans and use it to retain power and control of the masses. What I witnessed in KwaZakhele this past week cemented to me that black people in KwaZakhele, quite possibly in many townships around the country, don’t believe they deserve better than the lives they are living. People have bought into the inferiority they have been fed by colonialism and later apartheid and the current black government doesn’t seem interested in reconstructing the psychological health of black South Africans.

The psychological effects of colonialism and apartheid does not just affect poor black people who live in townships, it affects middle class black people in white suburbs, who navigate their new surroundings as if they don’t belong there. It affects our government officials who seem to be blind to the levels of poverty, crime, and general degradation of places inhabited by black people. I think that a psychologically healthy black population is necessary in order to have a relatively functional democracy in South Africa. White South Africans also need their own projects on working on their psychological damage done by colonialism and apartheid. People often think white South Africans are spared psychological damage because they are on the other side of power, but they are also psychologically screwed up and need to unpack the ways they are implicated in the continued degradation of black life in this country and what they are doing about it.

Written by Lwando Scott 

White Supremacist Roots of “Yellow Bone”

The term “Yellow Bone” has gained popularity amongst young black people and it is used in everyday conversation when referring to light skin black people. This term seems to appear everywhere, on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook used to describe people and also used as a hash tag. The term yellow bone is used as a supposedly positive description and reference to black people who have light skin.

Urban dictionary describes yellow bone as “the lightest type of light skinned black female. They can often be very rare to see in comparison to other blacks because there are not as many of them in the general black population.”People seem to really enjoy being called yellow bone because it supposedly means that they are beautiful and as Urban Dictionary put it “rare to see.”

This term is used to suggest that light skin black people are beautiful but it also means that they derive their beauty from the fact that they have light skin. On occasion I have heard people relay their disappointment that someone is yellow bone but is not beautiful. They are disappointed because light skin should get you closer to beauty and some yellow bones don’t seem to make most of their proximity to whiteness.

The description of people as yellow bone and therefore beautiful is very revealing. Firstly, it reveals the ways in which the power of white supremacy continues to rule the consciousness of black South Africans. Black people who use the term yellow bone have internalised white supremacy notions of beauty.

Secondly, it reveals how racism as a system of oppression can function without white people present because black people have been thoroughly schooled on how to be racist to each other. This is something Angela Davis touched on recently when she gave a talk in Cape Town when she said, “other races, like white people, do not have to be present for us to be able to identify racism.” Yellow bone is a white supremacist narrative and tinged with dangerous ways of quantifying beauty and quite honestly psychologically unhealthy.

Lastly, it reveals the long lasting fucked up psychological effects of white supremacy on black people. That people believe that light skin makes them “better” people or more worthy. A light skinned acquaintance recently referred to himself as a yellow bone and spoke about how “poor dark skinned people” (sic) were jealous of him because he is a yellow bone. I didn’t survey the “dark skinned” people, so I don’t know if they really were jealous of his yellow bone-ness. Regardless, I find this term absolutely abhorrent.

Yellow bone talk relies on standards of beauty established through colonialism, slavery, and apartheid. The narratives that established white people as “beautiful” and black people as “ugly” are ever present and continuously reassert themselves in terms such as yellow bone. This is a fact pointed out recently in The New Yorker by Claudia Roth Pierpont who wrote a piece on Nina Simone where she said “the aesthetics of race – and the loathing and self-loathing inflicted on those who vary from accepted standards of beauty – is one of the most pervasive aspects of racism, yet it is not often discussed. The standards have been enforced by blacks as well as by white.”

We, as black people, need to reject white supremacist notions of beauty like yellow bone. We need to be very conscious of the ways in which we buy into “white is right” discourses and actively challenge yellow bone talk. Of course this is very hard to practise because we are inundated with all kinds of things that tell us white is beautiful and black is not.

This yellow bone narrative is not divorced from wider problematic race issues in this country. A walk through CNA or Clicks magazine section will reveal the overwhelming majority of white faces and bodies on the cover of magazines. Never mind the fact that this country is predominantly black in population. Media representation, or lack thereof is implicated in the ways that people construct ideas about beauty. In a country that is predominantly black it is problematic that white bodies represent most things associated with beauty.

Now the big structural problems, like the magazines and the beauty product industries are hard to change, but what we can change is ourselves and how we view each other. We, as black people have to fight against privileging white bodies as measurements for beauty and recognise beauty in each other in all our shades.

The hierarchy of skin tones is nothing new in black communities. The use of whiteness or proximity to whiteness as a barometer of beauty is also not new. What really drives me to write this is the “new” ways in which black people perpetuate white supremacists notions of beauty on other black people. These “new” supremacists ways reassert themselves in the supposedly “post-race” and “born-free” generation.

When I think about the term yellow bone, I can’t help but think of Steve Biko and his insistence that “by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”

It would seem to me that yellow bone talk does not move us towards emancipation; on the contrary it moves us to imprisoning ourselves with limited, Eurocentric notions of beauty. With the popularity of terms like yellow bone, it is very evident that Black Consciousness is still very relevant for black South Africans, and maybe even more so for the “born-free.”

Written by Lwando Scott