Kindness

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” – Albert Schweitzer

South Africa is a hard society. South Africans can be really hard on each other. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will experience or see rudeness and unkind behaviour. When I am on the road – whether I am in a mini bus taxi, a MyCiTi bus, or just walking, I observe some of the ways people are so unkind to each other. While shopping at the grocery store or grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant, I have seen people treat service workers with absolute rudeness and condescension.

I have witnessed in horror a terribly rude white woman customer interacting with a black woman working at the bakery at Spar recently. She was so unnecessarily rude – the customer never looked at the women serving her, spoke in a condescending manner, spoke loud as if she was stupid, asked to be handed over a baguette and then felt it and smelled it and then handed it back asking “is this all you have?” with her nose frowning. Later that day I scolded myself for not alerting the white woman to her rudeness.

I have watched people at the robots be so rude. Sometimes people take a second or two to move when the lights turn green, but people get so angry and hoot and sometimes fiercely speed fast past the car waiting in the lights. People live busy lives yes, but you can spare a second or two for someone to take off.

I have witnessed taxi drivers be absolutely unkind to people who have taken the wrong taxi or missed their stop and be totally unwilling to returning the person to the right spot. I have observed a taxi driver kick someone out of a taxi after discovering that they didn’t have the full taxi fair.

I have observed a manager of a restaurant “discipline” a waiter in front of customers in a condescending manner, and I remember feeling really bad for the waiter. There is way of dealing with these issues without being blatantly horrible and obnoxious.

These are just a few examples of the unkind ways people approach other people. The lack of respect and the lack of kindness can be really depressing to watch. I think sometimes people confuse demanding the best with being rude and unkind. I think we should demand the best from each other and from the places we get services, but one can do that with kindness.

I wonder if we could try and practice being nice to each other. To think about what we are about to say to someone else, especially if we are not having a good day.

It would be one thing if people were unkind to each other once in a while because they were upset. No, it is a constant occurrence. It is a way people go through life – their everyday interactions at work, on the streets, in the shops, and quite possibly at home.

I think if you witness someone being unkind to another person, you should step in and say something. If you are really scared of the person being rude and unkind, console the person who has been subjected to the unkindness. It makes the world of difference when someone who is not involved in the situation alert the person who is being rude and impossible that they are being unkind.

I also think we actually need to practise, school each other on being kind. There needs to be an effort from all of us to be more kind, more gentle, and try to understand that we are all dealing with people with their own life battles. Service workers are people with families who have grocery lists just like the customers.

The distancing of ourselves from the people we meet in everyday interactions is what enables us to be so unkind to other people. It is hard to be unkind to people that you know, and people you understand, people you see as human. Imagine the type of society we could live in if we just thought about what the other person could be facing. Not in a “carry the world on your shoulders” type of way, but in a manner that enables us to empathise with fellow humans.

There are many things we can do to cultivate and show kindness and we can start with people we interact with everyday. The most wonderful thing about being kind is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything. You can be kind to other people without spending any money. Some of the ways we can be kind to others are as simple as greeting someone at the till who is about to ring your groceries. In the Xhosa culture there are few things as offensive as not being greeted and being asked how you are. This is a way of recognising other people as human, and way of saying, “hey, I see you.”

As Schweitzer stated “kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” So imagine the ways that being more kind to each other would change our communities and how we interact with each other. Imagine living in a world where being kind to other people is the standard? I’d like to think that world is possible and we can achieve it with one kind act at a time.

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 

The struggle for a fulfilling life

Growing up we are never taught how to get the most out of life. We are seldom taught how to live fulfilling lives that are also enriching to others and ultimately the communities we live in. I suppose this is because our parents often don’t have fulfilling lives themselves. Sometimes parents are too busy running a house to think about the ways a child can cultivate a life that is enriched and more fulfilling.

Going to church and being spiritual is one of the ways in which children are taught they will have a fulfilled life. That a relationship with god will lead to a fulfilling life. Many of us who grew up in a church environment and have since left it know that fulfilment does not necessarily come from a relationship with god. Sometimes fulfilment comes after you demolish your relationship with the church as that relationship can be toxic, especially if who you are is at odds with the bible.

 I suppose it would be good for me to explain or describe what I mean by fulfilment. For me fulfilment is realising that we are only here on earth for a short period of time and that we should try and live our lives as if the possibilities are endless.

 Living a fulfilling life necessitates an understanding that we have some power to control the direction of our lives. That we are often faced with difficult choices but regardless, the choices we make will determine how enriching and fulfilling our lives will be. People should really invest in getting to know themselves and encourage children to do the same.

 The project of developing a healthy sense of self is an on-going process that requires consciousness and children need to be guided in this process. Sometimes life doesn’t feel so good, but we must allow ourselves to feel what we feel. Also, not feeling great about things in your life can be a catalyst for a project that will lead to an enriching life. It is sometimes hard to deal with who we are, to be honest with ourselves about who we are.

 We owe it to at least ourselves to be honest about who we are and most importantly who we want to be. Our parents and society are very poor at teaching us to own our feelings and emotions. As children we are often disregarded as things to be “seen and not heard” which cripples us from being able to express how we feel when we are feeling it.

 South Africa is a very hard society. It is an angry society, and sometimes justifiably so, but I do think that this anger gets in the way of us finding ways to have fulfilling lives. Instead we find ways to destroy each other’s lives. We need to nurture the soft side of our beings, to allow ourselves to feel, to hurt, and be emotional. Also South Africans have very limited ideas of what can be fulfilling in life and we often police people who find life satisfaction and fulfilment on things that are out of the ordinary.

 Some people find fulfilment in life by falling in love with people of the same sex as them. Some people find fulfilment in life by changing the sex they were born with to a sex that resonates better with how they feel on the inside. The places where people find their joy, where they find life, are unlimited. The major problem is that we live in a society that discourages people from living their truth, if their truth questions societal standards and norms. This can be limiting when people are trying to find fulfilment in a world that rejects some of the fundamental parts of who they are.

 As a society, one that received a new lease on life when Nelson Mandela was released, apartheid ended, and all South Africans voted for the first time, we had (and still have) a chance to develop new ways to be. We have an opportunity to experiment with what it means to be living in South Africa, indeed the world in the 21st century. We should really applaud people who travel hard roads to find fulfilling lives, even when their lives deviate from the norm. We often encourage people to go on self-discovery journeys only to reject what they have found, because it is not what we expected.

 So, what is really important to ask ourselves, our children, our lover(s), our neighbours, our students, our sisters and brothers, our friends, and our colleagues is – what do you want out of life? Who are you? What makes you feel alive? What will make you smirk lying back on your deathbed? When you can answer these question honestly, at least to yourself first, without fearing what others will say or think, then you are on your way to discovering what can make your life more fulfilling.

 Another crucial aspect of a fulfilling life is the ability or the option to change your mind when the choices you have made at one point in your life don’t seat well with where you are currently. The choices we make at one point, which are incredibly fulfilling at that point, does not mean they will always be fulfilling. The decisions we make, about who to love, where to work, or a course at university, these are things that if need be can changed. This is the glory of knowing yourself and knowing what you want, you also know when what used to be fulfilling is no longer rewarding.

 One of the hardest things to overcome in trying to have a fulfilling life is the fear of failing. The fear of failure is something that holds people back, but what people often neglect is the fulfilment that comes from trying, from giving it your all.

 So, as a society, let us encourage people to know who they are, and to accept the different fulfilling life goals people have. Let us approach each other with a little bit of tenderness because in some shape or another we are all grappling with what it means to be alive.

Written by Lwando Scott 

Reflections: This Book Betrays My Brother

brother

Author: Kagiso Lesego Molope

I love the tittle of this book. And after reading the book you realise even more how smart titled this book is. This book was published in 2012 but I only read it this year after my friend Siphokazi posted a quote from the book on Facebook. I was intrigued by the quote and decided to buy the book. The quote:

 “First of all, any album worth listening to is released in December, and the songs often mention the time of the year. In northern countries songs are about summertime, but here you will hear “December.” One of the most popular songs the year before I left home for varsity starts with: ‘Hello! Hello, December!’”

When I read this I knew immediately what the author was talking about. I knew I had to get this book because it already referenced a part of my life with fond memories of dancing to TKZee. I was a senior in primary school, getting ready for high school, when Halloween by TKZee came out. It was the biggest Kwaito album of all time, and it remains a staple for dance floors across South African townships. I used to spend December holidays with my cousins in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth and the December Halloween came out was one of the best Decembers of my life.

So it is through Siphokazi that I come to this book. After reading This Book Betrays My Brother I remember thinking what a South African story. This is a story about how gender operates in South African communities. It is evident in the way Kagiso Lesego Molope lays out the story how she has been paying attention to the ubiquitous-ness, the taken for granted, and ultimately the destructive nature of a misogynistic culture like the one we have in South Africa. The detailing of the seemingly innocent ways boys are praised and girls are cautioned is revealing.

This is a story a sister tells about her brother who she idolises but then she is witness to a darker side of him. What Kagiso Lesego Molope accomplishes in this beautiful yet heart-wrenching novel is the detailing of the familial and societal structures that create her brother – Basimane – the man and the things he is capable of. The book opens with the details of Basimane’s birth that was so monumental it crossed country borders. His birth was like the coming of Jesus and then he was treated like a king throughout his life and Naledi his sister, who is the narrator, is basically invisible in his shadow.

The politics of social mobility in this book speak to the ambivalent place that some black South Africans find themselves. Naledi and Basimane and their family move out of the poor section of the location into the more middle class section but Basimane more than anyone else in the family retains strong affiliation with the “real” township to the dismay of his mother. The fissures that class creates amongst black South Africans are not adequately dealt with in everyday conversation and it is also absent in fiction. When black families move out of the township there are all kinds changes that need to be negotiated from new neighbours to the new relationship one has with the township one comes from and the people in it.

A very strong thread in this book is that the people we know and love are capable of some horrible things. It is really difficult to call to order family members for their wrongdoing. How does one call out a family member for doing something wrong to someone else who is not a family member without being seen as betraying the family? How does one hold an esteemed family member accountable when they have inflicted pain on someone who is not family, and you know the family member is wrong? These are questions I grappled with growing up when I would witness my uncles cheating on their girlfriends. It would be taken for granted that I would be loyal to my uncle and say nothing. I was both being socialised into the world of men and also learning about family loyalty; that you protect family even when they are in the wrong.

As an only child the brother and sister relationship between Basimane and Naledi and the loyalties that are expected of this relationship fascinated me. As Naledi grows older and she starts to experience the world as a young woman, she starts to see her brother in a different light and that dark incident one afternoon changes her view of her brother. This book makes you question how well you think you know your siblings and what they are capable of.

In the end it is Naledi who carries the guilt of what her brother does. The brother moves on while his family and his community protect him. He is unscathed by his own bad actions. In fact Basimane is defended by his family and by his community without really engaging the fact that he might be guilty of wrongdoing.

The author calls to attention the ways in which families and society nurture boys. This book calls into question the expectations we have of young men like Basimane. This book unveils the built in nature of the unequal gender system in operation in our communities; a system where women are already disadvantaged by the mere fact of being born women. This built in system of protecting male privilege at the expense of women is captured in laugh-it-off phrases like “boys will be boys” which endorse destructive behaviour. This is a South African story that exposes our troubled gender relations. This is a story that left me feeling like we have a lot of work to do in undoing gender. We have come a long away particularly with legislating gender equality, but we are far away from making constitutional gender equality a reality in women’s everyday lives.

Reflections: In Search of Happiness

In-Search-of-Happiness-Cover

Author: Sonswabiso Ngcowa

Written by Lwando Scott 

“This novel is dedicated to all young people who feel and know that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. Your love is as beautiful as love can be. One day all people will understand and respect love, however it comes.This time will come. Sometimes it is here.”

In Search of Happiness gripped me from the dedication page. The dedication is an affirming beginning and sets out the tone for the book. A book about self-discovery, family, loss, and ultimately love. Sonwabiso Ngcowa’s In Search of Happiness succeeds because of its accessibility, the book that can be read by teenagers and adults. It succeeds because it is a story about a black young woman, Nanase, and her journey from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape. It succeeds because it is about discovering that you can find love in places you never thought it could be. This book succeeds because it centres the life of a young black woman who falls in love with another young black woman. This book succeeds because it centralises a love story that is often not seen as a love story in this country.

While many may still consider LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) lives a taboo subject, Sonwabiso dares to go there. LGBTI South Africans are often depicted as people without friends, without brothers and sisters, without parents. They are rarely seen as parents themselves. Sonwabiso’s lead character, Nanase, is a young woman with friends, a grandmother that she loves, she has a mother and father, and she has siblings. Nanase’s story helps society see LGBTI people as part of social circles and coming from families and that homophobia doesn’t just hurt the individual but entire families.

There is something very real about Nanase’s journey of discovering her attraction to another woman when she moves to Masiphumelele, Cape Town. Although there is a sense of ambivalence in Nanase while she is in the Eastern Cape about her sexual identity, it is not until she moves to Masiphumelele and she meets Agnes that she fully comprehends what’s going on inside her. In Agnes she finds someone she can experience and experiment her feelings with that she had bottled up inside her.

Every chapter tittle in the book is in English but is accompanied by a Xhosa translation. I like this infusion of vernacular language in English texts; maybe we are moving into a time where English fiction will be heavily infused with the vernacular. That is after all how many South Africans speak. Sonwabiso captures the way people in the Eastern Cape view Cape Town. In the Eastern Cape, Cape Town is seen and talked about as the place of dreams, a place where people go and realize their dreams hence the popular phrase “iKapa lodumo” which translates to “the Cape of Fame.” Of course, like most people from the Eastern Cape, Nanase soon finds out that iKapa lodumo is not exactly what it is cracked up to be because it comes with it’s own set of challenges.

When Nanase comes out to her parents it is predictably a very tough conversation and is handled poorly by her parents. She comes out of the experience feeling confused and bewildered and it struck me how family and friends – straight people in general – make coming out all about them and ignore the emotional turmoil of the person coming out. Coming out is a very peculiar experience in the township because unlike in Western society, people don’t often talk about sex/sexuality regardless of orientation. So like Nanase, most LGBTI identified young people in townships struggle with a way to package what is going on in their lives in a way that won’t be read as disrespectful and foreign. Sonwabiso handles the coming out conversation in a relatable manner and I think we need more South African literature that deal with the messiness of coming in the South African context. If we can even call it “coming out.”

Sonwabiso gently manages the issue of difference in this book. South Africans pride themselves of being a diverse country, but at the same time South Africans are intolerant of difference. Difference in South Africa must come in neat and familiar ways in order for it to be palatable. As Nanase discovers that she is different and that her neighbour is also different, she has to deal with intolerance of the community and her friends at school. She has to deal with the mean spirit of people who refuse to constructively engage with difference.

This book is an easy read that touches on very complex issues that people living in townships of South Africa are dealing with. Sonwabiso touches on homophobia, xenophobia, sexual assault, and poverty. These are hard issues to deal with, but Sonwabiso manages to mindfully weave these things together showing us that they are connected. Where you find gender violence you are likely to find homophobia and where you find homophobia you are likely to find xenophobia and so it goes.

In Search of Happiness is aptly titled because we all share this quest for a happier and a more fulfilling life. Like the rest of us Nanase is trying to find her way through a world structured to her disadvantage. In Search of Happiness is the type of book I wish someone had given me when I was in high school going through my own self-discovery phase.

To say this book is timely would be an understatement. This is a must read for high school going young people. It is a must read for all South Africans who are interested in what it means to be young in post-apartheid South Africa. This is a must read if you are interested in stories about young black people written by young black people.