I don’t remember everything you said but I remember everything you made me feel. You, with whom I have tried always to speak truth and walk truth and be truth because I love you, you made me feel like I had on clown shoes and a false nose and a rainbow-coloured wig but all I had on was myself and my truth and my joy – and you laughed at me. You laughed at my fears and called them trite and told me to stop listening to Dr Google, but not once did you stop to ask how I’m doing and not segue into you telling me how you’re doing.
I don’t remember what you said but I remember how you made me feel. I am not angry or bitter or disappointed or even hurt – I got past that like I always do because if life has taught me anything it’s that nothing good ever comes from my anger or my pain, beautiful disasters that breed more disaster. No. Everything beautiful in my life is because I chose forgiveness over hurt and anger and pain; because I choose, consciously and as often as I remember, to do the loving thing. You will not steal my peace and replace it with anger, you will not hijack my joy and give me hurt instead. You won’t even take up space in my memory because what is you will soon and very soon be replaced by what is peace and what is all of the things I choose to make of myself, things that do not include staying stuck in a past of regret and sadness, carrying the burden of remembering you.
Everything is not for everyone and I am not for everyone and you, dear, have proved to be everyone. I am many things but I am not a doormat – not anymore – and I am no longer here for you to decrease me without replenishing; I’m not available to be your plan B when plan A fails nor to be any of the things I used to be despite that you never gave a thought to my needs except when it made you look and feel good. I don’t remember what you said but I remember how I felt, and I remember too that I am a God-child and a goddess and a queen. Hey there, bitch, did you forget who I am?
Comfort food is some type of creamy pasta. Comfort food is potatoes slathered in salt, cheese and butter. Comfort food is me eating my feelings because the writing I’m doing isn’t about my personal dealings. Comfort food is why I’m three sizes bigger than at the start of winter. Comfort food is ointment for internal strain. Comfort food is for when we pretend to be No-nag Jane.
Fear is the worst motivator of all. I learnt this – finally – some three years ago and since then I’ve tried not to let fear be the reason why I do or don’t do anything. It’s not always easy and I don’t always win because #lizardbrain, but I’m not as fearful as I have been and today, today I’m thankful that fear is not what defines me nor is it what drives me.
There is so much freedom in walking in my truth. It might not be pretty or soft or palatable; it might not be all of the things others expect but my truth fits me well. It fits me very well. When I find myself agonising over a course of action I ask –
will I like myself if I do this?
Will this curtail my freedom or anyone else’s? Does this fit into my vision of who I am and the life I’m creating? Is this who I want to be? These questions help me pinpoint the source of hesitation or explain the impulse, and help me act in a way that honours who I am and who I’m becoming.
I feel panicky sometimes, a lot of the time, and when the fear-induced panic threatens to take hold I step out of the moment, take a deep breath, hold still and I examine the fear. I pull that ‘what if’ into bright sunlight and I probe it, its dimensions and its source and as I do this, the tightness in my chest eases, the fight/flight response fades and I can breathe again, think again. I measure the fear, I study it under moonlight and sometimes yellow candle light. That is what working on myself is, sometimes. That’s what doing the work looks like. I name the fear and once I have done that I can control it, bind it up, and having done that I banish it and call up truth.
Fear of rejection? I am enough.
Fear of loneliness? Alone is not equal to lonely.
Fear of failure? This is growth, and what is living but growing?
Fear that I will become too awesome and the world won’t be able to handle it? That’s on the world, not on me. *wink
When a racist says he has black friends does that make him less racist? Does that automatically make his statements regarding racism more valid? When a person of mixed race asserts the supposed superiority of one race over another, does his heritage make his statements less hateful, self-hating, hurtful or ignorant? When, in a discussion on tribalism, a man who identifies as Shona says ‘my mother is Ndebele’, does that give him carte blanche to deny the very real state of affairs in Matabeland and the Midlands? Does his heritage justify, excuse or explain his obvious ignorance?
I have an ex who is like this. I used to have friends like this. At some point in my life I too was sufficiently sheltered to think Shona-Ndebele tensions were a thing of the past. Harare people cured me of that misapprehension by the end of my three years there but to this day, all it takes is one flippant, insensitive remark to remind me of those times when Shona people displayed their disdain for Ndebele with impunity.
In Zimbabwe tribalism usually refers to all the ways in which Shona people and a largely Shona government oppress, marginalise and disregard all other people groups in the country. This thread on Twitter breaks it down somewhat. Be warned of the denialists who will claim it’s a language issue, forgetting that Africans have performed in Europe mostly without incident for almost as long trans-continental travel has been a thing. Why is it that the likes of Kofi Olomide and other non-English&non-Shona artists can perform in Harare but a Ndebele artist is booed off-stage? Is it really a language issue as some would have us believe, or a specific response to a specific language? With the popularity of rhumba and similar types of music in Harare it takes contortionist-level mental gymnastics to argue that there isn’t a certain amount of vitriol reserved specifically for Ndebele musicians and Ndebele people in general. Don’t just read the first post, read the entire thread (and the responses).
This marginalization of the Ndebele exists on the micro, meso and macro scales but in the same way that white people will never experience racism and therefore can’t be expected to speak intelligently on how it manifests without engaging with the affected, Shona people largely cannot be expected to contribute intelligibly to discourse on tribalism as it manifests in Zimbabwe because for them, all it is is the fact that Shona people make up 70-80% of Zim’s population, and others –irrelevant others– the balance. If I had a dollar for everytime a Shona speaker asked how I can be Zimbabwean if I don’t speak Shona, I could retire to the beach and finish my book. Yes, that often.
Generally I don’t engage with white people who express the sentiment that racism is a non-issue today, and by the same token I refuse to debate tribalism with anyone like my ex, who opens his argument with his pedigree like it makes his statements more valid, less ignorant, less self-hating, less sad. I know Sotho- Xhosa- and Tonga-speaking Zimbabweans,ethnic minorities who cared enough about their heritage to keep their languages alive in extreme conditions, and you want to tell me that a Ndebele woman living in Harare, Zimbabwe, could not teach her children Ndebele and it doesn’t matter? Identity doesn’t matter? To reference and paraphrase Fanon, language is how we access worlds and spaces and the result is exclusion from the worlds whose languages we do not speak. There is nothing admirable in making a deliberate choice to exclude oneself from the worlds that are one’s heritage. And then we wonder why the status of the native is a nervous condition?
There is a degree of arrogance and condescension that leads one to imply that tribalism in Zimbabwe is a figment of the imagination of people who presumably can’t think their way out of wet paper bags and therefore cannot understand the difference between systematic oppression and the simple fact of one population group being larger than another. Offensive, much?
It is that same level of arrogance compounded by unadulterated ignorance that causes such a one to feel it necessary to explain -to reasonably well-educated Zimbabwean adults- that there are far more Shona speakers in Zimbabwe than there are Ndebele speakers (duh!), and use that to deny (actually, justify) the wholesale marginalisation of four provinces. Disdain, much?
How offensive is it to hear someone claim that what Ndebele people refer to as tribalism is merely the fact of the dominance of the Shona language? Tribalism? Nah, boo, it’s just numbers, dassall. It’s really nothing personal.
How disappointing and maddening it is to have the documented evidence (see various scholarly articles here) of the methodical belittlement of non-Shona people summarily dismissed as invalid by ignorant and privileged individuals who know nothing about -but do not hesitate to speak on- so-called allegations of the deliberate marginalisation of Matabeleland and the Midlands.
How do you engage with racism denialists as a black person? You don’t. How does a woman engage with men who are deaf and blind to sexism and patriarchy? She doesn’t. How does this Ndebele woman engage on tribalism with smug, self-satisfied yet ignorant Shona? With little tolerance for bullshit. Ain’t nobody got time for that; I’m fresh outta fucks to give to the oppressor. Yeah, I went there.
I could have given facts on how tribalism continues to manifest in Zimbabwe. I could have pointed out the policies that have kept Bulawayo, Matabeleland and the Midlands marginalised and under-developed since Independence, policies that are unlikely to be reversed following Independence 2 aka The Coup That Wasn’t (although we live in hope). I could have done that, could still do it, but privilege never engages in good faith, so what would have been the point? Anybody who doesn’t know by now doesn’t care to learn and we’re no longer here to ‘engage’.
Privilege, when oppression is pointed out, will always seek to excuse and justify its existence. Privilege does not understand discourse with the oppressed because by definition it cannot acknowledge the existence of the marginalised.
There’s a kind of sadness that overwhelms sometimes, when you look around you and wonder if this is it and the ever-present voices respond yes, yes this is all there is.
There’s a kind of love, they say, that lights up even the deep, dark spaces, cobwebby and dank, of the most broken heart. There’s a kind of love that restores, that creates, that brings forth new light and rightness of being for the broken ones. So they say, but you know better.
You know that life has been cruel and that there’s far too much darkness in that oft-repaired heart for one little droplet of love to fuel one tiny flicker of light. A flood of love could sweep all fear and sadness before it but in this loveless world there is but one tiny, quivering droplet, and soon -too soon- it dries up….so the light begins to flutter and flicker for lack of love …and the familiar darkness and the taunting voices begin to take hold once more…
Soon the light is defeated and all is as it was. You plod on, sadness and grief bowing your shoulders though you remain dry-eyed because you always live to cry another day. In that if nothing else, you have conquered. Bowed, but not broken. Defeated, but not finished.
What darkness envelopes you, what pall of sadness surrounds you, what tears prickle behind your eyes to remain ever close but never to fall? Crying is a gift granted only to those blessed with mothers and lovers.