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
What manner of touch can satisfy the hunger I have for touch that sees me,
Touch that feeds me and nurtures me,
Grows me and protects me?
Touch that gives to me and fills up the blank black spaces on my skin
With the intricacies of love and romance?
Skin hunger is a real thing.
It can even manifest as rashes, as stress pimples, as flaky scalp, as hair falling out for no reason other than that you’re horribly, unbearably lonely, whether or not you realise that.
Skin hunger manifests as rolling out of strange beds at irregular intervals;
As strange bodies that in the morning look out of place in your home;
Deep voices that suddenly grate;
Calls that never come;
Budding romance at 9pm that blooms into full life at 1am
And dies a quiet demeaning death before noon the next day,
Leaving a ravening shadow even more desperate for touch,
Prowling the streets for another hit.
Talk to your therapist. Drink your water. Fix your skin and your hair and the aches and pains of singledom. Do the work. It’s difficult but it’s doable, all it takes is love. Every day, as you pat your skin dry speak life into it. You are gorgeous and you are worth more than the one night stands you pretend serve your purposes. Stroke your own hair and speak lush life over it. It is your crowning glory, testament to your ancestry and to the strength of those who came before you, like your skin. Strength you can and should harness to create the love and the life you desire.
Practise self care, consciously and deliberately.
Love yourself hard.
Skin hunger doesn’t go away but when you stop thinking of it as a cross to bear and understand that it is evidence of fulfillment to come, you can walk tall knowing that being alone is not the same as being lonely;
Knowing that even if you are at times lonely
It is the loneliness that pushes you to do better
To cross the valley of shadows and drink the sun.
It is the loneliness that reminds you of who, when and why you are,
And to which you can defiantly shout: this is a now thing, not a forever thing.
And then the hunger passes, that achy skin hunger, and you live to love another day.
Skin hunger is real and the best way to resist the self-destructive behaviours it can inspire is to love yourself harder than you’ve ever loved before.
Love yourself fiercely, honestly, radically;
Give yourself the nourishment you need and one day you’ll look back on your years in the desert and use the knowledge and experience you gained there to help others come through unscathed.
We struggle not just for ourselves but for those who come after us. All of black womanhood is built on the collective experiences of each individual woman. Love yourself, love others, learn, teach.
Fragile like bone china and strong like steel; delicate like feelings and solid like rock; such is a woman’s heart.
Acres of hurt and hectares of pain compressed into the fistsized lump of flesh that still, somehow, beats to life’s rhythm.
Her heart pumps, still, and she smiles and caresses her pain; exhales it with the dead smoke and drowns it with the burning sweetness lying at the bottom of a glass, but still the pain stalks her dreams, gnaws at her days.
Then. Her body. Mere flesh, sick and dying; pain is the poison spreading like black oil on blue water, turning her story bitter black and sour green and angry red.
Look into her eyes and see the nothing there. She smiles but her eyes are dead. She is dead on the inside but her heart goes on believing, hoping, trusting, trying, trying.
A woman’s heart is foolish, it loves longer than it should; it believes too long. A woman’s heart inhales hope and exhales pain and still she loves, believes, trusts, hopes. Such is a woman’s heart.
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.