“Why don’t you refer to your maid as a maid”? This is a question I posed to my modest number of twitter followers this morning. I’m sure you can see that I asked a question already having formed the conclusion that the word was a no-no. Over the years I have noticed a trend: middle-class Africans (who form a notable part of my followers list) have large problems using the “m-word”–as one of the responders to the question termed it—to refer to their housekeepers.
The responses I got were very much expected. Many people cited the discomfort they felt about calling an older woman anything besides “aunty” and all of the vernacular versions of that word. And when it came to calling younger maids by that title it seemed it was easier for most of the people participating in the discussion to refer to their maid as “sister”. The reasons behind both practises mentioned in the hazy air of cultural appropriateness.
But I’m not buying it.
Yes, at the surface of many Africans’ inability to refer to their domestic servants as such is the sheen of cultural appropriateness delivered in years of elders entrenching within us, a fear of calling an adult by anything but a family title.
And yes, I understand that particularly with Africa’s harsh colonial past, specifically South Africa with her’s being so recent and fresh in the minds of her people, there is a discomfort when one considers the racial associations the word has in the minds of many people.
And, yes, it may in fact be very Botho (Ubuntu) to treat and refer to house-help as a family member.
I’ve taken to yelling “Do your thang, girl!” at women that I perceive to be dressed excellently in public spaces. Accompanied with a sassy snap of the fingers, my little ritual makes me both proud to put a smile on a woman’s face and simultaneously, very worried about the evident descent of my mental health.
In any case, this little thing I do serves as my attempt to push good energy into the world on a daily basis as well as a small manifestation of my positive woman-centric principles.
But lately, I’ve begun to think about my interpretation of ‘excellent dressing’ as well as the role it plays in plaiting a larger idea of ‘appropriate attire.’ What is the definition of excellent dressing and why should that have to be a pre-requisite before I encourage a woman to do her proverbial ‘thang’?
I realised that I had the conventional way of thinking. I was one of those women that could tweet quite whole-heartedly about which women should or should not dress a certain way. I had no problems forming imaginary rules about which attire I deemed appropriate for mothers and women over a ‘certain age’.
Soon after writing my last piece the topic of classism began to occupy my mind almost full-time. I became very quickly aware that in a country like mine (almost completely homogenously “black”) there were still factors that divided us as a people. My notion that all African people are the same and should be able to relate and connect based almost solely on their African-ness was challenged and almost completely discredited for the uninformed self-righteousness it revealed within me.
Along with the realisation that the words of Biko and Muendane, as well as the musings of a teenage girl on what I term ‘theoretical politics’, had almost no weight in the minds of the “common man.” The average African living very close to the poverty-line, had very little interest in what I believed was all it took for the world to change: an understanding of one’s identity as an African as well as the prioritization of this factor.
I began to see that if such things would have an effect on people, then the state in which these people lived would have to change immediately. Before I was to step onto my soap-box (which you will find is carved from the self-righteous wood of my middle-class upbringing) it would be imperative that I begin to focus on the factors that would allow these Africans to have any dams to give about the musings of contemporary ‘pan-Africanists’ like myself.
I see now that on this continent, at this juncture, it is economics that has more of an effect on people than matters of race. That is what has more power to connect people across nations. I can no longer stand by my previous emphasis on the difference between Sudanese and Ghanaian people or Moroccan people and “Cape Coloureds”, which was based on my perceptions about the differences in their heritage.
STEP ONE: Begin by taking yourself far too seriously. Become your screen-name. I recommend you spend a week training your subconscious to forget your government name and respond only to ‘@juicy_feminist’ or ‘@africanist_muffin’ or ‘@atheist_tapdancer’, or whatever clever name you gave yourself.
This is the only way that you can truly immerse yourself in your own self-importance.
STEP TWO: Read a few books on your topic of ‘expertise’. The number of books can range from anything between 0.5* and 3.
It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you constantly mention these books in ‘intellectual’ debates when proving to your opponent how very correct you are. (Don’t forget that you are always correct. And don’t shy away from reminding your followers of that.)
If you have a Master’s degree in your topic of expertise, don’t forget to mention it at least twice a morning. If you are in the process of getting your masters make sure to remind your followers of your #postgradproblems every three tweets and never, ever miss the opportunity to tweet them when ‘pulling an all-nighter on your thesis.’ The sun would explode if your followers missed out on that information.
“In November 2010, South Africans were shocked when a video showing two teenage boys allegedly raping a young girl made headlines. The clip, which had been taped at Jules High School in Johannesburg and distributed online, confirmed many parents’ worst nightmare; very young kids are having sex on school premises, and, moreover, they’re being reckless, unsafe, and ignorant.’
What? When I read the beginning of this article, titled “The Kids Aren’t Alright” in January 2013’s issue of True Love magazine I didn’t immediately understand why I got so ferociously angry at its author for having put it like this. I mean, the rest of the article itself is an informative report by Jaqueline Cochrane on the state of South Africa’s sex education, and relatively harmless except for this one paragraph. But it is precisely this one paragraph that at first made it impossible for me to put aside the venomous anger bubbling up inside of me and finish the article.
Lets read through the paragraph together: “In November 2010, South Africans were shocked when a *video showing two teenage boys allegedly raping a young girl* made headlines. The clip, which had been taped at Jules High School in Johannesburg and distributed online, confirmed many parents’ worst nightmare; very young kids are having sex on school premises, and, moreover, they’re being reckless, unsafe, and ignorant.’
You see the part in bold? Does it seem odd to you? Read it again, and then read the rest of the excerpt.
The writer of this column starts off by mentioning two very serious crimes. Firstly, the production and distribution of illegal pornographic material featuring a real under-aged victim, and secondly, the “alleged” raping of a young girl. And then proceeds to write about “kids having sex in school”. The rest of the article is hundreds of words about under-aged sex and next to zero words about rape.