I’m Crazy – A Poem

April 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

I’m Crazy

For refusing to bend my back for the white supremacist to ride.

I’m Crazy

For refusing to kiss the ass of the male supremacist.

I’m Crazy

For refusing to lick the boots of the wealthy.

I’m Crazy.

 

See, these things are “normal” here.

And my failure to adhere,

makes me “Crazy”.

 

I’m Crazy…

So be it.

The Almighty Penis – A Poem

February 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

Until I prove that I exist for the service of a man, my home remains unserviceable.
Until a man takes charge over it
my home remains vacant.
Only when I begin to cook, clean, twerk or rear children for a man
will my existence be validated.
Only then will I become visible.
Only then will my home find an occupant.

*

The Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Penis will only negotiate with other
Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Penises.
The Almighty Penis has no time to deal with a lowly vagina.

A Kenyan Feminist’s Objection to Women in the Military Hierarchy

October 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

As a pacifist feminist who has protested Kenya’s war in Somalia, I cannot applaud the recent appointment of Fatumah Ahmed as Kenya’s First Female Brigadier.

Last August, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Fatumah Ahmed as Kenya’s First Female Brigadier of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF). Fatumah Ahmed was promoted from a colonel to a brigadier as well as appointed the managing director of the Defense Forces Medical Insurance Scheme.

Ahmed’s appointment has generally been viewed as a win for feminism by feminists themselves, with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) hailing it as a “milestone” and praising the President for the appointment. NGEC Chairman Winfred Lichuma deemed the appointment a promotion of gender equality in the management of the affairs of Kenya.

“For the first time, Kenya has a woman brigadier who is all-rounded, competent and qualified to serve in our disciplined forces. This is an empowerment to marginalized groups in the country,” said Lichuma.

Ms Lichuma acknowledged the appointment as a way to integrate women into male-dominated sectors, urging the State to borrow a leaf from Ahmed’s appointment and ensure it brings women on board to serve in key decision-making organs.

I’m a feminist myself who certainly believes that women should enjoy equal access to career advancement and jobs in all spheres. Kenyan women are already part of the military and the appointment of a Kenyan woman to this rank just means that they are able to get as much credit for risking their lives as men do.

Nonetheless, while the appointment is deservedly a feminist victory, it is certainly a mixed one. On one hand, achieving equality for Kenyan women in military leadership illustrates just how successful feminism in Kenya has been in one of its key missions: achieving equality.

Military leadership is, in a sense, a defining male role. And exclusion from the military hierarchy, has, in turn, been a defining feminine trait. A policy that acknowledges the participation of women in, and capacity for military leadership, is, therefore, an important assertion that we are not our gender roles. It demonstrates that women truly can do anything, and must be allowed to do everything that men can do.

But here’s the thing, feminism has never been just about equality. While many feminists advocate the need for women to enjoy equal opportunities as men, many still advocate for the need to criticize male patriarchal ideals and values. And one of the male patriarchal ideals and values that has been consistently questioned and criticized by feminists is war.

Fighting has always been a habit of men, not women, a difference that has been developed over time by practice and law. Throughout history, the majority of human beings and animals have been killed by men – not women.

Yet, as many female soldiers and female politicians have demonstrated, women can be just as attracted to warfare as men. The satisfaction, ,necessity and glory of fighting – which I as a pacifist feminist woman do not understand, feel or enjoy – is clearly not restricted to that one gender.

That said, while the history of war may not be entirely male, it has overwhelmingly been male. And this fact is not a mere anomaly; it is a pattern that deserves our attention. Yes, we can view the exclusion of women from the military hierarchy and say, “This is unfair; women must be allowed to lead wars.” But we can also view that exclusion and say, “If half of humanity has been excluded from warfare, maybe it’s because fighting is an exception rather than the rule, an aberration rather than a necessity.”

The satisfaction, necessity and glory of war are often linked to masculinity, the need to prove one’s moral worth as a man. From one perspective, this too is the reason why it’s important for women to be allowed inside the military hierarchy. Its because war is the standard for moral action, and Kenya’s status as an ethical nation is today linked to its people’s willingness to fight and die in a “righteous” war.

If this is the case, if our morality is tied to battle, then women must lead in warfare if they are to be honored and valued as moral actors. When war is so integral to the moral experience, those who are not warriors cannot be deemed equal. That is why modern-day feminist cultural icons like Onyesonwu are often warriors. And it’s also the reason why equality in the military has been such an important goal for numerous marginalized groups. Women leading wars are a tremendous boost for feminism and gender equality. It will also get increasingly hard to justify discrimination against women now that we are openly leading the fight and dying for our country.

Kenyan feminists can then draw moral force from the Kenyan military. But this moral force comes at a high price. That price is the moral force itself: acquiescing to war as the moral force and the moral standard.

Judged by the experience of women, war has long been found to be wanting. However, Kenyan feminism seems at ease in judging the experiences of women in relation to standards of empowerment that are traditionally male – of which military leadership is a particularly good example. Such judgment leaves no room for feminist criticism of war and militarism.

The tragedy of Fatumah Ahmed’s appointment is that Kenyan feminists have lost one more justification to protest when our daughters and sons are sacrificed on the moral altar of war. Is having a woman rise up in Kenyan military ranks really worth the lives of our sons and daughters lost in war?

Frantz Fanon at 90: His Relevance to the Pan-African Vision Today

January 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

On 8 January 2015, I attended a lecture to mark the 90th anniversary of the birth of pan-Africanist revolutionary and philosopher Frantz Fanon. The lecture titled: “Frantz Fanon at 90: His Relevance to the Pan-African Vision Today” was given by Professor Lewis Gordon, Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor at Rhodes University, South Africa, and Professor of Philosophy and African-American Studies, with affiliation in Judaic Studies, at the University of Connecticut, USA. Gordon is the author of many books, including the forthcoming title: What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. The lecture was hosted by the Pan-African Baraza & ThoughtWorks at PAWA 254, Nairobi.

Frantz Fanon - Revolutionary, Philosopher, Pan-Africanist

Frantz Fanon – Revolutionary, Philosopher, Pan-Africanist

While the entire lecture was illuminating, the following concepts in particular stood out for me.

At an early age, Fanon became aware that the world we live in is one of white supremacy; a world in which white people are the standard for what is defined as “human”. It was when he volunteered to fight for “human dignity” in the Second World War that Fanon learnt that his blackness made him a non-human. He watched as black soldiers were sent to war in the hulls of ships, while white soldiers sailed on deck; and black female soldiers (yes, black women also volunteered to fight in the war) were made to sleep in the cabins of white officers. And when the Allies won, black soldiers were shocked to be called “niggers” in the villages they liberated in Europe. At the end of the War, black soldiers from the Diaspora were sent back to their countries in cargo ships, just as their ancestors who had been taken from Africa as slaves.

Observing all this, Fanon realized that the war for “human dignity” was in fact the White Man’s war. “Human dignity” meant “white dignity”. In other words, to be white is to be human and everyone else who does not fit the description of “white” is in fact not human. Black people are “non-human”. And in a white dominated world, non-humans represent violence. To be black is to be violent. Black people are violent simply for appearing in a white dominated world. The very existence of black people in a white dominated world is violent. Even worse for black women, to be black and a woman is to be “inviolable”, in that black women are empty slates on which anyone may place their force. Anything can be done to a black woman without it being registered as unethical!

Professor Lewis Gordon (Photo: PAWA 254)

Professor Lewis Gordon (Photo: PAWA 254)

Because black people are violent simply for appearing in a white dominated world, they have two options: to either disappear themselves or fight back against white supremacist violence. However, the option to fight back is curtailed by pacifist notions of “non-violence”. Yet non-violence overlooks, ignores and negates the fact that the appearance of black people in a white dominated world is violent and is therefore already met with violence.

Pacifist proponents of the “non-violence” doctrine often cite the Civil Rights movement in America and the Anti-Apartheid struggle of South Africa as proof of the effectiveness of “non-violence”. Yet in both these struggles, there was violence – only that those being killed were black. What “non-violence” therefore actually means is that violence only begins when you start killing white people. In the context of non-violence the deaths of black people do not count.

Non-violence is therefore not an option for black people. It never has been. Every instance of slavery involved black people using violence in their fight for freedom. We must therefore reject the “Emancipation” narrative that seeks to deny our agency by painting the picture that it was the good whites who decided it was time to abolish slavery and grant us freedom. We must counter this false narrative which is aimed at cultivating the idea that the oppressed must always “wait” – that black people must “wait” for the good white father to come around and declare us worthy of the same rights and privileges enjoyed by white people – once he’s ready.

It is important to be vigilant in calling out such narratives that aim at negating black agency. It is in this same spirit that the influential French philosopher Michel Foucault must be called out for appropriating Fanon’s ideas and not referencing Fanon. This is ideas appropriation which leads to whites being associated with ideas and blacks with “experience”. Black people then become dependent on whites for thought and ideas in a form of knowledge colonization.

Fanon lived his life as a black revolutionary hero who would not bow down to white supremacy at any cost. He was willing to risk losing a publishing deal as he would not work with a white man who would patronize his intelligence. And when he did get published, Fanon revolutionized revolutionary writing by producing works with poetry, humor, grit and even cuss words.

Pan-Africanists gathered to learn about the importance of Fanon to our struggle today

Pan-Africanists gathered to learn about the importance of Fanon to our struggle today (Photo: PAWA 254)

Had Fanon been here today, he would tell his fellow Pan-Africanists that:

  • “African independence” is an illusion. We were never freed from colonialism or white domination. All the colonizers did was to replace themselves with an African elite that is grateful for the crumbs tossed by their masters in Europe. Our African leadership today in fact constitutes agents of white supremacy whose legitimacy derives from having an “enemy”. However, because challenging the real enemy (white supremacy) would lose them their positions and perks, African leaders provide us with alternative “enemies” as scapegoats to blame for their incompetent leadership via xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.
  • When you do nothing about violence in the name of “non violence”, you become an agent of violence and end up living in a state of perpetual infantilization. However, violence in and of itself is counterproductive. Along with violence, there must be a plan for what the future should look like. We must think differently and set new conditions for the future world we want to bring to birth.
  • Revolutionaries must understand that the communal struggle is bigger than the individual and accept that those who usher in freedom are rarely best suited to lead once freedom is attained. The true revolutionary is willing to fight for freedom even while knowing that they themselves may not taste the fruits thereof.
  • It’s perfectly fine and natural to get angry at injustice. Just as laughing means you get the joke, anger also means that you understand the pain behind the oppression. To add to this, convener Firoze Manji proposed that: “If you’re not angry, you haven’t been listening.”
  • Our task is never done. We are constantly struggling to make it better. Even when it’s ‘over’ – the struggle still continues!

Recommended reading by Prof. Gordon:

  1. Fanon’s resignation letter from a psychiatric facility in Algeria.
  2. Anténor Firmin – a Haitian anthropologist.
  3. What Are We Worth”, an essay by Anna Julia Cooper. Cooper was one of two female members of the Executive Committee of the First Pan-Africanists Conference held in London in 1900.

Incidentally, some of my favorite quotes by Fanon:

“The claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture. In the sphere of psycho-affective equilibrium it is responsible for an important change in the native. Perhaps we haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.”

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

“The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.”

“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe”

“Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”

“What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”

Update 14th January, 2015:

The video of the lecture is up! Watch it below.

#MyDressMyChoice: The Ideology Behind Stripping Women

December 1, 2014 § 3 Comments

Perpetrators and proponents of stripping violence try to justify these hate crimes by blaming the victim for being “indecently dressed” in a miniskirt, contrary to African modesty. But the truth is, just as with rape and every other crime of sexual violence, strippings are about men who feel entitled to women’s bodies lashing out when their sexual advances are rejected. It’s about men seeking to assert power, control and dominance over women.

The recent cases of strippings including the lady whose stripping led to the #MyDressMyChoice protest march; “Wairimu” in Kayole; and the 16-year old school girl almost stripped by a policeman, all had the same facts:

a. A man tried to seduce a woman/ girl.
b. The woman/ girl rejected or ignored his advances.
c. The man, in the company of other men, stripped or attempted to strip the woman/ girl.

These facts are not coincidence, but evidence of a pattern that should tell us something about our culture. And what it tells us is not good.

Male Privilege, Entitlement & Violent Masculinity

We live in a society which places males in a social class that is dominant over women, thereby affording men many privileges. From this position of privilege, men are taught that women – as the dominated social class – owe them. Women owe men love, attention, respect, obedience and most importantly – sex.

This idea that women owe men subsequently breeds entitlement. As a result, men feel completely entitled to women’s bodies and to their time. When a man wants to have sex with a woman it’s simply because this is what they deserve just for being a man. And when a woman rejects their sexual advances, this makes the man angry for being denied what they deserve, what they are entitled to.

In their anger, the man blames the woman for denying them their birthright of easy power. They blame the woman for romantically rejecting him and withholding what is rightfully theirs.

Society further teaches men that because they belong to the dominant social class, they are entitled to power and control over women. Consequently, the rejection of his sexual advances is regarded as a loss of this power and control. This hurtful loss of power and control over women is taken as emasculation.

Moreover, this emasculation occurs in front of other men, making the man feel less than an alpha male in the eyes of his peers. And because society teaches men to never show weakness, he therefore feels the need to prove his manhood to his peers; to prove that he is still hard and tough. And it is in this attempt to prove that he is the true alpha male that he decides to strip the woman.

Rather than trying to figure out how to improve his approach towards women, he blames the women for their lack of interest in him and instead decides to retaliate. Why? Because masculinity teaches men that when they are aggrieved, they are entitled to retribution. Men are taught: don’t just get mad – get even. So stripping becomes a form of righteous retaliation.

Stripping is therefore a form of “deserved” punishment whose origins lie in society teaching men that they are entitled to punish women who take their power away. The man regards his inability to attract the woman as something he needs to “punish” them for. The woman’s refusal to give herself to him is to blame for his anger and violence, for which the woman deserves to be punished.

And because our society has taught men to solve their problems and earn respect through aggression and violence, what we end up with is men stripping women perceived to have denied them respect.

Misogyny

From a young age, society teaches men to hate women. This misogyny or woman-hatred is characterized by disdain, contempt and resentment of women. We raise boys and teach men to see women – not as full human beings – but as trophies to be won and hags to be used and harassed. We teach boys that women are objects to have sex with; to cook for them and do their laundry.

And in order to maintain this image of women as lesser humans, we use violent, degrading and dehumanizing language when discussing women, thereby guaranteeing their constant devaluation. We teach this woman-hatred to young boys and men and then we get surprised when they act on this hatred. And in our surprise we make pronouncements such as “real men don’t strip women.”

Stripping is but one of the extreme manifestations of woman-hatred in Africa. And proclaiming that “real men do not strip women” is to deny the existence of this pattern of woman-hatred. While those making this statement may not intend to, they are in fact excusing this brutal practice. The fact that all the perpetrators were men is not a coincidence but a pattern that should tell us something about our culture. Men have stripped women many times before. Men strip women because they have been taught to hate women.

The perpetrators were ALL men. Moreover, they all felt they had been denied something that they should have been given. This attitude did not just appear out of thin air. It was cultivated and nurtured by our culture, generation after generation, perpetuating negative ideas over the course of time. The perpetrators are just the latest manifestations of men who think women owe them something and retaliate for this denial. By stripping the women, they were simply participating in the age-old tradition of controlling women through violence and punishing them when they don’t behave as required – only that they did so publicly, in broad daylight.

Similarly, the argument that the victim is “somebody’s wife, daughter, sister or mother” also hurts more than it helps because it implies that women are only as important as the male relations they have. This only serves to reaffirm male dominance over women by suggesting that women are only important because of their relationships with men. Yet, women are full human beings who deserve respect just for being full humans. Rather than teaching our daughters how not to dress, it is our sons that we need to teach that women are full human beings with the right to wear whatever they want.

While being careful not to inadvertently excuse stripping violence, we must, at the same time actively condemn those who deliberately excuse these brutal crimes, as they have chosen to side with the worst of men. Because the motives of the perpetrators were rooted in hate, strippings should be considered hate crimes against women. Subsequently, all those supporting these crimes online should be prosecuted for hate speech.

“Undress the Government! Not Innocent Women!”

Strippings are perpetrated by men who are angry at the hand they’ve been dealt. These are men who long to lash out at a system they believe has cheated them, but lack the courage to think for themselves beyond the easier path of hating women. These are men hurt by the loss of power and control, by the fact that they are no longer as dominant as before, as women become more empowered. They are experiencing a humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to regain respect and sense of purpose.

And how does society deal with this growing anger in men? We teach the girl child to fear men. We tell girls not to wear miniskirts, not to walk down certain streets, not to upset men. Because doing so could get them hurt or even killed by the bad men out there.

But even the women and girls who internalize such fear and submit to these warnings – by dressing decently, avoiding dangerous streets and not angering men, still face street harassment from entitled men who actually believe that catcalls are a sign that they are putting women on a pedestal. And when the women ignore these advances, they are subjected to verbal abuse, stalking, threats, intimidation and assault. Society then tells women to deal with this by laughing it off and ignoring it as these misogynists do not pose any real threat… Until they decide to take their hatred of women a step further and strip a woman naked. Until they escalate even further in their hatred to rape and kill women.

Undoubtedly, the substantial anger of dispossessed men in Kenya during this age of inflation, low wages and unemployment is valid. However, this anger is wrongly directed towards women. It’s not women that are to blame – it’s the system of patriarchy.

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