The Imperfect Reality

DISCLAIMER: This post contains many, many clichés. The reason being – they’re true. Deal with it.

I spend the majority of my waking life dreaming about the future. It is something that people around me have gotten used to; it is something that is positively labelled as ‘ambitious’. And most times, it is: my dreams of the future keep me focused, and make me work hard. However, I’m beginning to realise that there may be some unintended harms of this future-dreaming; of this wishing.

Aside from the fact that I often lose the time I have because I am not present in the ‘present’, a lot of my dreams, I realise now, are wrong – are unrealistic. I am a typical case of the ‘when x happens, things will be better.’ However, as we get told, that isn’t always the case. However, I don’t think we are told it enough.

THE GRASS IS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE.

Oh, if people could understand the truth in that statement! We are bombarded with messages that lives outside of ours are better than ours – the beauty of reality in movies, the dreams we create for ourselves in our heads. However, no one ever reminds about the ugly parts of those realities – that we will still have that annoying neighbor, or worse – that evil voice of self doubt within ourselves.

The past year has been a case and point for this. I spent about four and a half years looking forward to my first year at university. Towards the end of matric, I just couldn’t wait to move out – to get a fresh start. It was my time! I would find the cool, intellectual people who could finally understand me. I would be able to finally expand my mind with no challenge. I would be sophisticated; and I would have fun. I built up expectations.

However, it hasn’t been all sunflowers and daisies. While I was wishing to grow up, warnings didn’t really express to me the reality of it all: how facing a huge group of new people hella intimidating, and how university makes you question everything. That’s been the biggest thing for me: uncertainty. The past year at UCT, with RhodesMustFall, and student activism in general – as well as my courses –  has forced me to question myself; how I am problematic and how nothing is certain. I have realized how greyscaled the world is, and that has resonated into a shaded reality. I haven’t really known who I am, which has made finding friends who understand ‘me’ hard, and I guess, my reality isn’t as crystal clear as I thought it would be.

I can’t help but look back on last year, and the years before, and realise that although I was wishing for a better future, that reality was pretty great, despite it’s imperfections. And maybe, as hard as the last few weeks have been, I need to start doing the same for right now.

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#PatriarchyMustFall: Tears, Complexities and Realisations

As published in UCT’s Varsity News – http://varsitynewspaper.co.za/opinions/4259-patriarchymustfall-tears-complexities-and-realisations

The oppression of women is normalised in our current society. We talk about rape on a day-to-day basis without flinching – we forget the emotion behind individual experiences. This all changed for me on Wednesday night at Leo Marquard Residence, as I stood and listened to women share their stories of being molested as a child, of being publicly shamed by males for being ‘ugly’, or of being cat-called. For the first time I felt like women were able to voice their pain. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

It was a process of realising that so much of what I have experienced – catcalls, guys who make lists of girls according to attractiveness, low self-esteem – is actually symptomatic of a bigger experience of patriarchy in our society. The process of unleashing these stories and emotions has affected me deeply over the past few days. Flashes of bad memories of being used and objectified have filled my consciousness.

However, my experiences are those of a white, heterosexual female. I may be oppressed based on my gender, but I recognise the privilege that I hold because of my race, my sexuality and by being a cisgendered being. I cannot speak on behalf of all women, and I cannot understand the pain that people of colour, those within the LGBTQIA+ community, and non-binary individuals face.

My conscientisation is another reason why the #PatriarchyMustFall movement and other discussions is so powerful: for the first time, intersectionality is not just a buzzword, but a way of understanding. Gender equality is really complex, as we are all individuals experiencing different manifestations of the patriarchy, and so hearing about these different experiences is helping everyone passionate about the cause understand some of these complex nuances. This is why inclusivity within this discourse is so important. By hearing the stories of women with different identities, I was given insight into the complexity which has helped me position myself within our society.

While, as a movement, we have shown a great sense of camaraderie – specifically when we all went back into Leo Marquard to find the person who threw eggs at us – the complexity of gender equality means that we don’t necessarily agree on everything.

This is why, when a male got up to speak at the mass meeting with Kopano Residence, and a female expressed her disapproval and he subsequently stormed out with other males, a difference of opinion arose. Some believed that we should not have silenced him, while others felt like he was intruding on the space that we had created for ourselves.

As I sat in the front row watching this transpire, I understood where she was coming from. As the man got up to speak, he appeared arrogant, entitled, and condescending. The need for her to express her contempt was valid, and should not have been questioned.

This has called into question many beliefs about the involvement of men in the process of dismantling patriarchy. Depending on how the space is defined, and the intention of the gathering, it is important to gauge what sensitivities are at play. While some believe that they should not have the right to comment at all, in any circumstance (as they will never understand what we go through) I think that they are important allies within this process and they can perform such a role if they are more aware of the sensitivity of this process.

There is a lot of listening that needs to be done – there is so much that men donot understand about our experiences as women, just as there is so much that I do not understand about the experiences of black women.

By listening to understand, and not necessarily to respond, constructive learning can take place. Furthermore, if men are able to check their privilege before they speak, and not necessarily assume they understand how we feel, it might help them to navigate the sensitivities of this issue.

Discussions about patriarchy are often hard to navigate because of the multiple intersections with other issues such as race, class, and ability. This is why many people find it hard to engage in these topics.

These discussions are necessary to shift the status quo, because they are actively changing the entrenched mind-sets which are the very beliefs that have institutionalised sexism within the University of Cape Town. Unequal residence rules, an underrepresentation of women in leadership – specifically women of colour – and systems which are ineffective in stopping rape and sexual abuse are all sexist devices.

As more people join in with the #PatriarchyMustFall protests, and the UCT for Women dialogues and other programmes, the dismantling of these mindsets and institutions starts to take place. With this, hopefully more individuals will experience the eye-opening, tear-inducing realisation that I had , so that we can start turning tears into plans,  and plans into change.

Bigotry is bigotry

I am sick of bigots, in all forms. I am sick of racism and homophobia, and people using religion to justify their bigotry.

Zizipho Pae, the deputy president of the University of Cape Town’s SRC posted the following status on Facebook on the 28th of June 2015 in response to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the United States:

“We are institutionalising and normalising sin!
Sin
May God have mercy in us….”

The two major problems I have with this are the blatant homophobia and the hypocrisy of it all.

To start off with, let’s have a look at the South African constitution – not because I enjoy appealing to authority, but because I think the democratic process behind its formation legitimise it as a good guideline of how we should behave as South African citizens.

Under Section 9, it states that “No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone in one or more grounds in terms if [race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth]”.

Now when we look at Zizipho’s status, by saying that homosexuality is a sin, she means that it is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” This is evidently condemning gay people, and being hateful towards them.

An interesting conclusion from looking at our constitution is that discrimination based on all of these criteria is equally condemnable. Thus, being homophobic is just as perverse as being racist. Discriminating against any if these groups of society is considered hate speech. And this is where the freedom of speech gets limited.

This brings me to my point about hypocrisy. Zizipho was one of the leading supporters of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, which aimed at stopping discrimination based on race/colour. She fights for women’s rights. She condemned racists for marginalising and insulting a group of society. However, she is now doing the exact same thing, only to another group of society. In my view, that makes her no better than the oppressors she is trying to oppose.

But wait, wait, wait – I’m sure there are some people that are now thinking that she is still not in the wrong for being homophobic because the Bible condemns homosexuality, and the Bible has more authority than our constitution.

While I am no expert on Christianity, I have done some research and it is now very clear that supporting the freedom of individuals (including LGBTQI+ individuals) is not mutually exclusive with being a good Christian.

To those who argue about those common Bible verses that are ‘against homosexuality’, here is a rather insightful rebuttal:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/ashford01.htm

The most powerful excerpt from that essay is “In the same passages where gay sex is condemned and punished, so is eating shrimp, crop co-mingling, eating rabbit, wearing linen and wool at the same time, and eating raw meat. So if you’re gonna be a Biblical literalist, you might as well start sewing your own clothes and becoming a vegetarian.”

It is so true that the Bible has a more powerful, over-arching theme of tolerance, ‘loving thy neighbour’ and not judging others. I feel that if you are a follower of Christianity, this is far more important than the misinterpretation of a few verses which are arbitrarily taken out of context.

So, let me just say, bigotry is bigotry. In our progressive society, it is no longer valid to hide behind your ‘beliefs’. Confront what they actually mean, give them some thought.

It’s time for all of us to realise that homophobic comments should be condemned just as much as racist comments, and the next step after our achieved legislative equality is for us to start calling out people who are discriminatory, and refusing to normalise that in our society.

How to change the world?

Happy Africa Day, everyone!

This day has me thinking.

First of all, we can use today to celebrate all that our continent has achieved – to focus on the continent; to realise that step by step, we are breaking out of the perception that Africa is ‘poor’ or ‘lesser.’ So here’s to the people and structures that are positively contributing to our society! You have the power! Let’s rejoice in this!

“Africa leads the world in female representation in parliaments and the continent has one of the highest rates of female entrepreneurship. Let us be inspired by these successes and intensify efforts to provide Africa’s women with better access to education, work and health care and, by doing so, accelerate Africa’s transformation,” – Ban Ki-Moon

So, it’s great to reflect on the progress that we’re making. But another question that I have to ask myself, as an aspiring African-of-impact (if you will), is what more can I be doing to create a better continent. “Activism” is great: I love speaking about change on social media, or television, or at conferences, but I often feel removed from the situations I am talking about.

And even though I do try to become more involved in these communities through (as I hate to term it) “volunteer work”, I feel like it’s not enough. Okay cool, so I coach kids debating once a week, but then I go back to my pretty privileged life, and think of it as removed from the situations that I volunteer in.

I would say a goal of my life is to feel like the change that I DISCUSS, or want to see happen (when drafting resolutions, or after ‘working groups’), is also change that I IMPLEMENT in some way. And at the moment, I am itching to get there. As it stands, I feel like my attempts to change policy, or raise awareness about social issues are somewhat hypocritical as I am not implementing them myself, or seeing it through that these policy changes are implemented.

So yes, I feel like I’m in a pickle, but I’m also not here to just complain about it, and go on being in the same pickle.

I think I’m going to start small. See a policy change that’s been suggested/implemented; follow it to the root; see what’s being done; if nothing, question the people who are supposed to get things done.

It’s a process, really. So I’m going to have to take it step by step.

Is immorality just the new norm?

It is a extreme statement. The optimist within me is screaming, “DON’T SAY THAT!”

But I say it for a reason.

I say it because the events in South Africa have highlighted this fact.

[Disclaimer:This is a cynical, opinionated article. I know. I’m sorry. But we all just need a rant once in awhile.]

What I’ve noticed in the society where I live, is that human behaviour works in trends. People always seem to revert back to the same behaviour, if not enough intervention occurs – and this has been exactly the case for xenophobia in South Africa – it is something that has been a pertinent issue from 2008, and yet again this hatred of foreigners is resurfacing. A part of me feels like it never stopped.

This brings me to another factor influencing how we perceive this issue: the media. So often, we only perceive reality to be what we read in the newspapers – and somehow we sort of just follow the media’s trend to focus on some issues, and we forget about things. I mean, think about whether you know what went down in Crimea? And how there is still conflict in Palestine, even though we don’t see it in the newspapers.

A part of me thinks that something similar has happened with xenophobic attacks in South Africa. If we’re honest, the government didn’t really do much to stop the attacks in 2008. They almost seemed to ‘disappear’ – an the scary thing is that this isn’t what happened; not at all. These stories ‘disappeared’ because the media found something better to report on – there was something else that was a new, sensational story that would sell papers. Be read on websites. Sell advertising space.And now, almost 7 years down the line, we’re back here: a trigger almost seemed to ‘reignite’ this hatred, meanwhile the hatred was there the whole time. It is scary.

This then brings me back to society, and how we react to the issue. If we’re lucky, the horrific pictures, videos and statistics will shock us! How could humans do this to other humans! We protest, pressure government, and it feels like this is the only cause we care about, just for a while.

However, in the majority of cases, this initial uproar fades. It may be because of time, or it may be because another, new, even more horrible issue comes into focus.

And we forget.

That’s if we’re lucky.

If we’re unlucky, the story doesn’t affect us. We read another “just another rape case” or “just another murder”, and we forget that that is someone’s friend; sister; brother; loved one. What happened to empathy?

I suppose here could come another essay on the reasons why we have lost this empathy when hearing these stories, or why we just forget: many blame the constant bombardment of information that we receive. Either way, it will be a complex analysis.

So rather than getting into all of that, I would rather challenge you to be the person that changes how society operates. Don’t just brush off these stories. Don’t just forget. Find something that you’re passionate about, something that fires your soul to TAKE ACTION – and define the new new norm.

Reality > Expectations, if you want it to

‘Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes

It’s true. Our whole lives we’re told to be goal orientated – we’re told we have to work towards a goal, one day hope to get a job that will make us successful enough to make money to have a car, get married, have children. Live an ordinary life. And so we work for it.

Alternatively, we think that’s not going to be our future – we think that we are going to spend our lives fighting for human rights, and making an impact on this god-forsaken world. But we have the same dilemma, don’t we? We picture our future lives, working for the Human Rights Commission, or something similar, yet we struggle through our present to get there. We tear our hair out. We struggle to find money to live off we don’t know how to get to that ideal, precisely because it’s an ideal.

I promise you, ask people at university WHY they’re here, and I bet 80% of them will tell you it is to improve their future – to get a good job.

Even me. I spend every moment that I don’t have to study or write an essay dreaming about where I’ll be able to travel when I have the money, or my life working for the African Development Bank. I do not “live it the now.”

Mostly.

And that makes me sad.

Another great guy agrees with this testament of “living in the now,” and Mr John Maynard Keynes says “In the long-run, we’ll all be dead.” (LOL sorry to all the economists who are having a heart attack because I took this out of context so dramatically) .

He’s right. So is Holmes. But so what? How is reading those words actually going to change anything Reading words always changes things for me for like a day, and it’s back to procrastination station, it’s back to day-dreaming and shirking the responsibility f today.

HOW DO WE SAY NO TO THIS? HOW TO WE MAKE IT MATTER?

Maybe the first thing is realising that controlling our heads is really powerful; and it’s hard work. And it’s the first step. Think about the beauty of the day as you wake up. This about h lucky you are to be on this planet – how lucky it was that hydrogen collided with hydrogen and created helium.

Secondly, try to accept the fact that you’re future won’t necessarily be perfect. Life often gets in the way of our perfect ideas, and other things fall into place. Be versatile. be open to change.

And lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously. There are already enough people in this world who are going to criticise and insult you, you need to at least surround yourself with smiles and happy thoughts.

THE WORLD IS BEAUTIFUL, RIGHT NOW!

Racism is pretty crappy.

Disclaimer: I know that whatever I write about this issue, someone somewhere is going to disagree with me. So whoever you are, don’t hate me . Just give me a chance to have a say.

South Africa is a complex country. We have had a past of one specific group of people invading another, violating their rights, enslaving them to an inferior state of mind, and over the years this has formed the norm, until relatively recently, when there was enough civil unrest to tip the scales, so to speak, and finally we could have laws that WEREN’T discriminatory; we set the foundation for equality.

Looking back on the past, it’s very straight-forward: colonialists were the bad-guys. They did horrible things. They stole the African identity, westernised it.

And it’s for that very reason that I find movements like the Black Consciousness Movement so important – everyone should be able to reclaim their identity; to not be defined by what someone else thinks you are! Amandla! The 1970s was just the beginning for South Africans to take back their identity, and here in 2015 this goal is still far from being achieved: western culture has dictated our measures of “good development practice,” our understanding of popular culture, religion… The list goes on.. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to try to find a place among all the chaos of the different views on identity, self-empowerment, and the tradition vs modernization debate.

And then, there’s me. I’m white. There are many struggles I have not had to deal with: I have been ’empowered’ by birth. I know that I have benefited from white privilege.

As far as my culture goes, I get slightly more confused because I don’t really want to respect my British ancestors, and they were probably pretty cruel, although I suppose it is quite interesting to hear about their endeavors in the war and things like that.

A big part of my identity is also South African. I am a fourth generation South African, and I really consider myself African before anything else. I love this continent: the vibrancy, the beauty, and all it has to offer (even though it has its problems).

So, in all of this #RhodesMustFall pandemonium, this background has informed a few thoughts.

First of all, I believe that Rhodes must fall. As  I mentioned earlier, I despise what colonialists have done to other humans, and I don’t think someone like Cecil John Rhodes, who symbolises this, should be the face of our University. I also feel like it is up to our generation to make noise about issues like this, so that we can truly transform our country.

 

BUT (There’s a big BUT): I feel like there’s a certain way to go about it. UCT, during transformation month, gave students many ways to make their voices heard. My opinion is that throwing human excrement on UCT property, no matter what the cause, creates an unpleasant environment to students, and disrespects those who had to clean it up. I feel like we shouldn’t just set the precedent that just because someone’s cause is justified, their actions should be allowed. This would create mayhem on campus.

 

Secondly, I don’t like how people are using this opportunity to be racist, on both sides. Racism is bad. That is what the movement is trying to stop. Just stop. This includes people who have been posting things like “White people must just go back to Europe,” and the fact that we don’t care enough. I take personal offense: I fully support the cause. Moreover, I think it is unfair to judge someone’s involvement in a campaign based on something as arbitrary as race. We do not choose our race; we didn’t choose to benefit from colonialism, and so it kind of sucks that I feel guilty for something I didn’t actually do. But I do feel guilty.

 

So I gets the moral of the story is, don’t be racist. Don’t be ignorant. Be open-minded. And actually THINK about why things are the way they ARE. And be nice to people.

That’s what I’m trying to do, at least. 🙂

The Big Bang .

On my first day of university, I learnt about the origin of the universe (casually; as one does).
It simply blew my mind.

What I can’t stop thinking about now, over a week later is what a miracle it all is. It is utterly amazing that the very particular sequence of millions of events which resulted in our existence – the cosmic singularity, hydrogen converting to helium, supernova explosions and so forth – all happened as precisely as they have.

The probability is ridiculously slim. Thus, I say it is a miracle.

So now I have formed the awe-inspiring habit of really trying to take it all in. Even when I’m feeling sick or grumpy, I just try to look around, and realise that the utter fact of existence is enough to be celebrated. And it’s s easy to be reminded of that, staying in Cape Town.

For every meal, I have to walk up a bit of a hill to our brother residence, and on the way there is the most spectacular view of Devil’s Peak, and Table Mountain to the left. Every single mealtime, it makes me stop. The crevices in the rock, the way clouds tango with the peaks: it reminds that I am alive, on this profound planet in the middle of a stupendously giant universe that extends into infinity.

From the Big Bang, to my birth – I am grateful for everything that brought me to this precise moment in time, because in this moment lies all possibilities. Think about it.

The Good News

In the 21st century, information is so readily available that we are constantly flooded with the latest news about the most horrifying events in the world – violence in Syria, Ebola in West Africa, shootings and most recently terrorist attacks.

The recent attack on Charlie Hedbo has been splashed across the front page, and people all over Facebook are posting about the horrors created by the Book Haram.

You see the thing is, I’m a debater. The implication of this is that for 5 years I have tirelessly followed all of it – from when the Dewani incident first happened, to the London riots and drama in Crimea. I’m also one of those overly empathetic people, so these stories really had a depressing impact on me. I was especially shocked senseless when the first 200 odd Nigerian girls were abducted.

While it is very important to know what’s going on in the world to understand the context in which we live and operate, I can’t help but wonder if it’s all worth it. I mean all that heart break, just to be well informed and to sound intellectual in conversation. The other thing that worries me is becoming acclimatised to violence and horror. I mean, if we’re constantly reading about murder and poverty, surely we get used to it and don’t empathise as much (just think of how eager everyone was to see photos of the dead Bin Laden).

So recently, I’ve decided to distance myself slightly from all of it. It’s not that I don’t think these people’s stories are unimportant (quite the contrary). But a 600 word article isn’t going to encompass what they’re feeling.

There is too much bad news in the world. And I challenge everyone else in the world, not to take I detox like I might be doing, but to balance it out with good news. I think we forget about the good news in the world. I often like to think that for each terrorist, or murder, there are hundreds of kind people. People who work hard to put their children through school. People who hold the door open for you. People who smile at you even though they don’t know you. People who are always there to talk to you, who care about you – friends, family.

So this post is my rebellion to the sadness. While my thoughts are with those suffering, my thoughts are also hoping they see the happiness in the world, because we’re only human and sometimes we need that to get through life.

I guess you could call this my expression of free speech (#JeSuisCharlie , how on-trend), but I’d rather you just think of it as a way to remind you of all the good news in the world. So smile. Send out love. Look up at the clouds and the trees. Hear the birds singing: because THAT’S what gets people through the horrifying moments in life.