I have always been fascinated by the left hand. The way in which the gold wedding band curls around the ring finger. My mother’s left ring finger was never decorated with a wedding band. Like Assata Shakur, she belonged to nobody but herself. She is an unmarried woman with six children—two boys and four girls– born out-of-wedlock. In a patriarchal, pro-family African society, she is a lefetwa– a spinsteran unmarried woman often regarded as a second-grade woman. Her existence as an unmarried mother, in a country and culture that rewards and honors married women with children, my mother disturbs the patriarchal vision of family and womanhood. Her unconscious, subtle, and ordinary defiance is an unaccounted feminist practice that remains in the margins of hegemonic narratives within the feminist discourse. The choice of spinsterial motherhood is one that revolts against restrictive, possessory, and violent notions of patriarchy perpetuated by African customs and colonial antics such as the Christian religion.

When my mother conceived her first child in her first year out of high school, as she recalls, there was anger and disappointment and shame extended towards her. The idea of premarital sex is one that is regarded as a taboo—religiously and customarily. There is a prescriptive way the Batswana people of Southern Africa and the Christian faith force on women—an emphasis on purity in the form of virginity. Virginity is a commodity of “respectable womanhood,” and a disturbance of this idea with the evidence of pregnancy, as in my mother’s case, is punishable but claiming it is an unconscious yet revolt. Whilst women’s choice to conceive out-of-wedlock is “shameful,” there is honor afforded to men for a similar act—this reinforces the double standards of patriarchy in the form religion and customary beliefs.

When men have children at an early age, and out-of-wedlock, it received as a “manly act.” But my mother’s choice to have a child at an early age is revolutionary as it underscores her sexual agency—a gendered act often rewarded to men and used to shame women. On a religious and cultural level, the persistence on neglecting women’s sexual agency is patriarchal. The denial of that agency asserts power in one end of the spectrum but the choice to become a mother at a young age is to individually disavow male dominance; to exist in the margins of society as a woman and to tailor a path best suited for the woman (my mother in this case) and exist without, or limited, claims on the woman by religion and culture.

The ability and the liberty to choose to be an unmarried mother affords women with the power of centralized lineage through the naming process. In both Christian and Batswana naming practices, the naming of a child is a privilege, a right and normalcy afforded to the men—the father, often if married to the mother, passes their last names to their children. Fundamentally, the naming process normalizes the erasure of maternal lineage tracing; this lauds paternal lineage as primary, salient and dominant lineage and the maternal lineage as unimportant and secondary. For example, my siblings and I carry my mother’s last name, and this is an uncommon practice. But spinsterial motherhood becomes a paradigm shifting model of feminism which destabilizes normalized lineage tracing. The power of naming children allows women to have rightful claims on their children. Whilst the maternal ancestral tracing is regards these children as amavazandlebe— children of no birth, bastards, illegitimate children—unmarried mothers shield their children from this violence by assuring their children of their importance as people even without a paternal marking attached to their last names. In the article, Self-Identified Feminist Mothers’ Naming Practices for Their Children: Accepting Being “as Feminist as Everyone Else”, Amy Eshleman and Jean Halley examine western naming practices and reveal that:

“(p)arents’ explanations of their decisions regarding a child’s surname rarely acknowledge male privilege. Common explanations for patrilineal choices include following tradition, arguing that it will be easier for the child, claiming that it was an aesthetic choice, prioritizing that the family share a name, and avoiding the conception that a child’s parents were not married[1]” (Eshleman and Halley 215-229).

With unmarried mothers, the process of naming is one that unconsciously dismantles male privilege by disruptive normative traditions associated with naming children on patrilineal lines. This silenced process, practiced by women like mother, of naming children on matrilineal lines, mystifies heteropatriarchal power and privilege, and this act makes spinsterial motherhood revolutionary in the sense of agent and emancipatory reclamations.

The first time I heard of the term “broken home,” I was in a youth church service and it reminded of my family and the way my mother chose to raise us. This term, was referring to women raising children out-of-wedlock and were in fact, children without a paternal figure in their lives. To this very day, it is a term that continues to cause discomfort for me. A home does not become whole because there is a male figure present. The centering of unmarried mother’s agency within the private sphere and blurring patrilineal lines with regards to familial organization is frowned upon and is commonly called a “broken home.” The idea of a “broken home” is a heteropatriarchal presumptuous theory used to define unmarried with children out-of-wedlock. This term serves in two-fold: firstly, to single out unmarried women as broken, and secondly, to reduce single-women-headed-households as broken. The premise of this “brokenness” is based on the absence of a male figure. When traditional customs and religion deny women motherhood based on marriage, when these interlocking system regards motherhood as a service purchased through marriage, the choice to exist outside those systems cause patriarchal turbulence. It is this turbulence that hones unconscious consciousness in women like my mother[2].

The anti-patriarchal role of mothering in a “broken home” is a process of ungendering the domestic sphere and then subsequently the public sphere. Whilst the traditional role of the mother in a heterosexual marriage or domestic partnership insists on gendered roles for children, the logic of patriarchy is its insistence on the binary–boy/girl, masculine/feminine, strong/weak—and therefore, disregard of a spectrum of abilities. In homes led by unmarried mothers, there is great emphasis on shared labor. For example, the way in which my mother raised us, fixed gendered roles such as cooking, babysitting and cleaning were not executed in a gendered manner, to an extent, on both male children and female children. Within this revolutionary motherhood and feminism framework, the ungendered nature of domestic work is symbolic and paradigm shifting. It focuses on availability, responsibility and communal action—a tenet which mainstream feminism regards as important but often analyzed within the private sphere: the role of men and women in the workforce, although important, it does not strike a balance with the role of in the private sphere. In hindsight, spinsterial motherhood as a form of revolutionary feminism disturbs the normalized ways of domestic roles, with an emphasis on individuality yet enabling a sense of community. Most importantly, this form of mothering is a resistance to patriarchal power by deconstructing attributes to femininity and masculinity.

Spinsterial motherhood is about women who are paradigm shifters at the sight of religious and cultural dogmas posing to restrict them. Women whose very existence questions boundaries set for them and exist beyond those lines. Growing up, I saw my life and the way women around me raised me as an ordinary act– an act that did not require celebration. In retrospect, my mother and dozens of women around me continue to be extraordinary. They continue to subtly revolt against fallacious, one-sided and oppressive systems that are fixated on reducing their personhood and deny them of womanhood. There is a paradigm shifting way “broken home(s)” can shape an individual, especially children. Because you grow up being told that you are broken, you have more reason to prove to the world that you are in fact, whole–that your choices and decisions are not based on the lack of a father figure but you have been taught about the importance of excellence and courage. You have been taught to honor, support and love all people. This egalitarian style of motherhood enables choice, agency and freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Eshleman, Amy, and Jean Halley. “Self-Identified Feminist Mothers’ Naming Practices For Their Children: Accepting Being “As Feminist As Everyone” Else”. Women’s Studies 45.3 (2016): 215-229. Web.

[2] “Revolutionary Mothering: Love On The Front Lines”. Secure.pmpress.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

 

 

“Living life as Black women requires wisdom [,] because knowledge about the dynamics of intersecting oppression has been essential…”—Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (257)

The oppressive intimacy of apartheid to Blacks is as close as the roof is to the to the walls of a house, sometimes just as clenched fists of an abusive man to a woman’s body– a compounded violence, an invalidated and silenced history and reality of a black mother in post-apartheid South Africa– often existing in the footnotes of androcratic accounts of apartheid history. There is a generation of women’s lived experiences which has been invalidated, erased and unacknowledged. A generation of women who became mothers at the heart of the apartheid regime and confronted the violence of the oppressive apartheid system in South Africa. This violence invaded their bodies in public spaces and in their homes. Women, like my grandmother, had to raise children dodging bullets in streets and in their homes—if not from the apartheid state police, it was from their own spouses. The neglect of these women’s memories, experiences and lived knowledge about defiance, strength and hope has not been centralized and validated as concrete knowledge. It does beg the question: why? Why are these experiences overlooked? Who has been articulating these experiences? How has this powerful history been subjugated? Why are women like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, my grandmother, my mother and millions of poor Black women– who experienced the intimate violence of the system in their homes ignored?

The subjugation of revolutionary Black motherhood knowledge amidst an oppressive system, can be linked with separatism in the form of the apartheid system. At the crux of this system, therein lies the racial segregation laws– a separation of public amenities, land and resources[3]. The rigidity of this system thrived on the insistence on the binary: spaces for Blacks/Spaces for Whites, Blacks/Whites, Superior race/Inferior race, Civilized/Savage and Valid knowledge/ Native Knowledge. Although these public goods were denied to Blacks, politically elite Black men, however, managed to access those forbidden spaces in the plight to democratize South Africa. Because of this limited, but valid access, Black men have been key figures in the fight against apartheid. While Black men are the key figures, this centralization removes the importance of black women in the political public sphere. Yet, women are expected to laboriously contribute to the capitalistic public sphere. Paradoxically, Black men are domineering figures in the public and private/ domestic sphere.

Because of this compounded erasure and subordinate placement, the domestic sphere becomes a playground for the apartheid police regime and a violent space for black mothers due to domestic violence– a reality shaping girlhood, for their daughters– from their male partners. Because the investigation of the hegemonic “Black” experience under the system has been dominated by elite black men politicians, the “matrix of domination” regarding “work, family, sexual politics, motherhood, and political activism” as “paradigms” shaping womanhood are not accounted (Collins 251). I was raised by my mother and father. But my father was a bitter man. He was abusive. I watched him beat my mother to a pulp from as early as I can remember. I am the youngest of the three children born between my mother and father. As the last one, the last girl, education was hard (Motsoeneng). The value of centering black motherhood with a critique on the apartheid system, women like my mother locate themselves in relation to the systems in which they exist in. This location enables one to identity the roots and the process of their consciousness. It remains pivotal to understand that the role of motherhood has been greatly formed and violated by the patriarchal violence of the apartheid system and the relegation of black mother into the private sphere.

While black feminist knowledge, such as black revolutionary motherhood, remains on the margins, scholars such as Collins argue that higher education and news media have become potential activators in centering these relevant narratives. While these claims are valid, and are without great dispute, it ought to be acknowledged that within the greater framework of access, higher education in the global south, and media outlets, are controlled by dominant groups whose politics do not align with centering these narratives. If higher education becomes the central location to access this information, this contributes to use of academia as an elitist tool and perpetuating the information access gap. Given the existing constitutional framework in South Africa, which advocates for free basic education for all people, therein lies an opportunity to disperse this knowledge. This potential opening, however, provides an opportunity to localize and centralize this wealth of knowledge.

Revolutionary motherhood narratives during apartheid can become a useful historical lens in which male violence can be traced and understood. My mother cites that:

White people were killing everyone. And if you were a male child, in a home, it was worse. You were a threat and a target. You had to be killed or put in jail. We were exiled, basically. We struggled a lot there. We ate once a week but we worked in the fields (Motsoeneng 2017).

Although the protection of the Black male child was well meaning, it has contributed the institutionalization of Black male fragility. Because the apartheid regime perceived the Black male—especially young—as a threat to White male power, Black men were exiled by parents and political groups for their protection. Black mothers are domesticated, and expected to protect their children, they put more emphasis on the protection of the male child to avoid violence in their home from the system. (While that saved them from the brutal system, women like my grandmother continued to experience domestic violence.) Moreover, the androcentric accounts on apartheid does not provide a framework that locates the roots of Black male fragility protection. For example, when the President of South Africa, was charged with rape, the women’s league of the leading party blamed the victim and never supported the proven perpetrator. While simplistic and lazy perspectives have analyzed this as the league’s protection of Zuma for political gains, this groundbreaking epistemology understand this as a legacy and a burden left for black women—an internalized and maternalistic protection of Black male fragility.

The hegemonic Afro-androcratic accounts of the violence of the apartheid regime exists to reinforce male heroism. This positivist approach disregarding the use of Black men to frame the narrative aims to individualize oppression functions under the key tenets of capitalism and its dire focus on being self-serving. The material realities of black mothers as bearers of a colonial world above their shoulder—exiling their children to defy the system and surviving domestic violence, when shared violate and create a new path from existing forms of post-apartheid knowledge. However, path breaking scholars who create this new path using personal narratives  acknowledge the discomfort this confrontation causes for a larger South African mass—a fear to confront violent male narratives which decontextualize women’s lived experiences.

 

The Power of a Black Revolutionary Motherhood in Post-Apartheid South Africa

The liberal delusion that democratization equates decolonization minimizes Black feminist thought and the value of revolutionary Black motherhood with an apartheid understanding.  This epistemology warrants collective strength, enables a critical use of history to reshape Black womanhood and motherhood. The acknowledgement of this frame underscores the valuable notion that:

The historical conditions of Black woman’s work, both in Black civil society and in paid employment, fostered a series of experiences that when shared and passed on become the collective wisdom of a Black women’s stand point. (Collins 256)

For several black mothers, who live through the memories of their silenced and unacknowledged histories of their mothers, this framework could enable a better way to navigate different of systems that oppress women. Moreover, this knowledge affords women with the ability to articulate, compare and understand their own experiences in relation with their own mothers. My mother can never imagine a world in which her mother’s experience had no impact in her—the centering of this past gives these women a voice loud enough to shake their ancestor’s tombs.

More importantly, lived knowledge decolonizes the body when transferred from person to the other. To centralize this framework within the broader education framework begins a transformative way of decolonization. While Collins notes that Black feminist thought challenges the colonial tenets of formal education, formalizing this form of knowledge within the broader education structure provides an opportunity to reimagine decolonized education and sharing of narratives. This works builds up the to the key understanding of womanhood, the creation of a personalized one and appropriate use of history and accountability. The androcratic, Eurocentric and limited ways of creating and legitimizing knowledge disregard these lived nuances.

 

“My mother tells me that my grandmother was a superwoman. She often talks about her strength and determination before she tells me about her beauty. She tells me that her tongue was sharp that it made many nervous around her. I think about this woman a lot, my grandmother. Perhaps if I visit her grave, this last home she shares with my grandfather, I will feed off from that strength and defiant energy. Sometimes, I wonder, what if that strength was her pain? Then I remember– she was a disruptive woman, as my mother claims, and therefore, it had to be her strength. The same kind of strength in my mother’s tears and sharp silence. Sometimes I see it, when my little sisters question the unquestionable. Oh, what a lovely woman she must have been. She ought to be breaking the gates of heaven with that smile over us.”—Kabelo Motsoeneng, The World Inside My Home, 2016

 

 

 

Written by Gabriella L.  Brown 

Feminist knowledge in the eyes of the academy is rarely seen as legitimate or shared among academics. Since feminist knowledge is always being questioned, the production of it in the world or in academia is slim. The academy continually aims to silence or hide the various feminist knowledges in the world by devaluing the ones that are produced. The importance of feminist knowledge is that it brings new insight to the writer and readers. If feminist knowledge were valued as much as other knowledges, then there would be no need to continually explain the importance of sharing it. The feminist knowledge that will be the focus of this essay is the Black feminist knowledge coming from Black female teachers working in private education. This knowledge aims to uncover the obstacles that Black female teachers face when trying to enter predominantly White institutions (PWI), which continues even after they have entered, and the changes their knowledge has on private education.

The obstacles that Black female teachers face when teaching in private education take a toll on their mental well-being, but are not without their due rewards. They must juggle the thought of whether they are being hired as a token or not for the school. At these institutions they not only hold a place of heighten visibility due to their skin color, but have to be hyper vigilant and aware they may be considered as representatives of their race. Having to deal with both racism and sexism these teachers abilities and actions are constantly questioned by the administration, parents, and even students. They face social isolation due to being different from their White colleagues and having to deal with the psychological effects of working in this sphere. When they enter into these predominately White spaces (PWI), more often than not, they have an impact on the current curriculum at the institution, by introducing Black figures and literature to their students. For students of color, they take on the job of being a safe space in which these students can vent and find solace. These are some of the many hurdles that Black female teachers must jump over, yet they manage to do this so elegantly that it needs to be uncovered.

In an effort to uncover this knowledge, an interview was conducted with a Black female teacher who has worked in private education for twenty years. My interviewee, Shelby Stokes, currently works at Riverdale Country School as a high school English teacher. Stokes is the product of private education. She attended Hotchkiss, a boarding school in Connecticut, and Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, so she is more able to understand the struggles students of color go through alone combined with the struggles of being a teacher of color at these PWIs. Stokes currently teaches tenth grade English and Black literature at Riverdale Country School.

The Black literature class that she teaches is an elective at the school, and one of only a few courses that educate students on Black accomplishments in writing. In the classroom, Stokes is a role model, especially to the other students of color, for students struggling to maneuver at a predominantly White institution that still subliminally tells students of color that they are not welcomed by making classes covering their history electives rather than part of the standard curriculum. She is an example of the slightly new, yet rising Black feminism, where highly educated Black women are able to take up space in the predominantly White dominated sphere of private education. Stokes has managed to climb through various PWIs to earn her education to teach at predominantly White private schools despite the various obstacles in her way.

There are not many Black people in private education, let alone Black women. Many times they are the only ones among their colleagues that are a woman of color. These private institutions were created for the White elite to have access to and to exclude people of color. Due to historical events like the Civil Rights Movement and the increasing need for institutions to appear liberal, PWIs have attempted to have what can loosely be called a diverse staff. Black female teachers are among the people who have been hired by PWIs and are sometimes considered token minorities. They are viewed as tokens because more often than not they “find themselves working alone or nearly alone” since they will be one of the few minorities employed at a particular institution (Alexander 5). Black teachers may have chosen to work in this environment, but it is an environment that they must enter in order to destroy the “hegemonic, narcissistic environment created by White men” and open the door for more teachers of color (Alexander 11).

Black female teachers face two problems when they are seen as tokens. They not only feel a heightened sense of visibility, but are also asked to act as representatives of their race. Every action they take will be noticed. Whether they are late to class or absent from a meeting, every action is viewed hypercritically, because they are one of only a handful of people who are Black. This causes them to have to be cautious of what they do and aware that any mistake or misstep will be noticed, yet their accomplishments will go unnoticed.

The interesting part is that they will remain almost completely “invisible among the large White [faculty]” in terms of their capabilities until “their presence is needed to serve as the ‘diversity’ voice” (Patton, Catching 714). There is a heightened necessary awareness when it comes to being a Black teacher when many of the people around them are White. Since they are the only Black person among White people they will likely be asked to speak for their whole community under the assumption that the Black community is just one big community. They are believed to be “all knowing about everything Black” and asked to explain “the African American experience,” which not only can lead to embarrassment, but the need to be hyper vigilant about their words (Alexander 5). The pressure of speaking for the whole Black race is one that takes a toll on Black female teachers given that one wrong move can reinforce the stereotypes their White colleagues may already have.

Black female teachers teaching at these PWIs are obviously competent and educated enough to work at these schools, yet their abilities to teach are constantly questioned by either the administration, parents, or students. The largest source of pushback that Black teachers encountered surprisingly comes from their students who will challenge their authority and knowledge. Stokes faced this obstacle when she was teaching at St. Paul’s and put together her American literature elective curriculum to be made up of nearly all authors of color. The students who took her class “were mostly White and infuriated that [she] had done that” and went so far as to say that the class was “not an American literature course and [was not] what [they] signed up for” strictly on the basis that they were reading Black authors. Saying that Black-American authors are not a part of American literature and disrespectfully challenging their teachers because they are introducing work written by Black people just shows how resistant White students are “regarding issues of diversity” (Patton 714). No teacher should be “subjected to unwarranted attacks on their credibility”, leading them to feel that they need to explain to their students the curriculum and its importance before they even cover the material (Patton, Catching 720). Being a teacher is already a challenging job, but Black female teachers realize quickly that in these PWIs, no matter how long they teach, they will consistently be forced to explain their reasoning for including material pertaining to do with Black people.

Teaching while Black at PWIs potentially leads Black female educators to becoming isolated in their work environment from their White colleagues. This is especially true for young Black female teachers who are new to teaching and are trying to learn the ropes. They feel as if they cannot open up to their White colleagues due to the issues that tokenization at institutions and the questioning of their competence cause within their psyche. They may begin to “feel less powerful” due to their inexperience and age, causing them to make the decision to stay silent and watch the other teachers in an attempt to improve their own teaching (Cozart 28). At PWIs, it is hard enough to be new, given how cold these places can be when someone is new. Being both Black and a woman generates an intimidating atmosphere they must enter.

Black female teachers may feel out of place and disconnected among their colleagues who may be “cordial and conciliatory” to them, but will make no further effort to share important information about their teaching ethic or act as mentors to them (Alexander 6). These teachers of color are left out and forced to figure things out on their own, only contributing to the idea that they are not qualified or educated enough to teach in such a space. With this mentality it is no wonder that Black female teachers will not associate with their White colleagues and would rather be alienated or interact with others like them.

At Stokes’ first PWI, she was supposed to be mentored by two older teachers during her teaching fellowship at St. Paul’s. When discussing her experience at this institution, she made sure to emphasize that she was putting the term “mentored” into quotations, because they would not let her teach at all. The purpose of the fellowship was for her to watch, and eventually teach some of their classes, but instead these two teachers “pretty much put [her] in a position of observing only for most of the year” until Stokes went to her department chair. Stokes had to be reassigned to another group of mentors that would actually allow her to teach part of the class and show her skills.

When asked if her first two mentors would not let her teach due to her race or gender, Stokes said, “it was because of a lot of things; I was young, I was Black, I was female”, while they were older, and one of them was a White man in his forties. She felt disappointed that they would not let her teach when she had just graduated from Wesleyan University and was quite capable. The fact that at the end of the year, St. Paul’s made an exception and offered her a position speaks to the blatant racism, sexism, and ageism she faced as a new teacher. Stokes is not the first and, unfortunately, will not be last Black female teacher who faces this kind of alienation and hindrance from White colleagues.

The curriculum at PWI’s is more often than not built around Eurocentric and western material, but when Black female teachers enter private education they have a powerful impact on changing it. These institutions “inadequately frame people of color through deficits” and choose to talk about them in relation to European history as if their history did not exist before European influence (Kohli 5). Teachers of color are the ones who actually think to introduce material written by people of color, which helps to lower “the hostile racial climates” that students of color must learn in (Kohli 4). When introducing new material, they have to “work hard to get departments to buy certain books” and then to get the students to read them, but it is all in hopes that teaching this material will open their student’s eyes (Kelly 245). For Black female educators this could be their only chance to teach Black literature or history to students who may never have to learn this kind of knowledge because the rest of their teachers will be White. For students of color, this is their only chance to actually feel like their history exists and matters.

Stokes has experienced the impact of changing a school’s curriculum and the positive effects it has had on some of her students. When she spoke of the time she changed the American literature course material and the uproar from the students, she also mentioned that down the line she found that it made a difference. Stokes was told by another colleague that one of her students, who had gone off to college, realized that “they did not understand what Stokes was trying to do at the time, but that it really opened their eyes in the way that it needed to be opened”. Stokes fought hard to prove to her students that Black literature is American literature and that it is a legitimate source of material to read. Her choice to change the curriculum was able to open one of her student’s minds to the fact that they did indeed “have a narrow perspective of the what the material was” because they were so resistance and unwilling to be open to material that was unfamiliar. Stokes has realized that with teaching, she never really sees the impact she has on her students, but that it is only later, once they have walked out of the bubble of private education, that her students have this realization.

When working at these PWIs, Black female teachers not only serve as teachers, but as a safe space for the few Black students. When Black students gain a private education it comes with the realization that they will struggle and feel discomfort in school. The knowledge that they will be one of the few Black students in the class or grade and face many of the mental strains that teachers of color face working in private education. Black educators are aware of the marginalization the students of color face, thus many times they serve as “a formal and informal mentor for” these students (Alexander 9). This role that teachers of color take on may not be in their job description, but they assume them because they know how it feels, especially if they attended a similar institution. The teachers come to the same school that their students attend so they too feel “their struggle, their pain, and their disappointment in the system” in which they must live in (Cozart 28). This is why many Black female teachers will “keep an open door policy where students [can] feel [welcomed] to come” (Alexander 9) and talk about the impact on their mental and physical well-being. It is important for students of color to have this safe space within such a hostile environment and feel as if they have an ally within the institution.

While I was interviewing Stokes, the topic of teaching Huckleberry Finn came up, and the impact she has on the students of color. She serves not only as a safe space for them, but as a defensive wall against the ignorant comments White students may say. She makes sure to set clear boundaries for the entire class. Stokes stated, “as a black teacher teaching this book there is no way [she could not] have [such a] conversation” because she knows that ignorant comments hurt her just as much as it does her students of color. She recognizes that her presence in the classroom makes the students of color feel as if they have an ally and empowered to be able to stand up to ignorant comments from classmates themselves. Stokes has the power to check them and the fact that she makes all the difference to her students. White teachers in a classroom with Black students are “able to avoid it because they can” and do not need to recognize how racially charged this book is and the effects it has on the students of color. The presence and safe space that Stokes, and teachers like her, provide is one that makes students incredibly grateful to have a Black teacher.

This essay and interview together, show how crucial Black feminist knowledge is within private education. Obtaining a first-hand recording of Shelby Stokes’ narrative of her over twenty years of experience in private education legitimizes the various sources used within this essay. Neither I, nor other writers who have written about feminist knowledge, should be questioned on the legitimacy. This research essay was able to uncovered just a few of the many hurdles that Black female educators face in PWIs, including tokenism, having their capabilities always in question, and isolation. It showed the change that their presence has on the curriculum and students of color when they enter these spaces. One of the most important things highlighted in this essay is that it shows that Black female teachers are just as valuable, if not more, to the school, its curriculum and its students.

 

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It is said that we speak and see the dead when we are close to our death. We can touch them without anyone seeing. We can hear and feel them without anyone noticing. The educated ones call this hallucination. The traditional ones call this a deep connection with the dead. But it is a paradise before the uncertainty of the afterlife. It is the clearness of the blue-blue waters, the white sand, and white cloaks. It the face of your young beautiful wife that reminds you of your youth– the vanilla skin, the heavy arms and her bewitching smile and of course, her beautiful-angered-happy laughter. Therein, you’re much more alive before you are dead.

You begin to laud your youngest daughter. She reminds you of your wife after all– how she wakes up before you, to put your rooibos tea by your bedside. The way in which she prepares morogo wa thepe and bogobe ba ting. Or the way her skin crawls when she sees any kind of filth. Her bickering makes you happy and at times it angers you. It reminds you of the taste of death you want to feel– to lay down next to your wife like you used before old age wiped away your youth and took her away.

You laud her with your anger. She is beautiful, isn’t she– her freckled face so pure and loving. Her hunched back so strong and stern– bearing all the pain of your insults on her back. She is the one you love the most and hate the most. The one you tell secrets; like Abraham to Isaac, only unfortunate because she never seemed like the rightful heir in the eyes of your other children. She is the one whom you were warned that she was not yours. You wondered how a child so courageous just like you could not be yours. Of course, her skin never matched yours: your darkness absorbed the sun and hers was a skin so light that even the slightest tap on the shoulder reddens her. But she was all yours in nature and character. Her determination and hard work. Her welcoming laughter and wide smile. Her willingness to put others before herself. The one whom your mother moved the heavens for when you could not even give her the soil of the earth. She carries neglect and void in her spirit. 

You adore them so much.

You sing songs of praise to them when innocent women are put into shame,

And slut shamed.

You elect them into power and let them to get away with corruption.

You give them power to your wealth and into your souls.

You wine and dine with them like guests of honour.

You parade them into your homes,

Yet you know they have broken into your homes and stole your daughters’ humanity.

You parade them into your homes yet you know their presence vexes your daughters and leaves them eternally broken.

You blame your daughters for their own victimization.

You crucify them for carrying “bastard” children yet you forget you opened that door.

Then you wonder why your daughters look you in the eye when they speak to you.

Then you wonder why their voices are not shaken why their fathers call them “sweetie”

and they reply with a quick and sharp “fuck off”.

But you continue to celebrate these rapists;

You shower them with gifts.

Yet you fail to shower your daughters with love.

You keep quiet when she tells you Sir X looks at her in a funny way.

And you assume she wants to be her honey,

Because you were your teacher’s honey.

You tell her it’s all in her head.

Like generations of men and women before you said to you.

That she is delusional.

You call her a slut when she tells you Uncle Y sneaks into her bed at night,

Pulling of her panties like a drunk and entitled man pulling his garage door at night.

You wonder why she’s scared.

You tell her she’s paranoid,

That it is the devil,

Yet it is you.

You kept quiet while she died inside and you thought she was just a silly child.

 

Because when I was seven I saw my mother got beaten to a pulp and left with bruised eyes and a shattered house and confidence.
Because my father did not carry the burden of raising sickly children and loitered about and I barely knew him.
Because her happiness he thought he could buy with plastics full of food then vanish from the surface of the earth and forget that he bore children.
Because she was told she amounts to nothing because she was unmarried.
Because she bought me colorful items and I was a fag for having a pink shirt.
Because she was 14 and was told her brother could go to school and she couldn’t.
Because she was releasing fountains of blood like a burst pipe each time she spoke out.
Because she was told to be silent in the church and the pulpit is no place for a woman.
Because she was called a hoe for having a kid out of wedlock and he was told “good job!” for getting her pregnant.
Because she left school early to breastfeed their child and he moved on and made another child.
Because she never finished school so could fend for their child and he went about and built a career for himself.
Because she stayed at home and he vanished like a star in the afternoon blue sky and she was told to be a good girl.
Because she could not wear a short skirt to school because it will “woe” boys and make teachers “uncomfortable.”
Because she had sacrificed her comfort to make room for someone’s hypersexuality,
Because she had to sacrifice her inner being to make room for someone’s objectification.
Because she had to remain silent when she was stripped down of her short skirt and dignity because she was asking for it.

Because girls like her always have the “asking for it” placards for violence to be done one their bodies.
Because her body was left bruised and dead in a ditch with her panties torn to make room for him.
Because we thought we were protecting her.
Because we thought we were showing her love.
Because we thought she was just a kid.
Because we all killed her.
Because we had killed her mother.
Because we killed her grandmother.
Because we killed her great-grandmother.

Because generations of women before her were told to be “good women”, to be silent and keep their heads down, yet their hearts were heavy with injustice.
Because we can’t allow her daughters to be…
Because we have violated her body with restrictions and conditions and expectations of being a “good woman” of being a “good girl”.
Because her body is violated by the stares you pierce her body and soul with when she passes wearing anything that shows a bit of flesh.
Because her body is torn into pieces by the dehumanising cat calls you parade her with when she passes.
Because her body is a battlefield by which you project your insecurities.

 

The church should not be a breeding ground for sexism and patriarchy.
Today I sat during a benediction service that is meant to ordain a new set of pastors at my local church. This new second caste of leaders is a sign that the church which has been around for over twenty-seven years is moving towards a new wave of leadership and “transformation”. This is an exciting time: the pastors’ wives sitting next to their newly ordained pastor-husbands, the air is thick with ululations and praises. I cannot help but wonder, where are the female pastors at?
To me, this was patriarchy embodied in scriptures and dogma. The systemic overruling of women and disregard for women in the church has been permitted and propelled for a long time. We raise young girls in the church to aspire to marriage and nothing else. We police them into marriage: we make sure they wear extravagant clothes but they should not be revealing, we tell them to be polite and sharply dressed lest they want to lose so-and-so’s son to someone else. We teach them to be competitive about whose last name they carry but not the ambitions they ought to have. We teach them to keep quiet in the church as prescribed by the scriptures yet we forget that the calling for pastor-hood is one that has no gender or sex attached to it.

 
Although I am a Christian and feminist at the same time, I am highly conscious of the lack of diversity in the church leadership. It is incredibly problematic that the role of women in the church is still reduced to being a support structure for the men but not for the church. The church can greatly benefit from the guidance and leadership of females; by stating this, I by no means undermine the role of male pastors. When we continue to reduce women to being their husband briefcases and confidence boosters, we are taking part in the silencing of women and perpetuation of patriarchy and sexism.
Without Jesus, the church ceases to exist. Looking deeply into the matter, most of Jesus’ apostles were men and when Jesus was crucified, these men were nowhere to be found. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples were women, viz. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susana and many others as per Luke 8:2-3. These women were with Jesus during the time he hung on the cross. This is to reveal that when the church has a group of women who will lead it, these women will become the Mary Magdalene’s, Joanna’s and Susanna’s of our time. This then begs the question: why are we sidelining women in the church?
Although Galatians 3:28 states that “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male or female, for ye all are one man Christ Jesus”, systemic oppression of women has been so artfully created to ignore women and their competence to lead the church. These are systems that emphasize difference other than oneness that the book of Galatians mentions. These are systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism.
I urge the church have more robust systems that are guided by God’s words and ensure women are greatly represented. We do a great injustice to young women when we don’t fully represent women. We teach them that this indeed is a man’s world and the church cannot do anything about it—which a flawed and misjudgment of the role of the church. We teach them that the church has no power to play an exemplary role in promoting the equality of women. We further do an injustice to young women in the church because sermons that are drenched in patriarchy in the name of “purity” will be served to them and they will remain silent. The church should be a free place to become human not constantly “othering” and rejecting the important role women can in stabilizing, radicalizing and decolonizing the church.

 

Dinaleding was hidden by big leafed baobab tree that could only be found on the shores of rural Kwa-Zulu Natal. A popular story goes that Bab’Zungu came with the seeds and planted it in the late 1900s when he left Mahlabathini to work in the Meadowplek mines. Dinaleding’s air is crisp, tangy and dry–cushioned by the “meadow dust”: the dust that comes from the soil that has been left unattended since the mine was sold to Mr Van Vuuren ten years ago. Although other mine kasis would furiously and aggressively buzz with the sounds of Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special jam, Dinaleding was characteristically quiet. The lack of any kind of sound except that of owls was frightening and worrying. The people of Dinaleding were seen and not heard—it was as if any sort of sound: breathing, hissing, speaking or whistling were punishable crimes.

Dinaleding was a barren kasi. The number of children in the whole township I could count with the tips of my fingers. The only children they had were found between the parents, lounging on Gomma Gomma couches that massaged your back when you sat on them and easily led you to sleep.  Their children did not play khati on the newly tarred streets just like in Meadowplek. Their boys neither made toy cars from milk cartons or imagine bricks as their toy Siyaya taxis. Dinaleding was a town of sameness: shrubs were cut the same height, the grass was all heel-and-ankle level and their mothers all stayed at home. Buying a house in Dinaleding meant you were seeking tranquility like Siya and Linah Mthembu- my parents.

 

2.

“I have warned you about the way you dress in this neighbourhood,” Linah said to her seventeen-year-old daughter, Nkuli. “Your body is the temple of God, and it must be treated as as such” she continued, hissing and making fists so that she does not end up slapping her.

“But it’s just a skirt, Ma…” Nkuli held her head up high, faced her mother’s wrinkled face and stared deep into her eyes. Linah’s eyes were so red as if they had been dipped in blood, left for years and then sprinkled with yellow-brown stains around. Her skin was so layered up, you could even hide a child’s head behind her falling skin.

 

“The next thing it will be a maternity dress covering a bastard child…don’t tell me it’s a skirt. We are new here—we moved from Meadowplek so that you can be like other kids…that you might have a bright future. With the way you’re behaving, people will continue to look at you as Jim comes to Egoli.”

“Ma, stop making this difficult for me. This is ALL about you.  I never wanted to be here anyway”

Linah’s layers got ironed up and her hands that look like she was made to cream them with ash at an early age met with Nkuli’s pimpled face. It was as if the lightning had struck and she crumbled down and tears rushed down her face.

3.

Nkuli was voluptuous, caramel coloured and her neck was adorned with her flowing, locked hair. Linah had taught her how to take care of them: dye them in dark black and put highlights of gold on the tips, wash them in coconut oil and moisturize her scalp with odourless Vaseline. Unlike the girls at Dinaleding, her Scottish-patterned tunic did not pass her knees. She had a few lines behind her knees that looked like topographic lines on the Atlas map, but she did not mind them like other girls who put foundation on their faces and behind their knees. Nkuli’s fists were so strong that she beat up her Life Orientation teacher after he told her that the dirty floor scrubber on her head is obscuring the students behind her.

 

 

 

4.

I remember it was the winter Malum’Themba was dropped by a van. It was covered in dust and filled with a bunch of twenty-year-old lads dressed up as forty-five-year-old men in the village with dozens of wives and hundreds of children who could finish a cow in a second. My father was looking through the window and my mother hopped off the brown Gomma Gomma couch she humbly-bragged about to the whole neighbourhood about my father getting it for her after she found him in bed with our neighbours daughter.

“Sawubona bhuti,” my mother shook Malum’Themba’s hand and used the other to help him with his load that was packed in a red, blue, white and yellow bag that looked like a body bag for dead octopuses.

“Hello, Malume,” both my mother and uncle gave me desperate looks that seemed like they both wanted to tell me I should take back my words and greet him in Zulu. I had grown up in the city all my life. I am used to playing in the mud dumps with Mr Van Vurren’s daughters and sing in English. My mother wants me to speak Zulu when we are around family–like today, Malum’Themba is here and I am forced to speak Zulu. But when they go to the spaza shop with me, I suddenly have to prove that I am educated, unlike my miner father who cannot speak any word of English except for Hello, Yes Baas and So sorry baas.

Malum’Themba’s smile was so bright that it brightened the house. His legs looked like that of a man who had given up his soul to strengthen his muscles. Although he was not older than me, people thought he was my father because Baba was never around– he walked me to school, attended all my Science quizzes, gave me gifts and kissed me on the cheeks when Ma was not looking. Baba was either in the mines, working,  or at his girlfriend’s place and sheeben– Sis’Jabu: The Shebeen Queen. Sis’Jabu used to attend the same stokvel with Ma. They were good friends, and she would sometimes sleep in Ma and Baba’s bedroom with Baba while Mama went to visit Auntie Luis in the Zululand. Sis’Jabu stopped sleeping over when Ma poured her with a bucket full of urine when she found her with Baba one morning. The next day, Baba came home with the Gomma Gomma couches to make peace with Ma.

Malum’Themba slept on the couch in the lounge. My mother did not like people sleeping on the couch but she allowed Malum’Themba to sleep on them. Ma and Malum’Themba are not birth siblings. He is the son of my mother’s uncle’s son who came to Meadowplek. Because my father is the foreman at the mine, he could easily find Malum’Themba a job.

Ma slept early. She usually sleeps before 8 P.M so that she can wake up early and prepare scones for the miners. They come to our house to buy them for tea time at the Meadowplek shaft. Ma started selling scones because Sis’Jabu always has people at her house and she needed something other than my father to compete with her. That night when there were a storm and the soil from the mine was knocking furiously on our windows like Baba used to do when Ma locks him out, Malum’Themba sneaked topless into my room in his Spiderman underwear and told me he was scared.

“Shh…just make space for me in your bed. Your mother knows I am here with you.”

I let him touch me because I thought that’s what my mother told him to do. I felt his hands move under my nightdress up. I suddenly felt his hands warm up and his hands went inside my panties and I was still quiet. Then he flipped me over. My eyes were the only thing brightening up that room. I felt as if he was a cloud of darkness on top of me and inside me. I made a crying sound and I felt his hands that smell like butt cracks cover my mouth and I kept quiet. A water-milk-like substance was all over my thighs. I did not eat my cereal that morning. He sat next to me and asked me how I slept last night. My mother’s wrinkled face brightened up for the first time since my father left for Sis’Jabu’s place. It was if she had won the lottery and her dreams were coming true.

I suddenly felt a gush of warm liquid between my leg and it had formed a yellow-red pond around me.  Bursts of laughter surrounded me; it was as if Malum’Themba was inside and top of me again. Only, this time, I was allowed to cry out loud and his crusty-anal-odour-smelling hand was not against my lips.

 

My babies,

I have been meaning to write this to you for a long time, I have not had the courage to write this because each time I try, I remember that I am not worthy to be giving advice to such smart, talented and immaculate young women like yourselves. Each time I see both of you move into different and transformative phases of your lives, I feel a sudden guilt filled conviction. Each time I look at your lives, I remember and get saddened by my flaws and failures as your older brother.

I promise I am not one of those chauvinistic brothers the world is filled with. But I am sorry for failing you by not standing up for you when I should have.

I am sorry for not standing up to you to our parents, uncle and other senior family members when they shout or cane you when you get back home once the sun is down because “girls are not supposed to be roaming around the streets once it is dark.” I am sorry for not standing up for you when they told when that you will never get married because you refused to wake up at wee hours of the morning to sweep the yard like other girls in the neighbourhood do.

I am incredibly sorry for not standing up for you the day the church usher gave you slut-shaming stares and handed you a dirty royal-blue piece of cloth to cover your body because “your skirt was too short and revealing for a church-girl and boys will easily get tempted;” although I was wearing equally revealing skinny tight pants yet I was not told to cover my body. I am sorry that I have not been able to stand up for you when the church and the rest of the world continue to police your body.

I am sorry that I did not slap and beat the perverted hell out the idiot with sagging pants who starred at your behind and stripped you naked without touching you but with his eyes. I apologise for not being a good brother.

I am sorry that I will not be able to protect you all the time. It is excruciatingly worrying that you will have to do this all by yourself. It worries me that a group of old man, who know nothing about you or your dreams, will seat around a table and negotiate your worth like you are some property and reduce your worth to a number of cows.

I am worried that you will have to explain and have to prove your femininity, or the lack of it.

I am worried that your worth as a woman will be equated to your ability to conceive, your breasts and your pretty face. I am scared that no one will see the fact that you want to be the first pilot in the family and you want to be an esteemed Mathematician.

I am scared that you will starve yourself so that you might have a “perfect” figure like those bony women you see on magazines, who look like their parents buried them under a stone each time a meal was shared.

I am scared that a stupid boy will make you feel like less of a human being because he hasn’t dealt with his bruised ego and vilifies you for it. I am scared that you will be forced to “man-up” because girls like you are rare to find in boardrooms that still have egocentric, perverted and shallow men around.

I am scared that you might end up not loving yourself enough because of who you are expected to be. I am scared that you will be made to aspire to marriage and purity while I am taught to be successful and be a “man.”

I am scared that people will compare you to a negative photo. I am scared that men will find it easy to say “why can you not be like other girls,” when all you want is to be a better and honest version of yourself.

I am scared that people will compare you to me—which I believe is stupid and a great injustice. People will expect you to be my mirror image. To be honest, I do not want you to be closer to anything I am. I do not want you to become apologetic like I have become throughout my life.

I do not want you to give CPR to dead relationships and situations like I constantly do. I do not want you to bury yourself in tragic and romantic novels and avoid life outside fiction. I do not want you to cry yourself to sleep about things that do not really matter but they always clog your mind as it always happens to me. I do not wish to see you cry yourself to sleep wishing that your life was any different.

I do not want you to be afraid of the unknown—like forgiving and letting go of things that have caused you pain but have brilliantly learnt how to sweep them under the mat like you have done with your confidence. I do not want you to hide your scars in journals and arrogance like me. I do not want you tell the world the truth but lie to yourself.

You both have been the best definition of love I have ever known. When we get to heaven, I want you to be close to my lap again like you have, all our lives.

You’re the reason I believe and love God.

Your loving brother,

Kabelo

When you are married, that is the only time you can sleep next to your enemy and wake up alive the next morning.

As a young, black, township born and bred, Christian and culturally stifled Africa man – getting married is not my personal choice, it is a decision my parents have already taken for me before I have thought of it myself. They have at least given me the freedom to choose a partner, but I must to get married. In black families, getting married is not only a matter of choosing a life partner or wanting to be with the same person for the rest of your life, it is a character of success and responsibility.

I have been responsible for most of my teenage years. As a young adult, who is supposed to get married in at least five to seven years, I see no absolute reason why I should be proving to the world that I am responsible by walking down the aisle with someone and professing my love for them even though I may not be ready for it. I already have my reservations about the institution of marriage. It has been used to oppress women for as long as the human race existed. I believe it is a beautiful thing, especially when there are no over-arching expectations attached to it.

When I told my mother this morning that I don’t want to get married or even have kids- she looked at me with shocking disgust. The stare in her eyes was as if I had insulted her life. She was/is disappointed. Marriage is an institution which I believe should be free from our parent’s expectations and influence. It should be a decision between two people who are madly in love with each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Marriage is not a survival plan. Nor should it be used to put down women, or the decisions of young people.

I am sucker for romance. I believe marriage is a romantic affair that will end when we hit the grave. In reality, it is not. The main reason is that the definition and our understanding of marriage has been dented by rotten and unrealistic expectations from parents, relatives and society in general.

I know that I might be too young for marriage, but I cannot help but question something I have been told is my biological obligation. My reason for not wanting to get married is that I have seen a number of unhappy, unsuccessful, abusive, career ruining, money-centred, and suicidal pushing marriage. I am scared of getting married. I am scared of supporting an institution that supports patriarchy and the torment of women. I am scared of doing what I am expected to do rather than what I want to do. I am scared of not dispelling the idea that girls should only aspire to marriage. I am scared that I might turn out to be a terrible husband. I might change my mind someday, but as for now, marriage is but an idea that I choose not think about right now.