We Need To Stop Saying Boys Will Be Boys

A few weeks ago the internet went into meltdown when a photo of barely teenage boys simulating a groupsex or rape scene surfaced. There were the expected outcries about how this could happen, shock, horror and disgust were trending. Without delay, there were also those who said the whole affair was being blown out of proportion and all this attention would do more harm than good to the boys.

I went to a boarding school with very similar traditions to the school these boys attend. Both schools are founded on the English public school template designed then to produce future leaders for the British empire. Too bad nobody told these schools the empire no longer exists. Much of what was standard practice a hundred years ago was still unchanged when I was in school twenty five years ago. It is disturbingly apparent little has changed since then. Effectively, boys are still being boys and this is a problem.

In my day we called it seniority, a strictly enforced heirarchical system that positioned the school prefects and head-boy at the top with the youngest students at the bottom. The teaching staff maintaining a laissez-faire attitude as the boys effectively managed themselves only stepping in when there was some sort of crisis. It was a veritable animal farm with minimal supervision. Looking back on it now, this was clearly a recipe for disaster far beyond the gates of the school. This was a breeding ground for troubling mysogynistic attitudes, we arrived as impressionable boys and left as damaged young men.

Much as the boys who trended, we engaged in acts of sexual miseducation and violence that in most cases, were directed by seniors. These seniors were boys barely three years older than ourselves and we replicated this as we moved up the seniority chain in an effort to be seen as part of the collective. We were conditioned to be go-getters but along the way became aggressive, vicious, callous even. We were also trained to be loyal to each other to a fault, nothing was more disgusting to us than ratting out fellow students to anyone in authority. For a long time I didn’t realize how much this last lesson had affected me.

I know now that it is this code of silence that caused me to look aside when I saw questionable behavior by my peers. It was because of this that I knew I could get away with being abusive to younger boys because nobody would say anything, besides, it was expected because that’s what had happened to us. After leaving school this bond remained, growing stronger in some cases. It even led to some boys committing crimes together.

I know that this is pervasive across other men who have gone through the schoolboy system and plays itself out in everyday life in the most unsettling ways. Guys give each other a pass because of an unspoken allegiance which they cannot even fully explain. It can be traced back to how they were socialized in high school. This skewed code of silence is the result of boys just being boys and needs to stop. Saying it’s all part of growing up is wrong and destructive.

More men who went through the system need to speak against it. I wonder what one would find if they studied the ratio of violent offenders amongst men who went through the schoolboy system. We cannot, in 2015, still be raising boys the same way as we did a century ago and expect them to be better men than we are. We know better now, boys cannot be left to their own devices as the lessons they draw from each other mark them for the rest of their lives.

Do Zimbabweans Really Speak So Well?

In 1986 I was a ten year old boy going on eleven doing grade 6 at a highly rated government school in Bulawayo. One day our teacher, Mr. Lewis, a Welshman, says to me “You speak so well that if I was to close my eyes I would think I was listening to a white boy”. I was so pleased with myself I went home beaming and couldn’t wait to tell my parents about this amazing compliment Mr. Lewis had paid me. I cannot remember my mother’s reaction but my father said dryly, “and you think that is something to be proud of?” I was ten, what did I know? That day marked me for the rest of my life and informed my interest in history and how we Zimbabweans came to speak English to begin with.
I was reminded of that day when recently on Twitter I got into a debate with someone who believes Zimbabweans are superior to other Africans, especially Nigerians, because we speak English so well. Now it is one thing to think you are highly proficient in a particular language but it is totally another to laude this proficiency over others when the language in question is the result of colonial conquest and was forced upon your ancestors just as it was upon countless millions around the world. Can one really say they are superior because they have more fully adapted the ways and graces of those who formerly oppressed them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the functionality of English as a medium in the world that we live in but I am also acutely aware of the way it has been used in the past and even today to obliterate indigenous culture, religion and thought. It is for these reasons that I see no reason for someone who is descendent from these obliterated cultures to celebrate their proficiency in English AND laude it over others who share the same scars of having their history robbed from them. I just don’t get it.

The discussions went on all day with many Zimbabweans telling the author of the claim that he was wrong in his assertions but he stubbornly held on. The low-point for me was when he responded to those who didn’t agree with him by tweeting “this isn’t going to expand anything. A lot of you are being primitive on here.” I was left wondering, if this was just his arrogance, ignorance or something worse. Had the black self-hate I read about online manifested itself in this young person? Did he really believe that his affinity to whiteness made him better than other black people? Was he really telling me of all the traits and talents he had developed, speaking English well was the one he prized most? If so, was he the only one? Soon enough others came out in support of this position but none with such fervour and commitment as he who started it all. He was unapologetic, as a Zimbabwean, he was proud to speak English so well and other Africans should just deal with the fact that we are just better at it.

Interestingly enough, at least two Nigerians contested this saying their English accent was better than that of Zimbabweans whilst a number of southern Africans, particularly South Africans, were insulted and none too polite in their responses. What this did show me though, was that the majority of interactions were united in their rejection of using English proficiency as a yardstick for superiority, in fact, they rejected the entire notion of one African being superior to another. This something that I take to heart because I have never understood the zeal with which our governments attempt to outdo each other in whatever ranking comes out of whatever organisation that claims to have authority of whatever sort. One that particularly bothers me is the manufactured fight between South Africa and Nigeria to be Africa’s biggest economy. As a collective we would be so much better off if we looked to the least developed countries on the continent and together worked to uplifting them out of that dire situation, but I digress.

The British were very good, no, uniquely excellent in spreading their language and culture across the world as part and parcel of their brand of global conquest for over six hundred years. It is wishful thinking to imagine we can erase that legacy in Zimbabwean minds in two generations but one hopes that with each generation this influence is tempered by our rediscovery of ourselves as a people with a past, present and future that is not dependent on affinity to the so-called global standard of doing things. As Zimbabweans, we need not speak so well to get ahead.

N.B. This post first appeared in Her Zimbabwe.

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Blackness

Can one exist as a black person in South Africa without anger? Is it logical, possible even, to just want to exist without the burden of all this continent’s, no, this world’s history upon your shoulders? I am increasingly finding it difficult not to question the seething black anger I come across daily on social media. There is a toxicity, a contagion in that rage that I simply have no stomach for. Society (read politicians, media, friends and family) manipulates this anger and sets us up to be adversarial with just about everybody we meet. We are taught to always be wary of the invisible “they” because at any moment all we have can be taken away. We must work twice as hard as “they” do for even a quarter of what “they” have. The “they” is a shifting target depending on which marginalized black group is being addressed.Basically, we are conditioned to believe the world is out to get us and all we can do is FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! Don’t you dare ask why either.

I’m asking though, is there not another way? What if I choose to focus on building communities rather than tearing down the perceived status quo? What if I choose peace, love and collaboration over blood and fire? What if I choose to listen to my fellow human being instead of constantly shouting my opinion into the wind? What if I choose to get to know you instead of projecting myself upon you? Does that make me any less of a black person in this world? What if I shared the positive stories of my existence in the hope that they may in some way brighten up your day? Does that make me less of a (black) man? Would I be a clever black if I choose to see a fellow human being in you and not a potential competitor for my little corner of blackness in this world?

I spent too many of my younger years being angry at the world to want to fit into the angry black stereotype, instead, I chose a life without stereotypes. That anger only serves to entrench the status quo, the dominance of white masculinity over all.  How you wear your race, gender, sexuality or any other identifier is your choice, how I perceive it, is entirely mine.

My one wish for anyone who thinks black on black physical and emotional violence is the way things should be is they snap out of it the moment they realise their entire understanding of how we relate to each other is centered around the preservation of the purity of male whiteness.

Man Pains. Being A Man’s Man In A Changing World

It happens everyday in varying degrees, from the moment you first interact with other men until you go to bed at night, sometimes, it even persists into your dreamscape. That moment you see another man and quietly think to yourself, “now that’s a man”. The last time it happened to me was two days ago when the Springboks showed up to train at the gym I go to. Mind you, I wasn’t the only guy who got more than a little distracted from their workout. If you say you have never appreciated another man who is better than you in some way, physically, intellectually or economically, you are either in denial or you’re blissfully unaware. The latter is highly unlikely. It’s confession time and today’s topic is man-pains. It’s not quite a man crush nor is it perving because this is not about a particular individual, it is a fleeting appreciation, that glance at the next man that lasts a little longer than it should but ends there. Unlike chest-pains which just hurt like the combined fires of seven hells, man-pains are bittersweet.

As men we are conditioned to not express ourselves in certain ways for fear of being seen as effeminate, physical contact and complimentary language between us are often guarded or tinged with bravado. We constantly maintain that bro space, what goes on in our heads however, is something totally different and only rarely given away. I realised this after spending the better part of this year working out, after an almost eighteen year break. Spend enough time in a gym and you’re going to catch yourself looking appreciatively at the guy with the body you’re working towards and when you do, hoping to high heaven he didn’t notice. The irony is, the men who epitomise our physical fitness goals do this and more on the playing field all the time. we’ve all seen the goal celebrations that involve hugs, kisses and butt-cupping or is that butt-slapping? Whatever, my point is, if we weren’t so guarded around each other it may just do wonders for our self-esteeem, but beyond the occasional all-knowing mutual head nod, we don’t dare cross that line. Why? Because of a questionable sense of masculinity.

That last part requires more qualified minds than my own, that said, I think I’ve lived long enough to be able to throw my two cents in. What could possibly be wrong with being openly appreciative of a guy who is better than you in some way? He might just let you in on his secret and you can be great together, not together, together, but you know what I mean. Sharing is caring so share the love with a well-timed nudge or wink and end a life of self-inflicted man-pains, it’s not like you haven’t been looking already.

Not All Who Wonder Through Their Twenties Are Lost.

They say if you can remember your twenties then they were not that much fun. Well, I remember some. Earlier tonight on twitter I saw so many twenty-somethings are going through that first heavy self-doubt phase. I used to live there. Let me tell you a story.

Though it may not feel like it, it’s perfectly normal to look at more successful people your age & wonder what you’re doing wrong.

You will wonder where & when your breakthrough’s coming from. You will torment yourself & likely go a little mad. I did, it’s allowed.

I cannot tell you what it feels like when that big break does happen because it never happened for me. Instead, I’ve had many small breaks.

At the time, each break did not seem like a big deal but one day I looked back and wondered, “how the hell did this happen?’ Then I lost it all

One of my mentors told me “it takes about five attempts before you are wealthy” by then he’d lost everything six times but made it seven times, more with each attempt.

He died one of the richest men I have ever known. I have made & lost it all four times in twenty years, yes, I started young & had a few lucky breaks.

Money is not important, it is merely a means to a certain type of life. I used to be a liker of things till I learned to live without them.

From times when I had more money than I knew what to do with to days I would wake up to two slices of bread & an egg in the fridge. I have been that guy.

What I learned is after it is all gone, only life remains. Only life is important. I have much less money and trinkets now than I did in my twenties but I am happier.

The gist of my story is, there are no single big breaks. Life is full of incremental breaks and how you handle each one sets you further on a path.

The path is challenging, confusing, exhilarating & incredibly rewarding. Thing is, whatever decision you make, you are never off the path.

Whatever choices you make now or at any other time, are YOUR choices, embrace them as such but don’t be beholden to them. It’s ok to change your mind.

i may not have found my purpose in life yet but I am ok with that. There was a time I obsessed about that but if I survived me, so can you survive yourself.

After the last time I lost it all I learned this:
Don’t ever think you’ve arrived. Because once you do, that’s when the music stops.

I hope my two cents worth helps some of you make sense of life. This is not advice, just a bit of my story so far.

Later.

Chasing Light In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Recently I was in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe for a few days and on my last morning there I woke up before dawn to go on a photowalk. Armed with my iPhone 5 I set out at 04:30a.m. I started with a two kilometre walk as I waited for the light and the first thing I saw was this tree along Burnside Road at the corner with Moffat Avenue.

Blood on the leaves.
Blood on the leaves.

This is my short story of an early morning at the Bulawayo Vegetable Market along Fifth Avenue between Robert Mugabe Way and Jason Moyo Street.

It's 06:30 and the downtown vegetable market's been busy for hours already.
It’s 06:30 and the downtown vegetable market’s been busy for hours already.

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