Uganda and Homophobia: The News Headlines Should Have Screamed “Murder!”

To accurately problematise Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and its religion-based justifications, one first has to grasp the plot twist that makes the New Testament such a scandalous sequel to the Old:

After moaning that human beings are hard-hearted and stiff-necked, God enters into a covenant with a group of them.  This covenant comes with a set of rules sealed off with a curse on whoever signs the dotted line but fails to observe all 613 commandments.  This sets the stage for a proof of humanity’s sanctimonious ugliness passed off as service to God.

The proof is concluded centuries later when the holiest humans use those rules to justify crucifying an innocent man, saying, “It is more expedient that one man dies than for the nation to perish.”  This man then makes the ultimate comeback: he rises from the dead and he reveals his true identity as God’s Son.

What this proves is that the real reason the nation was doomed to perish was its leaders used moralistic and religious pretexts to scapegoat innocent people so the public wouldn’t notice those leaders’ corruption.  The leadership was a mafia passed off as a government; it was counter-liberation forces passed off as anti-imperial occupation movements.  The occupying Romans kept Israel’s high priest atonement ritual garments in a fortress whose balcony overlooked the temple precinct, which is where the ritual was completed.  Jesus’ crucifixion happened more or less around the time of the atonement ritual, a coincidence the New Testament authors used to demonstrate how God’s name had been used to rubber-stamp a hypocritical ruse passed off as the marriage of church and state.  Jesus was killed for poking his nose in the monetary interface of this scam when he cleared the temple porch, driving away currency-changers and sellers of sacrificial animals.  2,000 years later, they’re still in business, facilitating the ‘capture’ of local politicians by foreign money: human blood is still shed as sin offering to cover the scandal.

Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams traced out the intimate connection between theological institutions and Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill in a 2013 documentary titled God Loves Uganda.  The financial payoffs for exchanging the developmental measurables expected by liberal and mainstream American donor churches, for the prejudices expected by conservative churches, would tempt any political and religious leader to play on people’s fears instead of challenging their tribalism and prejudice.  This was my understanding of Williams’ exploration of the role played by American religious extremists and money as they endangered the LGBTI community to maintain the status quo.

Many have recognised this religious infiltration as the 21st century colonisation it is.  Its perpetrators’ genius is they’ve learned to argue that by strengthening colonial-era legislation, they’re safeguarding African identity, which, in another ahistorical twist, had never known gender or sexual diversity but was introduced to by the godless, decadent white bourgeoise to be accepted by anti-liberation black sell-outs, or “unAfrican” Africans who are the doorways of Satan.

In You Have To Be Gay To Know God, I argued that this religious infiltration caricaturises Africans through its heteronormativity, hyper-masculinising African maleness and hyper-feminising African femaleness into the stereotypes white supremacists tell their fellow white people about us so as to justify shooting “dangerous” (read: unarmed) black men, or pigeon-holing black women as welfare queens.  The Trans-Atlantic Slave-Trade — replete with religious self-justification — has reinvented itself.

The Ugandan government has reiterated its commitment to reintroducing the anti-gay bill that fell off the legislators’ table in 2014.  It will impose the death sentence for being gay, and it will criminalise being gay-friendly.  I refuse to say it will criminalise gay sex because the choice to have or avoid sex is a choice all humans who have the right to consent deliberate on regularly as a function of existing.  So, the news headlines announcing the return of this bill should have read, “Ugandan government again turns to murder to hide its failings.”  The letters for the word murder should have been in red.  It’s the unjustified shedding of innocent blood.  If President Yoweri Museveni signs this bill, American right-wing white supremacy would have fully entrenched a satellite base in East Africa so sooner or later, somehow or another, we’re all next.

Please contact your member of Parliament as well as the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation urgently, asking what role South Africa is playing to stop this.  Our country doesn’t have a legal basis for observing “quiet diplomacy” in the face of human rights’ atrocities, nor for letting international war criminals pass through unapprehended as we did with presidents Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir respectively.  Our foreign policy is guided by our Constitution and the Bill of Human Rights.

Yes, we respect the sovereignty of other countries, and have plenty of issues within ours.  But there’s a difference between failing to rise to the standard of justice on the one hand and dragging legislation down to match prevailing injustice on the other.

We in South Africa have the highest imaginable ethical duty to use the freedoms we have to work for other people’s freedom.  We have to recognise and unpack the religious, social and political issues at work.  Homophobic people can live without this bill; homosexual people can’t live with it.

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By Filip Mishevski, @filipthedesigner on @unsplash

 

Christ in the Christchurch Mosque Massacre: Islamophobia and Decolonised Christianity

Some Christians very subtly endorse the increasing frequency of Islamophobic incidents. I’d like to challenge the dogma behind this by unpacking some stories and themes from their bible.

Jesus’ disciples had barely recovered from the shock of his crucifixion when a stranger joined their walk to Emmaus.  “Why the long faces?” he asked. They told him about their horrendous weekend. He responded that perhaps things had worked out as planned.  Intrigued, the disciples compelled the stranger to join them for dinner. As he was saying grace, the disciples’ eyes opened to the fact that he was was Jesus and he vanished from sight.

The word Christ literally means, “the Chosen One”, and if the mission of God’s Chosen One was (as the stranger pointed out) to embody self-sacrificial love for others, then the distinction between the “chosen” and “the stranger” is a function of human blindness.

When the shooter walked into the Christchurch mosque, his first victim’s last words to him were, “Hello, brother.”  After Judas betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus still referred to him as, “My friend.” Christ said he would go incognito as “the stranger”, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.

That Christ was a refugee and his answer regarding the “correct” place to worship (“neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem”, spoken in the face of bitter Judeo-Samaritan hostilities) should make us wonder whether we wouldn’t find him worshiping in a mosque, as it happens to be, in Christchurch.  

See, he spoke Aramaic.  Many Muslims speak a related language, Arabic.  Most Christians and I speak neither. Jesus’ diet, dress, the liturgy and worship he was exposed to and practiced all looked more Muslim than Christian.  

His Old Testament foil, Jonah, was sent by God to preach to Nineveh the city we now associate with Iraq, which Jonah’s people considered “sin city” and the capital of an oppressive empire.  In response, the messenger fled in the opposite direction. Along the way, he met people of different faiths (“those God-forsaken pagans”) who, despite being endangered by Jonah’s flight from his mission, nevertheless tried to help him.  

After a near-death experience, Jonah did preach to “those violent people” as instructed and, again, contrary to stereotypes, they accepted his message.  This story of the most successful Old Testament preacher subverts pious notions of “successful evangelism to the lost”; it rounds off with this divine plot twist:

God asks Jonah why he’s unhappy with his success.  The Hebrew prophet doesn’t mince his words. “I knew you’d turn all compassionate (instead of vindicating us against them),” he says while sulking outside the city and exposed to the elements, which God shelters him from using a fast-growing shrub.  But, God sends a worm to make quick work of that vine, and a few scorching windstorms to add insult to injury. Jonah is incensed; it’s as though he’s the Nineveh God’s message was intended for, and “those incorrigible sinners” are the kind of people he’d have thought himself to be.  He goes from seething to shrieking.  “Just let me die!”

God asks him, “Have you any right to be angry about the withered plant?”  He replies that he has. God then asks, “How’s your concern for a shrub you didn’t plant or water more valid than my concern for 120,000 Ninevites and their animals?”  I paraphrase.

That story ends there, but the question it raises is never answered: it keeps returning as the “plot twist” or moral deadlock in, among other places, Jesus’ parables (google, “Are you envious because I am generous?” or the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable) and Apostle Paul’s use of Prophet Isaiah’s radically inclusive writings.  It’s the grace note of inclusivity against the backdrop of humanity’s petty conflicts passed down from Adam and Eve, to Cain and Abel, to Jacob and Esau, to Isaac and Ishmael — brothers from whom we inherited tensions between Judeo-Christianity and Islam.

A Venn diagram of Jesus’ parting instructions (“make disciples”; “they will know you are my disciples because you love one another”; “love one another the way I have loved you”) centres not at a gleeful wait for God to punish “the other” the way Jonah waited for Nineveh’s Grand Fall outside the city, but at the instruction to love people.  This love is no bait to lure converts; it has no agenda (1 Corinthians 13:5). Like Jonah, Christians literally “travel over land and sea to win a single convert” but bear the attitude needs to be converted within themselves: self-righteousness.

How’s that compatible with believing that someone else’s death is the basis of one’s righteousness?  The cross is the ultimate “plot twist”, turning the idea of a “correct” religion on its head. It’s subversive solidarity with those deemed in the wrong makes it the antithesis of us-versus-them.

Self-righteousness gives one a sense of some right to lord one’s rightness over others as white supremacy and colonialism did — in the name of the Chosen who “suffered under Pontius Pilate”, agent of an occupying power.

So Christians, shouldn’t believing that a crucified criminal is God make it really, really easy to see immeasurable value in anyone?

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Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

How We Think About God Is How We Think, Period

Eusebius McKaiser recently challenged Radio 702 listeners to offer decisive proof that God exists.  Here’s where the proof went.

 

In everyday life, people use the word “should” to indicate a meaningful difference between what is and what ought to be, as though that difference were more than human preference.  While there’s little correspondence between professed belief and moral character, fleshing out the basis of such “should” statements prevents talk about truth from being an elaborate word game and justice from being negotiated power (a term borrowed from Peter Kreeft).

 

Only if universal “is” and “ought” are reconciled in a creator can we justly say that brains were intended to prefer truth over error.  Absent this hypothesis, and “universal obligations” are reduced to “personal preferences”; the proponents of all ethical systems become hypocritical tyrants.  If truth is only what’s provable, who’s proven that definition of truth to render it true?  There’s no falsifying falsifiability.

 

A naturalistic universe, C.S Lewis argued, leaves no “oughtness” for believing itself or anything to be true or morally necessary; all beliefs and judgments are products of natural forces — the “results of other bodily states,” in H. W. B Joseph’s words.  “By what right can I hold that my thought is knowledge of what is real in bodies?”  For that’s “but another thought, an effect of real bodily movements like the rest.”

 

Ultimately, there’s no use judging human judgments and decisions except for congruency against an intelligent creator’s thoughts and judgments.  What else is McKaiser doing when he says human laws could and should be better?

 

We could call this hypothetical creator a tyrant for starting this universe up and imposing his/her/its perspective on us.  We’d immediately rescind our right to hold one another to any universal standard.  We could abstractify truth and justice when logic says they need a mind and will to exist in above ours.  But talk of how some actions are “inherently right”, without a God underwriting the moral universe, spreads the problem of the basis of morality out over normativities.  As with naturalism, locating the ultimate basis for morality inside a universe that did not make itself (as entropy and our mortality suggest) is imposing an “ought” over an “is”.

 

If cause is greater than effect, then the basis of what we call integrity should be holy.  Even if the contents of morality are up for debate, the debate presupposes those unknown contents are as universal as their basis is absolute.  This basis may favour human flourishing while transcending human preference.  “Morals are relative,” some say.  But unless they mean there’s an absolute imperative (e.g. love) interpreted relative to different circumstances, they can’t formulate or live relativism out with consistency.

 

Many atheists and agnostics I discuss these problems with sneer and, ironically, make moral judgments about me.  How?  Their moral frameworks begin at what can be proven (the “is”).  How do they overreach into ethics (what “ought” to be) enough to get troubled by my theism?

 

“Life took millions of evolutionary steps to get here; it ought to be treated as sacred,” they say.  This prescription is super-mundane; the description preceding it is mundane.  They stack large quantities of what are (from our perspective) impressive facts, then shuffle that impressiveness together into a qualitative moral imperative.  Their words betray them, simultaneously concealing and revealing belief in the transcendent.

 

“Do you agree that life’s struggles to get where it is make it worthy of continued existence?”  Me: “I’d agree, but that could mean E. coli’s or cockroaches’ struggle to spread makes them worthy of existence.  Where would this put humans on the food chain?”  Them: “You’re being deliberately obtuse, pretending to not ‘get it’.”

 

But what is “it”?  If it’s a moral option from materialistic processes, why’s it mentioned in hushed tones?  If a social contract, shouldn’t society offer people an easy exit?  A scientific theory must be falsifiable to be taken seriously; likewise, a moral basis must be spit-in-the-face-able because morality without freedom is not morality: it’s a naturalistic hallucination or bureaucracy or both.

 

While theists come short on “provability”, atheists and agnostics borrow logical consistency through arguments that presuppose a congruous moral universe, even when they demand proof from theists.  But once such a demand exceeds the demand for consistency within oneself,  proof will be twisted into fodder for pre-existing intellectual commitments anyway.

 

We can use philosophy to approach reality as a comprehensible whole, reconciling “wave-particle” dualities in physics the way theologians reconcile “fully-human/fully-God” conundrums on the assumption that actual contradictions iron themselves out of existence.  Or we can admit that chaos mocks us from the start.

 

The way we think about God is upstream the way we think about everything downstream.  Absent God, and McKaiser’s prescription for intellectual virtue becomes too tame.  If the quest for an integrated worldview absurdly arises from a prank played by no one, the proper response isn’t humility — it’s insanity, philosophical despair, nihilism.

 

The only joy we can have is at the winning side of negotiated power, for might is the only right there is.  We’re all jilted fiancées stranded at existential wedding altars if there was never a groom — if there was never a God.

Upcoming Interview

At the heart of religious prohibitions against sexual diversity is the belief that sex is about power over others, which must therefore be practiced (if at all) within the parameters set by religious institutions. But doesn’t this hypocritical policing lead to sexual abuse involving religious institutions? Books like #YouHaveToBeGayToKnowGod shed light on current events. Watch this interview before going to church — if you feel safe going there, that is.

Event

So this blog has been very, very quiet. I promise to catch everyone up on what has been happening. But for now, allow me to just inform you about an event I am about to participate in. It is today. It is at a Festival. 2 pm until 4 in Pietermaritzburg. I’m reading the below. I’m leading a discussion on it.

Let’s talk about #heterosexism, #patriarchy and #heteropatriarchy; about #RapeCulture, #BrettKavanaugh, #ChristineFord, #DonaldTrump and #JacobZuma. We’ll talk about toxic masculinity and political leaders steeped in it — but are nonetheless elected to power. Copies of #YouHaveToBeGayToKnowGod will be available for sale at R240 for today. Ciao!

 

 

Gentle Reminder: What’s at Stake is Always Our Common Humanity

A Jewish philosopher named Martin Buber described two kinds of relationships that inform our experience of reality: I-Thou and I-It.

Where an I-Thou relationship is characterised by its participant’s (theoretically mutual) awareness of each other’s personhood, an I-It relationship is more utilitarian: there’s a subject and an object, an actor and an acted-upon.  The person half of the relationship has a purpose for the thing half that goes beyond that thing’s existence, unless it is art.

Speaking of art, the film critic Laura Mulvey popularised a corresponding idea in the consumption of art: the “male gaze”, which is a way of depicting women and the world as existing primarily to augment male personhood through the promise of pleasure and dominance.  Put differently, a man was the number of women he bedded.

Heterosexism is the default assumption of heterosexual superiority and normality.  But it further breaks down to “hetero” and “sexism”: hetero meaning “other” and sexism being a form of oppression that, systemically speaking, targets women.  It’s patriarchy.  Heteronormativity is not just the normalisation of heterosexuality but also the normalisation of women’s sexual objectification as “the other”.

How did women become an “It” to men’s “I”?  Society first positioned itself as an “I” and turned each man into an “It”, seeing those men’s value in what (and who) they did more than in who they were (and in the fact that they were).  Traditional masculinity rewards men for being warriors, using the glory of self-sacrifice to eclipse the military/athletic disposability of their bodies.

This societal I that relegates men to “It” status is big, being the collective, while that “It” status is rendered astonishing to observers because these men are rewarded for their dominance over women.  How can they be objects even as they objectify?  It does not make sense!  Until it does: people do unto others what has been done unto them.

It seems counterintuitive to propose that the root of patriarchy is men’s insecurity on measuring up to this greater “I’s” expectations.  Even a Donald Trump’s brashness would be him turning all measures of competence so completely on their head that it is no longer he, but anyone who expects that he will aspire to genuinely great leadership, who seems crazy and foolish.  The paradox of patriarchy is that as the Republicans’ prize and scandal, Trump is patriarchy’s product precisely in how he makes a mockery of all the values patriarchy ever promised the world.  He models it by exemplifying its un-self-aware insecurity and therefore its emptiness.  The Emperor has no clothes on.  Woeful, this thought, that it is not only possible to be history’s biggest example of what a non-man is, but to also be how history decisively proves that aiming to be a man is aiming too low. 

I titled my first book You Have To Be Gay To Know God because there is no authentic I-Thou relationship with a transcendent “I” unless that “I” has no conditions to recognising and celebrating your personhood except that you’re human.  Set over-and-against our unconditional personhood, society tells men they’re not real men unless (fill in the blank): even the message, “real men don’t rape”, simply shifts the problem that caused rape — the need to prove one’s personhood in terms of what society recognises men for, which is dominance — into a more hetero-expectant and hetero-respectable picture.

To be authentically embraced as a “Thou” and have the capacity to do the same for others, the “I” you look to for your personhood’s validation has to be genuinely okay with you rejecting all (especially society’s) unreasonable expectations for you as its “It” beyond what is necessary to live well with others.  You have to know experientially that this super-I sees you as its Thou even if the societal I sees you as a defective “It” against its needless rules.  If you can’t know God while being gay, you can’t know God while straight either.  If your God can’t love a version of you that’s homosexual, there’s no way in hell he genuinely loves the version of you that’s heterosexual.  Is God really a God who reduces people to elemental systems designed for things and not people?  Then religion was not made for the living but for the dead; its God deals in lifeless things, not live humans.

Harry Hay and Matthew Fox have argued that homosexual relationships are necessary: they challenge the notion that sex is power and must therefore be had across, and reinforce, power differentials (instead of being had along and not along power equalisers).  Heteronormativity is the cultural normalisation of othering.  Let us not pretend rape culture and femicide appeared out of thin air when we cultivated them.

I used to walk through the world as an “It” under the scrutiny of a bigger societal “I” that declared me a failure because I did not meet hetero-respectable hetero-expectations.  But I realised that I was not the only person who failed to be the correct sort of “It” to this greater “I”: every day, the number of people walking beside me increased.  Women realised they were being beaten and killed because they failed to be obedient “It” units to men’s “I” subjectivities, which, in turn, were degraded by society’s dehumanising expectations of “real men”.  The tragedy was those men could never relinquish the rewards for participating in this existential slavery because, as one of the authors of #FeminismIs quipped at its Rosebank launch, “Privilege is niiiiiiiiiiiice.”

The people walking beside me included white men who’d been conscripted, and who’d known at some level that they, too, were “It” soldiers to a government that promised to bestow their humanity some breathing room only if they succeeded at stealing humanity from others; at its fulfilment, this promise turned out to have been a complete lie.  You cannot dine with the devil without becoming the meal and all that.

The theme for this year’s Walk on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia is Solidarity and Alliances.  Same-Love Toti is running Durban’s leg of it on May the 12th —Saturday, 10am — and I’m walking.  The reason I think you should support this kind of activism is that your personhood is only safe from conditionality to the extent that other people’s is.

Being apathetic towards the struggles of “the other” (when they don’t resemble those we immediately prioritise) is the passive aspect, the flip-side, of using those others to further our egos’ agendas.  I am not saying that failing to participate in activism recommended by myself or another feminist is failing to be a decent human being, for then I would be furthering my ego’s agenda through you.

I am saying that those times we absolve ourselves from the responsibility to defend others just because we are not actively inflicting oppression, let alone watching the coats of those who are, is when we fool ourselves into seeing indifference as something other than the insidious violence it always turns out to be.

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987; please also look out (or use!) the hashtag #YouHaveToBeGayToKnowGod

(Kwela Books, 2018)

Listeria Monocytogenes: South African business’s dirty little secret

People’s feelings about a company govern the extent to which they’ll “forgive” its transgressions.

On Monday 5 March 2018 the CEO of Tiger Brands, Lawrence MacDougall, spent an hour insisting its subsidiary, Enterprise, was not responsible for the listeriosis outbreak that claimed 180 lives. Yet by 15:00, the business’s market capitalisation had fallen by R5.7-billion and the share price by 7.9% to R391.47.

People’s feelings about a company govern the extent to which they’ll “forgive” its transgressions. The Facebook post of a man from Kimberley cataloguing Tiger Brands’ sins — which included bread price-fixing and carcinogens in Tastic rice — was typical of a growing public outcry against the accounting and operational “irregularities” that big businesses like Steinhoff are seen as getting away with. Last year, Tiger Brands’ black woman ownership was at 4.56%, prompting a post by a black mother to fellow black mothers:

“We can’t achieve Radical Economic Transformation without you as a consumer and it starts with you loving only the brands that love you.”

The CEO of Tiger Brands refrained from apologising for legal reasons. It’s probably just as well: the bottom line linked to Tiger Brands’ social capital faces a terrible prognosis because this crisis is proxy for an instance of retribution many black people feel never happened, but should have: for the role they believe was played by “white monopoly capital” under apartheid. Those black people eat and trade in the inexpensive processed protein product that’s now killing them and their township street “kota” businesses.

Had Tiger Brands been broadly perceived as reciprocating its customer loyalty by substantively and visibly developing those township enterprises, its share price would have a better prognosis (instead of being exposed to a possible lawsuit).

What they saw in place of this support — of an apology — was power on the defensive; this, from a business that purportedly knew about the pathogenic bacteria a month before the product recall. Now, the tribalistic psychology behind why business hegemonically empowers people and enterprises from the same race as its existing people is being projected as racism over everything Tiger Brands says about the importance of its consumers’ health. Those consumers have no memory of the brand caring for them beyond memories they themselves made as its unloved customers.

The captains of industry tend to associate with men like themselves and cover one another’s insecurities by not introducing “different” people into those spaces — “others” whose unexpected competencies would call into question the legitimacy of those hierarchies and groups. The members of these groups mutually reward one another’s cultural “sameness” by systemically extracting wealth from those not in those groups, for redistribution amongst those within that group. Those inside these old boys’ clubs then use that wealth to back an appearance of accomplishment that exceeds more than what they’ve truly pulled off. They’re using attributes they never worked for (skin colour) to distinguish those they’ll reward from those they’ll exploit in exchange for having more power behind that skin colour. Then they only work with those who look like themselves to hide from having to face the black embodiments of their scam.

Anyone from within these groups who considers fighting for justice and organisational sustainability by bringing “the other” in has to first overcome the fear of being punished by his colleagues. But on 5 March, the owners of Tiger Brands were given 5.7-billion reasons to rethink.

For Tiger Brands now exists, in part, at the mercy of black stakeholders. They’re about to show whether they believe they consumed a product whose price-point and availability in townships represented their exclusion from privilege. Are they sick to their stomachs with the status quo because Listeria Monocytogenes is the corpo-realisation of South African business’s dirty little secret — that it treats black people like (and so feeds them) dirt?

Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

Listeriosis may have been the final proof black stakeholders needed.

Is transformation the answer? Yes, but the danger with box-tick B-BBEE is when a business starts with its “what” (making lots of money that members of the old boys’ club can wrap their inadequacies up in) instead of a good “why” (serving the societies they do business among through shared value while making big profits), it’s doomed to lose both. Any accounting report that says otherwise is lying about how such businesses accomplished this pro-hegemony “what” without resorting to an anti-everyone-outside-the-group “how”.

This means all “white monopoly capital” share prices (not just of the baloney monopoly on polony) are exposed to the same risk. These businesses’ operational, reputational and managerial “deep-cleans” call for transformation.

The correlation between the unsustainability of enterprise development through hegemonic tribalism, and operational compromises that lead to whole industries suffering like South Africa’s processed meat industry, is why BEE Novation tweeted, “Don’t compromise: serve enterprise development that doesn’t kill your whole industry.”

The business’s MD, Lee du Preez, explained that when businesses participate in proper Enterprise Development (an element on the BEE scorecard) of supply chains in compliance with BEE, instead of the rules of the old boys’ club, they tend to straighten out the rest of their governance requirements too.

Don’t compromise: your enterprise will soon worship you for unpacking its need for a transformation strategy.

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987

Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints, title You Have to Be Gay to Know God

Love of Power Vs Power of Love: A Tale of Two Stories – Inxeba and Black Panther

If a movie’s success is its audience’s agreement that it’s delivered on its makers’ artistic promises, then the respective viewers of Inxeba and Black Panther seem to have started this year on a cultural high note. So why, in the absence of complaints from its actual intended audiences, has the Films and Publications Board upgraded Inxeba (or downgraded it, depending on your perspective) to an X-rating?
We saw the state recoil from the backlash when Generation’s Jason and Senzo kissed; we saw the outcry when We The Brave ran an ad with a same-sex kiss. I submit we’re more comfortable, as society, with violent men than we are with vulnerable men.

That’s not a dig at Black Panther: I haven’t watched the Marvel creation yet, and I’m quite looking forward to it. But I have questions about some reviewers’ overtones of, not quite black triumphalism, but indomitability. I find startling the contrast between those and reactions to Inxeba’sexplicit depiction of something that scares us more than the choice between explicit sex and explicit violence: “the wound” of human vulnerability.

Judging by reviews, one could be forgiven for concluding that unlike InxebaBlack Panther is the undisputed Truth — with a capital-letter T — about the black identity that colonialism otherwise mutilated and continues mutilating in its mutilated depictions of mutilated black men — black men who, by starring in said stories, are willingly co-opted into colonialism’s accusation that their own culture has scarred them in ways colonialism never could have without their cultural treachery.

Black Panther, on the other hand, is consumed as a story about untouched, self-realised black society. But history never happens in a vacuum, and not even in our inconvenient reality is indomitability the restful given of having never been colonised: it’s the result of non-stop performativity imposed by the custodians of our cultures, and that performativity is in the same WhatsApp group as toxic masculinity.

If you don’t think Black Panther has inadvertently catered to that social appetite, then imagine how its black audiences would have reacted to seeing Black Pantherdepicting Wakanda’s sons playing with dolls. Would it have received the same treatment as Inxeba?

Think boys with dolls are gay? Consider this: what if, as children, we develop our capacity for tuning into other people’s feelings when we role-play with dolls and humanise objects? When we imaginatively project human feelings onto them so we may practice how we’d react in those scenarios?

Has it occurred to us that we can talk about the nuanced similarities and distinctions between robust and ongoing sexual consent a hundred billion times, but without thatexperiential foundation in childhood, all that talking will never, ever land with the seriousness that a serious confrontation with rape culture requires?

Even if it does land, later on, it will still be incorporated not into a commitment to treat women as human equals, but to help them feel less conquered in what’s still fundamentally their conquest. Think “pick-up artists”. The relational, empathetic core, however well it’s imitated later on, must be developed from much earlier than puberty.

Or look at our political landscape: the danger with triumphalism is it’s a lot like nationalism and tribalism. In his article on “the dangers of Zulu Nationalism”, Mondli Makhanya reminds readers of ANC KZN’s responsiveness to Zulu ethnicism.

“We know [Zuma] will not hesitate to pull the Zulu nationalism trigger as the cantankerous chief from that province loved to do. We should prepare for that eventuality once his fraud and corruption trial begins and the State Capture commission implicates him in more criminal activities.”

And unless ANC KZN splits away from the mother body — a possibility with a set of terrifying implications of its own — KZN’s tribalism will be inveigled in the party’s messaging to voters in its build-up to national elections next year.

This is all to say we must enjoy Black Panther and whatever good comes from Cyril Ramaphosa’s term the way we should have enjoyed the good in Mbeki’s term: with eyes open to the dangers likely to be around the corner.

This is especially important when ratings are changed, seemingly, in response to public pressure.

This all also means keeping our hearts open. For any triumphalist black self-representation as martially indomitable, there may, accidentally, be the repression of those whose likelihood to yield to the power of love makes them less likely to be lovers of power. Inxeba is a story about a person dying to be a person. Who are the black movie superheroes supposed to save, if not exactly such?

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987

Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints, title You Have to Be Gay to Know God

Inxeba: Ripping the Wounds right open

The value of the film Inxeba’s gay storyline against a backdrop defined by traditional masculinity is not exclusively for gay men: it’s for everyone. Many of the social media comments about the backlash against its airing question why those who’d suppress the movie haven’t been as vocal against rape culture. In view of Inxeba’s focus on homophobia, this line of questioning can be taken further.

 

Men nowadays are rightly asked to confront rape culture, but this request often stops short of asking heterosexual people to examine their consumption of heterosexism. As I previously pointed out: “When a lesbian is murdered, or raped, or burned, or mutilated, the #MenAreTrash brigade is nowhere to be found.”

“Corrective rape” is when a lesbian is raped for saying no to every man’s sexual advances, making it an attack against every woman’s right to say no to any man’s sexual advances. There is no point at which the battle against rape culture should be more focused. But because we live in a heterosexist society, there is no point at which it receives less attention.

Where there should be a focus on the “corrective rape” of lesbians, we instead see that anger at rape culture is coloured by the consumeristic demand that men live up to straight women’s Ken-and-Barbie fantasies as loyal, romantic, door-opening, bill-settling partners, as well as disappointment that they bring to life women’s worst nightmares instead.

For while many of the Hollywood-type Valentine’s Day “Ken” behaviours expected of men are admirable, their proximity to pre-existing gender roles is their proximity to traditional heteronormative masculinity — and it’s that masculinity that rapes.

Traditional masculinity’s essence is performativity. There’s nothing sustainable or consistent in basing social norms on the pursuit of the desirable outcomes of that non-stop performativity, while stomping out its less desirable outcomes — masculinity as power-over, as validation-seeking through dominance and as forced access to women’s bodies. Far from being an aberration of heterosexism, rape culture is what happens when heterosexism finally gets its way and dictates all romantic and sexual identities and behaviours.

Addressing rape culture without addressing homophobia isn’t confrontation: it’s negotiation. Because at the end of that negotiation there are no consequences for the “corrective rape” of lesbians, those lesbians’ bodies are the price society is willing to pay for the service rape culture renders — validating heterosexism and Old Testament tribalism.

The same black friends keep embracing definitions of black masculinity in which men are powerful providers — but these definitions only work if they make rape and domestic abuse the effects of landlessness and economic exclusion. The socialisation of boys and their consequent insecurity at having to continually live up to assumptions about masculinity (which sounds flattering so as to pass traditional masculinity off as more intoxicating than toxic) is never questioned. It sounds seductively convenient to lay the blame for male violence at the feet of colonialism and apartheid because then we never have to examine ourselves. But when structural racism becomes the explanation under which we sweep male violence without having to problematise male socialisation, neither structural racism nor male violence are solved on real terms.

We see that socialisation plays a more decisive role than economic displacement in breeding rape culture in that when black men do experience economic empowerment, a considerable number of them direct that newfound wealth not towards providing for their children but into further demonstrations of dominance and power, often through womanisation. The message that masculine value is tied to the power to provide simply compels men to prove that they have that power without deploying it into their children’s service.

If you think that sounds absurd, then tell me why some of the poorest kids in our townships will often have some of the richest fathers. I’ll tell you why: it’s because in its fear of feminising men by letting them nurture children, straight society has the nerve to leave the responsibility of fathering with mothers — and then it still turns around to say it is we, gay people, who have confused the gender agenda for everyone. Even rebuking rapists by saying “real men don’t rape!” reinforces the heterosexist box in dishing out its idea of “real men” without scrutinising it. When the black woman’s intimate partner insults gay people, she ought to pay attention: he is talking about her. Gay bodies are the price straight society is happy to pay for its lease on heterosexism. But what overthrows us, overthrows straight society also.

When they’re not being bashed by homophobes, gay men exist as straight women’s social accessories and entertainment; as their missed sexual and romantic opportunities. “What a waste,” they say. “A waste” because the moment a man ceases existing as a sexual and romantic prospect replete with the performative expectations of traditional masculinity, he ceases existing in the ways men have been trained to count on and believe in for their validation by the very society that acts all surprised by the down-side of traditional masculinity. Gay men are “a waste” for the same reasons straight men are “trash”.

Gavin de Becker wrote: “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.” The common denominator is the socialisation required by heterosexism. These are the wounds Inxeba has ripped wide open.

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987

Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints, title You Have to Be Gay to Know God

#NxasanaJudgment: Appealing will hurt Zuma – the days of disrespecting the NPA are over

This post first appeared on Daily Maverick on 11 December, 2017

When a court has to go to the unthinkable extreme of violating the Constitution’s visible expression in order to protect its invisible meaning to prevent said Constitution and itself from being complicit in crime, the president in question is a problem.

Corruption Watch‚ Freedom Under Law and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution asked the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to review the R17 million settlement paid to former National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mxolisi Nxasana.

Written by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo and judges Natvarlal Ranchod and Willem van der Linde, the judgment set aside Shaun Abraham’s appointment as Nxasana’s replacement, picked on the “pattern of the president’s conduct in litigation, of defending what ultimately turns out — on the president’s own concession — to have been the indefensible all along, banking on any advantage that the passage of the time may bring”, as well as Advocate Abrahams’s failure to retain prosecutorial independence “on all the material issues with the position of the president”. They also said the deputy president must appoint the next prosecutions’ authority director.

Zuma’s appeal will probably say the judgment violated the doctrine of the separation of powers. The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association likewise described the ruling as “judicial overreach”, a “judicial coup”. But the judgment has introduced an insight not even an appeal can erase. It could be argued that the judgment was the court’s protest against “the pattern” it spoke of.

Even allowing that the court went too far at any point, it could be said the alternative would have been the court’s failure to defend itself and the doctrine of the separation of powers from being inveigled into what its representatives justly saw, at the time (on the basis of what the president’s counsel conceded) as a pattern of defending the indefensible and undermining the rule of law.

The president’s counting too often on the doctrine has had the effect of undermining the purpose for and spirit in which it was formulated, making the court’s violation of the letter of the doctrine a stronger expression of its spirit than upholding the letter would have been.

When a court has to go to the unthinkable extreme of violating the Constitution’s visible expression in order to protect its invisible meaning to prevent said Constitution and itself from being complicit in crime, the president in question is a problem.

Because the High Court’s judgment said ignoring the possibility that Zuma uses court processes to subvert justice would be naïve, the next court he appears before has to give serious consideration to the possibility that the presidency’s professed hopes that the grounds of appeal will be “properly ventilated in the normal course in court proceedings”, is really dog-whistle messaging for, “this will buy us time”, corroborating the charge that the president’s broader view of the judiciary is contemptuous; that the legalese his legal team uses is a mockery of the “principle of the separation of powers‚ constitutional legality and the rule of law” he purports to be “minded by”.

If this judgment is legally weaponised by an interested party, any court (Supreme Court of Appeals [SCA], Constitutional Court) could legitimately take the initiative and contemplate the possibility that the president’s conceivable scorn towards the Constitution that sets out how it should serve the “we, the people” in its preamble is the flip-side to his seriousness towards serving the interests of someone other than “we, the people”. I’m no lawyer, but the circumstantial evidence for State Capture could emerge in future judgments against Zuma if a judge holds the president’s known conduct in litigation up to the light of the Constitution. Legally, the president’s failings will take on a “captured” shape.

The extent of the victory the SCA grants Zuma’s appeal will depend on its willingness to overturn the implicit finding that he bribed the former Director of Public Prosecutions to vacate his job, and its willingness to condone (for whatever given explanation) the illegality of the amount paid from the public purse for said bribe. Even if the complaint that the doctrine of the separation of powers was violated is accepted, the SCA would be expressing a preference for the presidency’s abuse of the doctrine of the separation of powers for evidently questionable ends, over the High Court’s violation of the letter of the doctrine so as to uphold its spirit.

The Constitutional Court would settle the matter to Zuma’s disadvantage unless his legal team’s success at proving the violation of the separation is coupled with successful contestation of the factual findings that informed the High Court’s judgment. Then, the extent to which the appeal overthrows the High Court in this case would overthrow their client in every future case. Zuma risks winning this battle by losing the overall war to stay out of jail until 2019 — which is a Pyrrhic victory.

Even before then, the president could be accused of leaving the judiciary (and Parliament, whose members are constitutionally mandated to act by conscience despite their party’s contrary belief) between a rock and a hard place: he could be accused of throwing them into constitutional crises that would most simply be resolved by his resignation. It’s too soon to tell the form and the platform such accusations would take, let alone the outcomes they would build to.

This much, we now know: the High Court agrees with Shaun Abrahams’ warning that the days of disrespecting the NPA are over.

Please comment, retweet and follow: @SKhumalo1987

Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints, title You Have to Be Gay to Know God