Zapiro, Mabulu, and the normalisation of violence against Black Women

[This article was republished on the website The Journalist]

Today has been a bad day on Twitter.

There has been a higher than usual amount of misogynoir and acceptance of violence against black women on my time line. It started this afternoon when Pearl Pillay reported that *her friend had told her that an  ex boyfriend Siya Nyezi had abused her.  Within minutes, Black Twitter flew into a frenzy tracking down Nyezi and informing his place of work, Investec, that he was an abuser. His ex girlfriends one by one came out to talk of how he had emotionally abused them as well.

At the same time, there were many who defended Nyezi, saying that it was wrong to expect a man to be fired because of what he did in his personal life. There were even those who suggested that Pearl may have cheated on him, because as we all know, in a misogynist’s world, cheating makes it okay to beat your partner half to death. Then there were those who blamed her for staying as long as she did and even joked that within a few days she would go straight back to him. In other words, the same tiring rhetoric we have to deal with every time the issue of domestic violence comes up.

But I don’t want to focus too much on Pillay and Nyezi. It is far too tiring.

Instead, I want to focus on the other misogynistic nightmare to appear on my time line earlier this evening. Controversial  artist Ayanda Mabulu released a painting that is far too upsetting for me to put here. Basically, the painting depicts Jacob Zuma naked, because in the world of satirical art, Zuma must apparently always either be naked or at least have his penis exposed. Black men must be degraded like this constantly while even the worst white men like Hitler and Stalin get to keep their clothes on. Curiously enough, this is exactly what happened in Mabulu’s painting; the figure made to represent white capital was fully clothed. But this is a conversation for another day.

As unnecessary as it was, Zuma’s nudity was the least offensive part of this painting. The worst is what is in the center where a dark skinned black woman is on all fours.  Zuma’s extremely large penis is forced down her throat while the white figure penetrates her from behind. Her breasts are also being milked against her will. The woman is frightened, in pain, and is depicted in such a cartoonishly racist manner it seems as though Mabulu tore her directly out of a page of an old colonial guide to Natives.

The painting reminds me of this Zapiro classic:

And this one:

And even this one:

All three of these cartoons use women who are clearly codified as black by their hair and lips as symbols for the justice system and in the last cartoon’s case, free speech. Similarly, the painting uses a black woman as a symbol for the ordinary South African taxpayer who is (literally, in this case) screwed over and sucked dry by both the government and corrupt white multimillionaire business owners in the private sector. In all of the above depictions black women’s bodies are graphically brutalised, but this brutalisation is made to come secondary to the grand symbolic message that Zapiro and Mabulu seek to convey in their works.

And that is the problem. In the world of South African satire, when it comes to criticising mainly black male politicians, black women, our bodies, and our pain are seen as collateral damage. Many of those who are criticising the painting are focusing solely on Zuma’s right to dignity, which is a valid concern, but even more concerning is the amount of people who are neither black women nor feminists who are not even mentioning the woman in the painting and what her depiction says of Mabulu’s attitudes towards black women as a whole. Then, of course, liberal Twitter is heaping praises on Mabulu’s work, calling it, “revolutionary”, and “daring” because in South African satirical art, the more brutal the violence against the black woman, the more poignant the social commentary. Black women’s bodies are mere vehicles to be dehumanised and used at will so that male artists can call that dehumanization “social commentary” and profit off of it.

It’s actually hardly surprising. Given that South Africa has shockingly high rates of rape and gender based violence, widespread misogynistic ideals and norms, and prevalent racism, cartoons like Zapiro’s and paintings like Mabulu’s are one manifestation of our violently racist and patriarchal society. In Pillay’s case, the fact that the number of people who would put a man’s employment status over the life of the woman he abused is not at all insignificant is another manifestation of that. The heated argument I got into with someone who attacked a rape victim for not reporting her rapist and instead of attempting to sympathise with her, strongly suggested that she would be responsible if he raped again, is yet another manifestation of that.

And the fact that so much of the commentary surrounding the painting is focused on whether the painting is disrespectful to Zuma, or whether the artist is exposing the truth in a brave, daring way is yet another.

Because in a society where patriarchy and racism exist not just side by side but always connecting and intertwining with one another, the lives of black women don’t matter.

Maybe I should stay off Twitter for a while.

 

*I had originally posted that Pearl Pillay had been abused by Siya Nyezi. This was false, as a friend of hers had reported the abuse. This has been corrected and I apologize for the error

 

#FakeDeep: Hotep Politics disguised as Black Consciousness

I recently joined a Black Consciousness Facebook group hoping to see interesting discussions where people posted links to cool Black scholarship or integrated the ideas of thinkers like Steve Biko into the modern day Post-Apartheid context. I could not have been more wrong. Perhaps I did have high, and admittedly pretentious, hopes for this group. But what I was not expecting was for it to be overrun with Hotep Politics and have a couple of decontextualised Steve Biko or Angela Davis quotes thrown in for good measure.

So what are Hotep Politics?

Hotep Politics refer to a very specific form of “pro-black” beliefs and politics. I put pro-black in inverted commas because those who embody Hotep Politics claim to support the empowerment of all black people yet their politics are riddled with misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and massive inaccuracies regarding African history. Hoteps are typically the type to claim that all black people descend from African kings and queens. They fetishize Ancient Egypt to the point where you begin to wonder if they realize that there were numerous other advanced African civilizations before colonialism. They are adamant that all Ancient Egyptians fit modern colonial definitions of “black” and erase modern day Egyptians from their own history by copy-pasting America’s history regarding the genocide of Native Americans onto Ancient Egypt with Arabs playing the role of the genocidal settler colonists. This narrative is completely inaccurate given that Egypt’s history is entirely different from the U.S’s and studies have shown that the genetic makeup of Egyptians has not changed significantly over the centuries. There’s a post, which was written by an Egyptian, that goes into great detail explaining why the Hotep conception of Egypt is completely wrong*.

But Hotep inaccuracies of pre-colonial Africa don’t end at Egypt. They also tend to state that homosexuality did not exist in pre-colonial Africa and that it was brought over by European colonisers. That claim is not just inaccurate, it is completely and utterly wrong. In fact, here is a source showing 21 different kinds of non binary gender and same sex practices that existed in pre-colonial Africa. But do Hoteps care? Of course not. Many of them firmly believe that homosexuality was introduced in Africa to depopulate black communities and that it is therefore an unAfrican tool of white supremacy in the subjugation of black people.

Hotep politics are not just annoying to see in action, they’re actively harmful. They replicate the very same narratives that have been used to oppress black LGBT+ people and black women for centuries. For example, Hoteps tend to overstate the necessity for a black woman to be in the home and often times reduce her purely to her ability to bear children. Hotep art tends to oversexualise black women by typically drawing them naked or scantily clad like this:

While at the same time, condemning black women for choosing to be sexual, like this:

[The top text is written “Queens sit and watch”. The bottom text is written “While peasants entertain”]

The most concerning aspect of Hotep politics is just how prevalent they are. One finds traces of them within nearly every pro black circle and in this particular Facebook group, I happened to find full blown Hoteps who were completely unwilling to consider that their viewpoints might be wrong. Hotep politics are yet another example of how within marginalised groups those who are oppressed on multiple axes tend to be oppressed within wider social justice movements as well. Hotep politics at best prioritize and at worse over glorify the straight, able bodied black male. The further one deviates from this model, the more one is erased and even excluded from the movement as a whole.

Hotep Politics are not pro black simply because one cannot claim to be for the empowerment of black people yet actively perpetrate ideas and values that have been used to oppress certain groups of black people for centuries. One cannot claim to be pro black yet be selective of the kinds of black people you wish to support. Intersectionality is important.

So you’ll have to forgive me for being wary of black people who spell Africa with a “k” and who insist on referring to all of us as “kings and queens”.

In closing, this poem “Fake Deep” by Cecile Emeke articulates the problems with Hotep Politics, particularly the misogynoir inherent in them, far better than I ever could:

* The original blog post seems to have been deleted so here is the reblogged version of it. It still contains the exact same information as was in the original post.