January 3, 2017

Arrested Memories of the Struggle

Winnie Mandela at 80.
On September 26, 2016, Nkosikazi Nobandle Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela-Mandela, Winnie Mandela, celebrated her 80th birthday. She is one of the most well-known female activists to fight Apartheid in South African.  Arrested, tortured, banished, separated from her children, and deprived of her husband, she endured nightmarish circumstances a young wife and mother should never face. Subjected to frequent attacks on her property, she suffered threats on her life, and was ostracized by some Black South Africans for occupying spaces considered outside of a woman’s domain.

Winnie has, simultaneously, captured the world’s imagination and raised the ire of many. She is a complicated survivor of some of the worst times in South Africa’s history. There are numerous biographies about Winnie Mandela, and even more covering the life of her former husband, Nelson Mandela. Many of the works about him reflect prominently or tangentially on Winnie as a wife, mother, supporter of Nelson’s activism, or activist in her own right. A chapter about Winnie was included in the first edition of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “The Struggle is My Life” (Pathfinder, 1978) but was excluded by the third edition (Pathfinder, 1990) because, as Mandela said, his wife’s work deserved wider treatment than a chapter could provide. In the earlier chapter, Nelson, then serving life on Robben Island, remarked on Winnie’s prison experience stating that she was “magnificently contemptuous of her tormentors” during her incarceration under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act (Mandela, 1978, p. 202).

Pretoria Central Prison
Winnie kept a journal of her prison experience, and “491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69” is based on that manuscript from which she was separated for 41 years until Greta Soggot returned it to her in 2011. Winnie’s 1984 autobiography, “Part of My Soul Went with Him,” reflects on her 491-day experience from a distance. In contrast, “491 Days” is stream of consciousness writing about events and hardships contemporaneous with her 16 months in, mostly, solitary confinement between May 12, 1969 and September 14, 1970. The writing is disjointed in places, goes into excruciating detail in some instances and takes a meta view in others. At times, the regular leaps in thought make the narrative difficult to follow. Nevertheless, it is the kind of interior monologue that is expected of someone undergoing torture, subjected to malnutrition, living in inhumane conditions, suffering ill health, and is deprived of the ability to safely care for her children. The irregularities function as a device and draw us into Prisoner 1323/69’s world.

Winnie Exiled to Brandfort, South Africa after release in 1970.
Winnie’s memoir gives the reader a first-hand understanding of an incarcerated woman’s experience of enduring solitary confinement at Pretoria Central Prison in 1960s Apartheid South Africa. Her record focuses on issues of social identity, power, knowledge, gender, race, issues of South Africa’s penal structure such as disregard for prisoners’ dignity and state measures to acquire intelligence through cruel means. In important ways, “491-Days” fills in the gaps in Winnie’s 1984 autobiography. She published her prison journal to serve as a reminder of the horrors of Apartheid in hopes that this reminder will discourage a return to systems of discrimination and hatred. The publication is a witness to the progeny of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela regarding the depth and cost of the struggle on the lives of their immediate family. It painfully articulates the price paid by the matriarch. It is testimony that being deprived of her children, then nine and ten, was brutally painful for Winnie, and provides some insight into the challenges faced by the Mandela children while both of their parents were incarcerated.

“In a way during the past two years I felt so close to you. It was the first time we were together in similar surroundings for that length of time. Eating what you were eating and sleeping on what you sleep on gave me that psychological satisfaction of being with you.”

~Winne Mandela in a letter to her husband written on October 26, 1970 shortly after her release.

Letters to and from Winnie and Nelson, correspondence to their daughters, and communication to and from others engaged in the fight for freedom situate Winnie as part of a loving and supportive network beyond the Pretoria Central Prison. Hence, “491 Days” is evidence that the struggle for human rights is a family legacy that will, for generations, characterize the Mandelas. Researchers and students of South African history, Black liberation, and human rights struggles will find this first-hand record of a female’s experience a valuable perspective on the struggle against Apartheid. This work expands our understanding of the complicated life and times of a woman whose later activities cast a shadow on her years of tremendous resilience.

Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio (2013).

October 30, 2016

The Prejudices Come Out At Halloween

On Halloween adults can pretend to be someone other than who they are: a splendid cover for deniability of one's true self though, if but for one night, it is on display.

"I wrote an article for Time.com on the idiocy of being offended by Halloween costumes, which we all know will inevitably happen," Jim Norton posted on his social media page. 

On a thread sharing Norton's post, Tricia Montes replied, "Let's think about this: Jim Norton says that people should be permitted to wear ill-advised costumes (and in most cases, nobody is stopping them) and learn from the embarrassment of doing so, but he says that right after chastising people precisely for calling out and embarrassing those people. How are they supposed to be embarrassed and learn from it if nobody points out that wearing blackface is some racist, hateful shit? He gives some examples--some real, some made up in his fevered imagination, of people taking things too far, but I can't even pay attention to that when he's already contradicting himself and basically said that people shouldn't even point out that someone is being an asshole, which we should all do."

Norton didn't recognize the idiocy in the impossibility of his own recommendation!

"However, there is a line," I replied on that thread containing Michael McGuire's contention that "nothing is sacred." And, importantly, I added, an individual's choice of "comedy," "satire," or choice of costume speaks to that person's personal values and beliefs. These are performative ways to voice those closely held ideas and prejudices.

Let's be clear, it is inaccurate to believe or claim such acts arise in a vacuum.

Fact is, not everyone agrees that nothing is scared in comedy and costumes. Hara Kiri magazine, e.g., was banned for mocking the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle. France didn't think it was funny. In 1970, Hara Kiri remade itself to become Charlie Hebdo.

We are all too happy to hand carte blanche free speech privileges to folk as long as we are not the butt of their "jokes." But what if that costume was of a deceased loved one of your own: you mother, wife, husband, or your child. Would you join in the fun of mocking them and making light of your huge loss?

Would it be fair that people expect survivors of the deceased to not "be too sensitive" about this, as Norton said?

McGuire stated that the Irish laugh at funerals. That may be true, but there are some things the surviving family would not find funny. Besides, Imma go out on a pretty sturdy limb and bet that the Irish tradition of laughing at funerals is not the same thing as mocking the deceased.

Besides, laughing at funerals is not peculiar to the Irish. I have attended many funerals and have heard laughter at many. But that laughter would have fallen flat if, e.g., the "comedian" mocked the deceased for giving in to their battle with cancer.

Some things are sacred. Period.

What Norton advocates is non-verbal incivility. Its verbal cousin floods televised political discourse today, much to the dismay of multitudes of American citizens, nay, the world.

The sacred exists and there is a line that should not be crossed. What is sacred varies from person to person, culture to culture, and group to group. What American society needs is greater awareness and investment in the kind of sensitivity that makes the world a safe space for everyone, not just the mocking few.

The questions asked by Michael:
How do we draw the line in comedy? What are the things we can't joke about? And who decides?

Michelle Johnson's response was apropos: "Easy. Draw your own line. Just don't bitch when somebody gets in your face about being offended [by what you said or did]. That's my only point--folks can't have it both ways. Do [sic] what they want and then scream political correctness when they get called on it. It's like the N-word. Be the white person who says the N-word. [N]obody's keeping you from doing that. Just deal with the consequences, whether it's a job loss or an ass beating."

Deal with the consequences of your actions, absolutely! If we weren't taught this by our parents at an early age there is still time to learn.

Yet, it is sad that short of economic or physical discipline we, as a society, can't figure out what is offensive and/or demeaning and choose to avoid those things.

Two strange things happened yesterday:

A psychic was the guest on a local radio show. The host asked, "what is the source of all the problems in the world today." She immediately replied, "there are too many people in the world. War is one way reduce populations." The psychic then went on to something else with nary a follow-up question by the host to that bizarre statement. I couldn't help wanting to know who she thought should be eliminated. Certainly not her or her in-group.

Right before that, I was at an event and some were talking about Halloween costumes. I was the only black person there. A young white man said the words "black face" and, I swear, my mind performed some sort of protective intervention, because I never heard his words following that phrase.

That's how traumatic such experiences can be and in most instances are for the brunts of "jokes." The whites engaged in that discussion happily skipped along the conversation for there was no problem at all for them that "black face" even arose at the expense (regardless of purpose or intent) of someone else in the room.

Lawdt, what comes out at Halloween!

October 29, 2016

The High Cost of Masculine "Peace"

First, women need to cease being silent about the range, type, and frequency of assaults* upon them by men. We, women around the world, have been conditioned to remain quiet about these intrusions.

Second, men must stop pretending that their inappropriate speech and behaviors do no harm to women. Men must begin to be honest, "tell it like it is," about how they are socialized and how they socialize young men to interact with women as if we are toys for male sexual pleasure.

Men must begin to be honest about their physical violence toward women (from inappropriate touching to beating) being rooted in their emotional, social, and psychological violent toward women--in the family, romantic relationships, the workplace, even religious circles. These are among the spheres where women are stripped of their dignity (that's woman's work, that's a woman's instrument, my wife belongs to my other room) and in many cases terrorized by the men who claim to love them, leaving women emotionally naked.

Oppressors never want to be held accountable. The slightest push back from the target of their tyranny disturbs their peace.

The "peace" of oppressive males exists at dangerous and high costs to females.

Men have built, continue to participate in, and perpetuate the emotional, social, and physical abuse of women that is the foundation of patriarchy. Men must dismantle it.

"If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you liked it." ~Zora Neale Hurston

Women, disturb the peace. Disturb *their* peace!

*My earliest memory of being assaulted was when I was nearly abducted from Marshall Fields Department Store in Chicago when I was around 7-years-old. When I was in graduate school I was cornered by two men in a laundry mat. A third man intervened, drawing their attention, allowing me to escape. Just last week, a man followed me from the building as I left my gym (most creepy, he yelled to me, "have a blessed day!"); after stalling 10-minutes waiting for me to leave the facility parking lot, he proceeded to follow me by car. Miles away from my destination and 30-minutes later, I was able to shake his tail. It is clear: He intended to follow me to find out where I live so he could "visit" me any time he wanted. I was scared to death. I am still frightened. The micro and macro aggressions, from strangers and the men in my life, have been continuous since I was seven. No human being should have to live like this.

October 25, 2016

The Order of Things

Across Abrahamic and indigenous religious traditions, it is widely held that man's God-given right to dominate women is inherent in the order of creation of Adam and Eve. 'Every Woman' invited me to engage in a follow-up conversation about black women being "over protective of black men," which was raised based on interactions between a guest and co-hosts during the radio show's broadcast one week earlier.

My approach on the topic is from the perspective of mass incarceration, the historic threat to black life and break-up of the black family in America, and that female servitude/protection is not a notion peculiar to the black woman. Listen in [26:43]

The 10/15/2016 podcast with Melvin Merritt was posted following the broadcast of our 10/22/2016 show. The Every Woman hosts referenced that podcast during our segment.

Click if you'd like to listen [57:59]

Black Twitter

October 19, 2016


Artist: Tayo Abiola
Yemoja reclines
Braced against
Tramplin' her

They know
Snuff out

Their own

She is energy
Without her
Muscle shrinks
Flakes blown
In southerly winds

Needs be they
Consume not
What makes
Life itself

Her peace
Stolen in
By the hour
In the name of

Teach them


Cannot float

Broken waters
Buoy no

They must

Secrets of
Yin and Yang

Letter of universal law


Lest we all perish.

Z.Hall, 10/17/2016

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