Tag: black men

Black, successful and single

(Pic: Reuters)
(Pic: Reuters)

I’ve gotten used to being invisible.

At night I go out almost as pretty as I may appear in pictures and as I watch people drinking, flirting, exchanging numbers and agreeing to meet up soon, I feel a strange loss of corporeality when my self-possessed smiles and quick rejoinders are met with nervous laughter and clumsy goodbyes as men begin to look through and beyond me.

At something simpler, intrinsically sexier and over my shoulder.

For me this is nothing new.

I’m a 29-year-old black woman and I’ve never been asked out on a date or for my number in any way that would suggest the slightest view towards twin tombstones.

My black and white male friends tell me it’s because I’m too intimidating when reduced to a bullet point list.

I’m passably pretty. I have a great job. I’m affable, educated and articulate. I live in a swank apartment, my sexual reputation is squeaky clean and I’ve recently taken a shine to flying across the world to eat, explore and be mute in monasteries.

Even more repulsive is the fact that I speak a little too well, white, meaningfully and much.   Couple this with the ability to afford my own hair, home and gambols across the globe and the reality is that while I’m obviously “a catch,” I’m also the least desirable fish in the sea.

To many white men who date black women, women like me are a little too white.

We’re great for pulling up with at parties and talking to until the wee hours but as a fleeting fancy once told me: White men want their black women ‘black’.

They want them with ‘political hair’, ostensibly insatiable pussies and with just enough Africa in their accent to remind the rabble that they’re profoundly progressive.

Then, of course, there’s the sex. And the hypersexualisation that precedes it.

Reduced to forbidden fruit, blowjob lips, bouncy buttocks and thick thighs in film, literature and life, many black women are approached by white men with largely erotic expectation who will generally skip what appears to be an open mind above closed legs.

After all, what’s the point of dating a black woman if you can’t talk about her stereotype-supporting abandon in bed? If you can’t salaciously suggest that she’s a lady in the streets but a freak in the sheets to all your high-fiving friends who know her kinky hair mirroring kinky ways will never meet your mother?

To plenty of black men, black women like me are whole other bag of bad news.

Many have grown up in households were men rule the roost and women work at cooking, cleaning or killing time at a job  that pays just enough for them to remain compliant.

So black women like me – black women with our own money, our mouths and our minds – we’re erudite abominations. We’re traitors of tradition and pariahs of our place which is no further than somewhere far below a man by the simple virtue of him being one.

Lucky for them, there are black women in abundance.

Women who like being kept in clothing and under the thumb and these women will do until they don’t. Until they demand one too many weaves and shopping sprees, the feeling of being used becomes mutual and jaded black men dismiss assorted black women as being gold-diggers by nature, if not harpies and whores.

The irony is that while they complain, cuss and call us all names, most black men would never date black women like me.

Not when we’re unperturbed by the threat of unpaid bills and unkempt weaves so we’ll be swift to leave liars, beaters or cheats.

When we don’t sleep around and they can’t call us sluts because the pot is only as free as the kettle.

When we maintain ourselves just as highly as we please and speak up and out about double standards, patriarchy and the misogyny inherent in ‘our place’.

When they insist that we deserve better, swear they’re unworthy and they can never see their way to stepping up to the challenge.

When we’re not angry, slutty or anything else allegedly innate in being female and black and walk a strange and steadfast line as neither Sapphire nor Jezebel.

Though they’re quick to lament black women’s so-called superficiality and lack of intellect, most black men would never date black women like me.

Not when we can hold our own in all kinds of conversation as we jump through educational and professional hoops to get beyond our caricatures and our kin.

Not when we aren’t impressed by a string of baby mamas waiting in the wings with children who will only half know their grudging fathers balanced precariously on their infuriated hips.

Not when everything we’ve worked hard at is seen as a minus on some lazy list because most middle-class black men would rather be a part of something limping and loose than take a chance at dating an equal who is willing and able to share their bills, their lives, their torments and their triumphs.

Not when most black men would rather ignore successful black women entirely than be bothered to take an interest in a black damsel who is not in distress.

When, much like them, we want to chase our dreams and pursue our talents as far and as wide as they may take us because we’ve been given an opportunity denied to an African many.

When we’re a little occupied and exhausted because every day is a clash; a fight fraught with defying stereotypes and making the world more accepting of ambitious black women through sheer necessity and precedent. Though, the reward is as pyrrhic as: you’re too good, you’re too talented, walk alone.

Not when they assume our Western-style accomplishments dictate that we don’t date black men but the reality is no man has ever actually asked.

At least not me.

Except one.

Aptly, a man named Courage. A local comedian who grins at me from the stage at a Valentine’s Day-themed comedy show at Jojo’s Music and Arts Café and doesn’t invite me out but asks:

“Martha, why are you still single?”

It’s a good question and just facetious enough to make everybody laugh.

They do.

And I don’t blame them.

On paper, I’m “a catch“.

But my love life’s a joke.

Martha Mukaiwa is a  freelance arts, entertainment and travel writer as well as a weekly columnist living in Windhoek, Namibia in-between short, spirited sojourns in South East Asia. She is an avid coffee drinker, spring cleaner and cinephile with a love for all things hobo and happening. Follow her on Twitter@marth__vader

Black fear, black men

(Flickr / Magdalena Roeseler)
(Flickr / Magdalena Roeseler)

I can hardly remember a time before I was afraid of black men.

Maybe during those golden, fading afternoons when my father would play his guitar in the warm Namibian twilight or when my brothers would protect my sisters and I from the ever snarling neighbourhood dogs. Throwing large grey stones high into the air with a hiss of “Voetsek!” and a feint that would send the then massive beasts scampering down the road, through a gate and to a master who would toss the dogs treats for their trouble.

I must have been five or six at the time but a few years later I came to know that black men were trouble.

That when they walked alone or in ragtag, guffawing groups they were up to no good and should be avoided, run from or reported.

Growing up, we seemed to be warned against them at every turn.

We watched our mothers shrink away when passing lone ones at night and at school we were cautioned not to talk to black gardeners, menial staff and mine workers for fear of something our parents and teachers wouldn’t name but which we understood would end in some kind of personal and perpetual ruin.

Though lingering alongside any of these men would end in ear boxing, talking to young black mine workers was the way of the worst of us.

And, in Oranjemund, the mere suggestion that you had been in the vicinity of their single quarters would be met with a hiding far sharper than anything metered out for bad grades, messy rooms or backchat.

We stayed away.

And the large building where masses of black migrant workers would spend their time between work and short, shining trips back to their families in the North became a Mordor to be feared and skirted. Filled with dark, ostensibly bad men who could get us whipped faster than it took for us to whisper the name.

I obeyed.

We all did.

All us pretty pubescent girls, in our starched navy blue  uniforms did as we were told except a few who eventually left school with their bellies swollen with children who would be claimed as their grandmothers’ after their real mothers were whisked away to Windhoek and returned looking much more like themselves.

So we ran away from the young men in their telltale blue overalls, we shunned and teased gardeners and menial workers from a careful distance but what I didn’t understand was why I should be afraid of people whose skin looked just like mine.

Why I should shy away from people who looked just like my father in the curling, yellow photographs my mum kept in a Quality Street tin on the top shelf of their bedroom.  And why I was never told to do the same when faced with the overall-clad white men I’d see in town and on the bus or any of the white men of similar age, build and spirit.

I never got any real answer and I’m not sure my 12-year-old self ever felt the need to inquire, but when I moved from idyllic Oranjemund to bustling Cape Town, my fear grew as dark as the headlines which spoke of robberies and rape, murderers and menaces whose names clicked in my mouth like the sound of a door latch opening at night.

I grew wary.

I grew wary, worrisome and wicked.

Darting from one side of the road to the next whenever I felt I was being followed, hurling dirty looks over my shoulder at dark men who, to my mind, looked shifty and clutching my bag more tightly when walking past black men just going about their own days which were just as full of fear and foolishness.

Though, I know I was just trying to be cautious and I could rationalise my actions based on the merit of being safe rather than sorry.

Afterwards, it would make me feel ashamed.

I’d think about how people may see my brothers on a dark night on a lonely road and it made me sick to think that someone may be frightened of the gentle spirits who’ve done nothing but nurture me.

The brothers who taught me to read and who hurled stones at racist dogs before cheering my sisters and me up with apricots picked from a temperamental tree in our backyard.

The brothers who grew up to be the black men we are taught to fear often simply because they are male and black and this has become the default face of murder, menace, rape and robbery.

Seventeen years later my belated shame has changed my ingrained instincts not one bit.

I’m sitting alone on a restaurant patio at Old Mutual Plaza on a sweltering Monday afternoon and two shabby-looking black men make their way towards me and my drink sticks in my throat before  I calculate how quickly I can get up and go inside without spilling my half-finished smoothie or offending them.

I make my measurements but I stay put.

I drink my smoothie slowly and pretend to look past them at the park but my heart is thumping in my chest saying: Stand up, stand up, stand up!

But in the interval it’s saying: Just sit, just sit, just sit.

I want to stay because I know they have done nothing wrong.

I want to stay because I know that wearing a hard life on your sleeve doesn’t mean you’re a criminal or a crook.

I want to stay because I am black and so are they and I am sick of judging black books by their covers.

But I don’t.

At four paces, I grab my bag and walk briskly into the restaurant and the staff looks alarmed at my sudden entry. One waitress even peers out at the two men and sees nothing amiss.

“Is there anything wrong?”

“No, it’s just…those men…I was alone.”

At this the three other waitresses burst out laughing. They tell me it’s okay and that one of the men is the first waitress’ brother who has come to take her home.

He’s her brother.

He’s MY brother.

I look out the window and he looks at me.

And he’s not laughing.

Instead he stares at me the way hundreds of black men have glared at me before when I have made the mistake of thinking the combination of their class, sex and skin speaks of their character.

When I’ve held my bag and darted into shops and crossed the road with skin just like theirs, kindred in my own infuriating assumptions to fend off.

The waitress’s brother doesn’t let me off.

He points at me and shakes his head and his companion gives me a glance that leaves me in no doubt that he is sick.

Sick to death of his shabby clothing connoting crimes.

Sick of his sun-kissed self being an instant indication of  evil.

Sick of his sisters joining in the generalisations.

I pay my bill and walk out with my eyes to the ground and I hear the other man suck air through his teeth in disgust.

And that’s when the waitress’s brother suddenly smiles and says:

“ This is a very nice place. Did you have a good lunch?”

The smoothie was warm, too tangy and there were two ants floating at the top but, feeling frantic and forgiven, I smile back and say:

“Yes. It’s great. These ladies make the best smoothies in town.”

It’s a lie…

But so are a lot of things.

Martha Mukaiwa is a  freelance arts, entertainment and travel writer as well as a weekly columnist living in Windhoek, Namibia in-between short, spirited sojourns in South East Asia. She is an avid coffee drinker, spring cleaner and cinephile with a love for all things hobo and happening. Follow her on Twitter: @marth__vader