No Sanctuary for Black Girls

As I sit in a corner with a sharp, painful feeling in my stomach as I shout ndiyalunywa there’s a burning ache at the pit of my stomach. An ulcer that grows with each day my body floats between spaces that point at it, touch and violate it.

Yesterday as I walked towards to bus stop six young men rushing to catch a train paused and began pointing at me, nudging each other to speak to me, the lady with the big bum in front of them. I looked away hoping they would not say a word to me but they did, laughing among themselves asking me if I was dumb, why was I not saying anything back. Taunting me, laughing because  they knew in that instance they had power over me.

I remained still and walked slowly so that they would walk past me and I wouldn’t deal with this any longer. When I got home I felt stained, angry and reduced to something I could not recognize. The feminist who walks boldly, shriveled into nothingness in a matter of seconds.

I thought the urban streets would grant me freedom if not anything else. However, in that moment I was taken back to the young girl who grew up in a township where men made bets on who would break my virginity because I was “miss goody-two shoes”, the girl who never felt safe walking home, the girl who suffered silently about her violated body.

Dammit, I thought this shit was over! Every time I encounter such brazen, brutal black masculinities I am stupid enough to believe that the same spaces that negate my very existence could offer me protection from my own terror. Even in the polished tar roads of Cape Town CBD my body is unprotected.

Where is the sanctuary for black girls like me?

Even the warm embrace of a black man holding me as I cried this experience away also reminded me that I am not safe even in these arms. We trust black men and equally, we fear them with as much intensity. I await the day a man touches me, bruises my body because simply because he can.

Our education loses any significance when we encounter the coldness of a man forcefully penetrating our bodies. My brain refuses to allow explanations for such actions. I do not give a fuck about colonialism, economic deprivation or emasculation of his black body, in that instance I am a bleeding victim in the hands of yet another black man.

The unintentional pedagogies of masculinities and femininities in township spaces are epitomised in such experiences, I am dominated and his manhood is maintained.A-Place-in-the-Sun-from-Brett-Bailey’s-“Exhibit-B”

Sometimes, I marvel at white women walking up and down these tarred roads, exuding confidence in each stride while I try avoid any corner with construction workers or any black man for that matter.

I’ve often had to defend that statement among black men, university educated brothers who claim that “not all black men are like that” as if to say his sexual innuendos that come in colonized accents and expensive cologne aren’t as equally violent. Apparently sexism delivered in posh accents is not as bad as the young men talking about isbunu sami.

It is all violence, all of it hurts me. I wear it on my skin every day. I sometimes pray not to have sons but I know either way my daughters would suffer the same fate. The melanin on my skin feels like a trap, a septic tank of shit and ‘isms’ I have to wash off every god damn day!

Where is a sanctuary for a black girl?

In our townships we paddle in puddles of tears, blood and screams of black women and the only comfort our mothers offer is “young girl, know your place” because you were unfortunate enough to be born female. My place? huh? Is my place on a hard cement floor with a knife held against my shivering body? Or taxi ranks that stink of urine and men who collude to rape me? Where is my place? Perhaps a cold morgue where my body seizes to feel anything.

Our cultures reinforce the cycle of violence and the lesson is repeated. We are curvy, broken figures that exist only because of the breath that keeps filling our lungs. We live with the hope for something different, some of us run from townships because suburbs hold the illusion of safely. But, even here I am reminded that even here patriarchy has me by the ovaries.

My feminist, sassy proud, melanin rich body lives under threat from the men who are meant to be our allies.

To my daughter I will say, when men come, set yourself on fire.” – Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give


2 Comments Add yours

  1. HeJin Kim says:

    Reblogged this on University of Broken Glass and commented:
    My good friend Athi’s reflections… worth reading… and remembering

  2. Ziyanda says:

    Wow… I am in tears… this is so powerful…and I kept crying ‘but they are not all like that’ till the very end when I cried, ‘but why are the men who are not like that allow those who are like that to continue and why are those who are not like that continuing to laugh and praise the bravery of those who are like that …’… I loved this my friend…

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