TALK BACK

The woman who stood up to the abu­sive white man hon­oured our an­ces­tors, writes

CityPress - - Voices And Careers -

On Hu­man Rights Day, iron­i­cally, our di­a­logue was con­sumed by a video de­pict­ing an ag­gres­sive con­fronta­tion be­tween a white man and a Black woman with her fam­ily. The al­ter­ca­tion took place at a Spur restau­rant in Jo­han­nes­burg. We see the white man ap­proach­ing Le­bo­hang Mabuya’s ta­ble, claim­ing her child bul­lied his. The brawny man ver­bally as­saults and phys­i­cally in­tim­i­dates Mabuya and those at her ta­ble.

Ini­tially, I avoided the video be­cause gaz­ing at the nor­malised de­hu­man­i­sa­tion of Black women is of­ten too emo­tion­ally de­bil­i­tat­ing. When I finally built up enough for­ti­tude to watch it, I was over­come with hope and pride at see­ing Mabuya’s brave, un­apolo­getic re­sis­tance and rage.

How­ever, Mabuya’s re­sis­tance was not fully em­braced as valid. Spur ini­tially re­leased a state­ment la­belling the mo­ment as “an un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent be­tween two in­di­vid­u­als” and ex­pressed “shock”, “es­pe­cially with so many chil­dren around”. Some on so­cial me­dia ar­gued that Mabuya, or “that woman”, demon­strated “ap­palling be­hav­iour” be­cause “she kept shout­ing even when the man has left [and] we should be salut­ing that guy”. Some en­forced their re­spectabil­ity pol­i­tics by dic­tat­ing that “ladies don’t swear”.

I strongly re­ject th­ese views. That video re­veals a Black woman and mother pow­er­fully re­ject­ing white mas­cu­line vi­o­lence.

“Look here,” she said, “you won’t come here and be a bully. Just leave us alone.” Taken aback, he ar­ro­gantly asks: “Is that so?” Then he threat­ens her with phys­i­cal vi­o­lence.

“Try to hit me and see. Such a bully of a man!” was one of her state­ments of de­fi­ance. “Such a cow­ard! Who the hell do you think you are? Nxa! F**k you, mani!”

When Mabuya clearly ar­tic­u­lated that she would not tol­er­ate his ag­gres­sion, her de­fi­ance ex­em­pli­fied what bell hooks terms “talk­ing back”. When Black women such as Mabuya talk back, their speech be­comes “the ex­pres­sion of our move­ment from ob­ject to sub­ject – the lib­er­ated voice”.

This vi­o­lent en­counter is an African and Black Feminist teach­ing mo­ment. Mabuya’s de­fi­ance puts into prac­tice the feminist the­o­ries on the im­por­tance of a Black woman’s re­sis­tance and voice against his­tor­i­cally grounded white vi­o­lent mas­culin­ity. The vi­ral video must not con­tinue the “ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion” and “spec­ta­cle” that have been dom­i­nant forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black women by white aca­demics, me­dia and re­searchers.

Mabuya’s as­sault and re­sis­tance is a form of ed­u­ca­tion that Paulo Freire and bell hooks de­scribe as “a prac­tice of free­dom”, and a counter-hege­monic act of “teach­ing to trans­gress”.

It is im­por­tant to em­pha­sise that Mabuya posted the video her­self. She told Huff­in­g­ton Post SA: “I had no in­ten­tion of post­ing the footage, but when Spur didn’t make a fol­lowup, I posted it.”

Here, she fur­ther demon­strates her agency and de­ter­mi­na­tion to chal­lenge cor­po­rate un­ac­count­abil­ity.

That three-minute video cap­tured so much of our his­tory. Those who ar­gue that the clash was not racist or misog­y­nis­tic are fail­ing to look at the mo­ment through a his­tor­i­cal co­nun­drum. Mabuya evoked the le­gacy of Black peo­ple’s move­ments and spend­ing be­ing vi­o­lently po­liced. Black peo­ple could not just shop or eat where they pleased.

“This is a demo­cratic coun­try, if you haven’t no­ticed. I came here to use my money,” Mabuya said.

Her de­fi­ance high­lights the con­nect­ing forms of dom­i­na­tion faced by Black women. When Mabuya said, “Tshi! Racist! Such a big man on a tiny woman, sies!” she spoke to the lay­ered forms of vi­o­lence di­rected at her that were nei­ther white su­prem­a­cist nor vi­o­lent mas­culin­ity, but an in­ter­sec­tion of both. One woman then said: “Sisi, hlala phantsi [Sit down].”

“No! No! No!” re­fused Mabuya. “He came here and said f**k me, the next thing, when I say ‘f**k you’, you have a prob­lem?”

When Mabuya’s crit­ics claim she taught her chil­dren “vi­o­lent be­hav­iour”, they dis­hon­our the his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences of Black chil­dren who wit­nessed their par­ents’ hu­mil­i­a­tion and de­hu­man­i­sa­tion by white peo­ple in colo­nial and apartheid South Africa. How many times have Black chil­dren watched their par­ents forced into si­lence or com­pli­ance when sub­jected to white mas­cu­line vi­o­lence? They did so for job se­cu­rity, as well as to avoid im­pris­on­ment and even death.

There are mul­ti­ple such nar­ra­tives stored in our his­tor­i­cal ar­chives. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Tell Free­dom, the late Peter Abra­hams re­counts a mo­ment of bru­tal­ity in­flicted on him as a young boy by a group of white boys. Af­ter they in­sulted and phys­i­cally as­saulted him, he re­tal­i­ated. One of the white boys was con­nected to Abra­hams’ un­cle Sam’s “baas”, who came to their house to or­der Sam to teach Abra­hams a les­son. Sam pro­ceed to hit him with a “thick leather thong”, while the baas, his aunt Liza and the white boys watched. Beat­ing him, Sam said: “You must never lift your hand to a white per­son. No mat­ter what hap­pens.”

The les­son Sam was teach­ing Abra­hams was to si­lence Black self-de­fence and re­volt against white su­prem­a­cist vi­o­lence.

At Spur, Mabuya taught the chil­dren the op­po­site – she taught them about claim­ing their power. She not only af­firmed us, she also hon­oured our an­ces­tors who ex­pe­ri­enced white mas­cu­line vi­o­lence but could not talk back. Thank you, sisi!

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