Dear Black Brother

A few months ago I found myself on the social media platform Twitter having what I thought was a conversation among peers and contemporaries with a male writer whose name I shall withhold.  The issue started when he raised a query that he saw as lazy publishers in the way they were approaching book marketing as well as sales. As a publisher I came to the defense of publishers in an effort to make him aware of the turnaround in approach where publishers are now encouraging and in fact asking more from the authors in terms of the driving of marketing and sales. It comes as a no- that when a product is yours you are the person who is best suited as the driving force behind its marketing campaign.

In our back and forth tweets to each other, I started detecting undertones of anger and resentment.  I ignored these and concentrated on talking facts, trying desperately to make him see we were on the same side. At one point I suggested that even though I wasn’t his publisher I would like to meet for coffee so I could show him stats and numbers to back up the theory that authors needed to drive their own books.

His response: “I don’t want to have coffee with you, there is nothing you can tell me. “

I had not expected that at all. I had gone into that conversation hoping that as a black publisher he might be more inclined to trust more than the publishers he had accused of coining it and leaving nothing for authors. It then dawned on me at that point that the issue wasn’t that I was a publisher and enemy to the writer as per his accusations. Because why would I as a publisher with her own imprint have nothing to tell him on the subject of publishing?  Were all those other people who were inviting me to sit on their panels crazy? The issue was that I was black and a woman and in his opinion could not tell him anything.  How dare I try, on such a public platform as well? I was both shocked and hurt at his need to cut me down to size.

What then of the rhetoric of the preceding weeks of decolonizing the literary landscape? Like many industries in South Africa, publishing is still a white dominated field. In the past few months, dating back to May, we have seen the industry, many talks and or debates around the whiteness of the literary system and that it needed to be decolonised to allow more black participants, publishers and writers alike.  Perhaps it was this development that made me struggle with letting go of the incident between me and Mr ‘There is nothing you can tell me’.  Was the racial fight insincere or was it that some of the men spearheading it were simply thinking black men?  Is it fair to assume that black men do want freedom for black people but just not too much for the black woman?

In her essay ,Women Free At last, Maya Pete looks at how even the most celebrated of liberation heroes like Martin Luther King failed to include women in their liberation speak. In his most important and memorable speech ‘I Have a dream’, Pete questions why he would use the phrase “black men and white men” in his dream for equality and freedom and fail to include both black and white women. Where women ever part of the plan? More locally though, the oppression of the black woman has come and been perpetrated under the guise of tradition. Feminist and author Letty Cottin Progrebin, wrote that :“When men are oppressed it’s a tragedy, when women are oppressed its tradition”. No one hides behind tradition as much as black men do. The truth is black women have suffered worst oppression at the hands of black men than that of racism.

While I am aware that I am throwing blanket statements around, I do not mean in any way to start a debate and or a mud-slinging contest. My aim with this piece is simple. To get everyone of you, both men and women, reflecting. As a man, when you look around your own life have you been more of an oppressor or liberator to the women in your life? Have you stopped to question some of the practices that we call tradition? Does keeping the women in your life; daughters, wife and employees or colleagues make you feel powerful?

In 1969 Nina Simone in her song Blackbird, sang about the pain of knowing that as a black woman the world would never allow you to fly and spread your wings.  Her lyrics speak of not having anyone care, hold or try to understand you as a woman.  So my question is as a black man, how many black birds have you allowed to fly? How many have you encouraged to fly? When was the last time you thought about what the word feminism meant and whether or not you could be a feminist.  Just very briefly allow me to go into the definition of feminism.

It is the belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people (feminists) can be either male or female, although the ideology is commonly (and of course falsely) associated mainly with women. The basic idea of Feminism revolves around the principle that yes human bodies are designed to perform certain procreative functions, but that biological elements need not dictate intellectual and social functions, capabilities, and rights. Are you a feminist? Could you be a feminist?

I have since gone over the conversation I had with that gentleman on twitter to see how I might have perhaps antagonised him into his reply. I have found none.  I may very well be wrong in assuming what his little outbreak was about. But looking at the history of oppression of black women by black men, could you blame me? But I have been told that my opinion did not matter too many a times for me to not see it and call it. I respect culture and celebrate a lot of the things that make us unique as black and as Africans I just struggle with accepting ‘tradition’, when I feel like my freedom is being snuffled.




6 thoughts on “Dear Black Brother

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  1. I’ll try and be neutral in my reply. For one, you got me off my cell phone to the laptop to type, so big ups.

    My thoughts are that we’re all in an era where competition for jobs cannot be taken lightly, more so to women. Because of this, a man’s instinctual nature to protect his family takes precedence over the possibility of women being empowered – because it is risky. As a man I cannot say whether publishing is a woman’s world, or if a man would be preferable. From a male perspective it is not so much in terms of which sex will get the job done, but compensation. I believe you mentioned that the author was black; well, blacks don’t have the privilege of “white privilege”. Case and point: Maria Sharapova’s drug test will probably wash over. Should you need further evidence, read the comments on Youtube of how people perceive it, it’s essentially forgiven. Get a black person in a similar situation and let’s see how that boat sails. With this, I’m trying to reinforce that, possibly, it’s not really that men may be intimidated by women, but black man don’t have the leeway of whites; it’s do or die for us. I’ll very carefully say, I don’t know if black women generally realise the threat of this.

    As a man, and hopefully speaking for a handful of men, the modification of social roles, and the risk associated with it could be a make or break situation. Consequences may be expressed in different ways: a woman who is domineering to her S/O despite the economic environment they’re in, a emasculated man, disrespect in the household, etc.

    For myself, this is territory where my angels fear to tread, purely because “feminism” has taken so many flavours from femiNazis (aka Tumblr) to women who make such a logical argument I empathise with their worldview.

    So, you do not have “nothing to say to me”, but whatever you say, please make sure you’re right, for the sake of female empowerment, to not be looked back on in history as “that one who tried and was wrong”, and also for the sake of future generation who may aspire to you because of decisions you make.

    …my 2 cents anyway.


    1. Thank you so much for your comment. The aim is of course to generate conversation and talk about these things. I hear very well the issue about men and threat it is an angle I haven’t thought of. Mainly because while black men do not have white privilege, they most certainly do have male privilege. We can’t deny it overlook that the world is a patriarchal space that puts the needs of men above those of women.


  2. Very interesting article . my interpretation of Martin Luther King’s speech though has always been that referring to “men” he is in fact talking about human kind not necessarily males.


    1. I agree completely with your observation. And for me therein lies the fundamental problem the representation of human kind as man. Helps to second rate women?

      Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. And for your comments.


  3. As a black man who finds himself still in a state of oppression politically, judicially, economically; I struggle to understand where do I find time to work on oppressing a black woman. Each time I speak out about my frustrations, my views and opinions are quickly suppressed and the agenda of me oppressing a black woman are always brought to the fore. If the so called upliftment of black women should be at the cost and demise of black men, then it’s nothing but destruction.

    Black men have been called the oppressors of black women for since the inception of the fake democracy in this country called South Africa. Women’s rights seem to be the ones that matters, women’s needs seems to be the ones that matters. I’m writing this piece of response with a clear conscious that i will receive some of the worst responses for trying to speak out and express myself as a black men, this has led to most of my black brothers bottling things up and end up taking those frustrations out in self-destructive ways.

    Truth be told, the current South African politically and economically prominent society is anti-black men. it seems like all the sufferings of black women are caused black men, the very same black men who is still trying to find himself in this ‘democratic country”; which has since ensured to exclude him from taking part and benefiting from the country’s economic wealth. Regularly you here about how a girl child should be protected, how a girl child should be exposed to the work environment, how a girl child should be afforded opportunities to be involved in decisions of the country’s economy and politics – I guess a boy child is doomed and destined to find himself in a state that a black man currently finds himself.

    Yes, Dr Martin Luther King use the noun “men”, and that was no mistake. A man who is both free and liberated is a men who has a clear view on everything else because his mind is not preoccupied with acquiring freedom and liberation. A man who is in control of his wealth, economics, and politics; is a man who has ample time to play the role of a leader and a protector to his loved ones. No amount of studies done will truly understand what it is being a black man, especially since we find ourselves being faced with different situations and challenges in our everyday life.

    The fact that as black men we get so much grief, resentment and lack to no support from black women doesn’t help either. Every which way you turn as a black man all you here about you is negative, and especially from the lips of black women. Black women probably don’t realize how much we suffer at their own hands, the only hands we hope will give comfort and support from the rejection, pressure, oppression and racism we suffer every day. Some men have heard these statements to a point where they believe them to be true, to a point where they become that “animal” that the world; the black woman has told him he is.

    The narrative, intention and undertone has got to change drastically if black women want to see a different black men. The current way of dealing with black men is not helping and will only lead to more destruction and to the demise of the black people. You must remember that I was an innocent boy at one stage, who believed that the world was this nice place where everyone lives in peace and harmony. if you can try to change things for the current black men, please do it for the future black men. My situation is dire, but i fear that they will be faced with the worst. Save the black men, not only the current black men; but the future black men as well.

    Next time you want to bash your brother, your son (future black man), and your father; take a moment and really think if that is really what that black man need. What you see is only a manifestation of deeply rooted symptoms, the poisonous fruits of a deep and serious problem. Black men are trying their best against all that is thrown at them, with your support they can do more. Until I find my voice, wealth and pride, i will not have time to focus on being a good leader and a protector. I will not be able to uplift and inspire, because i am also looking for upliftment and inspiration.

    I am by no means downplaying the challenges and realities of women, neither am I saying all men are saints or have good intentions. But we are all in this together, women are not saints either. All I’m trying to do is to plea with black women to think that black men also have their own challenges. Putting a blame on something that a black man is not responsible for will not help, black men are also fighting for the same things that black women are fighting for. We all want political and economic liberation and freedom. Until we both get that you must know that other areas of our lives will be neglected.

    I will stop here before the emotions get the best of me because as i said in the begining, black men are frustrated and are not allowed to voice their frustrations and views.

    This was by no means intended to offend nor belittle the challenges faced by black women.


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