New magazine feature

Image by Joy, from Twitter.

Read about me in the latest edition of Blaque Life Quarterly. The magazine is available from Exclusive Books.

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Thank you, Lebo Motswatswa

My Master of Social Anthropology Dissertation

Discussing my work on Power FM’s #AcademicDigest

I have written. I have read. I have edited and deleted everything and started again. I have cried. I have agonised. I have procrastinated. I have carried this work with me to London, to New York (twice), layovers in Cairo and Dubai – while doing other important work, always staying in to write at least one paragraph – and finally, when it was complete, I presented it in Mumbai. I have crossed into new years with this work. I have become an author in a completely new genre while doing this work. I have taken my time and given so much of myself for it to be here today and I’m just so grateful for the community that loved me and held me through this work.

It has not been loaded onto the Wits University database yet.

Here’s to the end of the chapter titled: “Lebohang studies and completes a Masters degree – can you believe it?” I wasn’t prepared for how long and demanding this journey would be and the creativity I would summon to distract myself from doing it *enter children’s book and a whole new life as a literary figure* and the many steps it takes until it’s officially done done but we are finally here now. (I consider this the official end because the graduation ceremony is optional.) This research has been such a ride. I really got to know myself anew and witness my entire political beliefs do a 180° transformation. I got to sharpen my instincts as a researcher and to trust the guidance of my intuition. It’s also been very hard being on the opposite side of people’s moral stances and being addressed like a delinquent here and there. So it has been immensely affirming to recieve feedback from people who really get it. My convictions may make the work controversial but as long as I remain true to my personal ethic of thinking and writing about black womanhoods in ways that are respectful and dignified, I’ll be okay. When I approached the women with whom I worked in this dissertation, I promised that I would not reproduce the trope that the media loves; the lie that black women are either so hypersexual or so poor that they have to sleep with men for money. I’m not interested in that. I am interested in exploring adult women’s consensual romantic practices with their partners and the logics that inform their desire to only date men of particular financial and social standings, with the context of a neoliberal society. While I do consider the vulnerabilties and violence that these women could encounter, I am more interested in the pleasures and joys of their lives. I do not want to constantly represent black women’s lives as marred by struggle when there is a plurality of experiences and when we are out here living and loving happily, too.

A few weeks ago, on Tuesday 27 August 2019, I was invited to present a small portion of it on Power FM’s #AcademicDigest with Aldrin Sampear. I really enjoyed the converation. Aldrin really took the time to familiarise himself with my work and interview me in a fair and balanced manner. Here is the article and podcast. Please keep in mind that we had about 40 minutes and we did not disuss my +/-70 page dissertation in detail. The host and producers obviously highlighted what they found to be most topical.

Aldrin Sampear and I.

The subsequent Twitter engagement was revealing and not at all surprising. People, and seemingly men, mostly, were against my work. People refused to make space for the possibility that people can be in wholesome romantic relationships and that women can have particular boundaries and standards. It is also remarkable that there people are so unwilling to open themselves to thinking broadly and understanding the myriad of women’s choices and sexuality without reducing them to prostitution. (I have no issues against sex work or sex workers and I refuse to engage in the moral shaming of any woman, ever). It’s also revealing that the constant scrutiny and negative analysis of women’s sexuality and romantic practices is confined to a certain race of women while other women get to live their lives unbothered and unquestioned (as they should). I appreciate all of the people who offered thoughtful responses, suggestions and critique. It was refreshing to have your insight and to also think differently about my work.

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Shout out to the National Institute of Humanities & Social Sciences (NIHSS), Dr N. Mkhwanazi, Prof. N. Falkof, Dr C. van Staden, Dr M. Wilhelm-Solomon, Dr D. Ligaga, Prof. L. Lingam and Mpumi’s Magic Beads for showing up with much needed light, affirmation and critical intervention when I needed it most to make this whole thing more wholesome and thoughtful. Who knew the day would come when this would be past tense?

New York, New York

Checking into the Millennium Hilton after 13 hours of flying.

I have such a strange relationship to travelling. I usually spend the entire time being very cautious about every single thing and counting down the days until I am back at home, in my bed, breathing my suburban, South African air where everything and everyone feels familiar. It’s only after I am back home and safely in my bed, that I begin to appreciate everything in hindsight. It’s as though once I have had a safe trip and confirmation that nothing untoward will happen, then I feel like I can go back, live all those days again and really have a good time. Of course, that would mean that life is a dress rehearsal and we all know that it certainly is not. Sometimes I do wish I was a more carefree traveller but I think I’ll just stay the way I am, even if it means staying in my hotel room a little more than exploring. My personality keeps me safe and I like that very much. Plus, America is scary. We know that.

I was so excited to be back in New York again. The first time was when I attended Goalkeepers, held by the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation in September 2018. My second time in New York was just as wonderful. I was there along with all of the lovely women of the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship (ZMF), including our beloved founder Mrs Mbeki, and we were having our third module there. In this module, we were learning about global feminist community by being immersed in the fast-paced world of the United Nations’ 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW). I believe it’s the largest gathering of women-related NGOs in the world. Our mission was to attend as many sessions as possible, learn and discuss amongst each other in order to understand grassroots level to world level feminist organisation.

We had such a fun itinerary. One of our first stops was a trip to Washington, for a guided visit of the National Museum of African American Culture and Heritage. The structure and in the interior are all so beautiful and infused with so much meaning. From pre-colonial Africa to contemporary United States, the museum has taken such great care to document the important histories of known and unknown people, the music, documents, art works and esteemed figures who shaped Black people’s liberation. Finding photographs of our beloved Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba in the section chronicling music filled me with so much pride because, though exiled under difficult circumstances, these great South African ancestors used their gifts to create indelible trans-national connections. Listen, Hugh was a rock star in the realest sense – please read Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela by Hugh Masekela and D. Michael Cheers (2004). Although it’s easy to think of America as being a giant that influences everyone who encounters it, the truth is that Makeba, Masekela and Keorapetse Kgositsile contributed to Black American culture and swag as we know it, by infusing it with their individual, African elements and, in the case of the latter, by literally giving it Hip Hop’s most talented sons. This often-erased fact of mutuality and cultural exchange among all parties matters to me. I am an Anthropologist after all. I also got to see a Kehinde Wiley painting with my own two eyes!

Craig Fletcher by Kehinde Wiley. He painted his partner. Swoon.

Among the many panel talks and events being hosted during that week, we as the ZMF had the opportunity to host our own. I had been asked by Naledi, our co-ordinator, to contribute to our panel with our guest of honour, Indian feminist economist, Dr Devaki Jain. The panel was about reflecting on the intergenerational connections of feminist thought. It was interesting because we had a women from different parts of the globe speaking, one from Sweden, the US, Zimbabwe, India and South Africa. So, it also became an interesting glance into how people’s various histories and positionalities may have shaped their politics. Definitely one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever had to do but, worth it.

 

While I was attending CSW sessions during the day and ZMF debriefs in the evening, I had left my mother in South Africa with an important green folder containing my whole career. The New York Trip overlapped with my MA submission on March 15 so I asked her to please go to school on the 14th to submit on my behalf. New York is 6 hours behind Johannesburg so I stayed up all night making little corrections so that she would wake up with a polished thesis in her email inbox. She went to PostNet to print, bind and download my thesis onto a disc then went to school to do the admin between faculty and fees office and getting my supervisor to sign my paperwork – it was a whole lot and she was flustered but she got it in! I was thrilled! I actually cried when she sent me the receipt of my submission because it took so much to get here: sleepless nights, torrential tears, attacks on my self-esteem, self-doubt, feeling not-smart, making a children’s book to give myself joy and other forms of procrastination.

That Diplomat pass. Highest VIP on this planet, haha!

I had planned well for this occasion though so I had gifted myself with a ticket to Cecile McLorin Salvant at the Jazz @ Lincoln Centre to say “congratulations for completing your Masters, my love!” The last time I was in New York, I hadn’t realised that we would be doing our daily activities at this iconic Jazz venue and failed to make plans to watch any of the shows. It’s so disappointing, but this is exactly what I mean about having to go to a place first for practice so that I can do better next time. So, this time I was blessed because my favourite Jazz vocalist was performing on Thursday night. It was amazing! Cecile honestly has the best vocals and best dresses in the business. What a delight. I even found the video from that exact night: Look! And on Friday night, I joined my fellow fellows for some NY exploring by going to Red Lobster. We had such a great time. I also have to put it on record that Red Lobster by Times Square makes the best Old Fashioneds, ever.

 

“When he ____ me good, I take his ___ to Red Lobster!”

Saturday ended up with a late afternoon, bottomless mimosa brunch at Brooklyn Moon in Brooklyn. Then did the brave thing of taking a train by myself to Harlem because I had gotten myself a ticket to Salon Africana at The Africa Centre, curated by Somi. This month had Thandiswa Mazwai and Nduduzo Makhathini headlining and I obviously was not about to miss out on that so I attended with Musa and Amelia. It was such an incredible night. Soon enough, it was home time so we went back to JFK Airport, where we experienced a 7 hour delay before our 13 hour flight home. Fun, really, because I had all my sisters with me. This time in New York was astounding, overwhelming, enjoyable and so, so unforgettable. So excited to go back again and do even more!

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Thank you, Zanele Mbeki Fellowship for the memories!

Zanele Mbeki Fellowship

ZMDT 2
From the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship website

This year, I began a journey into a feminist leadership experience with the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship. First Lady Zanele Mbeki has established the collective as a way of contributing to the continuation of feminist leadership in South Africa – an undertaking that I respect deeply.  Anyone who knows me, knows that all of my academic work means that I end up thinking and working alone for long stretches unless absolutely necessary, so I accepted the invitation to apply as an opportunity for a change; a challenge to become part of a collective and to think and work along with people who have a similar outlook on the gendered personal and political life of South Africa. Our first module in July was focused on the self and gave us room to prepare for the journey ahead as sisters on a mission of collective feminist self-realisation. Our second module in October focused on feminism. We have been privileged enough to learn from Mrs Zanele Mbeki, Bunie Sexwale, Professor Patricia McFadden, Lebohang Pheko and many more valuable educators. So, far it is an enjoyable journey that has also been deeply challenging to my usual way of being in the world. I am grateful for the opportunity and excited for the many lessons that this journey promises.

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Thank you to the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship for selecting me!

A Herstory Ghazal

History hurts women who weave word, sound and truth to brew story. 

Seen as lesser scribes, they fade from light. This ain’t a new story.

The house of Hip Hop belongs to all who live and love in it.

Divine residents build it brick by blessed beat through story.

From Godessa to Lee Kasumba, this black girl magic we

inhabit shatters each glass ceiling into debut story.

What’s a boys club to a god; to us? We birth worlds and verses

and rise to revise the lies and proclaim: this is true story!

Grateful for the glory of creation, Lebohang meets page.

In the beginning was the word. The world awaits. Cue: story.

— A Herstory Ghazal by Lebohang Masango

 

In “A Herstory Ghazal”, I use the upcoming #HipHopHerstory concert as a prompt to express my feelings on the creative power that most women hold, both biologically and artistically. The landmark event will host a selection of talents from South Africa and the US to celebrate women’s roles and achievements within the culture. While the introductory post to this series demonstrates multiple academic perspectives of women’s involvement in Hip Hop that appeal to my interests as a scholar, I use this week to continue that tradition of documentation in writing creatively, as a poet.

The ghazal honestly needs more flowers (while we can still smell ’em), which is to say, the ghazal is Top Two and I don’t mean number two. This underrated form of Arabic poetry has held me spellbound for a few years now. I find it so sad that I went through an entire high school career’s worth of poetry lessons, without encountering it among the usual classes about sonnets and iambic meter. When I first read Hip Hop Ghazal by Patricia Smith, my absolute fave, I was immediately delighted by the rhythms and its insistence on cleverly crafted repetition. I love how it has been a slow revelation; the more I savoured it, the more I realised how different parts have to exist in very particular ways to make it whole. It is an impressively simple-looking yet demanding piece of writing.

Read over my ghazal once more and see if you can identify the rules that dictate how a ghazal is constructed. Here is a short summary:

  1. Ghazal must consist of 5 – 15 couplets, that can each stand alone as separate poems.
  2. First two lines must end in rhyme – using the same word or phrase – this is called a refrain.
  3. The refrain should end the second line of every couplet that follows.
  4. Before each refrain, there has to be a word that rhymes consistently throughout the ghazal.
  5. The first line of the last couplet should contain the poets’s name, or a reference to the poet.
  6. Each line must contain the same number of syllables.

Do you see why I say it is not easy? It’s such a challenge! At the same time, I cannot explain how good it feels to know that when I apply myself, I too can write in one of my favourite forms. Today, my special contribution to the Hip Hop her story movement, also marks my second ghazal (ever!) and I am so excited that it exists. I love how writing this set a challenge for me to write a big story about the strides that women make each day and express it succinctly. I hope that you’ll be inspired to fall in love with the ghazal and to keep women’s stories well-recognised and alive in your own work, whatever it may be.

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The Syllabus: An Introduction to Essential Hip Hop Scholarship

Quiet as it’s kept, Hip Hop has had an immeasurable impact on my personhood. I’ve always been fascinated with the powerful self-affirmations that constitute rapper’s braggadocio bars. From Notorious BIG to The Score era’s Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, my queen Lil Kim and even Jay Z, growing up while hearing how “I’m the best/ baddest/ hottest/ freshest/ dopest/ illest” on repeat has done some amazing things for my confidence and my insistence that I can make my dream life an everyday possibility. Through Hip Hop, this masterful tradition of weaving words, I continue to build and believe in the best ideas about myself.

As a baby Anthropologist, my life involves the deepest appreciation for knowledge production, particularly the scholars who respectfully theorise Black people’s vernaculars and art into the archive. Through the fruits of their intellectual labour in writing our herstories and stories, it is our collective hope that future generations will not have to endure the racist and existential drama that claims that we “didn’t have texts or science or complex political structures or knowledge”. For women and queer people especially, we hope to counter the lies of erasure that claim that “women made little contribution to Hip Hop” or that “there are no queer people in Hip Hop”.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore what Hip Hop means to me and, of course, I will use my words. To start, I’ve compiled some critical texts in Hip Hop scholarship to highlight women as producers, consumers, scholars, political agents and critical thinkers of the culture. I hope you read and engage with this work as we all open our minds and learn more about how difference has played such an important role in making the culture what it is.

1. Hip Hop Feminism

Read this because it is a discussion of the political sensibility that emerges from a generation that grew up with Hip Hop, an art form that has been simultaneously affirming yet marginalising, especially for women and queer people. Hip Hop Feminism aims to go beyond the gains of feminism’s second wave by doing the additional work of interrogating norms and the intersecting ways that representations and images are constructed in order to empower women to participate, critique, counter, enjoy and claim full ownership of the culture.

Peoples, Whitney A. (2008) “Under construction’: Identifying foundations of hip-hop feminism and exploring bridges between Black second-wave and hip-hop feminisms.” Meridians 8:1, 19-52. Read it here.

2. The Role of South Africa in the Origin of Hip Hop.

Read this because the work and life of South Africa’s Poet Laureate, the late Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile is examined to illuminate the golden, diasporic thread that runs between Hip Hop’s founding, through The Last Poets engagement with Prof. Kgositsile’s poetry as a freedom fighter exiled to the United States. Of course, Prof. Kgositsile was not just a brilliant intellectual and writer, he is also the father of Earl Sweatshirt. I have had the pleasure of reading and listening to Dr Phalafala, who is also his biographer. I love that she has taken it upon herself to document his immense contributions to scholarship and Hip Hop music.
Uhuru Portia Phalafala (2017)Black music and pan-African solidarity in Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry“, The Journal of South African and American Studies, 18:4, pp. 307-326. Read it here.

3. The Aesthetics of Black Women’s Sexuality

Read this because one of the most contentious debates is whether the misogyny inherent within Hip Hop is responsible for the hyper-sexualisation of women and the extents to which women’s agency in our own sexualised representations contribute to aspects ranging from the full ownership of our bodies, commercial viability and further marginalisation.

White, Theresa Renee. (2013) “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin ’Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?.” Journal of Black Studies 44.6, pp. 607-626.

Read it here.

4. Queering Hip Hop

Read it because in the same way that supposedly straight women have an equal stake in Hip Hop, it is necessary to know that queer people have contributed to this culture too. We know that Hip Hop is dynamic and multidimensional, so it cannot only emerge from black heteromasculinity with straight women as its relational figures. Hip Hop is comprised of many fluid and intersecting sexualities. According to Rinaldo Walcott (2013),

…a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be... I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.

Walcott, Rinaldo. (2013) “Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip Hop’s Queer Future.” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2:2, vol. 2 pp. 168 – 173. Read it here.

5. Representations of Women in South African Hip Hop Videos

Read this because it is a comparative analysis of how women are represented in a selection of music videos by Hip Hop Pantsula, Slikour and Zuluboy – artists who have been recognised as making music that acknowledges the disparities in society and would therefore be assumed to portray women in a progressive manner.

Nyirenda, Zgagula (2014) “Analysis of gender construction in South African hip-hop music and videos”. MA Thesis. Read it here.

Please note that some of these articles may be difficult to access. Please try to log in to your institution of higher education or consider signing up to the sites to read the work.

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(In)Fighting For A Cause

Graphic by Leigh Luna

Fighting for justice must undoubtedly remain a priority, but we should try, as much as possible, to not allow the injustices of the world to harden us to the extent of behaving in toxic ways to the people with whom we claim community. Like intersectionality, worthiness of empathy shouldn’t be ranked on a scale. I totally get why empathy isn’t a person’s first priority when confronting injustices, but we gain nothing by seemingly aiming to misunderstand one another.

We should remember, especially in our communities within the larger global movement of feminism, how easy it is to ignore someone’s humanity and relate to them as the representative of an ideology.

Rookie Mag’s theme for May is “Growing Pains.” Please head over there to read my latest essay on intersectional feminism, online conflicts and the lessons I’ve learned about how we hold each other through the difficulties of our politics. I am really proud of this.

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Thank you, Tavi Gevinson. Your patience and thoughtful critique while editing this really challenged me in the best ways.