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.
* * *
Thank you, Tavi Gevinson. Your patience and thoughtful critique while editing this really challenged me in the best ways.
I spent this past Saturday morning at the Johannesburg Family Gathering, a monthly event organised by Ashley Whitfield at the Museum Africa that centres on children and families. (The details are on the poster and I encourage everyone to get their babies involved in cultural activities outside of school.) This time, we got together for story time with Mpumi’s Magic Beads.
One of the best parts about what I do is engaging with little readers and their parents. I am so grateful each time a child let’s me know that they have hair like Mpumi or when parents share what this story means for their families. I’ve had a mom tell me that the book is her son’s favourite nightly read and that something about the rhyming in the book and reading it aloud together has also helped with his speech issues. I’ve had a kiddies hair salon owner reach out because there’s a little girl who came in with my book and requested the style on the cover. I’ve had mom’s send me videos of their children reading. Each time this happens, my heart absolutely beams to know that this book is doing what I hoped it would do in the world. Little children love this story just as I loved so many stories when I was a child. Beyond that, little children feel at home in this story, and isn’t that just the best thing?
I’m always in awe when I see children who are super confident with asserting themselves with adults and peers, alike. I always make a mental note that I would love to be the kind of parent who nurtures that in a child. I think it’s quite a remarkable thing to see a child who owns their space and articulates themselves boldly. The portrait above was drawn by one such a special little girl. While I was “performing” the story, she was reading along loudly with me and afterwards everyone drew some self portraits and she came over to give me hers. I was so touched by her gift, I’m going to be framing it soon.
The part that will always stay with me is how her mother shared with me that ever since she got the book, she draws herself with this hairstyle. We also spoke about how she will be challenging the school’s hair policy using the book as an illustration of the kind of cultural awareness that the school should be seeking to foster in how they move forward in creating an inclusive environment for all their learners. Considering that this book is partly inspired by my own academic work in the sleight of hand employed by schools: using neutral language in hair codes of conduct yet clearly being discriminatory in implementation – I am really all for parents furthering that conversation, especially at a young age so less children have to suffer the trauma of being vilified by the school system for the way they look.
So, the portrait here, by a very special girl is a reminder of all the people who continue to give this dream wings. I have always wanted to do my part to make it just a little better for children in this world and I’m so grateful that this work, by Masego and I, is adding a little sprinkle of magic, confidence and self-love in your lives. You keep my heart full.
* * *
Thank you to all the parents and guardians who reach out in person and online to share with me how the story continues to move in your lives, beyond the book.
It was absolutely magical to be in the presence of hundreds upon hundreds of women gathered to celebrate and sing and dance and bask in the brilliance of King Thandiswa Mazwai, her talented musicians and all of the women on stage that day. As we stood on stage, a portrait of mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela watched over us beautifully. It felt so good to just be and so good to be safe, without worrying about harassment of any kind. I really hope we have more of these in future. Have a look at this EWN video to see some concert footage and some interviews.
* * *
Thank you for sharing your birthday with me, Thandiswa. You’re glorious.
It is SA Library Week (19 – 23 March 2018) and I have been doing my part by reading Mpumi’s Magic Beads to primary school learners. As you know, my book is about some girls who are also school pupils and I hope that my audiences this week will be able to relate to that special detail.
I started the morning at Kgololo Academy in Alexandra where I read for two Grade 2 groups. What a special little school. Some of the kids were really into the story so, they would mimic my gestures (which I loved because they’re all so adorable!) so I incorporated it into how I tell the story from now on. Thank you, learners!
As part of the ‘Help 2 Read’ organisation’s reading tour, I visited Iphuteng Primary School in Alexandra. I had so much fun with this vibrant group of learners. My bit of improvisation from earlier worked really well because I don’t believe in making children sit dead still while listening to a story. Let them wiggle and giggle and listen with their bodies too. It makes learning memorable, I think. I certainly believe that this was memorable. They had a lot of energy and I had the best time with them.
Next stop. Diepsloot Primary School!
* * *
Thank you, Kgololo Academy, Help 2 Read, Iphuteng Primary School.
Last night, I was invited to SA FM’s The Mash Up, a show about poetry and music collaboration hosted by Naledi Moleo. When the producer of the show asked me which musician I would like to collaborate with, I immediately thought of Mpumi Dhlamini, a talented multi-instrumentalist and (fun fact) my uncle. Music is my go-to device in my work and it just made sense to be accompanied by an actual Jazz man.
I would say, “Mpumi this poem will be better with saxophone, like a Fela Kuti vibe” or “something Miles Davis-y” or he would just listen to the words and just start playing. The whole point of the show is to encourage spontaneous collaboration so, no rehearsal. Just a few words about the theme of the poem and sometimes, just starting with the poem and meeting in the middle.
I really enjoyed this experience. I usually get nervous about collaborating with musicians because it could easily throw me off but Mpumi and I clearly work great together. We have to do a show together or something one of these days. I mean, the host even said that our collaboration has been her favourite in the history of the show. What a compliment!
Below, the podcast has been split into parts and I think that’s great because you don’t have to hear adverts, news and cricket updates. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
The Reading Club meets regularly on Saturday mornings at African Flavour Books in Braamfontein. The sessions are interactive and the children are encouraged to engage their imaginations (and confidence) to also stand at the front and make up stories for their peers. I think this is a great way to spend the morning with your little ones.
Thank you to Lorraine Sithole of The Reading Club for hosting Mpumi’s Magic Beads. Thank you to all the grown ups and little ones in attendance. This dream gets to have wings because of you and I appreciate you all for being there yesterday.
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, The Reading Club will be hosting me for a reading of Mpumi’s Magic Beads. Please brin your little ones. Entry is free and there will be books on sale. You’re welcome to bring your own to read along with me too. See you then!