I have a right to be wrong

There is something defiant and vulnerable about speaking one’s mind.

Defiant because we are often not forgiven if what we think is at odds with what others expect us to think. Vulnerable because people can only attack your ideas if they know what your ideas are.

Perhaps that’s why so many people succumb to the temptation of concealing what they really think to avoid being criticized.

And criticism hurts.

…I reserve the right to be wrong

I have just recently recovered from the smarting of a stinging attack on ideas I held two years ago which are contained in a YouTube video that was made by some High School kids I interacted with in the USA.

The video was posted on Facebook by someone I don’t know (although their name is familiar) and the backlash was instantaneous, unrelenting, venomous and vitriolic.

My ideas were attacked, shredded, pummeled, stomped on, spat at and dare I say, generously covered in all manner of verbalized excrement – all in a bid to voice just how disgusting my point of view was to most of them.

In the video I stated that I believed the land issue in Zimbabwe was a moral justice issue and that framing it as a political one and particularly framing it is a ‘Mugabe-is-the-problem’ one was advancing a narrative that was incomplete.

…it’s so safe to remain in the bud of ‘popular opinion’ because blossoming into a contrary way of thinking can make you an easy target

Given the audience I had availed to me and given that the conversation was an informal one the following flaws are evident:

i) my ideas were paraded naked as I spoke off the top of my head, ii) my ideas were presented in their raw and unprocessed state un-subjected to the rigors of research iii) my ideas were un-propped by facts and iv) my ideas rested precariously on the notoriously unreliable premise of broad, sweeping and overly simplified generalization v) my ideas were informed by a skewed and biased narrative on the unequal distribution of the land and consequent economic marginalization of the black majority.

In short – I was wrong.

In any event, I ended the conversation on a flippant note by drawing parallels between the Zimbabwean land narrative I had presented and the storyline of the film Avatar! because it occurred to me that the audience I was addressing would be able to relate.

This was in 2011.

I don’t know about you…BUT I celebrated when the blue creatures in Avatar won their planet/land back! And I would celebrate a similar triumph in a just and equitable land re-distribution in Zim!

I came back home and all but forgot about it, because conversations around the land rarely made it into the conversations I ordinarily engaged in.

 As I pointed out above – I am guilty of uttering several inaccuracies but inaccuracy is almost inevitable when offering an opinion or interpretation of historical events that you have no living memory of.

Reflecting on that video many months later when it came up in a class discussion during my Masters’ studies in the UK; I realized how much of what I said was what I had heard incessantly in the public media.

It occurred to me that my recollections of the history of land dispossession in Zimbabwe was part of a broader public and institutionalized narrative of the nation’s past – a narrative that advanced the political interests of ZANU PF at a time when it faced overwhelming opposition.

…studying for my MA taught me how to confront my wrongness and challenge my assumptions

I began to think of why there had been no alternative discourse – no rebuttal – no disputation – no challenge and almost no counter narrative.

I began to think of how the media influenced what I remembered and how I remembered it and about the framing of the land narrative.

I began to think of how I could challenge this obviously biased telling of the nation’s past when (a) I had no living memory of those events (b) I was part of the ‘born-free’ generation and (c) I never fought in any war and when my ignorance deprived me of the capacity to create an alternative narrative.

It was with these preoccupations and frustrations that I later went on to write my MA dissertation on the framing of collective memory in Zimbabwe’s post-independent generation who – like me – were either too young to remember or had not even been born at independence.

I still maintain that the issue of the land is as much about  JUSTICE as it is about anything else but there is a lot that I would amend from the views I put forward in the YouTube video that has come back to haunt me in recent weeks.

I don’t suffer from belief perseverance…In case you’re wondering what it is – belief perseverance is a tendency to cling to ideas even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.

It is a great source of relief that I do not suffer from belief perseverance. I have never asked for anyone’s permission to hold an independent thought, I just do. In a blog post, when I stopped to think about it, I asked why do we “beg” to differ? Why can’t we just differ?

In the political conversations that I have been privy to, belief perseverance appears to be an ailment that afflicts many Zimbabweans.

But I suppose it is to be expected when you live in a country where the political conversation is monopolized by ideological bullies who will take it as an attack on their person – equivalent to the mentioning of their mothers’ unmentionables – if you happen to hold a different point of view. 

I don’t mind having my ideas attacked. I may not like it and it may not be a pleasant experience but if my ideas hold no merit and are un-constructive then they should be attacked.

…I’m going to get things wrong every now and again; but I won’t let that stop me from cultivating my mind

But attacking me personally is an entirely different proposition because when I’m provoked I don’t think my silence is a gift I should bequeath to me provoker.

I resist being bullied and maintain that I have a right to believe what I wish and to express it whilst retaining the right to change my mind about any stance I take.

In other words, I have a right to be wrong.

And when I am wrong, you have a right to point it out but that right does not afford anyone the luxury of hurling insults at me.

I once remarked in a blog post I wrote about Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo titled a woman who said something important:

Sometimes even when what we have to say is wrong… if it is important – it will get a reaction precisely because its wrongness points to what is right.

I think with regards the YouTube video – I must have said something important if the backlash is anything to go by. For all its wrongness, perhaps it forms a premise to have conversation about what could be right.

With hindsight, my MA dissertation did just that – it unpacked the fallacies I once held as fact and granted illumination upon those narratives I once held as gospel truth.

“it’s very dangerous to have a fixed idea. A person with a fixed idea will always find some way of convincing himself in the end that he is right” ― Atle Selberg

When it counts, I enjoy being my own critic – it eases the sting of hearing it from others whose dissension often comes laced with malice and marinated in venomous diction that seeks not to counter my view but to demean my person.

Anyway. There are no hard feelings.

I recently did an inventory of all my vital organs and precious body parts following the thorough cyber-bashing that my good name and person were subjected to on account of the views I expressed in the aforementioned video – I am delighted to inform you that I am still intact. Thank God, criticism is not life-threatening; I may well have been staring at death’s door.

It is said we have to live today by what truths we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.

Today I let my thoughts roam naked and be prepared tomorrow to point out the flaws, the stretchmarks, the unsightly cellulite and the blemishes on the surface of those nude ideas.

I don’t fear having my voice drowned by the hysterical disapproval of others because it is impossible to drown the voice of a writer.

Besides, when I write… who can shut me up?

I wished I was a racist…

On Saturday, I went to the Cape Coast Castle to tour the place where slaves had been kept before being shipped off to lands unknown during the slave trade. I recall being excited by the prospect of finally seeing the remnants of what was to me nothing more than a story. I had no idea that by the end of the day I would be churning with hatred and a whole cocktail of murderous feelings.

..a miniature model of the idyllic setting of slavery's horror

If the walls could talk, they would no doubt lament to this day the brutality and inhumane atrocities that were committed within that castle… and yet from a distance it looks so tranquil, so inviting and indeed so picturesque.

We toured the castle… visiting the dungeons that once held men captive. Big gaping holes dug into the earth where human beings were tossed in to wait for three months in order to voyage into lifelong servitude, suffering and indignity.

My skin crawled as I stood in that dark cave, stuffy and mouldy, listening to the endless drone of the tour guide who spoke as impassionately as one who had grown accustomed to telling a tale so tragic and horrific that he did not need any theatrics to make his audience understand the hell that our ancestors went through.

It was the size of a tiny room, this cave-like dungeon, built to accommodate 150 men but later accommodated as many as 300 men. Men who did not see the sunlight, the sky or feel the breeze on their skin for three months as they awaited ships. Men who slept together, urinated and defecated on one another, whose excrement piled and rose to mar the walls of their prison.

Men whose stench, sweat and fear fouled the air. Men who lost their dignity and freedom to the whims of a white man. And the high roofs of the dungeons captured their odours and bore mute testimony to their dehumanization. When it rained, the waters seeped in through and turned the excrement into a soggy mash of filth – men lay in it and some died in it.

Even now, I do not understand how a human being can treat another human being so callously. How? It does not make sense to me and it feels me with rage, with hatred and yes I admit, with the thought of vengeance.

But the tour continued, to the female dungeons… to where the women were kept also for three months in the most cramped little burrow in the earth. They too, like the men, had to pee where they stood, defecate where they slept and watch in humiliation as their menstrual blood flowed down their legs. And those who had children kept them in there… in that hell hole to share the nightmare of losing their freedom.

The women were bathed… only when they were picked out by the soldiers and the officials – picked out to be raped and have their bodies plundered ruthlessly. And those who refused, were placed in solitary confinement…in the tinniest shelf of a hole until they gave in; until they surrendered and until they quit fighting.

And above these dungeons, sat the irony of white hypocrisy – the missionaries’ chapel where they sought an audience with God while their hands dripped with blood and their crotches flaked with the blood of torn hymens.

I wished I was a racist – so I could HATE. Hate with abandon, allow the madness to consume me and embrace the poison of bitterness so I could just walk over to the nearest European tourist and mercilessly, unrepentantly stab them through the heart.

I wished I was a racist so that the powerlessness I felt could have been translated into some action, into some cruelty of unimaginable proportions – so that I could have the satisfaction of avenging those who had so needlessly died and so needlessly suffered.

But I am not a racist, I have been tutored in the Queen’s language to know that hate is barbaric and it’s bad enough that I have a black skin without allowing my soul to become as black as my posterior.

I felt it. This agonizing stab of pain, felt the tears well up in my eyes and heard the thudding of my breaking heart as I retraced the steps, taken centuries ago by my ancestors and I wished so very hard that I was a racist.

I wished it, I will not lie.

Wished to grab every white person in the vicinity and drive them out – and tell them they had no right to be there. To be desecrating the shrine of our forefathers’ gravesites. I wanted to ask them why, why they returned to the scene of their ancestors’ most heinous crimes. I wanted to scream at them, to rant and rave and tell them how dare they, how dare they soil this place with their presence – to look on with curious faces and inscrutable expressions at the hell holes that once held our kin captive.

...the door of no return

I will not lie. I wished I was a racist. Wished I had a gun and the mind of a lunatic to go on a rampage and not fear the reprisals. To gun down every person who was not of my skin colour, to bash their head in with the barrel, crack their ribs with a vicious kick and pummel them to death.

As we retraced the steps they took, past the door of no return – it hit me just how much those men and women had lost just by walking through a door. They lost their identity, they lost their freedom, they lost their dignity, they lost their language, they lost their roots, they lost their family, their homes, their friends and they lost every shred of who they were and of what they had once owned.

...a vow made... a vow that must be kept

I will visit the Cape Castle again. Because I owe it to them to remember and not forget. For even though the experience does nothing but grate at my innards – I have no business forgetting what it means to be a child of Africa, and the struggles of being a woman of color.