English for who? English for what?

As far as I understand: colonization basically entailed Westerners coming to non-Western countries and saying that the way non-Western people did things was backward and primitive. People were then introduced to the Westerners religion,cultural practices,languages and education systems: a project meant to ‘civilize’ them. As a result, people came to value the ideas of the West and began to abandon or reject the religious practices and parts of the cultural practices which were not accepted by the colonizers.

That’s my super-basic understanding of colonization. I know it was much more complex, but I’m trying to keep this post short.

Botswana, in the era of colonization, was technically a British protectorate and not a colony. But the effect was not that different to colonization. In 1966, Botswana became independent and thus, my nation was able to decide on how they did things. We managed to set up a decent economy and we did relatively well on our own. But I wonder if we have really been ‘decolonized’…

I guess I always wondered this but it’s only now that it’s really becoming tangible. I remember reading in some class when I was much younger that English was the official language of Botswana [and many other African countries]. I was confused by this.  I knew that people in my country  spoke both English and Setswana but younger-me thought…logically…that the official language of the Tswana nation would be …Setswana? No? …..okay :/. *insert picture of confused, pre-teen me in a social studies class*

Fast forward to current me, I moved to South Africa for school, to a place where many people speak isiXhosa. Yeah…it was a tough adjustment.I was in this new environment, feeling super isolated because I couldn’t communicate in isiXhosa. I would have liked to get to know a lot of my peers but they were comfortable speaking their mother tongue and at the time, I didn’t know how to meet them halfway. Despite my frustration at the ‘language barrier’, I still thought  it would have been strange for me, a guest in their home, to insist that they change their ways to suit me. So I just awkwardly went about my business in English since that’s all [I thought] I could do :/

Because I didn’t think I had a right to have amaXhosa speak English to cater to me, it baffles me that people are so militant when it comes to others speaking English. Sometimes it’s funny. It can be fun to laugh at our ‘engrish’, our struggles with the language. But it’s not always laughter at ourselves. Sometimes, it’s laughter at someone’s failure to grasp the language or laughter at someone’s failure to speak English with the ‘right’ accent. And what’s implicit in these sort of responses is the idea that speaking English as if you’ve been practising it since you were in the womb provides social capital. It’s an ability that our society values.

Someone on Rhodes Confessions [like I said, I’m a fan] asked the administrators why they didn’t post confessions in languages other than English. The administrators replied saying that this would isolate a big sector of campus and that we were a “multiracial, multicultural tertiary institution”.They continued to advise the confessor to just use people’s grammar policing as a way of improving their English. “You will be better for it,” they said. *ultimate side-eye*

Now, this is not quite a criticism of the page administrators but it’s a perfect example of what I am talking about. English has become such a norm that when asked to make allowances for other languages, our first instinct is to say, “This is just the way it is. If you just get used to it, it will improve your life”. We don’t say,  “Yeah, that’s a good idea. We are after all in the Eastern Cape. Send us  confessions in isiXhosa!” or “Hmmm, good point. Maybe we should try to get a Xhosa person to help us monitor confessions and we can be more inclusive”.

The prevalence of demands that everyone should speak English allows the language a superiority over other languages that I don’t think it deserves. Why, particularly since we are not in England, is the ability to speak English particularly so important to us? Can you imagine people in England judging or looking down on others for not speaking proper Chichewa or for not being fluent enough in isiZulu?

There is the argument that if everyone speaks the same language [read English], then communication will be easier. And that’s true. But at what cost must we make communication easier? And why do we have to make communication easier by speaking English? If you are in Botswana and you don’t speak Setswana, why should Batswana [those you found there] accommodate you? Surely, it would help to learn Setswana. By a stroke of luck, I had to learn isiXhosa at a beginner’s level and although I am far from fluent [or kinda terrible], learning the language was helpful. It made sense. I am a guest in the Eastern Cape and by my personal principles, it just made sense to respect the ways of the host.

This insistence on English as a mode of communication in Southern Africa is strange to me. It’s eerily reminiscent of an era not too long ago ,where guests would tell their hosts that their way of doing things was wrong and that the hosts should change.


Dear Ladies : messages for women on Rhodes Confessions

So as a fan of Rhodes Confessions, I take an interest in what people post and how these posts are received. People can anonymously air their views without being filtered, whereas in public  they’re limited by expectations to be politically correct.  Some posts are obviously made up, but even so, people comment on them without caring much about authenticity. Thus, I analyse these confessions as if they’re true.

This week, on Rhodes Confessions, there has been some cray cray sexism trending. I could write essays about it. For my own sanity, I’m going to address some of the disturbing things I’ve seen lately and explain why they are worrying.

The following are excerpts from 2 confessions.

 As soon as I hear a girl bragging about naps or I know that a girl has banged many guys I completely write them off as a potential partner. It’s called having standards people. It is called self-respect.

Why this idea is problematic: There seems to be this awkward tendency amongst misogynists (people who are prejudiced against women) to value women based on their sexual activities. The idea is that if a woman has sex with anyone other than her husband on their wedding night,  they are a whore/slut/terrible person who is not deserving of respect. This confession shows this quite well.

The first statement could be categorized as a personal choice. If you personally don’t want to be in a relationship with a woman who has slept with a particular amount of people, that’s your choice. However, the claim that women who sleep with “many” guys have no standards and no self-respect  is super duper sexist.  It’s sexist because this idea only ever seems to be applied to women.  Weird, because in order for a woman to have slept with “many” men, there have to be “many” men sleeping with her. Last I recall,  traditionally, these things require 2 participants. If having sex with many people is going to be considered an immoral act, why police just one half of the participants?

Secondly, everyone has a different idea of what self-respect looks like. Although many people might share the same ideas,  there’s still no self-respect  measuring tool that the whole world agreed on (unless you guys didn’t let me vote 😦 ). People who would like to judge/critique others based on such ideas are reminded that their idea of self-respect is just an opinion. This confessor’s opinion is that if you are a woman who sleeps with “many” people, you don’t have self-respect. However, the women in question may hold themselves to different standards. The view itself wouldn’t be problematic if it was a personal standard, but the fact that the confessor felt the need to write a mini sermon on Rhodes Confessions shows that they’re trying to force their morality on everyone else. Not cool, dude.

5 guys in a 2 month period? Really? I won’t sugarcoat it. That just makes you a whore. You may not get paid (which is even worse) but you’re still easy – even if you think it’s on your own terms and you’re picking the men. You’re an easy lay. Guys will pick up on that and soon you lose ‘value’ in their eyes. 1 year into your sleeping around and the guys won’t touch you.

Why this idea is problematic:  Firstly, this confession reinforces the sexist idea that women should base all their actions on the potential reactions of men. This is a prevailing idea in society, related to the patriarchal notion that women (should) exist to satisfy men. What’s also coming out in this confession is that sleeping with people (if you’re a woman) makes you lose value. This is classic objectification. The message here is that women are not people. We are things. We are assets which can depreciate in value, depending on what we choose to do with our bodies.

These kind of ideas often leave me baffled ’cause I missed the biology class where they gave out the diagrams showing that for women, your worth and dignity are located in your vagina.  Personally, I think that if we’re going to respect each other as humans, we should apply this respect equally. However, society keeps trying to tell me that before women can be respected, there’s a test they need to pass. Before women can be respected as humans, we first need to check that they haven’t made personal, sexual choices that we disapprove of. No, society. Just… no.

This, to me, is all kinds of infuriating and oppressive.  Whenever people use the terms ho/whore/slut etc, I just cringe because it reinforces the view that my worth as a human, because I am a woman, will be determined not by how well I treat others, my achievements or my principles, but rather, how many people I slept with. I fail to understand how what a woman chooses to do with her own body is anyone else’s business.  I refuse to accept these sexist ideas.

We are not free. I rest my case.