When the resident office trickster, George, asked me to write on the modern man, I was very reluctant. In fact, I turned the piece in at the last minute because the word “modern” is devoid of meaning to me. Instead, I started thinking about manhood itself, and my very identity as a human being, as opposed to a black, modern, man. In short, I am writing on the modern man from a position of opposition, contradiction and of course, ignorance.
The term for me, is rooted in Western ideology (what is its opposite? Primitive?), and I associate it primarily with art history, which is rigid, culturally biased – and which, gladly, I never studied. In (isi)Zulu, the language I grew up speaking, but the culture which I never practised, the equivalent idea would be “indoda yesimanje manje”.
It is a culturally and historically loaded phrase which, to me at least, suggests that the idea of modernity was imposed on the supposedly primitive black man. The fact that “manje”, meaning now, is repeated in that phrase, implies an excitable, almost child-like fascination with all things new, imported and imposed. Modernism, in short, implies embracing change in all areas of human interaction. In art terms, and here I stand corrected, modernism is interchangeable with avant garde – a complete rejection of the status quo. I can roll with that.
Change for me has meant freedom of choice; an idea I am willing to die for. But I often wonder what that change meant to those who were first to confront colonialists and apartheid in this country and on this continent. But enough wall-gazing, let’s talk about me, and that idea of manhood and humanity, so you can see where I am coming from with this modernism shit, and my love-hate relationship with it.
I was raised, almost single-handedly, by a Christian mother. To her, performing rituals for the ancestors was evil, and Jesus Christ was our “Lord and Saviour” and the ticket to success on earth and abundance in the afterlife.
She did everything in her power to keep me on that path, including sending my teenage ass to Christian camps where my faith would supposedly be strengthened by singing Jabulani Africa with white Christians who knew how to hold a fake smile while strumming an acoustic guitar. Of course, after years of indoctrination, I came to see Jesus as this figure watching over me, ready to talk to God to punish my ass, if I so much as looked at a woman’s crotch, but ready forgive me if I prostrated myself and prayed. But the truth is I had never seen Jesus, except in my picture Bible, where he was depicted as a brown-haired white man. Later on, in high school, came the weed smoke accompanied with visions of “irie meditaton”, as Bob sang on Rastaman Live Up.
I got tired of praying to some surfer-looking white dude, and the idea of growing my locks until they touched the ground became romantic to me. But the contradictions still haunted me. Here I was following what was essentially a shamanic practice, in the middle of the concrete jungle. The Rasta thing was cool, until I realised that it was just another form of Christianity. Old world. Rules and regulations. Arcane texts. They, like Chri-stians, worshiped a monarch, only we all knew what this one looked like, and many of his countrymen considered him an asshole. I kept the ganja and cut the locks. Fuck some polygamist dude in the KZN/ Jamaican hillside telling me what Haile Selassie says I should eat. Dudes can’t even agree on condom use and polygamy.
But as my musical tastes grew, so did my spiritual/philosophical awareness. I revisited the Five Percent shit. I smiled when I heared Busta talk about, I Self Lord and Master (ISLAM). Actually, he said: “I Self Lord and …so Divine”, which made the shit sound even slicker. I chuckled when I heard Badu go on about intellects not believing in God but fearing us just the same.
Ever heard Gift of Gab talking about us “dwelling in infinity through the power of now”? I smiled again. The point being, I’m a product of my experiences. Since I was raised basically by my mom, I cannot understand the concept of a man being the head of the household. But I do remember my mom, when dad turned up after 10 years of absence, saying I should first ask him about this ’n that. That fucked me up. Watching their marriage disintegrate, although they would never divorce (what would the elders say?), I vowed to myself that I would never marry, because the world is evolving too quickly for us to even hold hands, let alone decide what our beliefs are, and how long we can remain under the same roof. I don’t know if that makes me modern; it just makes me.
Writer: Kwanele Sosibo Photography: Gugulethu Photography