Home » Human Rights » Stereotypes – Who Feels It Knows It [opinion]

Early hours, when sun and song awaken the privileged to earth’s delights, and mellow vistas spread out, leaders may be surprised to know what it takes to endure life away from their vastly diverting luxuries.

For then everyone must head away from the impartiality of dreams, each to a familiar course, to consolidate privilege or to gasp for survival in the politically commissioned inferno of poverty.

Human suffering is the heart of the matter when leaders need to enhance their audience ratings, and the political calendar makes it convenient to feign alliance with the masses, but often that is all that it is – an election device.

Any other day, poverty is the default location of the majority.

Poverty stretches the circuit in blogosphere, civic activism and scholarship, sometimes the fad of the hour, sometimes the goose that lays donor cheques, but seldom from a position of observable attachment.

Great literature was the social engine where the artist met the wretched of the continent in the body and soul of their tribulations.

Across the lapse of generations, the megastars of literature were acquainted with the alternate moods of society’s most vulnerable, with suffering, love and compassion, the materials for great writing.

The memorable stories of literature (“What Men Live By,” “I Will Marry When I Want,” “Crime and Punishment” and “A Christmas Carol” are among stories I highly regard) merited immortality for their compassionate, life-like even, engagement with the base of the pyramid.

In our day, instalments from seminars, courses and competitions have become the frontispiece of our literature, of course, trimmed to conventional precision.

On good reason, I complained recently not just of the slick post-nationalist abstracts presented to us as the best writing of the continent but of the inordinate deployment of erotica where so little is apparent that can be appropriated for life.

If the writer could once again forget theories, disregard normative approaches and commercial angles to be one with multitude.

Truth is ironic and less popular in our day. In the case of art, what is presented as the freedom of the artist is often the subservience of the artist to the pressures of the time, the pressures of the market.

Our writers have forgotten that the greatest stories are notes of courage to propel the deprived of humanity out of the slough of despondency.

Times when the mood of a place bears down a permanent place in memory, when the weight of history is perceptible in an idea but poverty spreads hurdles all the way, literature of lifelike import, locates the rungs of courage to destiny.

In Africa, the cultural elites have heard it all before.

Regrettably so because they do not want to keep hearing it they want new stories, any stories.

Their ears now tingle with endless discussions of poverty, inequality and economic injustice, which yield nothing but a dent to the continent’s image, and they have branded the subjects into an anathema called “stereotypes” about Africa.

I have lately wondered whether categorisation as “stereotypes” of problems equal to life and death is not an implement in the hands of the privileged.

As an involved critic, I am witness to more search-friendly subject matter displacing suffering out of the public square and am increasingly persuaded that objection to “stereotypes” amounts to foreclosure of discussion of socially significant problems.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “single story” criticism of stereotype has since become viral but, in view of the present context, I have come to consider it a posh debate, at least from the eyes of the disenfranchised majority.

Where poverty is the difference between life and death, when power struggles stake an inordinate claim on civilian lives, when CEOs, ministers and municipal executives fare sumptuously like Arab oil barons while workers are begrudged of their paltry stipends, when youths capsize into the roaring Mediterranean because their part of the continent is no longer habitable, writers must forget that they ever heard the word “stereotype”.

As Chomsky points out in “Powers and Prospects”, for the writer to be a moral agent, instead of a monster, he must bring truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them.

Artists must forget that they ever heard the word “stereotype” and antagonise the “small, selfish, money-minded, reactionary minority among vast masses of exploited and oppressed”, for so Kwame Nkrumah described it, because its narrow interests oil the industry of human suffering.

“Stereotype” is a posh expression without a meaningful place in the lexicon of the children of tribulation because, as the Wailers captured it, “who feels it knows it”.

Afropolitan academics, writing in offshore luxuries, cannot see this.

They are entitled to their own stories but they must also remember not to muzzle those who write what they see and hear.

Niyi Osundare, that grand spokesperson of Africa’s most vulnerable, has a pertinent challenge for brave, new literature in a continent where corruption is the fastest-growing industry.

“How did we come to lose our sense of shame after losing our sense of propriety and proportion? How did we come to develop a skin that is so thick that no arrows of degradation, no needles of dehumanisation are ever sharp and violent enough to penetrate our bodies and rouse our senses,” asks Osundare.

“How did our nerves slide into their present state of stupor? How did we slide into this present state of dysconsciousness,” questions the people’s poet.

These are pertinent questions for the writer in a continent where the rich are not necessarily the brightest minds but often the darkest minds, where poverty is not primarily a result of idleness but the creation of capitalist apparatus which run on the unrewarded labour of the poor.

The writer has no business being the intellectual clone of a system which privileges a wafer-thin minority and deprives the people, for a writer detached from the people is a private diarist.

Even when pulp prose occasions immediate success, it does not last the distance.

Where the writing curriculum answers every question, but life questions every answer, the writer must be inquisitive. Where those born on piles of gold consolidate privilege by depriving the poor of justice, the writer must be disruptive. It is easy to invoke ideas such as Pan-Africanism to the inaertent defence of the privileged.

But Kwayana significantly observes: “Pan-Africanism will have validity only if it seeks to solve the fundamental problems of social injustice among Africans and supports every human community in its efforts for justice, freedom and development.”

Ngugi’s assertion in “Devil on the Cross” of the artist’s right to tear into the less palatable aspects of his or her society is pertinent.

“Certain people in Ilmorog told me that this story was too disgraceful, too shameful that it should be concealed in the depths of everlasting darkness,” Gikaandi Player relates in the opening passage.

“I asked them: ‘How can we cover up pits in our courtyards with twigs, saying to ourselves that because our eyes cannot now see the holes, our children can now prance about the yard as they like?'”

“Happy is the man who is able to discern the pitfalls in his path for he can avoid them. Happy is the traveller who is able to see the stumps in his ways, for he can pull them up or walk around them so that they do not make him stumble,” Gikaandi Player argues.

Quite clearly, one class’ “stereotype” is another class’ tribulation, and the young writer pen-synching to the curriculum in the abstract setting of the writing seminars, detached from the people everyday struggles for survival, cannot see this.

“Stereotype” is a red flag occasioned by our aversion to self-abasement. But there is, within our reach, a more justified basis for black pride. Honesty, not airbrushed representation, as a programme of development.

Source : The Herald

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