What do they really mean when they call you a ‘radical’?
Before I go any further, I am going to quickly disclaim that these musings are, in no way, academic or scientific. A question simply came into my mind Sunday evening as I planned for the week ahead and I decided to expand on it by writing about it. There is humour in this piece, but there is also a lot of deep-seated truth. I hope it may give you some comfort if you identify.
So there’s this word. Radical. Did you grow up watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, like I did, at all? Do you remember how those ninjas would use the term ‘rad’ to refer to something cool or exciting? Yes? Well, hold that thought right there!This is not how we are imagining ‘rad’ or ‘radical’ today. I’m sorry, but for the next few minutes that I have your attention, we are going to the dark side.
– Trigger warning over –
Now, the siren of your soul will sound sonorously and long if you should ever find yourself in the predicament of being Zimbabwean and labelled radical. Look, you are already in an ultra-deluxe-conservative environment that’s stuck somewhere between 1980s nationalism and late 1990s dissent… with a generous dollop of frenetic Pentecostalism from the 2000s. So there are levels of radical to work your way through here, kinda like with Pac-Man. But I assure, that all levels are pretty bad for your street cred, especially if you are a woman. A black one, too.
So do you do things like drink beer publicly? Smoke? Drink beer and smoke? Drink beer, smoke, read Sankara? Drink, beer, smoke, read Sankara, wear mini skirts? Drink, beer, smoke, read Sankara, wear mini skirts, have an Afro and tweet about drinking beer, smoking, reading Sankara, wearing mini skirts and having an Afro?
Woo shem, it’s late for you!
And this is before I have even added anything about your sexuality. Or what your views are on local and international politics (especially if you are one of those ungovernable people whose views don’t fit into the neat black and white boxes that we are all supposed to tick off). And also, death upon you if you are not a regular in the front of church every Sunday morning, repenting for your waywardness. ie. your drinking beer, smoking, reading Sankara, etc.
It’s just late for you.
Stop reading right now.
Lol, I kid.
On a serious note, though, I have given you the worst case scenario of the worst case scenario radical. Which is like level 256 on Pac-Man (which is extinct in the same way people wish you were). As in a mission to pariahdom. As in you have accepted general societal isolation as your bestie for life, and you are playing your Nina Simone or your Chiwoniso and not actually even giving a single care to the judgement and condemnation around you.
If you have gotten here, I bow – in awe – at your feet. For they cannot break you no more.
But if you haven’t, like most of us, then let me keep talking.
What I’m increasingly learning in my stint on this planet is that to be different to what is approved of, and accepted, as conventional or conformist – especially if you have the ‘misfortune’ of being a person from one of those places where agency is not a thing (the ultra-deluxe global south, of which Zimbabwe is one of the current neighbourhoods) – is pretty much your guaranteed one-way ticket to erasure. Because for every one of you, dear radical, there are at least 1 000 perfectly decent people who know which lines to tow, and which silences to preserve so that the status quo continueth.
In other words, you ain’t all that.
Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I never presumed to imagine that you thought you were all that to begin with. You are probably just a person with immense passion for change and challenging the normative systems that keep us in what Lauryn Hill sings of in ‘I Get Out’ as
“To keep me in this box, psychological locks
Repressin’ true expression, cementin’ this repression
Promotin’ mass deception, so that no one can be healed”
But what is you simply being yourself, and standing in the truth of your convictions or understandings of what the world could look like, should look like, is constructed as too ‘out there’, too foreign, too disruptive. In other words, you are seen as thinking you are ‘better than others’ who know their place in life. To many in society, you’re acting like you think you’re all that.
What a painful life it is, isn’t it? To risk being perpetually misunderstood. To learn the foreign tongue of conformity inorder to make painful concessions with survival. Because no one wants to sit in the naughty kids’ corner all the time for the crime of being different.
Oftentimes, radical is a label that society foists upon the people who challenge what is held as immutable belief, those who ask ‘but why does it have to be like this?’ and who demand more from life than the rigours of the nine-to-five lifestyle.
As a result, rubbing people the wrong way comes with the territory. Being cast as impetuous, or even puerile… yep, that comes with it too.
But all I have to say to you is this: You have just got to keep on fighting for what you believe in. And who you are. And your space. And the sacredness of your being. Your just being here among billions of others, and demanding daily the dignity – of freedom of thought and expression – that we all should enjoy in a world that devalues so many of us.
“There will be no compensation/
It was of your free will/
Oh, that you stood on the frontline/
These are the rules of war.”
I’m sending you peace and solidarity.
Image of Chiwoniso album cover shared from http://www.cumbancha.com