Ungovernable: Lindokuhle Nkosi

Ms Lindokuhle Nkosi is a writer, curator and cultural commentator. She walks to a tune all her own, challenging our casually held notions of empathy and love, deep love. She spoke to us about girlhood, Caster Semenya, writing, faux allies and the disrespect of black artistry. 

NM: In a sentence, who is Lindokuhle Nkosi?

LN: Lindokuhle Nkosi is a black woman deeply invested in the economy of words and meaning-making. I write about the arts, music and blackness, and the ways in which we love and dream in places that seek to deny our existence.

NM: When did you realise what it meant to be a girl in this world?

LN: I don’t know that I came to an awareness of girlhood, as much as I was aware of a very intimate and personal brand of girlhood. I was different from boys, but different from other girls too. I became aware of my girlhood through the admonishment that appeared to construct it. Don’t climb trees. Sit with your legs closed. Don’t play like that so that your panties show. Make sure no-one sees your panties in that dress. Wear dresses. Don’t play in the street but if you must, don’t play in the street with boys in a way that makes your panties show. Girlhood felt like a list of limitations. Like a shrinking.

NM: What is the biggest mistake so-called ‘good guys’ make in their allyship?

LN: Lol. What are “good guys”? Which society is producing them? I read a tweet the other day (username: @OmogeDami) stating “that all men benefit from the actions of violent men. It keeps women in check.” In a patriarchal society that divorces humanness from womanhood, from femme-ness, the benefits of patriarchy, of women who are afraid to be caught on the wrong end of patriarchy, flow to all men. Men are required to merely perform faux allyship to be good guys. They don’t actually have to be allies. They just have to wear flower crowns and say they are.

“Men are required to merely perform faux allyship to be good guys. They don’t actually have to be allies. They just have to wear flower crowns and say they are.”

Where I am right now, rhetoric does not move me. I need to see a radical divestment from the benefits of patriarchy. I need men who respect women outside of familiarity or desirability. I need men who love women outside of family or fuckability. I need men who occupy less space. Who use their privilege and access to put people on.

Isn’t it crazy how it’s more rewarding to be a male ally than to actually be a woman who’s a feminist? But we need male allies. We need black men to realise that this shit is destroying them too. We need men who realise that their joy and freedom is linked to ours, and not in emulating the oppressive powers of whiteness. We need men who realise that feminism is not a thing you do for other people, but a liberation you can offer yourself. In the words of poet and scholar Fred Moten: “The coalition emerges out of your recognition that it’s fucked up for you, in the same way that we’ve already recognised that it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognise that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?”

NM: You wrote a moving piece about the meaning of Caster Semenya (published on New Frame and lindokuhlenkosi.com) last year sometime, could you distill for us here, why she matters?

LN: Thank you. Man… Caster. I keep going back to the fact that she was what, 18,19 when all this started. She was a baby, having to negotiate all this hate levelled at her cause she dared to be black and to excel. People love to put a black woman in her place. The violence. The misogynoir. The racism. The Afrophobia.

We let her down at every step of the way. You’ve got the IAAF and other regulatory bodies who literally keep inventing new laws to keep her from running. That damn You Magazine cover that seemed to say she wasn’t good enough as herself. Even in the ways we tried to defend her, we erased her.

We have a history of putting the bodies of black people, black women on display for dissection, for our entertainment and edification. I think Caster and I think Sarah Baartman. I think Wouter Basson and Project Coast. I think eugenics and human zoos and the settler- German genocide of Namibians. I think of Caster and I can’t even celebrate. This is what we’ve done. We don’t think Caster and think of a brilliant athlete. We think Caster and think of all the cruel ways the world punishes blackness.

“You’ve got the IAAF and other regulatory bodies who literally keep inventing new laws to keep (Caster Semenya) from running. That damn You Magazine cover that seemed to say she wasn’t good enough as herself. Even in the ways we tried to defend her, we erased her.”

NM: In a world that is hell-bent on hating black women, how do express love to yourself?

LN: I’m not always good at it, and I don’t always know how it looks. But I know that even when I have to be aggressive about loving myself (with intention), that love is soft, and tender, delicate but not fragile. Delicate and sure. Something that must be held with cupped hands. I think I love myself by allowing myself to be tender and smooth. I love myself by choosing to be in spaces that choose me, that love me unabashedly. That love me loving them.

NM:Finish the sentence: Writing is…

LN: Writing is an alchemical exercise in vulnerability. It’s the process of taking the “thing” as it exists inside you, and turning it into a thing that can exist in the world, without you. Writing is transcribing the first cry of a newborn child.

NM: In 2019 you had a public tussle with a well-known South African musician who wouldn’t pay you for the work you had done for him. What has been the most significant lesson for you from that experience? (And oh, has he paid?)

LN: Argh… I don’t really want to keep talking about this. I write many other things. I write beautifully. I write with love and care. I want to be known as that. Not the chick Anatii owes money. He paid a portion of what he owes me. I found a dope lawyer to represent me ’cause I guess this is a way of enforcing a boundary around me, of creating respect where none clearly exists. This is how I’ve chosen to hold him accountable and not live in the mess of what he created. The lesson is not new. People believe that they cannot be successful without the exploitation of black labour. He’s just working the way people before him have worked. He’s being what he knows.

NM: Would you say you have come into yourself, as a woman, and what does that actually mean?

LN: I’m not sure that I know what that means. I know I find new ‘mes’ all the time. Some Lindokuhles I like. Some not so much. I’ve suffered a few setbacks in my heart and head and I guess right now I’m in recovery. And that’s really frightening y’know. To meet myself at the shore of myself continuously. I don’t think I’ve come into myself as a woman. I don’t know that I will. But I’m going to have joy getting as close as I can.

“I don’t think I’ve come into myself as a woman. I don’t know that I will. But I’m going to have joy getting as close as I can.”

NM: What is the biggest threat to black womanhood?

LN: You. Me. All of us. 

NM: I have noticed over the last few years that the best way for men to shut down accusations of sexual or gender discrimination is to simply concur and it all goes away. A prominent businessman was taken to task by a number of women last year for being part of an all-male Presidential advisory panel and he dealt deftly with it by saying: ‘You are right, my sisters’. And that was the end of it. How do we (society) take these things further, so that next time, he will feel compelled to question the President on his choices or pull out if there is no change?

LN: Listen, while it’s on women to exist as canaries in coal mines, nothing’s going to change. Nothing. We die trying to live better. We die trying not to die. We can sound the alarm but men have to take it upon themselves to heed the call. To actually listen. The only other option is to use force. To make it so that we can’t be ignored. Which is violent. And we suffer so much violence already.

I guess I’m a little cynical right now. There’s very little accountability for men and it gnaws at me. Cause if we’re talking about justice, men have to come to the table too. They have to want life for us like they want it for themselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about love. About loving each other in this community and how hard it is to actually love. Love as an ethic, as a discipline. Cornel West says “the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. And justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private”. Does the way in which black men love us allow our suffering to speak? Hortense Spillers says “unless one is free, love cannot and will not matter”. IG user @blackvictorian asked me the other day if I’m free in my love for black men? I don’t know that I can say yes. The love of black men doesn’t feel liberatory to me. But then still, we’re in this shit together. So if it’s not freeing for me, it’s not freeing for you too.

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