Dear African Boy,
The first time I set my eyes on you, I saw a beautiful baby with the biggest brown eyes and a curly mass of black hair. You were a tiny, precious being and I pressed you close to my chest, shielding your vulnerability from the world.
You’re growing up at a time where information is easily accessible and a thousand opinions bombard you every minute with little time for reflection. ‘Normal’ is what everyone seems comfortable doing and conformity is studiously encouraged and enforced with little room for debate. While there’s beauty in harmony, being an automaton subject to the vagaries of public opinion for the sake of kinship helps no one. For change only materialises when the status quo is challenged by individuals with independent thoughts and active intelligence.
Everybody has a role to play in life, and that includes you—yes, you. So if you’re wondering how a young boy like you can make a difference, here’s a great way to start.
Question everything: Never accept an answer that uses culture, religion or gender to justify itself. It indicates lazy, unoriginal thinking and seeks to apply the ideas of men from centuries past to modern day life. When adults scold you for liking dolls over trains or skipping rope instead of playing football, look them in the eyes and say sex organs are not a determinant of preferences and shouldn’t define anyone as a human being.
Read broadly and in depth: It’s one way to discover yourself and understand others, increase empathy and confront bigotry in all its forms. Read all kinds of books, especially those written by women and people who don’t belong to your tribe, religion, country or whatever groups you identify with. You will find there are different ways to travel down the road of life, with one being no more valid than the other.
Beware of patriotism or any ism for that matter: Isms are straitjackets, another way of smothering debate, free thought and individuality. Remember being an individual requires you to think for yourself, digest information and make sense of it independently. It’s important you understand why certain things anger you and why they don’t. Don’t get worked up over words like nigger simply because you’re black and expected to. If after analysis such a word means nothing to you, chuck it in the bin along with other meaningless things.
Being a strong individual entails your avoiding groupthink and listening to your conscience.
Females are not your playthings: A woman doesn’t exist for your physical and sexual gratification. Like you, she is a complete sentient being with ambitions, fears, desires and faults, and has a right to her body and her opinions. That you’re physically powerful doesn’t give you any permission to have your way with her, or to ignore her nos—even if they’re said in the smallest whisper, especially when they’re said in the smallest whisper.
You’re part of the problem: If you remain silent when your friends brag about bullying the weak or touching women inappropriately. You’re just like them when you laugh and shake your heads at their bigoted taunts because it’s ‘locker room talk’ and ‘they’re only joking’. The truth is jokes stop being jokes when they need to be explained. Jokes are no longer jokes when it dehumanises the other or makes a mockery of their nightmarish reality. In times like these, it’s important that you speak up and challenge their notions, even if it means losing one or two friends. They would have dragged you down an ignoble road anyway.
Going against the winds of public opinion may not always be fun or easy to do but at least you will be guaranteed soft pillow to lay your conscience at night and an honourable reflection to admire in the mirror the next morning. So be a bold individual, do the right thing and watch yourself soar.
Photo Credit: Ife Martins