Saidiya Hartman’s new book Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval is a lesson on black beauty in its extreme deprivation. The compilation of archival material chronicling the lives of early twentieth century black women speaks life into those lives the white world created itself against. It examines the ways they navigated the world after the ‘abolition’ of slavery – how they migrated to the cities, from the slave plantations in the South, in search of the freedom to move, to question, to be.
Incwadi entsha kaSaidiya Hartman ebizwa Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval isifundisa ngobuhle bobuntu obunyama nangona buphantsi koxinizelelo lwentlupheko. Lendibaniso yemifanekiso nemibhalo ngempilo yabafazi abamnyama ekungeneni kwe20th century inikeza ubomi obutsha kwabo ilizwe labamhlophe eliphila ngobacinezela. Lencwadi iphonononga iindlela ababephila ngazo emva kokupheliswa kobukhoboka eMelika – ijonga indlela ababephila ngayo emva kokusuka emakhaya bayokuphila ezidolophini, bezunguza inkululeko yokuhamba-hamba, nokubuza ngamakhamandela abakuwo abenza bangakwazi ukuba ngabo gabalala.
Hartman carefully unfolds the materials through which she reads and understands these lives. Using landlord journals, interviews, surveys and written notes from sociologists, psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists, trial transcripts, photographs and prison case files, the lives of these black women are reconstructed through an interesting interplay of personal narration, direct quotes and a piecing together of events to fill in the gaps. These documents depict these women as problems – they construct black women as stains on white morality, decency, and overall, humanity. Hartman, therefore, tries to dig up the histories, the voices, the intimate connections of black women who easily disappear and are unaccounted for in the archive. The archive, as holder of historical memory, has power to construct meaning and value. Hartman is always aware of this power and is intentional in how she shifts her gaze to the discarded, to lift them up and make sure they do not vanish “within slavery’s shadow.”Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, Serpent’s Tail, 2019, p. 17.
UHartman uzivula, eziveza ngocoselelo nobuchule ezingqokelela zemibhalo zakudala. Usebenzisa izibhalo zabanini-mhlaba, udliwanondlebe, uhlolo, kunye nemibhalo yeengcali kwezentlalo, oogqirha bengqondo, oonontlalontle, iifoto kunye nezibhalo zasekhothi, ukuze akhe ngokokutsha iimpilo zabafazi abantsundu, lonto uyenza ngokubalisa ngaye, ukudibanisa izinto ababezithetha, nokufakelela okushotayo. Lamaxwebhu akudala abeka umfanekiso othi ababafazi babebonwa njengabantu abayingxaki eluntwini – ibenza abantu abahlisa isidima, isithozela nobuntu babafazi abamhlophe, abo babesemandleni ngeloxesha. Yena uHartman uzama ukuvumbulula imbali yabo, amazwi abo kunye nezinto ezisondeleleneyo nababafazi abalibaleka lula kwimibhalo namaxwebhu agcina inkcubeko yoluntu. Uvimba wembali, njengesisekelo senkumbulo ngembali, lunamandla okuchaza intsingiselo nexabiso lwabo kubhalwe ngabo. UHartman uyawazi lamandla kwaye uyenza ngebom into yokuqwalasela ababantu abangahoyekanga, abathathe abenyuse isidima ukuze banganyamalali “emthunzini wobukhoboka”.
For Hartman, the turn of the twentieth century is significant as it signals a period when “young black women were in open rebellion”Hartman, p. xiii.. This rebellion was signalled by the restlessness inherent in the actions of these women, their radical refusal to live the lives of servitude prescribed for them, and their loving in open, queer and generous ways. She insists on viewing young black women as “sexual modernists, free lovers, radicals, and anarchists”Hartman, p. xv., while understanding that this insistence on being was countered with a violent pushback. These “surplus women”, the “wayward” or those “often described as promiscuous, reckless, wild” intimately experienced violence, through arrest, sexual assault, surveillance, racial profiling and confinement. Yet, they made life – and love – even in this zone of death.
I-20th century ibalulekile kuHartman ngoba isibonisa ixesha apho abafazi abancinci abamnyama babenemvukelo. Lemvukelo babeyibonisa ngokungafuni ukusebenza njengezicaka emizini yabelungu nangokungafihli ukuthandana nabantu besini esinye. UHartman uyasinyanzela ukuba sibabone ababafazi bamnyama njengabantu ababekhululekile kwiimeko zothando nokuthandana, ababengafuni ukuphathwa nababesenza izinto ngendlela eyahlukileyo, kodwa uyayiqonda into yokuba lendlela babeziphethe ngayo yayibuyiselwa ngobundlobongela kubo. Ababafazi baziintsalela, abangaqeqeshekanga, okanye abo bangabambekiyo, abangakhathaliyo babephatheke ndlongondlongo, bebanjwa, behlukunyezwa, belandelwa futhi becinezelekile. Kodwa, babephila, bethandana, nangona babephila endaweni efana nokufa.
The book begins with Hartman describing, in painstaking detail, the world these women occupied. The slum. The ghetto. The Negro quarter. The verse echoes Frantz Fanon’s lucid description of the “native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation” in the colonial context Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin Books, 2001, p. 30.. The place which resembles still, acrid green water. Too filthy to occupy, but always buzzing with activity. We are shown black-and-white images of the slum, alleys, cramped up rooms and portraits.
Lencwadi iqala ngoHartman esichazela kabanzi ngelizwe ebabephila kulo ababafazi. Ilokishi okanye ingingqi eyakhelwe abangathathi ntweni. Indawo uFrantz Fanon awayibiza ngenginqi eyakhelwe abantu abamnyama, isixeko sabantu abamnyama. Indawo efana nqwa namanzi aluhlaza amdaka ame ngxi. Indawo engcolileyo, kodwa soloko inabantu. Lencwadi isibonisa iifoto zezindawo, kunye nabantu ababephila kuzo.
In one portrait, a naked black girl poses on a sofa. Without a name to locate her, Hartman recreates her world, narrates the possibilities and circumstances that landed her there, and explains the weight the image carries in speaking to experiences of black women’s bodies being open for sexual coercion and violation. “Looking at the photograph, one wonders if she had ever been a child”, Hartman writesHartman, p. 29.. But, the luxury of childhood is one not afforded black children. Young black girls are deemed not deserving of protection, they are property “intended for public use”Hartman, p. 26.. Her pose in a Grande Odalisque-like manner gives the impression that she consented to the image being taken. But Hartman poses the piercing question, “[h]ow does she consent to coercion?” What is made evident here, is that this kind of violence was necessary and a routine feature of life after slavery. It normalised the frequent encounters Blacks had with death. Blackness existing in a “space of negation” meant, and indeed continues to mean, “Black life as it is lived near death, as deathliness”Christina Sharpe, In the wake: on Blackness and being, Duke University Press, 2016, p. 8..
Kwenye yezifoto siboniswa intombazana eze eleli esofeni. Igama lalentombazana alifumaneki, lonto yenze uHartman azame ukucinga ngokokutsha ilizwe eyayiphila kulo. Uzama ukucinga nokufumanisa ukuba ufike njani phaya, aphinde acacise ngomthwalo othwelwe ngabafazi abamnyama ngoba imizimba yabo kulula ukuba ixhatshazwe ngokwesondo. Uthi uHartman, “xa ujonge lefoto, uyacinga ukuba ingaba wake wangumntana na lo”. Kodwa, makungalityalwa ukuba abantwana abamnyama ababazi ubumnandi nobuncwane bobuntwana. Amantombazane amnyama abonwa njengabantu ekungafanelekanga ukuba bakhuselwe, bangabantu abavulekileyo abangahlukunyezwa nangubani na esidlangalaleni. Lentombazana ihleli ingathi ikwiGrande Odalisque, lonto yenze ibengathi uvumile ukufotwa. Kodwa, uHartman ubuza umbuzo obalulekileyo, “uvuma njani umntu onyazelweyo?” Into esiyiboniswayo apha kukuba ubundlobongela babuqhelekile, kwaye babuyinxalenye yobomi ebabuphilwa emva kokupheliswa kobukhoboka. Obubundlobongela bubo obenze kwaqheleka ukufa kwabantu abamnyama. Lemeko ithetha ukuthi impilo yomntu omnyama ihleli ingqangwe kukufa. Ngamanye amagama, Ubomi babantu abamnyama bubomi obusekelwe ekufeni, okanye obubiza ukufa.
Hartman further explores the blurred lines associated with gender for the blacks existing in the afterlife of slavery. What did it mean to be a woman? What did it mean to be a man? What did it mean to be a black woman and what did it mean to be a black man? Furthermore, what did it mean to occupy a black body that obliterated all the lines associated with womanhood and/or manhood? What did it mean for your body to spill-over boundaries, moving to terrains which are grotesque in the white imagination of acceptable gender norms? Could black women be called women? Hartman explains:
Enye yezinto azihlolayo uHartman kukungacaci kwemigca eyahlulahlula ngokwesini kubantu abamnyama ababephila emva kopheliswa kobukhoboka. Kwakuthetha ukuthini ukuba ngumfazi? Kwakuthetha ukuthini ukuba yindoda? Kwakuthetha ukuthini ukuba ngumfazi omnyama, kwaye kwakuthetha ukuthini ukuba yindoda emnyama? Ngapha koko, kwakuthetha ukuthini ukuphila nomzimba otshabalalisa yonke imigca enxulumene nobufazi okanye ubudoda? Kwakuthetha ukuthini ukubanomzimba ogqitha ngaphaya kwemida, ophumela kwiindawo ezonyanyekayo ezingcingeni zabelungu abanendlela enye abamnkela ngayo isini? UHartman uyacacisa:
“It was obvious that gender as a category was not elastic enough to encompass the radical differences in the lived experience of black and white women… Half a woman announced the black female’s failure to realize the aspirations or meet the benchmark of humanity.”Hartman, p. 184.
“Kwakucace gca ukuba isini njengendlela yokwehlula abantu sasingafikeleli kwaye singakwazi ukucacisa ngendlela ezahlukeneyo zokuphila phakathi kwabafazi abamnyama nabamhlophe… Umfazi ongagqibelelanga yayiyindlela yokuveza ukusilela kwabafazi abamnyama ekubeni ngabantu ncam.”
Black women’s labor also signalled a shift in the constitution of black households. Unlike white women, black women were taxed, paid a pittance and they were bread winners. And, unlike white women, as Hartman clarifies:
“black women’s labor was treated as if they were men, inaugurating a centuries-long crisis about the status of black women’s work and their deviation from gender norms… The failure to comply with or achieve gender norms would define black life; and this “ungendering” inevitably marked black women (and men) as less than human.”Hartman, p. 186.
Intsebenzo yabafazi abamnyama nayo yaveza utshintsho kumgaqo siseko yokwakhiwa kwemizi emnyama. Abafazi abamnyama babengafani nabafazi babelungu, ngoba bona babebhatala irhafu, berhola kancinci kakhulu kwaye yayingabo bodwa abondlayo. Futhi, uHartman uyasixelela ukuba babengafani nabelungukazi ngoba:
“Ngempangelo, abafazi abamnyama babephethwe ngohlobo olunye njengamadoda amnyama, lonto yaqalisa intlekele yamakhulu eminyaka kwaye yenza abafazi abamnyama baphume endleleni yobufazi obuqhelekileyo… Okukusilela ekubeni ngabafazi abagqibeleleyo yabayindlela izinto ezingalo ezimpilweni zabamnyama. Okukuxhwithwa kwesini kwenza abafazi (namadoda) amanyama babukeke bengengobantu ngokupheleleyo.”
There is something oddly familiar about the delicate stories Hartman narrates. Whether it is the packed to beyond capacity slums where stench, romance, murder, love, harassment and procreation all danced in disturbing harmony, or the familiar picture of mother and children dancing in their tiny living-room, oblivious, even if for a split-second, to the dangers that lie beyond the frame of the door. They are a reminder of Cynthia Joni, the domestic worker who was beaten up by a white man in Kenilworth, Cape Town because he thought she was a prostitute. Or the homeless transwomen sex workers in Woodstock, Cape Town who face exclusion from labour, education, healthcare and housing. Or of Phumza Pita, who was shot in the face by a police officer after she questioned the conduct of the police when shutting down a drinking spot in New Crossroads, Cape Town.
Kukho into eqhelekileyo ngalamabali abaliswa nguHart kulencwadi. Noba uthetha ngeendawo zokuhlala eziphuphumalayo ngabantu apho ivumba elibi, ezothando, ukubulalana, uthando, ukuhlukunyezwa kunye nokwenziwa kwabantwana kudibana ngendlela epholileyo, okanye wenza umzekelo womama odanisa nabantwana endlini yabo encinci, belibele ngobungozi obungaphandle kwendlu. Lamabali asikhumbuza ngoCynthia Joni, owayesebenza amakhitshini eKenilworth, eKapa, owabethwa yindoda yomlungu awayengayazi isithi imbethela kuba icinga uthengisa ngomzimba. Okanye abafazi ababezelwe bengamadoda baseWoodstock abahlala estratweni abathengisa ngomzimba abavinjwa amathuba omsebenzi, imfundo, iinkonzo zempilo kunye nezindlu. Okanye uPhumza Pita waseNew Crossroads, eKapa owadutyulwa ebusweni ngamapolisa emva kokuba wabuza kutheni bengqwabalala xa bevala indawo yentselo awayekuyo.
The awareness of black life being lived near or as death never escapes the narration. It is a sharp blade that reawakens the senses, even as one relaxes at the pleasure of reading about black women owning their sexualities, bodies, labor, love. This addition to Saidiya Hartman’s repertoire is priceless.
Ulwazi lokubona ubomi bomntu omnyama bubomi obuphilwa nokufa, okanye ecaleni kokufa, akaluphunculi uHartman kulencwadi yakhe. Lencwadi ifana nemela ebukhali ekuvusa ulele ngenxeba elinzulu kanye ngoku ubusewusiva kamnandi xa ufunda ngabafazi abamnyama ababeziphethe ngokwesondo, ababephethe imizimba yabo, intsebenzo yabo kunye nothando lwabo. Lencwadi yongeza kwezinye ezibhalwe nguHartman ezinemfundiso enzulu.
|1.||Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, Serpent’s Tail, 2019, p. 17.|
|2.||Hartman, p. xiii.|
|3.||Hartman, p. xv.|
|4.||Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin Books, 2001, p. 30.|
|5.||Hartman, p. 29.|
|6.||Hartman, p. 26.|
|7.||Christina Sharpe, In the wake: on Blackness and being, Duke University Press, 2016, p. 8.|
|8.||Hartman, p. 184.|
|9.||Hartman, p. 186.|