Words are things

Words are things

*Gcobani Qambela

I just cannot believe how fast this year went by. I am not even halfway through my list of things that I wanted to accomplish by the end of the year. Like any other year, this one had its highs, but definitely also followed with its own lows. When the lows came, boy did they come en masse, but I have been overwhelmed with the support I got from friends, colleagues and family.

Earlier in the year I attended the British Council’s Euro-Africa summit, and one of the things that we had to do was a sketch on different topics, and my groups was assigned with “Stereotypes on Africa”. I had an epiphany while we rehearsed and brainstormed ideas about what we would say on the topic and how we would act it out.

It hit me! While often the focus is on the physical effects of colonialism in Africa, the psychological penetration of colonialism had been just as brutal. Words and language used by the colonisers was essential to their colonisation of Africa. Colonisers telling us as Africans that we are inadequate, bringing out ‘scientific’ papers confirming our primitiveness or various other studies confirming the coarse and uncontrollable sexual appetites of black women and men … all of this at the heart had words at the centre and was deeply instrumental in affecting the psyche of Africans.

I love what Dr. Maya Angelou says in her powerful Master Class that:

Words are things. I’m convinced. You must be careful about the words you use, or the words you allow to be used in your house. In the Old Testament we’re told in Genesis that, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God, and the word was with God.” That’s in Genesis. Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we will be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you

I have had a lot of time to think deeply about this throughout the year both on a professional and personal level, as I watched friends build me up on my most devastating days with words, and yet also using words to call me into order where I have erred. Professionally, this is also my last year in the BLF editorial and words have been instrumental and at the heart of what we do. It is amazing watching thoughts come to life in the form of words. This year we focused a lot on getting younger contributors who do not have much experience writing and decided to mentor them through the process of writing. Watching them when their articles are finally up, and the happiness and no doubt confidence boost, made the often tiresome work worthwhile.

Gcobani Qambela is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF Contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here.

Gcobani Qambela

Gcobani Qambela is a Graduate Student in South Africa with an interest in African masculinities, HIV/AIDS research and public health in general.

One Response to Words are things

  1. A while back I found myself meditating about “words”. I was reminded of my own thoughts and decided to share with you what I had written (in prose that could qualify as poetry but perhaps not as would be approved by my English teacher)!

    Sometimes I express myself in silence and through observation.
    Other times I express myself through laughter and dance.
    And the rest of the time I express myself gladly in words.
    Yet words have proven to be unreliable and unfaithful to thee:
    They flatter and condemn even when my intentions are pure;
    They delight and confuse even when my mind is filled with clarity;
    They heal and injure even when I purposefully leave them unspoken in my heart.
    Words, you are a double-edged sword that tantalises and taunts my existence.
    You are a lifetime friend and foe that truly defines my essence.
    So, I will never turn my back on you – the colourful ink of my soul.
    For you give life and spirit to the (im)potency of my expression.

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