Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has advocated for writing in African languages because how relevant is African literature if we write not in our native tongues but in the language of the White man? While I have my own opinion on this line of thought, the other subjects of discussion that come up after the former are conversations surrounding which audience African writers cater to? Is immigrant literature African and how much of Africa is projected in these stories that are told predominantly from the West? Even bigger is how an African writer gets published and who decides what goes into their story so that if publishers wield so much influence and power, then it goes to say that if an African writer publishes in the West, then the Western publisher naturally owns and determines what or how certain parts of the African story gets put across,
that is if it does get put across in its entirety. As we all know, the West has written Africa’s story in multiple ways and continues to impose suggest ways they deem fit on us. By extension, I remain curious about how influential Africans push certain messages and how such messages, in turn, get interpreted by other African minds.
Chimamanda Adichie questions why Hillary Clinton decides to place ‘Wife‘ before her other titles on her Twitter bio. I stare at this screenshot and I edit thought after thought after thought. First of all, why can’t she self-describe as a Wife? Wouldn’t that be her sole prerogative? Second, I want to know more about why Chimamanda is engaging with Hillary. Not that she can’t, but really, what is this about and if it is about what I suspect it is, then how many more African women are waiting or wanting to engage with Chimamanda who haven’t yet had the chance? (Refer to previous thought about who the new African writer’s target audience really is) What I believe though, from listening to Chimamanda speak countlessly is that she is suggesting that Hillary’s self-description as a Wife negates her other accomplishments. Chimamanda admits being slightly upset at seeing Wife in the fore of Hillary’s other bio descriptions. In this interview, Chimamanda further admits checking Bill Clinton’s Twitter to confirm if he describes first of all as husband.
Outside an African writer engaging with a non-African which I am in no way saying is wrong because of course everyone is entitled to their choices, I am more concerned about this concept of feminism and how individuals feel the deep-seated need to
impose suggest views on/to others. I maintain that this concept is not a one size fits all and neither is it a term that Africans should embrace while thinking oh my God, I just discovered something surreal. Good news is that before precolonial times, while Europe’s women were still disenfranchised, African women were leaders in their communities, serving as heads of state, queen mothers, queen sisters, chiefs, female husbands, warriors, and contributing to their economies, through substantial work. Your mom is probably the best example of what feminism means to you. Yet, the West and more recently influential and often Western-trained Africans feel the need to repeat that hey, our ways are the best, take this tag called feminism as it is all you need to make all your outdated attempts official. It sounds almost as if someone would walk to my grandma and tell her ‘hey mama, this Vibranium in my hand is the key that will make you a better woman’.
Western scholarship on African gender relations has reduced the dynamics surrounding husband and wife relationships to that of a hierarchical one. Wives and women have been depicted as subordinates. While this may be true, more relevant is the fact that this view is Western because this has not necessarily been the case in Africa. Historically and till date. What the truth is, is that in some African societies, social hierarchy is not necessarily dependent on gender but rather on age. Africans know that an older sister or elderly woman is always able to gain the respect of her younger brother or even a random male passerby regardless of his sex. For this reason, questions such as the relevance of being a wife or not and if one must place it before or after their accolades (coming from an African) are ones that reaffirm Western ideology and further reflect that we as Africans still cling to whatever story or precepts have been written for and about us. While feminism is a great concept, it also rests on the recurrent motif of liberation for women. With this in mind, one wonders exactly what the aim of a question of why a personal choice to place Wife before other accolades will be. If a human deems it fit to self-describe as Wife above other achievements, so be it, who said being a Wife and feminist are mutually exclusive? Wife, as defined in the African socio-cultural context, can either be a female who is married to the family of her husband, in that sense, she is a Wife, their Wife, and she can be called thus by either male or female member of her husband’s family without it being language that is in anyway derogatory or implicitly suggestive of possession or ownership, it may simply even in most cases be a term of endearment or a demonstration that the family accepts her totally as a member of their family. In the West though, where concepts are generally more legally than socially interpreted, a Wife is simply and more narrowly, the woman a man legally lives with as a lifelong partner. From these two definitions, we see that different spaces have different conceptions of ideas.
While progressive movements are helpful, let us be critical of how and why we adapt concepts. After we do that, let us subjectively interpret it for ourselves according to our specific contexts. Then after that, let us endeavor not to
impose suggest what we believe is right on/for others. Chimamanda suggests to Hillary that she wishes her bio would rather be preceded by should’ve been a damn good president rather than Wife.
If the issue is with Hillary placing Wife first, this can be looked at differently. From a position of strength, this fore mention of Wife can be interpreted to mean that as a woman, you can achieve it all without having to deal with the all-or-nothing mentality that society often drums in our heads as Hillary herself states quite clearly. Women can be ambitious and career driven and still be Wives or succeed in their romantic ventures if they meet supportive humans (being that heterosexual relationships do not necessarily define our times) who share the same values as they do. Maybe listen to Alicia Keys’ SuperWoman again.
Barack placed dad on his bio above everything else. While his and Michelle’s has been a presidency that has humanized the White House the most largely by its depiction of the intimacy of its family set up, his use of dad, I believe has more to do with the contradiction of the usual perception of Black fathers’ absence in the lives of their children in America. Ultimately, there is always a reason, and our concepts aren’t the primus inter pares of what the world needs to do, a word to the West and influential Africans.