What is a “Real Man?”

November 2, 2014

Due to shifts in public funding in South Africa, with many other funding avenues exhausted, for the first time in a long time, Beth Uriel is truly facing closure before even the year end. Beth Uriel has supported countless young men in their journey from boys to men, and it would be a travesty to see them close their doors. I wrote this piece to support their REAL MAN campaign, created to help drum-up financial support and general awareness around the issues they work with on a daily basis.

Hypocritical Halloween

One night in 2008, like many of my fondest nights spent in Cape Town, I was sitting around with a group of friends, enjoying food, laughter, and communion. Halloween was quickly approaching and, though I don’t know how we arrived at that very moment, my friend Lindsay―manager and head social worker at Beth Uriel―dared me to go as a fairy for Halloween. Without thought, I agreed.

Though I rarely turn down a fun dare, both Lindsay and I knew it wouldn’t even take something as formal as a dare to get me to dress as a fairy, on any night, much less Halloween. Dressing as a fairy was really inconsequential to me, especially considering my past. I grew up constantly playing dress-up―also involving every friend and family member I could coerce into dressing-up in some random costume I had made―and my childhood pictures are hard evidence of that fact. I would say I am dressed in some costume that I had made or acquired in approximately three out of five of my childhood photographs―cheetahs, robots, ballerinas, chickens, clowns, cowboys, flappers, monsters, Paula Abdul’s backup dancers, punks, miscellaneous unidentifiable people and creatures, and beyond.

As a kid, I never felt any more or less “masculine” dressed as a clown or cowboy or princess. I just liked dressing-up. My mom still tells stories of how one of my favorite parts of playing baseball was getting dressed-up in the uniform, making sure every piece of apparel was perfectly in place, including ensuring that my batting gloves hung out of my back pants’ pocket in the most perfect and stylish way, a type of behavior our sexist socialization might consider “sissy” or “effeminate” or “wrong.” At the time, I―maybe innocently―didn’t see it that way. I just wanted to look good.

I was never a “normal” boy. I am not a “normal” man. I was, and am, just me.

So, on Halloween of 2008, I joined my Beth Uriel family members―some who went as a Flower, an Angel, Cotton Candy, a Tahitian Purple People Eating Bird, Dwight K. Schrute, and a Piece of Bubblegum Stuck to the Bottom of a Shoe―dressed as a fairy and we went out trick-or-treating around Cape Town. Like most Beth Uriel outings, we had a blast that night. Though many people were completely unfazed by my costume, it was interesting to see different people’s reactions to me dressed as a fairy, many who projected their own fears onto me. Whether well-intentioned or not, many of the comments I received reminded me of Toni Morrison saying, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”

“Oh no! Why?!”

“Wow. That’s brave,” with a hint of disapproval.

“That’s gay!”

“Are you doing this for LGBTQ rights?”

“Men aren’t supposed to dress like fairies!”

“That’s awesome,” with a condescending shake of the head.

“But really, why are you dressed like a fairy?”


Whether they realized it or not, most people’s comments said more about them than they did about me. I was just dressed as a fairy, and though I was not ignorant enough to think that there would be no reaction, I didn’t really care what people thought about it. I just wanted to be a fairy for the night, no strings attached. As I said, definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.

Halloween has historically been a hypocritical time, where we seem to have no problem with little girls dressing as boy characters, but completely lose our minds when little boys want to go as girl characters. Just this weekend, my social media newsfeeds were flooded with images of little trick-or-treaters, many of whom were little girls dressed as this season’s most popular guy characters. I even saw a picture of Jay Z and Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy dressed―looking flawless, I might add―as the late Michael Jackson. I didn’t see one single comment in protest to them dressing her as a male icon. However, I could only imagine the uproar that would have occurred if Blue was a boy, and they would have dressed him up as Janet Jackson. And some people reading this would quickly retort, “That’s different!”

But really, apart from our skewed sexist socialization, apart from the fact that at some point people randomly decided certain fabrics and colors should be worn by certain types of people, what is the difference?

Well, the difference is we live in a society where sexism and misogyny warp the way we see things. We wrongly equate masculinity with strength and femininity with weakness. We use phrases like, “You throw like a girl,” as an insult, rather than taking it as a complementary comparison to someone like Mo’Ne Davis. We don’t recognize patriarchy and sexism as institutionalized systems of domination, and we don’t understand how the very society in which we live is still controlled by those dominator values. We often blame female rape victims for how they dressed or presented themselves, rather than blaming the rapist. We are convinced that street harassment many women endure is “no big deal,” and they should “take it as a compliment.” Our misogyny runs deep. And for these reasons, and more, we often have difficulty defining what a “real man” is.

What is a “Real Man?”

When Beth Uriel family members reached out to me to write a piece for their REAL MAN campaign, with the prompt, “A REAL man is…” I must admit my mind was flooded with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. For many individuals, it is difficult to separate the idea of a “real man” from our hypermasculine, misogynistic, sexist, patriarchal socialization of “what it means to be a man.” In popular culture, “a real man” has usually resembled a muscular, tough, dumb, burping, farting, chauvinistic, beer-drinking, sports-playing, womanizing, nincompoop. We have seen this image of a “real man” repeated over and over again. I, for one, do not buy-into, or fit into, that stereotype of the “real man.” Still, though I have a deep awareness of what it means to be a “real man” to me, I struggled to find the words to describe it.

Alas, I consider myself a feminist and many of my best examples of what it means to be a “real man” came from women―two things that a hypermasculine “alpha male” would use as reason for the immediate revoking of my “man card,” though I don’t remember ever signing up for one, or even desiring owning such a thing. Some of the strongest, bravest, toughest people I know are women. Likewise, some of the “realest” of men I have known do not fit into the hypermasculine stereotype of what our society has determined it means to “be a man.” That is not to say that I haven’t known “real men” who do, in fact, fit into that stereotype of the hypermasculine man―I simply will not let patriarchal values limit my definition of what it means to be a “real man” by that shallow, constrictive archetype of a “man.”

Patriarchy is no different than any other institutionalized system of domination―it was actively and intentionally created, and it must be actively and intentionally deconstructed. It is oppressive, causing both the oppressors and the oppressed to live in different forms of bondage. Unfortunately, just like with other institutionalized systems of domination (imperialism, white-supremacy, capitalism, etc.), there is an ignorance and denial that comes with those who benefit from the system. As James Baldwin put it, “They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” And until we are completely released from it, we will continue to perpetuate sexist ideas of “what it means to be a man.”

In her book Feminism is for Everybody, feminist, academic, and author bell hooks defines feminism as simply, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” In the same work she laments, “Often the only alternative to patriarchal masculinity presented by feminist movement or the men’s movement was a vision of becoming more ‘feminine.’ The ides of the feminine that was evoked emerged from sexist thinking and did not represent an alternative to it. What is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis of identity.” This vision of masculinity that bell hooks speaks of is possibly the beginning of what it means to be a “real man”―for an individual to have the courage, strength, self-esteem, and self-love to base his identity on his unique being, who he really is, rather than trying to create an identity rooted in, and fitting into, the societal pressures and stereotypes of “what it means to be a man.”

Nonetheless, I think that definition of being a “real man” has less to do with being a “real man” and more to do with being a real human.

 A REAL man is…

With all of that said, asking what it means to be a “real man” can be as daunting of a query as asking what  means to be “human.” Assuredly, each individual person finds different purpose and meaning in life, in being human. Being a “real man” can look as vast and different and unique as each and every individual man inhabiting the earth. In my experience, from people I have known and loved, here are some examples―including but not limited to―of what it means to be a “real man.”

A real man has a deep understanding that we do not live in isolation from one another, that we are not here by chance or coincidence, and has a deep awareness of how we perpetually co-create each other―living with the knowledge of Ubuntu: I am what I am because of who we all are.

A real man makes himself aware of injustices taking place around him, and activates himself in a fight against them.

A real man stands up for what is right, even if he is the only one standing.

A real man knows when to speak and knows when to listen.

A real man knows how to love.

A real man is compassionate and empathetic.

A real man lives with a sense of purpose.

A real man is responsible and takes responsibility for his actions.

A real man wholeheartedly laughs and unashamedly cries whenever he feels like it.

A real man has the courage, self-esteem, and self-love to be the unique individual he really is.

A real man lives in the realty that he can shape and mold society, rather than trying to fit into the confining mold society might try to put him in.

A real man plays ball with his daughter or his son, braids his daughter’s hair, dances with his son―sees his children as unique individuals and helps and encourages them grow more and more into who they really are, to pursue their individual talents and gifts.

A real man is a doctor, nurse, teacher, lawyer, lumberjack, ballerina, drag queen, seamstress, chef―a real man is proudly whoever he really is.

Beth Uriel

Since its inception, Beth Uriel has been a part of molding, shaping, and mentoring uncountable numbers real men. One of the things I appreciate most about Lindsay and Beth Uriel’s leadership is that they really get to the heart of who the Beth Uriel family members are, encouraging them to boldly and unapologetically be the very best versions of themselves, and no one else. I have seen all types of young men enter and exit the doors of Beth Uriel―and there are so many more I have not witnessed―and one common thing remains, those young men were given the opportunity to grow in, and even discover for the first time, who they really are. They were supported and encouraged to be brave enough to discover what it meant to be a “real man” in their unique, individual narrative.  The young men of Beth Uriel have become social workers, models, butchers, soldiers, actors, chefs, singers, nurses, and more. They have been challenged not to live up to or fit into stereotypes of what it means to be a “real man,” but to be radical enough to create a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of their unique being forms the basis of their identity. They are and were encouraged to be “real men,” whatever that means to them.

To learn more about the REAL MAN campaign that supports the amazing work of Beth Uriel, visit their website:


Share, nominate a REAL MAN, and donate!


A Piece of Hate Cake…

April 18, 2012

When I saw the Swedish minstrel cake fiasco this morning, I literally could not believe my eyes. It was one of the most disturbing things I have seen in a while. It was so completely offensive, on so many different levels. And then, of course, people’s responses to it online added to the offense, many trying to excuse the racist act by saying the “artist was a black man”, as if that makes it any better. It’s inexcusable.

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, pictures and videos have emerged from a tax-funded, Swedish World Art Day party that took place on Saturday, where the Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, performed a clitoridectomy on a cake negatively depicting a black African woman in a minstrelesque-type way. Apparently, this piece of “modern performance art” done by Makode Aj Linde was made to raise awareness of the plight of female circumcision in Africa. At best, it tragically made a mockery of the cause, and managed to stir up outrage and pain that has been inflicted on African women for hundreds of years.

Putting aside the racist overtones for a moment, it does not take a genius to realize that not only did this event bring absolutely nothing positive to the plight of female circumcision, it went further, adding insult to injury, by the negative depiction of the African female. It made me sick to my stomach to watch the artist, with his actual head (in black face) connected to the cake, pseudo-screaming as people cut into the body of the cake. The jolly faces, laughing, and enjoyment of the party-goers do not reflect people who are aware of the seriousness of genital mutilation. As a matter of fact, they seem to be having a great time, and enjoying some cake. This brings the level of disturbance up a notch for me. Watch the video for yourself:

Not only did the alleged “message” of the “performance art” completely miss the mark, but the cake in and of itself was a repulsively racist minstrel parody of an African woman. It reminded me of the 1800s, when Saartjie Baartman was stolen from South Africa and taken to Europe as a sideshow spectacle. Europeans, young and old, paid money to gawk, point, gasp, laugh and jeer at Saartjie’s naked body, exhibiting features the white people were not accustomed to. Saartjie was dehumanized and humiliated for the entertainment and enjoyment of others. And of course Saartjie was unfortunately not the only one subjected to this inhumane treatment, as the tradition of “black mockery for white entertainment” went on for hundreds of years, even taking different shapes and forms.

I imagine the Europeans who gawked at Saartjie Baartman looked very similar to the faces found in the crowd of Swedish cultural elite, as Liljeroth, the self-proclaimed “anti-racist”, feeds the “African” a piece of her very own body; smiles, laughter, camaraderie, and not one single look of protest, disgust, or opposition.

Arguments that “the artist is black, and that makes it alright”, or that “performance art is an extreme medium known for shock factor” are outlandishly absurd. The people who say things like that act as though things are being blown out of proportion, “It’s performance art. What’s the big deal?!” I suppose a generation of people raised in an intrinsically racist system, where even Bugs Bunny occasionally dressed up in minstrel black face, have trouble seeing the harm in this. Photographer and activist Dwayne Rodgers tweeted, “The big problem is the “right” everyone seems to have to play with very painful images of Black people.”

I wonder what the response would be if photographs and videos emerged of a group of Germans laughing and eating whilst standing around a Holocaust victim cake. I think people would be a little offended, to say the least. I suspect total outrage would be more like it. And if the person who baked the cake was Jewish, would that make it any more okay or right? Of course not! Because there is history there, and it would be completely insensitive to even imagine such a thing.

I’m not sure what is more disheartening to me, the fact that preposterous racist occurrences like this continue to happen in these modern times, or the fact that so many people are so quick to defend them, seemingly wanting to hold on to that “right” that Dwayne Rodgers speaks of. As if a Minister of Culture taking part in something like this isn’t bad enough, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth herself has tried to justify, rationalize and make excuses by saying that the event is being “misinterpreted”. Right. Sigh. Liljeroth’s out of touch, “let them eat cake” mentality is ironic to say the least.

Guns and Words, and Words About Guns…

February 19, 2012

You know it’s time to vote for a new president when Facebook is overrun with political banter. Statuses, pictures, posts, articles, videos, and other forms of cyber-soapboxing flood my newsfeed, stretching from the left to right. Pro-life, pro-choice, homophobes, gay rights, small government, big government, healthcare this, healthcare that, tax the rich, lockup the poor…oh, and yes, guns, guns, guns. Many Americans, especially Southerners, love their Second Amendment Right to Bear arms, and some take it very seriously.

Not this kind of bear arms.

Growing up in the American South I was exposed to my fair share of guns as a kid. Back then I thought they were cool. My neighbor and I were always building forts in the backyard and shooting imaginary enemies with plastic guns. My Great Uncle was an FBI agent so he would bring special edition, FBI issued guns on family vacation and let me shoot them; couldn’t get much cooler to a kid like me. My grandpa had an old GMC Jimmy that he would drive out to his “Lake Land”, and he velcroed  a sawed-off shotgun to the dashboard. Talk about Southern swag.

As a teenager one of my good friends had a bunch of guns, and we would always go out and shoot them. We also made homemade bombs, but that’s another story for another day. Around that same time my fourteen-year-old neighbor took his own life with a shotgun. It was devastating for this small town, to say the least. To this very day my eyes get teary if I think about it for too long. At the time I didn’t blame the presence of a legally owned gun. I blamed Kurt Cobain.

It’s easy to shift the blame, to avoid painful feelings, when someone’s life is taken by a gun that was meant to protect the family, most especially if it is a young person’s life; Kurt Cobain, video games, Slipknot, rap music, movies, anything that takes away from the fact that the gun was readily there and available for use. However, no matter how we spin it, guns are used to take life; that is their sole purpose. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007 due to suicide. That’s sobering.

Of course, nonfatal gun accidents also happen. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, there were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000. Also pretty crazy. Tons of Americans get maimed and killed by guns every year. But the Second Amendment supporters adamantly swear that guns are not only a right, but a necessity; mostly for three things: hunting, to protect the family, and to be ready to rise up against the government.

Ok, I get the hunting one. Now, with all the guns I’ve fired, the only things I’ve ever shot were tin cans and impromptu targets. I’ve never been hunting. The only thing I’ve done that’s even close to hunting was when I was about eleven. I got a new BB Gun, and I decided I was going to go out and “hunt me a squirrel”. I stalked the neighborhood varmints, and eventually got one in my sight. I carefully aimed and fired my weapon. The little BB went flying through the air and BOOM! My first shot connected with the squirrel’s skull.

My squirrel victim immediately began convulsing and jumped from the telephone pole it was on to the electrical wires. It twitched, and flipped, and freaked out as it tried to run across the wire, until it jumped to a tree, bounced off, and fell to the ground. It laid there for a few seconds, twitched some more, convulsed a lot more, and then jumped up, running off in a twitchy manner. I felt so bad, and so guilty. If I’m honest, I almost cried. So, yep! That was the end of my hunting career. But I know that many people love hunting, and like I said, I get it. I’m not against it. It’s just not for me.

That brings me to the “protecting the family” argument. Valuing family as I do, I also “get” this one. I don’t necessarily agree with the argument though. Many illegally-owned guns are guns that were stolen from legal gun-owners’ homes. I’m not saying that’s right, or ok, but it’s true. Also, in my life, I have heard far more stories of people (and their family members) being injured or killed by their own guns, than I have about people who have been able to protect their families with them. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying I haven’t heard many, if any, of those stories.

Living in South Africa for ten years, especially doing the work I did (working with youth at risk), I was confronted with violence of different forms on a daily basis. Guns were one of those forms. I’ve had guns held to my head. I’ve driven through gunfire. I’ve heard gunshots from my home. I’ve taken a gun out of a cop’s hand when he was misusing it, abusing a child. I’ve seen gangsters joke around and play with loaded guns. I’ve also lost a great deal of people who I cared a great deal about to gun violence, and the vast majority of them were kids. And all of those deaths were brought by illegally owned guns; illegally owned guns that were meant to be in the hands of a legal gun owner. For a Second Amendment advocate, this may be even more evidence as to why they need a gun to protect their family. But for me, the more guns that are out there, the more people die, period.

Then we have the “we need guns to protect ourselves from the government or rise up against it” argument. Ok, this is the one I get the least. It made sense when America was first colonized, and the average man wore a wig; when the biggest weapon was a cannon, and bullets were little balls and it took a couple of minutes to reload a gun. But, in these modern-day times, with all due respect, do people really and truly believe they are going to be able to rise up against the government with handguns, and/or even legally owned automatic weapons? The government has tanks, and planes, and helicopters, and missiles, and nuclear weapons. So yeah, even with a barn full of guns, unfortunately, if we were to have to protect ourselves from the government, I’m pretty sure we’d be screwed…like, overwhelmingly so.

I know those people disagree with me. That’s ok. My main point is this, I hate guns. I really, really do. And these are all just my views. I don’t expect you to believe them with me, and I’m not trying to convince you to either. I’m just sharing them. The amendment I value more than the Second Amendment is the First Amendment: the freedom of speech. I think words are much more powerful than guns. Because when all is said in done, it is words that start wars and bring peace. Some of the most revolutionary people of our time used non-violence and words to combat violence they were confronted with; ironically, many of those very people’s lives were taken by guns.

But what is more powerful? The fact that someone, arrogant enough to believe that they have the right to take life they cannot create nor give back, is able to pull a trigger, from a distance, and kill a person? Or the fact that the words of that murdered person will forever live on, beyond their grave, and continue to speak powerfully and bring life, even after death? I would go with the latter of the two. Sure, guns have been used to protect life, but they cannot bring it, or give it back. And although misused words can bring death, words used in the right way, for the good, can literally shape, form and bring life into any situation, even if the person who speak’s them is killed by a bullet to the head. So yeah, paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, word beats gun.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

What Racism?

January 16, 2012

This has been one of the strangest years of my life, living in the U.S. after ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. I could write a million different blogs, with a million different angles on this year alone, but for now, I’ll keep it focused. I want to talk about racism. And I figured Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a good day to do it.

Of course, in my ten years of living in South Africa, especially in the circles I moved in, I was confronted with racism on, pretty much, a daily basis. You could say it was one of the underlying “themes” of my life in Cape Town, that impacted most, if not all, of the situations I found myself in, whether it was acknowledged or not. One might say that would be “expected” in South Africa, only coming out of Apartheid in 1994. But we know South Africa does not hold the copyright to racism, and it is a global issue. This last year living in America, I haven’t been able to get the topic and existence of racism off my mind. It seems to have settled in there, and refuses to leave until I hear its plea; like the plight of anti-racism’s very own Occupy Protest, taking place in my brain. So, I’ve been listening.

One thing I’ve taken note of is how much racism plays a role in day-to-day American life, whether covert, overt, systemic, or what have you. It’s here, and it’s ugly. Another thing I’ve taken note of is how unwilling so many people are to speak about or engage the topic in any way, shape or form. Many have adopted the attitude of “we’ve just got to move on”, and they’ll even say that if we speak about racism, we are just making it worse. In a lecture about “Post-Racial Politics”, Tim Wise says there is no other social ill that we would adopt that kind of mindset with; like, “Oh, I know crime is bad, but if we just ignore it, it’ll go away,” or “AIDS is only a problem because we speak about it so much!” Kind of silly, really.

Vast majorities of people really and truly want to try to act like racism is not a problem, and therefore refuse to bring up this “tired, outdated topic”.

However, contrastingly, the very same people who are so unwilling to speak about the topic of racism are often the very same people you might hear delivering an emotional rant after a race-driven news story or life experience; possibly the same people who might say, “I’m not racist, BUT…” and what follows is the most racist statement ever. Yeah, “THOSE people”. Racism is still alive and kicking, and strong. It affects us all, whether we realize or acknowledge it. We don’t seem to want to speak about it. But if provoked, a beehive of emotions are stirred up. What’s up with that?! Why do we try and avoid something that plays such a enormous role in our life?

I think the answers range from simple denial, to people not knowing how to speak about it, from false senses of entitlement which leads people to believe there is no need to, to people being unwilling to stir up the emotions required to engage such a historically heated topic, and the list goes on. For every person who is unwilling to engage the topic, you will probably find a different reason as to why. Much like how individuals develop certain mechanisms to avoid unwanted emotions or experiences, devices otherwise known as Defense Mechanisms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Defense Mechanisms lately. Freud theorized Defense Mechanisms as “unconscious psychological strategies brought into play by various entities to cope with reality and to maintain self-image”. There is a long list, and they range from extremely unhealthy to more healthy reactions to unwanted emotions, grouped in four categories: pathological, immature, neurotic, and mature. Freud developed the theory based on the behavior of individuals, and it is obvious how individuals apply defense mechanisms to the various responses stirred up by the topic of racism. But the more I have thought about the list of defense mechanisms, the more I have seen how society as a whole (or at least large sub-groupings), and its shared collective brain, seems to have adopted these same mechanisms when it comes to the topic of racism.

For instance, two examples of the pathological mechanisms are Denial and Distortion. Denial is obvious: people who merely refuse to admit racism is even a problem at all. Where as an example of Distortion could be white people who say things like, “Oh come on! Slavery and all that happened years ago! There’s no way it’s still playing a role now! People just need to move on! If anything, black people have it better than white people!” An example of a more mature mechanism would be Humor, a tactic comedians like Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. apply, using extreme, race-driven anecdotes to highlight the ignorance and existence of racism.

Whether people want to admit it or not, racism still has a dominating presence in America, and it is most definitely not going anywhere, unless we are active and intentional in fighting it. It cannot merely be ignored. We can use various mechanisms, whether as individuals or as a society as a whole, to avoid the unwanted feelings and emotions the engagement of this topic stirs up, but avoiding the real issue only allows it to grow bigger and bigger. I long to see genuine, honest dialogue about the existence of racism; conversation that doesn’t just stir up emotions and leave people heated, but a dialogue that stirs all of that up, and leads us down the road to forgiveness and healing. Denial will take us no where.

Please feel free to comment below, and engage the topic if you would. Also, here are some of of the main Defense Mechanisms (Definitions and information about Defense Mechanisms sourced from Wikipedia Article), if you are interested in looking at them through the filter of how groups or individuals apply them to avoid unwanted emotions stirred up by the topic of racism:

Defense Mechanisms:

Level 1 – Pathological

Delusional Projection: Grossly frank delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.

Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.

Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.

Splitting: A primitive defence. Negative and positive impulses are split off and unintegrated. Fundamental example: An individual views other people as either innately good or innately evil, rather than a whole continuous being.

Extreme projection: The blatant denial of a moral or psychological deficiency, which is perceived as a deficiency in another individual or group.

Level 2 – Immature

Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action, without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive behaviour.

Fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.

Idealization: Unconsciously choosing to perceive another individual as having more positive qualities than he or she may actually have.

Passive aggression: Aggression towards others expressed indirectly or passively such as using procrastination.

Projection: Projection is a primitive form of paranoia. Projection also reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable/unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”. It is shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses within oneself onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.

Projective identification: The object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviours projected.

Somatization: The transformation of negative feelings towards others into negative feelings toward self, pain, illness, and anxiety.

Level 3 – Neurotic

Displacement: Defence mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is angry with her husband.

Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.

Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.

Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (e.g. isolation, rationalization, ritual, undoing, compensation, magical thinking).

Isolation: Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example, describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.

Rationalization (making excuses): Where a person convinces him or herself that no wrong was done and that all is or was all right through faulty and false reasoning. An indicator of this defence mechanism can be seen socially as the formulation of convenient excuses – making excuses.

Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous into their opposites; behaviour that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety. This defence can work effectively for coping in the short term, but will eventually break down.

Regression: Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way.

Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering consciousness; seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of awareness of one’s own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is absent.[citation needed]

Undoing: A person tries to ‘undo’ an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by engaging in contrary behaviour.

Withdrawal: Withdrawal is a more severe form of defence. It entails removing oneself from events, stimuli, interactions, etc. under the fear of being reminded of painful thoughts and feelings.

Level 4 – Mature

Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.

Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.

Humour: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) that gives pleasure to others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are “skirted round” by witticism, for example Self-deprecation.

Identification: The unconscious modelling of one’s self upon another person’s character and behaviour.

Introjection: Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes a part of that person.

Sublimation: Transformation of negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behaviour, or emotion.

Thought suppression: The conscious process of pushing thoughts into the preconscious; the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible to later access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them.

Nelson Mandela: You will always live in my heart!

January 27, 2011

No words can ever express my gratitude for the life lived, sacrifices made, and example shown by the life of Nelson Mandela, so I will simply say thank you, enkosi, siyabonga, ke a leboha, dankie! You are the great Lion of South Africa, now it’s time to rest on your throne.

World Cup…Xenophobia – Love the world. Slap Africa.

July 14, 2010

I saw a status on Facebook this morning that really resonated with me, “How can one country make you so happy and so sad all at the same time?”. I share those sentiments exactly. South Africa has just come out of the proudest month of its post-Apartheid existence. Against many odds, and with the sharp eyes of the critics glaring down at us, South Africa shined bright in the eyes of the world; the spirit, enthusiasm, and unity behind the World Cup was tangible and electric, the delivery was impeccable, and FIFA boasts that it was the best World Cup in the history of their tournaments. And now, with that victory barely even under our belt, the threat of Xenophobic attacks again looms.

Are these rumors true? Are we going to see another mass slaughter of African foreigners? Well, whether they happen or not, as millions of overseas foreigners leave the country with positive feelings after a wonderful World Cup, last night the news reported that the main border between South Africa and Zimbabwe was four times busier than normal, with terrified, frustrated Africans, fleeing the country “never to return”. This makes me sad. I have many thoughts about this Xenophobia, some conflicting. Here are some:

I think the media is responsible for the “size” of the Xenophobic attacks the first time around, back in 2008. The first attack happened in a specific area, with a specific group of people. I do not believe the “movement” (if you can call it that) would have spread to other areas in the way that it did. Sure, the anger and feelings were already there, which obviously led to it happening in other areas, but I do not feel like it would have turned into what it did without the media coverage.

I do appreciate the media, this time around, for covering a story last night on how many of the foreign owned shops in the townships are now standing closed (due to looting and fear of violence), and local residents are complaining that they have to travel farther, and pay more to buy groceries. The one lady expressed that she does not care who owns the shop, as long as she can buy stuff.

I think the reasoning that “they are stealing our wives and taking our jobs” is totally absurd. First of all, many of the foreigners (and we’re talking certified doctors, lawyers, and other professionals in their country of origin) are willing to take jobs that locals do not want, and work for less. Though this might not be acceptable, it is ridiculous to get angry at the person who is willing to honestly work; take your beef up with the employers rather. And the wife thing, come on! Let’s not speak about women as though they are pirate booty or something. They are not anyone’s to be given or stolen. They can choose for themselves. So if South African women are choosing more foreign men, maybe it’s time for South African men to man up, treat women with more respect, romance them a bit, stop cheating on them, and win their hearts. Thinking they are your to be “stolen”, is probably the beginning of the problem of why they are choosing other men.

On that note, I know plenty of white (international) foreigners, with both South African jobs and wives, and husbands for that matter, and not one single one of them was attacked. Why?

And speaking of racism, these xenophobic attacks stir up all sorts of other forms of racism, masked in good will. I have heard so many white South Africans, both this time and last time around, say stupid things like, “I just can’t believe how those people turn to violence so quickly. It’s all they know,” or “I just don’t understand it that black people would attack other black people,” or even, “They just need to stop complaining and being lazy! They have everything these days. They’re just lazy.” I mean, wow! Besides the fact it is completely ignorant, this kind of talk is the verbal form of the xenophobic attacks. Let’s speak against the violence and leave our personal prejudices out of the matter. Besides, the average person making an ignorant comment like that really has no idea what it is like to live in the township, or in poverty for that matter.

I will never justify that type of violence and hatred towards anyone, but I can understand the frustrations of an average South African, still living in extreme poverty, with nothing but empty promises to feed their children. If a South African citizen is suffering, yet lives beside a foreigner who they perceive as “thriving”, then it is hard for that frustration not to boil. But again, these frustrations should be taken up with the appropriate people, the government and not the African foreigners in this case. Unfortunately for the African foreigners in the townships, the government is nowhere to be seen for the most part.

The government needs to step up in a bigger and better way. Not only in acting and speaking out against xenophobia with a stronger front, but mostly in service delivery to those who are still waiting. We now know it is completely possible. In merely six years we saw an entire infrastructure built where little to nothing was before (with most of the work being done in the past 2 to 4 years). We met the tough goals of FIFA. Now it’s time to take that same focus, energy and delivery to the communities who need it most. And the rest of the country needs to chip in and offer the spirit and support it did during this wonderful World Cup.

No matter what, when all is said and done, xenophobia and xenophobic violence is ridiculous and should not be tolerated.

Yeah, those are just some of the many thoughts I have about xenophobia.

I think I know how one country can make a person so happy and so sad at the same time. I love South Africa! I am sure the loving parents of an awkward, rebellious, angry teenager who is trying to figure out his identity in the world, often have feelings of both happiness and sadness about the choices their child makes. That teenager can come home with straight A’s and get a girl pregnant on the same day. Let’s not be one sided, or allow acts of hatred to cause us to hate. Let’s remember that South Africa is an awkward teenager of a Democracy, and rather look on it with love, and try and do what we can to mold and shape it to be a better, more responsible adult Nation. Let’s continue to love each other, this great nation, and all who choose to live in it.

Kids who aspire to be gangsters, grow to be gangsters who aspire to be kids.

July 7, 2010

And then I found myself and this ‘dangerous’ gangster in the kiddies’ section of the video shop.

But first…

Occasionally I get reminders of what a strange world I live in. And when I say “world” I don’t mean the big ball of dirt, water and gas, rotating, slightly tilted, on its axis. I’m talking about my world: my day to day, the places and people I surround myself with, the city I live in, the particular parts of that city I choose to go to, my norms and the norms of those who I choose to place around me, my reality…yeah, that world. Sure, pieces of my world are shared with different people, some parts more than others, and some people share more parts than others do, but for the most part, my world, is uniquely my world. Which brings me back to my original point, that I am occasionally, if not often, reminded of just how odd my world really is.

One of those reminders came yesterday through a gangster who used to be a kid, and maybe still is…

I had a pretty laid back morning with a meeting about a thing. No big deal. My main goal of the day, however, was to get my hair cut. Now, that may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was getting to the point where it was becoming more and more urgent. You see, over the years, the thinner my hair has gotten on top, the more ridiculous it looks when it grows out. I’ve surrendered to that fact, and therefore try to keep it as short as possible, like most balding-to-bald men who maybe don’t want their blank patch running down the middle of their head to be as noticeable as it is on others’ who don’t seem to care at all. Whatever. I needed a haircut.

I have a machine at home. But it is old, and it misses spots, and I didn’t have anyone around to check the back. So a self-cut was not an option. In times like those, or when I am feeling lazy, I usually go to Jerry, the Nigerian barber in Capricorn, the “developing” community that used to be an informal settlement, the oldest one in Cape Town at that, called Vrygrond. Jerry only charges 20 Rand ($3.00 US), and he’s really nice. So, after I had finished my morning meeting, did some emails, ate some lunch, and what-have-you, I headed to Capricorn for my much needed haircut.

I pulled in to Capricorn, turned down the one street, up the next, winded around a bit, and then my car was stopped by a group of gangsters. The one stood in front of my car, placing his hand on the hood and his other in the “stop” position. The others ran to all my doors, trying to open them, two of them coming to my open window. This scene would probably cause the average person to wet their pants; maybe me too, had the circumstances been slightly different. In this instance, I was greeted with smiles. “Come man Ryan, let us in! Give us a ride around! It’s boring here.” Yeah, so these particular gangsters are just the rough, more grown-up, less innocent versions of the kids I have known for years and years. Not a threat, really…at least not to me. I greeted them with the usual handshakes. I bragged to the one about how he has gotten fatter, insinuating that I noticed he seems to not be smoking tik, he smiled, insinuating he appreciated me noticing.

“No drives around today. I got something to do.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get my hair cut.”

The chubby one took one glance at my hair, and then earnestly waved me on, with wishes and promises of future “drives around”, but a true understanding of the urgency of my hair situation. I drove on and waved bye in the rear view mirror, as they all got back to doing whatever they were doing before I drove up. I turned the corner, pulled up on the sidewalk and got out of my car to see Jerry’s barber shop, a four-chair-haircutting business in a shipping container, totally empty. Strange. Jerry’s always there.

A random dude came up to me and pointed over to the Somalian shop, down and across the street, “He says he’s coming now. He’s just sorting something out quickly.” I looked over and saw the back of, who I assumed was Jerry, standing in front of the shop, a shop looks more like a cage because the merchant is locked in and the customers are locked out, doing all their dealings through the bars. There stood Jerry on the outside of the cage. He was speaking with a raised voice at the least, and a Somalian arm kept coming through the bars, from the inside, trying to hit Jerry, who apparently possesses ninja-like skills and remained untouched. The moment suddenly ended, for reason unbeknownst to me, and Jerry turned around and walked towards us.

As he neared I noticed, this is not Jerry, no not at all. He walked up to me with a smile. “You probably expected Jerry.”

I was a bit surprised he knew. “Um, yeah. Yeah, I was. Where is he?”

The guy, not looking a thing like Jerry up close, smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know. He didn’t come in today.”

I looked at him for a moment. Not trusting this stranger’s haircutting skills I said, “Uh, ok, well, I’ll just come back later.



I walked to my car and looked down the street at the other Nigerian barbershop, about two blocks from Jerry’s. I weighed it up in my mind. Honestly, I haven’t felt good even seeing those guys since my last real interaction with them. It was a random situation where the one Nigerian barber had offered to by a television from one particular Auntie, and he had come to fetch it but only paid half the price and then refused to pay the rest once he had the television in his possession. I just so happened to visit that particular Auntie on the night all that went down. When I arrived at her house the Auntie told me what happened and asked if I could give her a lift down to the barbers so she could “speak” with them. Of course I didn’t mind! She brought her son and a thug with us. I pulled up and stopped, the thug jumped out and stabbed the one Nigerian barber in the arm and then ran into the darkness of the community. I sat there, not sure what might happen next.

Let’s just say the Nigerians were pretty pissed, and they did not appreciate me being the driver of this drive-by stabbing. I tried to assure them I had no clue that was going to happen. Not consoled in the least, they promised vengeance and the bleeding guy shouted in other languages. I drove away and decided to speak to them when they were more cooled off. I dropped the Auntie and went back to the Nigerians, parked and went in to their shipping container shop. I think they thought I was coming back for more, as the one grabbed a pair of scissors. I lifted my hands in surrender, apologized, and promised I had no clue that situation was going to go down in that way it did. I told them I thought it was just a “drive to talk to a man about a television” kind of interaction. The enormous, bleeding Nigerian patted me on the shoulder, “It’s alright Eminem. We understand. But that one, that one who did this,” he removed his hand from his bleeding arm, “he will die.”

Fair enough, I thought. I shrugged, “Well, I don’t recommend that. But I understand you’re angry. You might want to get that looked at.” He looked at me as though I had spoken the worst of the worst blasphemy. “Me?! Doctor?! My brudder, I am a man! I am African!” I shrugged again, “Whatever. So are we cool?” The big bleeding dude patted me on the back, “We’re cool my nigga.” Um…I started to correct him but decided I should probably just be happy I didn’t have a pair of scissors sticking through my neck, or worse, and I just said, “Cool. Sorry again. Later.” And I walked back to my car, got in and drove home.

I have seen those Nigerians since that night, but I still get a strange guilty feeling when I see them, even though I didn’t know I was going to be a part of the attempted assassination. So, as I stood there yesterday, with Jerry nowhere to be seen, considering going to that Nigerian barber as an alternative, I decided otherwise. I opted for the Nigerian barber all the way in Muizenberg. The problem with that dude is he always tries to charge me the “white man’s” price. A haircut is twenty Rand, just like at Jerry’s, but if he sees white skin or hears a foreign accent the price goes up by at least ten Rand. I have both, so he often tries to charge me forty. I usually manage to talk him down a bit, but rarely all the way to the real price.

As I was driving out of Capricorn I saw someone running beside my car and waving. I stopped. It was Boy. Boy is only his nickname but maybe not unironically nicknamed. I’ve known Boy since he really was a boy. He’s got a real sweet spirit but is the usual case of an individual whose actions are molded by the negative environment in which they grow up. He became a gangster, did “bad” stuff, went to prison quite of number of times, but, like many do while they are inside and then sing a different song on their release, the last time Boy was locked up he decided he didn’t want that life anymore, and he decided to change. And so far, he has done just that. I’m proud of him.

Boy, “Yho!!!! I haven’t seen you in forever. Why don’t you ever come and pick a guy up?”

“I’ve just been busy. You look like you’re doing good.”

Boy smiled proudly, “Yeah. I am! I told you I am done with that shit.”

“I’m glad to see that.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need a haircut, and Jerry’s not there.”

Boy looked down at the direction of Jerry’s place in confusion, “And now?”

“I’m gonna go to the Nigerian barber in Muizenberg.”

“Can I come with you?”

“Why not.”

I unlocked the door and he jumped in. I figured Boy coming with me, and us speaking Afrikaans the entire time, could help me get the brown skin discount. On the way, Boy excitedly filled me in on all the positive things going on in his life. I was pleased to hear them. We got to the barbershop, parked and went in. They had no customers, but the usual group of random dudes sitting and talking. The one Nigerian pointed at an empty chair and I sat in it. Boy told me he was just going to go smoke a cigarette quickly. The Nigerians spoke to each other in other languages. When Boy walked out the one Nigerian told me, “He’s very dangerous! A gangster. He just got out of Pollsoor.”

I looked at the guy, sitting behind me, through in the mirror in front of me. I smiled, and then laughed, “Yeah well, I’ve known him since he was a tiny kid. He doesn’t really show me his dangerous side.” The guy laughed. They went back to speaking whatever language they were speaking. Boy came in and we spoke Afrikaans. We all shouted over the sound of the clippers; all speaking at once, not bothered by each others’ conversations that seemed to be colliding in the air. The Nigerian barber tried to do that trim thing around the edges of my head. I managed to stop him just in time. It doesn’t look good on white guys, but definitely not on balding white guys! He seemed disappointed but compromised by trimming my beard, which ended up looking like a beard of a Mexican gangster. I was ok with that.

The barber brushed the hair off my neck, then took off the smock and whipped it. My hair flurried in the air. I stood, reached in my pocket and pulled out a twenty rand. I handed it to him. He looked at the other guy, and back at me and smiled, “”It’s thirty.” I laughed out loud and spoke to Boy as I pulled out another ten rand without arguing, “The white man’s price.” Boy laughed and agreed. I was just glad to finally have my haircut. As we walked out Boy asked me what I was up to and if it would be possible to watch a movie. I didn’t have any pressing matters and said it would be cool. We went to the video shop and as we walked in Boy commented about the poster in the window of The Rock dressed as a fairy, “YHO! I wanna see that one!”

I was slightly surprised at his taste in movies, but was relieved that the poster said, “Coming Soon.” Boy was disappointed. We walked to the New Release section and Boy couldn’t find anything that tickled his fancy. I pointed him in the direction of the Action Section, but he got sidetracked by something that interested him way more. And then I found myself and this “dangerous” gangster in the kiddies’ section of the video shop. He excitedly snatched up one of the DVD covers, “Have you seen this?!” Hoping he was joking but knowing he actually wasn’t, I held back my laughter and smart comments, “Alvin and the Chipmunks? Um, nope. Not, uh, not that one…yet.”

Boy’s eyes lit up. “You wanna get this one?”

Knowing it was not really as much about what I wanted, “Do you?”



Boy silently fist pumped the air.

I thought surely he would be disappointed with this choice once we watched it. But no, we went to my house, watched the little-talking-singing-chipmunks, and Boy seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, laughing quite often. I must admit, I enjoyed it enough as well. And as I sat there on my couch, with this so-called “dangerous” gangster, according to Nigerian barbers, I just thought a thought that I have thought so many times before that moment. When we let kids grow up too soon, allowing them to partake in adult activities that they are way too young to partake in, certain parts of them die young, they lose their innocence. But certain parts of them, the parts that maybe were never allowed to really and truly be a child, never grow up. So we find kids who act like gangsters and gangsters who act like kids. It’s altogether sad and hopeful. And it is most definitely one of the peculiar, yet common, realities in this odd world I find myself in.

Oooooooh eeeeh ooh ah ah, ching, chang, walla walla bing bang. Oooooooh eeeeh ooh ah ah, ching-chang walla-walla bing bang!