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blog post cover image time estimate eye icon7min

Power Of Our Words

It pains me even writing about this issue, but I’ve seen so many incidents regarding this, I feel like I can’t keep quiet about it any longer…actually no, I have talked about this on several occasions with friends, or on other platforms. I’ve even contemplated the issue for far longer. This is a story that has been repeated, with different details but with the same end. Yet we still fail to register what all this implies.

               Let me first take a step back, to why I’m writing about this in the first place. For the past few days, I’ve seen posts on my friend’s status. Out of curiosity, and concern, I did a little digging and was saddened by what I read. I’ve learned that very recently, there was a public outcry down in South Africa. I don’t want to get too much into detail about this, but in a nutshell, a girl was bullied to the point she felt there was no point in living, thus she took her own life. I want to make this article in dedication to anyone struggling with suicide, either directly or indirectly through a loved one.

               This isn’t the first time I’m hearing about something like this. I felt the same way when I first heard of the story of Amanda Todd a few years back. Both stories show me the same thing. Someone said harsh words, the words picked up momentum, and eventually, someone winds up gone forever, and everything that was said turns into a regretful memory. But the question is if these two instances are years apart, why is history repeating itself?

               We may not realize it, but our words hold a lot of power over us. Whether we say them ourselves or hear them uttered, they take a sway to our emotions, thoughts, and actions. If you think about it, this statement isn’t news to you. Some words leave minor stings, others leave long term effects on us. The worst part about it is how we cannot take back what is said once it’s out there.

               It’s not just what is said, but sometimes what isn’t said that leads to these suicides. If you look up the figures, you’ll see most suicides are done by men. But the victims don’t say much about what is going on in their lives, and the suicides come as surprises to the people around them. I want to blame toxic masculinity and illogical social expectations for this.

I was watching a talk about men and toxic masculinity on Kenya’s NTV, and some things said by the panellist annoyed me on so many levels. And it’s not just them, but the people commenting on the interview up on YouTube. What was discussed by the panel was intense, glorified stoicism. The assumption that as a man you are expected to show no emotion—to be able to handle all problems no matter how severe on your own—so that society accepts you is a terrible notion.

Human beings are not invincible, and weakness is expected. It’s illogical to put someone on a high pedestal for not showing any emotion. But stoicism is so rampant it has become toxic. What’s worse is the pride it comes with it to the extent that we can’t seek help elsewhere. The men in the interview outright laughed at the thought of a man seeking therapy as a way of handling depression. To them, even seeking help from a fellow man was a bit of an issue.

With this pride comes the issue at hand. When we chose to remain silent, our issues slowly kill us inside. Society has a misconception that emotions are associated with femininity and that should only be with women. But I believe emotions are as natural as animal instincts. I’ve seen monkeys gather around one of their own who’s been struck down by a motorist and mourn the loss of their companion. I’ve seen my own pet dog get sad when he realized his brother passed on, how happy he is to see me, and how he protests when I leave him behind. I see no reason why a man should stifle how he feels or fail to ask for help.

But the blame cannot be put on the men alone. We as a community have failed to give a safe space for discussions. Whether it’s in a home environment or with a friend, there seems to be a lack of empathy for each other. This absence of empathetic conversations leads to a terrible exchange of words. “Just man up.” This is the most common phrase out there that shuts down the conversation, often leading to regret. At this juncture, I feel like if I keep this up it would digress from what I wanted to talk about. I’ll circle back to the effects of toxic masculinity on another day.

Another way in which we abuse the power our words entail is when it comes to issues on minority groups and oppression. When it comes to issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, just to mention but a few, a lot of backlashes are thrown around. Sometimes, the most trouble comes from the minorities in question. I understand that when pressed into a corner, the oppressed lash out with pain and vehemence. But I am still of the opinion that that doesn’t justify animosity among us.

There is a notion going around that I have seen many times over, even as I write this I’ve just seen it when I took a break. Several people, including my closest friends, have told me that black people cannot be racist, or that there is no sexism towards men. Personally, I don’t believe in this notion and here’s why.

A few weeks ago, I found a video on Instagram talking about all the Asian hate crimes and discrimination happening to the Asian community all over the world ever since the pandemic started. Even in the country, right when the virus first began to spread, a video went round of a couple of Asians being harassed by our resident bodaboda riders. The Asian hate crimes only became an issue after several incidents were cited.

As for the statement concerning sexism against men, it has its fair share of problems. I think this arose from all the debates I’ve seen about gender biases, equity and equality. I have seen several videos talking about the same. Paraphrasing all that the videos say, it isn’t fair to say that one gender has it worse than the other. You could argue that women have it harder at work, are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, or are victims of domestic abuse; while men are more likely to be imprisoned (both justified or falsely accused), are more likely to victims of violent crimes in general, are more likely to commit suicide, or constitute the majority soldiers dying at wars. Basically, depending on the spectrum given, one gender will always be in oppression.

After seeing these, I don’t believe in the ideology that racial slurs are only inappropriate in the arms of a majority group, or that sexism cannot be experienced by men. But this is still a controversial topic with the world, and I fear that we are not ready to hold such a conversation in public forums yet. I feel like people use “The Race/Sex Card” to justify terrible behaviour on their part.

I know someone who sums up what I’ve just talked about pretty well, but I don’t want to tarnish names or make someone feel attacked. In this little narrative, I’ll just refer to a person named Alex and being a unisex name, the pronouns will be in plural. Alex told me about an exchange they had on Twitter. Alex called some Caucasian lady something that’s quite derogatory on a racial aspect. They further went ahead to say that being a black person, there was no racial discrimination made. Afterwards, their account was suspended for this. I wanted to point out that in my opinion, the whole thing looked like cyberbullying and he was at fault, but I don’t think they would see it from my point of view had I told them then.

All in all, I don’t think I can emphasise enough about how much power our words yield. If I’m being honest, this article alone has brought out so many emotions in me. Anger and sadness at how all the problems brought by this issue; apprehension at how this may be taken by the public; hope that this helps someone out there take caution on what they say.

I have said many things in this one article, made a promise to say many more in another article, but my closing remarks will be this: in the words of writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Please feel free to keep the conversation going, via my personal Twitter or Instagram, or through the comment section below. Thank you for your time.

Mbugua Kibe,
April 24, 2021

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