Moving Through the World as a Young Black, Queer, Transgender Artist
Tiger Maremela pens an essay inspired by #OxfordEddiecated, a movement to get South African disability rights activist Eddie Ndopu to Oxford.
In the op-ed below, Tiger Maremela, a young black, queer and non-binary transgender artist, pens an essay inspired by #OxfordEddiecated, a movement to get 25-year-old disability rights activist Eddie Ndopu to Oxford. Ndopu recently became the first African with a disability accepted to Oxford, and although he was awarded a scholarship, the scholarship doesn't cover his disability-related costs. #OxfordEddiecated aims to raise more than R500,000 to cover the outstanding costs associated with Ndopu's admission.
Only certain types of bodies can occupy space and move freely in the Rainbow Nation. Bodies that are white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, with access to various social, economic and political spaces are more likely to thrive in post-apartheid Apartheid South Africa.
To be a young, black, queer and non-binary transgender person in this country means to be faced with several challenges on a daily basis. It isn't any easier if you're disabled, a woman, impoverished, have a mental illness or possess any other marker of social difference that could exclude you from living a full life. Occasionally, and not often enough, people who have been marginalized from society are able to break through some of the barriers that they are presented with. Too often though, we hail these people for their resilience, strength and brilliance without once considering the world in which they live and manage to thrive in.
To be phenomenal as a person who is not a white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, financially and socially mobile white man comes at the risk of being exceptionalised. In a world where success has been reserved for a select few of our population, anybody else that makes it despite these odds is then presented as the poster child, and proof that they too can make it in this unjust world. Very little is then said about how to remove these barriers to entry, and transform society into a place in which we can all be equal.
Equality can come in the form of equal access to education, to housing, to healthcare, or even being represented in mainstream media and creative spaces dominated by white bodies. To be a black, queer and transgender artist or creative in post-apartheid Apartheid South Africa is to constantly have your work viewed from a cisnormative white gaze, to constantly reimagine the ways in which black, queer and transgender bodies can be documented in ways that are not violent, and to take part in a collective healing and transformation of communities.
This healing, which happens when black, queer and transgender bodies are able to view their identities in nuanced and layered representations, is a political tool in decolonizing a country in which these identities are an accessory and afterthought. To be a black, queer, and transgender artist is have the burden of centuries of physical, psychological and symbolic violence on your shoulders, and yet continue to create as a strategy of catharsis, and an attempt at rebuilding humanity.
Social media has allowed for these calls for dismantling and healing to be heard throughout the country, and globally. This tool enables conversations to be had in multiple time zones, languages and geographical locations. As a black, queer and transgender body who insists on creating and imagining nuanced depictions of black lives, the internet has been essential in exposing me to several communities, and sharing strategic forms of creative protest and survival.
My blackness, queerness and trans experience are often the reason behind my exclusion and experience of violence at the expense of a 'non-racial, non-sexist' society. These parts of my identity are however important in being able to change the way those around me think about their positionality in this world. The parts of my identity that are constraints at participating in a full life are, taking from Eddie Ndopu's words, an offering to humanity to rethink what it means to be human.
The #OxfordEddiecated campaign is less a story about an individual phenomenal person, but how access can change the world. This opportunity will allow Eddie, regardless of his blackness, queerness and disability, to have a positive and significant impact on the lives of many other disabled people. This story is one in which we all have a stake in, and can all make a difference through.
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