I have always had a fascination with Greek mythology.
Of course for most the pantheon of Olympian deities hold sway, yet for me the primordial Titan, Prometheus held an unwavering respect in my mind. Here was a being who sided against his kind, chose to fight on the side of Zeus and then went on to defy the orders of the mighty thunderbolt fiend by giving fire to mankind.
This is not a piece on Greek myths, I would love to go give my take on all the other many colourful beings that adorn the pages of Hellenistic literature, but that should be reserved for another time and in a different post.
Prometheus was the first progressive thinker who rooted for the underdog and gave them tools for self-improvement. The other unique trait he possessed was his altruism as opposed to other beings who held a manipulative marionette-esque relationship with their inferiors. He never asked for anything in return, all he wanted was the enlightenment of those he assisted.
It is easy for one to cast away or discard the character of Prometheus as an ancient story or a mere representation of mankind’s persistence on the quest for progress.
The truth is Prometheus was an unsung hero who did a lot behind the scenes but was hardly ever acknowledged during his existence by those he did it for. Whether it was due to the fact he was always in the background, non-assuming yet aiding, he was hardly ever hailed.
Growing up in Sierra Leone, I had a Prometheus in the form of my maternal Grandpa. I think I began the process of receiving my proverbial fire of enlightenment when I was between the ages of 5-6. I was playing in his library, flipping the pages of a rather thick book. Of course to a young lad, a book without pictures was not worth my time, so naturally I must have asked him for one with images. He peered at me through his thick lens, and remarked with a chuckle that the words were filled with images and adventures to last me multiple lifetimes, thus commenced my delving into the world of books.
Overtime my grandpa would gift me with books which I would read at home and then discuss with him later. He was never imposing as these sessions were quite interactive.
Grandpa always strived to create a platform for me to be confident to state my opinions. He would then state his position clearly whilst treading and touching on the areas I missed with a masterful stroke. My young mind imbibed it all.
He had a wry sense of humour and loud echoing laughter.
Naturally, I had an advantage when I started grade school. I hail from a side of the world where rote learning is the norm and even though I attended a top class private school that had relatively much higher standards than most in the country, my intelligence bloomed through the nurturing of my Grandpa. It was obvious from the get go that non interactive teachers bore me. I adapted to the reality of the limiting nature of the school system.
I was gifted by my grandpa with a 16 volume Harver’s Junior World Encyclopedia in November, 2000 after my first report card came through with exceptionally good grades. This become a tradition between me and my grandpa throughout his life.
As we get older, it is arguable to some that it is easy to somehow forget or ignore the contributions certain people make to our lives from behind the scenes.
We replace these people with the rich, popular and successful as role models.
There is a certain novelty to the allure of fame but we should never let go of the fire bringers, the Geppettos’ in our lives who spark the flames within us. In a world that sets more store on material gain over honest meaningful contribution, there is a duty on us all to acknowledge these heroes who contribute to us from behind the scenes.
‘Inspiring and never taking credit’ as Drake put it.
My grandfather passed away on the 12thof December, 2009.
To this day, I still get the ‘human Wikipedia’ jokes because of my penchant in knowing things. With age comes experience and maturity coupled with the realization that the legacy of my grandpa should be passed on.
It is necessity to be mentors to those that require it without imposing.
To aid without manipulating.
I end with a poem.
Behind the scenes, forging.
Individuals polished from bronze to gold.
Molds shaped from clay to breathing figures.
In the dark, unseen like the abyss but higher and brighter than Helios’s chariot.
The unsung heroes.
Who give all and ask for naught.
And remain silent in the hopes to see,
Phoenix reborn from ash
Caterpillars transforming to iridescent butterflies
Coals to polished diamonds
Seeding the star ways with future constellations to evade black holes
These days to keep pace with the ‘social mediaverse’ and the endless debates that rage within it on issues affecting our world is almost an impossibility. The various hashtags and trending stories with newly coined phrases to describe things and make sense of them has accelerated.
Recently, I was surfing the web (is surfing still the right word to use?) when I happened upon the phrase “Performative Allyship”. It was mentioned in a post bashing the content of a certain tweet. From what I could gather, this was based on the need to differentiate between genuine solidarity and pretentious allying to a cause or plight of a set of people.
In essence, performative allyship is doing that minimum bit to gain approval and escape the tag of a silent neutral or a bigot.
The stark truth is that what we call performative allyship now predates social media. It’s just a fancy way to describe hypocrites who want a pat on the back for their actions supporting a cause.
Solidarity in itself doesn’t stem from the need to put up a show but rather it is based on the honesty to stand with a cause to push for changes with or without an audience.
Solidarity is activism. Yet it also involves knowing when it doesn’t require your reaction when an oppressed individual expresses their distaste of the bias and uneven treatment they deal with.
To play a role just for approval suggests at a deep seated self serving interest in one’s pysche. Whether it is based on the need to save face or ride on the wave where the wind blows, it hints at double standards.
In most cases these set of people who project this fake form of allying are likely to be upset when they are told of their actions and its harmful tendencies. These are the people who hop on ‘hot’ topics by sharing or retweeting but never calling out the same act when its done where there is no audience . What they care about is the fifteen minutes in the spotlight and not the issues at hand. Standing with an oppressed group requires listening, engaging and learning about their experiences.
Mostly, performative allies tend to make statements which are counterproductive to the cause of oppressed groups and then feign ignorance. This hints at a either a failure to properly understand these issues and a lack of sincere solidarity. When one stands with a cause, the onus is on you to properly and thoroughly understand and grasp it. To project concern when you don’t really care, just to get off the hook makes your sentiments unhelpful.
There’s a tendency for many people who belong to the oppressive group to think that distancing themselves from acts done to the oppressed groups exempts them from responsibility. Statements like ‘not all’ , ‘some’ , ‘tell us more’ ,’we are on the same side’ are a dead ringer and they do nothing to help groups that are marginalised. Systematic oppression is real and trying to detach yourself from the privileges you benefit from belonging to the oppressive group with these half hearted ‘not all’ phrases reeks of downplaying, diverting and glossing over the realities of the conversation.
I live in a side of the globe where many have still not come to terms with the dangers of oppression. In fact even those who profess to be ‘allies’ still hold some negative views towards those they claim to ally with. I once knew a certain individual who would rant on Facebook about the rights of women but was known to be domestically abusive towards his wife and also held the misogynist view that the place of women was in the kitchen.
Individuals flick on the mask of solidarity as and when it is beneficial to them and their interests.
The bane of hyper masculinity and it’s privileges is soaked in deep in the fabric of Sierra Leone. You are bound to hear statements from males that ‘ a woman’ deserves a back hand once in a while when she steps out of line’ which is followed by gleeful laughter. The brainwash is such that certain women have been so attuned to this brutal idea that they consider it a norm, sadly. Women are mostly not allowed to tell their stories. Incidents of rape are swept under the rug with blame cast on the lady of her ‘improper clothing’, mostly these women are married of to their abusers.
Oppression is a disease to society. If any society utilises the denial route to deflect responsibility and not come to terms with their oppressive mentality towards the oppressed, such a society supports systematic oppression.
Solidarity is paramount and doesn’t equate to only displaying it to get a nod of approval. Doing it to be defined as the ‘new cool’ , or garner more followers/likes for selfish purpose is not solidarity. The singular purpose of standing with the oppressed is for them to achieve equity and equality. Doing the right thing doesn’t mean you deserve to be praised, hailed and then gifted with a bag of goodies.
Solidarity is not for show, it’s a duty.