A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about the erasure of Afrikan women in the feminist movement and how as an act to reclaim these narratives, I would give my children female warrior names. One of the women I wrote about was Nandi kaBhebhe eLangeni, the mother of the Zulu Kingdom. The fierceness in her voice and push to have the voices of other Zulu women heard reminds me of Irebe Umusangwa. Twenty-one year old Irebe is a Rwandan who also calls South Africa home as she has been living there for twelve years. She is passionate about Afrikan development, independence, excellence and prosperity. Moreover, she identifies as a feminist, and loves being involved in everything that has to do with the advancement of Afrikan women. While mapping out her career path, and moving between Kigali and Johannesburg, we had a chat with Irebe.
What does being carefree mean to you and how do you see it fit in our culture?
To me, being carefree is being unapologetically yourself. As Afrikan girls, we grow up being pressured in acting a certain way for the sake of society. We grow up being told that our goal is to get married, thus centering our lives on finding a man to marry us. In the Rwandese society, it is important to be “umukobwa wisoneye”, and very important not to “kumaramaza” the family. Therefore, our socialization does not provide us with many options on how to grow up and whom we become.
So how do we develop our own selves?
As a young Afrikan woman, I believe it is important not to undermine the advice from our mothers, aunts and so forth but this should not overshadow or remove the importance of making your own judgment on what is good and what is not for you. It is important to know that you can break the “rules”. The world is yours, you can be whoever you want to be. There are many ways of BEING. We always need to remember that options are limitless and we should not let anybody stop us from being whomever we want to be. And your happiness comes first.
On being carefree, how do you incorporate this in your daily life?
Every day, I try to intentionally remind myself to be carefree. Nourishing my voice is one way. For example, whenever there’s a statement made by someone about me or other women in general that I disagree with, I will make sure I speak my mind and show them how wrong they are with their judgments. Living a stress-free life is another way I practice being carefree. I believe whoever wants to judge me does not matter. My only responsibility is to do what is best for me and live the life that I believe is best for me.
How did you get to this place of being unapologetically carefree?
I am very grateful to have open minded parents. They have always taught my brother and I how to speak our minds. However, I was a “people pleaser” and cared a lot about what people thought. For a long time, I lacked confidence. I did not feel beautiful and I did not love who I was (my skin color, height, body shape…). I wanted to be lighter, taller, and skinnier than I was. I wanted to look like the ideal girl and feel accepted by society. It wasn’t until High School that I started to recognize my worth, love myself, believe that I was indeed beautiful and that society’s opinion did not matter. But growth is continuous, every day I need to remind myself that I am beautiful and ignore any negativity.
You just talked a little about your childhood, if you had the chance to say something to 13-yr old you, what would you say?
I would tell her to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, and that her happiness matters the most. From the moment you see the worth in yourself everyone else will see it and respect you.
You call both Rwanda and South Africa home, and I know you have traveled the world, has this cultural exposure helped you in any way to harness your Carefree Black Girlhood?
I moved to South Africa when I was 10 years old, and being carefree is a large part of their culture. It took time, but being in that environment helped me in being carefree. In the Summer 2017, I was part of a school program to be able to graduate. The program consisted of studying different businesses in countries with different cultures, and we travelled throughout Europe and Asia.
Throughout all these countries, the standards of beauty and the way a woman should behave are different, for example, in Russia, a country that is much less conservative, the standard of beauty of a woman are tall, very skinny, with a sex appeal In China, however a beautiful woman should be short, pale, and covered up. Something in common in all those cultures is that the standards are made by and for men. Most of them are made to satisfy men or to prevent them from “temptation”. When you see all these cultures, you realize that as a black girl, society should not define you and how you should be. The more you travel the more you realized that every country has their own norms, and their own perspective on how a woman should be and act. You then realize that no matter where you go, there will always be someone to judge you. You therefore need to be yourself and forget all those who judge you and keep living your best life.
Featured Video for this second interview- Blk Girl Soldier by Jamilla Woods