“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
For some time, I’d been feeling very dissatisfied with my work and life. This disquiet made me withdrawn, as I pondered on all the things I felt were not going quite like I wanted them to. I embarked on a daily introspection, looking into my life, searching my soul, bleeding my mind. I scoured the internet for materials to read and learn the ways of self improvement. And because I hate my job, I worked on my CV and began strategic submissions in my mission to seek what I hoped was going to be a positive move elsewhere. I felt overwhelmed with my resentment for this workplace, this insufferable environment that tasks you of your time and effort, leaving little or nothing for any path of self development or possible advancement needed to make me a better professional.
I was unhappy, and my unhappiness led to a reserve that my colleagues noticed and remarked on. But I didn’t care. I simply existed at work; I stopped living there.
All that changed a few days ago.
In the past year or so, I’d noticed that anytime Chimamanda Adichie’s name came up during office interactions, a small number of the females reacted with thinly-veiled antagonism for the woman. They never said anything to betray themselves as detractors of Adichie, but I could sense they didn’t like her or what she represented.
On this fateful afternoon, during a lull in office work, a female colleague was tinkering at her computer, and came upon a picture of Chimamanda. Glancing admiringly at her, she said, “This lady has an almost perfectly pointed nose.”
“Who?” another female, married and the star of this impending show (who we shall call Missy) asked from her work station.
“Chimamanda,” the first woman said, pointing at her computer screen.
“Let me see,” said Missy. She got up from her seat and went to the other one’s side to look at the image. Nodding, she said, “And she’s pretty. It’s just that she’s a mad woman.”
I was a silent witness to their exchange, up until this point.
It’s just that she’s a mad woman.
Something ignited in my head, a primal desire to lash out at the origin of such derogation. I respect, love and admire Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie very much. Her writing delights and inspires me, and hers are the works I consume with the kind of voraciousness I reserve for chocolate. Quite simply put, she’s my role model, and to hear such malignance thrown at her unimpeachable character made me want to do more harm than the Beygency would do to the Queen Bey’s haters.
“Stop it right there, Missy!” I said then, turning on my seat to face the two women, the steel in my voice drawing their attention to me. “No, no, no. I refuse to sit here and listen to anyone speak such derogatory words about a woman I adore so much. What you said is unacceptable. I won’t take it from you or anyone else, I don’t care who.”
First there was surprise on Missy’s face at my outburst. Then her expression became guarded as she said, “Why are you being paranoid about my remark?”
“I’m not being paranoid. This has nothing to do with paranoia, and everything to do with what is acceptable and what is not. And what you said is not acceptable.”
“I have my reasons –”
“Whatever your reasons, I don’t care!” I lashed across her protest. “You don’t make such callous comments about people. You won’t like it if you knew someone was saying such about you. And so, I won’t have you say such. I won’t take it!”
She drew herself up to her full height, a subconscious statement of the disparity in our statuses. “JBoy, do you realize you’re in the office?”
The call to order in her question was tacit. This woman was senior to me by a few years, in level at the organization, and in the duration of employment. That one question was intended to put me in my place.
But I was in no mood to be shushed like some Bingo. All the rage I didn’t know I had in the time I’d spent the past few months internalizing my personal issues was suddenly simmering, like boiling water threatening to unseat the lid of the pot to erupt in scalding spurts.
“Yes, I know I’m in the office. And I know why you’re asking. So don’t feel obliged to remind me.”
“Shouldn’t you ask me why I said what I said? I have my reasons for saying she’s mad.”
“That is your problem. My own problem is with you saying that about someone I respect.”
“If you’re really upset that I called Chimamanda Adichie a mad woman,” she finally began to bridle, “then you’re a mad man.” This she spat in my face, jabbing a finger at me to enunciate her point.
At her words, I gave an ugly little smile. She had finally descended to my level.
“Oh really,” I sneered. “I’m a mad man too, am I?”
“Yes!” she screeched. “Because it has been obvious from the word go that gay talk around here makes you either uncommunicative or aggressive. And why does that surprise me, when you claim respect for a woman who should know better. Why will an African, a daughter of the soil like Chimamanda Adichie sit somewhere and say she’s in support of the gay community? Why would she be in support of what the gay fools are doing?”
“That is her opinion. She’s not harming anyone with it. Why not let it be? Why does her opinion turn you into such a raging bitch?”
She drew back, appeared to file away the insult, before firing on. “I won’t let it be! I can’t. She’s a public figure, and should know better. Because of the position she occupies, she has great influence on people, and if she keeps expressing those abominable opinions, people will begin to se abnormality as norm and evil as good. Men and women who look up to her” – she made a sweeping gesture at me – “will either become gay or accept it as a good thing. For her to know this and still say the things she does make her raging mad.” She had turned into a spitfire, and was shouting her words.
“Look at you,” I sneered, waving my own hand at her. Just listen to yourself. Who do you think is madder between you and her? Obviously you don’t know anything about this woman.”
“I know some other things about her!”
“Like what?” I said belligerently.
“Like her extreme feminism,” she yelled back. “That woman honestly doesn’t know the damage she’s causing our society. I don’t blame her much really, all these things she’s saying about men and women seems to me to be because she’s become so westernized that she’s forgotten where she comes from. That’s how young girls will listen to her and think they are equal to men, and not know to bend their heads low to understand the harsh reality that they are the weaker sex.”
If I wasn’t so angry, I’d be extremely shocked. As it was, my mouth progressively dropped open as she said the things she did. Goodness me! What was a woman with this kind of reasoning even doing in a profession such as this? Why wasn’t she pottering about in some kitchen like it was her sole purpose in life to lead the existence of the weaker sex?
“Really? Those are the things that make her an extreme feminist?” I said in mock-wonder. “That she believes she and every other capable female should be given equal consideration as the men of their peers? That she believes in equal opportunities for the sexes? That’s what makes her extreme? You know nothing, Missy. Clearly not about the things you should know, and certainly not about Chimamanda Adichie.”
“What else is there to know about her?”
“How about the fact that she’s a genuine force for good? That she’s a giantess in the literary world, both home and abroad. That she’s making a difference – which is more than I can say for you. You know what? If you think her pro-gay stance is what makes her mad, then yes, maybe that’s fine. And if believing in her and her ideals makes me a mad man too, then I accept that too.”
It wasn’t long after this admission before Missy stalked off, with some muttered agitation about why I’d even bothered to make her opinion my business. The thing is: we judge others instantly by their clothes, their cars, their appearance, their race, their education, their social status. The list is endless. What gets me is that most people decide who another person is before they have even spoken to them. What’s even worse is that these same people decide who someone else is, and don’t even know who they are themselves.
In the words of Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria: “You must always face evil and take it down. The reason evil thrives in the world, the reason hatred thrives in the world, the reason bullying thrives in the world is because of complacency. As long as we continue to take it, it will continue to thrive.”
Written by JBoy