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Friday, May 24, 2024


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With Aisha Jallow

I heard this word some days ago, and I immediately wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it. Taste it: whataboutism. A bit hard to say, at first, but repeat it for yourself for a while and while you do that; think of what this unusual word could mean. Let us break down the word in smaller parts, then it will be easier to understand. The last part of the word is ism, but what is an ism? An ism is the last part of a word, a suffix. This part changes the word from its original form to mean some kind of association or fellowship. Here you have some examples:

baptise – baptism

racist – racism

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stoic – stoicism

journalist – journalism

As you can see, adding the suffix makes it possible to describe an association based on common beliefs or interests. So let us look at the word “whataboutism” once again, and focus on the first part, what-about. What about “what-about”? It’s all about “what-about”, more than you think because you have become used to it. Just think for a while of any political debate you have heard: “What about you and your party?” A discussion with your neighbour: “What about you and your cows who ate my whole crop?” An argument with your spouse: “What about you and your lazy a** on the sofa, watching TV all day?”

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The examples of what-aboutism can go on forever. If you still haven’t got a clue what I am talking about, I will be even more clear. Whataboutism is about putting the blame on someone else. You try to shift focus from yourself to the other part. You know that you have done or said something wrong, but you would never admit that. Instead of admitting your own mistake, you shift the blame to the other part and make it sound even worse. In a political debate you almost never hear that someone is admitting their mistake. It doesn’t matter if they have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar; it was someone else’s fault who hadn’t closed the lid properly.

Why do we use whataboutism and where did it begin? There is no easy answer for that, but a common denominator is fear. As a child you are afraid of getting the blame for something and that something will lead to a sore backside. As a pupil you are afraid of the teacher. The teacher has a lot of power over you, your grades and your peace of mind. If the teacher is displeased with your efforts, you try to explain the results and compare your lousy grades with your schoolmates who did worse but got better results anyway. As a teenager you argue with your parents when you have broken your curfew. You shout that your younger siblings don’t have to follow the same rules as you. You argue that your friends can stay out much longer and none says anything about that!

As a wife you are tired because of all your chores. You have the washing and the cleaning and the cooking and the kids and the in-laws and the what not? The loads of demands make the housewife exhausted. I didn’t add the husband to the list of chores, but that is one extra chapter that all of us wives know how that is. We are supposed to be good wives, good mothers, good daughters-in-law and above all that we are supposed to care about the husband’s physical needs – if you know what I mean. When the day is over and we finally are able to go to bed, there is no energy or interest over for being romantic.

What about us men? Don’t you think we are tired? Don’t you think that we have a lot of worries? Do you think it is so easy to be a man? Yes, I heard you! This is exactly what I am talking about – what-about-ism!

Instead of listening to each other, we react and put the blame on someone or something else. We don’t stop to listen and try to understand the other’s point of view, we are so occupied with trying to keep our dignity that we forget the other’s needs. There is no difference between men and women in this part at all, and we all deserve to maintain our dignity.

Communication is the key to making all kinds of relationships work. We, the women often expect our spouses to be able to read our minds. Our husbands believe that as long as nothing bad has been said, then all is good. Men can’t read minds and women need to speak out about their needs. This is a process that goes on all our lives, and it takes time to get to know each other. Before a couple gets married, they need to be serious about their intentions with the marriage. Are they fleeing in to a marriage to get away from a dysfunctional home? Are they eager to get married for the satisfaction of the nightly romance? What are the reasons for a hasty marriage? What are the reasons for an early marriage when especially the bride is too young to get married and eventually becoming pregnant? All these questions need to be asked and be taken seriously.

When people are young, they don’t consider that they will become old one day. The bodies will change, the needs will change and the interests and dreams will also change. If we communicate with each other, men and women, boys and girls, the elderly with the young ones, we get to know each other and learn from each other. I have three children, and they are all adults now. Our bonds are strong and the love I feel for all my kids is shared equally between all of them. I love their spouses too, because I know that this love will make the bonds between myself, my kids and their spouses even stronger. I never interfere in their lives. If they ask for advice I will give it, but carefully. They are adults and they must make their own decisions. There is love and respect between us, and when there is a problem, we will solve it together.

Communication is the key to all relations and it is not only a matter of the family. Every workplace needs to have an open communication. Decision-makers must communicate with those who are concerned by their decisions. If not, it will only add to the animosity between those in charge and those who have to bear the consequences.

At every school, the principal must communicate with all the employees as they all depend on each other and all of them are important. The schools don’t only teach us a lot of subjects, they teach us about life. What kind of life do we want? A life of communication and dignity for us all, or a life where we always blame someone else for our own shortcomings?

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