22 June 2020

Open letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook,

My name is Rethabile Masilo. I am a poet and a language instructor from Lesotho, although today I live in France, with a prior five-year scholarly stint in the USA, at Maryville College in Tennessee. I have had four poetry books published as well as two poetry anthologies. Poetry came to me when I was but a teen, in the seventies. It took me over when I was in America, in exile, in the early eighties, because of at least two reasons. One, I used it to expunge my experience of political violence in Lesotho, when my family lost a son, at seventeen, and a nephew, at three. The latter during a government attack on our home to kill our father, who could not hold back from criticising a government that was illegitimate and brutal.

After the attack there was only one solution left to us: flee. And we fled. Since Lesotho is landlocked but also surrounded by only one country, the then Apartheid South Africa, we found ourselves in that country. Despite our valid documents, we were one day picked up by South African police over the indecent Pass Laws the country had at that time, and we were jailed. It is not necessary to describe the ordeal in detail. What is important is the fact that we learned and experienced first-hand what real racism tasted like. It is bitter. There was torture and dehumanisation. But we got out, and ended up in Kenya, where we were welcomed generously.

That’s when my sister and I left for America to further our varsity studies. I stayed there for five years and she for four, for she moved to a Canadian school due to her specialty. I moved to Paris for other reasons and have been in France for 33 years today. Poetry has been one of the reasons my sanity has remained intact. It has been a safety valve.

I write poems that speak to me, and me is a person who is unable to bear discrimination, whether it manifests itself in the form of racism, or misogyny, or religious and sexual phobias. I think this is because early on I was unable to understand why someone from our family could be jailed for voicing their opinion or wearing a certain skin colour. I still do not understand racialism and supremacism. My poems, many of them, come from this oppressive atmosphere.

As soon as I started criticising Mr Trump, Facebook started ostracising, not my critical opinions of him on the platform, but anything coming from my poetry weblog. I could no longer post anything from my blog to Facebook. Poems about love, homesickness, and bigotry. And frankly, I do not see homesickness and love as inappropriate. I can however under that some might contact Facebook and “denounce” it in the name of poems on it against bigotry: the misogyny and racialist tones and insults by the president of the USA. I think that someone has indeed told Facebook that the content of Poéfrika was and is inappropriate. Every time I try to share something from my blog, it is met with this message: “Your message couldn't be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.” Other people. Who could report a banal poetry blog as offensive? I think it is a political-thought opponent who is also a friend. I say this because… Poéfrika is but a poetry blog. But the messages I share on Facebook are more than that. I think that Mr Trump is the wrong person to be in such a seat as he finds himself in, and I make no bones about it. How to mess me up? Say that something I hold dear, my poetry blog, and its content, contains inappropriate material. The same way others in the late eighties said my father’s opposition to a dictatorial government was inappropriate. The same way the South African police during Apartheid decided that our bodies contained inappropriate genes.

I’m making this last ditch effort to write to you openly, because any and every communication I have tried to initiate has not only gone unanswered, but has also not incited your platform to investigate. I’m in my sixth week of lockdown and confinement with respect to your platform. I’m tired of writing to bots that do not talk back. I am a poet and what I write is not only for me, but for me and for everybody else, including poetry lovers who utilise your platform.


Rethabile Masilo

Disgruntled Facebook user

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