How about we stop treating blesser culture like a trend?
Words: Sibu Mabusela | Illustrations: Sabrina Scott
Not too long ago a cousin of mine and I met up. And as girls often do, we got to talking. About cute boys, cute clothes, looming deadlines, our shared disposition for bad life choices, you know — the regular. When suddenly she dropped a bomb on me.
Some guy she knew had given her a Porsche. Yes, you read that right the first time — he gave her a Porsche!
For the context of this story, some details: My cousin was 19 then, and still studying. And this guy gave her a silver Porsche Panamera.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a great deal about cars, but I know enough to assume that that a car is a pretty big deal. The kind of big deal that could buy water for an entire rural village should you pawn it.
Now this rather extravagant act of romance got me thinking. First of all: what on earth could she possibly be eating that would have her receiving a Porsche as a gift?
And secondly – this came to me as an “ah-ha” moment while I was taking myself through the “Look at your life, look at your choices” pep talk – maybe, just maybe this wasn’t a grand romantic gesture, but rather a “blessing” (inserts a winking face emoji for effect) in disguise.
This guy wasn’t Father Christmas or Robin Hood, lost on the historical timeline or stalled by flight delays, but was in fact an A-grade, level 3 blesser, and I’m not talking the religious kind.
At this point I expect you’re probably asking yourself, “Myself, what on earth is a blesser?”
To which I’d respond, “What? Have you been living under a rock all this time?” (in my head of course), but naturally, the writer in me will continue to give a somewhat detailed description.
A clear definition is yet to surface on Urban Dictionary (not that I expected much from those unreliable sods, it’s common knowledge that they lack both precision and any sort of delivery when it comes to defining South African slang) but the term itself is pretty self-explanatory. It all boils down to this: a blesser is someone who blesses others.
Simple enough, right? Wrong. It gets a little more complicated, as all interactions involving humans do.
Here’s an example: you’re out with your friends and someone asks if you’d like a drink at the bar. You accept! Next thing you know a bottle of (insert expensive bottle of alcohol name here), accompanied by sparklers is headed over to your table. And guess what? You’ve just been blessed.
Never happened to you? Okay this one; you arrive at a parking bay at precisely the same time as someone else, they wave their hand nonchalantly — generously allowing you to take the bay. You pull in ever so gracefully, offering a smile or head nod in return, parking your lovely little mobile vehicle in that very spot. Guess what? That rather seemingly small gesture is also a blessing.
It may not be the Porsche that my cousin got, or the expensive bottle of liquor from the stranger in the example above, but it’s still a blessing. Kind of like having the white belt in karate — nobody cares enough to mention it, because it’s too standard, so instead they pretend it exists only so you can hold your pants up. You know the type?
You’re probably wondering, “If that’s all a blesser is, then how come everybody's talking about it, all the time?” and, “Why are they bombarding our timelines, TV screens and radio talk shows if the fundamentals of the blesser are this simple?”
I’m glad you asked.
Every Tom, Dick and Kenny Kunene seems to have an opinion on what’s now known as the “blesser phenomenon”. If I didn’t know any better I’d say it’s asserted itself very firmly as a part of our pop culture.
Many articles which have cropped up on our timelines recently simplify the relationship between the 'blesser' and 'blessee' to a transaction – one which involves an older man (or woman) providing a lifestyle for their younger, presumably less fortunate other, building the misconception that blessers are limited to a twenty-year age gap and lavish gifts swapped out for sexual favours. You know: money, time, knowledge, or shopping trips to Dubai and Paris, all for a little “something” in return — sort of like the more-commonly-spoken-of sugar daddy.
It's not that these relationships don’t exist – there are numerous examples of older men trying to coerce underage girls into having sexual relations with them all in exchange for gifts and cold hard cash – and there's enough economic instability in our society to create situations where these offers will be gratefully acccepted. This sinister side of blesser culture is surely what Instagrammers, #antiblesser Twitter and the government at large have been speaking out against, but in doing so they've reinforced a false sense of morality – and the idea that the blesser is a new trend, existing in isolation.
But maybe the guy you’re seeing happens to pay for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Maybe you believe that the guy always pays on first dates. Maybe you receive gifts in flowers and chocolates. What about that two-week family vacation in Mauritius that your girlfriend's parents just invited you to join? Is that not a blessing? Or do we limit our use of the term to urban circles where the blesser is a middle-aged man with thousands of rands to spare and the blessee is young, female, and perhaps fits some part of our idea of 'underprivileged'?
Now here’s where it gets complicated. As any linguist, sociologist or 3rd year anthropology student will tell you, words are only as powerful as we allow them to be, and carry along with them only the meaning we’ve assigned to them. While the journalists, talk show hosts and investigators were steadily doing their thing trying to find “tangible” definitions and meanings to associate the blesser phenomena with, the very people who created the term and contributed to its fame have gone ahead and changed the way in which it's used.
If in fact you haven’t been hiding under a rock, but scrolling through any number of social media sites instead, you'll have come across phrases like, “Someone needs to bless me with this jacket for my birthday", "When are you blessing us with a visit?” or ”let me just bless myself with some sleep”. The term's used casually, in a way that feels shocking to those for whom any mention of a blesser brings up the more harrowing tales to come out of recent media exposés, but this is probably where "blesser" in its currently hyped form came from – the slang term for giving a gift, tangible or intangible, no transaction involved.
So in case you missed it, a blessing is no longer limited to an impromptu shopping trip to Dubai or yacht party around the Thai Islands. It’s not just that Ace of Spades bottle or the Porsche Panamera. Do people who administer blessings then expect something in return? As with all transactions involving humans, I’d say yes. Unless of course you’re at AfrikaBurn, or in the depth of the Eastern Cape where Ubuntu is still practised.
Just as the case of the head nod in return for the parking spot and 'thank you' text in the case of being gifted flowers, blessers often require something in return but I’d like to stress not always.
What I’m getting at is this: We all get blessed – just some differently to others. Some get trips to Dubai, 26’’ inch Brazilian weaves, a Porsche and an upper class lifestyle. Others are treated to a fancy dinner, flowers, or that parking space they’ve been eyeing. While the rest of us (I’ll be honest here, I’m referring to myself), get a packet of crack-a-snack chips from a passerby as we wait for our lift outside of a shopping mall, (which I took, because you know, laws of attraction/the universe and such).
As we sit on our pedestals judging others on the lives they live, we often forget to look at ourselves in the same way. Maybe it all boils down to the halo effect, maybe not. Again, in cases in which men use any kind of privilege to take advantage of vulnerable girls, the issue is more clear-cut – they must be held accountable. But to judge women making independent decisions about how to handle their love lives, financial futures and perhaps even the resources that could see them with better hopes of an education and career? That looks like none-of-our-business territory from where I'm standing. In much the same way that we can choose to not wear makeup without shaming those who view lipstick and mascara as an artform, wear knee-length skirt and high-necked blouses daily without judging people whose wardrobes resemble Kim Kardashian's Instagram strategy, or choose not to have babies without seeing those who do as old-fashioned, we can in fact allow other grown-ups to conduct their personal affairs as they see fit.
My position is not to judge – I’d rather people to do with their lives what they must. Do what you will with your own body, according to what you and your value system feel are right – and if you're in a financial situation so secure that you've never had to allow alternative sources of income to cross your mind, good for you. I just have one question to ask — before you label and cast that first stone, can you say with no doubt in your mind you’ve never been blessed?
In case you were wondering, my cousin gave back the Porsche – because how do you explain that to your mom? Or to SARS, for that matter? She said the guy was being silly, and I can't say I disagree with her there, either.