Blacksheep Is The Wicked Killer of Beautiful Minds

A family without a black sheep is not a typical family.

Heinrich Böll

I am very close to my mother; she calls me “brother”.

It is because in my tradition, we sequentially name children on both sides of the parents, so she named me after her late brother Stephen. Dare you not use this name on me today. I have reserved it exclusively for law enforcement and for sending my salary to the bank. Period.

My mother and I are not tight just because we look very much alike. We are both bold and realistic in similar ways. Not to mention the small frames that we both inherited from her family. We do get along very well now, but in the past, things were different. 

She used to get very frustrated with me as a child and teenager.

We would fight all the time because I am unlike any other of her children. I am the one she could not give orders without an explanation. I would not just take instructions without reason. On the other hand, her word was law and children deserved no persuading. There was conflict and frustration between both of us all the time. 

Whenever she was unable to handle me in my adult life, she gave up by calling me kichwa ngumu (hard-headed) who made her younger life miserable. This made us both laugh heartily and nostalgically.

At some point, I became the Blacksheep, and she the Tyrant.

There would be quarrels and beatings to cut me down to size, but this only worked in the moment. I would be compelled to do things, but deep down, I was unyielding. This internal resistance did not help me in the short-term either, because it brought me so much stress, that most people cannot bear. 

Besides, it demolished my health, and I would fall sick all the time. I was always low on energy and could not hack simple tasks, and this led me into more trouble. When we went to the shamba, I could not finish my day portion of weeding or other farm tasks because I was too frail. At times, I would just sit down and weep and wait for the help of my bigger sisters and brothers. They would finish their portions and come to my rescue almost all the time.

The stress levels were ridiculously high.

I struggled with the strain that came with these experiences. A pain so deep that it made me have several suicidal thoughts as a child. My life at the age of 12 was of name-calling and undue pressure to measure up to my hardworking siblings. 

I could wake up with my energy levels depleted, and this earned me the title of the lazy one amongst my siblings. I would also frequently fall sick, and everyone thought that I was malingering to avoid farm work because of my lethargy. This treatment was, in a way, a form of subtle alienation from my siblings. It created a void for bullies and molesters to target me. Wherever I went, I was a marked boy by both people and nature—that weakest animal in the herd.

Unfortunately, no one could understand what I was going through. I, in turn, trusted no one with my feelings, and this made me to suffer heavily in silent loneliness.

The high-stress levels must have resulted in my slow growth. I believe my growth was stunted for a long time, and this only changed when I surpassed this stage in life.  I eventually gained some reasonable height much later than my peers. I still believe that if the situation could have been reversed, I would today be known as “that tall guy” in this town.

Even in school, some teachers would maltreat me.

But I had no one to confide to because seeking protection would only earn me more ridicule and retribution. I remember one of the teachers in Standard Four. A curvaceous and beastly woman who made my life such a hell on earth. I was never a truant in my childhood, but that would not save me from her discriminative wrath. 

Every school day, she would pick my maths book first and mark it. I believe she would mark any other persons better, and then give me a beating for small mistakes. Either way, I remained the best student in that class, but eventually, her frustrations led me to be the poorest in math in my class for years. 

Thank God, later on, another teacher discovered my prowess and worked hard to bring back my math spirit before it was too late. Were it not for him; I would be telling this story orally while drinking local brew with calabash in the village. A few of my front teeth would possibly be missing by now.

It all started with a venomous snake bite.

Looking back keenly, all was well with me as an ordinary and happy child, until the age of nine. One day while playing outside with my kid brother, we heard screams somewhere near our home. My mother had stepped on a cobra, and it went straight for her right ankle. There was so much wailing and pandemonium, and eventually, our neighbours took her to a faraway hospital.

That led to a lengthy hospitalisation and an unexpected long separation from my mother whom I was very close to. We had to relocate and go live with my father, who was completely strange to me. An introvert that I could barely understand.

This moment brought lots of confusion and stress of imminent loss to me. I thought I would never see my mother again. So I silently began to question most things and especially how I would live without her. This mental rationalisation went on even after my mother recovered and came back home. The querying skill later came to be interpreted as being big-headed and deviant and earned me one label after another.

This experience was very deep to deal with. 

I recently journaled about this while sipping a nice cup of tea at the street veranda of Minerva & Continental Café in Maputo, a place full of readers and other decent people. At some point, I could not help breaking down in tears in such a public place and continuing to wipe them while digging deeper into the pain in my heart. It was a real case of peeling the onion and understanding who a Blacksheep is.

Blacksheep is a label of misunderstanding given to select people by ordinary people

A Blacksheep is a term that came from the fact that the wool of a black sheep was considered less valuable commercially. In a family context, it translates to a marginalised person—the most misunderstood member of the family. One made to feel and see themselves differently from the others. One is simply made to realise that they do not fit in well. As if that is not enough, everyone around them is made aware that they are the odd ones out. 

In my case, it was not only the labels I had been given, but the susceptibility that came with it. It made me vulnerable to bullying in school and molestation at home. Being the moving target at home and away leaves you with nowhere to run, even when you face the worst of your fears as a child.

Suffering is what brings clarity.

I have now come to discover that this was some spiritual process for me, as much as it made me suffer big time. It gave me the unique gift of being different, since it is the people who question the family order who become labelled as Blacksheep

It is the people who question the system who change the world. The Blacksheep is the non-conformist, the one who tells things as they are. They destabilise the family order, and that is why they are never much loved. Families are all about orderliness.

But you will most likely end up with life struggles. 

While your siblings carry their trauma in baskets, you will haul yours in a 40-foot container. You will have to do a lot more work to reclaim yourself or end up with lifetime struggle characterised by fears and addictions. Despite your spiritual and intellectual prowess, you are likely to end up in rehab, or some other place or state for broken people. It is most likely that your mental health will be affected later in life.

While there, the labels will become your real identity and permanent inscription. Most people are never able to shake it off and reclaim their true potential. I am lucky to be one of the few Blacksheep who have peeled the onion and come to understand that the personality is not that of apparent weakness and deviance, but that of high intellect and spiritual capability. Blacksheep are special people made to feel worthless. 

Unbecoming a Blacksheep takes courage.

Unfortunately, the tag given is a stubbornly sticky one and hard to shed. It is a tight space to be, and to get out of too. But if one truly has the courage, one can come out healthy and shining. All the suppressed potential emerges in an unforeseen way. Like a burst of bright sunshine after a stormy day, they become glorified just like the golden child of the family. 

I am one of those who have been blessed with the courage to fight off and tear away these unwarranted labels that were pasted on me. I do not doubt that by the end of my life, I will have lived a full and accomplished life. I will in no way have given up and wasted away, like most of us Blacksheep.

Besides, I have the freedom to do things that others cannot attempt. I can deviate from what everyone believes in because I crafted my courage and created my space a long time ago. My rebellious spirit is indeed known, so I have the liberty to discover and enjoy my life entirely. This is the ultimate reward of having been a Blacksheep and surviving the fiery kiln.

Labelling is a mistake I will not make in my parenting.

One of my sons is just like me. He questions everything and protects his power zealously. My mother comically calls it my parental karma. I can confirm on her behalf that it is not easy raising such a child. 

However, knowing the pain that goes with Blacksheep labelling, I cannot inflict it on my children.  Like author Pam Leo says, “Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods.”

Primarily, Blacksheep is created from a style of parenting that wants everyone to be the same. This can never happen because that is not how God intended us to be. It is only human beings who try to create this scenario because it is easy to manage.

No matter how much different my child is from my expectations, I will never give them labels. I strive to learn how to adapt and parent each one of them differently because this is how human beings are. After all, there is no uniformity in any family or herd in nature. 

If we all became resilient parents, the world would surely benefit from the unlimited and unique God-given gifts that are in our midst.



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Published by Kariuki Mugo

I live cherishing the outdoors, especially green, rugged and watery spaces, but still enjoy the city life. I dedicate in and cherish a family system that provides the foundation for nurturing strong, loving relationships. I trust in thriving communities that provide a better life for everyone, and I am highly committed to creating knowledge. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a development worker, and a teacher to many!

7 thoughts on “Blacksheep Is The Wicked Killer of Beautiful Minds”

  1. Henry says:

    Great piece Mugo….really you should write a book!

    1. Thanks, Henry. Someday God willing.

  2. Washu says:

    Black sheep, i can relate to alot of it,
    Parenting part, good lesson and reminder not to label we do it more often than we can count. Good reminder to stop labeling our kids. Keep them coming.

    1. Blacksheep is a hard place to be. The trauma collected usually end with the next generation. For me, I have become extra cautious, so that my trauma does not define my personality anymore. That way, I become the true me, and a better mentor for the next generation.

  3. Emily Machocho says:

    Heheh,I read this in ‘staccato’ mode…so relatable. I actually had recollections of so many instances my mom would scold at me simply because a sibling screamed out my name! Mine was a case of punishment before explanation. At least I had a one-on-one session with her about this in my adult days…story for another day. Awesome piece!

    1. I wait for the day you will tell me the story. Being a marked child is a place no one wants to be. But unfortunately, some of us were there for a long time. But now you know, that this was a place for truly special people, and you are one of them. Happy New Year full of blessings. Keep reading!

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