What Makes You Black?

What makes you black? I remember that Metro FM advertisement so vividly, and it was first flighted over ten years ago. “Is it the shape of your nose?” it asked. “Is it the colour of your eyes? Is it the texture of your hair?” That’s a question that the black man has attempted to answer since time immemorial. In answering the question, we’ve said all the right, noble things and have made the right noises, but do our attitudes and habits agree with our answers? If what makes us black is “the beat of our souls” why are we still having the weave debate? Why is the articulate black child still called a coconut? Why is the black child who is among the top ten academic achievers in her grade ostracised from her black peers? What is this black-o-metre that we have created to measure our racial identity? Where does it come from? Can we do a “return to sender” please? It presupposes that “blackness” can only by experienced in a life of mediocrity, ignorance and apathy. If you pick up a book to read as a leisure activity and not by academic compulsion, you are trying to be white. If you establish a strong work ethic and refuse to produce anything less than excellent, you are trying to be white. If you insist on efficient, polite and timeous service from everybody from your bank teller to your waiter, you’re trying to be white. Notice how all of these examples have to do with self improvement and creating a healthy image of self worth?  The irony, though, is that this identification and comfort we find in disorder, mediocrity and ill discipline is not one we inherited from our forefathers. How would we explain it King Shaka Zulu, who led the most outstanding and structured military operation ever studied? (I may be slightly biased, I’m Zulu). It is said that he trained his troops vigorously, and made them jog over hills for up to fifty miles a day, without shoes, to toughen them up. He developed the classic and famous “buffalo formation” in battle, one that was unquestionably ingenious and very well thought out. The man had no tolerance for slacking, sleeping and self pity. How would we explain it the ancient Egyptians, who are known throughout history as the originators of mathematics, and have used it to create structures that the modern man cannot replicate? When will we realise that this self hatred and inferiority complex that we possess is the product of lies told to us by colonialists and white oppressors in the past to get us to roll over and play dead while they took our land, our wealth and our pride? When will we realise that tribalism was an actual STRATEGY created during the apartheid regime, which PW Botha propagated in his infamous speech to parliament in 1985. I quote “Let us accept that the Black man is the symbol of poverty, mental inferiority, laziness and emotional incompetence… The old trick of divide and rule is still very valid today. Our experts should work day and night to set the black man against his fellow man.” It pains me that Pik Botha is now making flaming Lamborghini’s in that roaster down below and his strategy is STILL working! We STILL look down our noses at the Tsonga people; we are STILL spreading damaging stereotypes of our different tribes. STILL! Instead of trying to redress the damage done by uprooting this indoctrination from our minds, we ourselves are now injecting this poison into our bloodstream. This time we own it. We are claiming “poverty, mental inferiority, laziness and emotional incompetence “as our own, our DNA. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure my children never identify themselves with that. I will teach my children excellence in any field or endeavour is not reserved for white people, with them only left to achieve the bare minimum. Having regard to their personal abilities and talents, I will expect the best in academics, in sport, in culture, in cleanliness and in decorum. I only hope to find peers who will fight for the same, so that together we can remove the flag of shame erected on our behalf, which we have left to blow in the wind for far too long. If we can only realise that the battle is not in the texture of our hair (kinky vs straightened), the battle is not our clothes, the battle is not in our pronunciation of English words, the battle is where it was started; in our minds.  My skin colour does not repulse me. I do not find it to be an unfortunate situation to have been born in, one I must rise above, or attempt to deceive people into overlooking by pronouncing my r’s in a certain way. I’m a black woman, and proudly so. I do not need to wear a fake consciousness on my sleeve like it is some sort of Girl Scout insignia.  I have not internalized the lies told to my people in the past by white bigots, that all I am good for is to reproduce, tend gardens and watch kitchens, clamouring for a handout and living below the breadline. My accent is as it is because I’m black. Not in spite of me being black. You may want to know the rationale behind that statement. Black people are naturally resilient, naturally adaptable. By the time a black child is five years old, chances are she can already speak three languages. In as pure a form as she has been exposed to, mastering the accent and natural inflections in all the languages. I do not stutter reading in English nor in isiZulu. Black people, let us be repulsed by the mud we have been thrown to wallow in, clean ourselves out, and reject the message of inferiority that has been played back to us so long that we had started to parrot. Excellence and innovation IS our portion. As the godfather of soul, James Brown once sang, “say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!”

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Like a Horse and Carriage

ImageIt’s malignant. It’s everywhere; feeding upon any other topic in conversation, unable to be restrained, until it overflows in word vomit: marriage. Aaaaaah, yes. We’re in our twenties now, tis the season to water people’s camels and ask them to spread the corner of their garments over us (no thanks, my heater is REALLY warm).  You try to find your old high school buddy Shannon Pickster on Facebook to reconnect, but she has no Facebook. Has no Facebook? Is she stuck in a time warp? No, she’s just Shannon Lee now. Graduation parties have turned into weddings, you now qualify for THAT session with your Pastor at church, and where you used to advise your friend on whether or not to study that course, you’re now advising her on whether or not to marry that man. That marriage thing that used to be so far outside your camp, has crept up on you and is now inside your tent, as you’re gearing up to meet your best friend’s very first boyfriend at her birthday dinner. (Please let me like him, please let me like him, please!) It’s all new wine, it’s strange and strong and forcing me to take a long, hard look at my views on the matter.  I’ve come to a place where I have to unlearn everything I know. Those stories and stories of books in my head, accumulated over years of having my nose in one Francine Rivers book after the next, and girly chatter with my friends over coffee and croissants, are now useful only as fire paper. You see, in my head, things were relatively easy and highly romantic. Guy eyes girl. Girl notices guy, yet plays coy because she’s a lady, guy’s inner fires are lit up and he chases after her with reckless abandon, not quitting until she’s in a Carolina Herrerra gown, in front of the minister, vowing to love and honour and wash his socks and hang his wet towels for as long as they both shall live. Nobody ever told me about all the other possible scenarios! I didn’t know there would be so many shades of grey or dense marshes to ford through. It was unfathomable to me that guy would like girl and yet feel inadequate and undeserving of her, or that girl would fall nose over toes in love with the one guy whom every other girl has nose over toes in love with. Neither did it occur to me that on this long and thorny road to the altar, there would be that one guy who would relentlessly pursue girl, refusing to let up no matter how many times girl goes at his heart with a machete because she just couldn’t return his feelings, and that he wouldn’t care that she felt feathers for him, he still wanted her (madness, I tell you). My personal favourite, guy like girl, girl likes guy, girl plays her part of the coy maiden excellently, but guy has decided to get with the times, chasing after girl is so 1920’s and reeks of gender stereotyping, so he decides to play coy…gentleman? Because of the carefully constructed image of eros love in my mind that had taken so long to build, I neglected to consider that girls aren’t the only human beings involved. I had made guys out to be these automatons, following the script to the tee, saying all the right things, at the right time, with the right bouquet of flowers in hand (white orchids or yellow tulips). What I have learnt, is that guys will divert so much from the script we so painstakingly write, that oftentimes the only thing the two versions will have in common will be the characters. Even the title will change. What girl wrote as “He Fought for my Heart”, guy will turn into “I Was Going to Fight for Her Heart, But I Decided another Girl Was worth My Battle Scars”. It’s all so overwhelming, makes a girl want to take some Valium. I’m joking. Say no to drugs. Even prescribed ones. I have to now consider, do I have to give up on my dream? Will my trip to the altar inevitably be less beautiful as I had always dreamed it would be? Do I have to make peace with the idea spending the rest of my days with a man I merely tolerate, after his Pastor proposes to me on his behalf? Absolutely not! I would rather sit alone in a nursing home chewing tobacco, with only my cats as company, than go gentle into that dire existence. Maybe I want more than what the average Christian man can give. Maybe I’m asking for too much that the eyes of a man I have fallen for would mirror my own love. , A little vulnerability, someone I love saying “I love you, I have God’s blessing to pursue your heart and I will not relent until yours begins to thaw.” This is me, this is what I want, and I won’t short-change my  dream just to have my ring finger occupied and my surname  changed. I know I’m worth the extra effort I ask for. I’m an old school girl, and while my views may be a bitter pill to swallow for the new age man, I know they come with benefits that modern women find obsolete. I will guard and protect his heart and virtue. I will be a soft pillow to rest his head upon at the end of the day. Things that modern women find menial and demeaning, I will do for my husband, the high priest and king of my home, with a heart of love and service. The reward will be great for the pursuer of my heart. And I will wait for him. I will not cast pearls before swine. Because I’m worth it.

The Real State of the Nation Address

Turn on the TV, or find the right frequency on the radio, or sit down with your daily newspaper. What do you see? What do you hear? What kind of news is breaking in the Constitutional and democratic country that is alive with possibilities? The robbing of lives, over trivialities like cell phones. The paralysing and blinding of infants. Our schoolyards, which used to resound with laughter, chatter and recitals of the 23rd psalm now have a new soundtrack. Labour cries, as the bathroom stalls have become maternity wards. Cries of “please, stop!” as sex education practicals happen against the will of the girl child. These harrowing images, which should cause us to draw our breaths in shock and hang our heads in shame, have become as commonplace as Saturday morning cartoons. Our moral fibre lies unravelled before us, and it should cause us to weep for our nation, yet seemingly, we’ve seared our hearts towards it. “It’s not our problem”, as many of us say. On the 18th of April, the story broke of the gang raping of a 17 year old mentally challenged girl seven young men. As if that wasn’t horrific enough, these men recorded their gruesome act on their cellphones. Her cries for mercy and the sound of them jeering and egging each other on were music to their ears. The video went viral, and people were requesting it on social networking sites, like it was a muffin recipe! On the 19th of April, the editor-in-chief of The Star newspaper had this to say: “How did we get here? How did we as a nation raise such monsters that could find a joke in such a repugnant act? Why should the girl child live in perpetual fear of who in essence are her brothers, her keepers? There is no time left to lose. It’s time to heal our nation. It’s time to recreate the village that raises the child in safety, in harmony, and in joy. And time, is not on our side.”