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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One thought on “What Makes You Black?

  1. Mvusi Dee says:

    Many people’s minds have been distorted and confusion has taken over the minds of the strong to be weak. This post has opened my eyes and I salute you for this courage and boldness you’ve shown! I hope many will learn from this!

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