The Elephant in the Room: Can We Really Colour-block the Race Issue?

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”– Steven Bantu Biko

Chains

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed people around me being on the receiving end of racial slurs which could otherwise be interpreted as ignorant, narrow-minded or narcissistic.

Of course, this isn’t news. Discourse on racial discrimination is an on-going part of South Africa’s history and one is constantly confronted with the reality that the rainbow nation is rather a superficial farce,with tensions simmering underneath.

As opposed to the light-hearted manner in which comedians address stereotypes attached to different racial groups, it is especially challenging to take on the same approach if one emanates from circumstances that render them disadvantaged because of the colour of their skin. You cannot simply laugh it off.

I believe this is what informed US First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech delivered before graduates at Tuskegee University-a speech rendered “anti-American” and racist because it encouraged black graduates to rise above their circumstances.

Again, this won’t materialise if the world keeps skirting around burning issues and viewing any act of motivation towards economic, social and political emancipation for historical victims of racial discrimination as an attack on other groups.

It is, and should be a good fight-a fight for what is just and equitable.

Anyway, if I may back-track a little: On one occassion when someone I know was told that…well, she can’t blush because she is black, she took offense. Without going too far in my own opinion about the individual who uttered the words, I was more inclined to take a step back and remember that people don’t GIVE offense. On the contrary, people TAKE offense in response to a range of perceived offensive stimuli.

More importantly, the realization that dawned on me was that as Africans; as so-called black people we remain sensitive about the colour of our skin. This to the point where it seems an insult to be referred as such by anyone from a different racial background. It suggests that not even the black man is comfortable in his own skin because then the natural response would be “of course I am!

Our self-hatred rings even clearer when we attack migrants from the continent (and unwittingly our own compatriots) based on the perception that they are too “dark” to be South Africans. Therefore, most of our lives are spent in a defensive and trust deficient mode.

The reality is that the world’s expectation of the black man is to “deal with it”- and that is, of course paramount if our desire is to start building a positive legacy for future generations. However, it shouldn’t be a rushed process that will allow historical oppressors to feel better about themselves. It is a process that will require (without shame or justification) constant and consistent messaging around positive change.

At the same time we must be wary of allowing a defeatist attitude to fester.

In the words of Steve Biko, “Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being”.

G*

 

 

 

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Pride & Prejudice…

Courtesy of SMJ on Newgrounds...
Courtesy of SMJ on Newgrounds…

I grew up in a township nestled between Lichtenburg and Mahikeng. Old people who say they were brought there by the truck loads call it Mooidorpie. We just called it Itsoseng. At least it wasn’t given one of those derogatory names given to other places in the former Bantustans.

For me, there is no greater indication of the success that was the Bantustan project than the names given to these places. There can be no insult bigger to a group of people than to remove them from their land and then condemn their existence by giving their settlements unsavoury names.

I’m a product of a public schooling system; a product of the men and women who breathed life into us. Perhaps they knew that it is very easy for children in townships to fall through the cracks of the system. I take pride that the foundation they laid allowed me not to over-compensate nor to feel less capable than my cohorts from former model-C’s and private schools.

Not everyone who comes out of the public schooling system can say they did not struggle when they got to varsity.  Some had to face the unnerving challenge of using computers for the very first time at that stage. There can be no denying that individuals are positively or negatively affected by their environment.

Township life was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Random and constant water shortages and electricity cuts were the norm. The dusty streets of Itsoseng are a legend all on their own. What about functional street-lamps? Think again.

The first time I read Malaika Wa Azania’s blog post titled “The black “middle class” and its white tendencies”, I had skimmed through it. I had grasped enough of it to conclude that choice is an integral part of life. It is also enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our constitution.

I was rather pleased that the born-free shared my view on the contentious debate of language, particularly how indigenous South African languages are quickly wilting, especially within our homes. I could relate to the frustration even before I recently learnt how one of my relatives coyly cornered my child in an attempt to suss out her English proficiency. I mean, really?!

Anyway, Malaika describes the black middle class as, “people who live in nice complexes in areas like Midrand and drive nice cars, the comfortable blacks who are relatively financially comfortable without necessarily having control of means of production”. She went further to lambast this group for thinking that they are too posh for the township by suddenly being “afraid to drive [there] at 19h00 because ‘it’s so dangerous’”.

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One cannot ignore the contradictions in Malaika’s thoughts, especially now that she forms part of the EFF (which has highlighted the expropriation of land without compensation as one of its focal policies). Shouldn’t she at least know that the glorification of township life is misguided especially when one envisions a society where the majority of the populace has a stake in the means of production?

There is a problem here. It is clear from Malaika’s blog title that the yardstick used to measure blackness rests in how much one identifies with adversity. Adversity and poverty have become “us” so much that its absence is viewed with suspicion- contempt even.

When business mogul Patrice Motsepe announced that he would be giving away half the dividends of his fortune towards deserving education and other social upliftment initiatives, some in the village of Mmakau where he grew up, took the opportunity to take a swipe at the man for not “doing anything for the community”. Yet again, entitlement rears its ugly head.

Speaking about growing up in the township, winner of season 8 of IdolsSA, Khaya Mthethwa, told a local magazine that, “[The] township strips you of self-importance. You get to see people facing struggles daily but never complaining”. It is not difficult to see why most of us were encouraged to dream big and to see ourselves beyond townships.

How can one possibly take pride in inhabiting a place where an ambulance arrives hours after an emergency call has been logged? When young boys are smoking Nyaope on a street corner or hanging around a bar with their school uniform on during school hours? When the neighbour is chasing his wife around on the street at night? Why do some people reckon that it makes sense for anybody to want to live in sub-standard settlements that were initially engineered to keep some sections of the population away from urban centres?

Townships are also home to people who are well-off. Their children attend affluent schools in the suburbs and they drive German sedans. They love the feel and vibe of the township; the sense of neighbourliness. They know all too well the service delivery challenges in the township. They mingle nicely with their counterparts in Sandton. They know who they are and are comfortable with that. Living in the township is a conscious choice on their part. Should those who feel differently be castigated and branded sell-outs? Me thinks not.

It is disturbing that there still exist some individuals who feel that black people ought to be apologetic about their personal successes; that dues have to be paid to a million people and then some before greater society can put its stamp of approval. There is no clearer indication that the PHD (Pull Her/Him Down) syndrome persists in our societies. It is not limited to some of those who remain in townships who feel that the world owes them; it extends to those who reckon that their enlightened minds warrant them the right to dictate how others fit into the prism of blackness. My foot!

Our Blood Is Red…

I have discovered that being a writer, your work goes along wherever you go- carrying a pen and notebook come standard. Other than that one can always keep the story in mind for future reference.

I say ‘work’ because over the past three years or so I have fully immersed myself in the craft. It is not a job title, because as per South African statistics I remain one of the hundreds of thousands unemployed graduates.

Writing is not something I chose-rather, it chose me and it is a part of who I am. One other thing I did not plan to do was make my blog a political one, I actually wanted a balance because life is multi-dimensional. I would like to think that mine is a vibrant kaleidoscope-much more than politics-, otherwise I’m the world’s biggest bore.

After my afternoon nap I switched on the TV and thought I might watch music videos until my eyes bulged. What else could I do when the chilli from Monday’s hot wings still burned in my gut…amongst other areas? I stumbled upon the eNews Channel’s documentary aptly titled “Our Blood Is Red”, a sheer reminder that politics are at play and intrinsically blended into our lives.

Race relations in particular is a sore topic for many South Africans: It continues to divide the country into those who think moving on is the answer, those who are still coming to terms with their scars; those who are angry and those who would gladly continue to exploit this anger. I watched the documentary for two reasons; it was recent and went across the colour spectrum for opinion on this matter. Where do I stand?

Well, I’m not angry about the fact that the minority still pulls the economic strings, I’m rather grateful that the majority has the space to effect positive change for all citizens of this country. I may not be angry but do think it would be naïve to assume that ‘moving on’ is simple after only eighteen years of democracy.

It is not even a fraction of the amount of time that oppressive rule was law.  Anyone who expects an adolescent to act sensibly is out of their mind, and that is exactly what South Africa is- a pubescent rug rat who does not care whether the wind blows East or West but is nevertheless trying to navigate through life’s complexities.

At best, our country is going through the motions. It is continually faced with crippling corruption, abuse of power, slow service delivery and a pathetic (public) education system. In addition, there is a huge misconception that the mentality of entitlement emanates from the majority but if you look closely, the series of racial spats at Virgin Active branches around the country is another case in point.

unityThose verbal (and sometimes non-verbal) expressions like, “we DESERVE our own gyms…” or “you people want to take everything” are not dissimilar to, “we SHOULD have better jobs”. Just like a volcano waiting to erupt, we are simply boiling underneath the surface patiently waiting for the poo to hit the fan.

It was hardly surprising to watch as a man who advertised a room for accommodation over-charged one woman, providing her with one option for accommodation only to give a different woman a different rental price while giving her two options of flat rental space.

You can make your own assumptions about race. Then we turn around in disgust to face cronyism and nepotism of those in power. Of course we have been furnished with freedom of choice, yet our society is gravely lacking when it comes to our responsibility not to discriminate on the grounds of race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation-the list is endless.

Our blood is certainly RED. We are all a human race but misguided prejudices and disinterest in learning about others are stopping us from realizing this.