So a while ago, I wrote this post (How Are We Going To Fix This?) about our situation in this beautiful country of ours and how we need to address and chat about that big blue elephant in the room: RACE and PREJUDICE. I emailed my friend, Felicity, in Zimbabwe, to ask her opinion on the subject and to perhaps write a post for me and this blog on her views on the whole Africa/Colonistaion/Where Do We Go From Here? situation. I asked Felicity because, hey, we’re being honest here – she is one of the few black friends I know who I have a history with – we have sat and chatted at length about the way the world works, we have marched together and drunk together and she is just a lovely person whom although I haven’t seen for years, I trust with my life and soul. I also know I can trust her to be honest and straight with me.
To cut a long story short, Flick never wrote me that post. She reckons my post (and my asking of her opinion) has set off a massive undertaking of ideas and thoughts that she reckons she’d need a book to explain (I’m waiting. Patiently).
While I was overseas, far away from home and the problems we face on a daily basis, a friend sent me this post called Dear White South Africans, written by Ntsiki Mazwai, which spread like wildfire and which was (in a very small nutshell) about Heritage Day and how re-naming it National Braai Day is a slap in the face for black Africans. To be honest, when I first read this post, I completely agreed with the author – she has some very valid points, especially regarding the language part. While I grew up on a farm and was rather fluent in Zulu as a child, I lost this skill as soon as I started attended public school. I regret this to this day and I am determined to learn Zulu again. The more I re-read the post (and I read it a lot) though, the more I became a little frightened by the aggressive undertone of the piece. So I sent it to Flick. This is our Facebook conversation following said article.
Listen, I’m not saying what either of us have said is right or wrong, but we began speaking about race and Africa and we engaged in a no-holds-barred conversation about how both of us felt. I want you to read this and I want you to participate in this conversation because talking about where are IS THE ONLY WAY WE’RE GOING TO FIX THIS. So don’t be scared about how you feel – it’s how you feel! – it’s the world we’ve born into, it’s the prejudices we’ve packed into our little life backpack since the moment we took a breath in this place we call home. Read our conversation, leave a comment, leave an opinion, engage or not, but seriously, it’s time to talk. Let’s express what we’re all feeling, with no judgement or hatred. What’s done is done. It’s time to fix it.
Hey Flick – what do you think of this? Just been sent it. Xxx
I read it.. then re-read it. As a black person, I can fully understand what she is talking about…. just last Friday I was ranting at how white Zimbabweans look down on black Zimbabweans who speak with an indigenous accent not realising themselves that the Zimbabwean white person English accent is weird on its own anyways. And it is so easy to get mad at a group of people who sit across from me in a restaurant and look down their nose at me for being the only black person there…. it grinds.. it pisses on my batteries and I can feel where Ntsiki’s anger is coming from. HOWEVER, I don’t think her delivery is useful at all. This is something I have noticed about the whole race rhetoric in SA, it is very aggressive… the anger is so close to the surface that it makes it impossible to have a calm and reasonable dialogue. Ntsiki’s piece is a put-down-smack-down that is not useful. She makes valid points, but they stop meaning anything when the motive is to slap back so to speak. She needs a little more Mandela and a little less Julius. We need to be able to look past our own hurts and speak to the bigger picture.
And this argument that white people are European… ughh… it is annoying… and complex. I believe white Africans are African… there is a HUGE distinction between white people who grew up in Africa and those who grew up in Europe. The history is centuries old and so legitimately it is difficult for the ordinary white African to trace their steps back to wherever their ancestors came from, and they shouldn’t have to. After all.. Africa is a continent made of movement. I am Ndebele living in Zimbabwe, for example, but my people are originally Zulu and Sotho… we moved.. historically… the movements of the Bantu are a clear case… no-one in the world “belongs” anywhere… the Americans are immigrants, the Scandinavian countries are rich in histories of movement, Asia, Eastern Europe.. everywhere.. we all moved.. at some stage.. at some time… sometimes for good.. .. most times for bad. So illegitimising white Africans is unnecessary and petty in my opinion. It’s the Julius rhetoric.. this is not constructive.. its just made to instigate violence and anger. That being said however… the refusal to learn indigenous languages for example, because they aren’t “important enough” is wrong… and that is non-African (or anti-African) behaviour. So as a white African… it would be, and should be, normal to speak a local language. This is not to deny learning English or Afrikaans, however if you live and grew up in an area – the local language should be what you speak. The duality of claiming to be African as a white person, and at the same time looking down on local languages, is unacceptable and pisses off black Africans. That is quite straight forward. The same applies to dual citizenship… claiming to be African and holding an ancestral British passport as a lot of my friends here do.. its just plain annoying, man. It says, “I’ll be African so long as its fun.. then when things get rough.. I’m gone.” So (*big heavy sigh) these are the things that inspire Nstiki-ites. Thing is… people still haven’t dealt with their emotions… the forced rainbow nation was psychologically damaging to South Africans.
A REAL Truth and Reconcialiation Commission needs to be held, not the fiasco Tutu did in the ambiance that was Mandela-time.
Otherwise the bickering will continue.
Keri Bainborough: (having just arrived home from Europe)
Agreed! With everything you have said. Thanks for that Flick. Sorry for the late reply.
I agreed with a lot of her points, but I thought she executed it very aggressively, and to be honest it made me feel that I don’t want to live here anymore. Too many people – quite obviously – don’t want me here. I feel uncomfortable in my skin and in the country of my birth. And I’m tired. I want to live somewhere where I can contribute to society and be appreciated for it. Ugh. Maybe I’m having a bad day… post travel blues.
Lots of love xxx
Keri, I totally understand post – travel blues and the back to reality feeling. Don’t worry, things will settle, they always do. In terms of not wanting to stay in SA or feeling that there are too many people who don’t want you in SA or Africa in general, well… that, my dear, is entirely up to you. You, you have one life, be true to yourself. Having said that however, I am just going to point out a few things to balance the equation. I hope I don’t offend you, I am just trying to show you the other end of the scale. This is also NOT to make you feel guilty. I think a lot of white people think black people want to make them feel guilty and don’t realise that there is a difference between being conscious of ones privilege and… feeling guilty for something you didn’t personally do. I will debunk the privilege thing. I, for example, am middle class black – I went to private school, I speak the Queen’s English and I easily relate to my white colleagues. This gives me a HUGE edge over my cousins who grew up in the location. As a child, this led to a lot of resentment between us because they felt I was trying to be white and I thought they were just jealous. Thing is, in reality I DO have far more opportunities than them. I get chosen before them in job interviews; I get a better paying job; I get to make enough money to travel for fun; I live in a bigger house; I can afford hobbies like photography. These are situations where I get to enjoy things partly because I work hard for them, but also partly because I sound “whiter” than them and therefore I am more easily employed. A woman who works just as hard as me, who is just as intelligent if not more, but speaks “bad” English would not land the same job. And that is where the anger and resentment comes. Yes, I work hard for my shit, but I do have an advantage and it is not like I chose to be born middle class, as much as my cousins didn’t choose to be born poor. In the same way, we don’t choose to be born black or white – it is not an achievement to be born a certain colour, however the world works in such a way that it appears so. As much as I am “rewarded” for my private school accent, white Africans in general get “rewarded” for a lot of things that they didn’t work for. We still live in a world where white privilege is everywhere and it is to a higher degree in Africa. You just might be so used to it that you don’t realise it. Being a black student at Rhodes, for example, is a completely different ball game to being a white Rhodent, but I bet you didn’t see it (while you were there, in that situation). I am just generalising here. Sometimes when I sit with my white friends at a restaurant and the waiter ignores me, they don’t notice it because he will be super nice to them. When doing my Masters in Germany and I was friends with an Australian girl, I had far better German language skills than her, but everywhere we went people were rude to me for not speaking German, but never once gave her flak for her inability to speak the language. Basically, what I am trying to say is that even though you might feel unappreciated in South Africa, you are living in a country where its still far much easier to be white than black. Also, in order for one to contribute meaningfully anywhere in the world does not require ideal conditions – the best contributions are from difficult spaces. It is not the duty of black South Africans to “want” you – do you “want” them? Living in a nation is co-existing - no-one needs to be grateful to another for being there just as in a family you don’t “want” your brothers and sisters – they just happen to be your brothers and sisters! Finally, coz damn.. this was a messy message… think about your post-travel blues. Now imagine yourself as a maid in a white family household. You go to work in the morning, the house you work in has electricity, nice food, nice cars etc. Then at the end of the day you go home to your one-bedroom shack with no electricity, no water and a gutter for a garden. That post-holiday blue you are feeling, try doing it daily. Okay, I hope that somehow made sense… I wish I could sit down with you over a cup of tea. This stuff is difficult and so many people get hurt for nothing. Keri, you are strong, you are real… you are not the type of African who bails out when the going gets tough… well I don’t think so anyways. I am super proud to have you as a friend and I would be sad if you left…. but at the same time…. one life… do as you Hell…. I might even join you one day… just make sure you are leaving for the right reasons.
Thanks Flick – I loved reading your reply and I agree with everything you say and of course I appreciate and understand my privilege. I live on a farm so I see the lowest levels of poverty. I see the staff being paid only R2500 a month and having to survive on it (and god knows, it makes me so guilty and I don’t have the power to change it). I see it all every day and I’m not a white girl living in a secluded flat in a big city who only interacts with her black maid once a week and sees a black beggar every now and then at the robot.
I see it and it breaks my heart and I think I want to run away because I can’t see a solution to it. I also see so much fear and anger and hatred here (perhaps I am imagining it?) from both sides (black and white).
You NEED to please write what you have said above for my post because I love what you have said here:
“It is not the duty of black South Africans to “want” you – do you “want” them? Living in a nation is co-exisiting, no-one needs to be grateful to another for being there just as in a family you don’t “want” your brothers and sisters, they just happen to be your brothers and sisters.”
THAT IS GROUND BREAKING RIGHT THERE. South Africans need to read this!!! If you don’t write it soon, I may just publish our private message conversation! (which I’ve done)
Thanks for helping me see things with new eyes.
I think Mandela wanted black and white to be friends straight away and to make each other feel wanted, and like you’ve said before, it WAS too soon. One can’t go from hating one another and being taught that the other is inferior, dirty, dumb blah blah (all those ugly racist things) and then the next minute all hold hands and sing kumba-ya. We need to debunk those reasons for hating one another (if that makes sense?) before we can move on.
Ah man, wish you were here next to me chatting right now!!! No tea – gin and tonics please!!! Sending hugs xxxx
LOL…yes…GnTs….I NEED one. Go forth and publish love. I should copy paste my whatsapp convos to you yoo . Its such a HUGE topic. But ay..don’t feel bad for the poor. Black or white. Rather do something to help. And I think you are doing it already. You have a voice… a very powerful one. One that the right ears would listen to.
PS: I think that sad message that I sent before came from a place of having really enjoyed being in Europe because for once I didn’t feel guilty about what I had because everyone there is kind of on the same level wealth-wise? But like you said, that’s my baggage. I dunno! Will keep working through it.
But staying here completely for now – I AM African, skin colour and social class aside!
Yes, this conversation may between a white privileged girl and an educated black middle class Zimbabwean girl (granted this is the dialogue of Rhodes-educated Africans and there are far many more layers of race and social classes to delve into). But at least we’re having it. We were speaking our truths and trying to find a middle ground, a solution. I beg of you to take part – in a non-hateful. constructive way. What do you fear? What do you hate? What do you hope for? What do you wish was different?
Leave a comment below if you will – let’s talk. I refuse to believe that our future is dust and hatred and violence and sadness.