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Black to white migration: Why black South Africans are moving away from black

Sometimes I wish my skin were lighter, my nose more narrow, hair that would allow a pencil to fall freely when slid into it, with my forehead slopping back a bit, a pair of ocean blue eyes and cap it all off with the white man’s accent. At least that would make my shopping experience more pleasant, such as when you find yourself in a queue at a store, only to have the black cashier turn, in a matter of seconds from neighbourly (to Mary Smith before you) to unreceptive when s/he has to serve you … the black you. Or when you’re waiting at the door of a restaurant for a waiter, while a group of them are wrestling each other to serve the white couple that just waltzed in past you.

Just give it a thought. Abandoning black for white could wipe out copious amounts of social stresses. As a cleaner, your black BEE boss will address you as Sir or Madam while your black colleague, Thandi, goes unnoticed (unless, she’s needed to work through her lunch break), because there is no way you will be holding a vacuum during your lunch break. If you use taxis to commute, fellow passengers (who happen to be predominantly black) will go out of their way to make sure you get the best and most comfortable seat, unlike Thandi who finds herself cramped up with other three big ladies at the back, despite her leg injury. Should you decide to visit Thandi in the township, you will feel overwhelmingly at home and a bit skittish as the black community (beside themselves to see a white person in their township) will be trying to get your attention, excitedly smiling at you and offering you all sorts of things. You will notice a difference in the way Thandi speaks to you in contrast to how she speaks to the other black colleagues, which is a lot more casual and unafraid.

Imagine not having to fret about xenophobia, tribalism, class discrimination and more importantly, an inept social phenomenon: the black versus black hostility (an everyday occurrence of one black person disregarding another and pulling each other down, whether consciously or subconsciously).

Now who am I to rebuke the rest of the black people who, like me, are living in oblivion, choosing to ignore how abnormal it is to spend your entire life moving toward what is “white”. Going to a white school, adopting the white language as your own to prove that you are smart, going to a white varsity and ultimately living in a white suburb which would indicate that you have made it in life. It’s only when you’ve been stripped bare of your heritage and completely assimilated into the “white” culture, can you have a befitting, quality life … right? Despite having established, as a teenage democratic country, that we all have the same human rights, whether Indian or purple.

However, it seems black is just not good enough. That’s why we have to fight each other, see who gets to the white man first, survival of the fittest black. Though colonialism and apartheid could be justified excuses of this brazen behaviour, which exposes more than just the scars of our inferior complexes, we’re not doing much to unshackle ourselves from this mental slavery. Instead, perpetuating the idea that “white” is the benchmark to our children.

It’s not only a political or social issue. It goes beyond. It’s spiritual and emotional. Considering that black South Africans are still at greater risk of falling into or remaining in poverty. For every R100 that a white person makes, the black makes an unequal R13. Conditions in most “black schools” are appalling (shortage of textbooks, leaking roofs, overcrowded classes, I could go on forever). Black neighbourhoods are left worse off. So it’s not rocket science that we often pack our identities away to rid ourselves of the burden of being black, although our attempts leave us unsatisfied and spiritually empty.

We cannot ignore that this counterweight to notions of Black Consciousness is wearing down on the fabric of our society. So let’s go back to basics. Let’s go back to being black. Let’s be great. It’s not too late.

Author

  • Sefiso Hlongwane is an intuitive, tongue-in-cheek and inquisitive writer, merely combining a life-long interest, passion and extensive experience to squeeze himself into media spaces. While the objective is to remain in a creative, energetic and discerning environment, Sefiso wants to get skin deep into an atmosphere that is conducive to exploring, researching, reporting and articulating news and thought pieces (that will not only shape his passions but give perspective on worldly issues) in the best possible way utilising acquired creative writing skills.

34 Comments

  1. Marleen Marleen 16 September 2013

    Well said. Black consciousness is now more important than ever. And for what it’s worth, I’m white, and I don’t expect black people to act white to earn my respect. Not sure I can say the same about the rest of the South African middle class ( of all races) though. Those invisible ideas are so deeply entrenched in our being, and can only be eradicated through a conscious effort, so keep writing pieces like this, and fight the good fight.

  2. Mmmm? Mmmm? 16 September 2013

    Nearly everyone I work with is black. I have a black boss, mostly black friends and a partner from another race group. I feel completely comfortable in my “whiteness” but over the past 5 or so years I have been appalled by the (mis)perceptions that black people have about whites (and vice versa) and which they proclaim very loudly once they are confortable with you. I have come to realise that people are basically the same. We all think we know what the “other” thinks, but in truth we don’t have a clue. The sad thing is that we base our interactions with others on those perceptions and we seldom take the time to really listen to what the other is saying. Nothing will change unless people are prepared to close their mouths and open their ears and minds. The difference in the cultures is very significant and it colours our responses to one another in a very powerful way. We need to begin to appreciate that and to filter our views accordingly. That will only happen when we interact with one another in a more meaningful way.

  3. Parktown_Prawn Parktown_Prawn 16 September 2013

    I think you make sense. I am white and drive a very old car, a model that now finds favour among a certain economic class of black people. I never get pulled over at roadblocks and such. But, if I have a black colleague in the passenger seat, the black metro cops are pretty much guaranteed to pull us over.

    It feels to me a bit like what the writer calls black on black hostility. I understand a little Zulu and it’s amazing to me how the metro cops will politely ask me for my driver’s licence in English while asking my black passenger in a very hostile Zulu why he is being driven around by the white man.

  4. Ngelengele Ngelengele 16 September 2013

    It is a shame that in SA poverty is still so prevalent amongst black people to the point that Blackness is heavily associated with being poor. White on another hand associate with wealth for obvious reasons. Black people’s plight to fight poverty has degenerated into fighting against their own identity. Self-consciousness is heavily tested and even lost in times of hardships that people at times can be reduced to cannibals.

    The spirit of Black Consciousness seeks to dislodge this association as it is obviously mentally generated through years suffering and colonial definition of the meaning of black. Black identity is very crucial at this transitional era of our country that our generations will identify with what is done today about the pride of black men and women.

  5. Mfundi Mfundi 16 September 2013

    Great blog – and very true. I agree with you 100% that it is time everyone – and I mean everyone, of all races – treat black people with respect, instead of stereotyping them. I have also seen this so many times – service staff treating fellow black people with a casualness bordering on contempt. It is just plain wrong.

  6. hanif manjoo hanif manjoo 16 September 2013

    What makes anyone consider that only Black Consciousness matters; to the exclusion of non-Africans?

    My Khoisan-consciousness is just as important to me…. and my roots are more firmly in the ground here!

    Yet, we don’t go about screaming ‘Khoisan-consciousness’! Or others ‘White /brown / yellow consciousness’. Isn’t this blatant racism?

    I doubt that Bantu Biko meant what many blacks today manipulate and publicise into a form of reverse racism and exclusivity! The message seems that humanity levitates around colour….black in this instance?

  7. Barbra Barbra 17 September 2013

    I think we need to move away from ‘black’ and ‘white’. Just because whites were there first, shouldn’t classify anything as a ‘whie’ suburb / school / whatever forever. The so-called ‘white’ lifestyle, is more accurately called a western, developed, and sometimes privileged one.
    If we get the basics right (quality education, efficient administration, productivity etc), and root out the corruption and waste, ALL will benefit, and we will all care less about colour.

  8. Rick Baker Rick Baker 17 September 2013

    If humans would look at this issue a bit more scientifically, they would discover that the genetic variation between any two humans on the planet is less than the differences between two creatures of any other species. Ie humans are very very alike genetically and skin colour is about as significant as the difference between the colours of a horse or cow! All this ‘them and us’ nonsense is imaginary and fueled by religious and other cultural indoctrination which in turn leads to the shocking abuses of one group against another as in Syria and SA apartheid. Unfortunately it seems to be human nature to exaggerate imagined differences and allow these to dominate thought and actions.
    Humanity could make a quantum leap forward if it would abandon mumbo jumbo and live life based on current and modern scientifically based knowledge instead of outdated and disproven historical anecdotes.

  9. Tofolux Tofolux 17 September 2013

    @Sefiso, during the month of the remembrance of the death of Steve Biko allow the thinkng of black consciousness some respect. This black bashing is not helpful. What is also not helpful is for others to tell blacks what they should be, when and how. Not only is it patronising it is just plain disrespectful. If you are going to put the debate why dont you address what we read, the current social discourse or this social conversation which seeks to supercede the rights of the minority over the rights of the majority. When we hear debates on radio/tv, when we see the news on tv, when read the content in newspapers why is everything done from the white perspective? The Marikana killings, the De Doorn farm protests, the going to courts, the poo-spilling at Cape Town Airport etc etc all seeks to address the white interests fWith all this self-bashing we fall into a trip and instead of demanding why media is so untransformed we continue to bash each other to no end. After 19yrs of democracy it seems that we have gone back to pre 1970. When we see news carried iro Deputy President having girlfriends and allegations of illegitimate children or accusations of corruption eg Pres Mbeki, this WITHOUT ANY EVIDENCE, why are we silent? The fact that we are so silent when allegations are made of Madiba’s death and that some are waiting(sic) for the ”moment” to break the news, seeks to re-affirm that we blacks will forever be beholden to a particular blue-print. Hence what is black?

  10. Una Una 17 September 2013

    Sefiso

    If you had dealt with the attitudes of some blacks towards other blacks and come full circle with that you would have made a good contribution to this self hatred debate. Now you mix it with the philosophy of black consciousness which most scholars fail to extrapolate into the present day SA or the political sociology of our country post 1994. BC philosophy is meant to deal with and deconstruct some vestiges of supremacy theorists and manifestations thereof that promote the colonization of the mind. It has nothing to do with colour exclusivity as most Black Consciousness supporters want us to believe.

  11. Sipho Sipho 17 September 2013

    I don’t get it where African people get the mandate to address or admonish other Africans. Is it part of African heritage that we’re responsible for other Africans’ behaviour? Aren’t we pepertuating bad behaviour by imposing group identity to every African. Imagine if we all knew that we’re on our own – whatever we do we’ll face the consequences as individuals as opposed to being Africans.

  12. safiyya safiyya 17 September 2013

    Aah this makes me sad. It’s all true of course. I saw this at UCT where divisions between black students according to their accents (how closely can yours resemble a ‘model c’ accent?) determines your station on the social ladder. Are we stuck here forever? How do we recreate the values of ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ so that one goes down in the scale of goodness and one up? How do we get beyond race in ways that don’t bog us down in ‘non-racialism’ and ‘multiracialism’ (the former plays into a whiteness-privileging ‘colour blindness’ and the latter remains stuck in essentializing differences)? Black consciousness seems a good way to go, but it seems to get appropriated in aggressive ways? And black kids (born in a post-apartheid world) don’t seem to value it much, removed as they are from ‘the past’…

  13. Rory Short Rory Short 17 September 2013

    What the majority of ant-Apartheid strugglers seem to never have grasped is that Apartheid was just a symptom of a deeper social malaise. It is not surprising therefore that since 1994 that deeper social malaise has not been addressed in fact it has been unthinkingly given support. What is the malaise? It is the unconscious belief, that exists in nearly all of us South Africans, that certain features in other people make them less human than ourselves.

    The features that are used in this way by people could be anything, skin colour, language, accent, tribe, level of education, wealth, sexual orientation, gender, age, etc., etc., the list is virtually endless. I don’t know if it is a world wide problem but, speaking for myself, it certainly exists in many of us South Africans,
    that is until we uncover it in ourselves. Having uncovered it in ourselves we can then free ourselves from the heavy burden, of what is basically a false belief, and instead enjoy unhindered the truly wondrous variety of people that go to make up our nation.

    Unfortunately for us all the post 1994 drafters of some legislation have based this legislation on irrelevant blanket criteria such as race or previously disadvantaged etc., etc. and as consequence, rather than challenging, have given support to the wide spread belief that irrelevant human characteristics are actually relevant.

  14. bernpm bernpm 17 September 2013

    @conrad

    I read the article form Jonathan Jansen. very much in line with my thinking as expressed in other recent blogs on the same issue: black/white.

    I suggest we ban the words “black”, “white” and “coloured” from the SA dictionary for the next 20 years. Similar to the “K…” word.
    Referring to human beings in a racial related classification does not solve social discrepancies.

  15. michael michael 17 September 2013

    Tofolux, Blackness is changing to whiteness, wherever i go i see black people embracing western culture especially young students and other middle class black people and not to mention the rich elite.Unfortunately sometimes it is the worst of mainstream culture, namely crass materialism that is embraced.Trying to stop this tide is like pissing in the wind, it is not going to happen.

  16. Pat Fraser Pat Fraser 17 September 2013

    No great shakes to being white. You can have it, truly. These days it’s just a bloody burden.
    Every second day there is another article about whiteness.
    Has everyone only just recently worked out that there are white people in SA?

  17. Lesego Lesego 18 September 2013

    “We cannot ignore that this counterweight to notions of Black Consciousness is wearing down on the fabric of our society. So let’s go back to basics. Let’s go back to being black. Let’s be great. It’s not too late.”

    Sefiso, you seem to be confusing poverty with blackness. Blacks didn’t choose to live in the townships, it was the whites who put them there. You go to other African countries where white people aren’t so many like in SA, like Nigeria for instance and you’ll see that blacks live comfortably and to them the white suburbs are just normal houses to them. Do not regards civilization and innovation as a white thing, it’s a human thing. No one wants hardship and if we had it our way, no one would wanna work for or suck up to anyone no matter the race.

    Labourers strike for better wages due to the fact that people strive for a better lifestyle not a white lifestyle.

  18. Lesego Lesego 18 September 2013

    Mfundi # “Great blog – and very true. I agree with you 100% that it is time everyone – and I mean everyone, of all races – treat black people with respect, instead of stereotyping them. I have also seen this so many times – service staff treating fellow black people with a casualness bordering on contempt. It is just plain wrong.”

    I think God/Nature created all this mess since visuals plays the most part when it comes to appreciation of anything in life. Nature created blacks in such a way that they will be treated with less appreciation as compared to whites and also other races treat one another according to appearances and even amongst blacks we treat each other according to our shades of brown. Our black women wear fake straight hair cos people appreciate that soft and silky and shiny hair. Its not indoctrination but just natural instinct.

  19. Mmmm? Mmmm? 18 September 2013

    @ Lesego
    it is true that some blacks in Nigeria live comfortabley in the suburbs but man-oh man, I have never seen slums and squalor like that even in South Africa. In Nigeria its the normal class distinction in terms if rich or poor – lke everywhere esle in the world. South Africa now has both race and class distinction. A double whammy. Poor pitiful us.

  20. Tofolux Tofolux 18 September 2013

    @lesego, are you for real?

  21. Lesego Lesego 18 September 2013

    Tofolux # @lesego, are you for real?

    It doesnt make sense to just ask if im for real, you have at least say something more so as to maintain sensibility.

  22. Lesego Lesego 18 September 2013

    Mmmm? # @ Lesego
    it is true that some blacks in Nigeria live comfortabley in the suburbs but man-oh man, I have never seen slums and squalor like that even in South Africa. In Nigeria its the normal class distinction in terms if rich or poor – lke everywhere esle in the world. South Africa now has both race and class distinction. A double whammy. Poor pitiful us.

    Maybe you havent been to the townships in the Cape like Khayalisha and stuff.

  23. Zeph Zeph 18 September 2013

    These issues are not exclusive to blacks. It happens the world over. And here is some news for you – it will continue to happen as we integrate more. Influences/accents/mannerisms/customs etc. will blur and sometimes even become interchangeable.
    I suppose it is also the breakdown of ‘solidarity’ that groupings will splinter and redefine themselves. I see it as a good thing. But then I lack a cultural identity, I can be defined as one there is no doubt but I don’t give a hogs arse for it and am quite happy to change it if I see a benefit. I have no allegiance to my ‘culture’.
    Welcome to the chameleon world.

  24. Emma Huismans Emma Huismans 19 September 2013

    This was an intense good piece of writing by Sefiso Hlongwane. Down loaded it for use in a next workshop here – Holland (where is migration to white Dutch standards is seen as an automatic must most of the time and causes deep and not understood unhappiness despite the “success”).

  25. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 19 September 2013

    Lesego

    I have to go with Mmmm? on this. Our worst squatter camps are comparable to the normal ones I have seen in Nigeria (and other countries).

  26. Prosperity Prosperity 18 December 2014

    I have no idea what it’s really like in South Africa, but I’ve heard it’s actually a really dangerous place for white people, and that they are often the victims of crime. I don’t support violent crime at all, although I can understand why there might be resentment against white people there. I am a white citizen of the USA, and I would like to point out that I envy your ability to say you live on your home continent. Here in the USA, whites are often guilt tripped for living on “stolen land,” and to tell the truth, a part of me really wishes I could move to Europe, where no one can say that my race doesn’t belong there. Unfortunately that is just a dream right now. As a black South African you are living on your race’s home continent and you can feel like you truly belong there…I wouldn’t take it for granted.

  27. Jbb Jbb 29 December 2014

    thanks Pat,yup we tired of discussing racism. So boring.

  28. Richard Richard 7 January 2015

    A bit simplistic: the original inhabitants of southern Africa were not Negroid African but San Bushmen and Khoi. They were ethnically-cleansed from the land by black Africans from the north, and white Europeans arriving from the south. What you are saying is that the land of the USA belongs to Chileans, more-or-less. And of course it is also known that the American Indians were in fact Asian and European hybrids, so the situation is a bit different from what you state.

  29. Jon Low Jon Low 8 January 2015

    Khoi-khoi and San are “black Africans” too.

  30. Richard Richard 10 January 2015

    They are different ethnic groups, which is why they were ethnically cleansed. You can tell them apart by differences in their DNA, and of course, appearance.

  31. Bernpm Bernpm 28 January 2015

    Another one of those serious expressions of a deep rooted inferiority complex.
    If you are not happy in your own skin, you have a massive problem. The phenomenon of “being judged at your appearance”, as you describe, is a worldwide occurrence. The clothing industries and make-up industries make profitable use of it.

    Live with it and -where you can- take advantage of it (BEE) or avoid getting into the situation.
    Think of the saying: “Be yourself, I said to “somebody”, but he could not, he was “nobody” !!!

  32. Alex Edgar Alex Edgar 15 May 2015

    True, tragic, painful for all, and yet not all that hard to fix. Given time and proximity I think we can all get over ourselves. I’ve been getting the same seat in the taxi as everyone else for some years now – the exaggerated courtesy of the 1990’s was just a very kind and generous overture. And anyone who calls me sir or madam gets called the same back. Instant shift.

    I’m still snagging the waiters though… Not sure how to get past that one yet.

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