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.