A GOOD BLACK TURNS bad
A line was drawn at the annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture this week, where three women took to the lectern to speak their truths. Panashe Chigumadzi tackled Rhodes Must Fall and why angry ‘coconuts’ are turning on white power, while Sisonke Msimang and L
Iremember being in crèche, the same one where my older sister was the only black in her time, and hearing the cook rip into my mother about how I was speaking too much English and losing my isiZulu.
To some degree, my parents thought this was an okay practice, given that they had abandoned the dusty plains of rural life so that I could access the privileges of white spaces.
I remember the principal at the crèche showering the white children and their parents with affection in the form of gentle kisses on either cheek. This was normally followed by a conversation about the wellbeing of loved ones or holiday plans.
Naturally, like the kisses, this was never a conversation I had with my parents.
As I grew up, I mastered the art of being in white homes and concealing my blackness by referring to friends’ parents by their first names and going along with polite conversation about failing black leaders in my near-perfect English.
I was a good, well-trained, well-versed black.
The Ruth First lecture was I reminder of why I have begun to creep out of the woodwork, coming to terms with the blackness that has been so carefully concealed by the architects of the rainbow nation, who in essence decided that if we could appear to be accepted in certain spaces, we would have achieved equality.
It is only now that the guinea pig generation of the rainbow social experiment has come to understand that it has all been a farce.
I am learning about life on the outside of perfectly manicured Model C schools, which preach the gospel of equality in the name of Madiba.
When I was given placement in residence at university, or bursaries, I was quickly reminded that it was because I was a black woman, not because I was a person with a brain. When I speak to people on the phone, they are shocked by how “nice” my English is. I have been to numerous events where I am asked for all forms of identification, while my white counterparts waltz in without question.
Whether it is in university, the workplace or social environments, the message is clear that blacks are not as welcome as whites.
It is only when your honorary membership is revoked – or proves to have limited access – that your identity is revealed.
I’m beginning to formulate a picture of my own worth as a comfort to white institutions that have “accepted” me with the condition that I will continue to fulfil my mandate to serve their goals. Blacks are allowed only if they pander to whiteness; if they don’t object when their names are mispronounced; if they check their black anger at the door.
This awakening is a painful and taxing experience, and is changing the way I deal with my white friends. I am so conditioned to pander to whiteness that my instinct is to help them unpack why our relationship is no longer the same as it has been all of our lives.
I am grappling with the need to explain to former white friends why our relationship has been a farce and that I am not changing the game, but rather coming to terms with the unspoken rules.
I can never again go back to my pre-rude awakening existence where, in the homes of white friends, I smile and nod at conversations about how tough the job market is for them. Or conversations that subtly – or not so subtly – carry the implication that blackness is a failure. The black government is corrupt – the implication in their tone that many blacks are uncivilised. Not me, of course, not “good” blacks.
Sorry, but my “good black” tendencies are falling by the wayside as I teach myself to forget about always speaking “properly” or censoring my political views for fear that they will be seen as radical and a return to the “swart gevaar” that whites thought they had eliminated by extending an invitation to certain whitie spaces to appease the darkies and let them think they are equal.