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

CityPress - - Voices - voices@ city­press. co. za

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.




S’them­bile Cele

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