Monday, February 21, 2011

To be or not to be a darkie

I decided I wasn’t going to blog about this, but somehow I’ve broken the promise to myself. The recent remark by Dr Blade Ndzimande about a darkie government and Lindiwe Mazibuko’s response has put political discourse at the centre of attention again together with the class conundrum and the effects it has for who can legitimately participate in politics.(http://www.mg.co.za/article/2011-02-16-darkies-and-coconuts-trends-in-parliament/)

I’m not going to talk about whether “darkie” is a derogatory word or not, or whether “Uncle Blade” was misguided in his response to Lindiwe and I’m not sure if I want to think about what this means for political discourse. What I do consider to be worrying is that the idea of being black enough is one we are still having...why do we care so much?

Young South Africans who have been educated at former white schools (private and public) and might have moved to the suburbs have been at the brunt of the identity crises in South Africa. I will use myself as an example: the first time I heard the word “coconut” was in passing, in town from yet another boy I wasn’t interested in talking to while walking home. Usually these boys had always retorted with “Yu,awusazenzi bhetere nje!” (You think you’re better). A friend of mine who was staying in the township kindly explained that this was the new concept used to describe someone who was black on the outside and white on the inside (but according Fred Khumalo’s latest article it also refers to a self-loathing black person who sees white people as a standard of success, goodness etc http://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/columnists/article923808.ece/Shedding-light-on-us-darkies). I was blank because we (my friends at school and my neighbours) all agreed that we had the same colour blood running through our veins. What has always been interesting for me about the word coconut is that those who were accused of being coconuts never came up with the word yet we are always upset when people refer to us (some of my friends and I) as coconuts. We were told who we were and we got carried away with the term accusing those who weren’t coconuts as “ghetto...crusty...riff raff”. The war of words reflected one of the sicknesses about human nature: that we think we have the right to put others in a box and treat them the way we want to treat them rather than what they deserve.

What’s always interesting for me is that over the years, apparent “coconuts” have willy nilly accepted the term and used it to make sense of the identity shift taking place with a new subculture emerging amongst black people. If we all accept that identity is not fixed and changes because of an array of often complex reasons, why is it that when black people embrace the changes in their lives and try to form new meanings, it is turned into a war about “my accent is better than yours” rather than simply accepting that there are changes that we cannot make sense of. The idea of being black enough has always been about somebody else deciding for me if I am black enough as though that were the most important part of who I am as an individual. I began to worry when I was upset if someone called me a coconut...so what if that’s what they choose to see me as when I meet them? I am not my skin the same way I am not hair.
Someone asked me simple question that helped me understand the race (and often class) conundrum: What do you think of yourself first thing in the morning? Recently I have been thinking “oh shit the Masters...am I going to wake up today?” or “really? I’m waking up alone on a single bed, again?” or “damn it! I’m 24, I should be getting a job and medical aid”. I don’t remember ever thinking “I am a coconut”. I’m not sure if I’m trying to make a point of anything, but the coconut conversation really ought not to be our biggest problem in South Africa-so what if Lindiwe Mazibuko didn’t grow up in the township? The point is she’s adding value to her country by choosing to be part of making changes (however dubious the DA can be). And so what if “Uncle Blade” did grow up in the township? That’s his reality and consequences of apartheid first hand. The truth is they have something in common, they are human, and I hope they can agree on that.