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Culture, Reality

Me and Us

by Lhola Amira / 14.09.2010

When I was 9 my mother led me to her room, combed my hair out and dressed me in a yellow dress. While staring straight into the mirror she silently sang Nina Simone’s “Angel of the Morning”. With every stroke of the comb running through my hair I felt her tears splatter on me. She had prepared me for him, so by the age of 9 I knew of a man’s sweaty smell and had felt his penetration. And years after I learned to negotiate with my body, trade it for possessions and positions, it became my tool, instrument and site.
After years of travelling, South Africa 16 years deep into democracy, and me aged 30, I’m home.

Unfortunately the reconstruction has not democraticized me, my history nor my people. From Mandela the so called “God of Humanism” and symbol of “Black Freedom”, Mbeki the renowned English Gentleman, Irish Poet and unfortunate economist and now to Zuma the Traditionalist, Polygamist “People of the people” and the “Zulu feared by Whites”. I am not just hellbent on deconstructing and destroying this reconstruction process, but I am also an astute black businesswoman waiting to exhale. The 2008 “so called Xenophobic” attacks, sparked in Johannesburg, allowed me to exhale.

Can you imagine the extent of the black violence exercised and experienced during that time? And the response… OH MY GOD, THE SAVAGES ARE AT IT AGAIN, FIRST THEY RAPE THEIR CHILDREN AND NOW THEY ARE KILLING EACH OTHER! AND OUR PRESIDENT IS ZUMA, AHHHHH. This calls for another white intervention, not on a colonist level, of course, but academic. So in 2009, an internationally established black male curator and up and coming white female curator invited me to organise a talk to discuss the notion of “us” in response to the “xenophobic” attacks. Problem was, both were socio-economically and politically removed from the brutality of the black violence.

I, professioned in body trade, was surrounded by intellectuals of all species. Sociologists, artists, curators, political/socialist activists, strategists, professors and university lecturers. All these theorists had to answer one simple question: what constitutes an “us”?. And I suppose the most fascinating response was that of a white woman, who said, ‘the “us” is an illusion and the I is the real’. And I agree, for our democracy has taught us that much – the capitalist system has no space for an “us” it only has space for an I. Of course the capitalist system sugar-coats the illusion with democracy, independence and humanism.

When my father was on top of me, there was no “us” between me and my mother, nor any other black women. Post-1994 loosened any “us” there was between black people – the white “us” remained because they formed the institution, structure and system. They have a foundational “us”, they divided and ruled the black, oppressed and exploited, extricated black identities and implanted the road to whiteness. I know I sound like a broken record when I say 1994 changed nothing.

So here I am, sitting in my room reading a text message from my mother hoping to salvage a 9 year old girl lost between the sheets and sweat of her old man. It reads, “I am sorry, sorry that you are a woman, sorry that you are black in poverty, sorry that my oppression led to yours, sorry you had to be strong, sorry for the yellow dress, love me”. But democracy has not apologised for any misfortune – so I quote Sartre: “Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry”.

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