White Tendenciesby Vuyo Seripe / 24.08.2010
“It’s my prediction that in the near future the politics of ‘race & identity’ will be left to uncreative scholars trying to remain relevant in a more logical world.” – Samuel Munene, Nairobi poet, short story writer, and contributor to Kwani?
I’ve been accused of having white tendencies many times in my life. A white friend of mine often jokes about us swapping places because she admires black people: especially our kinky, easy-to-dread hair. This makes me feel there’s an incredible gap between who I am supposed to be – and who I actually am. Am I missing something in the How to be Black Manual? My (black) peers and me share an endless search for “true blackness”. We grow our hair naturally, bounce around from spirituality to spirituality/culture to culture/clique to clique trying to find the answer to being truly black.
When friends and I talk music – my white tendencies tend to appear. My favourite band is Pavement. My favourite rapper is Dr. Dre and I like Macy Gray and Fiona Apple. The same wide-ranging ‘range life’ is there in the eclectic way I dress. So I’ve been called everything from Hippie to coconut, to an oreo, and the list goes on. ‘‘What’s with the white music, Vee?” People often ask. Shit, I’ve experienced racism first hand. That doesn’t mean my love for Koos Kombuis is misguided or perverse. When it comes to music and fashion, we all speak a global language. Whether it’s love or hate or any other emotion or feeling – we’re human. When I listen to Bunny Wailer, wailing about the unfairness of the system, I know the most powerful weapon is the mind. If my obsession with Pavement, discredits my “blackness”, I find that downright racist.
Sometimes I make mistakes in terms of my upbringing as a black girl. When I visit my family in Port Elizabeth, I make ‘mistakes’ in the way I carry myself, and in my dress code and the amount of time I spend behind a computer or just hanging out and taking long walks when I should be at home serving tea and being agreeable. Culture and expectations are similar despite race – we’re all bumping up against confining notions of who we ought to be.
Comrade Juju is famous for the phrase: “white tendencies”. After Malema dissed the BBC reporter, I’d tease my ex-boyfriend (who was white) and tell him he had “white tendencies”. He’d say: “You’re the one with the ‘white tendencies” around here.” The ideal Rainbow nation thinks beyond black and white.’ But Race is a never ending battle that will take more than Mandela and De Klerk holding hands (and ‘reconciling’) to get over. The culture of globalism is so well marketed – we think we’ve surpassed questions of colour – but race still plays a crucial role in our culture. The Rainbow nation is all about blending together and living happily ever after in the Northern Suburbs.
“People are judged according to their ‘value’ – the greatest measure of value being economic.” That’s Kenyan writer, Samuel Munene again. In terms of class, money and education, we darkies have been lagging behind for a good five hundred years. Stephen Biko clearly states in I Write What I Like his idea of integration. “Each group must be able to attain its style of existence without encroaching on or being thwarted by another. Out of this mutual respect for each other and complete freedom of self-determination there will obviously arise a genuine fusion of the life-styles of the various groups.”
Scholar, Mbongisi Dyanty, is one of South Africa’s few black philosophers, and a vocal part of the Black Consciousness Collective at Wits. He wrote his dissertation on lost blackness, how nothing will ever truly be “black” since we’ve been far too influenced by European culture over the years. With Biko as his main theorist and race as his subject – he explores how thoughts are shaped historically. “Years of white superiority, concretized through colonialism and then apartheid, have conditioned me almost beyond redemption.” He laughs.
Let’s imagine that Mandela is actually a “sellout” – as his ex-wife puts it. Let’s say he sold out the MK and the ANC by shaking hands with De Klerk and then “forgot” to deliver on promises to the masses. The same masses currently engaging in strikes (costing millions). Lies and deception are the norm. A better life for all is now a better life for some. Aluta Continua. This yearning for authenticity, true blackness and radical honesty comes from hearing stories of hardship and sacrifice from our parents. They struggled to bring about this ‘new South Africa’ for us. Was all that betrayed? Does the struggle continue? If so, I need to know who I am, where I’m from, what I’m fighting for, and who and how to fight. These are all questions I find hard to answer.
My journey in search of true blackness lead me into unknown places, I never thought I’d come across. By the time I was in Grade 10, I had already been to ten different schools. I got expelled so much that no school would take me. That’s when my ma took my ass to a township school. I had always gone to multiracial schools but here I was, finally introduced to true blackness! On my first day, a teacher beat the shit out of me for having dreadlocks. I cut my hair. I was teased because I couldn’t finish a sentence in isiXhosa, and always drifted into English. Every day was misery for me because I was never accepted. I was seen as a pretentious coconut. I made mistakes greeting teachers and mistakes showing respect to elders on the bus or taxi. I eventually joined a weird religious cult, the African Hebrew Israelites… how much blacker can you get?
Listening to rap – Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common etc. – has sparked a need for ‘consciousness’ in me. You know? “The revolution will not be televised”. “I don’t eat no meat no dairy no sweets”. But too many black brothers just become hungry looking vegetarians beat-boxing their last bit of nutrition over a whack ass MC! Truth is in South Africa, everyone is special. We all have our categories. Some of us are retards and some of us are sane, some of us are poor while some of us are filthy rich. We’re all different and as long we go on noticing and fixating on these differences, obsessively, we’ll stay different to each other. This takes generations to eradicate. But let’s go back to Biko and push for that ” mutual respect for each other” and safeguard that “complete freedom of self-determination” so we can fast track the “genuine fusion of the lifestyles of the various groups”. Amen.