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White Tendencies

White Tendencies

by 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.

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  1. Cantankerous says:

    I’m black; Pavement is ace. Fuck the narrow minds who crudely want to align genre and race. You’re on the right path because you dip into multiple pools. But it can be a lonely path; it can be torturous. Not all Pavementians know De La Soul, and not all Soulsters care for Pavement – both groups are narrowminded.

    Do check out Camper van Beethoven if you haven’t already…

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  2. muerte says:

    This is awesome! Mahala sometimes does its job: bringing the news. Just honest, open and real.

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  3. cervelat says:

    A breath of fresh air, thank you. There may be hope for the future after all.

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  4. Afrimoon says:


    It would be great to get the writer’s take on the Elands hotel on a Staurday afternoon – complete with rugby and white liberals.

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  5. redlights says:

    The quote at the beginning doesn’t really match your article at all? Maybe I’m one of the retards

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  6. Cantankerous says:

    Redlights, with respect, I think the latter.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    They say African culture is to our youth, like a strange dog barking at the gate.

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  8. cervelat says:

    This fine piece got me thinking again about an issue of circular-logic that has been plagueing me for a while. It goes something like this:

    1. White consciousness as an overt practice and signifier of cultural value has generally been shunned as backward in recent years – left as the preserve of poorer and less-educated communities who feel more threatened by external forces, rather than as something with intrinsic value and of benefit to humanity.
    2. This has become all more obvious after WW2 due to the genocidal practices that ensued then and after.
    3. Black consciousness is generally viewed differently, both by many black people and by people of other race with a genuine interest in the welfare of black communities.
    4. The most generally offered explanation for the value of black vs white consciousness centers around issues of power and repression. Where a race or community has less power and control over its own destiny, it has a greater claim towards amplifying its collective identity as a defence against threats to its welfare and as an advertisement to the world of its plight.
    5. In such cases the cultural practices within these groups are often viewed as being primarily in service of the interests of that community, those that promote unity and common purpose are generally viewed as more legitimate than those that celebrate a more individual agenda.
    6. A similar logic often gets extended to certain cross-cultural practices. White artists who borrow heavily from the techniques and signifiers used by black communities are often seen as plunderers or exploiters, whereas black artists who employ devices used by whites are seen as effective hybridisers and pragmatists who seek to promote an awareness of black culture in other communities more comfortable with these non-black elements that have been used.
    7. Where the economic and political power of a community or race improves, it therefore stands to reason that its reliance on cultural identity should be less and that its interest in global homogeneity should increase. However, history has often shown that this is not the case, and that cultural identity is amplified and relied upon even further as a celebration of collective achievements.

    ….it’s like so many of these debates on mahala’s comment spaces – when is it time to stand up for something and when is it time to be more yielding and inviting in the interests of a common good?

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  9. freddied says:

    differences can never be ignored, that would be ignorant. but they need to be embraced. it is what makes this country beautiful.

    we are all unique. we need to embrace it.

    it is fire.

    and it can either burn us,
    or we can use it productively.

    the choice lies within all of us. and the of us who decide to use this fire to drive our nation to the success and prosperity that our forefathers fought for, the better.

    learn to know each other, explore and you will grow and learn.

    it is only the ignorant who hate.

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  10. Katoey says:

    Vuyo you are awesome, just plain awesome.

    Last night i had a dream i wanted to lick your knees

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  11. Noban2 says:

    Eventually there will be no such thing as ‘true blackness’, if our value is determined by economic factors as you say then the more income one accumulates the more they move up the class system and the more white one becomes and who is at the pinnacle of this system? White people, so all races will lose their so called culture and true whatever skin colour they have and become more white, so don’t worry its globalism in action.

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  12. Cantankerous says:

    Cervelat, you nail it with your analysis, but, fuck, the shit is complicated. I also believe it comes down to issues of power. But once you bring in issues of power, you cannot ignore class. And when you bring in class, you cannot ignore education. I mean ‘education’ in a broad sense, but not forgetting formal schooling.

    Generally, it is among the middle class where mixing takes place (when it does take place). I.e. people come into contact with each other and learn about each other. And assimilate. Poor people generally don’t come into contact with each other in the same way. And, also feeling threatened, they are bound more to hang on to racial, ethnic or religious identities (these things also give succour if you lead a shit, precarious existence). And, unfortunately, the poor and badly educated are also easily exploited and misled.

    So, as long as there is the wide-scale poverty and shit formal education, and massive imbalances of power, ethnic identities will remain eminently exploitable.

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  13. Lizzy says:

    interesting article – seems like race is the topic of the day: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-08-23-just-cause-you-feel-it-doesnt-mean-its-there

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  14. Anonymous says:

    a debate without hate! This thread is unreal!

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  15. cervelat says:

    Noban2 – that’s an excellent point which I’m sure many South Africans of all races have considered. Here are a few related thoughts just to ‘annoy’ you a little further…

    1. If the music that most middle-class people listen to on a daily basis was ever a barometer of cultural hegemony, then the converse of your argument is perhaps true. For your average young whitey, not just here but across the world, the stuff they’re getting down to is a lot closer to the spirit of Robert Johnson than that of Mozart. Now is that the result of shameless white appropriation or the intrinsic strength of black culture? If it’s the latter then we should be asking why and if there are other elements of black culture that the world could learn from.

    2. We may not admire Thabo Mbeki for much these days, but I will always respect him for one thing – his insistence that black government officials be known by their African names and not European ones. Sometimes holding on to one’s cultural traditions is more a matter of conscious choice than global pressure. Sometimes letting them go is just a matter of laziness, and that’s not a racial epithet ‘cos the biggest losers in this area are the Afrikaans people who use more English vocabulary these days than their own.

    3. In the near future this probably won’t be a black-vs-white thing at all. Following the financial crisis in the West and the rise of Chinese commerce, all of us will be feeling the weight of Chinese expectations very shortly. You won’t be half as concerned about losing out to the English language as the need to start learning Mandarin.

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  16. Cantankerous says:

    Thanks Lizzy. That’s a sharp piece.

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  17. wrrn says:

    good article and some intelligent comments, but disappointing in the end.

    whenever this topic up, the obvious option always gets glossed over. what about looking past race? even if just for yourself. if you took race out of the equation, who are you? how would you describe yourself?

    biko’s call for black consciousness was only a means to an end. it was only a response to the dehumansization. the ultimate goal was freedom from those labels…

    because yeah, cervelat point is on the money. as long as you think of yourself as that black guy/girl you are always going to be stuck in that box, grappling with those issues. why not just step out of the black box for a minute?

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  18. Noban2 says:

    You annoyed me well cervelat and your points are true. We had a discussion once in my politics lecture about point number three, even though the east is a rising economic power, which will soon take over the USA’s domination, I doubt mandarin will be the new universal langauge (their alphabet is hard), as for their culture it is too tradtional for a fast pop culture filled world like ours….

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  19. K says:

    Brilliant piece, niceness Vuyo!

    My only thing is I’d take Munene’s logic further and argue that race is a social construct, a convenient fiction used for political and economic ends and the masses are still moblilising around group identity mindset asserting authentic Whiteness, Blackness, Indianness or Colouredness because for centuries we’ve been duped into seeing ourselves as racial beings. Even in the context of class, rich Blacks will gravitate towards other rich Blacks and poor Whites aren’t exactly moshing with the poor Coloureds and Blacks. So until we come to a more complex understanding of what ubuntu/humanity really means, we’ll forever be stuck with these labels and categories.

    BTW if you read this please post a link to Munene’s article if it’s online. Thanx.

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  20. mick says:

    “we are all coloured.” Harry Caganoff

    “There is only the ecstatic which is Difference. Only that complex – crudely generalized as ‘individual’ – which should feed and haunt us.” Some Bloke

    “I like what I taste [… Because it confronts me in its Other, its New, its tensed alien of future music]” Some Other Oke, circa when

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  21. Wikus says:

    Miscegination, folks. Give it about 50 years and we’ll all be half prawn anyway.

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  22. Twit Alert says:

    “I’d take Munene’s logic further and argue that race is a social construct,”

    Yes. The Bureau of Race Construction was formed in 5000 BC and constructed race. Before then different tribes and people of different hues sat happily around campfires singing Kumbaya.

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  23. K says:

    No Twit, the name is telling. Social constructionist thought is clearly above your grasp. In brief, a social construct is something that is created by social context, as people we give meaning and effect to things over time. Even before 5000 BC there were social constructs based on ethnicity, religion or gender. Race is only one example. Crack a book. I’d recommend starting with Berger & Luckmann, if that’s too dense, Wiki’s got the break down. To understand race as a social construction, google The Invention of the White Race by T. Allen or Paul Gilroy or Stuart Hall’s lectures on race. Happy Reading!

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  24. Twit Alert says:

    Thanks i don’t need books – I think for myself. If you need people to dictate reality to you so that you can tell it back to them and get yourself a gold star and a piece of toilet paper to stick up on your wall to help convince yourself and others that you’re good for more than memorising and repeating whatever bullshit is put in front of you by someone in a position of authority, then good for you. Please spare the rest of the world retellings of your sociology/anthrpology 101 courses though. ‘Social constructs’ i.e nature operating as nature, people doing what people do, which includes treating reality as if its a social abstraction in an attempt to appear smart. If you were smart you’d be studying something that involved skill and concrete intelligence, not stuck in a BA trying to compensate for an intellectual inferiority complex. Yay for you.

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  25. Roger Young says:

    @Twit you have just defined K as social construct in terms of your learned perceptions.Well done.

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  26. Nick says:

    And accurately too 🙂

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  27. Twit Alert says:

    The meaning attached to race (dumber, smarter, faster, can’t jump) is ‘socially constructed’ (fuck saying that made me feel intellectual and important). But, if you think the inner eye fold on Asians is socially constructed, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to socially construct your ass as being retarded.

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  28. K says:

    LOL! Twit, your hilarious assumptions about my level of intelligence, parrot the same ol, same ol lines from those who have an axe to grind with intellectuals. It’s been parrotted to death, so stop plagiarising and actually try thinking for yourself. And yes you did define a social construct was, hahahaha. So the whole pseudo anti-intellectual infantile projecting isn’t quite working. Indeed, part of social construction is ’ i.e nature operating as nature, people doing what people do’.

    Here’s a tip, next time try working this into your script, I’m sure it’ll have a much, much better effect : post-MA not BA. I’m yet to be diagnosed as suffering an ‘intellectual inferiority complex’, but I’d so prefer for it to be rephrased as ‘anti-intellectual intellectual inferiority complex’ – I have a thing for long words, but I hate academics, but then I’m not stupid, but then I think intelligence is a social construct, but then I’m getting all complicated and abstract again, but then my life has meaning I have a job that helps other people have better lives. So yea wateva, y’say Twit.

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  29. Twit Alert says:

    Post-MA? Cue the A-Team soundtrack. No you really have me impressed this time. Three more years of repeating stuff. You deserve a fancy piece of paper to prove how clever you are – really you do. I am happy to have helped you diagnose yourself – ‘complicated and abstract’ translates as ‘words woven into self congratulatory nothingness by people who don’t have the intellect to explain concepts simply and effectively’. Twit, out 😛

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  30. Cantankerous says:

    Alert! A Twit comes a twitter
    and he sounds very bitter.
    He may have dropped out
    and is filled with no doubt
    that books are good only for litter.

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  31. Keyser Söze says:

    “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”

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  32. Nthato says:

    Great article…its my life in a nutshell basically…..

    Im black
    My favourite band is the killers and
    My best friend is Jewish

    Deal with that baby!!!!!

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  33. Frikkie Van Schalkwyk says:

    Ek ook. Ek is in Parow geboore and my faverite music are 40 Cent, my faverite sport were ballay and I does have love n ander oke.

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  34. jolene says:

    May people like you, the ones who aren’t afraid to like what they like, write what they like, and continue to search for and express their own true identity, be the ones who win the race.

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  35. Sarge says:

    Andy you legend – love you scott sarge

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  36. glob says:

    Personally, the more cultures, ethnicities and cliques I feel I identify with, the more inteligent I feel. Stumbling upon favorite things by immersing yourself in others favorite things is one of the best things about life. Why must we carry around our ‘base’ identities like a ball and chain?

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  37. two o'clock says:

    Toyi Toyi on the net

    Its really funny…when my “white”{english born South african} friends,used to say that I am not like the other darkies.
    My boer friends chip–“YAah jy is nie soos die ana Kaffirtjies”>
    My Bushies and Coloured friend wys > “Tjie tink you bette”coz i speak english in a slight pom-accent and the fact that I am “eDuMa’Fokken’Cattered”.

    Since the word kaffir (origin,Cape Malatu term: Dirty non-believers ref..To blacks)
    is no longer. The colonial off springs found alternative terms like “moo’na”. It flys nice over tea and scones. While complaining about Zuma and “the” situation.

    My S.A.L.A.D { south africans living american dreams} “friends”. Say fokkol accept njep {blah-blah} whole day and brag about who’s more African, over diet coke and Mc Deez..Will neva touch Mala-Mokgodu coz its fo tha low-class “N-darkie” ( common phrases amount suburb-africans…………..

    The Ghetto Ma’Nigga Dawgs and Cats just like smoking gwaai n phuza black …Then complain about the system and the injustice on “our” pee’pol. Neva read and but qoute Rap music. My Kon’shaz Restless Rasta’s ( typically Newtown) like to lie too each-otha about babylon. etc…………………..

    The only “thing” I’ve been called………across race—-

    “Pavement Special” with a chuckle in the end.

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  38. Nthato says:


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  39. Anonymous says:

    kif my sis,fucking kiff. you must write for Malema and other retards that shoot from the arse

    love how you can make easy talk of an issue most of us would turn a blind eye to, your writing is very insightful and on point, dig also how it isnt some researched stuff but based on personal experience. I THINK BEING TRUELLY BLACK CAN BE REALISED WITHOUT BEING STUPID AND SAGRIGATIONALIST. God created us in hues and shapes and sizes so that our differences can help us learn from each other more about ourselves so don’t loose you identity (whatever it is) in the name of being rainbow nation child.

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  40. Anonymous says:

    i’ve got “white tendencies”, apparently. i don’t get this wanting to be “black” or “true black” thing… you are what you are. i don’t think there is such as thing as being “white” or “true white” or being “yellow” or “true yellow”… i think it usually gets used to explain a cultural divide between the old world and the new. We’re not truly following traditional custom but how many of them really still make sense or are compatible with the newish way of doing things as a global citizen? How many of our traditions have a place in the world of today, let alone the world of tomorrow? I think SAGRIGATIONALIST groups are shameful and i don’t really think there is such a thing as a “white” person, if you go travel in Europe from Portugal towards the middle east into china then you won’t even notice where one race starts and the other stops… you just suddenly realize that the people you are currently looking at are very different to previously viewed ones. We earthlings are truly one people. So why let yourself be caught up in cultural mud slinging.

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  41. Dubltot says:

    Africa for Africans, Its the order of the day..Blah!!!

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  42. Track says:

    Well said Anonymous. I personally have a varied friend base but i find in my work environment particularly, i am outed because i dont stick to my ‘own kind’, ie white boer backround. Its hard to find a balance

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  43. […] something about animals that elicits inexplicable and at times overwhelming empathy from me. Yes, #whitetendencies. So it gave me pause when I heard The Nation blogger and Princeton associate professor, Melissa […]

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  44. Blackpepper03 says:

    I’m so glad I found this article and would love the opportunity to get to know more…What interests me is that more of (the Black youth) have absolutely no interest in our history as a nation/society let alone our family histories. It bugs me to think that I have been influenced this much by others cultures and nit enough by my very own family/clan/South Africa/African culture…The question remains: Why is that? Do I not have enough of me rooted in who and what makes me? Yes the twang in my english accent doesn’t define who I am. But the way I see myself and relate does. The more informed I become about who I come from will make me an African global citizen that stands tall with pride, shameless and truthful to me. I cannot explain how hungry I am to get to know more about my people and to instill the pride I lost when the “supreme” race lied to my people and said I’m not good enough as who I am.

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