Is it coz I’m Black?

Is it coz I’m BLACK?

Akward question.

Usually said as a joke, albeit a not so funny one. No one seems very comfortable with conversations about race issues. The very idea gives people cognitive dissonance, it makes people feel akward and reluctant to even engage in any further conversation. Merely bringing up this question is akin to a confrontation. Don’t worry, I’m not going to force the discussion, but I will speak about my take on this ‘Is it because I’m black?’ question.

The truth is times have changed and are a-changing, it is no longer cool for people to be ‘seen’ to be racist , so most people know to be not too overt and vocal about their racial prejudice. Infact that is why some people are deemed to harbour racist ideas about people of other races, so called foreigners, the ‘other’. Harbour being the operative word, unless you are (un) fortunate enough to hail from a country such as mine South Africa, where it appears that even in this day and age, racists wear their racisms as a badge of honour, what with the Apartheid legacy. Nevertheless by and large racisms is considered to be passe.

For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I have been constantly grappling with my intense response toward racists, racism and perceived racism. I have forever been chastising myself for being overly-sensitive, over reacting and even problematising things that are not necessarily problematic.I have been vigilantly keeping myself in check for moments when my knee jerk reaction to any problematising of racial difference, would be in offense, irritation, and hurt.

This has been my chore for some years. I have been trying to tamper the way I respond to something that hits me at the core with such magnitude, something that infuriates me to unimaginable extents, something that simply just ‘rubs me the wrong way’. And after all this time, I have finally realised that No more of this can continue. Enough is enough. Why have I been bending backwards trying to accomodate situations that have clearly been such a bitter pill for me to swallow? Situations that most likely have been akward for the other people around who had witnessed them but like me chose to keep mum, to not wake the sleeping dogs. What is my excuse or reason for having behaved this way?None and manifold. I can venture a guess and say that these attempts have been my way of not wanting to disturb the status quo, attempts to just ‘get along’. Exactly when did I decide that expressing my true emotions about racial prejudice was inconvenient for others? Well, I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact time period or date as these choices, decisions often sneak up on one, perhaps it was the day I decided I don’t want to be labeled or come across as An Angry Black Woman. Or was it the day I decided that in order for people to like and approve of you, you must be agreeable, people just don’t appreciate a person who seems militant about race issues. Who knows, maybe it was the first time I realised that in this world we live in if one points out any racial prejudice, then people automatically feel and get difensive. The truth is, I really can’t pin point it, all I know is that a decision was made by me once upon a time that in order for me to be agreeable I need to monitor my reactions when dealing with racial prejudice. I must have been young, eager to please and perhaps ignorant or I must have just thought that it would be much more easier to go through life without antagonising people at every turn. Either way, whatever the reason was, I now feel that the situation has gone on long enough, and that I have reached the point of ‘here and no further’.

The Question: ‘Is it coz I’m black?’ is not a joke, it may be said in jest, but much truth lies underneath it. As the saying goes- many a truth is spoken in jest. Granted, there may be instances where the question is asked in an opportunistic way, by a (black person) who perhaps wants to take certain liberties with people of other races and not take responsibility of certain actions. A kind of ‘guilt tripping.’ It is possible, but nothing and no one is perfect.

Then there are times when this is a legitimate question by all acounts. Why do people always choose to view this question either as a joke or an accusation? My hunch is because it is too loaded a question, but loaded as it may be, it is one that does deserve consideration and answering,

I have recently relocated to the Northern Hemisphere, to a country where my blackness has surprisingly been almost a non issue, which was a relief, but where it appears that my ‘foreign’ status is more cause for debate than my racial background. I have once again been faced with the trials and tribulations of the otherness. I am no stranger to this as my home country has prepared me well, our brand of racisms was second to none. Difference sometimes being problematised has not surprised me in the least, after all it seems to be part of human nature to treat something that is different to what you know with some amount of trepidation and relative distancing. However it becomes more of a problem when those who do the ‘othering’ are in denial about doing it. The world has become this global village yet it is still with scant courtesy that ‘visitors’ are treated when they come to a new country. One does not idealise life and therefore is not expecting any sort of royal treatment. However, it becomes bothersome, when your being different in another country is made out to be an inconvenience to the locals. It is galling to say the least to be treated as a (un) necessary evil. I do not demand that my dark skin be whitened so I can blend in, I did not come here to escape my Africanness. I do not aspire to be one of the locals, but I do expect to be treated with the necessary respect that one shows to other human beings regardless of pigmentation or country of origin. I know what I am, I am African and inordinately proud of the fact.I am not here to prove my Africanness or lack thereof.

Having lived in my new home for a couple of months, I have found myself reverting to my old ways of not wanting to ‘problematise’ matters, of being tempted to turn a blind eye to what I experience as racial prejudice. Again you ask, why do I do it? Again the aswer would be, because of not wanting to rock the boat. Is my approach of keeping mum working? No, it isn’t. It is not rocket science that if you try to hide your true feelings about something, they will manifest themselves one way or the other. Often in very uncomely ways and at the most inopportune of times. So, I have had to ask myself a question, do I want to continue seething under the surface, allowing the anger to bubble under, or should I do myself and others a favour, and just call it like I see it? My answer is the latter. I’m now of the opinion that it is in everyone’s best interest to practice transparencey for the sake of open communication lines. There is no need to wait until mole hills turn into mountains of problems when it comes to cultural differences. Having moved to a new country, with a new culture and new people, I have quickly realised that cultural differences can easily lead to racial disharmony. I am for celebrating difference. Navigating cultural differences can be like a maze at best or even a bottomless pit at worst, but it must be said, it is not inherently difficult if there is openness.

My disenchantment so far has been with the realisation that far too often I have not honoured my own responses and feelings to some situations where I have allowed myself to not speak my mind because of not wanting to cause any discomfort to others. I am disgruntled because in all my attempts to keep the status quo, I have maintained an uncomfortable comfort zone for myself in the name of getting along. I am shocked at what effect my playing ostrich has had on my nervous system and overall mentality. All of a sudden I have realised that being black does not have to be a nervous condition as it seems to have been.

I acknowledge that when one has a voice one must use it. I have made the choices in life that I have made, I must honour them or change them. I have no desire to cause a disturbance in my walk of life, but I will not once again nurse the silence when it’s loudness reverberates deep within.

We are all human beings, we deserve to at least treat each other with respect. Whether as a person you have never met a person of another race before, or the idea of interacting with them unnerves you, I think it would stand you in good stead to remember that though they may look different, they are just people too.Perhaps we should have more awareness and show a little more compassion and respect.

There is never a bad time for a paradigm shift.

I know I have vented my spleen to the nth degree in the hope that I may make peace with some of my own personal demons, that lately have come to plague me. One wise Mother once said, ‘In order to get rid of ghosts, one has to call them by name’-Dr Mamphela Ramphele.

I’m not claiming to have the answers to successful cross cultural, multi racial interactions,but I think these interactions could do with depressurizing. I also do not think that there are victims and perpetrators. There is no finger pointing here. We are all in this together. I do not discount the difficulty that can arise when people from different worlds encounter, but I believe that surely we can all find a way to communicate somehow. Not knowing something should not be cause for dislike, embarrasment or shame, but rather an opportunity to learn. Just because I come from a different part of the globe, doesn’t mean that you won’t understand things I do or say and visa versa. As one other wise person said ‘Just because I speak with an accent, doesn’t mean I think with an accent’. We should be more aware of our prejudice if there is any, and do what we can to be open to new and different people and experiences. We might find that we have more in common that meets the eye.

Here I rest my venting.


Living and learning

The School of Life.

As people, we often recognise certain experiences as learning curves, which are characteristically steep by nature. At least that is the case in my life. In general there seems to be a consensus that life/earth is a school and we are all students.

When it comes to learning, there are various types of students, those who want to pass with full colours, those who aim for the bare minimum pass mark so long as it’s a pass and those who give it a go and see how it all turns out. I guess there are times when we are one of the above, depending on the circumstances.

I’ve concluded for myself that if life is a school then there must be teachers, the question then is ‘who are these teachers?’. They say experience is the greatest teacher, and I reckon that every human being that we meet and relate to has the potential to teach us something or the other. Sometimes our learning happens without us even being aware of the process of learning taking place. We learn without realising that we are being taught, and our teachers may teach us without realising that they are teaching. It is often in retrospect that we see the picture more clearly, as they say ‘hindsight is 20/20 vision’.

On a personal note I must admit that I have always been a self proclaimed student of life, the eternal student if you may, yet I have not mastered the art of being a good student. Recently it occured to me that there have been many teachers that have come my way but may have gone unnoticed as I have always expected that learning would happen a certain way. This perception has blinded me to many a valuable lesson which has led to lessons being repeated time and time again. Over the years of hitting my head against the same wall, I now remain in the comfort of knowing that when the student is ready, a teacher will come. I now consider that a teacher may come in any form, I’ve let go of the expectations and preconceived ideas.

When the teaching begins the trick is to pay attention, ask questions and listen for the answer.

In the last few months I have learnt the value of admitting things to one’s self. ‘First to thine own self be true’ There are instances, moments and situations in life when we err on the side of truth. Sometimes we know that we have handled some things rather badly and could have done things differently, yet we are too afraid to even admit to our own selves that this is the case.These times are difficult to deal with if one is afraid to be ‘wrong’ , thus they lead to complicating matters even further.Our shortcomings somehow seem too hard to admit to ourselves let alone to other people, we seem always intent on being right, or at least not come across as wrong.

Given how freeing it is to admit one’s foibles, it feels like such a waste of time and opportunity to nurse the illusion of having to be right. Saying I mishandled a situation doest necessarily amount to admitting guilt, or taking the blame for whatever went wrong, I have found that it merely opens up the lines for dialogue.It gives a platform from which a healthy discussion about the way forward can be held. It keeps the communication lines open.

Every new year offers us new chances and opportunities to do things differently, to try other modes of operating. We make resolutions which are often idealistic and are bound to fizzle out into nothingness very early in the game, but nevertheless are made. Because we are so filled with hope and anticipation we don’t worry about whether or not our resolutions will be followed through. The symbolic change that comes with the turn of the new year is enough to make us believe that we all can turn a new leaf, start a new chapter and better our ways.

This year that is 2011, My hope is that I will keep things simple. Let my yesses be yes and my No’s be No. Free myself from the shackles of keeping the illusion. Play less games and Live and Love more. Most importantly, learn to recognise and appreciate the lessons and teachers that may come my way.

On that note, I wish myself and all a Happy New year, may it be filled with prosperitiy, love and forgiveness.

Here’s looking at 2011!