Coconuts and other hairy stuff - lets talk about race baby!

This can't be true  - has it really been 6 months or so, since my last attempt to keep at it??? If it wasn't for you (you know who) and you (yes, you too) telling me I NEEDED to write more, I would be too embarrassed to even officially declare this blog dead - leave alone keep posting at 6 months intervals. As it is though, I love writing and venting and opinionating and reflecting about life, SO (big sigh)- here I am again, despite my best efforts to self boycott.

And today's special is: coconut shake with sweet 'n sour vanilla flavour

Lately I found myself at college again, in  a proudly post apartheid environment, many cultures present, in the midst of a lively discussion about racism, prejudice, white guilt and other favourite things to pretend-discuss amongst educated South Africans. Everybody had something to say that seemed to come straight from a political banner or out of the 2012 handbook for political correctness.

Bottom line: WeareSOoverit!

 Between statements like:
"Racism is alive and well in post apartheid SA" (but hey - I am saying it, so clearly I am one of the good guys)
"We are now officially colorblind " (some of my best friends are b l a c k )
" Affirmative Action is Reverse Racism" (and I am SO going to leave this country if  some b l a c k person is getting the job I want and deserve and, and, and..... that'll teach you!)..... and so on ....

We were just getting started to tear into each other in a civilised and controlled manner, when one of the younger students, fresh from matric (with b l a c k friends on the school-grounds) brought up the issue of the older, guilt ridden generation of white post apartheid survivors, who now smell and suspect racism in every innocent remark - whereas the younger ones, born post 1990, are so NOT affected by this stuff and manage to cross-culturally connect in a way that is totally oblivious of racial issues and yet at the same time has put the funny into racism.

So,  she told us, when they celebrate their matric, they play jokes on each other with mock certificates, where they give each other funny titles, like: wannabe gangsta and coconut....

My gasping for air was somewhat gleefully anticipated and I was promptly attacked with: you see, that's what you oldies always do, get all huffed up about a simple joke, that we (the young people) all understand and ALL laugh about, because (and here I quote verbatim):

It Is Actually True

When I managed to interrupt the rant to ask what about the term coconut in connection with a well educated and affluent person with dark complexion was actually "true" - I had the answer coming: because they act white and they know it and they actually laugh about it themselves.....

So  you are telling me that young black people in this country, who are getting a (traditionally white) education, learn to speak English (fluently as a second language) and are eligible for good jobs are actually acting white, because these are all white privileges?

There was an embarrassed silence in our little group and someone interjected with a soothing voice (it is after all a counseling course): I can see you feel very passionate about this....but .....
and luckily, right at this point the fire alarm went off - and we were all saved from exposing raw emotions and unbecoming opinions....

So back to the coconuts: what this incident made painfully obvious to me is that racism is so ingrained and so unreflected that racist assumptions have become popular truths - even in the mind of the "targets", the non-white persons who are labelled in such a manner and don't object because they actually "know it is true".

Having spoken to a Kenyan friend about this, there seems to be yet another dimension to the issue. In her opinion the term coconut is an accurate description of black people who have lost touch with their culture and language. As an example she described the fact that many educated and affluent black South Africans don't move to the suburbs but stay connected to their "roots" by living in communities in Soweto or Kayelitsha. Apparently,  a black person who lives "amongst white people" in the suburbs is regarded as a sell out by his/her fellow people and thus deserving of the term coconut.

Even though one might question the fact that "townships" created by an oppressive regime in order to segregate people are elevated to cultural heritage status, and one could also look at this as a way of hanging on to the past instead of moving forward to redefine black culture in a  post apartheid context, there is a certain true ring to this argument. Fanon, an author who I only came across recently, describes best the struggle for black identity in racist environments and how the suppressed becomes the suppressor  towards "the other" - xenophobia being one of the examples for this phenomena. Turning against people, who do not necessarily define themselves according to one or other traditional black culture but have assimilated two or more cultural heritages as is the case with mixed race people or people who grow up in a different culture to that of their genetic background, is a legacy of oppression and - in our case - apartheid. The psycho political environment of oppression is one of abuse and violence - and we all know by now that even when abuse and violence finally come to an end, the victims or survivors need to come to terms with what has happened to them.

Forgiveness and remorse are vital stepping stones on the journey to healing, and neither can be achieved through silence and denial. Apartheid might be in the past, but the past lives on and will continue to live on in each new generation of South Africans until we finally start dealing with it on a personal level. Even though the TRC has been one attempt of achieving healing and there are wise and clear voices to be heard amongst South Africans (Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela being one of them), ordinary people don't seem to want to talk about "it".  And when they do talk, it is on a removed, theoretical or political level, suppressing all emotions.

"We must move on" is the general consensus and talking about race, color, culture, racism and other hairy subjects clearly means to most people the opposite of moving on. And it is true we need more than just talking. We need an open an honest dialogue, we need to start talking to each other and not at each other, we need to step out of our comfortable peer groups and cross the divide of race and culture.

My challenge to myself this year is to start listening and talking. And when I next look around my dinner table I want to find myself amongst all shades of skin tones and cultures, excited and curious and maybe even slightly uncomfortable but most of all inspired and energised, knowing that I am busy creating a reality for my children, where having people in our lives who look or think or speak different is not the exception but normality, where talking about race and color and culture is not only political but also intensely personal and emotional and  where those emotions are not only allowed and respected but vitally important so we can learn about and from each other. It is only through our emotions that we connect with our humanity and find love and respect for each other.

And it is only through my beautiful children, who look so different from me, that I am on this journey! ..

xxxxxxxand last newsflashxxxxxxx...since yesterday, 11am, thanks to the barbercutter man,  Kala is now finally a true soccer boy,  mohawk and all!!!!! (that's Leah screaming nooooooooo way in the background :-):-))


Thandi said…
I know this is old but yep, 'coconut' is definitely not a term I Like(d).

Popular posts from this blog

Using my white privilege

Dear Black People