i online-met Thandi via my friend Alexa and she agreed to share some words on the concept of ‘The Better Black’ which is a heart-breaking idea for me and i hope that by sharing it, we will all be able to take one step closer. i also hope it hits many of you hard in the face, because we need to really start ‘getting’ these stories more…
Thank you Thandi for sharing some of your pain with us…
YOU LUMPED US ALL INTO ONE GROUP
I lived my life in the township. I thought it was because we were too poor to live in the leafy suburb my school was in. It actually took me-and my school mates-a long time to realise that I was fundamentally different to them. Instead, my classmates would ask how I got my hair to be like soft cotton wool, would ask how I got such a lovely tan when they would go pale white after a while. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that when we go to the rural Transkei every December, we put Milk of Magnesia on to actually escape the darkening effects of the sun. Dark was NOT lovely in my world!
Then I realized I was in the township because I was black. It had nothing to do with individual choice but to do with my looking like others of this continent. I was part of the black mass, and I had to live where the white people said I should live. The only way I got to be in ‘your’ school was because it was private, it allowed me in, unlike the other private ones, and I managed to stay there because of a partial bursary.
My mom couldn’t take me to restaurants not because I was a naughty child, not because she’d pilfered a sachet of tomato sauce, but because we were part of that group-those scary, black people. I laughed at the irony of seeing photos of my children playing at Blouberg beach when because I was black, I was not allowed on it at their age.
I am part of the black nation. I am hated, mistrusted because I belong to that group. They have called my children, “blackies” because we are part of that one homogenous group. I was called the k-word, because I look like ‘my’ people. I was pushed down a flight of stairs because I am black. And so, I started identifying with ‘them.’ I became a black person. Not Thandi, not a Christian mom, not a homeschool teacher…I am black. That is the identity forced upon me, especially in the Afrikaans living spaces we are trying to carve a life in.
So, now that you’ve lumped us all into one group without getting to know us. Without ever asking us about our home life, our dreams, our aspirations, don’t try and take me out of that group. Don’t make me the token ‘good black person.’ Don’t make me the ‘better black.’
When you hear my accent and ask me, “You speak so well! How come the others don’t speak like you, are they lazy?” what you are doing is trying to take me out of your preconceived box and make me different, better. And I resist. It is YOUR fault the others don’t talk like you do, because you gave them no choice. (By the way, I don’t speak well, I speak like you. How boring life would be with only one accent.)
When you ask me if I’m foreign because I act more like you than like them, you’re reminding me that my people were educated (or rather, were un-educated) through Bantu Education, or currently by teachers who went through that un-education, and never got the chance to learn the social niceties you deem to be so important.
You view life through your lens, your values. And because I escaped into your world, you think I’m better. I’m not. You’re worse for not having given all of us the chance to be in your world. You never taught us how to bath indoors, when you forced us to have cold water baths outside while you had running hot water in your houses. You never taught us how to tip in restaurants because you never let us in.
I am not better. I hate you using me as the token “good” black. You are the one who is worse, worse for not getting to know and love my people who speak differently to you. For judging them according to your standards of acceptability.
I am black. I identify with black people. I am not a better black person. I am Thandi. Maybe if you removed the box you put us all into, you’d be friends with a Xoliswa, a Puleng, a Thabo. And you’d see that there is no box. There is no better. We are all the same. We love, fear, cry, hurt.. all the same.