i first heard the term ‘the better black’ from a friend of mine who i am hoping will share a bit of her story for this series at some stage.

It was shared in the context of her being part of a church congregation that looked very diverse on the outside but where she felt pressure to look and behave in ways acceptable to white people so as to fit in.

Phrases like;

“You speak English so well”

“I think of you as a white person”

“You are not like the others”

which i think in some horrifically demented way have been said with absolute sincerity [white people to black/indian/coloured people] as if they felt like they were giving a compliment…

The way i understand the term ‘the better black’ and ‘the better coloured’ [i have not heard ‘the better indian’ but i imagine it probably exists as well] is that it is an upward comparison to whiteness. Whiteness is seen as the ideal and the standard to be achieved and any kind of step towards being or appearing or sounding more white is applauseworthy and a good sign. You are on your way.

Without swearing i cannot easily describe how adjectively awful and horrendous and cringeworthy and racist and vomitous this is.

But yet it happens in churches.

It happens in workplaces.

It happens in friend groups.

It happens in schools.

It happens on sports fields. 

Whether it is stated or unstated, there are certain contexts where a person who is not white feels some kind of pressure to appear ‘a better version of themselves’ which is somehow more palatable or acceptable or pleasing or understandable.

And it is the faeces of a male cow! And it must stop!

We see this to some extent in the names thing which i posted about here [easier names for white people to understand – #STOPPIT!]

i asked some friends to share a glimpse into their stories of where they have felt or experienced this and these are what i have received so far.

i feel like this is a hugely vulnerable thing to share and it shouldn’t be on them to educate us, but hopefully by getting a glimpse into this awful awful phenomenon, we can start recognising where it might be happening around us or at least begin to have conversations with people we know about whether anything we do causes it to be a thing:

Meet Ashley Visagie – [who writes on his own blog] “complicit in our own domination”

Meet Juliet Paulse – ‘Language is the access to another dimension’

Meet Terence Mentor  – “I don’t think of you as coloured”

Meet Thandi Nkomo – “You view life through your lens, your values”

My thoughts as an outsider – and a message to white people on how we need to be dismantling this stuff

[For other posts on South Africa or race-related things, click here]