Dear South Africa,
LOVE BLACK PEOPLE
It only dawned on me recently, how we need this. Desperately need this. I cannot speak for all Black people, I cannot even speak for the majority of Black people, but I can speak for Black people like me. Love us.
It has been alleged that the idea was ‘stolen’ from someone else, so I will not state where I saw it, but the premise was that people from all races should write down what they like about Black people. The responses blew me away. I honestly thought there’d be a lot of sarcastic responses, rude answers, mockery… It was not so. Yes, we are not one homogenous group, but there are things unique to us as a people. And these very things that were mentioned, are things I grew up despising about myself.
A few examples will suffice. Some readers commented that they love our afro hair. It took me a long time to love it. In junior school, I was the only Black child in a class of mostly White children. I began there in 1986, deep in the (final) throes of apartheid. I remember our teacher-they were all White-running an ongoing “Weekly prize for the girl with the tidiest hair.” My hair was neat. Either in afro puffs, afro ponies or plaited. I looked forward to receiving the prize. I never did. Eventually, a Muslim pupil asked the teacher why I never received a prize yet my hair was consistently tidy. The teacher said, “Her hair is different. It’s not like ours. Hers doesn’t count.”
It’s not like I hadn’t hated my hair. I was very aware that it was different. It was yet another marker of being different to the others around me. Like their calm, peaceful suburbs vs my township with its uprisings. My father with his different accent, whose pronunciation when he taught me how to read a word saw the rest of my class laughing in derision when I used his accent during “Read aloud” time in class. Different. Like my skin colour. My race. When a classmate made a crass joke shared by her uncle about Winnie Mandela and uTata in the shower and likened them to looking like gorillas, I was reminded that I was different. And denigrated. How could I forget, when another classmate’s father was teaching their “dogs to bark at Black men?” Blackness. In accent, hair, skin, size of our thighs, dressing, lips, noses, our culture, traditions-everything.
And Black was ugly. Different. “Didn’t count.” It didn’t measure up. It was not worth admiring. Not even worth noting.
People out there that admire what makes us uniquely Black
Until 2017 when I read the comments praising the very things I had internalised as ugly and inferior. Our singing, our looks, our bodies, our headwraps. The very things I knew were hated. The very things I saw little of as a child positively portrayed in the media. Our empathy, our ability to forgive. Human characteristics that I thought only I recognised.
I cannot forget the White lady I first knew as a university student, who always saw me with my weaves and braids. Until the day recently she saw me wearing a headwrap over my natural hair. She told me I looked “poor.” Everything I was in school, surrounded by the rich White children. In one unasked for comment, she brought back all the memories of being less than, of having less than, of being laughed at for living “in a township” as if the reason we were there was our choice. As if living in a township-with its attendant poverty-made us inferior, worthless. As if our government-inflicted poverty lessened our worth. In my headwrap is the crown of an African woman. An African woman others admire. An African woman who is perceived as strong, unbending, loving, maternal, bold, honest.
I know I am not the only one who internalised the hate, the inferiority, the ugly. I know I am not the only one who was reduced to tears reading that there are people out there that admire what makes us uniquely ‘Black.’ I know because I read the other comments too, comments from my fellow Black readers, stating that they were weeping at reading such positive statements about them. Indeed, it was emotional. It made for emotional reading. “We are not as despised as we thought. Not EVERYONE hates us.”
This is my request. Please love us. We have heard the negatives about ourselves so much-we know we are believed to be less intelligent, not worthy of boardroom careers, too big to model, too dark, too ignorant with our cultural practices, the lowest race in South Africa… Please love us. With words, hugs, comments that remind us that there is beauty in being Black. Please love us. For many of us have learnt to hate ourselves. We are damaged. We are wounded and we know it not. Please love us. Love us till the tears of release flow out. We need healing. May 2018 be the year where there is less hate and more love. And maybe in 2018, we too as a Black nation, will start loving ourselves and teaching our children to love themselves too.
May none of our children grow up internalising the lies I was forced to believe. It is time to change. Black is beautiful.