This is a title borrowed from Steve Biko, the father of black consciousness. In his piece he questions the assumptions white liberals made when dealing with black students in the organisations he was involved in those dry, hopeless, repressed and downright crazy years of apartheid in the 70’s. And in it he raises the question that always begs an answer in my mind as well. Is there something so inherently wrong with being black that we need white people to rectify us, civilise us, and educate us to be like them?
Many white people will tell you that they suffer discrimination too, and I can honestly say that when a black person hears that we think: Bullshit!
Such a statement goes out from the premise that a white person has any idea of the non-stop barrage of negative assumptions black people live under. It also says, in a very subtle way, that every time a person is judged as inferior or ostracised they are degraded to the level of a black person. Blackness being naturally inferior and deserving of ostracism.
I am always very wary of non-blacks trying to fight causes on behalf of black people. I treat them in a very circumspect way and never quite respond to their rah-rah bullshit about how badly black people are being treated. At the end of the day they go back to their big houses in the suburbs, with 2-3 cars, pools and dogs that eat gourmet kibble of the same cost as a black family’s weekly grocery budget. So like a good black person I just smile and listen, comment little and hit the delete button in my mind right after they leave. My head need not be filled with the prattle of people looking for an audience to their undeserved and often unappreciated privilege.
Then there are those who are fighting their own demons under the guise of empathising with the horrendous condition of being black. Because when you feel like shit about yourself you now know exactly how it feels to be black. Every time a black person sings they hear the pain in her voice, the suffering she had to go through, the hardship is palpable; her loving, happy upbringing notwithstanding. Being black is painful and the suffering they hear is not theirs, but hers of course. By siding with the lower level forms of humanity, masses of them to be sure, they have a big army and worthy cause to hide their insecurities behind. Their questions about their worthiness and their issues of self-rejection couldn’t find a better home than with a group of unworthy people who face rejection as part of their daily existence. The perfect fit.
There are those smart white people who are quick to describe black people as illiterate and uninformed and form arrogant little theories about how black people can be educated to know all the wonderful things up to know destined only for the fair skinned. Never do they stop and ask if there is anything black people know that might enlighten whites. They know it all and you are a savage until you allow them to teach it all to you. They say that being a white woman is equal to being a black person. Blacks are thought of as dumb and incapable of complex intellectual functioning, so are women. Blacks are being paid less for the same work than whites, such is the case between white men and women. Blacks are often first to be picked and limited to performing servant-like tasks such as cleaning, housekeeping, child-rearing etc.; just like the white women of this world. Black are considered prone to responding emotionally rather than logically to situations, and women too. So being white woman whose husband thinks she doesn’t have to work, expect her to take care of her own home and children and don’t pay her as much as he does her male counterpart is equal to treating her like a black person. The poor, poor darling. How will she cope with all this free time while the real black people of world are busy in her house and garden and she only has to do the hard work of giving orders? We blacks really feel for her.
The rebels of the white world want to wipe their lily-hued behinds on the unfair advantage they grew up with by using darky slang and listening to rap music. They want to show up their mommies and daddies by consorting with undesirable types. They want to stand out, they want to be the only one. The only one in their circle who actually knows how to get to the nearest township. The only one of their friends who’s had a fling with a black chick. The one who says “Siyabonga, sisi”; the one white guy who spoke your language even though the language in your town is Tswana, not Zulu. They want to be the only white dude in a black crew. That will really give daddy some serious palpitations and have mommy panicking to calm him down while trying to untangle the huge knot in her expensive lingerie.
We know most white people smile to our faces and use derogatory terms to refer to us at home and with their friends. We know the best pranks are pulled on darkies. We know all the stupid jokes have either a Sipho or a Gatiep in them. We know that when there is a dirty bit of hard labour to be done us blacks spring to mind first. We know that you think singing and dancing are about the only things we do well besides everything you are too white for. The only people who are stupid enough to think all that escapes us are the ones doing it because they’re scared of being found out.
I can’t say I am 100% non-racist, the differences between races are too blatant for me to ignore. I do avoid anyone who wants to improve or change me for their own reasons. As stated before, such desires are based on a belief of inherent sub-humanness. I have some white friends, believe it or not. One of the most amazing people I have ever met is white and some of the people I like best and enjoy being with most are white too. I consider them my friends, a title not lightly given. They don’t try to make me into anything other than what I am. They accept that I might be looking at the world differently than they do and my viewpoint is no better or worse than theirs just because of the colour of my skin. They realise that I might just know more about being black than they do and that I never have and never will consider it a condition to be cured of.
Black people don’t feel inferior to whites or any other race, but we do feel black; because we are. We know however that being black earns us the label of inferiority in the minds of white people. There is a delicately nuanced distinction between feeling inferior and being treated as inferior. We suffer from the latter not the former. We love our black selves, ask any black you know. We don’t want to be rescued from being black. We don’t want to be civilised out of being black. We don’t want to educate away from being black. Black works for us; in ways no white person could ever imagine.
So a black soul in a white skin? I haven’t met one yet.