Dashiki Dialogues: ‘Eish, you know how we blacks can be?...’

2014-07-24 06:45

For a rising number of the ­so-called nouveau riche blacks, the new plateau brings with it a fascinating kind of existential crisis.

A bigger purse implies new socialisation and what we shall call a “class acquisition process”. This process is tricky and often implies the reimagining of a person’s sense of who they think they are in the world.

I recently found myself eavesdropping on a conversation among two suits on a Gautrain ride from the airport. The tone of their conversation suggested they were polite strangers.

The man’s leather laptop bag and blue tailored suit spoke of someone on the up-and-up. The woman sported a well-camped weave and an immaculate pedicure.

Their conversation went everywhere from the last time they saw their childhood friends in their respective townships to buying new property.

In other instances, they used phrases like “eish and we as blacks can be wasteful?...” or “and you know how we blacks can be”.

These were used when they rehashed popularly held racist sentiments. They are often spoken with a defeatist tone.

But what was evident is that they did not see themselves as part of the “problematic black mass” they referred to.

It was when their chat touched on their individual struggle with the Marikana massacre and the continued strike that I was enthralled.

I noticed that these two travellers found that their racial allegiances were not always compatible with their class or financial aspirations.

“Why couldn’t these people ask for increases without being black about it?” was a phrase used.

The thing about class, or any collective social station, is that it tends to implicate equally those who buy in and those who sell out into a historic choreography of social interests.

I’m reminded of CLR James’ The Black Jacobins on the material origin of privilege, or class and race.

He observes that “upon the different form of property, upon the social conditions of existence as foundation, there is built a superstructure of diversified and characteristic sentiments, illusions, habits of thought and outlooks on life in general.

The class as a whole creates and shapes them out of its material foundation, and out of the corresponding social relationships.”

This is because it has been so for hundreds of years, and may always be so. Or will it? This is a dialogue poised to reshape the patterns of our national dashiki.

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