Dashiki Dialogues: Which persona is the real deal?

2012-03-30 11:58

I’ve always found South Africa’s cultural identity somewhat confusing, if not downright embarrassing.

Well I’m speaking specifically of popular culture. For a people with a history of organised resistance politics stretching beyond a hundred years, we are doing badly.

It’s as if we suffer what anti-colonial scholar WEB du Bois called a “Double Consciousness”, only with slight perverse leanings.

This phrase is used to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets, and my observation has been that black people in South Africa carry several identities.

There is who they are at home in the townships or rural homelands. This identity has a set of attitudes and language with implications for taste and ideas governing acceptable behaviour. Like it’s okay to snack on mopane worms and laugh out loud.

Then there’s the identity they adopt when they are at work in the city with colleagues across the racial and cultural divide.

This one too has its own unique behavioural protocols, such as the aircon debate. Black people almost always complain it’s too cold.

Darkies also act differently towards each other in the work place, away from their colleagues of European or Indian descent, for example.

They each believe they should sound, look and act up to a certain persona to be seen as progressive.

People demand no less than impeccable English when they chat, even if they are both from the same language group.

No one questions the validity of these requirements. We all embrace and enforce this ­­tragicomedy spectacle of sorts with a stiff upper lip. Now these performed attitudes are codified into our entertainment too.

The coonery buffoonery of our comedians is subject to this double consciousness as well. The humour is classed between “aspirational black” (read: the kind delivered in English with American slang), and the vernacular (having grass roots resonance).

So there’s the Loyiso Gola type for the shining urbanites and Ashifa Shaba for the urban shabby.

Black artists in the 90s were called “transitional” before being fully embraced in galleries. Was the transition a civilising process? And the cheese-and-wine standard is ridiculous for people who’d rather have beer and meat any way.

The Euro-American bias of our popular music is perhaps the most cringe worthy, especially when large parts of marketing budgets are spent on hip-hop and other derivatives even though research shows that maskandi and Tsonga music consistently outsell them.

Consider this, when you go into any restaurant in South Africa to order a “continental breakfast” every chef knows you mean the European continent.

We need a frank dialogue to interrogate the appurtenances of Euro-American lifestyle that accompany success, or continue swanking along in borrowed dashikis.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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