Is the white way the right way?

2010-01-20 00:00

OPPRESSION of any form can be erased on paper, like in a divorce, but the damage may be permanent or just lurk in the background presenting itself as various symptoms. One of these is the way the media glorif­y the white way of doing things, so much so that it starts to look like a hatred of negritude, which is generally known as Afro-pessimism. Is the white way the only right way?

An election-time joke, which circulated into my inbox to my articulated disgust, shows a photo­graph of a dancing President Jacob Zuma juxtaposed with one of United States President Barack Obama with his arms folded. There is no commentary on either of their qualities good or bad, but the animated, dancing president seems to spell trouble for the citizens. So my question was, is the way in which one celebrates one’s culture now a liability? It made me ask more questions, which took me all the way to the missionaries or their compatriots who made Africans abandon their lifestyle practices, like medicine, dances, dress codes, cultural practices and religions. Right or wrong, the attitudes still exist.

Let us face it, a polished accent is major currency in transactions that get you ahead in life. Whatever “other” South African ethnicity you are (including Afrikaans, although to a lesser extent), your people’s English- speaking accent has been made fun of in one way or another, so much that you probably grew immune. However, the kids growing up now are not yet developed enough to be more proud of their knowledge than of the accent it is presented in. Some of us so-called articulate kids are actually mediocre, but our accent makes us get away with a lot. What I mean is that the way those English words swirl from our mouths gives certain individuals hope that there are okay blacks. The minute we speak, we are accepted as a more evolved, thus more acceptable, nonwhite. The exceptions to this rule are the nationals of First World countries like France and Spain. They are sexier, aren’t they?

We expose ourselves all the time, which gives constant validation to “English-speaker supremacists”. In a documentary I watched earlier this year there were black girls saying they do not even listen to or have an interest in a (black) man who cannot speak English articulately. Most black South Africans actually favour certain public figures because of their command of the language. We do not stop at liking the language, but we start to phase our own languages out of our lives over time, sometimes with the assistance of our parents. Their need for us to know the language makes them force us to speak it around the clock, and they are supported or encouraged by the teachers in the initial stages of our integration into English-speaking society. Our Zulu names, however easy, become Anglicised and our English names take preference — whatever sounds white or easiest for the English-speaking “hosts” to pronounce. I say hosts because it is not our natural habitat that we are in. Assimilation is the only way to succeed.

However, as a second-language speaker of any language there is definitely a humility that needs to be shown towards the language. Digging deeper and understanding shows respect. Having an accent because you learnt a language late is very different from not checking your grammar or not making attempts to improve your command thereof. If you are to use it in public situations (including TV presenters) that make you a potential role model then it is important that you not reinvent the language. Reading helps, as well as spending time with firstlanguage speakers and observing its intricacies. Just do not forget how to speak your own language.

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