Dashiki Dialogues: Do black people really exist?

2011-03-04 14:21

My old friend with a grey, jutting beard and a colourful shirt asked me: do black people really exist. I remember checking his mint-and-parsley patch for illicit weeds afterwards.

Then he said: “These days, no one is African because everyone is African.”

The old man sighed and further cautioned that it seems as though very soon, darkies will need to ask permission to even use that word in public.

Now that makes three punch lines if you cared to count, and it means the old geezer got my attention.

As he mumbled along, I quickly realised that what he was on about was this: can black people or any racial group have an exclusive intra-race dialogue in a non-racial country, as ours aspires to be?

And where would that leave Madiba-mania’s appeal to a “rainbowist” national coherence?

So I offered that issues were perhaps more complex than he makes them out to be.

In fact, I reminded him that yours truly almost caught a piece of hell on these very pages for the simple sin of questioning the infallibility of some basic traditional African practices: lobola and circumcision.

So, darkies exercise a vibrant voice on matters that concern them.

Besides, I further retorted, it might be a bit too generalised to speak of black people as if they were an undifferentiated mass.

I’m not sure Democratic Alliance MP Lindiwe Mazibuko would sit comfortably in the same bracket as Blade Nzimande, yet the two have equal claim to being classified black.

The old geezer fixed the collar of his colourful dashiki and reminded me of a study done by scholars at Unisa a few years ago.

The paper pointed out that between 1994 and 2007, black income levels had regressed to pre-1975 levels.

Now, you can dovetail this fact with the attendant social problems: domestic instability that goes with not having a breadwinner in a home, and its effects on the broader community. Poverty, wayward children, crime, drugs etc.

So, I can imagine it’s hard for my bearded friend to buy into Madiba-mania when hardship and wealth still keep a racial address in South Africa. This, with Kunene’s sushi parties considered.

But like a recalcitrant jazz-crazed laaitjie, I insisted on having the last word.

I exclaimed that more importantly, what the world needs is a much more robust dialogue across race and class, among other divides.

That perhaps it might appear dangerous, but it might be necessary for the historically wounded to indulge and go into cocoons for the purpose of healing.

And, it won’t do to patronise each other whenever our differences cause us to rub each other up the wrong way.

We have the dynamic 1970s to look to for examples of frank talk when we need it.

And yes, sometimes others must learn to listen when it’s their turn to do so. That’s the meaning of Dashiki Dialogues.

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