Dashiki Dialogues: I’ll hit you if you call me black African

2013-09-16 10:00

OK, let me make it clear that I will assault you if you ever call me a “black African”.

I’m an African, period, just as I don’t ­expect you to call others “white ­Europeans” when you find them in their native Europe.

This is a simple issue.

As an African, I don’t see why I should be negotiating my identity in order to accommodate others who have come to join me here.

Common courtesy requires they should adjust their identities in order to denote their newly acquired status in the land of my forefathers.

Now, since this is heritage month, it should be natural to touch on these ideas.

This might make liberals feel nervous, especially with the use of words like ‘assault’.

But there are other priorities. So let’s deal with this violent slant at a later stage.

Progressive scribes like Jacques Derrida and Frantz Fanon have dealt adequately with the utility of violence in the process of liberation.

My gripe now is a new, post- apartheid language that requires me to call myself a black African.

This requirement appears on application forms, news reports and other ­platforms of public discourse.

I want to argue that it represents an assault on my identity.

It is part of the continued contest for legitimate claims to self-determination by the native over the land and its bounty.

In the end, it seeks to undermine a certain historical and bona fide claim to the land. If all of us are Africans, then no one is African.

Hence, the land and its future is available for capture by anyone.

There’s an ex post facto effect too.

It rubbishes any argument that recognised invading settlers on one side and conquered natives on the other.

So it would be ridiculous to ask for justice in that regard.

The ambiguous hyphen in black African seeks to question and problematise my ­identity as African.

Its goals are not unlike what Sol Plaatje was observing in 1913 on the morning after the Natives Land Act was passed.

Plaatje, who was a journalist and political activist, wrote: “Awaking on Friday morning, June 20 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

He understood that people conquered in the unjust colonial wars found themselves flung into a meaningless void, despised and rejected out of their own home.

This displacement, though physical, had a broader implication for the meaning of Africans’ personhood.

To be dispossessed of land and home was to be robbed of self-determination.

It availed the African to whatever whims the colonising invader wished to deploy in defining him.

The K-word, the primitive ­savage and “black African” belong in the same stock.

A dialogue on justice begins with cleansing our dashikis of badly loaded grammar.

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