Dashiki Dialogues: Wearing a pro-black dashiki is always cool

2013-11-05 10:00

‘So, you are the pro-black type, aren’t you?”

One petite broad with a raised eyebrow and rose-coloured lips came at me with this question at an exhibition opening last week.

“Oh Mary, mother of Jesus! come again please!?” was my baffled ­response.

I mean, what else could I have said, the question came at me like a bat out of hell? Totally unexpected.

Anyway, she wrapped her lipstick-thick lips around a Camel Mild cigarette and asked again: “Are you one of those pro-black type of guys?” This time with a slight giggle at the end.

Now, as a rule the best way to enter into tricky debates is to deploy a high degree of niceness, especially when the conversation is with a lady. Works like a charm.

Hence, my approach began with a smile, then continued to return the question with a question. I ask her what she meant by “pro-black”, and further what she meant by “black”.

The thing is I’ve since learnt that in the dull drone of wine and banter, pro-black is often used as cheap ­euphemism for anti-white.

This is a dangerous word game for obvious reasons. It always sets up a divisive binary of oppositions that requires people to take antagonistic sides. I don’t groove like that.

I threw in the idea that in a rainbow country, we talk of “blacks in general and Africans in particular”. This is to say our idea of black is inclusive of the peoples who are generally ­excluded by the white supremacist definition of itself.

This means coloureds, Indians, Africans and so on. As I proceeded to help her light her smoke, I ­offered a reminder that for all intent and purposes, until around 1990, to be black, and African in particular, meant your very humanity was still up for question in this country.

That amount of legislated hate can only be defeated by a copious amount of self-love. How else can we understand ­Robert Sobukwe’s idea that leadership requires “above all, a consuming love for one’s people”?

It was the public display of rituals of self-love by black people that moved Malcolm X to not hesitate to die. Steven Biko was moved by the same love.

You may call these people pro-black, but they came out of the black experience as part of a broader project that seeks to better humanise the world.

To make public declarations of my love for my family doesn’t have to mean I despise my neighbour’s family, even if they have the blood of my kin on their hands.

I think it was Sibongile Khumalo who once made the point that one shouldn’t act against anything, but work for empowering ideas and courses. The broad gave me an ironic smile. I wondered if she thought I was playing spin to avoid answering.

This is the kind of dashiki I wear into dialogues.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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