What does blackness mean now?

2010-05-19 07:15

During the different struggles for liberation in Africa, blackness

was always a symbol of unity, collective interest and of a force against

oppression and inferiority.

It transcended all geographical barriers, linguistic disparities,

cultural divisions, religious differences and tribal loyalties.

Blackness produced a sense of a strong feeling of brotherhood – a

bond of affinity. In many ways, it defined Africa and Africa defined it. The

slogan of blackness was liberating for Africa.

Africanness meant blackness, even though the entire continent was

not black per se and this was a definition unanimously accepted by both the

coloniser and the colonised.

Blackness was never a synonym for the oppressor, always for the

oppressed. However, what Africans seldom remember is that blacks oppressed other

blacks before – during and after the colonial period and that, moreover, this

oppression continues today.

During apartheid, a black South African was anyone who did not

belong to the white race. This included Indians, Chinese, and the so-called


But the blackness to which I am referring precludes the apartheid

definition. It is inclusive of the hue of Steve Biko and Jomo Kenyatta; the

literal blackness – a dark complexion devoid of any a light pigmentation.

After the 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa, I wondered

whether blackness was not a concept that needs redefinition: one that transcends

a mere reading of fascia.

I also wondered whether blackness possessed a tinge of subliminal

significance or deeper philosophical dimension.

In post-colonial Africa, postmodernists need to redefine blackness

because its binding forces were undone partially by colonial legacy and

permanently by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, where the latter

accepted the colonial demarcation, thus endorsing the division, fragmentation

and disintegration of Africa.

The borders symbolised the birth of African individualism and a

concomitant devaluation of ubuntu.

Literally, the OAU drew the borders of “us”

and “them” throughout the continent.

Now while Africans are religiously contented to worship three gods:

national anthem, flag and passport, arguably we have forgotten two realities:

the ontology and evolution of blackness.

Blackness has been there since time immemorial, and as a

consequence of colonial configuration, blackness has been evolving

psychologically through post-independent patriotism.

It is from this stance that we need to engage critically the

conundrums of xenophobia among blacks.

In essence, xenophobia reified blackness in a very subtle manner.

It illustrates existent discrimination among blacks and hence the need to

excavate the concept – blackness as a unifying principle – that has been left in

the wake of independence and liberation.

Ubuntu has effectively cloaked all the contemporary negative

connotations of blackness among blacks and thereby the “otherness” borne within

its folds.

To be black and foreign to South Africa, for example, means being

an alien, corrupt, choiceless opportunist and/or compliant cheap labour.

Often uttered phrases such as “darker than the ‘typical’ South

African” clearly elaborate grading of the intensity of blackness.

Indeed, because of resembling “darker Africans”, several South

Africans were killed during the recent spate of the “xenophobic” attacks. Here

is where the messy divide lies.

No doubt, the pragmatism of ubuntu which has become a chanting

truism in African philosophy in general and the vision of African renaissance in

particular, has to be questioned not only by progressive Africanists, but also

by sincere pan-Africanists.

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