Are you African?

2015-05-25 11:09

With it being Africa Month, it is appropriate to bring about this subject to the fore. This question has some what 'haunted' me from the time I had an eyeopening experience while at university.

One day in my second year while in the dining hall I went to ask one of the kitchen staff to assist me with something. I asked the question to her in English and she responded in Xhosa. I asked again in English and she responded in Xhosa.

Me: "Excuse me, I didn't understand what you said."

Her: "Are you not African?"

This was the first time such had ever been said to me such that I was nonplussed. I started walking back to my seat. Just before I sat down I backtracked and went back to her.

Me: "Can you speak Shona?"

Her: "No."

Me: "Are you not African?"

Her: (silence)

Me: "Just because I can not speak the same language as you does not make me less or more of an African than you. Asking you something in English is so that we can understand each other."

Her: (silence)

After saying that I walked away with a somewhat justified feeling. Though not one to usually accost someone who is older than me, I felt I had to do what I did. My 'African-ness' had been called into question.

Studying and working in SA for over a decade now, has made me more conscious and aware of my nationhood. Having an opportunity to make friends from different nationalities, races and language groups has brought me to see how so alike we are.

From the time of the incident in the dining hall, I have been drawn into wanting to understand what exactly 'qualifies' one to be African. Are you African based on where you were born,  where your parents and grandparents were born,  where you stay or some other factor?

In 2013 I attended a very interesting talk hosted by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation entitled "African Identities." It was the launch of the Season 2 of a series of short films in which youth were exploring the theme of what it means to be an African. The focus of season 2 was on youth who were of mixed heritage but who were born and bred in South Africa. Attending the talk helped cement my understanding on how generally accepted definitions of what it means to be African mostly miss the mark.

Being African is based not on the colour of your skin or language you speak. It is about who and how you have chosen to identify yourself regardless of whether you originated from Europe, Asia, Australasia, North or South America. It is about whether you identify with the continent and have taken it as your own home.

Next time you have to complete a form which asks: African Coloured Indian about ticking African :)

I hope you had a happy Africa day my fellow Africans.

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