Hello! Your token black here.

2014-04-06 11:21

In a country so mired by a past legacy of racial oppression, segregation and separate development; it’s interesting to see the denialism and colour blindness that one encounters daily.

As a black professional (not Zille's professional black vs black professional) working in a predominantly white sector and graduated from previously white institutions of higher learning, you are among a select few who can say:" maybe I got this job on merit and not race". Does merit mean that you are no longer a token appointment or make you immune to small-minded racists? I’m afraid not. You can be hired on merit yet treated like a token appoint. So what does tokenism look like for the educated black professional? Here are some examples:

At university: Are you sure financial aid will let you do that? Don’t worry, we embrace the university’s transformation policy and so treat all students the same way. You don’t need to do a postgraduate degree; you should rather work as soon as you finish your undergraduate degree so you can support your family financial. Why are you doing a postgraduate study, don’t you have financial aid to pay off? Don’t worry, as a black woman you have all the opportunities available to you. You’ll probably walk into a job straight after graduation because of Affirmative Action.

In the workplace: Are you an Affirmative Action appointee? I’m sure you were hired so we can be demographically balanced. We need you to be at every meeting because you add such value and perspective for us 'whities'. How did they give you that advanced degree, you don’t know anything about this job role. Come to this important meeting, and don’t worry you don’t have to say anything; we just need you there. Do you really need a doctorate to prove you can do this job? You should be grateful for having a job; many people would kill to be working where you work. Don’t worry about earning 200% less than your white counterpart, you can work your way up the company and make more money. That’s not racism and sexism, he’s only being playful and I’m sure he’s kidding. Do you count as a BBBEEE point for the company? Don't worry about the bank not approving your mortgage because you earn so little; they are doing you a favour. All your cultural events are making the company hemorrhage money, shape up or ship out.

At social events: But you speak (read: speak English) so well. You are so professional and hard working, are you from South Africa? I never know how to talk to your people; the Xhosas (I'm Sotho by the way) I know are rude and aggressive. You are so well mannered, unlike the rude others I come across everyday. Why were you invited to this all white dinner party? Are you the help? Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen helping your aunt wash up? Can you give the maid a lift because she also lives in the township? It was so nice having you; we’ve never had one of your people at dinner before. We didn’t know if you eat this food but I got bread in case you didn’t know or like what we are serving. There’s a KFC down the road if you don’t eat our food.

Talking race among the white fraternity is an unwelcomed experience. You are told that race has no place in democratic South Africa. That your issues are yours and do not represent the vast majority of South Africans. You are not being a ‘kiff black’, a progressive and educated ally who can be used to front and be a token for public platitudes. To comment on race and inequality means you voted African National Congress (ANC) and therefore need to live with the status qou. The silencing of those who want to critically address the issue of inequality and race across spheres only invites dissent and anger.

To talk race in and among black South Africans means that you are a ‘coconut’ who has been morally corrupted by your white education. A troublemaker who is ungrateful for the efforts of the ANC or more recently an Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) revolutionary. A bad black, a disobedient black.

So what happens when a ‘kiff’ black is sick and tired of being kiff?

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