Being black in a country full of black people should be the easiest thing in the world. It should be as simple as breathing on a planet enveloped by oxygen. Instead for those of us in the private sector, it feels like deep sea diving without any equipment. We spend all day at our job holding our breath and the only time we can fill our lungs with that sweet, sweet oxygen is when we reach the surface, in this case that would be the comfort of your home.
I get that in society we are expected to simulate the behaviours of our fellow man but I don’t know if we are using the model that best represents South Africa, its landscape, people and what makes it unique. I am sure you have heard the saying ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ well in South Africa is seems we live in a space where the Romans are expected to take on the customs of those new to their lands. We are so deeply insulated under the commonwealth umbrella that our laughs sound more aristocratic then anything resembling the majority of this nation’s people. In short it seems, the less African I am in Africa, the better off I’ll be.
What does it mean for one to manage their blackness? Thomas I’m glad you asked, simply put. That black dude that you work with. The one that seems ‘different’ easier to talk to and a lot more ‘open to an objective conversation about a way forward’. That’s not really him you’re talking to. Ok look maybe it is. Maybe you have in front of you an example of what you would like to see more of in our country but i really doubt it. Odds are you haven’t noticed what he noticed about you a pretty long time ago. Now this is only directed at Thomas so if this doesn’t apply to you, don’t @ me. You see Thomas we noticed that you are incapable of self-introspection. To you the smartest person in the room is the guy or girl finding a different way of ‘saying what I’ve have been saying all along!’ The one who just gets it, you know. An intellectual imitator, a philosophical echo. You aren’t looking for someone to challenge your way of life as much as you are looking for someone to validate its significant. Well that is where managing our blackness becomes important.
We no longer have the time to teach you to be a more integrated member of civilized society because even after all the rape, enslavement, torture, resource theft, segregation, war, human trafficking and genocide you still think Europe and its neighbouring countries are the ‘civilized world’ (I guess a barbarian stops being a barbarian when he carries a gun instead of a spear.) We are just looking to do our jobs and I think since you aren’t really looking to listen to what we have to say anyway, we just hold up a mirror for you to smile at while we work on really making this nation a power house instead of a powerful minion.
We manage our blackness by sounding like you on the phone, laughing at and making the kind of jokes you like and removing all of the seasoning and spice that makes black people the pop cultural and social north stars we have been since hating us stopped being the ‘Christian thing to do’.
We are playing a character in an audition, that audition is our job interviews and just like in Hollywood when we get the part we end up playing that role for so long and with such precision that you can’t associate us as anything but that character, prime example. The guy that plays Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, what is his real name? Exactly is Sheldon Cooper. The truth is when that actor goes home he isn’t an astrophysicist working in California and I am not Kups, I am Mqapheli. I am not Sibs, I am Sibusiso. When i laugh its loud enough to invite others to laugh to. When I smile it’s not a formality but a reaction to experiencing something pleasant. I don’t think grant is ruining this country, I don’t think Cyril is Venda Jesus and I don’t put my kids to sleep to Nkalakatha or Sista Bethina. I do it to Nana Thula, because that’s song is fire.