I am black, but by the looks of things, and based on street research, it seems I’m not black enough. The tools which are used to determine, or rather establish, my true blackness are based on things like, my accent, skin colour, hair texture, pronunciation of words, my bum, my attitude and general outlook on life.
Society says that knowing your mother tongue fluently and knowing your culture well is what defines how black you are, but that would mean people like Rosie Motene or Pamela Nomvete are not black because they don’t meet that criteria. Motene was adopted by white folk, so she’s out. Pamela Nomvete lived overseas, so she’s also not black. This also means that having an accent that sounds like that of Pabi Moloi, Khanyi Dhlomo, William Lehong and Naledi Pandor disqualifies you from the black movement too.
If having a voluptuous booty a.k.a African Trade Mark (ATM) that turns the heads of taxi drivers and construction workers is the measuring tool for my blackness, then unfortunately, I’m out too. If I am what society calls a coconut because I went to a high school with textbooks, white teachers, a tuck shop and know who Macbeth is, then I’m not black. Does the fact that I didn’t find Lesilo scary as a child make me white? Or am I un-African because I don’t recall watching shows like Ubambo Lwami, Kwakhala Nyonini and Sgudis’ Nays? Am I un-black because I found all Gibson Kente’s drama’s a bit lame and over-acted ?
If such petty tools and attributes are what make us black, then there are many of us brown people with white souls I guess. Previously, when Apartheid told us who was who and what was what, it was the texture of our hair and skin colour that got us classified as darkies or non-darkies. If this still existed today, then I’m afraid that people with mixed parents still don’t meet the cut. People like Trevor Noah, Eda Rose, Phumeza are not one of us. Yep, society and its rules say so!
One of the high-tech devices created to figure out degrees of blackness was previously referred to by Apartheid police as the “pencil test.” If you were light-skinned enough and could almost pass for white, then an HB pencil – yes, a pencil – was put in your hair to check if you’re indeed telling the truth about the origins of your roots (excuse the pun). If it glided through your hair like a hot knife through butter, then you were classified as white; you’d have endless opportunities in your life. But, if you had steel wool for hair, like me, and the pencil did not make it out due to traffic from your blackness, then it was back to the township, no questions asked.
Today one of the various “high tech” tools used to measuring your blackness are more broad and vague, such as what car you drive, where you live, what school you went to, and your accent. So, if you pronounce “No” as “Noy” or say Durban instead of Deben… if you don’t like eating pap a few times a week, or if you’ve never taken a taxi in your life or don’t know the difference between Noord taxi rank and Bree taxi rank, then you’re a fake black. If you don’t know that Madluphutu is a hit in Mzansi and is extremely hilarious to black folk (only), then you aren’t black. You are what’s called a “coconut.” Synonyms for this word include Top Deck and Oreo. These are clever and offensive words used by black people towards other back people who apparently think they are better than them. I’m not sure how one measures another person’s thought process based on the way they speak… but yes, it’s done.
But before I finally dress myself in the garments that society has woven for me to wear based on the aforementioned traits that I need to have in order to belong to the now exclusive black people’s nation, I have just a few questions for society. What if I went to a white school but know my mother tongue, or what if I speak English fluently but live in the township and do so proudly. Am I still classified as a coconut? And by the way who are the individuals from this school of thought who have come up with these rules and laws that govern degrees of blackness? Is it a panel of men from ekasi sitting at a street corner wearing All-star sneakers with overalls, who decide who is what, based on whether they pronounce the number 11 as Leven or eleven?
Is it ghetto fabulous divas in patterned leggings and morning slippers who gather at a salon and decide one’s fate?
I’m black and care less about what is said about my blackness. I know where I’m from, know where I’m going and also know who I’d like to become. Mzansi is mine, and while I’m in it, I’ll be myself and I change, learn and grow each and every day. So with that said, society must either keep up with that change or simply stop defining it by shallow definitions on what being black is all about.
Poppy Pops Vilakazi