Here and ready for the next bit of this Black and Proud Series. If you missed the first, you might want to start here but if not then read on anyway.
I had a very brief discussion with my father yesterday as we listened to a recounting of how the Aboriginals of Australia were massacred (and no, am not uprooting buried history just laying context). So the Aboriginals were black in colour and treated grotesquely. The story was enough to make you gag, its hard to imagine having to live through it.
But it was a conversation and he commented on how the young White generation can see the follies of those before them. I said that I think this is because of interaction, now that we’ve all seen that at the core of it all we are flesh and blood. We kept on with this conversation and I mused that maybe we can understand that initial reaction, where we all just stumbled upon the knowledge that other people with different skin colour existed. Perhaps. BUT what about now where we seemingly just hand over everything to the White man, no questions asked. Especially when you see how the politicians handle everything. Where is our pride?!!! He said that’s the result of being subdued for years.
It felt like a flimsy answer, an easy escape to not take responsibility but I remembered a post I had read that talked of how the elephant is tamed. You know an elephant don’t you?! The largest existing land animal! It is first kept chained up with iron shackles till it learns not to fight against the chain and as it grows older its led about by a rope that it could snap but doesn’t. (I don’t know how true that is but I did read it even though I can find the post now which I really wanted to link).
Have we been severely subdued that we can’t believe anything good can exist within and around us irrespective of outside influence?
This reminds me of my own thoughts and behaviours growing up. As I commented in last week’s post, I have grown in postcolonial Africa, about 40years after our ‘independence’. But it was so hard to pick anything good from around me on so many levels that I desperately wanted to be someone else, but I’ll highlight a few of those levels.
Language. I love languages. I think they are just so cool. Of late, I’ve really gotten into watching Korean series and it always strikes my mind that those characters jump out at them as real words the same way English words make sense to me. There is beauty in diversity.
We use English as our official language but it is not my native language. Yet for a very long time we considered that the coolest thing anyone could do, speak English like the English as though we were. Primary school was ripe with pointing out who spoke best and laughing at those who failed to pronounce English words right? How low our goals were! We always aimed at faking accents we heard on TV from places we had not yet been because our own gave away our blackness? And those that didn’t attempt were ‘local’ and that was hardly a compliment.
I do know this carries on and some children will probably grow up not knowing their language and unfortunately thinking like I once did that it is a cool thing. Is this a conscious choice or circumstances make it hard? I do know bikozulu (I did say I enjoy his writing) explores this in his post The Last Tribe and he asks how to teach his children their two indigenous languages. How can we continuously disregard the foundation of our own culture without being asked to and not break for what’s lost on generations to come?
Literature and the Arts. The first books I read where in English, the Ladybird series of Peter and Jane. It didn’t strike me as odd then but now it does, forty years after independence and we hadn’t reclaimed the publication industry enough to tell our own stories! (Especially since we all know they who own the story, own the narrative. Our own history and greatness gets lost without record). So, the first stories in my head were filled with white people with names I was never going to hear around me on a daily. But those were my stories, filled with experiences I knew nothing about but it made sense to write them.
Our own local music seemed to be missing something that was present in all that music off the continent. And again we found it cool to say, ‘I don’t listen to Ugandan music’ as though that spoke more of our exposure than our insecurity and discomfort with our own skin. Now the music has come up and is mostly owning the public places.
For probably the same reasons, we shunned our own locally made movies. OK, so their plot-lines were wanting most of the time and they only seemed to show case the worst about Africa (it’s not ‘African’ till someone is starving or dying from those diseases – think AIDS, or stirring up trouble with witchcraft), it wasn’t appealing to me for whom that worst case scenario was not the norm. But this also sipped through to the books.
I first encountered African writing in secondary. I think the first book I read was Recipe for Disaster. Sure, it also portrayed the reality as grim (you can tell from the title) but it also fanned the silent dream that I could write as me and somehow make it. Then the other books that followed were filled with that colonial contrast. Africans being marginalised and fighting out of it or sometimes dying before it was all realised.
How did one break away from that? Were those the stories people enjoyed about Africa, their strife and struggle? Of course, it was for the Literature class and for their own reasons, these stories struck a chord. But that was my first exposure. Now I know more are coming up and am glad for that.
Can’t wait to add my work to the mass one day!!!
History. This disconnect finally found an answer when I took History for my A Levels. I took African Nationalism and it told of stories of people who fought for their identity. Of course a good number of them messed it all up when they got into power but the passion they had kept through even as I read about them years later.
History gave me a new lens with which to see ourselves. That we could be more than we settled for. All those nationalists had a vision, something they so desperately desired. And this might point to the problem with comfort, because we mostly have comfortable people who have no problem throwing away their birth right.
History serves its purpose, not to heap guilt and blame or divide us the more but to reinforce the ambition and drive to the goal.
Now, there is much to learn and uncover and unlearn and relearn but let’s not throw away our uniqueness in an attempt to grab more of another’s. So…I’m still on that journey of learning! I hope you tag along and let me know your own thoughts on the topic below. 😉