When I was in high school, my friends and I had a lot of inside jokes and quips that tied us together. Several of my friends at that time were white and blonde and one of the quips was that I was “blonde on the inside”. I’ve been thinking about that.
I was a black girl with black hair in a predominantly black country, so being blonde on the inside should not have made sense.[Kanjani, guys?!]. But it does make sense when I think about how whiteness is glorified like, everywhere, and how class privilege can really blur the line between ‘black’ and ‘white’ (to a point). Having access to particular privileges (notably a private education) meant that I had access to whiteness, and I became so well versed in it that I could be validated by my white friends as being one of them [on the inside].
[Lorato Palesa Modongo explains so excellently how being white is glorified in Botswana here ]
Choosing whiteness over blackness wasn’t a choice I was aware I was making. I felt a lot of shame in the parts of my life that didn’t seem Western or white enough so I just never mentioned them. The things I kept silent about were my way of distancing myself from blackness – an identity which, at the time, symbolized being uncivilized and backward. Being fluent in whiteness offered an illusion of safety. You could feel comfortable in your [proximity to] whiteness because it seemed to mean that you were just like ‘everyone else’ – all the ‘normal’ people you saw in films – recognized fully as a person. As I gained this ‘recognition’, I didn’t understand how it was almost always being gained at the expense of another Black person. For instance…
I remember a lot of my classmates (of all races) used to laugh at videos of “black ghetto names” – videos mocking African-American people. As we laughed at names like Shaqonda and Bonquiqui, it never occurred to me that I was laughing at a fellow black person because I did not recognize ‘blackness’ in myself. I didn’t think I was like them. I just existed in that rainbow-nation space where race didn’t matter.
Being at university and learning about racism changed my sense of humour. Now when someone says the word ghetto or ratchet around me, I know that [poor] black people are being mocked. And the fact that I can be in a space where someone can mock a poor black person in my [black] presence is evidence that I am being accepted into that space because I am assumed to not be like ‘other’ black people.
I don’t laugh at Bonquiqui or Shaniqua’s names anymore because mine shouldn’t be an exception. Mocking them is mocking all of us. I can’t laugh at things that are “ghetto” or “ratchet” anymore because it’s not funny that [black] people are poor. It’s a crisis.
Having class privilege as a black person basically means that you can afford to not suffer in the same ways many other black people do. On one hand, this is met by some people in white spaces assuming that you are only in university because they needed to fill up a quota or that if you have money, your parents didn’t work hard, it was all just B.E.E etc.
On the other hand, it can mean that people will use your position as a way of shaming other black people – using you/your family as evidence that black people can make it if they just work hard.
As many have written, instead of applauding poor [and in this case, black] people who overcome poverty, we need to look at ourselves and how we contribute to those conditions. Poor [black] people aren’t poor because they don’t work hard. They’re poor because we’re rich/middle class. We’re involved in it. We are a part of the capitalist exploitation that causes poverty and we need to take responsibility for that.
We can’t really keep having conversations where we just blame Zuma for stuff. I’m not a fan of Zuma either but before we talk about Zuma or how #ZumaMustFall, can we please have some serious conversations about apartheid and how we have to deal with its mess? Let’s talk about how some of your family members are overtly racist and you don’t know how to confront them about it. Or about how trippy it is to spend like 20 years of our lives ‘not seeing colour’ only to discover that not seeing colour is part of the problem? Let’s talk about how society rewards you for being white and how the flipside of that privilege is a black person not getting the benefit of the doubt?
Sidenote: It’s weird for me that every time I post a Facebook status about racism, suddenly, it’s like I don’t have white friends on Facebook Are white people just not seeing those statuses or ….? It’s cool if you don’t want to comment on my status, I can understand why. But at the same time, why are so few white people writing their own statuses about racism? We really need to talk, y’all. And when I say we, I mean, all of us but also YOU because racism isn’t going to go away until we all actually start dealing with it 😦
The topic of racism is really uncomfortable but I’d rather be openly uncomfortable with you than be uncomfortable because you haven’t said a single thing about Marikana and now I have to wonder what that silence means.
We’re at a point where we can’t use our interracial friendships as evidence that we are not racist. As Sisonke Msimang said, “If you’re friends with white people who don’t get it, then you’re not friends”.
I want to be friends but first, I need you to know that I’m not blonde on the inside. I’m black and I am not hiding it anymore.