Welcome to blackness

I am the original angry black woman. My presence cannot be denied although the legitimacy of my views and sentiments often is. Before delving head first into the world of intersectionality, I thought we’d detour via racism as experienced by Africans in both national and international planes. There is no way intersectionality will make any practical sense if we cannot grasp racism as a world structure. I’d like to talk about blackness. I do this because it will not be possible to properly dismantle patriarchy and other forms of domination if we cannot grasp that these orders feed off of and sustain each other. We need to stop thinking of oppression on a single axis and instead look at what other factors are in play. Furthermore we need to confront a truth that many people find unsettling, namely that racism is alive and well and when we don’t disrupt the discourses and institutions that sustain it, when we choose to not actively reverse the damage that it wrought, we are complicit in its perpetuation. We need action not awareness. Sounds a bit like what is necessary to push out patriarchy no? Today I’d like us to take a closer look at blackness in our world.

The expectation is that intersectionality will be reversed or turned on its head in a postcolonial Africa. However, that is not the case. It is blackness that is still considered problematic. The fact of the matter is that whiteness is still strong currency. Currency that is supported and sustained by the continued disproportionate economic and political power in Africa, of what is numerically a tiny minority. Indeed whiteness continues to create images in people’s minds of legitimacy, honesty and specialist knowledge. This is aided by the fact that we do live in such an interconnected world. Africa is never left alone to get on with it; we are subject to the whims of the world order, to continued foreign intervention by the very people who sent the settlers out here in the first place. Not to mention that neo-colonialism is rife and cost effective.

The powers that be also have a tight grip on information management, highlighting those whose voices they’d like to hear, erasing or distorting the voices of those who don’t support their positions. Think for a moment – whom did the world listen to when it came time to deal with the land question in Zimbabwe? Hint, it wasn’t the disenfranchised black masses forcefully evicted from their land under the colonial regime, all the way until 1980. Studies now indicate that the land redistribution programme was a success (see LSE researchers’ report). Yet the world weeps. This is yet another instance where the loss of privilege is misconstrued as the loss of a right. If one is unjustly enriched through theft and oppression and the benefit is taken away and one is instructed to pay restitution for the theft, then this person has not truly experienced loss. Things are merely as they should be.

The fact that I had to refer to studies to support the land redistribution programme further indicates that black people are not considered to be capable stewards or to put it another way, are assumed to require guidance in how to order their own houses. If a thief were to steal your car and convert it to their own use, would you not be indignant if when you went to recover your car the thief asked you how you intended to pay for insurance and petrol? Would your blood not boil if the thief thought that their suspicions that your driving capabilities were mediocre at best, constituted sufficient grounds to continue to withhold your car? How would you feel if the thief then went and gathered some of his friends and they all agreed that you didn’t seem worthy of your car? This example may seem ridiculous but that is how the world deals with [black] Africa.

Many of Zimbabwean institutions were initially built with white settlers in mind to regulate the ways in which they interacted with each other. The institutions for the blacks were designed on the basis of what the whites perceived our needs to be as well as who we were perceived to be. it will take longer than thirty years to reverse what it took close to a century to build. It’s no secret that [white] visitors to Zimbabwe well into the modern age could be given pamphlets explaining the dominant traits of the “native” including an apparently deep seated childishness as well as an inexplicable capacity for laziness. These assumptions and institutions are starting to be explicitly challenged and dismantled. However, one of the ways in which these institutions and this “self-evident knowledge” live on is in the psyches of our people who were raised and nurtured within a racist framework. There is the risk that they will pass on the inferiority complexes nurtured and internalised during the colonial period.The dangers of this is that when any challenges arise, we feel defeated and repeat the negative mantras so often told to us: we are but black people, what can we do?

If one were to believe the reporting of dominant news agencies you’d think that no one actually lives in Africa. Live as in have any enjoyment and/ or meaning or purpose to life, in Africa. Instead we all live like animals attempting to survive, necessarily living hand to mouth simply because we know no better and most importantly cannot be any better. We’re black.

In living around the world I was met with racism in its many forms, a common version being the type that challenges the fundamental personhood of black people whilst being couched in pseudo intellectual discussions. Ranging anywhere from the attempts to regulate the reproduction rights of black women under the guise of discussing an overpopulation problem, or questions about whether or not we are fundamentally capable of governing…anything. A personal favourite that came up a lot whilst I was in university is how it was that I ended up in an institution of higher learning – I must be connected to the teeth right? Failing that a member of my family was supposed to be a despotic leader or someone of some other sort of political significance who had purchased my entry into university. This manifestation of racism was often coupled with the oldy but goody assumption that in order for a black person to not be poor they must be criminally engaged and morally bankrupt. It required constant effort to hold my humanity together and not allow myself to succumb to and internalise who white imperialism said I was.

It was with relief then that I moved back to Zimbabwe. The fact that my non-assimilationist self was not truly welcome in some of the countries I lived in was evident on a daily basis. Be it in the questions that I was asked, the way I was treated, the assumptions that were made – heck, even the way in which potential “suitors” approached me. It was clear that I was supposed to feel lucky to no longer be in Africa. In return for so graciously not being deported (as well as experiencing only a few racially based assaults) I was to sustain my side of the bargain by coming out with words damning my people. Preferably the type of words that declare us a lost cause and beyond help, then everyone could tisk sympathetically, comfortable in their worldview that presents darkness as evil and white/might as right. But I could not comply. I could not be complicit in a dominant discourse that simultaneously demonises my people and cleanses the West of any historical and current blame for the troubling status quo, which is marked by exploitation and economic intimidation. This is the reality of blackness in today’s world.

I feel the need to clarify that when I complain about my people or aspects of my society it doesn’t come from a place where I think that I have seen it done better elsewhere and this is yet another example of the failing of my people. Rather I write this blog and I complain, as an acknowledgement that my people and I can do better and furthermore are actively interested in doing better. I want to build us up and not tear us down from the inside out.

With that in mind we need to have a bit of a comprehensive talk about our psyches as we deal with neo-colonialism and as we try to move forward, not only politically and economically but socially as well. We need to ensure that we are actively counteracting the white imperialist message of inferiority and necessary dependency. With that in mind next week I’d like us to talk about the two dominant paradigms that I’ve noticed at play within Zimbabwe as relates to our outlook. Not to be lame but I think I may call that post, a tale of two psyches.

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