I’ve decided to share one of the poems I haven’t submitted for consideration to publishing houses. Whenever I do that, if ever I do, I’ll have to remove it. But in the meantime here is something I wrote a few weeks back. The title is currently Not Yet Black Enough.
It is always an adventure on that road: he sees my clothes, hair and skin colour.
I am a proud Venda-Shangaan at heart
so my clothes somehow manage to outdo my hair in attention-catching,
which is a statement in itself; you see, I am at a stage in my life where
I refuse to relax my hair or get a weave.
I once heard the term ‘kaffir haar’ and I think it fits the description of my hair perfectly.
I remember when I graduated from university and my family agreed
that it would be uncivilised to accept my degree while
my kaffir haar framed my apparently light-skinned face so unattractively.
So in the end I had my hair braided at the place down the road from my flat,
where the myriad of West African women wear their flamboyant African identities
with an unchecked pride I envy.
I wonder if my brother will do the same when he graduates next year.
But then again, he is neither female nor light-skinned so it may not matter in the end.
I also wonder if there is such a thing as dilute African authenticity,
if African authenticity should be a priority at all, what does it even mean?
Anyway, it is always an adventure on that Johannesburg road
because the ever new attendant in that store always assumes I am either Xhosa or Zulu,
because those are the only South African brands that matter, at least in my experience they are.
So when I excuse myself and tell the attendant, in English, “Sorry, sir, but I am not Nguni,”
he frowns and I can immediately discern the disappointment on his face,
his kindness instantly becomes limited. As he examines me with his eyes
I start to wonder if he thinks my hair is a phase, or the transition between two weaves
if my clothes are a fashion statement,
if my “coconut” accent is the result of overexposure to foreign television, or simple pretentiousness.
I wonder these things because he always asks where my roots are.
His head nods with recognition when I mention Limpopo.
And then he hands me my bread and change and tells me to learn Zulu or Xhosa,
and he somehow never asks which language I speak at home,
maybe I should just tell him anyway.
I need to ask my Indian friend if she experiences the same kind of adventure on that road.
Hey, you never know, but I doubt it will be the same with her since
I suspect that even with my clothes, skin colour and kaffir haar
I am still not yet black enough, which will obviously not be the case with her.
Or maybe it is because of my skin colour that my African identity is something to be questioned.
As I write this I marvel at the irony, the redundancy, and the inevitable question of
whether or not anyone outside South Africa labels Charlize Theron and Johnny Cleggy as African,
I wonder if the approval stamp is denied to them as well,
if Charlize and Johnny have experienced the adventure on that Johannesburg road.
It is kind of funny, isn’t it—how we have manufactured
the need for a distinction between Other, Black and African.