A Morsel, or Something Close to it

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.

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10 comments

  1. Pingback: A Morsel, or Something Close to it | resoketswe
  2. Rockstar · April 27, 2015

    Another good work, Excellent! This piece of work is relevant coz it outlines the society we live in, youth and the expectation from other ethnicity.

    Like

  3. haphacks · April 30, 2015

    It is funny how we have to make distinctions but I like individual distinctions, and would wait for the day when race is like hair color and just another trait of an individual.

    Like

    • resoketswe · May 1, 2015

      You see I strongly disagree with that. These are not individual traits. As soon as you enter the territory of race, ethnicity, or creed, then you’ve entered the territory of a community, a group, not an individual.

      I don’t remember where I read this and I’m obviously paraphrasing: race and gender are the easiest human traits to perceive and therefore the easiset grounds upon which we can establish differences, thus establishing the other person as an Other. That’s how you end up with stereotypes and generalisations, that’s how you end up with someone who hates Koreans and loves whatever group they choose to love to substitute theur hatred for the Koreans. Preference for certain food/cuisine, favourite colour, favourite book, these things make us individuals. Who we are as people is not dependent on our skin colour or what ethnic group we belong to, that would be a contradiction in itself. My point is that people are people beyond what we see on the exterior. It goes deeper than what we see. But most times, because of what we see on the outside, we barely dig deeper.

      Like

  4. resoketswe · May 1, 2015

    The point I am trying to make is that if the man in the store didn’t see me as just another black person in Johannesburg, he would ask what language I spoke at home, he would ask why I choose NOT to speak Nguni languages. But he doesn’t because his experience of me ends with mys skin colour.

    Like

    • haphacks · May 1, 2015

      Yeah I know this poem is about how we are still distinguishing between skin color and judging a person based on that. I’m saying I’m waiting for the day when a person is looked at as a whole, skin color and all. I’m waiting for when skin color is just like hair color. I like individual distinctions because what makes us unique is the combination of what we are, from our deepest darkest secrets to the mole on our chin.

      I’m still waiting for your reply on my post, btw. You make me curious then shut me out 😛

      Like

  5. resoketswe · May 1, 2015

    It makes sense when you put it like that.

    Like

  6. PrinceT94 · July 19, 2015

    This is very good.

    Like

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