Opinionista Xhanti Payi 3 November 2011

Our blackness condemns us to servitude

Could Lindiwe Mazibuko be a young black woman, free in thinking and being, able in speech, and capable and talented to genuinely lead a “white” organisation? Or is she forever destined to be a servant of white interests? It is indeed an indictment on how we view ourselves in the context and time when we ought to be free.

Not too long ago a young school pupil asked me if I thought black people were in fact smarter than whites. As he looked at me, his eyes accused me of a crime I’ve never been able to plead against – knowing better. More than this, I believed that an affirmative answer would allow him greater confidence in himself, and give him the strides to rise against his circumstance.

On further reflection, I realise I should have denied my ego the affirmation it didn’t deserve, because in reality I didn’t know the answer. Having later reflected on his question, I realise that it was a big mistake and a lie, for in fact there is no truth to the notion that blacks are smarter than whites, or vice versa. I also believe that even if such a statement was supported by anecdotal evidence, we would have to reject it on principle alone.

When I realised I had something to offer the world, I was immediately confronted with the reality that the world in which I was living was either expecting too little of me, or refused to recognise my talent and potential contribution. Of course, this feeling is true of people at the age I was and still am. We tend to inflate our abilities.

And then I found out that my black peers also felt the same way, while our white counterparts didn’t. But again, the issue didn’t really rise to any level of significance since it could be argued that we were impatient, insecure or paranoid, or some combination of the above, including immature.

But we did feel, as many people still do, that the corporate world – by which I mean white companies – deliberately kept us from participating and contributing. We felt that we were belittled and unrecognised for what we really are, “young, black and gifted”, to quote a well-known phrase. Those of us who were smarter understood that this was rather myopic if not foolish of these white companies – that they did not recognise the change happening in South Africa. That in time, the blacks would take a larger share of the economy, and this would place companies who had not transformed at a disadvantage. We had marketers and researchers on our side. They said, and we agreed, that as black people became a larger part of the economically active and influential in our society, companies that were not representative of this dynamic would lose market share, and ultimately go out of business. These marketers and researches also said that our talent, knowledge and skills, and the diversity we brought into corporate trenches was important for a company’s growth and future since keeping the white guard was not sustainable.

In essence, what we were arguing is that as young and talented black people, we deserved recognition, and indeed, advancement into positions of influence.

It has thus come as a surprise to me, that the election and promotion of Lindiwe Mazibuko into such high ranks in the Democratic Alliance, as all of us have always wanted in these “white organisations”, has been met with such opposition. So many black people, including young black professionals who’ve been calling for inclusion of blacks in traditionally white organisations, have criticised the promotion of Miss Mazibuko, and called it “window dressing”, or reduced it to a cheap attempt to lure unsuspecting black people to vote for the DA and extend its power and ability to protect white interest.  It is quite unsettling.

But I suspect that it represents more than just a sense of hypocrisy on our part. I would argue that is a sign of a growing tendency among black people to oppose whiteness at any cost in order to affirm our legitimacy and pride in blackness. 

In this context, it is understood and thus practiced by some, that black pride – and by extension or association consciousness – requires that as time goes by, in order for us to claim that we have achieved our emancipation from the shackles of white supremacy, we must reject any connection, association or subscription to values or organisations associated – rightly or wrongly – with whiteness.

And by so doing, we would thus be in agreement that “what Black Consciousness seeks to do is to produce at the output end of the process real Black people who do not regard themselves as appendages to white society”, as argued by Steve Biko.

But what this also means, whether we are willing to admit it or not, is that talented young people like Lindiwe Mazibuko, in order to live the values and beliefs they have, and rightly represent their blackness, should join black organisations, or start their own. Ultimately, we would have to ask the majority of young talented black people working outside government in South Africa today to look to join “black” companies or organisations where they can make a contribution and advance their ambitions, or start their own organisations or business ventures.

Otherwise how could we claim that we are not servants to the white masters and mistresses who own the companies which everyday employ our talents, skills and efforts?

So in essence we are stuck, to quote Steve Biko again, in the notion that “[blacks] want to do things for themselves and all by themselves.” But hasn’t it happened that our protest against whiteness, and struggle to do things for and by ourselves has kept us, incidentally, as appendages to white people? That our consciousness is not about ourselves and our abilities to think and associate freely, but about resisting whiteness and removing ourselves from white subservience, which is actually denying us of that very same free thinking?

In at a time when we not only have freedom of thought, of speech and of being, we are surrendering it in a struggle against whiteness, and thus unwittingly belittling ourselves and disregarding our own abilities, as evidenced by our treatment of Mazibuko. Isn’t the hallmark of free and emancipated human being their ability to think freely, to live out their ambitions, use their talents to contribute to society as they see fit, in pursuit of happiness?

Could Mazibuko be a young black woman, free in thinking and being, able in speech, and capable and talented to genuinely lead a “white” organisation? Or is she forever destined to be a servant of white interests? It is indeed an indictment on how we view ourselves in the context and time when we ought to be free.

To answer the young man I feel I so gravely misled, none are smarter. As Biko so eloquently said: “As a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.” And as Pixley Ka Seme put it, ”In all races, genius is like a spark, which, concealed in the bosom of a flint, bursts forth at the summoning stroke. It may arise anywhere and in any race.”

When that notion resounds in all of us, we might find we’ve achieved a great thing. DM


Disclaimer: I’m not so devoted to the Honourable Miss Mazibuko myself, but as a coconut, I feel some solidarity.

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"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine

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