First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
I released my first book, Made in South Africa: A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress, last year.
I am the first person in my family to publish a book. I am the first person in my family to write a weekly column for a newspaper. I am the first person in my family to have three degrees. I am the first person in my family to study overseas. I am the first lawyer in my family.
I am not saying this to brag; I am saying this because of the uncertainty that comes with being the first. Although I am the first, I do not claim and do not believe that I am the most deserving or the most talented in my family. I am just the lucky one.
I am the one whose life’s ambitions happen to have manifested, largely thanks to being born at the right time. In as much as I wonder if my ancestors are proud of me, I equally wonder if they are disappointed.
In as much as some would consider that I have done a lot with my life, I know all the potential that has been left on the cutting-room floor. I know that I could have, and should have, done more.
I think of all the people in my lineage who wanted to go to school, but could not; those who wanted to be lawyers, but could not; and those who wanted to write, but whose ideas were considered dangerous and treasonous.
Considering that there are foremothers who would have given everything to live in this time, I often wonder if I have done enough. Have I provoked enough?
My father writes better than I do. He should have been the first. I wonder how different my first book would have been if I had had a father who had the same opportunities as me. What advice would he have given me?
My grandfather should have been the first lawyer. How would I have navigated my career with his serving as a precedent?
The haunting of my own luck has driven me to judge my value by how much I produce and by how useful I am to society. I constantly seek approval that I am earning my keep.
We are the culmination of generational effort and sacrifice. Are we worthy beneficiaries? If freedom comes with responsibility, have we adequately assumed that responsibility? If to whom much is given much is expected, have we met expectations?
A couple of weeks ago, I was informed that my book had been longlisted for the Sunday Times/CNA literary non-fiction award.
An award was never the point of publishing a book but, once I was a contender, I was fixated on winning. Fixated on adding another notch in the family belt… But I didn’t make the shortlist. In that moment of disappointment, I almost discarded my book as a failure. If it hadn’t been shortlisted, it must mean it was not good enough. Many of my generation and of Gen Z are constantly punishing and pushing themselves because we do not deem ourselves worthy.
Being the firsts in our families means that we are largely unprepared. Our unpreparedness is not a sign of familial neglect, but a sign of our families having no map for this freedom. We have navigated this life mostly by holding hands, feeling in the dark and, I have to say, we have done incredibly well considering how unprepared we are.
Even though I am not the most talented in my family tree, I can make the choice to be the most grateful for all the opportunities I have had. The most revolutionary act is to deem ourselves inherently worthy. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.