SOUTH AFRICA - The World Hates me Because I am Black... Thus I will Love the World Because I am Black.
I will always remember this moment: my mom and little brother coming into the house with mail. She hands me a large envelope with the biggest smile. I quickly glance to see Howard University in big, bold, blue font with 'CONGRATULATIONS' on the bottom.
I didn't know at the time that I would be attending a premier HBCU and one of the leading research institutions in the world. My reality soon became engulfed in Black pride, Black beauty, and Black history. Professors continuously remind the student body of the academic, technological, and cultural contributions by African people to the global network. Because of my experience at Howard University, I learned to appreciate my skin color.
I am currently studying abroad at the University of Stellenbosch in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The town is racially and economically segregated. Walking on one side of Eikstad Mall, a shopping centre, I mainly see students, the white middle class, and employees. However, the other side of the mall reveals a different story. Blacks and Coloureds fill the area while White tourists enthusiastically take pictures. The university itself is notoriously known as a racist university because of its history as an Afrikaans-only school. Even the architect of Apartheid taught at this university. So as a young Black woman, I am defying the slowly dying Apartheid-schema:
WHITE = GOOD & SUPERIORITY; BLACK = BAD & INFERIORITY
Stares continuously confront me as I walk through the streets of Stellenbosch. They range from genuine curiosity to a loaded question of “why are you here?” However, I must mention that the stares vary by the perpetrator's color (I am using color to make a claim and demonstrate my observations; I am not aiming to generalize nor to negatively portray South Africa and its people). White people look with curiosity, fascination, objectification, lust, and a complex, deep-seated hatred and contempt. Coloureds glare at me as if I remind them of a Black perpetrator in their past (Blacks and Coloureds do not have an amicable relationship mostly due to the systematic marginalization of Coloured placed slightly above Blacks - similar to the history and relationship between Blacks and Latinos in America). Black Afrikans stare at me with … well... I would argue curiosity, disgust, and confusion.
Does my natural Afro, American accent, and African-Native-American-European mixed features evoke a 'stop-and-stare' reaction in a non-American country?
That would definitely be the acceptable explanation if these stares were solely genuine curiosity.
But they are not.
The actual is not the main issue. I do not favor staring because of my experiences in childhood. Staring is a natural phenomenon that will never disappear; I accept that. The main issue is what lies behind the staring that is not spoken, but clear: a covert global campaign promoting Black inferiority.
Everywhere I turn I see Black women destroying their natural hair with non-stop weaves, wigs, and braids. The Afrikan cultural traditions of decorating one's head with flattering hair-dos and wearing clothes that demonstrates one's roots and status became replaced with conflicting European standards of beauty. Like diamonds in the rough, I see Black people retain their heritage through their language, dancing, and the undying dedication towards Ubuntu. But this is overshadowed in Stellenbosch. Even if I travelled to Afrikan places that fought against the damaging effects of colonialism; like a mouse, it silently scurries in and conveniently leaves droppings as a reminder of its presence.
Ultimately, I travelled from an HBCU bubble, Black pride island back into the real world. A world that constantly reminds me that it loathes my skin color and anything associated to it. At every restaurant, I am confronted with “you don't belong here and should never belong here.” At a club, I am asked for extra identification. At the bar, several customers are served before me. In stores, I am monitored but not helped. From tourists, I am greeted with a traditional Afrikan language. To others, I am worthless until my American origin graces their ears. These experiences have truly influenced my study abroad journey. However, there is one that moves my soul to tears: the contempt for Black Americans from Black Afrikans.
Howard reminds me that I have brothers and sisters in Afrika and in the Afrikan diaspora, yet I believe the feeling is not mutual. A Black-American girl from Boston told me that in her conversation with some Afrikans, she mentioned that she identifies herself as African-American. To her surprise, she was met with laughter and a firm “you are not Afrikan.” We can always debate on 'what is Afrikan,' but the disregard of our historical bond disturbs me. Clearly the definitions of Afrikan, Black, isiXhosa vs. isiZulu, Zimbabwean vs. South African are significant to most. Yet, all hope is surely not lost.
One of my best days spent in South Africa was at Mzolis in Gugulethu, a township. My flatmates, Christine and Alyssa, and I were chilling in a lounge with Afrikan men watching a soccer game . Our passionate, young 'tour guide' stopped all conversations to remind us that our ancestors were taken from Africa for the slave trade; however, everyone in that room are brothers and sisters. The men instantly agreed and jokingly identified our African origins based off our physical appearances, mannerisms, and speech. Apparently, I am undeniably South African, but it is a debate between Xhosa and Zulu origins.
In coming to South Africa, I was reminded of the world's hatred for Blackness. But I also experience the community's love for me. South Africa presents me the challenge to love my existence. It shows me the remarkable diversity of Africa and Africans. As I prepare to return to America and Howard University, I shall remember this:
The world hates me because I am Black, Thus, I will love the world because I am Black, I love the world because it is Black, And that will never change.
This post is dedicated to my Black sister, Christine Smith, that shared the experiences described in this post in our semester spent in South Africa.