Only in South Africa has there been dialogue going back and forth regarding the contribution, or lack thereof, of coloured people during the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Race is still a very important factor in South Africa. The race conversation is usually a black and white issue, although in South Africa, black includes Indians and Coloureds, the race issue always seems to be Africans and Caucasians. Africans, Indians and Coloureds hardly share views, including on the race issue, this became obvious on social media platforms during the BLM protests.
The BLM movement was first formed in 2013 by founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, which was described as a network that was which an online platform that came to being to provide activists with a shared set of goals and principles. It is an American born network that has globally shared ideologies as the organization’s platform is described as “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice”. It is fixed with six demands one of them being bringing an end to the war on black people. It has become a global movement over the years but is primarily based in the United States of America.
Truthfully, the war on black lives is an ongoing war experienced in all communities of the world where there are black people. It is challenging to imagine that such a war would also exist in African countries, but it does. The war on black bodies is not only limited to physical violence but to all social, political and economic aspects and opportunities, black people all over the world experience systemic and normalized exclusion. On the African continent, the war on black people would have to be defined differently, as it is mostly a war on black people, mostly by other black people, like in the case of xenophobia/afrophobia and our governments. However, the backdrop of this situation in Africa is the colonial structure and beliefs that still inform African politics and economics.
There is no doubt that even in societies like South Africa, where the majority of cops are black, brutality by government officials on black bodies exists, it exists more so between individuals. In the first month of the lockdown in South Africa, at least 11 black men were killed by police or the army. Unfortunately the outrage only manifested on social media platforms, there were no mass protests nor much of a response by government on the issue. Just as I am writing up this article, a news headline just popped up claiming that over 21 300 murders have occurred in South Africa between April 2019 and March 2020. The BLM movement does not necessarily focus on black on black crimes, although the media will claim that there are more black people killing one another than the police killing black people. The issue underlying BLM is the socio-economic conditions created by a racist political system that informs the experiences of black lives.
So George Floyd happened, and the black community ‘lost it’! George Floyd wasn’t a rare case, he was a statistic that accumulates daily in America. The difference is that his brutal death at the knee of a white police man was captured on video and spread through the media, perhaps because there was deafening noise about the way he was killed. Protests emerged over several metro cities in the United States, and the media took cover.
Floyd’s death sparked protests and advocacy for black lives uniting all peoples from all races in the US, as well as other cities across the globe, even during the time when many countries had restrictions due to the COVID19 pandemic. South Africa and Black Twitter were not silent either, and we witnessed most of the world engage in the #blackouttuesday social media protest.
In retrospect, an interesting aspect of the race issue in South Africa emerged. Many black South Africans took to social media about the lack of support during that period that came from the Coloured community. We need to bear in mind that most Coloured people in South Africa do not identify as black, for their own historical and political reasons and experiences, and the black community just needs to accept that. In the South African reality, we are two complete separate races, and this is based on the idea that although black people claim to not have any racial exclusions or ideas of separatism with the coloured community, the coloured community feels like they do, especially when it comes to political matters.
On social media platforms there was tension between the two, as black people argued that the Coloured community deliberately isolates itself when it comes to matters pertaining to race, whereas in other parts of the world, Coloured or mixed race people would be deemed as black. The argument is always that Coloured people seem to think that they are superior to black folks, claiming to be African but not black. The origin of that claim is too complex to be discussed here.
So it kicked off with a social media post from a black female, claiming that the silence of Coloured people during #blacklivesmatter was betrayal, and sure we’ve seen some posts from others claiming the silence during a protest means that you are siding with the oppressors, this goes for anyone. However, the Coloured community came flooding in to defend their community:
1 – It was highlighted that first of all, black South Africans needed to stop thinking that they were America, and that the BLM protests was an American initiative. The Coloured community came in numbers arguing that black people in South Africa were always in a position of privilege in this country, and therefore cannot share the same sentiments as black people in America who are a minority.
I can’t say I agree, in fact not at all, but my opinion is not the issue here, I am just reporting as it happened on social media.
2 – Secondly, the xenophobia/afrophobia argument came up., that black people are ‘racist’ against other black people. SOME black South Africans are always opinionated when it comes to foreign African nationals and their contribution to the South African economy. In most instances it is never in favour or in positive light, especially when they demand that these foreigners return back to their own countries. There are often random splurges of violence against foreign nationals by black people, mostly black people from impoverished communities, who feel as if their opportunities for work have been taken away because of the presence of African nationals. Some cry because of the social ills practiced by some foreign nationals in South Africa, claiming that these social ills are ruining the future generation, hence the on and off of xenophobic events.
I thought this was a valid point, one we need to ponder as black South Africans. How do we point a finger at the Coloured community but not look at how we treat fellow Africans?
3 – Thirdly, it was argued that Coloured people, together with the Indian community, are labeled as black under the South Africa constitution, however they are always sidelined when companies are adhering to BEE stipulations and rules. They continued to argue that black people only call on the Coloured community to join forces with them when it is convenient for them but are openly excluded in instances that could largely benefit black people. There were claims that were shared amongst SOME Coloured folks stating that they are too white to be black and too black to be white and as a result you will never hear of Coloured Lives Matter. It’s all such an interesting argument because if you look across the global map everything with a touch of colour is labeled as mixed race or black. I guess that is where it becomes challenging for black folks to grasp, the simple fact that this is not across the map this is south Africa, and every race is entitled to their own opinions, and also have the right to define their identity, as they have their own separate political, cultural and economical experiences.
It is important to note that some opinions shared are not reflective of collective views of an entire race or community. It is just honestly astonishing to witness that race is still a deep, painful, major and prevalent issue in South Africa, and how perhaps there needs to be more open dialogues between the two cultures so that perspective is gained, and why we should then understand the coloured community’s silence during the BLM movement.
“Why Do Black People Always Feel The Need To Be Excellent, Why Can’t We Just Be Ourselves?” by Nonhle Matsebula
This is a quote abstracted from one of my favourite films of 2019, Queen and Slim.
It is such a relevant question. I felt it needed to be asked to the Black community at this time of intensification of the Black Lives Matter movement and Buy Black movement. Why are we always thriving towards excellence? What does that even mean? We see this almost everywhere, especially during events that commemorate the performance of black people in one way, shape or form. You hear them say “Black Excellence” or caption their social media posts and statuses using that phrase or hashtag. Is #BlackExcellence a good and necessary concept or does it actually erode the equality we seek?
On the other hand, we are constantly reading reports about how black people have to work twice as hard as their Caucasian counterparts to get recognized, rewarded or promoted. And this is fact all over the world. And this seems to be normalized. Recent Twitter threads by Caucasian managers show that it is a culture that black subordinates are not expected to excel and in fact should not be encouraged or supported to excel.
“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.” Oprah Winfrey
So black excellence is a direct response to the inherent racism that black people face in all aspects of corporate or business world and beyond including in sports and the arts. Oprah Winfrey would be the first one to confirm that despite being excellent for decades as the leading talk show host in America with a global brand earning billions of dollars, her excellence has not shielded her from racism even now. I guess it is not too difficult to fathom what it means, black people thriving towards excellence in all that they do, becoming the masters of their crafts and leaders in that specific sector is not expected. But I just can’t help but think there is a negative aspect behind the term ‘black excellence’. I would hate to make a comparison between the black community and other communities because we do not all hold the same historical experience. It would seem only fair that we thrive for excellence after centuries that black communities globally have been suppressed and oppressed. It is only fair that we basically ‘yell’ into their faces that we are, in fact, thriving as a community even though it can be said that they wish we weren’t, considering all the measures that are still taken to ensure that we remain subservient to rest of the world’s communities.
Examples of the hurdles black achievers have to face are countless and can be downright discouraging. Look at Simone Biles, the American gymnast who has won more athletic awards than Usain Bolt and the likes, constantly has to face criticism because she is a black and female athlete. The same way that Serena Williams does too. So is ‘Black Excellence’ an even higher standard than excellence? To be black and excellent means we have to overcome so many more hurdles and challenges to achieve excellence, so we are doubly excellent? I believe so. Black excellence is a higher standard and should be celebrated until the playing field all over the world is such that all peoples have equal opportunity. But it is also exhausting!
But is there a negative side to this? A friend of mine who completely abhors affirmative action, who hates Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and does not understand #BlackExcellence asks why do we feel the need to inform the rest of the world that we are more than what they expected of us, that we are doing just as great as everyone else when they have been winning for years and centuries at our expense? There just seems to be some kind of approval and validation that we need from everyone else. Why can’t we just know that we are excellent, it almost comes across as if at some moment in our journey we doubted that we are great? Excellence and greatness should be inherent in us all. For example, a successful businessman or woman simply knows that she is the greatest, a humble sense of pride, she is the G.O.A.T in her craft. It’s a deep, innate and confident feeling that she has, and she experiences it on a daily. Others know she is great because her work speaks for itself. She doesn’t need anyone else validating this, she is doing her best and sharing her best with her clients. We thrive so hard to be excellent, but how excellent are we if it’s only a fraction of our community that is doing excellent things? The problem with the idea of ‘excellence’ altogether is that it is very competitive with a very narrow funnel allowing very few to qualify as excellent, it is not one through which the majority can feel that their best is enough. It is one that celebrates and normalizes that in life there ‘winners and losers’ I doubt that we would wave the excellent term around so commonly if this were a standard thing amongst everyone in our community, because we would just be right.
It’s as if we are always on a quest to prove the world wrong and how satisfying is that? Believing that all our lives, all that we do is to make a point, why can’t we just be ourselves, do our thing, excellent or not? How gratifying is it to have to always announce #BlackExcellence? I mean heck the Jewish don’t do it, and we know the Jews run most of the global economy, they aren’t out there punting #JewishExcellence, no one else does it, and they are excellent. It’s not to say that we should only do what other communities do, no, we should go about things our own way, but just not in a way that renders the majority of our community as ‘losers’.
I guess I’m a bit wary of the fact that it may put children of the black community under unnecessary pressure, constantly thriving for excellence, to feel like they matter only when recognized by others. There are all kinds of psychological and mental health problems that arise with the pursuit of external validation. Does it mean that if you are not labeled as excellent that you are mediocre or perhaps disappointing to the community? Does it mean that your work is insignificant, if they do not deem it as excellent? That should not be the case.
Something about #BlackExcellence connotes acceptance and normalizes that the world and we ourselves as black people, consider people of African descent as less than. I really wish there was another or term we used to celebrate our progress. My argument is not a denial of the fact that people of African descent all over the world have to work twice as hard to earn what others earn, and that we don’t have equal access to opportunities that others have. Yes, we should thrive for greater heights all the time, but we do not have to do so at the cost of seeking external approval for our right to be seen as enough as we are. It’s a mentality that we should have with us at all times, we are great whether somebody chooses to recognize it or not. I am enough, I am great, period.
Just feeling so inspired right now, I haven’t even seen it yet, it drops in South Africa tomorrow at 8 pm on MNET (channel 101), but I know that is going to be one of the greatest films of all time, I mean the clue is in the name. We have been stuck on Beyonce’s social media pages for a minute, looking at the scenes and possible visual album production and I just know, deep in my heart that it’s going to shake the industry. She’s not only a musician; she is an artist, a creative genius. We know this from her previous and first visual album ever, Lemonade, and by the look of things, she definitely will not disappoint.
I love Beyoncé simply because she is a hard worker who is relentless in seeing her vision come to life. I absolutely admire her style of work as she does not limit herself to what the media leaders are currently doing, she really is capable of expanding one’s imagination beyond the conventional and the is truly inspiring. Her vision is so broad that the film Black is King was shot in all kinds of locations, from the backyard of her home to the streets of Johannesburg, Ghana, London, and Belgium. The film is based on the re-telling and re-imagination of the iconic movie and play, The Lion King. She uses all kinds of art to narrate the story, from fashion, dance, music videos, and astounding natural settings not forgetting raw talent.
The idea behind Black is King is born from wanting to change the perception of the word black on a global scale. It is about acknowledging the beauty, the love, the strength, and inspiration about everything black. Hence every character in the film is black, sourcing talent, directors, creatives, and artists from all over the globe to present to the world this fine piece of black art. I am in awe and beyond exuberant at this point. Sis, is bringing up and exposing not only black American talent but black talent from all corners of the map. That is the epitome of leadership, and we stan. She truly lives up to the understanding behind making it with your people. Like it’s great to make it, but it’s even better when your people make it with you. Perhaps this is one of the underlying reason why Beyonce will continue to soar in all that she does because her work is not only inclusive but it is empowering, like just imagine the doors that will open for all those who contributed to the making of this masterpiece, I feel so grateful on their behalf, and aspire to be living in the future; forever working to elevate and to better the black community as I grow myself.
The visual album is going to follow shortly after the film drops, there has already been a release of one music video, and of course, the bar is set sky-high. If we can remember from Lemonade, she is still unmatched, and we just love what she is doing to change the game. Ladies, just watch and learn. Black is King.