What Exactly is in My Black Shit?

September 17, 2013

I am often appaled but not entirely surprised when folks ask me why I need to identify as Black or why I have to foreground Black as an identity even when I live in a country where to be black is the default racial identity. Someone reading this blogpost, or even you, might be asking “But why does this even matter?”  “Why do certain black people have to insist on racial categories even when they seem to defy most other attempts at being categorised?” ” “Can’t we just be human and stop being stuck in the past?” I definitely would have asked similar questions a couple of years ago because I totally didn’t see why it should be a point for discussion or didn’t even think about it. I was completely oblivious to my own placing in a larger world even when subtle, and abrasive, reminders were being thrown at me in my History books, Science, Sunday School and later on on TV. Perhaps then I thought to myself, “Well,  being black is the colour of my skin but has nothing to do with who I am as a person”. That is if I thought at all. But then I read.

I am Black beyond skin. 

From the collection of essays, Write What I Like on Steve Bantu Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement,  those of us who have come to unambiguously claim Blackness in our politics know that “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” But what mental attitude can a black person reflect without being the ‘typical’ aggressive, angry, confrontational Black? Is it even possible to identify as Black and as Black Conscious without falling into the pitfalls of reactionary politics? I have even heard some say that most of us who identify as Black are just racist! Sigh! I have argued before that black people can’t be racist; racism and racial prejudice is something very specific to Whiteness, White priviledge and power within a very particular historical periodic spectrum. As a group, black people have not acquired most or all the necessary prerequisites for racism. We, as a people, do not have the power and priviledge that predicates harmful racial prejudice but that’s a different blogpost for another day though. 

So why do I identify as Black? Why do I continue to speak of my blackness as though it weren’t obvious? I mean, I could never ‘pass’ for anything else even in a million years but i ‘insist’ on calling myself Black. Again, from the Black Consciousness Movement, with which I have always strongly identified as I have with other Black struggles across the world, I know that by describing myself as Black I am  on the road towards emancipation and by naming myself as such I commit myself to fight against all forces that seek to use blackness as a stamp that marks black people as subservient. To call myself Black is to take a stand against living my life as a non-white or a house Negro. To say I am Black is to understand historical oppression and how that plays itself out in my world. To identify as Black is for me to seek solidarity with continental Africans and the Black Diaspora in all its entirety from Guyana through to Martinique and Peru. To be Black is to be able to call Barrack Obama, just like George W. Bush and Gerald R. Ford etc before him, a war criminal without fear of contradiction because my Blackness seeks to unpack Imperial violence. To call myself Black is to be able to understand the workings of supremacy in Israel and to boycott Israeli products so as not to support the oppression of Palestinians and the occupation of their land. To be Black is to acknowledge that all oppression is connected and needs to be seen for what it is. To identify as Black is to constantly ask myself, like Pumla Dineo Gqola, What is slavery to me? It is to refuse to buy into the grand narrative of my history. It is to know that another world exists. It is to always seek fairness in the absence of truth and justice. To be Black is to ask myself the hard questions of Blackness. It is to occupy the same mental space as James Baldwin, Franz Fanon, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Steve Bantu Biko, Audre Lorde, Wambui Otieno-Mbugua, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wangari Maathai, Sojourner Truth, Aime Cesaire, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, and so many others, at once. To be Black is to be myself. It is to embrace my contradictions with the pride and dignity of being human. It is to ask myself over, over and over, ‘What’s in this Black Shit?’ and with Mongane Wally Serote learn to swear!


What’s in this Black “Shit”

It is not the steaming little rot
In the toliet bucket,
It is the upheaval of the bowels
Bleeding and coming out through the mouth
And swallowed back,
Rolling in the mouth,
Feeling its taste and wondering what’s next like it.

Now I’m talking about this:
“Shit” you hear an old woman say,
Right there, squeezed in her little match-box
With her fatness and gigantic life experience
Which makes her a child,
‘Cause the next day she’s right there,
Right there serving tea to the woman
Who’s lying in bed at 10 a.m. sick with wealth,
Which she’s prepared to give her life for
“Rather than you marry my son or daughter.”

This “Shit can take the form of action:
My younger sister under the full weight of my father
And her face colliding with his steel hand,
“‘Cause she spilled the sugar I work so hard for”
He says, not feeling satisfied with the damage his hands
Do to my yelling little sister.

I’m learning to pronounce this “Shit” well
Since the other day
At the pass office
When I went to get employment,
The officer there endorsed me to Middleburg,
So I said, hard and with all my might, “Shit!”
I felt a little better;
But what’s good, is, I said it in his face,
A thing my father wouldn’t dare do.
That’s what’s in this black “Shit.” 

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