Updated: Jan 25, 2022
We moved a lot when I was growing up. By the age of 14 I had been to 4 different schools in 3 different provinces, where vastly different languages were spoken.
Although English is a universal language, speaking it all the time just wasn’t an option. I had to learn the local language of the new area every time or risk being made fun of because “ngizenza umlungu” or “ke ketsa legoa” meaning “I am trying to be a white person” in isiZulu and seSotho respectively.
The problem was not English speaking people, the problem was that speaking English all the time meant that I was not proud of who I was.
This pressure to be “African” can also be seen in what the world expects us to be.
A few months ago Usher Raymond’s management declined a collaboration with a talented South African DJ and record producer - Black Coffee. The reason: his sound was not “African enough.”
This phenomenon can also be seen in tourist heavy destinations, such as Cape Town, South Africa where I currently reside. The areas frequented by international tourists are also the areas that have an abundance of African-esque paraphernalia. Shops selling dresses, beads, head-wraps, food, and those useless giraffe ornaments that never fit in with any décor. As you move further and further away from these areas to the outskirts of the city (where the African people actually live), you do not see any of these.
It’s a vicious cycle: the world expects a typecast African experience - we give them a typecast African experience and they continue to think that's what Africa is - they expect a typecast African people, sound, scenery, and experience.
Why did Black Coffee have to prove his “African-ness” ? Why did I have to prove my pride?
I am one of the biggest advocates of being proud of who we are, I get extremely excited by the work companies like Ethnikids are doing (Ehnikids is a subscription-based, book ordering company whose primary aim is to affirm children of colour by exposing them to positive images of protagonists they can relate to).
That said, we need to ensure that along with being proud of who we are, we must teach our children that we are good enough - no matter what flavour of African we decide to be.
So, do I wish I did not speak six of the eleven Official South African languages? Of course not, I just wish that I had freely chosen to learn them and not done so because not doing so would somehow strip me of my "African-ness"