By Julie Nxadi
White people trust me. They really do and I don’t blame them because I am awesome. They invite me to dinner and introduce me to their parents and feed me crudités. However, today I will have to strain my relationship with my white friends by being honest (I will let the irony of that serve as ambiance to this piece). The fact of the matter is; I have uncovered my secret; that je ne sais quoi that allows white people to let their guard down around me; I don’t pronounce the “c” in “schedule”.
Now before you dismiss this as inaccurate street therapy…or racist, please allow me to elaborate. I am a very dark skinned woman who is often mistaken, by many, for a foreign national on account of my dark skin and my accent. Upon finding that I am in fact a Xhosa woman, both black and white people tend to assume that my command of the English language and my fastidious approach with regards to my pronunciation means that I hate black people. Apparently there is an English Language/Black Pride ratio that is being applied throughout society and my Black Pride numbers are dismal due to the height of my English Language numbers. This would be absurdly funny if it weren’t for the fact that it is a real thing and people subconsciously use this ratio all the time. Still not convinced? Please read on:
When I was but an impressionable youth, I noticed that I kept finding myself in a rather awkward scenario. My white friends kept telling “black jokes” in my presence. The first time it happened I quietly looked for my reflection in a nearby window to check if I still had the charcoal coloured face I had come to know and love. When I saw my dark face staring (confused) back at me, I realised that I had to make a decision; was I going to giggle along and be a good black or was I going to stand up for my people? I heard myself say “that’s kind of racist” softly as if to get the statement out of the way. My white friends patted me on the back and giggled “come on now Julz, you are hardly what I would call black” (that response made me feel funny). These situations kept coming up time after time as if some higher power was trying to bring a point across. Was I a sell out? I began to look closely at the reason my accent was as it was. I did not go to a private school and was not adopted by a gay white couple at birth so there had to be a deeper meaning to it all.
The fact of the matter is I am a child who started at a predominantly white school at a time when the country’s future was not clear. My mother had no way of knowing which way the country was going to go. The streets were on fire and the threat of civil war was hanging heavy in the air. So she decided to arm me with the best English accent that her money could buy. She believed that doing this would secure my future no matter what happened. If the country went to the dogs and white people sent us all back to the homelands, I could still, at the very least, get a good job as a high end domestic worker by impressing them with my poised accent. In the event that white people did not send us to the homelands, I would be in the running to live the South African dream and become an MEC (whatever that is). Fast forward back to present day; I have my “good English” and absolutely no desire to become an MEC, and these awkward scenarios are still rearing their annoying heads and my white friends’ responses still make me feel funny.
I have never considered myself a prude, nor do I get myself all worked up over things before I know and understand the situation but I need to make something clear. Just because I speak “good English” and am well read, does not mean that I think that the word “Kaffir” is nothing but an Arabic word that has been misinterpreted. A Bitch is a female dog, but I don’t hear people telling women to calm down when someone refers to them as such. A seventeen year old democracy doesn’t change the fact that I would have failed the pencil, colour bar and brown paper bag test three decades ago and therefore would have been considered a second class citizen. This means that my parents were considered second class citizens as were their parents. I know that when bad things happen people say; “ten years from now we will all look back and laugh” but I just want to warn everyone that it may take a little longer for most black people to find the word “Kaffir” paradoxical. Am I asking white people to whisper in the presence of black people? No. I am simply reminding white people (as well as all those black people who have promised to find and kill all blacks with the bourgeois twang in their voice) that “good English” is not a symptom of self hate and even if it were; etiquette is a standard requirement if one wants to be acknowledged as a human being. Just like we don’t tell fat jokes around obese people, we frown upon those who tell black jokes around black people.
There is no pride in being perceived as a pseudo white person, nor is there shame in having gotten a good education. The shame is rather in the fact that the good accent matters so much and that English is interpreted as some higher power that only the best of the best can touch. The sad fact of the matter is that; we model C snotty types make the best window dressing…which brings me to that funny feeling I felt in the presence of those “black jokers”: Disappointment. I was disappointed that this group who I perceived as my friends and others perceived as open minded and diverse were racist’s incognito. They were forgiving me for my blackness on account of my general whiteness. I refuse to be that spineless excuse for a person that is too scared of being a sell out to speak English well but that by no means suggests I have any desire to eat crudités for the rest of my life.
I love my culture, my colour and my people. I love my language, my heritage and my country. Having said that; I will never apologise for my education, nor will I be ashamed of my command of the English language. I am a Xhosa woman from Peddie in the Eastern Cape AND I am a woman that doesn’t pronounce the “c” in schedule.