Home / Life / Zimbabwe’s Black People that are “White” and act “White” ask: “Are We Not Black?

Zimbabwe’s Black People that are “White” and act “White” ask: “Are We Not Black?

Dear Societal Identifiers

How are you defining Black, because it is within the paradigms of that definition that I will honestly start to attempt to tell you how I identify
myself? I am not talking about the colour of one’s skin but the social markers you use to qualify a person to be termed truly Black. What makes
you anymore ‘Black’ than I, what gives you the right to call me a “murungu” or “our White girl?” Is it the eloquence by which you speak our mother
language? For there I will admit I lack veracity. I find myself in a labyrinth of speech when I speak to people blessed with the ability to speak Shona in the rawest sense. I say blessed because you were granted an opportunity I was not and thus without solicitation, you were accorded the gift of a strong mother tongue. I grew up in a bilingual home, where we tended to speak more English than Shona because English is the tool of
education in schools, to know it, is to master education and consequently to advantage yourself in society. I was encouraged to speak English (Shona
was banned on school grounds), rewarded for how well I spoke it and up to form 2, all I had to do was the bare minimum in the Shona classes because
it was not considered an important subject.

My societal environment limited my exposure to our language, so does this make meNot Black?
In grade three when I first entered my new private school (understand this, in 1994 Zimbabwe, ‘private school’ was
simultaneously used to mean ‘White school’). I have two names Tatenda Jacqueline of which my parents call me
by both, my second name is often abbreviated to Jackie, this is the name I have come to know myself as. The
headmaster, a pleasant White man asked, “What name should we call her by?” to which my mother replied, “Either, we
use both at home”, he responded, “Jackie, we will call her Jackie” and from that day forth, in my most impressionable
years, I permanently adopted the name Jackie. “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet?”
Are those not the words the great Shakespeare left for the world to marvel? That statement is false. The name Jackie
changed so much for me as one born into a society customised by White privilege. My name allowed me to don a first impression
that was easily acceptable by the tacit ‘White norms’ within which we exist. ‘Jackie’ implied so much, it implied that I was well
spoken and my parents were from a relatively good background with the ability to graciously name me as such. It meant that I was able to
understand the hundreds of forks knives and spoons set on a table and that I was a Black man who fits well into a White society. I will not give that
much credit to a name alone. As much as the name places me at a slightly more privileged side of society, it is my conduct that have ultimately lead
me to be branded various names I detest.

My actions are the cause, such as my love for “White music” (you can never go wrong
with Coldplay, Nickelback, Blink 182 to name a few) or my talent for swimming (I have been told Black and water dont mix).

The fact that most of my high school my friends were not Black and I have a sister who plays the violin have
rendered me vulnerable to being called “our little murungu”. If I am not being labelled as that, then I am
told I am trying to be White- thus I am a ‘coconut’ or ‘sala’.

In his book Black Skin White Mask, Fanon, uses psychoanalysis as a lens to understand and explain the experience of a
Black man in a White man’s world. He proposes that the Blacks have a feeling of inadequacy and
dependency on the White person, and that the destiny of the Black person is eventual Whiteness (Fanon,1952).
Eventual Whiteness. Is this the path those like me are on? Those of us who do not fit into the categorically labelled social boxes of “Black
and White”? I disagree with Fanon and his frustrations that we are colonised people with a loss of identity seeking to find another akin to that
of the dominant colonisers.

Am I only Black in relation to Whiteness? Shall I not be given the opportunity to state my own interests and
create a Black identity that adopts the modern Black skinned person who has grown up in a different
economical and social era? The collision of cultures does not mean the erosion of self-identity and traditions.

Can I not define myself by a Black that allows those like me to find a social identity and solidarity with
the men and women who fought for our freedom, to be empowered by the past but also embrace what their fight
has allowed for us today. Can I not define myself by a Black, unlike yours, that does not use ones socialisation and
cultural exposure to exclude but instead welcomes an identity formed through changing histories and current
realities. An identity that upholds traditions and lends itself to other races to learn ours in return.

To those that call Black skinned people like myself by the names; White, murungu, sala, or coconut, answer this,
how are you defining Black?”

Jackie Zvoutete

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  • Zva

    There are a few things I would like to point out. Firstly you calling yourself Jackie was a personal choice you made. It is inaccurate that you using that name was an indicator of affluence and what you have described as fitting well into a white society . If you noticed a lot of the black children from the wealthiest black families had the deepest and most complicated shona/ndebele names even more so than the regular middle and lower income families.

    The pasipanodyas, nonhlahlas, nhamodzenyika-dzisingaperi and the likes because a lot of them, had parents who had either been in excile or studied in elite universities abroad, where they had developed a strong sense of their African identities and adopted pan African values. Even if you look at the ministers kids in Zim, the large majority had deep Shona and Ndebele names.

    What you are describing is very common amongst private school children but not speaking well in your language really comes down to poor parenting. There is no excuse for it. No matter how rich you were in Zimbabwe about half or three quartets of your relatives were regular folk that lived in the high densities and reserves. I’m yet to meet someone who can say all their cousins went to private schools. You had the opportunity to learn very good Shona/ ndebele at all family gathering, social interactions, church and at home with the maid. Many masala such as myself can speak Shona fluently because our parents warned us not to adopt colonial values and regard our own language with contempt (as well as 3 other languages ndebele, French which I did at A level, and English).

    What you need to do is separate wealth and affluence from colour. That used to be the case in the 80s but that’s changed enormously in the last few decades. You’re short changing yourself by attributing all good qualities to whiteness rather than money and education! Obama and Michelle are well spoken, decent human beings and our own Strive Masiwa so gone are the days when being white was the aspiration.

    • Author

      Zva, great points you have brought up, it is good to hear a different well thought out perspective. To the point of he name, there are countless articles and research that comment on the impact of names. It is not limited to my situation, I have described how I personally witnessed the differences it made in my life.
      You say people are able to learn Shona from church, maids etc. In the piece I do not say I cannot speak Shona. I just cannot speak it as well as others who have grown up in an environment that warranted it being spoken more (I was in boarding school most of my childhood life). Being able to only speak it deeply at certain times, does not give one enough practice to speak it as well as those that use it daily. It is not brought down to poor parenting (they encouraged me to learn) but situational access. Note, I never said I can not speak it and I do not think it is the case with others that are like me.
      As to your final point, we are saying the same thing. In an era where affluence is not associated to colour, why do people such as myself still have to be termed ‘our lil murungu’ or ‘musala’? That was the crux of my article, asking that a change be made so that in Zimbabwe there is no need for such terms, I want the recognition of a fluid black identity or do we choose to just be so socially rigid?

  • nathan

    I really liked the question you ended the article on and I wish I was able to defend my stance in my early years, having gone through the same situation to an extent. There’s certain prejudices and stereotypes attributed to being black, so as soon as you unknowingly go “against the grain” of the societal norm based on your more priviledged socioeconomic background which your parents were lucky to bless you with, then you’re subsequently defined as “white.” It’s just unfair.

    • Zva

      You aren’t defined as white. That’s why terms like masalad existed, people were aware that there were black people with ‘upper class’ accents and privileged lives however they were always seen as black except (by themselves, the ones that chose to longer want to be identified as black). A lot of black people themselves didn’t want to be called black because they bought into the rhodie perception of black but otherwise black zimbos never called other black people ‘murungu’. They would say ‘munose’ or musalad. Even Boka and millionaires kids were still regarded as black but not poor.

  • fred wadzanai khosa

    Jackie blackness is in your heart, as long as you don’t hate being black as long as you don’t wish to be white as long as you have pride in being black and identify yourself as being black I don’t see anything wrong with you having white education, loving white music or even white dominated sport. The bottom line is you say I am black and I am proud.