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?”
Innocent Ruwende — THE Zimbabwe National Water Authority yesterday said it was going on a …