Culture Shock! Who am I - Really?

By Sibusiso Roderick Punadi-Ngwira

Twitter: @missikur242 

Whilst the most important thing in my life for the first thirteen years of my life was trying to find an identity for myself so I could be of value to my peers – in one way, shape or form – I realized when I got to high school that it takes much more than that. I came across a lot of black people my age who were somewhat different from what I’m used to.

Let me put this in context: I am a 17 year old black youth living in a multiracial South Africa and coming from a traditional African family. I have spent most of my schooling career in white dominated schools in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Having been raised in a middle class black South African family, I am used to a lifestyle and culture very different from my peers in school. However, coming across other black people who didn't have the same situation as myself was probably most astounding. I mean – preconceived ideas about how black people should behave have been instilled in me from birth, and unconsciously, I expect others to exhibit those qualities.

It was rather strange for me to find black boys and girls with an attitude I had previously associated to white people and the Americans. Now – my interaction with the Western world while I was growing up was limited. Western multimedia was strongly discouraged and the emulation of Western attitudes was frowned upon by our parents. All of I sudden, I met other black people who seemed to aspire to fit in comfortably with the current white dominated upper class society – there seemed to be no place for a particular black identity anywhere. A complete turn over from what I am used to.

Coming from my background, it seems very strange when black people avoid taking pride in their African attributes in favour to emulating a rather Western persona, contrary to the African image. The very core elements that make up the African identity are slowly being done away with in today’s society – although in ways that are not often seen.

It is very confusing when a black person cannot pronounce his surname the proper way – I mean, the surname Khumalo (pronounced: Kh-oo-m-a-l-o) is now pronounced , and we have to remember that the latter is used by a black person in possession of that surname. If we can pronounce German and Italian surnames, why can’t we pronounce our own? It is also somewhat strange when a black person cannot speak nor understand his language – of course this fault lies mostly with his parents, but we have to understand why this is. Are black people forming a resistance to their own culture? Are we black people failing to understand ourselves to that extent that we choose to be like others we make out to be ‘better’ than us?

“We espouse 'black is beautiful', but the true image of blackness is ugly. If we confront our self-hatred, maybe we'll have real pride.” Says black Canadian O.L. Douglas, and I agree fully with the statement he puts forward. We have to look at ourselves carefully and ask ourselves why we (unconsciously) negate the image of blackness. Yes, the phrase “Black is beautiful” becoming very cliché, and as much as we try to convince ourselves that we are ‘proud’ of being black – we have to realize at some point that perhaps we are comforting ourselves with a lie.

Many use the excuse of being a black individual as the basis for mediocrity. Let’s face it, being black in our society is more of a ‘disadvantage’ – or rather, we make it out to be. We expect people of other races to do better than we do simply because we are black. There seems to be no logic to my previous statement but it is true – it’s comes more as a surprise when a black person gets a 90% average than it is when a white person does so.

More and more African people use English as the language of speaking – this is not because it is more convenient, in itself it is to a certain extent, but speaking English makes us seem ‘better’. I am not in any way saying that using English to communicate is a bad thing, of course it’s not – it is very much a universal language. But we need to assess the reason why we prefer it to our own languages.

O.L. Douglas says, “The black man internalizes the perspectives of white society and its negative thoughts about blackness affect his psyche.” What he says is this statement is true. I mean, as black people, we tend to receive all these negative perspectives of others that we accept them as the truth. I find it incredibly off taste when a black person recites this joke: “What’s long and black? The line at KFC” or “One way to kill the black population: throw a 5c coin into the bottom of the deep end.” How black people laugh at these jokes I will never understand. What are these jokes saying about us actually? That basically, we have no brains. It’s what it all comes down to. This ties in very much to the point I made earlier, that most use the excuse of being black as the basis of mediocrity.

Because of being reluctant to emulate our African uniqueness, we make ourselves subject to losing our identities. Dressing up like American rappers does not make one more ‘black’. That is not what African identity prescribes itself as. We must evaluate our attitudes to ourselves and try to stay true to who we really are; trying to be what we are not makes us exactly what others say we are. We have our own brains to think and make decisions with. Being African is not about trying to emulate others, at least that’s what it shouldn't be. 

Irukandji 2014/08/04 08:02:57 AM
You say: "Being African is not about trying to emulate others, at least that’s what it shouldn't be." News24 reprted: "...Thousands of BLACK school children have descended on Johannesburg CBD, reportedly wreaking havoc and looting from shops and vendors..." So tell me: Who were these "Black Africans" emulating? I'll tell you: Themselves - and no one else.
NormalCitizen 2014/08/04 08:18:14 AM
I found it funny where you said you had limited western influence, and then in the next sentence state you attended a white dominated school. You should stop searching for an Identity and start designing your own. These jokes you refer to are all traits of races. You should not be so serious about the little things. While black ppl are not naturally good swimmers , they sure can run fast. We can't all be the best at everything, ask Hitler. Swallow don the FACTS.
Nobby Poltice 2014/08/04 08:43:58 AM
I have one simple question. Why?
Seek Anfind 2014/08/04 08:44:02 AM
an interesting and insightful article. perhaps what you are experiencing is cultural evolution. the cultural practises of blacks is very much outdated in a modern society. traditional clothing, traditional food, traditional beliefs, traditional customs etc etc do not compare with the western culture. personally I feel that culture should evolve, its counterproductive to hold onto old ways at the expense of the future. I invite you to take the best of both and merge them into something new without fear of losing your identity, because in fact, you will be forging something completely new.
Wolraad Woltemade 2014/08/04 08:54:50 AM
Sibu you said " Coming from my background, it seems very strange when black people avoid taking pride in their African attributes in favour to emulating a rather Western persona, contrary to the African image." From what I see it is not so much a emulation of "Western persona" as it is an economic materialism that has set in with many black people(also a curse with many other races). It is more about emulating what you see on tv through brands etc. Driving a BMW,wearing CK,drinking JW Blue are all things that many strive to have and once they have it, they deem themselves 'successfull' or 'made'. That then becomes part of their 'identity'. I agree with other commentators that seeking this "African identity" is really not what you should be worried about. This is a modern ever changing world and you should strive to create your own identity, not what a book, leaders or your peers expect you to be.
Colleen 2014/08/04 09:19:35 AM
If you lifted your head and looked around, you would find Italians who cannot speak Italian, Greeks, Germans, Indians, people of every nationality who were born and raised outside of their own country, who cannot speak their own native tongue. This is not unique to black Africans. Similarly, every modern nationality is influenced by and emulates, western culture. Very eagerly actually! This is not unique to black Africans. In every race and nationality, you will find mediocre people. If a person's life and efforts are mediocre, it is because their life and efforts are mediocre by personal design and not related to their nationality. This is not unique to black Africans. When you realise that, you will shed yourself of the burden of thinking that it is a betrayal to emulate progressive western culture and you will happily embrace the western culture of social media that you used to write this article instead of the old fashioned communication system of beating drums or around-the-fire story telling. Life moves on, science and knowledge advances every day and with it, cultures are altered, old norms are shed, and new ways are developed. These changes are not unique to the black African. All nationalities everywhere in the world are swept along by progress.
Stephen Townshend 2014/08/04 09:31:15 AM
I understand where you're coming from, but what's the point of being proud or ashamed of something that you cannot change? That's like being proud that you're 5'11. It's just ... arbitrary. If being black means that one has to identify with some socially dictated "uniqueness", then it can only come at the cost of personal uniqueness and character. I believe that is an unacceptable price to pay. Yes, there is strength and security (of numbers) in being a member of a collective, but there is no progress (of self). See "The tall poppy syndrome". I too see a lot of emulation of American-style rappers etc, but how many blacks in the world aspire to emulate, for instance, Neil deGrasse Tyson? From what I've read and heard he is a man worthy of respect, but not simply because he is black. That would cheapen all that he stands for. No, he is a scientist and well-respected in his field. It's not what he is that affords him this respect; it's what he has achieved. His blackness is irrelevant to the scientific community.
David Allcock 2014/08/04 10:02:14 AM
this what you call western culture is not infact western is infact international culture...largly influenced by the west i will agree...but culture is alive and evolves all the learns and adapts from other is now international culture....200 years ago i doubt you would find many europeans practicing yoga.meditation karate judo etc....they learned this from the east...likewise the east has learned things like football baseball cricket christianity from the west....and modern music is largely influenced by rock and roll which is blues and jazz...they learned this from is an international culture which only appears western because the prefered medium that it uses is english....
Jimmy Mashabela 2014/08/04 11:14:36 AM
Who Am I? Sbusiso asks. My answer is: you are who you are, and you can be who you want to become. But becoming who you want to be lies solely on the choice you make. Since every family has a set of principles and believes to live by, then that lifestyle becomes the culture of that family. This means that whatever type of lifestyle you adopt, it becomes your culture. If you think that multiracial school education is influenced by western culture, and you adopt it, then it becomes part of your culture. You have simply evolved from one type of lifestyle to another. Culture should not be based on the colour of the skin, because if skin can be the factor, then it means black people must now practice african culture wherever they are, then what about those blacks who were born out of africa? What about whites who were born out of Europe? As for those who can't pronounce their surnames correctly, I don't think it has got to do with culture but the inability to do so. Jonny Clegg learnt Zulu and other activities of the Zulu people, including the music and he practiced what he learnt, meaning that he had adopted a new lifestyle and that was his new identity. What is important, is to accept changes but never forget the history.
Siebert Mazus 2014/08/04 01:57:09 PM
Why do lots of people have problems with idenity? I'm a white South African and an Afrikaner. No problems with my identity at all. I want my country to go forward and be the best in advancing in whatever happens. That's it.