Culture Shock! Who am I - Really?
By Sibusiso Roderick Punadi-Ngwira
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
“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.