Today a friend called me a “fake black person”. I immediately threw my toys and demanded they explain themselves. She proceeded to interrogate me with questions such as “what kind of neighbourhood did you grow up in?” and “have you ever held a gun?”. My answers to her questions were honest and I thought they gave me some street cred. (unfortunately (for me) the only gun I have ever held contained rubber bullets and was fired during a phys-ed class).
I grew up in a middle class suburb complete with private schools around the corner, a convenient shopping centre frequented by soccer moms and a durawall so high I used to imagine we were the only house on the street sometimes. Did I mention that my accuser is a young coloured lady who grew up in the rough, predominantly coloured populated neighbourhood of Hanover Park located in Cape Town?
The discussion arose from her aversion to a mutual friend and my constant use of the phrase “I’m black so check yourself”. The presumption that the colour of my skin somehow makes me the kind of person one does not mess with was thwarted thoroughly. My friend noted, rather astutely I might add, that in this day and age, being black does not automatically confer the status of an “untouchable”. The stereotype attached to my complexion includes the assumption that I have the potential to be a dangerous individual. She went on to point out that I grew up in a sheltered environment which provided me with a little more than the average child has. Whilst I was learning how to make pom-poms out of shiny paper, she was ducking bullets in her grandmother’s house.
Growing up in an area where gang violence is the norm and young children can tell the difference between cocaine and sherbet just by looking at the two is actually normal for some. I have yet to encounter a packet of cocaine let alone encounter it alongside one of sherbet. I have never heard a live gunshot and I have yet to witness my uncle get thrown into the back of a police truck for attempting to rape me. I have never visited a relative in prison and I highly doubt I shall ever be incarcerated.
These are realities that hundreds of non-black children experience before they turn twenty two. nowadays, more and more black children are blessed with the opportunity to attend good schools and learn how to spell correctly, how to handle themselves at dinner parties and when not to pick their noses-things that I took for granted because I did not know any different.
While I empathise with my friend, I cannot help but feel as though the masses who experienced a life very different to mine expect me to apologise for it. Yes, my spoken English is excellent and no, I do not sleep with an AK 47 (the only gun name I know) stashed underneath my pillow just in case. Do these facts therefore make me less black?
I speak my mother tongue fluently and I write it with ease. I can sing my clan name with no errors whilst making a mean pot of isitshwala with immaculately manicured nails. Does this in any way reduce my level of blackness? Can it then be argued that the more close calls one has the more “black” they are?
Although my buddy was unable to answer some of my questions she did manage to convince me to stop running around making statements such as the one that started this debate, she did manage to make me sit up and realise that I had bought into a stereotype posited by “the house of they” (the people that say everything but can never be identified). I am black, but not a gangster. I am black and proud. I am also black and very afraid of being left alone in Park Station. But I am still a very black person who jumps up when my father plays Lovemore Majaivana and does a mean two-step.