​Your token black guide to white festivals

Centre of attention: Black people are still a novelty at South African music festivals. (John Hogg, The Times/Gallo Images)

Centre of attention: Black people are still a novelty at South African music festivals. (John Hogg, The Times/Gallo Images)

1. Manage your fallist feelings. This might help with your expectations

The first thing you need to switch off is that we-want-our-land-back feeling that rudely creeps up on you as you drive to a place like Cloof Wine Estate.
Just nip it in the daisy bud real quick. Once you have dealt with that, you can move on to enjoying the festival.

2. Come prepared to see black headlining acts’ names spelled wrong

Don’t ask silly questions such as: “How many people does a mistake like that escape for it to be up in that huge screen for his entire performance? How many people genuinely don’t give a rat’s ass?”

Don’t wonder where else it’s printed incorrectly. Don’t waste your time going to the stage manager and the tech guy next to the sound guy at the back, who has a mouse, trying to see if someone can change it because — it’s BRANDING.

Don’t stress that no one can find Bongeziwe “Mbandla” on iTunes. Just rejoice in the fact that Nelson de Gouveia is spelled correctly. Be wise, yho, it’s the hot slot (See number 5). You need to conserve your energy. 

3. Leave your ‘Is it because I’m black?’ sixth sense at home 

Festivals attract douches. Douches that punch you in the ribs and step on your toes and push and squeeze you when they are trying to get to the bar. Alcohol makes douches SHINE.

It’s not personal that you are not being served at the bar, it happens to everyone. “Wat soek jy?” is polite Afrikaans for “What can I get you, ma’am?” not “What are you doing here — like, in this line, at this festival, in my secret place?”

Don’t notice that your white home girl from art school whom you are rolling with (See number 7), with the Swedish features and deep green eyes, is having better luck at the bar, at the festival, in life and with those rib-jamming douches and toe-crunching drunkards in the crowds.

Leave that “is it because I’m black?” shit at home. This is Sarafrika. We are just tryna have a good time. Don’t make this about race. It’s so old, move on. 

4. Don’t mind the looks y’all 

Please understand the looks you will get don’t mean any harm and can’t be helped. Don’t internalise them or let them make you feel like you don’t belong. Don’t let the vibe make you pack your tent early and leave — be strong and stay. We need numbers.

It’s not really their fault, you see. After all, the festival has catered for their tastes and their needs and washing habits, even going the extra mile with hair straightening irons in the daisy den.

How thoughtful. The language, the branding, the aesthetic, it’s all for them and not you.

Why must they be sensitive to your presence when the festival has the event hosts tastefully sharing fun stats such as: “When this festival started we had [this many] people attending, but now we have grown so much that we have [this many (black people)] cleaning up after you.”

On that subject, real quick, don’t let it disturb you that the brown aunties and uncles picking up your trash (since it’s a green festival we tryna keep the litter down) are literally wearing neon green vests with the word “shit” on them.

After all, it is the festival’s green slogan. “Pick up your shit.” It’s cool and I-don’t-care-ish, just like Rocking the Daisies. Aunty Thelma, the lead singer of the Mitchell’s Plain Gospel Choir, knows that she is just at work and takes wearing swear words across her breasts in her stride. Don’t let it disturb you to the core that the festival’s branding team found that totally acceptable.

But back to the point. You didn’t seem like the target market and they thought they wouldn’t find you here, so your growing presence is alarming and unsettling in an internal, involuntary place for them. If you had to ask someone: “Why are you looking at me like that?”, they probably wouldn’t even know what you are talking about.

Try to understand that sometimes it’s inconvenient for whites to have to look for a new thing because their thing has now become a black thing. It’s like when the black girls in high school started wearing Roxy and the white girls stopped and started wearing Von Zipper or something. 

5. The Hot Slot 

The high-noon hot slot is dangerous and the smart melanin-lacking kids are hung over under the shade of the trees or listening from their tents. It’s really unfortunate that the act you really wanted to jam to and support is right under that 12 noon pissed-off sun and the main stage has no shade. It’s really unfortunate that it happened yesterday too.

Remember that all artists need to be able to feel the energy of their supporters up close, so brave the heat. The cool thing is that you have melanin. You can handle it, just as you can handle police brutality and bullets. Go and lose your mind to Bongeziwe Mabandla! He deserves it. 

6. Avoid the other black people 

Especially if they have two, dancing, fun-loving gay guys, a hip hot chick and the funny guy with the three dreads who can really hold his liquor as friends. Just keep your visits with them short so that you don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable by being too loud or too fun or too happy or too many (See number 4).

I know the urge, a sea of white backs in board shorts and, when you see shades of brown, your feet just start walking you there. It’s natural. Fight the feeling. It will create an unnecessary vortex of stares and hands over mumbling mouths.

Don’t drop your jaw when you overhear someone mumbling: “There are more of them this year.” Maybe they mean more gays? It’s possible, because festivals attract douches, not racists remember. Just stick to the token system to be safe.

7. The token system 

Whites are more comfy when you look like you have been through a severe, cunning, thorough whitewashing and a proper assimilation process. Just one black person in the group is enough. They’re looking for Nizzybone, the ripped brother in a Ripcurl shirt, with the relaxed mohawk … also known as Nizibone (ironically meaning see yourselves in isiZulu) back home. He is not a threatening black. Stay unthreatening. Be the token. 

8. Be prepared to be photographed, a lot 

Diversity needs to be captured, even when there is none. Photographers will be drawn to your black swag. Converse Instagrammers will want to photograph how you mixed up their sneakers with your sick style. Street-style sections in teen magazines will want to capture your bubbly countenance and those yellow shorts to sell those mags. Just smile, take all the compliments such as: “Wow, why do all black girls have such kiff stomachs?” Don’t get tired of the photos. Besides you really stand out because melanin. Smile. 

9. Switch off your ability to sense honour-filled and reverent reference versus cultural appropriation 

Just understand, it’s cuter when a white boy with a fringe and pink lips mimics Ray Phiri’s vibe. Even cuter than Ray Phiri being there himself.

It’s unique when Oliver Mtukudzi’s guitar riffs are blaring from a guitarist groomed in the southern suburbs.

I mean, it’s so unexpected that these white boys dig this stuff, and it’s somehow fascinating when white people do black things, right? Keep up. Have you not seen Justin Bieber’s video Sorry? No, not Beyoncé’s Sorry not Sorry.

Forget that feeling that once coursed through you when you heard Derek Gripper and felt the understanding and the depth of the honour he has for Madosini, for kora music, for people around him.

And don’t be sad when no one gets up to freak out about the amazing band from Zimbabwe shredding poly-rhythms and shaking the stage harder than any of the American indie headliners (printed in really big letters and super correctly in their logos) that the pale shade gang are saving themselves for later, in the cool of the evening. It’s the hot slot and people don’t want to get that nasty red sunburn. It’s not that they are not listening. Oh wait … they aren’t.

10. Be ready to forgive and be light 

Later, during the darkies’ Daisies debrief session at Tagores, where you are sharing your “possibly” racist experiences with your other black friends (and sympathisers such as our “friend” Jeremy) who played and attended the festival, be sure to listen to Jeremy.

Jeremy “understands” your pain, but you need to let it go as black people. “It’s holding you back,” he says, as he wisely shares an example.

Jeremy’s girlfriend cheated on him. He just forgave his girlfriend and now he feels light. Blacks should do the same. Try to feel light. He kicked her out of their place and didn’t take her back, but he didn’t want to talk about that because he was emphasising that, in his heart, he had forgiven her.

Let’s be like Jeremy, guys. Forgive.Don’t imagine what life would be like if you never let that cheating bitch back in the house. Just ice your ribs and toes one more time and forgive.

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