Daring to be black in a white space

Speaking about South Africa’s transition to democracy on her Jacaranda FM radio show earlier this month, Tumi Morake said: “It’s like a child whose bicycle was taken forcefully away from him and then you say to the bully: ‘No, no, no, share the bike together; don’t be like that.’ ”

She said “taken forcefully” by “bullies”, but she could have said “stolen”.

We live in a country where land was stolen from black people. They try to reclaim it through land occupations or entering spaces denied to their parents.

White people don’t know the violence of being forced to forgive. Morake’s bicycle is heritage. It is the African beads around a white person’s neck that are worth more there than when they cling to darker skin.

Most white people live and die primarily in social and geographic racial segregation. Yet our society does not teach us to see this as a loss. In fact, the whiter our schools and neighbourhoods are, the more likely they are to be seen as “quality” or safe. And so the perception is we lose nothing of value by having no interracial relationships.

The implicit message is that there is no inherent value in the presence or perspectives of black people — yet another example of the relentless messages of white superiority that circulate, shaping our identities and world views.

Morake did not say anything untruthful, nor did she engage in “race baiting” of any kind. As writer Sisonke Msimang said, she merely had the audacity to be a black woman in a “white space” speaking about race in this country. In the dominant position that many white South Africans find themselves in, being racially comfortable is paramount.

Morake was claiming her space on a predominantly Afrikaans radio station in a country where listenership is segregated along racial lines. A black woman was shouted down, and spoken back to. Before she was heard, she needed white male voices at Jacaranda to speak up for her to be taken seriously. That is the only way black people can talk back to white power. 

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