Blackface and “Braai Day” are just a distraction from our real heritage

My Tuesday morning was marred by yet another blackface incident. For some reason, this took me by surprise; I didn’t think we would have to deal with this issue again so soon.

“At least give us a break, let us get angry about any of South Africa’s other racist incidents because there are so many,” I thought to myself. It was just last week that we were subjected to the disrespecting of the Sotho-speaking nation, by some of South Africa’s leading news outlets. Yes, I am referring to the Mokonyane buttocks headlines.

Why are we, black people, who make up the majority of the country, subjected to scorn and disdain on such a regular basis? What did it serve those Stellenbosch students to bring back blackface just weeks after the UP incident, which elicited thousands of tweets and many columns painstakingly explaining all the reasons why blackface is wrong?

Well, because that is how racism operates. Because periodically, you have to stop and explain to people, like the UP girls and the Stellenbosch boys, why the humanity of black people should be valued.

Novelist and professor Toni Morrison describes racism as “a distraction”.

“It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.” – Toni Morrison

It seems, there is always one more thing.

And today, that thing is Heritage Day. (Or is it Braai Day?)

In my eyes, this is yet another inconsiderate and unnecessary thing we have to deal with each year. In a recent clumn TO Molefe describes Heritage Day as “the white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy’s day of sponsored forgetting”, and explains (again) what the problem with celebrating it as Braai Day is.

As Stephen Lowry points out in his book Know Your National Holidays, the day previously known as King Shaka Day, was renamed Heritage Day and was to be commemorated as a “day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa”.

As another blackface incident fizzles down; we prepare ourselves for Wednesday’s distraction in the form of braai vleis and beer. Instead of focusing our collecting national energies on celebrating our heritage, we argue about the comercialisation of the day and the ignoring of non-dominant cultures in our country.

When will we get a chance to write and talk about other things, like our culture? When will we get a chance to address more pressing issues in South Africa when we are always wrapped up in these shenanigans?

What comes after tomorrow? Will there be just one more thing to explain?

– Image via Wikimedia Commons

2 Comments
  1. Mel says

    My heritage ? This is a question I often get asked and one that is not easily answered. Being born in the Eastern Cape and having lived in the western cape, kwazulu natal, Gauteng, Freestate and Limpopo provinces plus a descendent of Scottish , Irish, Dutch families who relocated to this country as far back as 1823 plus married to a South African who can trace his ancestry back to 14th century Russian German who were the first German missionaries settling in Botshobelo back in 1800’s … It’s everything together! But first and foremost I’m South African – so I respect cultural diversity and try to accept and be mindful of all cultures not just South African cultures. I believe this is what we all need to do – don’t put one culture ahead of another !

  2. TheRealMidnite says

    Well, that’s quite apart from the whole issue of conflating “heritage” with the practice of cooking animal products on an open fire – because, you know, nobody else on the planet has ever thought of using fire in that way.

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