In the second part of a three-part series on decolonisation, Wanelisa Xaba says that in defiance of colonialism and white imagination, we must resist and find new ways of reimagining Blackness.
Recent popularised debates on decolonisation and resistance against colonial legacies have underscored the African National Congress’s failure to decolonise (the country currently known as) South Africa.
I say ‘popularised’ because recent movements speaking about decolonisation often erase the ongoing work of decolonisation done by collectives who are not in close proximity to whiteness.
I resist the notion of ‘colonial/apartheid legacies’. The word legacy implies something inherited from a previous order. I would argue that we still live under colonisation and apartheid. It does not make sense to call for decolonisation and simultaneously speak of apartheid legacies. Calls for decolonising the university, the state, knowledge, land and reparations or the Black psyche are evidence that South Africa is still a colonial state managed by self-serving Black politicians. By extension, this also means Black people are colonial subjects in this colonial state. Therefore, it is important to understand and talk about how we are constructed and imagined in the colonial state.
In my previous column, I spoke about the necessity of making decolonisation a personal journey. I also spoke about the need to recognise the elements of the enemy we have internalised and reproduce. Another element of understanding our internalisation of white supremacy is understanding how whiteness imagines us as Black people and what purpose these constructs serve.
We as Black people are walking social constructs. As colonial subjects, we exist as canvasses of the colonial white imagination. Edward Said has written extensively on the construction of the East as the Other in his book Orientalism. Frantz Fanon writes about the construction of colonial society, the colonial subject and the hypersexualisation of the Black heterosexual man. Chinua Achebe has written on the colonial imagination and representation of Africa as the dark continent. Feminists of colour like Maria Lugones have also written extensively on the colonial imagination of sexuality and gender. The construction of the heterosexual cisgender nuclear family as the only healthy model of a family is part of the white imagination which looks down on complex and gender non-conforming African family structures. (See work by Ifi Amadiume and Oyeronke Oyewumi)
In South Africa, Black people continue to exist as a product of colonial and apartheid white supremacist imaginations. The hypersexualisation of cisgender Black men is an extension of the beastiality of Blackness.
The construction of Black people as lazy is an illogical and false colonial imagination because Black people have built and continue to build colonial societies. It is used as a smoke screen by white supremacist organisations like the Democratic Alliance to deny structural racism and the exclusion of Black people. Hendrik Verwoerd’s Bantu education policies also formed part of the white imagination of Black people as intellectually inferior. Biological and medical racism that assert that Black people are able to physically endure pain are racial constructs that serve to ease the white conscious for their brutality, centuries of hard labour and continuous medical experiments. Our internalization of Blackness as strength dates back to the marketing of strong slaves at slave auctions as well as the normalization of Black oppression and struggle.
Luckily for Black people, the white colonial imagination is lazy and uncomplex. For example, the idea that there are millions of people and that they have to fit into two gender categories is very lazy. Most importantly, the idea of gender (as we understand it within a colonial context) is the laziest construction in western modernity. Another example of this lack of imagination: Black people are lazy. How can Black people be lazy when they wake up at 4 and 5 am to clean your home, your streets and raise your kids? Dololo logic. Black people are stupid? How, when most of us are fluent in at least three languages (although usually 6) and we constantly navigate multiple worlds? White people want a standing ovation for saying “Sawubona” and “Thabo Mabeki”.
As lazy and uncomplex as the white imagination is, it is dangerous. It is dangerous because it sets itself as the norm and the truth. Remember the Fees Must Fall student who was ridiculed for critiquing science? The idea of decolonising science and recognising other indigenous forms of knowledges (which include science) seem laughable even to Black people because whiteness is the norm. In the colonial imagination, people of colour have never produced knowledge (even though some of their ‘science’ they have stolen from people of colour).
The normalisation of whiteness is also linked to power and domination. Colonisation as a system of subjugation, constructs the subject in a way that makes it possible and justifies the colonisation. The lie that white people are superior to Black people is not an arbitrary white supremacist belief but a powerful to tool for subjugation. When Black people view themselves as inferior to white people and vice versa, this sets up white people as the natural rulers of society. In this case, the construction of Black intellectual inferiority is necessary for the consolidation of white power.
This makes it important to understand how whiteness imagines us in order to continuously disrupt it. When a student boldly claims that science must be decolonised, it is our duty to affirm her, defend her and educate ourselves on different indigenous knowledges. It is our duty to demand our university health science faculties teach indigenous medicine and we have traditional healers lecture in university. To disrupt, disrupt and disrupt.
Despite this, even though as colonial subjects we exist as products of white imagination, we are not stagnant, we do not only exist as lazy social constructs. We have internalised some of these constructs, however in many different ways, we resist and find new ways of reimagining Blackness. Poor Black womxn in the township and rural areas reimagine Blackness and resist everyday. Black *trans, non-binary, intersex youth disrupt white colonial imagination everyday. Brenda Fassie disrupted. Lebo Mathosa disrupted. When Zodwa dances with her Savanah at Eyadini, she continues to disrupt. Even if all you did was breathe today, you resisted and disrupted.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.