Pro-black struggles should be inclusive and affirmative of all black identities. Mwinji Siame argues that black leaders, particularly men, need to be “called in” and “called out” to be held accountable for their anti-black statements.
How is it possible to not belong? How is it possible to not be human?
I have been scathed, scrapped, and scarred by many different forms of dehumanisation: from the racism I endured growing up in suffocating proximity to whiteness, to the racism I continue to face learning and teaching in suffocating proximity to whiteness, and the routine harassment and sexism I am confronted with as I try to move through the world – physically and otherwise.
Because I am a “foreign” black woman, I have also had to endure the strange ritual of being asked “where I was from” and “what I was doing here” and sometimes “what I am”, as if I was some alien, some creature that was unwanted and only ever physically desirable. I have been asked into strange rooms at airports, and told to go home, as if this was not my home. “Makwerekwere”, a boy in high school called me when he asked where I was from and I naively obliged.
However, like many of my “foreign” friends who also happen to mostly be women, I sometimes forget my “foreignness”. I sink comfortably into marches for free education, for statues to fall, into choruses sung in Xhosa and Zulu and Sotho, and slogans of yesteryear. I sink into the feeling that I not only belong, but that I am welcomed and that I am part of this history. Then, just when I forget, I am abruptly reminded by these same unifying moments that I am not welcome and I cannot belong.
Most recently, I was reminded that I was not fit to be here by the words of Dr Lwazi Lushaba, the same thinker who sees these projects as part of the “re-humanisation of black people”. Dr Lushaba is a black man I had previously written praises to for speaking decisively against anti-blackness.
Addressing students in October, Dr Lushaba called on them to check the papers of private security guards at UCT, as if to say that only the letter of the law could justify their presence and their belonging here.
As someone who has constantly had to provide “proof” of who and where and what I am, that was how I understood these sentiments.
At first, for a while, I tried to accept that these were the things that black men could say for the greater cause of political mobilisation. That like harassment, violation and indifference, these were things that black men could get away with saying and doing to fellow black men and women. I tried to accept that they were part of an “unfortunate” tradition of black politics.
Then I wrote Lushaba a letter. I wanted to know how he could arrive at this conclusion, especially as a black man (at a racist, white university) who had experienced precisely this sort of criminalisation and the ritual dehumanisation of being told to justify his presence and how he got there. There were questions I had about his claim to support decolonisation, while subscribing to the most colonial idea created by white settlers that black people could be foreign anywhere on the continent.
Lastly, more than anything, I wanted him to be held accountable precisely because I see him as being a part of and belonging as a fellow black person. I wanted to call him in before calling him out (hence an email), hoping for an open conversation, but to date I have not received any communication. And I am simply tired of having to ask to be heard, especially by black men who should know better. The only way forward right now is to call out.
It is oppressive and antithetical to make and/or support anti-black statements (and anti-black includes anti-black women, anti-black “strangers”, and anti-black same gender loving, anti-any black person who identifies themselves in whatever way), on the road to black liberation. It is understandable, but at the same time not okay, to keep quiet about it. It is anti-black to degrade those black bodies who refuse to be quiet.
Surely if we cannot expect this from others, we can at least expect more from ourselves?
Being black, to me, being Pan-African, is more than an intellectual exercise. It is not simply a group identity or category as those that were given during apartheid and segregation, or even those political ones given to counter this racism. Being black is about community, a shared humanity in spite of, rather than in light of, the worst parts of our history. Building black community and affirming black humanity means continuous conversations and service to one another. It is calling in and calling out.
Mwinji Siame is a graduate student.