Am I in some kind of sophisticated Minstrel Show?
The more that I explore Cape Town. And the older I get. I am beginning to develop a feel for it’s flavour. For it’s tastes. It’s hard, unfortunately, to ignore the bitterness that cuts upon my tongue. A bitterness that brings about the permanently strained expression that now frames my face.
When you live here. And you’re of colour. It can sometimes be hard to match the pace of this space. You can find yourself out of step very often in the dances known in this place. The City marches on in it’s directions. Seemingly ambivalent of it’s citizens intentions. Or perhaps well in line with the direction of many whose insidious intentions are going without verbal mention.
If you’re in the so called middle class. And you’re of colour. Then chances are you feel a little like me. In the sense that you are probably experiencing some kind of alienation in this city. And if you’re not, damn I am so very happy to hear that. For me though, it happens when I’m sitting in Pubs. Even in a lecture hall. It happens when I’m walking in the streets of spaces that are well above my ancestral station.
I feel, sometimes, like living here is like being in some kind of sophisticated minstrel show.
Looking through my photos. I even wonder. If I myself adorn my very own blackface. I wonder if I too am an actor in a performance that depreciates my existence.
Heading for a night on the town is one of my favoured performances, I must admit. Dark Lighting. Alcohol. And a completely different set of social etiquette. The special effects amplify our positively charged racial tension. Making what often goes unnoticed disappointingly easy to detect. But you know as I reflect. To moments when I would walk into night clubs. Giving a courteous nod to the Congolese bouncer on my right. The one who’ll probably be the last. Or second last black man that I’ll see for the night. I think back to times when I was younger. Still new to the City. Remembering the humiliation of being denied entry into a nightclub because of my informal shoes. I remember watching some of my compadre’s told to turn around. For the collars missing from their shirts. While watching. While we turned around. White boys basically in pajamas walking past the bouncer without so much as a sound. Now I’m not suggesting to you, that these behaviours are purely racially motivated. I want to share with you some experiences in this city that left me terribly deflated.
And to be honest. The issue of “dressing up” – while others are not – can be a bit of a sensitive issue. If you’re of colour like me and self-conscious. Walking into a fancy place. For drinks. Or for dinner. Surrounded by whiteness, dressed in a hipster attire. Looking effectively more casual than most folks working in IT offices during the day. Seated casually, confidently and comfortably surrounded by opulence. Reminding me that while I can be here, there is a level of intimacy with this space that I don’t have. This is not an accusation onto individuals. No no, not at all. I’m simply trying to paint for you a picture. About how this city makes me feel small.
I have difficulty to be honest. Walking the beautiful streets of this African city. Streets where often the only blackness they’ve seen all day is the shadows of the bodies that are cast on them. Over them. The opulence and cleanliness can get overwhelming. I get the feeling that maybe I shouldn’t be here. I don’t want to make anything dirty, you know? I keep to myself. Before long I retreat to my home suburb. Observatory. Where at least our hypocrisy is artfully grimy. I walk around in comfort. Many of the young people there are not even South African. Are not even African. I prefer this. How deep is this self-loathing?
I think back to times when walking through Kirstenbosch, our beautiful botanical gardens. Or when scaling Table Mountain, the landmark of our city. And I remember feeling like somehow I was surrounded. Many times when I share this feeling people would have me believe that these feelings are unfounded. I hear “Proudly South African” and “Change” and “Equality” in very awkward places. More often than I’d like to. So few people uttering these things with grins on their faces, seem unwilling to introspect and interrogate the problematic space which each and everyday the two of us. In fact all of us. Must interface. And Operate.
Now, the tune of the music in this our minstrel show is melancholy. Without words. Without form. It just plays and plays and evokes in your body, that which your ears are prepared to hear. The images provided are vague but clear. They provide for your eyes whatever they are prepared to see. What is true? And what is misconstrued?
I’m starting to get the sense. That living in this city is having a parasitic effect on my self image. And to be honest, in many senses that is a real pity. If I retreat somewhere else defeated, where will I even go? These monsters have taken residence in my mind there is nowhere to run to. I am alienated and dominated in many degrees. Living willfully in the structures designed by countless architects who had no intentions of housing me.
From birth I have been fed doctrine of equality and morality. From every Tom, Dick and Sally. Very little of what I’m witnessing in my early adulthood is vindicating the arrogant messages and ethics imposed on me by those who claim authority and superiority over me.
I’m trying really hard to wash off this blackface. Hoping to reveal, the one I have, my own black face.
Tired of talking to people who claim to acknowledge the past but seconds later prove to show the unfortunate volatility of short term memory. Reminded at all times that in all honesty I don’t have the luxury of feeling tired. That is unless I want to concede to the vile stigmas that leave millions, if not billions like me uninspired.
More often than you could know. My positions are shaken. My identity forever under question. I feel like it’s inexplicably difficult to form a positive identity here.
Am I ever really going to be much more than just not-white?
How am I supposed to willing bring a child into this world? Organised as it is. Whether I like it or not I will pass on the colours painted on this skin.
How am I going to have the strength to watch their identities degraded, not being able to do much about it. Especially when I can barely stand to take it as it happens to myself.
I just don’t know.
But I’ll be damned if I don’t at least do something to bring to a close.
This bloody Cape Town Minstrel show.