Part 1: In Cape Town

It has been exactly a month since I left Cape Town. I have been actively avoiding reflecting on my experience in Cape Town for two reasons. Firstly, the idea that I will not be able to see the amazing new friends that I made in Cape Town for a very long time has been difficult to grapple with. My sheer decision to never ever, ever walk into a South African embassy to ask for a South African visa makes seeing the people I care about difficult. No matter how instrumental SA has been for shaking my consciousness, or how much I miss my friends, I don’t think I can ever put myself through such a dehumanizing process again! Secondly, at the same time, South Africa and particularly Cape Town, has had a profound effect on me. Both the pleasant as well as ugly experiences have made it difficult to look back and learn from the past six months.

This blog (and the next three (fingers crossed)) is my attempt to come to terms with my time in Cape Town.

In Cape Town, it is normal to walk out of the airport to a big sign that reads “Welcome to the Mother City” greeting you into the city because living in the mother city of colonization was fine since colonization itself was an adventure. Colonization was the process of acquiring wealth, gold, land… Colonization in Cape Town was the beginning of White Supremacy. So being the Mother City is an achievement rather than a symbol of injustice. And as we all know, the pain and suffering of the people that look like me is surely fine….

In Cape Town, while riding the red city tour buses, it is perfectly fine for the commentator to sarcastically describe Cecil Rhodes (one of the racist and evil masterminds of the British Empire) as a passionate imperialist. This is perfectly fine because the injustice committed by Rhodes is against people that look like me and as we all know our lives don’t matter.

In Cape Town, it is perfectly okay for a white man to tell you to have manners when you’re cheering your team on at the Rugby Sevens. Because this specific white man has been taught to instruct black women and black bodies all his life. Because in Cape Town we cannot occupy  spaces.

In Cape Town, it is honestly fine for someone to tell you that Apartheid is over and to stop whining.

In Cape Town (also in Stellenbosh), it is perfectly okay for a white priest from the Dutch Reform Church to tell you that a shack is a sign of hope. This is most likely okay because this particular individual will never ever, ever have to live in a shack. It is people who look like me that live in shacks, and of course our misery is a source of hope…

In Cape Town, it can take you hours to find an African restaurant. And then when you do, your friend and you are the only black people dining there. And then you also find out that just because the name says ‘Karibu’, it doesn’t really mean they will serve East African Food or even African food…

In Cape Town, especially if you’re a black woman, you will rarely see images that look like you. Most of your hair products, even though those that look like you comprise the majority of the city, will not be available in Spar or Pick&Pay.

In Cape Town, you’re taught that your life doesn’t matter. When two white families are killed, if it is not the front page, it will make it to the second page of the Cape Times. However, when 15 of those that look like me are stabbed in one night, you won’t find them before the fifth page.

In Cape Town, as a non-South African, it is perfectly fine and actually a compliment to be colored. Well, to be honest it is better if you’re white, but if you can’t make it that high up the race- ladder, then just be colored.

In Cape Town, it is perfectly okay for your white housemates to be treated better in public spaces than you are. It is highly likely that your white housemates will enjoy Cape Town more that you do. It is highly likely that a white South African will have a much more comfortable and enjoyable time with your housemates than with you.

In Cape Town, race is an obsession! Even though you are asked, “Where are you from?” what they really want to ask is “What are you?”

In Cape Town, it is okay to see the statue of Louis Botha inscribed with the tribute “a Statesman, a Warrior and a Farmer”. I swear to you it is no problem to celebrate him as a statesman because he legislated laws against people that look like me, he is a warrior because he killed people that look like me and he is a farmer because he took land from people that look like me. Don’t even stress about it! Seriously! It is not a problem.

In Cape Town, it is perfectly fine for a drunk white guy to tell you that you’re not like those blackies…

In Cape Town, it seriously is not a problem for a white woman to touch your hair without your permission because for her people like me are exotic…

In Cape Town, it is no big deal to have your body objectified by a white woman because you’re no better than an animal in a zoo….and then when you write a blog narrating your horrible and infuriating experience with this woman, some people have the audacity to tell you that it has nothing to do with race…

In Cape Town, it is okay to associate Zuma’s failure as a president with his race because people that look like me weren’t meant to lead …

In Cape Town, it is quite common to meet Apartheid sympathizers who will tell you that safety and security were better during the old days. Because during the old days the genocide against the people that looked like me was fine as long as white people were safe…

In Cape Town, it is common to meet people who are excited to hear that your housemates are from America because they can relate with an American better than with an Ethiopian or a Kenyan…

In Cape Town, you will meet many that will tell you that Cape Town is just like Europe. Of course, Cape Town is just like Europe, because it has forced out people that look like me from the city so that it could resemble Europe more than Africa. Because in Cape Town it is better to find Europe than Africa…

In Cape Town, especially as a black woman, it is completely fine to be suffocated by whiteness and symbols of white supremacy…I promise you, if you can, do leave South Africa for a few weeks, refresh, acquire a good amount of blackness, and then you will manage to finish your research. P.S. – As you’re coming back into the city, please make sure to cover your eyes and to not read the ‘Mother City’ sign. Cos that depletes all the good vibes and blackness that you brought with you for the remaining four weeks you have left in South Africa.

To be continued…

 

White Objectification of the Black Body

White Objectification of the Black Body

It’s been 3 months since I moved to Cape Town. So many things have happened, but nothing matches up to this one. This incident didn’t last more than 10 minute, but it was the most loaded and emotional conversation I had with a random girl.

Joy and I went for a late dinner and drinks at Sailor Jerry’s in Obs this week. We couldn’t find a table so we decided to sit at the bar, giving our back to most of the people in the restaurant. There were 4 white people (Yes, their race is relevant) sitting just behind us on a bench. When I turned around to pick up my jacket from the floor, I see one of the young ladies sitting behind pointing at us.

Naively, I thought she was talking to me. To my utmost disgust and surprise, the girl is busy pointing at our bum and describes the shape with her hand, then she points at my breast and points her fingers as if she is picking up a big melon. She continues to gesture our bodies with her hand and the spectators follow her instructions as she describes us and they turn to look at us then to her and then to us. It is as if somehow we, without our knowledge, were in a museum, and she was the curator.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. So I waved and asked her what she was doing. She decides to approach us to justify her actions. She came and said, “I was just telling my friends how much I love your body; I was just saying my body looks like a potato sack and just comparing how African bodies are so different from ours.” We were livid! I firmly told her that it is unacceptable to objectify our bodies. She continues to mumble,  “No no, its not like that, you guys are really beautiful.” This is when it gets intense and insane!

We respond, “You don’t get to tell us that, we already know we are very beautiful, so that’s not a compliment.” I asked her how she would feel if someone was pointing at her breast as if she was in a zoo. She persistently contends that this was not her intention and finally apologizes for her actions. She goes, “you ladies taught me something today” and walks off. BLACK WOMEN

I want to bring up two points here: Don’t get me wrong, this is not the first time that anyone has objectified my or Joy’s body and sadly not the last time. There is a difference between a sincere appreciation of beauty and objectification of others. With race in the picture, it becomes a different issue. When a white woman is objectifying a black woman’s body, it changes the discussion.  When race comes into the picture, one can not forget how black women’s bodies have been objectified in most part of the western world. Yes, the girl was from the Netherlands.

In conversation with the girl, I was reminded of how African bodies, mostly women, were put in cages and shipped to Europe to be put in museums. For the purpose of entertainment and amusement of white people, a young South African lady called Saartjie Baartman was sold to a businessman in London. Saartjie was put in museums in London and Paris for spectators. When she died, her brain and some part of her body were displayed in a museum in Paris, until recently.

Secondly, I’m sure a young lady from the Netherlands understands how unpleasant it is when men objectify women. This is no different. If she was that mesmerized with us, the least she can do is be discrete and respectful. In addition, equating objectification with compliment shows utter ignorance, if not stupidity. Why would objectification be a compliment when you’re doing it? Or is it that the color and the shape of our bodies some how gives you, like your ancestors, the ‘right’ to behave the way you did?

I have nothing but disgust towards the word ‘exotic’ which continuously puts my body, my hair, and everything about me as the ‘other.’ When you describe me as the other, suddenly the difference between you and I emanates from the things I am not rather than the things I am. And I have no interest in looking like you!

P.S. your ignorance and mere stupidity can drive off that bridge in Cape Town that stops in the middle of the air, yes that one!

Featured image source: Black bodies as fetish