Well, I have just been debating whether I should write about this or not. Writing about race or even talking about can leave one with more enemies than friends. A bit of an exaggeration but I guess you know what I mean! As you can see, I thought I ought to. It is important that we talk about it. Avoiding talking about something does not make it go away. People are so sensitive now that even when you are not talking about race if they suspect you are, they become so defensive or angry and if you are unlucky, will not be receiving a Christmas card from them. What is it about the subject that makes people’s antennae go up?
Recently in a conversation with my white friend, he happens to refer me as African. I was saying how cold I felt and he said ‘You Africans are always the same when it comes to the weather, either it is too hot or too cold for you. I have a problem with this guy at work, always putting the radiator high’. This was not said in an affectionate way let me add before some of you jump on to say I should understand the humour of the country! I tried to ignore the heating issue because I am one of those people who would rather hibernate in winter if it were possible, just to avoid the cold. However, the generalization though. My response to him was that I preferred Zimbabwean than this generalisation. I also pointed out that ‘we are not all the same’. No country or even household has similar people even in the UK, never mind the African continent. Unfortunately, in his mind, I was accusing him of something. He went on this defensive mode, which was in itself interesting but sad at the same time. At first, I thought he was joking because of how serious he became. I thought to myself what are you saying indirectly. I decided to explain myself in what I thought would bring his anger down. Remember I was not and am not talking about black versus white here. I explained that just as everybody else I am entitled to how I wanted to be identified as. Moreover, I hear most people loudly saying they are ‘Irish, Welsh, and Scottish etc. Even some British people prefer to identify as English. So why would Zimbabwean be so wrong? In addition, not many British people go around calling them European on a day-to-day basis. Some even go further by referring to themselves as Cornish, Yorkshire etc. Why then was it an issue simply to want my identity to be of my choice?
What then did it for me was what came out next? ‘Do you realise there might be less racism in the world than you think?’ OMG! I could not believe what I was hearing. I thought at what point the dreaded big ‘R’was mentioned. This was getting ridiculous. A conversation about identity preference being highjacked by the fear of being seen as racist- what has the world gone to? What can we say - let me say I, without being accused of using the race card? It is hard when one is made to feel he/she is out to get people. Sometimes it makes it so uncomfortable that even when you hear real racist comments you are not keen to say anything about it - perpetuating it in the process. Race or racism I find is one of those things people would do their best to deny even when it is glaringly obvious. I have heard so many times the statement ‘I didn’t mean it like that’. Well, how else did you mean it, mister, when you describe me as a ‘coloured’ or as an ‘international ethnic’?
Back on identity, I really wanted my friend to know that it is not about playing the victim game here but understanding that I am also entitled to my identity without the race being an issue. Of course, I am British too but I am constantly reminded of my identity when I am asked, ‘Where are you really from, or is this really your hair – meaning I am associated with a certain country and a certain look. So then, why when I want to identify with a specific country am I accused of saying people are racist? Double Standards! It is pretty much a matter of who is offended- but part of me thinks if you think like that, are not you hiding something as well. In my language, we have a saying ‘Kuvhunduka chati kwata hunge uine katurike’. In English when I translate it somewhat mean if you are edgy about something, it could be a sign that you are hiding your true colours! Zimbabweans are you out there- is that right? I realised that my language -Shona is not on google translate- I wonder if the African language is, for the sake of whoever speaks it because I don’t!
I know what you are thinking. There is nothing wrong with being called an African- but asserting I am accusing people of racism just because I say I identify as Zimbabwean first before anything else is pathetic. We do not far by controlling others. We need to respect each other’s views and wishes without being offended or offending. The rant I witnessed from my friend on this issue left me really wondering- who knows what is best for me? What is it that makes people so defensive when there is a hint even indirectly of this type of -ism? Racism has long changed its manifestation in society; hardly do we hear the N-word shouted in the street. Nevertheless, to assert that we live in a post-racial Britain is misleading- living in Cloud cuckoo land. We all know, including those who moan about political correctness gone wrong in Britain that we still have a long way to go when it comes to race and other -isms. Why do people get mad at you when you refuse to be boxed? Have you ever noticed that? You cannot be what they are not- you cannot be different without being called a name. If you speak for yourself- ‘she is aggressive’ or she is a feminist blah blah…
It is as if you do not fit neatly in some people’s packaging; from how you look to how you think, etc – you are different and therefore have to have a name. Where will difference go or live, what will difference say without being labelled?
These are my experiences so no point calling me anti-this or the other because that won't change anything