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Dear black people, accent bias, colourism and internalized racism are drugs we need rehab for

Dear black people, accent bias, colourism and internalized racism are drugs we need rehab for

Opinion

Dear black people, accent bias, colourism and internalized racism are drugs we need rehab for

As black people, why the hell do we criticise each other’s accents, yet English isn’t even our first language? Why do we laugh at African mispronunciations but applaud white people for the three vernacular words they pronounce like they are chanting a spell?

We lived in a world where anglicized accents were a badge of honour for “great education”, afros straightened until they were burnt offerings were considered “professional” and dark skin was a dirty thing to be scrubbed away, so we avoided the sun like we are vampires in Twilight. Sorry, but in 2020 it is no longer acceptable to accept colonialism’s gifts to us. We don’t discriminate people based on their accents anymore. We don’t taunt Siphiwe’s dark skin anymore. We have pulled ourselves out of that dark place as black people. If you haven’t, let me help you catch up with the times.

Do you remember giggling when your teacher pronounced ‘little” as “likkle”? Laughing at your headmistress’s thick Shona accent? As black people, why on earth do we criticise each other’s accents, yet English isn’t even our first language? Why do we laugh at African mispronunciations but applaud white people for the three vernacular words they pronounce like they are chanting a spell? What I’ve never understood is Africans participating in these mispronunciations by white people. Your name is Fezubuhle but you introduce yourself as Fezi-bushley. Your surname is Ncube not Nkhu-bhe. Your deliberate anglicisation of vernacular words is not cute, it shows you’ve internalised racism; that white is right and black is inferior. Colonisation conditioned us to hate ourselves, hate our cultures, so Europeans could subjugate us better if we considered them superior, and ourselves as their subjects.

People laugh at Zimbabwean English names and rightfully so. I wouldn’t be surprised if some kid born a month ago was named Sanitise Nkomo considering Zimbabwean names are current affairs. We tend to directly translate vernacular names because white is right… with catastrophic results. Thando becomes Lovemore. Nkululeko becomes Freedom. Buhle becomes Pretty. Then you find bizarre names like Previous, Never, Ambivalence and Providence. Why are you so desperate to have an English name that you open your dictionary, wear a blindfold and randomly pick a word to name your poor child? Congrats, now they’ll be bullied at school.

https://twitter.com/the_dimpled_one/status/955025261338210304

Dear black people, guard your beautiful names with pride. Our names are powerful. Our names tell stories. Many people with vernacular first names and basic English middle names go by their English name because they dislike their vernacular one. But why settle to be called Jenny when your name Nolwazi means mother of knowledge? Why settle for Michelle when Nomandla means mother of power? Why choose Tom when Qhawe means hero? Why be Peter when Makhosi means kings?

 

Our ancestors didn’t die during the Liberation Struggle for you to reject your roots and allow people to mispronounce your name, and participate in it. If your name is Qingqiwe and someone asks to call you Que, say “no, you can call me Qingqi.” When I’m rich, I’ll buy a white-dominated school and rename it with some hard to pronounce Nguni name like “Qwebelengana-Qoqoda Xakuxaku High School” because how can you say “ncaww” but can’t pronounce Ncube? 

I know a person who met a guy who was nearly perfect, but she rejected him because she couldn’t stand his accent, she wanted someone with a “classy” accent. Girl, that’s as shallow as Ncema Dam during a drought. My peers only dated private school guys (who tended to be f*ck boys) and were prejudiced to those from Milton, Gifford or Masiye. If you dated a non-private school boy, you’d be judged for dating a ghetto boy with a ghetto accent. Funnily, the guys from government schools were the wokest, smartest and nicest. We went for boys with “classy” accents although they’d leave us wondering whether we were dating onions because they made us cry, then reject boys with “ghetto” accents but amazing personalities.

Accent privilege is real. So many people are dismissed as ghetto and uneducated because of their accent, paying no regard for the content of their character. Studies prove that people with anglicised accents are likelier to get a job opportunity. How often do we see a news anchor or radio presenter without an anglicised accent? The fact that we measure people’s intelligence by how they speak English is very shallow. African accents are considered ghetto because they “pollute” English with their pronunciation, yet Caucasian accents are considered sexy and romantic. A French person’s English can be accented e.g. pronouncing “this” as “zees” and we call it romantic. The accent of a Spanish person is considered sexy. An Australian accent will be considered attractive. Literally every accent which isn’t African or Asian is romanticised, but God forbid an Indian or Nigerian with heavily accented English.

This isn’t only perpetuated by whites; we black people discriminate each other based on our accents. When I said let’s party, I didn’t mean let’s turn up and twerk to the sound of our oppression.

Parents put their children in white-dominated private schools with pathetic pass rates just because there are whites and so their children have accents because accents are necessary for success in life. But instead of conforming, why not fight to change the racism behind accents determining success? Many, many black parents overlook black-dominated schools because “the whites have left, the standards have dropped”—all I think is, lightning wear your slippers and come see this nonsense. My black-dominated private high school had the highest pass rates, state of the art technology and facilities, modern busses and what not, whereas schools like Peter House had a chicken bus, rudimentary facilities and low pass rates, yet we are the ones whose standards were considered low.

Many parents deliberately don’t teach their children their mother tongue because they desperately want to be white. Why would you limit your child to only speaking English, when they can be a multilingual human who can connect with people of all walks of life, and potentially be preferred candidates for jobs? Some people can learn vernacular but choose not to because they’re too classy to stoop that low. Some people go to UK for one month then mysteriously return with a “British” accent—not even coronavirus spread that quickly. No matter how badly you want to anglicise yourself, you will always be black. Your accent doesn’t make you less black. Your refusal to speak vernacular doesn’t make you less black. You are black in the eyes of whites and black in the eyes of black people. Your internalised racism is not cute. The sooner you learn to embrace your roots, the better.

I know a guy called Xolani and many people in Harare call him either Colani or Qolani.

Originally tweeted by Mutero (@rabimutero) on 2 June 2020.

Although we were a black-dominated school, internalised racism was still perpetuated by black teachers and authority figures. We were banned from speaking vernacular because it’s “ghetto”, only allowing English and French because our admin so badly wanted to emulate whiteness. The black headmistress, deputy head and senior woman (they were the Holy Trinity of  being problematic) used to harass me for having natural hair, demanding I plait or cut it, but who was telling white and coloured students to plait their hair or cut it? I was told to relax my afro, but my hair isn’t stressed.

The rules banned afros, yet afro isn’t a hairstyle, it’s the way our hair grows out of our scalps—you’ve never heard of a “Euro” hairstyle. The practice of black men being bald partly came from discriminating African hair. Black teachers enforce rules banning black boys from having hair, while white students can keep theirs. Even the word “dreadlocks” is derogatory because locks are dreaded by society. Locks are associated with dirt and weed—even by blacks themselves. The black senior woman at school made a girl cut her locks, yet they were clean and neat. God, that woman was the human equivalent of stepping on water while wearing socks.

Our self-hatred is a billion-dollar industry. Think of how expensive Brazilian and Peruvian weaves are but no matter how broke we are, we scramble to find the money because we despise our hair. Think of how expensive bleaching is through procedures like vitamin E injections regularly done by Khanyi Mbau to be the colour of a tongue. But I’m not going to be that person judging these decisions without considering the context. People attack black women for buying Peruvian hair yet for centuries, we were told our hair is ugly, dirty and unprofessional by slavers and colonisers who made us wear headscarves. Blacks were conditioned to have an abusive relationship with their hair, denied job opportunities because of it, told to chemically straighten or hide their hair. It’s more than just shallowness, it’s because we had Eurocentric beauty standards shoved down our throats.

Despite this context, dear Africans, don’t let anyone make you hate yourself. Our hair doesn’t need to be fixed, it’s society’s beauty standards which are broken. Tell society you can’t hear it over the volume of your hair. As much as we were traumatised into self-hatred, we need to unlearn these Eurocentric biases and become obsessed with our hair. Caucasians have no interest in our hair, let’s also raise a middle finger to Eurocentrism. When you feel insecure about your natural hair, remember that your internalised racism is feeding a rich white billionaire—personally I’d rather empty Lake Kariba with a 5ml syringe than sponsor a capitalist with my insecurities.

I’m bothered by how in many ads I see, there’s always a light-skinned black woman with wavy hair and a small nose, and a light-skinned husband whose features lean towards Caucasian. Ironically, majority of Africans are dark-skinned and have tightly coiled hair. Sometimes it’s whites perpetuating racism this way (smh, the caucasity), but sometimes it’s colourist blacks regarding Eurocentric features as more desirable. Think about guys who say they only date yellow bones, then assign stereotypes to dark-skin women. Think about women who say they only date dark skin men because they are “real men”, whereas light-skin guys are beauty queens who wake up in the middle of the night and shout, “I’M SO CUTE!”. I’m all for banter in light-skin versus dark-skin men memes, but some of these come from a genuine place of colourism.

We judge women who bleach their skin, yet they didn’t wake up wanting to be lighter, we bullied them for being dark, making them desire lighter skin to fit in, then we turn around and mock them. They bleach to survive, not because they’re shallow people. Some women claim wanting to bleach is their choice, but it’s a choice that’s not a choice because it didn’t grow in a vacuum, the choice grew in an environment which demonises dark skin. In the same way, some women say they only wear weaves because it’s their choice. Sure, some women do love their hair and wear weaves for versatility, but others need to introspect on their choices and be honest with themselves about why they wear them.

We blacks are guilty of saying, “you’re getting lighter” like it’s a compliment, that you’re now prettier. I learnt with girls who bunked team swimming because they’d get darker. I’ve been told to avoid the sun, or I’ll get darker—duh, I live in the savannah climate, of course I’ll get darker; is my skin supposed to be green yini? Our skin is dark to protect us from sun damage; it has an spf of 8, meaning our melanin is literally natural sunscreen. Other races spend hundreds of dollars on tanning until they look like orange alien species, for their skin to glow like ours naturally does, because we are an elite group of goddesses and kings.

For women to stop bleaching and wear weaves less, we need to stop hating them so much they can’t exist in their natural states without being persecuted. Stop calling black hair dirty and unprofessional. Stop deriding African hairstyles like bantu knots and amabhanzi. Stop calling dark people shoe polish, it’s not cute. As for the victims to colourism, yes, we were colonised, but we need to unlearn the racism drilled into us and reclaim our identity as black people. Remember melanin absorbs light, we are light-filled, black people we are lit.

When I'm not smashing the patriarchy, I debate, paint, and work on my YA African feminist fantasy novel on Wattpad--which I guess is also smashing the patriarchy. Currently stu(dying) BA Law at University of Pretoria. I may or may not be a mermaid masquerading as a human. Pro-LGBTQ+. I'm just out here not hearing problematic people over the volume of my Afro.

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