A different type of Socialization

Happy almost-weekend everyone! I hope you have all had a good and prosperous week! Today, I come to you with a topic which I still have a lot of questions and assumptions around.

After reading copious amounts of history on former colonies and what happened to them after colonisation; how most of them ‘failed’ according to the Western standard of success, I could not wrap my head around the ‘why.’ Well that is mainly because there is no single reason for this outcome but today I will address one of the reasons that are chiefly responsible for these ‘failures.’ Western culture is one of individuality and this is rooted in almost all of the institutions and social norms in Western countries. The hegemonic dominance that then came with colonisation forced colonies to also adapt to this idea of individualism. However, the culture in the ‘failed’ states is one of communality and togetherness. Adapting from community oriented systems and ways of living to structures which promote individualism is something that countries such as Zimbabwe could not master and probably never will.

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From time immoral we have based our living around community and living together. What was mine was everyone’s and a single persons achievements were that of an entire community. This still exists – but it is getting less and less as Western influence permeates each generation. My point though, is that, when Western systems were introduced (introduced being a very passive word compared to how these systems were implemented), African (as well as South American and Asian) communities had to adapt and change their entire way of living. Take capitalism for example, in order to be successful in a capitalist world, a person has to be individually oriented and not worry about how their actions will affect the greater ‘community.’ This change was easy for some but for most of the country it was an unimaginable shift in the way life was viewed. In many respects, individuality is reserved for privileged societies. You can be an autonomous and stable individual in the Netherlands because you have the means and opportunities to sustain yourself through the systems that have been built for citizens. However, in places like Zimbabwe, individuality is seen as more of a burden because the support and help of a community is needed just to get by. This is probably the reason we are still very much community oriented as a people and why we fail in systems that demand us to abandon our communities for the goals of prosperity, growth and development.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” 

― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

Now while I talk of the impact this had on the reception of Western institutions, cultures and expectations in these countries very briefly, there is a host of literature out there if you are interested in the topic; which can explain it in much more depth than I have. While I have mainly spoken about this contrast on individualism and communalism in the past; it is something that still very much exists today. I was so shocked when I moved to The Netherlands and I observed how much time people spent alone. When I first moved, I loved it! As I have mentioned, I come from a very tight knit community where everyone’s nose is in everyone’s business so I was quite relieved to move somewhere where nobody cared what I was doing with my life. Dutch people make small talk and that’s about it and I liked that because at home, you can’t breathe without at least ten people knowing about it. But recently, (and I’m not sure if this is because of corona or because I’ve just been away for so long), I long for the inquisitiveness and the constant noise of having people around. I have started to notice how lonely people were in this part of the world. This is not to say that Zimbabweans aren’t lonely or that there are no tight-knit communities in Western countries, the dynamics of socialisation are just very different.

I was speaking with a Dutch friend who could not believe what I was telling her about the way we socialised as a community, how much we shared and how much time we spend together. She thought the concept of ‘sympathising’ was such great, revolutionary idea (because they don’t do that here). For those who do not know what sympathising is; when someone dies within the community, the rest of the community come and console the immediate family of the deceased for about a week or two. People bring food and come and spend days on end with the family; grieving, praying, eating and remembering the person who has died. This is what I mean when I say that we NEED our communities, it is not only about economic interdependence but we have had a system of emotional interdependence from as far back as I went into history.

So yes, we have ‘failed’ in the realms of economics, politics (this is not part of this conversation though), and development. But, I don’t think our togetherness and communality is something we are willing to or are even capable of sacrificing. On this same line, most Zimbabweans have the spirit of ‘if we suffer, we suffer together.’ If someone is left behind, we will go back and get them and start the journey all over again. So, many have argued that this is why we have remained stagnant. There are many country-specific reasons that ex-colonies have ‘failed’ to be prosperous, however, this cultural dynamic is one that really got me to think because it is a dynamic that challenges me being on the cusp of both realities. I would always vote for the community oriented world but I also had to understand that the choice came from a place of privilege; I have never gone hungry and I have never struggled. I am one of the lucky ones who actually has the benefits from both worlds. But, it is still something that needs to be seriously considered as we are living in a time that needs the stability and love of communities more than ever.

The Coloured Community

Los Angeles 2017:

Stranger: “Wow, you look so exotic, what are you?”
Me: “Coloured”
Stranger: [gasps] OMG, you can’t use that term!

Firstly, I was annoyed with being called “exotic” hence my blunt, one word answer and secondly, I was confused by how someone of a different race just told me how I should or should not refer to myself and my own race. After that, years of traveling around America and Europe taught me that “coloured” in Southern Africa meant something completely different compared to the rest of the world. Where I’m from coloured symbolises a community and a culture, whereas elsewhere it is a reminder of racist, derogatory terms used during slavery. So I got groomed into telling people that I am “mixed race” but I am not mixed race…

Both of my parents are coloured, which would mean that I am technically not a mixture of black and white, I am a coloured person made from two coloured people. Complicated…I know. However, my want and need to identify as coloured is not just about the technicalities of my racial makeup, it is about the meaning of coloured in my country. The history of our community is a sordid one which we have turned into a celebration of belonging. The beginning of coloured or mixed race people was a story of slaveowners raping their slaves and so came about mixed people. So we started from a violent and pessimistic story which then got worse over time. Because of how we came about, we were not accepted by either races. We were an embarrassment to both black and white and we fitted neither category. Even now, we are definitely not considered white but we are too diluted to be considered black either so where exactly does that leave us? It left us creating our own coloured community which is comprised of people who have never really belonged anywhere else.

We have our own neighbourhoods, our food, our accent and our own culture. You could go as far as saying we have our own language because when I use coloured slang no other person can understand me except a Southern African coloured person. What is more is that we relish in our culture, we are extremely proud of it despite its stereotypes and negative aspects. We cook our curries and have our braii’s wherever we go, our accent is strong and distinguishable and our party spirit (which is unmatched) follows us no matter where we are.

The top picture is my family members when they were younger (my mother’s generation). The picture on the left is my friends and I just last December and the picture on the right is my baby brother and I. As you can see, we are all different shades of brown but we all still identify as coming from the exact same community. We understand jokes that no one else will and we see life and each other in a different way. So, yes, I am proudly coloured and that word means more to us than people will ever understand.

Lately, however, coloured or mixed race people have become something of a trend which is both shocking and quite sad. Everyone suddenly wants little mixed babies with caramel brown skin and curly hair. So after we went from being the rejected race, we are now being fetishised into the ideal physical appearance. However, what is being done is what society does with everything; make the positive aspects of something trendy while never understanding the history or pain something carries with it. Yes being seen as beautiful in society is great but we found ourselves beautiful long before you did. What needed to come before the aesthetic appreciated of a mixed person was the understanding of how we have come to be and the struggles we have faced. The struggles of being called a ‘half-breed,’ ‘half-casts’ or as having no race at all. The struggle of being identified as drunkards, lazy, aggressive, school-drop-outs teen parents, incestous and a long list of negative stereotypes. While these stereotypes are not representative of us, we are far from perfect as a community but we are a proud community. We are thankful for each other and we will always stick by each other no matter the circumstances. So all of this is what you need to understand if you want to appreciate what it is to be coloured.