Cultural differences and dating

Happy Saturday everyone! I hope you are all having a great weekend. My post today is a little different from the topics I usually write about. This topic is a lot more personal but still discusses important cultural and racial considerations. When I was growing up, it was encouraged that a good move would be to marry a foreigner. This is mainly due to a lot of colonial perceptions of importance which I have discussed in previous posts. Foreigners, white foreigners to be specific are portrayed as superior, in intellect and class and generally every facet you can think of. So it was indoctrinated in what seems to be my entire generation that marrying a (Western) foreigner meant you made a good choice in life.

So here I was, staring my first year of uni, expecting to get along with foreigners like a house on fire and potentially meeting my future husband. Now see, a huge naivety I had, (along with many other Zimbabweans) was undermining the significance of cultural differences. I have dated two people from this part of the world in my time at university, both of which I got along with really well. However, when I thought of taking them back home, I was filled with bucketloads of anxiety about how they would be received by my family and friends and what my partner would think about my family and friends. Being in the middle and considering both, I knew that each side would find the other somewhat weird.

However, this is is normal in all relationships; meeting someone’s family opens you up to an entirely different side of the person you are dating. But see, when you then come from entirely different cultures, these differences are exacerbated enormously.

The moment I realised this issue is a little bigger than I thought might seem like a very trivial moment but it was significant to me and my friend (who actually has always said she is marrying a Zimbabwean for these exact reasons). We were reminiscing on the last time we had been to a Zimbabwean wedding and through the nostalgia we ended up curating a wedding playlist. If you are Zimbabwean, or coloured, rather, you will recognise these songs as being the necessity of all good weddings. But if you are not, these songs will have zero significance to you and they may actually sound like quite bad songs to play at a wedding. This is when I started to realise that I would be deeply upset if my significant other did not understand the importance of these songs to my community. I mean sure, I could teach them and force feed them African music but what about the food and the colloquial language and the style and socialisation and the cultural norms? Truthfully, I know I do not have the patience to tech someone all of these things.

While I have an extremely loving and supportive family who would most likely embrace whoever I was dating, it is likely that they would feel the same barrier that I do. I imagine this person sitting at gathering surrounded by my somewhat loud family or friends who speak more-or-less English albeit with some unintelligible words such as “oan,” “it’s chando,” “Mensa” “Jorl,” “let’s go cabin,” “we’re cutting/landing.” In all of this, I would either have to be explaining each word as it came up or leaving this person to try and make sense of what was being said around them. Moreover, behaviour in general would make me feel very nervous. My partner would not understand the crass jokes being made. Nor would my family understand a lot of my partners culturally influenced behaviours like “going Dutch.”

Clearly the themes of culture and race in Zimbabwe are interwoven with themes of cultural significance, historical considerations and economic security. Our countries and people in them have struggled with economic stability for years and looking on countries where it seems like people are doing better in this aspect, it is assumed that life with a foreign partner would be more stable. Additionally, as I have explained in a previous post “get your passport out of here,” because Zimbabweans (and other ex-colonial countries) have been taught to see themselves as less and that everything in the West seems better; including the people. However, when I reflected on how much my culture is ingrained in me, I realised that I would never want to water it down. It is extraordinarily unique and I question why I ever looked down on it.

It isn’t new news that dating inter-culturally is difficult, without even considering long-term issues such as how each of you would want to raise your children. But my question is, why it is so encouraged to date outside of the community for superficial reasons or the the illusion of obtaining a better life with someone who was born in a ‘rich’ country. My point of all of this is that the reasons we have for forsaking each other as good matches really don’t make sense when you think about it. This is not to say that dating inter-culturally is impossible or that we (or I) shouldn’t do it, it is simply to highlight the fact that you already have a solid ground of understanding with the person you grew up next to and venturing out to search for “greener grass” is not always the best thing to do.

A changed self image

Happy Friday everyone! It has been longer than one month since I wrote to/for you last! Although for me, it seems like it’s been much longer. I had a well needed break and the most warm and loving holiday period spent with family and friends 💗 I hope you all had the same and entered 2021 on nothing but immaculate energy. After the holiday period, I had the longest January ever (I am well aware that January is not over)! But for the most part, I have gotten over my covid and I am feeling healthy and energised enough to write something potentially interesting. Before I get to the actual topic, I just want to say that I know so many Zimbabweans are struggling at the moment. Since December, people have been dying from covid at a rate that we were not prepared for in the slightest and I just want to extend my condolences to anyone who has lost someone recently, I am very sorry ❤️ Those who have relatives or friends who are still battling or are still sick themselves, I am sending you love and light and God willing, you will all be ok. I thought about making this piece a covid-follow up seeing as I just went through it all myself and faced all covid politics, differing medical opinions, healthcare failures and so on but honestly, I do not know how to report on covid in Zimbabwe because like everyone else, I have absolutely no clue what is going on. Everyone is kind of left to fend for themselves as soon as they get the positive result and everyone just has to hope that they are making the best decisions for themselves or their loved ones.

Instead, today, I’d like to start a discussion over something I witnessed a few years ago. It was a very regular experience but it was something that really perplexed me and stuck with me ever since. My mom needed to go into the pharmacy so I was sitting in the car waiting for her… I was bored and she was taking long so I started to just observe my surroundings. For contextual knowledge, this was around the time where there was a forex shortage in Zimbabwe and people would spend days and even sleep in bank lines with the hopes of receiving some money from the bank. We were parked right in front of a bank and the line wasn’t too long but it was significantly long and new people were joining it. I paid no attention to race but I looked at the people in the line, there were men, women, old, young, some with babies etc. and a lot of people were chatting which made me think they had been in the line for most of the day. Suddenly, a very old women (who was black) walked straight to the front of the line, assuming that people would let her through because was a senior citizen, honestly I thought they would let her through as well but they did not. She tried to talk to people in the front of the line and ask if they would let her through but they instead caused a lot of commotion and sent her to the back of the line. I was very disappointed but I thought nothing of it, I guess fair is fair. But something stunning happened a few minutes later, a middle aged white woman got out of her car, walked to the front of line, waited for the next person to be called and confidently walked into the bank without saying a single word to anyone. No one in the line said anything to her either. I was sitting there, with my mouth open wondering what exactly just happened. Still, I did not think it had anything to do with race, I was just shocked that nobody said anything to her. So I continued watching, intrigued now and I actually noticed a pattern, there were only black people standing in the line but there were a number of white people entering and existing the bank. They were all wanting the same thing from the bank but some were waiting to get it and some were simply going in and getting it.

www. history.com

I thought about the incident for a while and realised that I have seen similar things happen quite regularly. People say that colonialism is over, slavery is over apartheid is over and they are right, these things are over but the remnants of them still exist very dominantly. During such times, a very clear hierarchy of racial significance was developed and that hierarchy clearly still exists in the minds of many. White people always have and still demand respect and authority. I am very much ok with this, where I saw the problem was with how little respect black people regard themselves with. The white people thought it was their right to ignore that line and walk straight into the bank and do what they needed to but the black people also thought it was their right as well because did not show a single sign of protest. Instances like these remind us that the historical wrongs have been drummed into our heads and we have to actively unlearn these feeling of ‘less-than’ or ‘better-than.’

While I have mentioned that I see these displayed feelings in the majority of black Zimbabweans, there is a group which also does the exact opposite. Zimbabwean black elites have re-gained authority and respect but not in a way that is conducive to anyone in the country. The groups I refer to do not only demean generationally white Zimbabweans for lacking Zimbabweaness but they also demean other black people that are of a lower social strata. These groups are a prime example of when one regains agency, self-love and respect for oneself from a place of hatred for the other rather than genuine self-love. A lot of people may fall into this trap because of the lack of re-enforcement of the significance and importance of black people, without these reminders of love, there is usually space to breed hatred for the group that has made you feel lesser. Why I think this is important is because I see African-Americans slowly building up their pride of being black and of being of African ancestry but I do not see the same pride coming out of Africa. The pride which is growing here still somewhat has an element of comparison to the white man, rather than just pure love and respect for oneself. I think it is mainly because African’s do not like to address race, it is a topic we are very uncomfortable with and so if it is never spoken about, no one knows how they should be acting or remedying the situation.

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

Bertrand Russell

This quote explains exactly what is going on in Zimbabwe. Black and white is very clearly still divided in all areas and I really struggle to understand why. Who does this division serve? I may be poking the bear here but to be frank, racism made a little more sense before. A group was made to feel lesser for purposes of power, domination and capitalisation. But now, it is blatantly clear that a skin tone does not make anyone better than anyone else so why do we still treat each other differently based on it? It makes absolutely no sense for either group to be harbouring so much hatred. What I would want for the people of Zimbabwe is for each and every black person to remember that regardless of the past, this has been and always will be your home, that you are worthy of respect, equal treatment and you should demand it from everyone including each other. Ask your other friends why they may speak to white people differently to the way they speak to you, why they change demeanour when dealing with a white person and when dealing with a black person. Demand explanations and demand change because that is the only way we can get rid of this ridiculous hierarchy which exists. For white Zimbabweans, it is time to seriously take heed of the privileges that exists to your advantage in this country simply because of how the world is constructed. You are every much as Zimbabwean as everyone else but the work towards a more unified country involves you as well and the way you choose to treat and socialise with everyone else you come across in this country.

Diversity Hire

Happy Friday everyone. It has been almost a month since the last post! The time has just completely gotten away from me. I am back in Zimbabwe now (for the holidays) and I am extremely happy to be home. Today I am here with a topic that particularly vexes me to my core.

I have a ‘friend’ (in The Netherlands) who always praises my accomplishments with grace. In the humblest way possible, I have achieved a lot as a student and young woman; I have a good paying job (I have had about three jobs since I started university), I have never had trouble finding or keeping a job, I am a straight A student (B if it in involves numbers), I have interned in very good positions, traveled the world (for reasons of accomplishment) and received recognition for my achievements. So, this friend sees all of this and acknowledges and praises my accomplishments every time there is a new one. However, each time, she adds something to the praise that makes me want to scream.

“Oh, they saw an African student so they saw an opportunity to fill a quota” “They needed to throw in some diversity” “They saw brown and immediately gave you the job/position” “How could they not give the job/position to an African female” “Oh they just needed to show that there are brown students” “You’re lucky that diversity is the in thing now”

Although she’s the only one that says statements like this, I know that she isn’t the only one thinking them. And even though I consider her a friend, I have never actually corrected her. The first time she said it; I have achieved a position she had not and she yelled “oh yes! diversity!” and truthfully, I was confused so I didn’t say anything. Then after that, I felt like it was an awkward thing to bring up later on and rectify, seeing as I had let it go the first time.

Diversity hire was a social innovation designed to right historical wrongs and give minority groups equal opportunities for the same achievements that had been denied to them for decades. Somehow, majority groups turned this into a negative thing; a degrading thing. As if it so inconceivable that someone from a minority group could achieve the same (or even better things than them). All achievements awarded to non-whites are seen as a diversity handout. I focus here on race because even though I am a woman and woman are under-represented in the work place, with my person experience, no one questions a position I have gotten because of my gender but rather, my skin colour or nationality. I can imagine that for a white female, they face the diversity stereotype, but for someone like me, my race will always overshadow my gender.

http://www.workable.com

The reason that diversity hiring became a thing is not because minority groups needed a lower threshold of personal and professional achievement, it is because their achievements were denied for years. So can you imagine how degrading it feels when these achievements are finally recognised and there are people thinking that you only achieved them because of the same attributes that you are actually trying to overcome. I have seen this treatment happen to many people; where their hard work is belittled by people who jump straight to the diversity reasoning. What is so confusing to me is how someone could find it impossible that someone of colour could not achieve something without a helping hand. This friend of mine who aways jumps to diversity reasoning does not consider herself racist in the slightest but I think her line of reasoning is racism in one of its purest forms.

I brought this up to my mom when I was applying for my undergraduate degree because I was getting a lot of offers. However, in some of the offers, there was an amendment of bringing diversity to the campus, so I was confused, I knew my grades were exceptionally good but I still couldn’t tell if I was being offered positions on the basis of that or because universities were truly trying to bring ‘diversity to the campus.’ It really bothered me. My mom’s response was “who cares,” for whatever reason you’re being given these opportunities, you are being given amazing opportunities. She explained that I should just make the most of all of the opportunities regardless of how they were achieved (although she thought I was stupid for thinking they were about diversity in the first place). When I internalised what she said (only years later actually), I realised that it bothered me so much because constructs of racial oppression still existed in my mind. I felt that I needed to prove to these people who doubted me and my achievements as a brown women, were because I was a capable and hardworking women. Due to this hierarchy of importance that still exists, it felt that if they thought I deserved my achievements then I did.

How ridiculous, right? Wrong, it was not ridiculous of me to think this way because so many children are brought up to think this way and question their own abilities simply because they look a certain way. So my post today not only aims at correcting the misperceptions of people who think anyone achieves anything because of how they look but also to address people who may question the achievements they have gotten. To the first; stop and consider that someone may actually just be a brilliant person capable and worthy of the opportunity and recognition they have been given. And to the latter; you deserve each and every single opportunity and recognition you have been and will be given and even in moments where you doubt yourself, remember that you have the ability to succeed in that role you have been given. Even if you question your deservingness, do not let that stop you from proving that you deserve even more.

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.