I don’t want to be white; I just want to be treated as if I were.
To exist in a world where the pigment of my skin is not a prison, a ball and chain, a ‘something that could be despised’.
Where my burnished hue is celebrated and not frowned upon or wished away or treated chemically or digitally via photoshop till it looks much lighter just to suit a certain narrative.
I too don’t want to have experienced hot stretching comb burns or chemical burns whilst straightening my hair with chemicals and extreme heat for fear of being seen as unkempt, because the standard of good hair is hair that is ‘white’. My hair, my afro, my cornrows they are not a statement. My curly hair grows out of my scalp that way and no I didn’t do anything to it to make it shrink like that or ‘stick out’ like that, and no your hands can’t touch, even if I can touch yours.
I too don’t want to be subjected to a body search or bag search or be followed around as I shop because somehow if I’m darker your wares will find their way into my bag. Last I checked my mahogany tones were not magnetic to your merchandise.
No, I don’t want to be singled out, called cheese girl, musalad, coconut or Oreo when I use a ‘private school accent’, nor hear you say ‘Oh, you are so articulate and a credit to your race’, tsk as if whites have the monopoly on intelligence…
Nor does that mean I want to be ridiculed and seen as uneducated when I do use an African accent or mispronounce a word because guess what I learnt it from a book. I’ve learned your Français, your English, your Español and yet monolingual you who doesn’t even try with my language thinks bilingual/ multilingual me is the one who needs more education? Why can you judge me uneducated when I prefer to speak my mother’s tongue? What did you say, Oh, it’s because you can’t understand me? Since when was there a prerequisite that you understand all I say? This is the language of my people that you want to erase, a language that houses our culture and thoughts from time in memorial that you want to vanish because you have placed more importance on yours, because in your mind mine is primitive.
I too don’t want to change my name for it to be easier for you to pronounce, if I can figure out James, Jean, Bjorn, Tchaikovsky, Alejandro and Etienne, then Tsitsi, Mxolisi, Uchenna and Ncumisa should be run of the mill too, no it’s not Tsi or MX, or N Cumisaa because my name has meaning and nuance that you want to bastardise.
I don’t want that when I go to the airport, in order to not be seen as a threat, I implore my brother, “a hoody and our skin tone profiles danger, so pack away your hoodie and let’s dress up when flying in order to be perceived as if we belong → no, no sir, we are no threat for your security.
I don’t want to stand in line for service and be ignored, until I pointedly chat with my white friends, so you change your demeanour and serve me with the same care and fawning.
I don’t want to try harder, jump higher, shout louder before you see my accomplishments, because in your mind it’s impossible for me to have made it thus far without affirmative action. Oh, I’m not the help or kitchen staff? So how did I get my job? The most qualified person should get the job? Wait, what? I had not realised my skin colour precludes me from being qualified?
I don’t want to be asked if I’m lost or need help because I’m the only darkie in the suburb, those hallowed green lawns and gleaming abodes other black people can only dream of. And I too want to have the luxury of avoiding the hood, the township, the high densities, that you deem dangerous and dens of criminality, but alas this is where I and my family live. I guess danger takes a look at my skin and runs away.
I don’t want to travel far and wide just to find products that suit my skin and biology, or struggle to find doctors who are well versed in the difference’s melanin can give to symptoms because for some reason everything is white centred even on African soil. I too want my skin to have the power of normal to be able to match my tone and skin colour in clothing, Band-Aids, underwear, products for my hair, just as you expect your needs to be met. Alas I have to conform to your standards for my needs to be met.
And no, I don’t want to pretend you’ve given me a compliment when you say, “I am pretty for a black girl” your standards of beauty are miles away from mine.
I don’t want to pretend not to be offended when you say the races shouldn’t mix, and you would never date a black girl, for in your mind, my actual personality, values or quirks don’t matter, I have been judged and found wanting on skin colour sight alone.
I too don’t want to bite my tongue when I’m upset just so you don’t label me angry, scary, black woman. Or be forever asked, ‘Why are we so loud?’, and yet that screaming, swearing white manager is never asked to tone it down. No, I too don’t want to have to always be apologetic when I stand up for someone or my beliefs, just so you don’t call me a bully.
I too want the luxury of saying ‘I don’t see colour’. Telling me you don’t see my colour is saying I have to be ‘not black’ in order for you to respect me, it’s you using colour-blindness to force me to assimilate, I want to be seen as the individual I am. I don’t want to be lumped in with everyone and seen as ‘you people’ especially before you want to offend.
But until that happens, I want you to see my black skin and the disadvantages it gives me, and thus see why I fight for the advantages your skin has given you, because in my reality there isn’t only one race. There is white and the rest, as if we are leftover food.
Another child should not have to grow up confused and questioning what they did wrong, only to find out it’s nothing but the melanin they are graced with; to wonder why they were born with darker skin and wish it away and have to be taught how to value themselves beyond their skin.
I know some of your actions are ignorance on your part, don’t worry I was once there too, giving undeserved deference. But the struggle for identity made it real for me and mine, how could I hate who I intrinsically am due to archaic norms started by colonialists? How can we wish to wash away the brown, something we have no control over, something that is not a sin, and yet my parents, myself, my sisters and brothers to this day are punished for.
So, I wear this deep brown skin now with pride, African melanin queen that I am, and let the sun kiss those bronze sepia hues and darken them to obsidian as I embrace who I was made to be. So, while my articulate accent, my ‘white hobbies’, experiences, education and opportunities make me blend well in the western world, I’m not trying to be white, I am no longer filled with confusion nor self-hate. I am proud of the struggles I and those like me have overcome and continue to face; but it is this unnecessary suffering I want to obliterate.
No, I don’t want to be white; I just want to be treated as if I were.
Hope you enjoyed my spoken word piece; you can listen to it on the Saving Graces podcast or on youtube.
Why this piece?
Someone asked me once if I had self-hate because I was black, or if I wanted to be white because of my activities that I did that are seen as ‘white’? This seemed like a good response.
Secondly, the past few weeks, with atrocities that black lives face being highlighted, have brought so much heaviness to the fore, yet it’s also tinged with that eternal hope. As black people we face challenges every day, but we learn to be resilient and ignore most of them, so sometimes things that should bother us just don’t anymore. Until something like an unjust death brings it all to the fore. And then we wonder is there something I can do? How I can make the world better? And with renewed vigour you learn about who you are, your identity and try educating at least that one other person by highlighting your experiences.
Don’t police my tone as you read
I nearly did not write anything because I kept asking myself constantly is it safe to do so? “How do I respond honestly and true to myself, and yet not upset or rile people?” And that there is the main issue. We live in a society that polices our tone “Speak to me in good non-negative, non-emotional, not angry speech about your negative experience, then we can have a dialogue.” But I am angry, I feel negative emotion and yet I have to police my tone to be heard… So, I have rewritten the stuff below a lot of times in the hopes that it comes across as I intend.
A lot of ‘not feeling safe to share experience’ is perception, but some of it systematic and not necessarily by design or overt. It can also be ingrained learned behaviour on our part from previous experiences or the experiences of others. Some of it may even be cultural, unfortunately a culture shaped by race relations. For instance when any other issue arises in other spheres I speak out because I know that if some people don’t agree it’s ok, we will agree to disagree, but when it comes to race matters… no, we don’t speak out because I don’t want to “agree to disagree” when it comes to discrimination. If I ‘agree to disagree’ all it means is that you are not willing to change and I should deal with it, so I may as well get on with the dealing with it part, no need to even get into the discussion.
When topics of discrimination come up, I’m afraid of being seen as a person who just will bring up race stuff to cover their incompetence so I will run to other black colleagues, family friends who I’m not even as close to because they’ll get what I mean without me having to explain anything. And it’s exhausting to have to couch my terms and educate first before I am heard. We then ask each other; was that racial or just ignorance? We end up at ignorance and then leave it or end up at racism and leave it.
Another case in point when we talk about race issues, other areas are brought up to limit the power of my emotion and anger at what has happened, because well, “all lives matter, all discrimination is wrong”. Such a blanket universal statement silences me and others like me. It’s because it is true that we are trying to highlight an area where it is seemingly not being put in effect as much as others, so when you say that, it feels like a platitude; “It’s ok to feel the way you do but don’t feel it too much, there’s a limit, think of the other peoples emotions first as well, and the world is not perfect so don’t expect too much change because there are other problems others’ face you are not the only one, what about A, B and C after all discrimination is ‘equal’”. My emotion on that has to be balanced with other people’s emotions so it then negates my experience. I have had colleagues have negative experiences, but because it can be interpreted differently or because they think this will limit their potential going forward, they would never speak up. This inevitably affects me too when it comes to speaking up.
We don’t need new names
I’m going to give a silly example with which you can extrapolate. My name is easy enough Tsitsi, and yet many people will hyphenate, camel case or add a space to it, why? There are infinitely other more difficult Western names but people take the time to write those correctly, but I’ll make a judgement call and say to myself, it doesn’t really matter, they don’t know better, brush it off, sign my name TD to make it easier for them. But what is the underlying reason for being so accommodating; it’s because I don’t want to be seen as difficult, other, or angry black woman. So I tone police myself, watch what I say more than I would in black company. And then I see my Chinese colleagues going above and beyond to always provide a Western name to make others more comfortable? Why? If everyone just practiced, they would be able to say all names passably well, but we have given out a ‘free pass’, they don’t have to try to say your name right, it’s all difficult anyway. My name has meaning and importance and identifies me as me, and my background and culture, yet you want to turn in white…
Thoughts to ponder
My working all over the place has indeed highlighted my blackness more, such that I now identify as ‘blacker’ than ever before and don’t want people to not see my colour. When we were younger, we were ‘socialised’ to see white as better. Not overtly, but it’s when you are in OK supermarket and the tellers treated a white person better, when we laughed at each other’s mis-pronunciation, when we praised ‘good ‘ accents, when our parents changed their demeanour and actions when dealing with white counterparts, when media showed white happy American/ British families, and black gangsters and it seeped into our beings, and at school when we were taught to curtsy and greet our elders with a very British ‘Good morning Sir/ Ma’am.’ When I was 15 a classmate accused me of being an anglophile in a condescending way, and I could not decide if I should be insulted (as it had been intended) or proud because… my experiences said that meant I was getting it right…
Leaving home though woke me to the reality that we ‘centre white’ everything. And began a time of un-educating myself of the misconceptions that I too perpetuated.
So yeah, I want to be black/ brown, I just don’t want that blackness to determine how you treat me or be all that you see, I am way more. I feel it even more so now where I am the only black person in a sea of white. I want to be seen as me, as I am, not as a separate entity from the ‘other blacks’ which is what I find now tends to happen, from both sides of the colour fence; I go from being coconut, munose, oreo, musalad, cheese girl to being ‘educated’, different, articulate, not like other blacks – just because I was privileged to have experiences and opportunities others did not and could only dream of.
I feel a responsibility for that privilege, that I can never repay, so I think it’s my responsibility to therefore help my fellow black brothers and sisters attain the same privileges. I find myself embracing being Black, Zimbabwean, African more and more because I don’t want to be erased and don’t want the experiences of those who suffer for the colour of their skin to be minimised. I introduce myself as Tsitsi now not Diana. I wear colourful Afro-fusion inspired clothing, African batik and Chitenge, clothing that before I associated with the elderly women, and Nigerians. I keep my hair natural, promote African foods and language, educate myself and slowly get rid of my biases against all things African and accents.
I understand the sentiment of someone saying they don’t see colour, they only see me, but ultimately, I think it’s demeaning, because this colour shaped me and those like me. We are not colour blind so to say so is to try and silence me when I speak of my experiences, it ignores my reality, because well if in your head that reality does not exist then you don’t have to do anything about it. It means only when I separate myself from my blackness do I then get value. I want you to see my race and colour and see what it does for me and you, because only then can we redress imbalances.
The system needs to change
I’m saying a system was put in place ages ago to disenfranchise people with brown and black skin. That system is kept going when we do not change the cogs that were put in place to sustain it. When you tell a person to work harder to get where you are and yet you fail to recognise the extra hand society gives you and yet denies him. when you say you are pro equality but are against of policies that could make it more possible, such as reparations, affirmative action or law enforcement reform, all you do is lip service. So yes, I will be in your spaces, disturbing your peace by my presence, acting white at times to get in then revealing my Africaness to you. Call me coconut, Oreo, musalad, matters not. I will risk some of the privileges I have gained through luck, mentors, and sheer will in order to bring the same to everyone.
It’s not the case for everyone depending one’s own past experiences, little slights like this over time, can be a million mini razor cuts that bleed. So yes we are shocked if after a while you are surprised that we have lost so much blood and are bleeding to death, just because you deem the one cut you gave was not all that deep.
One day we will be treated the same, it’s not yet today. But I pray that day comes and I do my part to make that a reality. But there is hope, all this open dialogue is bearing fruit, which is exactly what we all need. And hopefully policies and systems will be put in place to redress imbalances and inequalities and discrimination.
50 days after Easter we celebrate Pentecost. In commemoration of the first Pentecost. Reading the passage it always has an other worldly feel to it, rushes of wind, tongues of fire and amazing feelings and sensations running through the disciples from sadness to hyper happiness to being bale to speak in toungues, all in the space of a Holy Spirit whoosh. Acts 2 1-11;
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them….
As I drove to church today I drove past some pretty poppies and they made me think of tongues of fire dotted against the green grass. But they swayed gently in the breeze and were so peaceful, and that made me realise the past few months and weeks, this particular Easter season, was a gentle Holy Spirit season, no whooshes or fiery tongues. But the Fruits of the Holy Sprit were our saving graces. These fruits were indeed sensed and practiced, love, peace. No manic preparations and hectic celebrating, no sudden highs from super lows, but lots of fruits none the less.
So as we celebrate Pentecost today and pray for the Holy Spirit let us be aware of these fruits and grow them as they will serve us and others all the days of our lives. As we receive the Holy Spirit le us cultivate these fruits and become better people for it.
Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Blessed Happy Pentecost Everyone!!!
This video-cast can be watched on the Saving Graces YouTube Channel.
Quarantine musings – Faith, Life, Sacraments
How has life been affected by the lockdowns? Here I just chat through what it has been like for me, and the hopes for the time to come 🙂 What insights has quarantine-ing revealed about your life? How has God been speaking to you? Listen so some of my quarantine musings.
Welcome to podcast number one, numero uno, yekutanga tanga. I am so excited to be able to have some deep meaningful conversation with you all around life, God, existence, spirituality and some silly chat as well just because. And yes conversations because you are all an important part of this via your comments here or on the saving graces blog. I’m also scared at the same time, because this could bomb. In a spectacular way, which is why it’s been a work in progress for about 6 years…
So why is my blog and podcast called Saving Graces? I am a language nerd so an English definition of a saving grace is a redeeming quality of something that’s not all that fab, a sliver lining around something not so great. It makes a negative not so bad. In Christianity ‘saving grace’ is a gift from God, it is God’s grace that redeems us. Now God’s grace is not just a ‘redeeming quality’, it is THE grace that makes us exist.
Saving grace results in our sanctification. So all these little bits of God moments, of joy, or peace of virtue shining forth, these are all saving graces that make life all so amazing and wonderful, because they sanctify us, they make us holy, they bring us to holiness. I want to notice then that the path to holiness is paved by all these saving graces and even when I cannot see it, every moment in life is a moment of sanctification, a moment to tap into God’s grace, all I have to do is trust it. Grace is also given so that we can lead others to holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2000) describes these graces as
“Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.”
Wow such a long winded explanation just to say I like Saving Graces LOL.
Called to greatness
I’ve always believed that we are all created to be great. Now the worlds definition of great varies and does not always commute depending on your culture backgrounds etc. but regardless we all have greatness within us. But we are scared of it, we hide it and we don’t know how to use it. I find this so sad, when so much God given talent and potential is laid to waste. We need to redefine greatness, success and meaning, so that everyone feels they can embrace their God given greatness, their purpose, their raison d’être.
Your greatness can come in being the best teacher, mother, doctor, cleaner and in embracing that greatness you help those around you do the same. We were not born to be mediocre, we are made in the image of God, and that image is not mediocre. It burns, it glows, it mesmerises, it transcends, So like St Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Be not afraid, God is with us so life can only be beautiful. Dare to live in His will and taste and see His goodness.
If you cant tell I am passionate about people supporting each other, especially women supporting one another and daring to believe that they are capable of reaching their full potential in Christ. I’m a passionate about love, about drawing from the source of love that is God and giving that love, living a life full of meaning and of giving of ourselves in a way we can only do because we know who made us. I don’t always know how to do that but the lives of other catholics and saints have helped me over time, so I want to help others in the same way. So I want to share insights from my own life and from other people’s lives in order that we all grow to know and love God more, to love each other more, see the beauty of the human condition in all it’s facets.
What we will talk about
So at Saving Graces we will talk about prayer, life, productivity, culture, money, food, studies anything under the sun really as a way to help you realise you have more power over your life than you think, and thus empower you to make decisions for your daily life to achieve peace and joy and love. I hope this podcast becomes a way to pause and reflect, and to consider what brings us together in this shared human condition and how we can live a life that best reflects our limitless potential, and our value in God’s love for us.
That’s it for the intro podcast! Can’t wait to journey with y’all 🙂
Is there beauty in silence?
The sound of silence...
You so confound me
Sometimes peaceful at times distressing.
Quiet and and yet loud,
Eery and dark or golden and light
Dear Silence your sound it surrounds me
Cocooning me in a dampened embrace
Your sound goes through me and pierces me
Screaming through my heart
Deafening in your scream
Your sound fills me and leave me empty
Oh Silence whose sound I love and hate
Oh dear sound of silence
I’ve been discovering the beauty of silence. Silence is one of those things that can have so many qualities depending on where you are, where your heart is, where your emotions and mind are. These past few months have been filled with a lot of silence, but on the whole it has been positive. It has been heart opening, showing me parts of myself that I had forgotten about or sidelined in the loudness of life. I have always enjoyed silence except when it is awkward in company, but even then I can put up with the awkwardness. If I’m around “my people” though, silence is impossible I have so much to tell. A lot more people are uncomfortable with silence and find they have to fill it with any sound whatsoever, from music to chatter to TV.
Saints and mystics regard silence as one of those ingredients necessary in the quest of holiness. But why? How does silence help us to holiness? Without it there is no place for contemplation, no place for reflection because our hearts and minds are chaotic. Our emotions take over and our reason is overcome.
I think of the silence needed like that of being in the eye of a storm, the eye of a hurricane. Our minds are usually like the hurricane, but when we embrace silence and are still we are in the eye and can see the chaos all around us. This can be terrifying but it also allows a perspective that was not possible before. One can look the storm straight on and clearly see what is happening, see the magnitude of the storm and thus be able to plan and know how to act when back in the fray, and also have the assurance that when it all become overwhelming you can always go back into calm eye to get some rest and recharge.
Hearing God in the Silence
Can you imagine trying to hear anyone in the midst of a storm? And hearing God in the storm that is life? He speaks into the stillness of our hearts in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12). We need to be even more still in order to hear it.
The word for silence in German is Stille. With stillness and silence comes relaxation and peace. When you wake up well rested you would not have moved around a lot in your sleep nor made a lot of sound. And those words and prompting of the Holy Spirit that you hear in this stillness, in peace, they resonate through your whole being and cannot be ignored. They move you to action, to changing and not on a surface level. That still small voice, because you are still and silent becomes so loud like a resounding gong. It resonates with each step you take when you are back in the fray. It motivates you to move. To be better. To grow. and as you make the changes to change and grow.
The beauty in silence becomes so apparent you wonder how you missed it before, and you begin to seek more silence and contemplation and thus grow more, and before you know it, you are a few steps close to holiness. One way I have begun to embrace the silence is through contemplative prayer, and the peace from those moments and the stirrings the Lord has given me travel with me throughout the day, like ripples from His centre, like echoes of a conversation we had together…
That has been my saving grace of late, the beauty in silence. What saving grace do you find in the quiet?
Photo by Niklas Wersinger on Unsplash