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Eliminate labelling


Adopt a collective name and form the basis of a collective will to help eradicate the mistakes of the past

The mid-20th century British poet Philip Larkin confessed to having “maidenly shudders” whenever he was labelled as a member-poet of the “Movement”.

I can understand his discomfort with the ambiguity of being called a “Movement” poet. In my time, I have resented being seen as a writer of colour.

Writing is an attempt to provide a narrative of one’s times.

It could provide future generations with the origins of the well-springs that triggered one’s muse.

But I have been told by publishers that what I write wasn’t or can’t be new. Also, I should come back once I had published something.

It seems I was a construct of colonialism. Whatever I had to sell as narrative was already in place long before my advent. In a word, I was the product of an encounter of a Biblical kind between a black and white couple.

It is ironic that this is the one thing we cannot blame on the previous government. They had laws which prohibited knowledge of this kind between the races. White women had white babies and black women had black babies.

No in between.

No caramel, or light-black or dark-white or any semblance of being tainted with the wrong ethnic brush.

So I and my people became a dilemma that was labelled coloured, brown, mixed, creole, hybrid and even baster.

We were also called God’s step-children. In the Spanish-American mixture, the word mestizo emerges.

Whatever the appellation, it was based on the fear that the mixing of blood-lines leads to some form of genetic dilution or degradation, and was to be avoided.

Ah, I hear you say, another example of racial angst.

Not so.

Merely a reminder that the interrogation of these mythic phobias and labellings can, and should, be scrutinised to society’s advantage.

We cannot make the old assumptions based on skin colour any longer.

White isn’t always right.

Black is not a euphemism for dumb.

Ethnic labelling must be eliminated if we wish to start the dialogue that will unbundle inequity based on these dubious hierarchies.

Unfortunately, the “us” in the middle are often torn between loyalties to the extremes inherent in our origins.

Many of us hasten to reinforce our Eurocentric connections. Others, especially after the threat that the ANC will rule “until Jesus comes”, rush to affirm our Afrocentrism, opting, for example, for Khoi names and Madiba shirts.

There are labels for such preferences. They include “uncle Tomism”, “brown-nosing”, “coconut”, “play-white” and so forth, most of them used in the pejorative sense.

It is my plea that we adopt a collective name that will neutralise suspicion and prejudice and form the basis of a collective will, with enough skill and experience to eradicate the mistakes of the past. It will unify us anew.