The special black-black special

By Thembelihle Mashigo

I use to feel special having many white friends

Until they cracked black jokes

Until I was called a special black

Until I no longer laughed at the black jokes

I use to feel special being the only black

Until I was the spokes person for all black persons

Until I was the only one who saw and felt what I felt

Until I was the only one who would speak to black things

Until I was the only one who saw black humans

 

They made me feel really special because my tongue could curl easily, wrap itself so lovingly, so gently around those English words

Until I heard the giggles

Until I heard the whispers

Until I saw their faces

Thick African accent, what is that, what are you saying, pardon me please could you repeat yourself, SLOOOOOOOOOOOOWER. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!

I tried but my tongue was hard

They did not know how many times I had read aloud, how many times I had read those words, scrunched those pieces of paper, and mimicked their VOICES in my head,

They did not know.

They did not know how many times their brothers, sisters; mothers and fathers had tried to soften my hard African tongue with their ceaseless corrections, giggles, whispers, faces

I use to feel very special being able to pronounce those English words so well

Who needed them white people when I could police their language for them, Whip them black tongues into order!

I use to feel very special

Until I tripped and fell over those words, tripped and fell again in front of those white faces

Until I lost track of my thoughts betrayed by my black tongue, giggles, whispers, faces, Shame…

I use to feel very special when I had the straightest slickest black hair that blew in the wind, ever so lightly

I use to feel really, really, special when people thought I was coloured, mixed race, I would smile

Until I grew tired of the stinky chemicals

Until I grew tired of the burning

I grew tired of the pulling

I just grew tired of the black stylist complaining about my “kaffir” hair, hair so tough you could use it as a “skirpoort”

I use to feel very, very special being the only black in a senior position

Until I had nothing to do

Until I was left out of meetings

Until I was asked to pour the tea, or make the food or hold the tray

Until I was paraded around foreign donors as, they told my story

Until that old white woman wanted to wear my black skin only to dispose of it later as she walked back into her white life

Until I was no longer a human, until I was a prop, just a black prop, ON and OFF, ON and OFF, ON and OFF

I use to feel special

Until I wore isiphandla, giggles, whispers, scrunched faces

It stinks

Who wears animal skin

Giggles, whispers, scrunched faces, pulled noses

I use to feel special

Until I opened my skaftini and the smell of tripe and samp filled up the room

Did someone fart?

What is that?

Giggles, whispers, scrunched faces, pulled noses

I use to feel special

Until they would not eat, my food but I would eat theirs

Until I could not share a drink with them but I could with my brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers

I use to feel special

Until they couldn’t pronounce my name

Until I did not have a Christian name or English name whatever name as long as it was not my name

Until I was that black girl

Until I was that black girl that looked like every other black girl

Until I was no one

Until I was no longer Thembelihle

I was Thembi

Who the fuck is Thembi?!

 

I use to feel really, really, special being the only black

Until no one mirrored my experience

Until I felt very lonely

Until I, my mouth was closed shut

Until I couldn’t fight

Until I could no longer justify what I saw and felt

 

I use to feel really special

Until I no longer felt special

Until I just really felt uncomfortable

 

Rage came crashing in, a steam train of rage

I died, I died for a while

A white death

A black death

Anger whispered in my ear and I found my voice, I found my Black voice now I feel black special, I giggle, I smile, I dance, I pull faces, we dance. I am black and special.

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