I have been living in Cape Town for close to two years now and in this period, I have watched Black middle-class queers, who identify as activists, gradually settle into complacency. The vigorous rioting that foamed in our mouths as fresh off the boat refugees has steadily been replaced by an indifferent undertone, which is caused by unknowingly adopting the discriminatory culture of Cape Town’s queer community as well as handpicked self-serving politics.
After probing my own inconsistencies and those of my immediate comradery, I have found five flagrant reasons why we could be sell-outs;
1. “I should check out the township queer vibe sometime.”
At least once a month, without fail, I have threatened to break the city’s structural conditioning and mission across to the other side of town to meet other queer folk. This, of course, never materializes because I am part of the beautiful Cape Town that reinforces segregation and upholds its geographic privilege by deeming any location far from Table Mountain as too far, too risky or just not that necessary to visit. This is then followed by shifting the responsibility to township queers.
2. “Actually, township-based queers should come this side.”
To reconcile my own shortfall, I have protested that Black queers in townships do not make enough effort to come to town to engage or socialize with other Black queers. This is not true! Using my own circle of friends and acquaintances as reference, more effort has been made by township-based queers to participate in Cape Town City Bowl events, activities, seminars and protests than there has been reciprocated by suburbia queers.
3. “I don’t see race at Beulah, I see women.”
Flashing strobes lights in different shades of neon is naturally bound to distort any vision. It completely makes sense how someone could see lime womanly shaped silhouettes instead of Black or non-Black women. The problem with not seeing colour is that it upholds the notion that there isn’t a stark marginalisation of Black queers in Cape Town. When occupying White spaces, for instance, and not seeing colour, the Black middle-class queer often assimilates a widespread racial indifference. She assumes a role of a vessel through which non-Blacks attempt relate to the Black queers and depending on variables such as language, politics and association, it determines whether or not she rises to the upper echelons of ‘You’re not like other Blacks’ Black.
4.”I would be honoured to attend…”
Naturally, once you become a top-tier Black queer, you’re invited to chair a few dialogues on race and gender with a panel consisting of some essayists you may revere. Resulting from that, you suddenly become an expert on most, if not all Black queer issues. However, your expert knowledge is rarely coupled with practical solutions and a genuine willingness to actively participate, by doing what really needs to be done to alleviate the problems faced by Black queers. At most, you prescribe what the queer community as a collective can do (without you), while you happily rub shoulders and share tea with academics, convincing yourself that your informed opinion contributed significantly to the overall plight of Black queers on the other side of town.
5. Privileged paternalism.
And of course, after you have fully immersed yourself in the delights of your subsequent rise in your social rank, you become the gatekeeper of all Black queers. As a gatekeeper, non-Blacks whom you perceive above you who wish to discuss Black queers must be authorised by you. You are the mouthpiece of a marginalised Black queer who would naturally never occupy a seat at a luncheon to discuss marginalised Black queers. Similarly, Black queers whom you deem below you in rank who wish to address the non-Blacks and their privileged must use you as the catalyst because you, more than anyone in the Black queer community, understand how White privilege works. At any given point, you flirt with the privileged and non-privileged, depending on what best serves your own politics at a given point in time.
Ultimately , the Black middle-class queer in Cape Town becomes a mere bridge where privilege and marginalisation meets, rarely as a conveyor to purposely advance the politics of all Black queers.