2016 is a lot of things. It is, as the Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr posts will surely let you know, a new year. It is a new page, crisp, comfortable like the first page of a new Moleskine notebook. Whatever happened last year, the world says, happened last year. It is all in the past, far behind you. The calories, the lost finances, the heartbreaks, the partial wins, the absolute losses, the anxiety—everything is in the past. What lies before you, the world says again, is the present and the future. A spanking new year for carpe-ing the shit out of every diem. Reinvention and resurrection await—all one has to do is fastidiously stick to resolutions, stay positive no matter what, squat and diet come rain, shine, hell, high water, and double cheese, thick-crust pizza. The Earth runs a lap around the sun and bygones become bygones.
The only problem, though, is that it does not work that way, does it?
The cake you ate last year is still padding your thighs; your debt has not even broken a sweat while it pummels your bank account; your hateful ex-bae is still flourishing while you try to find comfort in a duvet and an 8tracks playlist called Lullabies For Loneliness. (Oh, and do not forget the thick crust pizza coated in cancer spice and MSG.) Around the world, various economies teeter on the edge of bankruptcy; the wars rage on without any heed to the dictates of the Gregorian calendar; the polar ice caps are melting; and Donald Trump continues to bring the Earth closer to Sodomite judgment.
So…the past is still here.
And if you happen to be black it is not just last year following you around. It is the past four hundred years. Every single thing which has happened to a black person in the last three centuries—from the first boat landing, missionary baptism, discovery of gold, diamonds, and copper, to the first captured slave, violently expropriated land, underpaid migrant labourer, and the last unarmed teenager shot on the street—is going to have a tangible effect on black life every day this year. As usual, of course. This is the nature of blackness, to bear the unacknowledged traumas of history. There are no Tumblr posts for covering up the past, no Instagram memes for the buried hurts.
This year, as with all years before it, the airwaves will be saturated with news of black deaths, black bodies being misrepresented and mistreated, and, hopefully, black people bravely decrying the continuous exploitation and vandalisation of blackness. Black bodies, again, will be reduced to one narrow instance, one world view, one country-continent, one blackness. The frequency might have changed but the broadcast remains the same: it is still not safe (physically) or comfortable (mentally, emotionally, financially) to be black.
And if you, as a black person, in 2016, in this newborn year of possibility, should try to transmit a message of black pride, of hope countenanced with resilience, of solidarity, of critical analysis, confrontation, and reflection before extending forgiveness for four centuries which still determine whether a particular loan will be approved, whether your children will be accepted into a certain school, whether your friends will enter a club unheeded while you are subjected to the indignity of a body search, whether your name will be pronounced correctly or rudely shortened to something more palatable to a larynx which can pronounce Mchlachlan but not Madlangane, then you shall be shouted down by people who fear the current facade of tolerance and acceptance being chipped, cracked, and broken.
You shall be told all lives matter—which they do, equally, but we all know they are not treated as such; you will be told you are nursing past hurts; you will be told you are not reflecting the reconciliatory attitude which is necessary for nation-building. Your blackness will be dictated to you, it will be outlined and carefully shaded in, very lightly in the parts that require land, reparations, and equal economic opportunities, and boldly in the parts which offer no debate, no searching of consciences. All the parts of your blackness which can be safely consumed and assimilated into the status quo will be presented to the world, proudly. These are the parts that do not question, the parts that play along, the parts which do not require anyone to make that painful long look backwards.
Your blackness will be spelled out for you, it shall be codified, and, as the year rolls on, it will be allowed to ossify so that it becomes predictable and manageable. Scripted.
This situation is not alien. It is not fiction. It is 2016. It is here and now, it is this new year which will bring racial debates to the fore once more, where racial inequality will be denied by columnists who say “x years after democracy things are so much better” but not “y years after slavery, expropriation, and corruption came to Africa, black people are still pretty much screwed.”
This is the state of blackness in the world, a state of being defined by mourning, loss, torturous blending in; its axioms include constant justification for being, for being black, monotonous and draining explanations for your condition, your place in the world. It is a frustrating and tiring blackness, a blackness which, over the years, has given forgiveness—sometimes freely, sometimes legislatively—so wantonly its redemptive qualities can no longer be reclaimed.
Yet again, in 2016, blackness will forgive, it will turn the other cheek. It will be discharged from the hospital even before the doctor has had a chance to look at its traumas. Have a sip of water. Walk it off. Things could be worse. Forgive, forget.
Blackness, black and featureless, uniform. Forgiveness dripping off it at every turn.
It is my parents’ blackness. A blackness which, in the prevailing circumstances of the time, required quick negotiation, necessary compromises in the face of certain annihilation; a blackness which needed a temporary respite from the constant death of living. It is a blackness from a bygone time, a blackness from the past.
It is a blackness which has no place in the present; a blackness which cannot be allowed to progress.
If privileged whiteness can claim clean breaks from the crimes and prejudices of the past then my blackness, young but quite aware of the manner in which the past continues to pull strings in the present, demands a divorce from my parents’ all-consuming forgiveness.
The terms under which they forgave are not mine; their absolution is not mine. If whiteness can claim ignorance of the past then my new blackness will do the same. I shall be ignorant of compromises black people before me made in the past. I shall be Ray Charles to blanket forgiveness and crimes which whiteness would have me believe did not happen, things which almost make me ashamed of my forebears’ victim status, of my present disadvantages.
And where ignorance, born from the guilt-free status quo, rears its head it shall be met head-on with the facts of the day, with careful pointing out of instances in which the status quo continues to fatten itself from poorly earned exoneration. If blackness is diminished by the perception of ineptitude then whiteness shall equally be reduced by the number of black lives lived, stolen, broken, and barely remunerated to make whiteness possible. If blackness is shamed for lacking achievement or innovation then I shall point out that the black man’s greatest invention is white privilege, a construct made from exploitation and alienation, built by black hands from top to bottom, maintained even today by the good graces and timid fumbling of modern-day blackness. Where ignorance of colonialism, slavery, or Apartheid is displayed, I shall also show my ignorance of reconciliation.
Ignorance shall meet ignorance. Bliss is guaranteed.
If history will not be recorded, its roots traced to its current blooms, if past black forgiveness cannot be earned through constantly addressing past crimes in an open and honest manner, if its sacrifices, the laying down of arms and lives, the acceptance of diminished lives in the past in exchange for better lives in the future cannot be adequately appreciated by its recipients then it needs to be revoked. The predictability of black forgiveness, of quiet dignity in the face of ongoing economic exploitation, of silence in the face of institutionalised racism needs to be scrapped.
A new chapter needs to be rewritten. It is time for the unscripted blackness.
The kind which will not let a racial slur slide; the kind which will not accept generalisations about black life, ignoring the nuances of cultures and creeds; the kind of black which will not be calmed in public by awkward stares and hasty apologies for overt and covert racist remarks. The kind of blackness which will not spoon feed wilful ignorance. The kind of blackness which only deals with the artefacts of history—the poverty, the inequality—not the kind of black which entertains notions of fictional racial fraternity. The kind of blackness which is free to listen to any music, read any book, walk to any place, and love anyone without apologising, without justification.
The kind of blackness my parents wish they could have been, the kind of unapologetic, unabashed, unashamed blackness which cannot be scripted or predicted. The kind which cultivates an uncompromising history of past crimes, one that notes and bears witness to the shoddy, unfulfilled promises of the present.
Sorry, guys. The store has just run out of this product. You will just have to sip on cold reality for a while. It might be hard going for a while but its long-term benefits are so much better.
The forgiveness of past blackness has given current whiteness a hall pass with too many privileges. It was a forgiveness which required no purgatorial scourging, no acknowledgement of the travesties committed for centuries against a race of people; a forgiveness which is spat back in the face of the forgivers on a daily basis whenever racist remarks are defended under the free speech banner.
I cannot buy into this blackness which can be walked over at every juncture. This blackness which must not be offended when it is called nigger, kafir, and monkey. This blackness which must wait in perpetuity for equality, which must constantly balance on a tightrope made of forgiveness and forced memory loss is not for me. This blackness which is formulaic in its reception, suffocating in its coerciveness is not for me.
I reject it. I deny it. I do not know it. The cock has crowed.
I claim, instead, another blackness. A more honest one. If the sins of the father will not follow the son, or be acknowledged by the son, then neither will the forgiveness. I choose an unapologetic, confrontational blackness which will not buy into the lie of newness and wholeness.
It is 2016 and I think I should put away my parents’ blackness and take up my own.