A few days ago I was stopped at a police roadblock on my way home. While the officer was writing my ticket, he commented,
‘Ah sisi munogona kunosa.’ (not a nice way of saying you speak Shona with an accent)
Then he proceeded to try and get my phone number.
I have never been black enough. When I was very young my family conducted a roora ceremony for my aunt and we all moved kumusha for a week. Not having any other girls my age to play with, and having been shooed away from the cooking fire whenever the older women wanted to talk about men too many times to keep trying, I spent much of my time indoors reading. One day my older cousin recited Roses are red, violets are blue, you brother and me are black, but what are you?’
It was over twenty years ago, and I was half way through primary school at the time, but it was cruel.
I’ve never really liked that cousin since then.
When I first returned from the Diaspora, relatives would ask my mother if I still spoke Shona and observed our traditions. The implication being that I was no longer one of them.
‘Handiye apfugama achimuoberayi zakanaka?’ (Isn’t she the one who knelt and greeted you properly?) My mother would reply.
Later, I dated a man whose mother objected to our relationship because I was too privileged to be a ‘good African woman’. Her assumption was that because I had grown up kuma ‘dale-dale’, had attended private school, and lived outside Zimbabwe briefly, I was too ‘sala’ to qualify as such. Once in a heated conversation she asked him
‘Kamusalad kako kanombogona kubika sadza here?’ (Does your salad girlfriend even know how to cook sadza?)
I am not alone, there a few born-frees out there who grew up much the same way I did. Criticisms of the born-free generation are not all equal. For those who grew up in the middle class, and are perceived to have been granted access to privilege and lost their culture and language in the process, it holds a particular disdain. There are times when we are faced with the difficult choice of either embracing our otherness, or apologizing for the way we were raised.
I don’t believe in apologizing for the way my parents raised me. Especially to anyone who’s view of tradition, culture and history is narrowly defined in terms of where in Harare I grew up, how I speak Shona, and whether I cook or eat sadza. There is more to us than that, and it’s a shame that those who are loudest in defining our cultural identity believe that those things constitute the totality of who we are. I think that is a very simple minded reduction of a complex culture, and a language that is steeped in a rich history. What I, and others like me, are judged for is not our acculturation, but rather that person’s lack of access to privilege.