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The Dark Continent: Africa, Language, and Baboons

“Africa is a metaphysical testing ground in which Europeans used to get to know itself.” I have only been in South Africa for two days, and through my experiences and classes that I have taken I see the history of a beautiful country twisted into the realms of imperialistic patterns. As a Black American on a continent that some part of my lineage derives from, I find that it is impossible for me to live here without both bearing and feeling the weight of colonization that is on the shoulders of the millions of people who were born here, raised here, and call this magnificent land, “home.” This reality is just as true (if not more true) as the idea of me living in America and not being able to forget the backlashes and consequences that slavery has brought to our country. Only I find the consequences to be worse here. The backlash of not only colonization, but of an apartheid that ended less than two decades ago, a period that is within my lifetime.

Perception, perhaps, is half the battle of defeating ignorance at times. And being here only a few days leads me to find the many judgmental dichotomies forced into our “outsider” understandings of Africa. Separations come to mind that force the civil to be separate from the savage, savior separate from the victim, actor separate from the subject, and light (right) separate from dark (wrong). Negative views of this continent are embedded into the perception of Africa and it has continued to be labeled the Dark Continent even after centuries of overcoming all the obstacles thrown their way.

Through this blogging series of my experiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, I hope to take ownership over a term that many have deemed physically, psychologically, and sociologically bad, and inverse it, as I hold a mirror up to my skin color. “Dark.” I refuse to imagine an Africa that is stuck in the negative stereotypes of those countries who pass their stereotypes onto a continent that is as diverse in politics, wealth, and culture as any other place in the world. In this sense “light” gets push to the peripheral of my focus, and The “Dark” Continent is pushed into the core of my interest.

Today someone walked up to me and spoke to me in a language called xhosa, when I didn’t answer he looked at me with a confused look on his face. My only response: “I’m from the states.” He switched to English and said in a surprised tone, ”But you look like me.” He was correct, we were the exact same skin tone, and out facial features were not much different either. Aesthetically we were similar, and it is on occasions like this that forces to me not forget the moments where two Black and in this case “Dark” histories collide. Where two subjects turn into actors, where savage becomes civil. Where stereotypes are broken and we come together to understand why I don’t speak any language that derives from Africa, and why he is surprised about this reality.

Race in South Africa is very complex and very different from the structure that I am familiar with. I do not find it common to be the “Dark” majority in a country. I look forward to the remainder of my time here, and lets just hope that I don’t encounter any baboons, literally, my teacher told me a story of him being mauled by one. They walked around the city like squirrels. (For more on the concepts of the dark continent, read here)