“The more Western you are in Africa, the more successful you appear.”
Now aint that the truth! I alluded to this in my very first post and it still rings so true. My heart has been extremely sore thinking about all this lately. I see how as Africans, we have been made to doubt what it is we have to offer, constantly being made to feel secondary to Western ideals that we ourselves ingest way too quickly for our own good.
This has had me thinking about my own identity. What does it mean to be a half Shona-half Ndebele, black Zimbabwean raised in South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe; having been schooled in the aforementioned countries; and travelled to a number of countries across the African, European and North American continents? How do you define that? Should you define it?
I have had several conversations with a good South African friend of mine about this ‘identity crisis’ I find myself in. She then recommended that I read ‘Nervous Conditions‘ by Tsitsi Dangarembga – a book she had read as part of her school curriculum. A book that never formed part of my Zimbabwean school curriculum. Allow me a moment to digress and highlight the important role education has to play – needs to play – in order for one to gain a good understanding one’s culture and identity.
I went to what I believe was one of the best high schools in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has an incredible education system and we are ranked as the most literate nation in Africa. The problem with private schooling there, however, is our history lessons had nothing to do with our history. We learnt, in intricate detail, about the Nazi regime, the French and American revolutions,the Cold War etc. Intriguing stuff. Stuff that gave me no insight into my ancestors.
I remember one day being on a road trip with my family passing through Chinhoyi and my parents asking if we had learnt about Zimbabwe’s history at school. None of my siblings had. My parents were not impressed. Looking back, I think it a great shame. This is just another factor that has affected our view of ourselves as Africans. Constantly seeking information from abroad and barely knowing or being concerned with what is going on at home.
Reading Nervous Conditions made me realise that mine was a struggle that others faced too. Being raised in a modern society as a black, Zimbabwean woman whose family acknowledges – to a large extent – cultural issues, I found myself stuck in a dichotomy. On the one end, I was gravitating towards all things to do with Western pop culture. On the other end, I did not want to betray my culture. Then begs the question: what is culture?
Does culture stay the same? Is it stagnant or dynamic? Does culture evolve into something new? Are we truly evolving or are we merely neglecting our cultural teachings and behaviours? The questions rang on and on in my head and continue to beg for answers.
This past weekend I found myself at a ladies meeting where I posed this question. From my interactions with these YAWM ladies it became apparent that I need not torture myself with this. The thing is, we are sum-totals of our experiences and so our tastes, desires, opinions and thoughts are shaped by this. Yes, it is important to school ourselves about our culture, know where we have come from and what it has entailed to get us here. But, we cannot berate ourselves for not being what we think we ought to be – for the friends we make, our tastes and overall outlook on life. We need to respect our past and how it has shaped us into who we are for there is a reason for all we are.
So at the end of the day, I am a sum-total of all I have seen, heard and experienced. As I seek to constantly learn more, I need to also embrace who I am for what I am. Therein lies my identity.