Monday, April 12, 2010

"White Fatigue"

I found myself sitting on a bus somewhere in downtown Portland, Oregon, lost in thoughts prompted by student exchanges in one of my race/racism classes.

It was raining as usual and the end of the day had folks getting on and off the bus frequently.

The faces around me were pleasant enough and some folks even greeted before taking a seat next to or across from me.

I felt neither lost nor found among the many white faces just going on about their business.

But being neither lost nor found is an indifferent place. And indifference can lead to irritability, even contempt, at times.

It was somewhere at this point that I remembered a past girlfriend diagnosing my bouts of irritable indifference as "white fatigue".

"Listen to me," she said insistently over a cold hefeweizen on Grant Avenue, "I have to leave Portland because like you I suffer from "acute and returning bouts of white fatigue."

"Leave for where," I asked. "Home of course," she answered. "You should come too."

I smiled knowingly as she continued to make her case.

But what brings on "white fatigue" you may wonder, or not?

Well like she explained to me on another bus ride home to the hills of Sylvan it is the constant space of being out of place.

That place where you are forced to explain your being in both active and unconscious gestures.

I grew tired of explaining my identity to the point where I just added more layers of borrowed identity.

On some days questions about my whereabouts from interested and disinterested white folk led to creative explanations of genetic treks through Nepal and Tibet, also Greece and Timbuktu.

I was disassociating my reality. Perhaps. Or trying to be humorous.

But I also remember just being pissed about the too often vacant insistence that my borrowed blackness is displaced because real Africans are black.

"How can you be black? You don't look black. Africans are black."

If "white fatigue" was just a way of saying that it was hard to be visibly different in a sea of sameness then there is at least one merit to the concept.

Though one is never too far away from whiteness in a race-based republic like South Africa it has been a while since I called in sick due to "white fatigue".

This past weekend though started early on Friday for me and my diagnosis looks and feels like the "white fatigue" of Portland days except for one very important distinction.

The reason I locked myself away from the world outside had nothing to do with white people on the bus or at News Cafe. It even had less to do with that murdered fool TerreBlanche and the AWB fallout.

This time around I am afraid to say that my diagnosis of "white fatigue" is instead very much one of "black fatigue".

Yeah broer, sorry to say so but I have a case of 'acute black fatigue' and it is of the returning kind brought on by being lost and indifferent in the land of my birth.

I am tired of 'splaining stuff:
No I am not from India. I was born here and no I do not own a spice shop.

My mother is Malay by way of 200 more years of presence here in the soil that blackened my politics.

Yes I know a Malay face looks just like an Indian face to you.

No I do not know why all Indians are not Muslim and why Osama is blowing up stuff all over the world.

Osama is an Indian I do not understand. Just like you.

No my mother does not think it odd that her aging son is not married and no I did not meet a nice Muslim girl on my last trip home.

In fact, I met other real African idiots who know a lot about white people but sh*t about themselves and the folks who look like me. Just like you.

Yes I do take offense at the "you Indians cheat us blacks" victimization you want to use as a stick to beat my ass.

No I am not racist when I say that I f*cking hate soccer and everything related to the World Cup and Bafana Bafana team jerseys on fat out of shape asses included.

And yes I am looking to f*cking escape. I am going to cross over that race-conscious border to the north of my insanity and declare to all that for once I expect that those white folks in Portland were right.

Geezuz, my brown skin does contextualize my displacement. Just like Osama.

And hell no I don't cook curry and rice over my place everyday.

Take me to another place ... and no not Tennessee. Been there and it is tiring too.



Dade said...

Heart-felt and thoughtful post. Takes courage to write like this. Great job.

And, as usual, you've got me scratching my chin and thinking...

Ridwan said...

Thanks kindly Dade. I worried a little about the post.

But reading it this morning I am not so worried.


Be well brother!


Mixed Race in Africa said...

I have had to explain my race to many people.I have had to explain why i dont speak Afrikaans or why i dont live in a so-called "coloured" community or why i speak with a "white accent" when i look coloured.

When i was 12yrs, i once cried to my dad and begged him to define me so that i would know what to say to people. He simply told me, "You are Sara" and that i should tell whoever demands an explaination of my race from me that I am Sara and thats where it ends. That answer frustrated me even more because i so badly wanted to belong.

Do you know what was the most irritating and frequent question i have ever been asked?..."How does it feel to have a white father?" answer?...."I dont know, you first tell me how it feels to have a black father then i will tell you how it feels to have a white father."

Im now 26yrs and you know what?Ive have grown up and have stopped defining my race to people. You seem very burdened by it Ridwan.For how long will you define yourself to people? Just have fun with people!Thats how i cope with it now. If im asked am i coloured, i reply by asking them, "What do you think?Am i coloured"?I just smile and walk off...

Last night i had a painful and frustrating debate with a zulu man who had accused me of pushing apartheid ideologies by starting a certain business. Yes yes, once again im accused of being an "Afrikaaner lover"(whats new!)...and at the end of the debate i was so depressed about life in SA and about who i am. Now i think, why did i allow him to depress me so much?Now i have started a blog of my own just so that i can express my thoughts and get things off my chest.

You are Malay and Indian...Have fun with it!See it as a blessing!

Ridwan said...

Thanks for weighing in Mixed Race In Africa.

I know some of what you are referring to and I am struck by your stated experience last night.

I would disagree that I am burdened by race or my race but see how that may come through in this sarcastic post.

My being I define as political but find it hard here and elsewhere to keep explaining it in racial terms.

Even when the ruling party presses a non-racial reality, South Africans, in particular are obsessed with sustaining racial stereotypes.

Still, I hear you on not letting it get to me.


pserean said...

lol. im sorry. i truly empathise. sympathise. all the ises.
i think i suffer more from foreigner fatigue (me against the rest of the world...:)
i once found myself explaining to a japanese hairstylist that i was from africa.
she looked at me quietly for a bit..and then...picking up my hair. said-
waah. how come its not THAT curly!?


(heres the funny bit.she kept insisting that i was arab...and after finally getting my geneo chart.. sighed and said to me-
yah. it happens to me all the time. lossa arabs come here, start talking to me in arabic and thinking im arab too.)

Ridwan said...

Now how would an Arab mistake a Japanese hairstylist for ummmm being Arab?

Weird world we live in hey.

I remember a Taiwanese guy I met playing day-long table tennis at a university in Indiana.

He had the uncontrollable giggles every time a black man stopped by.

"You funny," he would say pointing at the person.

"You remind me of Eddy Murphy," would come out of his mouth even if the person looked nothing like Murphy.

Come to think of it my African-American colleague had to fend off comments by folks in Cape Town who claimed he looked just like Will Smith.

He did not.

I guess I should get hip and understand that when white folks in South Africa associate my being with curry and roti they are just being textual in a postmodern sort of way ... or not.

Thanks for you comment.