Identity

On 16 February at the dialogue at Martin’s house, we had a diverse group of participants with the majority being men. After listening to and engaging with a talk about the Gospel and Blackness, the topic chosen was an “Appropriate sense of my own identity within my culture”.

During the dialogue it was apparent that our primary identifyer seems to be gender. It emerged that there is a lot of confusion around gender roles, dealing with stereotypes, how to adapt our roles so that it works within a partnership and our economic setting, how to still be accepted within our larger culture and not be othered as we experiment with our roles.

There were so many profound statements made – perhaps you will identify with one of the following …

  • With the changes in technology and male-female roles there have been seismic shifts in our identity. We are trying to figure these things out. 50 years ago the idea of a man staying at home with the kids was not accepted in any culture. Now we have to adapt, but there is a lot of fear of the unknown. Why should I let go of what I know even if it is bad? I don’t think we should be pulling each other down but empower women upwards. We do not want to perpetuate the system of alternating the person that is on top, but we want to create a new system.
  • I am beyond frustrated – they bunched us up here together, the angry black girls, and that is what happens in the world. Just put them there – I feel othered.

  • I feel like this is my reality, I speak out, I do things and I am mocked and ridiculed. I am not frustrated, sad, angry, I am a mad black woman. This is the frustration we live through in patriarchal society if we are female and single. When you go against the norm, you are an angry black woman, whether or not you actually are. If you push back, you are part of that group.
  • Patriarchy is born out of a sense of not knowing your own identity and  assuming that your male gender is superior. The identity of everyone lies in being a human saved by grace. That is your starting point. Everyone is treated equally. People quote the “wives submit to your husbands” verse but they take it out of context. In the Christian society it is actually the husband’s role to elevate his wife, not to put her down.
  • In African culture we have also elevated boy children above girl children and have a practice of taking another wife because it is believed that it is not possible for a specific wife to have boy children. Despite the fact that it is biologically the father who determines the gender of the child. The frightening thing is that this has been taken up by women in African culture – it is the gogos who encourage their sons to take another wife to give them male grandchildren. And this is rooted in our poor sense of identity and self-worth.
  • Representing no voice as an expression of fear was very frustrating.
  • As a black guy this issue of identity is hard. I started off in a mixed primary school and then I went to a township school and I found it really hard to find myself. I wanted to play uno and the games I had been exposed to at my previous school, and sing the songs I knew. Everything was different in the township school. “You’re not black enough. You’re a coconut!” I want to be myself. I have to switch off the coconut and tone it down … it is still an issue. I have to elevate my blackness.
  • I have a different story. I came from Limpopo and when I got here I did not speak a word of English. In school they are telling me I must speak more English and then I go home and the kids say I must speak Tswana, and they are laughing at me. It’s something culturally expected.
  • Fear is a painful emotion.
  • I refuse to be close to fear. I saw that in my mind I expressed the words of fear but I could not get too close to it, to be sucked into it.
  • Ignorance was in the middle of these strong emotions anger and fear but largely oblivious to it all.
  • I think we don’t have an identity – black men don’t know who they are, white men don’t know who they are, women don’t know either.
  • Because we don’t know, we can decide for ourselves. That is the good news of what we are experiencing.
  • The problem is that while we are finding our new identities, media is still perpetuating the old norms in terms of gender roles and sexuality. If it’s confusing for me, what is it like for little children.

We were given a lot of food for thought …

Join us at a dialogue and be part of a conversation that leads to greater understanding of each other! The next dialogue is on 16 March in Randburg … see the calendar for more details.

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