Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore”: On The Edges of History

Excerpt from Arts Equator

The sound of djembe drums filtered out into the courtyard of Centre 42 — the signal to take our seats before the production started. The stage was arranged like the hull of a slave ship with wooden beams converging to the bow, where the drummer sat, resplendent in a blue Ankara agbada and wrapper. She was solemn, her face set in an indiscernible frown as she played the rhythms of an Akan drummer, who spurred slaves to exercise their cramped and weary bodies as they traversed the Middle Passage three centuries ago. The lights dimmed and the drummer arose, removing the Ankara garments to reveal a sarong kebaya, before addressing the audience. “Hi, my name is Sharon Frese. I am standing on the edges of history.”

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Pride & Prejudice: The African Attitude

Excerpt from The African Exponent

“Why do Africans think they’re better than African Americans?”

I came across this question on one of the rare times that I ventured back into the fantastic and mildly frightening universe that is Tumblr. On the social media platform, there is a burgeoning community of black people, most of whom are African American. In general, Black Tumblr is a place of solidarity, a place of collective effervescence, where we rejoice in the success of black people and mourn the senseless loss of black lives. In moments like these, African-Americans and Africans alike are united.

However, these are times of division and derision between the two factions. This was one such a time, for the question was met with answers ranging from “NOOOO! We love you guys!” to “Stfu, you guys invented African Booty Scratcher and now you wanna play the victim?!?!” I declined to comment, knowing that getting into an internet discussion is like entering a black hole of miscommunication and unnecessary anger. Nonetheless, the question kept weighing on my mind - do we think we’re better than African Americans, and if so, why?

Africa is not a monolith, and there is no unified ‘hive mind,’ so I cannot possibly speak for all people across the continent. However, in my time growing up in various countries in Southern and East Africa, some (but certainly not all) people shared the sentiment that African-Americans were loud, low-brow people who were called ‘Laquisha’ and ‘Laquanda’ and other such faux-African names, and celebrated a quasi-African holiday called ‘Kwanzaa.’ Their actions were seen as an insult, an ignorant and odd conglomeration of vaguely African customs that made a caricature of Africans. I grew up hearing complaints and rants about African Americans from my teachers in school all the way to the women doing my hair for hours in a little corner salon. I can confidently say that their attitude towards African Americans was less than favourable.




The Pain of our Mother Tongue

Excerpt from The African Exponent

‘You know what is the biggest tragedy amongst our youth? That so many of them cannot speak their language,’ says every Southern African adult. The words may be different, but the sentiment is the same. We, the youth, are a disgrace to our ancestors. We are a product of Westernisation, an ungrateful lot who refuse to speak our mother tongue because we are too lazy to learn and because it is not deemed ‘cool’ enough for us. At least, this is what I have been told by countless adults as they sip imported beer and munch on nyama choma, all of whom prefer to psycho-analyse than to introspect.

To them, I am the perfect example of ‘ashamed African youth.’ My accent is too British, my gaze is too defiant, my wardrobe too avant-garde and most of all, I cannot properly speak Shona, the language of my father, nor can I speak Ndebele, the language of my mother.

Like many of my peers, my grasp of the spoken language is fair but it is a lack of practice, and a mix of anxiety or embarrassment that prevent me from speaking it often. This is only made worse when I do attempt to speak it and I am met with laughter and mockery. However, my inability to speak runs deeper than shyness or fear. It is a widespread and systemic problem amongst my generation.

The year before my birth, the Apartheid government was abolished in South Africa. As a friend once put it, all of us are “post-apartheid black kids.” Unlike the “’90’s kid” title that young netizens so desperately cling to, this title does not come with the shared nostalgia of an idyllic childhood, one filled with boom boxes and shoes that light up when we walk. Rather, it comes with a weight on our backs that is barely addressed and often misunderstood. 

When apartheid was abolished, South Africa did not miraculously turn into a tolerant society overnight. The institution may have dissolved but its effects are still strongly felt, even now in the so-called ‘rainbow nation.’ Worse still is the burden for non-South Africans, because the effects of segregation in Zimbabwe were just as prominent, but often over-shadowed by South Africa’s “progress.”