I have been pondering in my mind for a while now concepts that we have hold as a nation both young and old about beauty and heritage that we aspire to in various ways. To be quite honest, I’m asking myself what I consider beautiful and what informs my consumption patterns from this premise. I have observed through various interactions and conversations, that there is a trend towards a sense of belonging and self worth that is increasingly being defined by external stimuli, at all levels of society. This may not necessarily be new but it’s definitely gaining momentum.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m finding it difficult to find resonance today in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s slogan that “Black is Beautiful” as an affirmation to the natural beauty of people of colour. Today sporting a fro, comfort with ones curves and spunk are almost gimmics or expressions of difference. Despite this, there is little tolerance for individuality or perhaps to be more accurate we perceive that the world is intolerant of our individuality and so we aspire to be like everyone else but who we are.
Granted the media informs us in so many ways about what “perceived realities” there are and one can’t escape the momentum with which our world is becoming a global village. At some stage this impacts on us all in the news we consume, through travel, our access to and creation of knowledge to name a few. Yet at the same time, I don’t see the value in being a global citizen or a global participant at the cost of sense of self.
I don’t think the notion of “sense of self” is a shallow concept that is embedded in contemporary culture and inputs either. But somewhere in the middle is an identity that is formed by contemporary values but also informed by a heritage. Somehow through the choices about the images we allow inform us about who we are (whether through the overt or covert suggestion) we place our rights to determine what represents us, our values and what we believe to be beautiful in abeyance. Surely beauty is in the eyes of the beholder but from where I am standing, a weave is the current standard and a natty dread or krullerige hare (curly hair) is not that. So do we all see with the same eye or is there a deeper issue of how we chose to represent ourselves to the world?
However, does participation in post modernity imply capitulation of concepts and totems that our forebears used to bring to bear the generations of today? This is at the heart of my quest to understand about what it means to be a global citizen, a South Afrikan…and how that impacts on our understanding of self and ultimately ability to formulate ideas around what we believe beauty to be in a sense that is not escapist. I do believe one’s identity/ identities inform this and it’s probably also true to say that these identities are not always congruent and can at times seem contradictory. On the one hand there is a need to be “with it”, “hot”, “rocking” and very much a part of the local vibe which implies that one has the right look, the right guy or babe, the right car, the right destination with the right people and so it goes. It is a very externally defined, material model on which we structure our lives in general. And the other hand we claim our Afrikan space quite vociferously and correctly so and I am not sure if this is “schizo” or hypocritical or if in fact it just is a product of the time because this is an interesting phenomenon.Gone are the days of an isolated and static way of being, indeed we all have to move with time, regardless of how remote an existence we may have eked out for ourselves. The masai, the Nenets of Russia, the Surma people of Ethiopia, the indigenous people of Australia and of the rainforests in South America will all bear testimony that they have been forced to changes their old ways of life to adapt to the depletion and pollution of their natural habitats due to the pressures of industrialized, “developed” life. So no, no one can escape fully the consequences of post modern life and to a certain extents one should not desire to be reclusive.
If we look at rural realities, these are the places that one would expect to be the reservoirs of ideas that mould our concepts of our Afrikan humanity and yet this is not completely the case. The desire to be a part of mainstream, public, social life is a pervasive one to the extent that rural Afrikan communities are no longer necessarily the caretakers of the life and values that one might believe ubuntu would inculcate and incarnate. I suppose it is a complex matter and at the heart of it is a sense of erosion and a disorganized attempt to restore what ravages were left behind by Apartheid and centuries long disaffirmations of blackness.