South African friends

Over the years, there is one observation I’ve made about black people in various social situations. Amongst fellow black people, we don’t feel the need to explain ourselves; we just ‘get’ each other, even if we’re from different cultural backgrounds. When you’re a black person amongst white people though, there seem to be a million bajillion things you have to explain about yourself and your life.

South African friends
South African friends. (This pic does not include the author.)

And most of the time, black people don’t bother explaining because it’s too much of an effort.

In the interests of promoting social understanding and togetherness, here’s a list of things that white people need to know about black people. Very importantly, not all black people are the same, so not all of these will apply equally.

Lovely friends, here are 16 things that black people need to explain to their white friends:

1. ‘Bring and share’ parties are a white people thing.

If you’re going to organise a party then you should cater for it – it’s a basic principle of hospitality. The idea that I must cater for a party that you are hosting is completely foreign to me. Alas, because it’s your party, I will go with the flow and bring a pack of Doritos, the ones in a blue packet.

2. Underwear must be washed by hand, every day.

When you walk into my bathroom you will almost definitely find a few lacy numbers hanging on the rail. Don’t be alarmed. I was taught to wash my undies straight after a bath, you were taught to throw them in your laundry basket (it’s gross but I still love you).

3. Closed guest lists don’t mean a thang to us; if I hear about it, I’m there!

Birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries and funerals are free for all. Relatives, friends, enemies, neighbours, people passing by are all welcome! It’s not weird at all when there are random strangers appearing in our wedding videos; it is part of the territory. A closed guest list is a sure way to offend a black person.

4. The words “gap year” don’t exist in our vocabulary.

There is no scenario where the words “gap year” can feature positively in a conversation between a black person and their mother, father or relatives. Telling your parents that you’re doing a gap year is telling them that you want to be unemployed for the rest of your life, period.

5. Hair is a political issue.

White friend, I know you’ve never had to debate the question of natural hair versus relaxed hair with your white friends. You probably didn’t know the difference. The hair debate isn’t just a silly thing to us, it’s a serious issue. Just Google ‘black hair blogs’ and watch Good Hair.

6. Don’t look surprised, disappointed or whisper behind your hand when black people pile their plates high.

Piling your plate high at an event is not gluttony; it’s wholly appropriate if the food is in abundance. We’re not being rude, we’re just being ourselves. Also, don’t laugh when we talk about taking leftovers home for breakfast tomorrow, we’re being serious.

7. Black people don’t do cats.

Don’t ask them why because they’ll look at you cross-eyed. We’re okay with you having pet cats but please, please do not expect us to cuddle, kiss or love them. In fact, black people don’t really do pets at all – dogs belong outside and are there as a matter of necessity; there’s no love lost between me and Spotty.

8. Witchcraft is a big deal.

This is linked to the fact that black people don’t do cats. Witchcraft is real. As real as the fact that when a black woman is pregnant she doesn’t announce it, and everyone around her knows not to ask when she’s due. It’s linked to the fear that she will be bewitched if she reveals that kind of information.

9. Looking at someone in the eye is rude.

If I don’t look you in the eye, it’s because I’m showing you respect, not disrespect. Essentially, it’s the opposite of what you think. The younger generation of black folk don’t adhere to this rule much but older people think this is very important.

10. Black people can’t understand you any better when you talk in baby talk/ Chilapalapa.

‘Chilapalapa’ is when white people speak an adulterated version of an African vernacular language. Baby talk is when you speak sl—ow–er and in a higher voice when you’re speaking to a black person that you think doesn’t have a full command of English. Condescending much.

11. Mimicry of ‘black accents’ is only funny when black people do it.

Just don’t.

12. The wages of disrespecting parents is death.

Relating to black parents is a delicate dance and every black child knows what lines not to cross. You never stand when you’re talking to your parents, you lower yourself. You don’t walk away from them, you wait to be dismissed. You don’t enter into a shouting match if you value your life.

13. When you visit our house you can’t sleep on my parents’ bed.

In fact, the whole bedroom is out of bounds.

14. It’s not okay to show up anywhere barefooted.

This includes church services, the supermarket, a job interview or my birthday party. Bare feet are only okay in the shower or when you’re swimming. No one wants to see your toes, even if they’re pretty or you have cute nail polish on.

15. My parents don’t know that I have a boyfriend and I intend on keeping it that way forever.

Zola Ndlovu
Author of this article – Zola Ndlovu

Black parents don’t have a relational category called ‘boyfriend’. If he’s not someone who’s ready to pay lobola then he doesn’t exist. They’re not interested in a Facebook relationship status that doesn’t involve a legally binding contract.

16. I’m an only child but I have many siblings.

Also, I have many mothers and fathers. What you call first, second and third cousins are just brothers and sisters to me. What you call extended family is just my family.

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