Leading While Black!

“[T]he world has more than one way of keeping you a nigger, has evolved more than one way of skinning the cat…”- James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

Civility is a register I briefly traded in while the President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the Welkom Campus of the Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT). That was until I woke up to the reality that the world problem with me and my kind was not our lack of respectability but our very existence. My insistence at proper decorum was based on the assumption that if we as student leaders behaved in a polite and reasonable manner, our voices will be heard. I in particular argued that one of the primary reasons we are not taken seriously was because of our approach to issues. This was because a few our comrades had been expelled and we decided to change our approach. However this approach was oblivious at best or ignorant at worst, to the fact that our problem in this world as blacks, is “one of complete captivity from birth to death, and coercion as the starting point of our interaction with the state and with ordinary white citizens.”(Wilderson III: ill-will-editions-2014)

Firstly, we completely missed to recognise that the terrain of civil society, which is the one the University exists in, is inherently, reflective of the logic that undergirds this society; one of racism and anti-Blackness as a precondition for its functionality. Frank Wilderson argues that “civil society is not a terrain intended for the Black subject. It is coded as waged and wages are White. [Civil society] is the terrain where hegemony is produced, contested, mapped. And the invitation to participate in hegemony’s gestures of influence is not extended to the unwaged (Blacks).”

Our youthful optimism (read naivety), misled us into thinking that serving as an SRC, was an “invitation to participate in hegemony’s gestures of influence”, which by the way was not extended to us as Black students. In addition, we got totally immersed into the “cooperative governance” discourse sold to us by the University. Thereby reckoning that we held capacity to “transform endless time into meaningful event and endless space into nameable place” something [this capacity] destroyed for the Black. This we did, in spite of the fact “the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to certain procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality.” (Foucalt, orders of discourse).

There was no way the unwaged (Blacks) with lack of essential Human capacity, operating within a controlled discourse, could achieve their objectives. This fact corroborated by Audre Lorde’s “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, became apparent when 21 student leaders were all expelled in a space of 6 months by the University. The expulsions were just a demonstration of anti-Blackness coordinated by all the guns in the world. Further reemphasising that such a precarious situation black children serving as student leaders, found themselves in was unfathomable for white kids. Fighting for access to education, demanding adequate and quality services and treatment is an indictment afflicting only black students as a result of centuries-old, systematic marginalisation and dehumanisation of black people while creating undeserved comfort and privilege for whites. No white kid is forced to study in a small campus: accommodating just over 2000 students, with a tiny library and information centre that opens only during the day, a cafeteria that is the size of a shack, no in-campus housing (residences) and no clinic facilities, simply because they happen to be born in the wrong skin and their like are condemned to perpetual misery (financially and socially) and have to settle for this. It is only reserved for the Black, who are then compelled to “revolt simply because, for many reasons, they cannot breath.” Therefore a white kid after centuries of pillage on the backs of Blacks never gets to “not breathe” and then revolt. However, for us as Black kids, revolting became our only option, for we “could no longer breathe”. Leading eventually to the only logical conclusion awaiting any black person wishing to “breathe”, something exclusively reserved for whites. The disciplinary processes we were subjected to were not impartial and served to legitimise a foregone conclusion as the Vice-Chancellor/Principal had long called us a “marauding gang” of students whose sole purpose is to promote anarchy. And this also affirmed how structurally anti-Black our society is.

Our comrades in the Bloemfontein Campus, who had pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them, were “shot with their arms raised”, reminiscent of Mike Brown, thereby expelled. The “swift” manner the University moved to silence and then destroy our lives was the same as the one the SAPS acted with, in mowing 34 mine workers in Marikana for demanding a better pay. We simply demanded better services and like Andries Tatane we were “killed” in cold blood. Despite our cries that we could not breath as Eric Garner cried, we were choked to death through our expulsions. Amongst us, there are those whose expulsion mirrors the senseless and unprovoked murder of Amadou Diallo. Guilty by resemblance, guilty by being black and student leaders; we are condemned for being born black, in a white man’s world. Our perpetual coercion is a deliberate attempt to have us scale down our demands for the impossible that is to not demand we be recognised as humans, for it will lead to end of the world. We are doomed to social and literal death as blacks and thus our only option is to fight together. It is to as Kiese Laymon recently said to me, “we have to lean on each other and fight.” Therefore, this account of our story is a way to help us lean on each other and fight, because it is our only chance in this world that despises us.

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