Over the last year I’ve been on a bit of a half-arsed campaign to review and separate my private life from my online life. Actually, the project was about making my online life and facebook, in particular, a closer reflection of my private life instead of the disturbing, age-restricted and widely accessible advertorial for why not to send your children to Rhodes that it was. I was also growing increasingly weary of being assaulted in real time with inane, ignorant and deeply prejudiced updates from hundreds of people I didn’t know, was barely acquainted with or, quite frankly, just didn’t like.
An integral part of this massive overhaul of my online presence was the facebook purge. Going down my exceedingly long “friends” list, I realised that my then approach to sending and responding to friend requests which involved asking the question “if I met you in a bar, would I like you” just wasn’t working out for me. You see, over the six years that my facebook account has been active, I had accumulated hundreds of people, many of whom I barely recognise outside of our shared pictures drinking excessively in bars, bush-diving and wreaking havoc on the streets of Grahamstown, and others with whom I had shared some truly memorable and happy times. So, in this purge, I began asking myself whether and how these people are meaningful to me in my life today despite sharing the embarrassing horror-stories we would be telling our respective children in years to come.
As I trawled through profile after profile and album after album, piecing together both my real and facebook life narratives and where my “friends” fit into it, I started to notice a disturbing pattern. A vast majority of my “friends” were white. And, for an overwhelming majority of these, I was one of a handful of Blacks in their social circles. Wait, what?
In every friends list and every photo album, I found myself playing a bittersweet game of “spot the Black.” Our mutual friends were almost always lily white. The social events were lily white. And the status updates and posts were well punctuated with whiteness. I began to turn this over and over in my mind. How was it that in a country where more than 80% of the population was Black, I found myself the sole or one of a handful of Blacks in a lily-white list, party or picture frame? How was it that in a country where more than 80% of the population was Black, my white “friends” had, if at all, so few Black meaningful friends?
It was here that I began postulating that this was, yet again, another instance of the totality of white Power. That the lily whiteness of my white “friends’” experience in Black Africa was linked to their ambivalence and, perhaps, even disdain for Blacks. That my association with a disproportionate number of whites than Blacks was, perhaps, linked to my participation and complicity in my own whitening in an industrial complex where the degree of one’s whiteness determines that of their currency. In a country where more than 80% of the population was Black, something very deliberate had to be going on to have to, time and time again, find oneself located and, even, lost in a sea of whiteness.
So I raged. Not so much because I was losing at my game of spot the Black, but because I had been playing it too long. The hegemony of whiteness and its ambivalence to Black-ness is a salient part of my life-narrative because it was my daily bread from the moment I was raced. My experience of and in whiteness was as an Other. If I wasn’t a demographic to excuse those nebulous yet acutely felt expressions of white racism in “some of my best friends are black,” it was in being made to answer for “my people” on some obscenely parochial question. Whatever the case, I was invited and admitted into whiteness because I wasn’t like “the others,” and what aspects of my identity which were could easily be ignored.
And there are also clear instances where I have not been admitted onto this Master’s table. Those moments where, despite my own whiteness, I was like “the others.” Where I was considered unreasonable for protesting to being described as “that Black guy who.” Where, actively drawing attention to the invisibility of whiteness and the oppressive function it played on my lived experience, being Black, was read as unimportant, disruptive and even hysterical. Where I grew tired of extending, time and time again, an unwanted invitation to my own everyday reality and experience. Where I refused to occupy, any longer, the roles of victim AND peace-maker for those who neither wanted nor cared to acknowledge all of who I am.
So, as I scrolled through page after page of my “friends” list, looking through one lily white profile after another, with all of this in mind I began to wonder: who am I to these people? Was I yet another “black guy” they knew from some place or other because they knew so few? And if our relationship was a more meaningful one, what was so exceptional about me and their other Black friends, all of whom they could count on one hand, that they couldn’t be friends or associated with any more of the countless Blacks they’d had opportunity to meet?
If, in a country where more than 80% of the population is Black, where it is statistically almost impossible to not have an opportunity to meet and get to know other Blacks to some degree, for one to not have meaningful Black friends that one regards beyond their whiteness is, in my own view, likely because one chooses not to. Where that choice has, ostensibly been made, until I am shown good cause not to, my own choice is to disassociate.
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