Why I call myself a ‘coconut’ to claim my place in post-apartheid South Africa

Panashe Chigumadzi in The Guardian:

Towards the end of 1997, the year before I turned seven and went to big school, I asked: “Mama, at big school next year, can they call me Gloria?” Gloria is my second name. My mother looked at me, a little confused, and simply said, “No. Your name is Panashe, so they will call you that.” Without the words to explain why I preferred Gloria, I went along with the name that had been so badly mangled in the mouths of my white teachers at my predominantly white pre-school – everything from Pinashe, Panache to Spinasie.

At the age of six I had already begun the dance that many black people in South Africa know too well, with our names just one of the many important sites of struggle as we manoeuvre in spaces that do not truly accommodate our blackness. I had already taken my first steps on the road to becoming a fully-fledged coconut, that particular category of “born free” black youth hailed as torchbearers for Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation” after the fall of apartheid; the same category of black youth that are now part of the forefront of new student movements calling for statues of coloniser Cecil John Rhodes to fall, and for the decolonisation of the post-apartheid socio-economic order.

We all know what a coconut is, don’t we? It’s a person who is “black on the outside” but “white on the inside”. This term came into popular South African usage in apartheid’s dying days as black children entered formerly white schools. At best, coconuts can be seen as “non-white”. At worst, they’re “Uncle Toms” or “agents of whiteness”. I’ve chosen to appropriate the term and self-identify as a coconut because I believe it offers an opportunity for refusal. It’s an act of problematising myself – and others – within the landscape of South Africa as part of the black middle class that is supposed to be the buffer against more “radical elements”.

More here. (Note: At least one post throughout the month of February will be devoted to Black History Month. The theme for 2022 is Black Health and Wellness)