From the beginning of time the black woman has always had to endure more pain than any other socio-grouping. Pain that is both psychologically and physically manifested. In the socio-hierarchical structure of the world, men are placed above women and white people are placed above black people. With the intertwining of race and gender, the white man is placed above the white woman, whom is in turn placed above the black man leaving the black woman at the very bottom of the hierarchical structure.
The truth is that the black girls’ journey in a place like Stellenbosch is a very difficult and sometimes lonesome path to walk. All I am trying to do is shed light on an issue that is unknown to many yet experienced by many. Feel free to love, hate, like or dislike my narrative. However, I implore you to read it and to do so with the intention to understand. To the black girl specifically, I hope this can be a space (although temporary) that shows you, you are not alone in your journey.
The first lesson you need to learn as a black girl in Stellenbosch, is that you need to adapt.
Stellenbosch is a place full of surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant.
No matter how tough you think you are, you will need to shed that skin and give room for the re-birth of a new skin. A skin with a resilience that needs to be custom made to suit the environment of Stellenbosch. You need to be able to strip yourself bare and allow yourself to absorb the initial shock that comes with a change in environment. Then you need to let yourself absorb the shock that comes with being a black person at Stellenbosch. Finally, you need to let yourself absorb the shock that as a black girl in Stellenbosch, your playing field is about to become even more distorted, than it already is in our general society.
By allowing yourself to experience the initial series of shocks that this place has to offer, you begin to train your skin to toughen up, so that you will be prepared for anything this place throws your way. All the shock you absorb will eventually be released in the form of resilient and courageous character traits, the two things that are key to surviving Stellenbosch as a black girl.
I certainly had to learn to strip myself bare. It did not come easy for me because I thought that I was prepared to handle anything Stellenbosch brought my way, whether it be racism, classism or patronizing attitudes. I thought that because I had experienced white culture in high school that I could handle the dominant Afrikaans culture of Stellenbosch. Perhaps that was my greatest mistake, the fact that I was using the skills I had learned in one environment to survive in another environment.
Look at it from this perspective, even though all winters are universally characterized as cold, different regions abide by different measures to survive their respective winters. You can’t expect the jacket you wear in Cape Town’s 15 degrees’ Celsius winter to protect you in New York’s 4 degrees’ Celsius winter.
Likewise, just because I had experienced racism in one manner, did not mean that I could withstand the racism at Stellenbosch. A racism that took on a new persona that I had never seen before. One that was not subtle but instead one that was extremely vocal. A racism that was not done behind closed doors but one that was publicly condoned. I never thought, that I could be surprised by racism. I thought that I had experienced it all. Sorority racism, institutionalized racism, racism disguised as sexual preference, classist racism, and even the “I have one black friend so I’m not racist” racism. But boy was I wrong.
Even though, you will encounter people that will be able to send judgement with just a stare, or people that will look down on you for the mere colour of your skin or your gender. These are not the only type of people present on campus.
University is a place where people find themselves or at least embark on a journey to do so, with that being said you will meet people from all walks of life. People that will bring humour to your soul, people that can smile with their eyes, people that are passionate about the environment (these are the ones that offer you a carrot on the Rooiplein with the hopes of converting you to veganism aka me), people with bleeding hearts, people that make every week fashion week (and the people that rock up to class in their pjs), you will meet people that defy the odds, people that are crazy enough to wake up at 5:30am just to hit the gym or go for a jog (and the ones that have never been to the gym but still wear gym clothes to lectures), people whose only vocabulary consist of words like “bruh”, “okes’ and “check you later”, people that have downloaded all the lecture slides for the next three years (and the ones that miss tutorials to keep up with the Kardashians), people that spend their life savings at MyBrew (and the ones that are still looking for the Neelsie), people that speak at the top of their voices in the library (and the ones that practically live there during exam time), people that attend every Varsity Cup game (and the ones that still don’t know what Varsity Cup entails but still attend the games for the lit Instagram stories aka me), people that are in love (and the ones that didn’t know boys existed till they came to uni aka me again).
The environment of Stellenbosch in its literal sense is breath-taking (to put it lightly). The way the uniformed trees on Victoria Street captivate autumn with their auburn leaves. The way those very same trees in the summer time become the protection we need from the harsh sun. Even the town itself has the magical power of transforming from a sleeping beauty during holiday times to a vibrant and sensual atmosphere during the semesters.
However, I wish somebody had told me that this place was full of endless surprises. Surprises that I was not equipped to handle with the armour that I still wore from my previous battles. After all the very nature of a surprise lies in its ability of successfully taking one unaware. However, your ability to respond from the initial shock of a surprise is what will guarantee the extent to which you can conquer the environment you have been willingly or unwilling placed in.
There is an Igbo saying in my country: Nwaanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka were suru ofe. Loosely translated the phrase means that one should learn to change tactics to suit a situation. Stellenbosch is a place like no other for the black girl, a place that can only be survived by measures acquired in that environment. Adaptation is the key to survival at Stellenbosch. One must adapt to this environment, but not with the intention to assimilate into the culture but with the intention to gain the skills necessary to withstand whatever this environment throws your way.
Surviving Stellenbosch: A black girl’s guide Tamunodein is a second year student at SU, studying a BA in International Studies. Her passion is transforming words to experiences and her blog, Surviving Stellies: A black girl’s guide, is her first step towards actualizing this passion.
Read more: survivingstellenbosch.wordpress.com
Photo: Ezile Mkhosi