Happy Tuesday friends, and for me, the last of - Happy New Year Fam!
I cannot believe its 2023 already, nor how long it has been since I’ve placed pen to paper about the Ocean space and her forever changing tides, but first, Im wishing you a successful and abundant 2023, may you see all your dreams come true, and for us collectively, actively seeing more diverse representation in Ocean spaces.
The blog title is from a tweet I read from Khaya Maloney. It had to be the title because we know why each December unearths new ills.
December is an interesting time in South Africa, one that sees more Black and Brown people at the beach, enjoying the sun, observing and celebrating important days in addition to various ceremonies that include the sea itself, it's an amazing time. But in South Africa, each year we will without a doubt have a racist occurrence at the beach, and it emanates from the idea of ownership, authority and access.
This December as I travelled the coastline, the question of belonging surfaced often, because when Black people aren’t in servitude in white areas, there’s physical discomfort around placing the human, especially when no one can account for said 'Black’. But what was curious was the shock from foreign visitors... reminded me a bit of Tofo, and then the wonder of why seeing a Black person surfing, diving or swimming/chilling at the pool is awkward. Read, stop and dead stare.
I'd like to talk us through 3 events, first was the Freestate event that saw 2 Black boys be attacked by several white men at a resort in the Freestate, because the pool was apparently reserved for ‘whites only’, according to the white people. The video shows a grown man hit a young boy, and another white man try to hold another little Black boy down under the water in the pool. It is infuriating to see. I raise this because what followed aside from the upset twitter world, was seeing a political party here in South Africa take action by gathering at this resort, as Black people, to remind them, that this resort is open to all and is for all South Africans, my only question, was, where were the white people? Why is this a Black upset? Where are the white voices? The white upset? And my question, are we not able to hold hands with people we hold different ideals with when moments of critical united action is needed.
On another day, I arrived at a beach where as I arrived, I saw a Black family getting into their car and head out. I walked on the beach and found a lovely spot to be with the sun and the water, and later as I headed back to my accommodation, walking alongside another family, I hear a dog barking violently, and as I look up, a wide eyed terrified child jumps on her mothers lap, the mom squeezes her child tightly, her eyes in clear terror unable to move further back on the corners of this bench they were seated on. I looked over at the family next to me, as the mother tells the daughter to go get the dog, and lazily says ‘oh it won’t hurt you, I got it from the Transkei’. Inferring that, the dog is not racist, it knows Black people, so it won’t bite you. The lady still in a panicked state releases a small smile while the dog barks.
This was deeply triggering for me. In ways we could not understand. The terror on her face, and for me, how white people so often don’t realize how much their dogs create unease around non-dog-people, I won’t even say Black people even though the endless barking is to Black people. Im at the beach enough for this to be a statement.
The fear of harm, and the lack of ability to empathise, or better yet, place their dogs on a leash in order to let everyone experience equality of peace and enjoyment at the beach. It took all the strength in me to not thunder on her and her Transkei dog.
What ate at my heart is, this was clearly the lady’s lunch break, they had come to watch the water, and they can’t even have this, in peace.
And last, making my way back up to Cape Town, I stopped again at a surfing spot I love, and the idea was to get a quick surf in before I continue on the road, and as I stopped, there were builders on lunch, a few sitting along the road, and one sitting on the bench looking out to sea. The encounter with the gent on the bench starts with flirts, I smile and as I head into the water with my surf board, I see a few more of the guys come and watch me in the water.
There’s so much in the story, first is seeing the one guy laugh endlessly as the waters hurl me and my surfboard around and cheers when I ride a wave.
The white family arriving to see me in the water, look at the the 'blue collar' workers, pause, and then come down the stairs, undress, swim and leave, and later, another man, and then another man, whether coming to check for safety, or the question of ‘who’s Black is in the water’, the Beach is small enough to know there was a question. After some time, the guy on the bench walks down the stairs, takes off his Blue working uniform, and jumps into the water in his undies and says ‘I’d like to try ride your board’ in Xhosa, I smile, take off my leash and put it on his ankle and guide him onto the water and between the waves, it was beautiful.
I journaled about it. Later his boss comes to call him to get back to work, and then hesitates, and says he can stay, again, the question again, of who is the Black.
This moment was powerful for me.
There were so many themes at play here. The space of how the Black gaze on a white body at a time could be criminal, particularly in this deeply white area. But in this moment, was a Black gaze, on a Black body in a lily white community, this becoming an invite to explore in ways new. Then an unthinkable happens, when the man walks to the beach, unrobes what would place class in the room to the side, and enters the water, proceeding, to enjoy the water… wild untamed laughs follow, as the neighbours come to swim, pause, and turn back.
... I imagine this little beach being a beautiful lunch spot between work for all... the warmest thought.
And so, Representation matters, it allows us to transverse into worlds we might have not thought to be ours, to be ours too. It allows us to bravely walk through social normatives that are contained in the kitty of the old and the fear of the 'stern' white gaze, to create and co-create, painting with all the colours. It allows us to leave the idea of 'who belongs where' and access on the shore and move towards the possibility of a new world… as he said, 'I'm from the Eastern Cape, we grew up swimming in rivers, the ocean scares me a little' as the water hurled him over and I broke into new gushes of laughs while assuring him he'd get used to her wild in time, was a new convert.
Representation allows us ease in our bodies. It allows us vulnerability, it allows us to seek in safety and hopefully find.
As we enter 2023, I have 3 hopes
That all of South Africa would be infuriated when a racist event happens, Black and white alike, because the assumption of a Black people upset, is a reminder of siding with the old, silence being agreement to what is, and as always, whiteness protecting toxic whiteness.
That dogs must be placed on leashes, at least between 07h00 and 17h30, like the one beach I went to had, it allows people the greatest access to peace and enjoyment, equality and equity of space, without one normative being THE normative. To expand our lenses, to be in empathy and awareness always.
That we may take up space. As Black people. Whether we never enter the waters, but to arrive at all Beaches, exploring beaches we have never seen or heard of, to open up google maps and even if only for the day, take up space, because there is no Beach in South Africa that is for white people only, every single perch where sand meets water, is yours too. And so between the hot days that are to follow, please walk to the water, and be with the water, even between lunch breaks.
And for me, is the hope to find new ways to release the hard of the moments when my body has to fight for existence and to be with its humanity. I have learnt that I am not a wall and so, like the moment when the white man broke my joy as he asked asked me if I’d won the lottery to be at the Beach I had just arrived at, because nothing else would make sense, in the pause was ‘his small mind had nothing to do with me’, but later was the hold of the many moments that were triggering down to KZN and back, and the importance of the continuous release, while the work to diversify this space, continues.
Happy New Year friends,