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Image via TONL.

The Curious But Violent Case of the Coconut

Dear, fellow Africans, please remove the word "coconut" from your vocabulary, unless you're referring to the actual nut.

Having to take a minibus taxi in Johannesburg is always a daunting task. In a country where there are eleven official languages, Zulu taxi drivers in Jo'burg seem to expect everyone to speak Zulu. This, to them, is a mark of being true black South Africans. Now imagine me, rocking one of my many funky hairstyles, glasses and quirky sense of style, asking one of the drivers where a particular taxi is going. I have had them look at me from head-to-toe with disdain, click their tongues in disgust and some ignore me altogether. I kid you not. And what I have come to know is that to many people, I am read as trying to look and sound like something I am not—a white person. Worse still, many have told me mockingly that I consider myself better than them; this private school, English-speaking, strangely-dressed coconut. For the longest time, it's stung.

Growing up, I was the black kid that that was always ostracized because I was markedly different. I listened to Coldplay, Imagine Dragons and classical opera (I was doing the most I know) and spoke with English with an accent. I ate pap with a fork instead of using my hands and always had my nose in a book instead of playing outside with the other kids in my neighborhood. Because of this, I was (and still am) called a "coconut" which feels like a deliberate stripping away of my blackness.

A coconut is a black person who is said to be black on the outside but white on the inside. In essence, while one may look like a black person on the outside, one is inherently a white person. And because blackness is seen to be equivalent to "Africaness," without the one, you cannot be the other. Unlike biracial kids whose blackness is constantly questioned because of their mixed heritage, the blackness of South African black kids is challenged on the basis of their personalities, behaviours, interests and quirks.

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Africa in Brazil: How Ilê Aiyê Brought Blackness to Salvador's Carnival

Salvador's carnival, once a white-only event, was reclaimed by black Brazilians looking to celebrate their African heritage.

Those unfamiliar with the Ilê Aiyê (pronounced e-lay ah-ay) group, might assume its members come from Nigeria or Benin. The headdresses the women wear could be found at a Nigerian wedding. The cloth of their costumes sport the bright colors typical of wax cloth. The music is driven by just drums. But few people in this group have ever visited Africa.

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