Whose Stories Have You Been Ignoring?

Not that many people know this about me, but I lived in South Africa for about two years total in my early twenties. I studied and volunteered at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2013, and had a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Port Elizabeth in 2016.

I remember my first South African literature class at UCT in 2013. I was twenty. My professor asked me if I was already familiar with South African literature. I said yes. He asked me, who had I read?⁣⁣
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I answered, Alan Paton, Athol Fugard, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer…⁣⁣
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He said, so all the white authors.⁣⁣
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Oof. I realized he was right. All these authors I loved and had associated so strongly with South African literature were all… white. ⁣⁣
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Over that semester, I poured over the South African lit that I had literally NEVER heard of before — the books written by black authors. ⁣⁣
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Mhudi, by Sol T Plaatje.⁣⁣
Call Me Not a Man, by Mtutuzeli Matshoba.⁣⁣
Fools by Njabulo Ndebele. ⁣⁣
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And of course — not exactly literature— but Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela. ⁣⁣

⁣⁣The book pictured here is my copy of Biko, a biography written by Xolela Mangcu. Steve Biko was an anti-apartheid activist who championed for the Black Consciousness Movement in the 60s and 70s. He was the man behind the slogan “Black is beautiful.” Of course, the apartheid government at the time saw him as a serious threat, and in 1977, he was taken into custody and beaten to death by state security officers. ⁣⁣

Today I picked up my copy of this book and dusted it off and found some places I had highlighted from years ago. Somehow they seem even more relevant today. ⁣⁣
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I am elated to see so many people share books and resources about Black Lives Matter, white privilege, white fragility, etc… I see a lot of people having that same moment similar to the one I had with my professor seven years ago. ⁣

How is it that the only South African literature I was familiar with growing up were all written by white authors? How come I was only reading their stories?
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Maybe now is the time people should be asking themselves: whose stories have I been listening to? Whose stories have I been ignoring? Whose stories are still unheard?

Creator of the Spacecraft Tarot. She/her.