Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in Johannesburg has a number of different experiential programmes that are designed to change and expand perspective. I have been fortunate to interact with the space quite a bit and, for the last four years, have spoken at the opening session of their programme for high schools students called Spirit of Youth. The first  session is always on Race and Identity.

Recently, I was invited to come share my story at their Nexus programme for session on Identity. Essentially, they had a number of guests and we were each assigned a seat with a couple of chairs around. Participants could sit anywhere and get insight into the stories of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. There was the gay man, the inter-racial couple and bi-racial me, amongst others.

800px-Beach-wedding-couple

Living in South Africa, where race continues to be the first line of assumption (and judgement), I’ve been forced to figure out where I stand. I am bundled into Coloured because that is the only reference point South Africa has for mixed race people but do not consider myself Coloured.

Because of the challenge of determining my racial identity and the decision to sit on the fence and not define myself by race has prompted me to constantly seek out the perspectives of other bi-racial people, particularly those in the public space. People like Bob Marley, Barack Obama, Halle Berry, Sade, Lenny Kravitz and, closer to home, Nneka (who I had the honour of interviewing).

As I have started to re-establish a stronger link with the land of my father – Ghana – I have also started to consume and interact a great deal more with contemporary music and culture. One of my favourite ‘discoveries has been Wanlov The Kub0lor – Crowned Prince of Pidgen Music; The last Human Hippie-Hopper – and I just came across a video of his song, My Skin, from his Green Card. Born in Romania to a Ghanaian father and Romanian mother, My Skin is Wanlov making sense of himself in this world.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPeECums1UA

And this is what I wrote a couple of years ago. A poem called Duality.

i stand at the centre of a war
that has been waged for hundreds of years
a war that has been fought
with burning crosses and thick rope
with shackles, chains and whips
with hidden looks and clutched handbags
with segregation and cultural destruction
with guns and warplanes
with bullets and bombs
with sharp tongues and the devil’s eyes
with fake smiles and darkened hearts
with misunderstanding and deception
with hate and cruelty
with knives in the back and hangmen
with religion and courtrooms
i stand at the centre of war
that has been televised
commercially edited
digitally mastered
and broadcast in stereo
i stand at the centre of a war
where everything is black or white
yet i am the grey area between warring parties
i am neither black nor white
and yet i am both
i am neither african or european
and yet i am both
i am your future
devoid of a side to pick
i am your hope
devoid of your understanding
i am your greatest fear
and i am your wildest aspiration
i am the merger of your strengths
and i am the failure of your weaknesses
i am a symbol of your love
and a victim of your hatred
i am the unification of your desire to separate
and separate from your desire to unify
i am a power unto myself
and the product of your power
i am so much
and yet represent so little
i exist in the midst of the confusion
your birthed me into
because i am the product
of two factions stuck
on extreme poles of reality
i stand at the centre of a war
that has been waged for hundreds of years
a war that has been fought
with burning crosses and thick rope
with shackles, chains and whips
with hidden looks and clutched handbags
with segregation and cultural destruction
with guns and warplanes
with bullets and bombs
with sharp tongues and the devil’s eyes
with fake smiles and darkened hearts
with misunderstanding and deception
with hate and cruelty
with knives in the back and hangmen
with religion and courtrooms
i stand at the centre of war
that has been televised
commercially edited
digitally mastered
and broadcast in stereo
i stand at the centre of a war
where everything is black or white
yet i am the grey area between warring parties
i am neither black nor white
and yet i am both
i am neither african or european
and yet i am both
i am your future
devoid of a side to pick
i am your hope
devoid of your understanding
i am your greatest fear
and i am your wildest aspiration
i am the merger of your strengths
and i am the failure of your weaknesses
i am a symbol of your love
and a victim of your hatred
i am the unification of your desire to separate
and separate from your desire to unify
i am a power unto myself
and the product of your power
i am so much
and yet represent so little
i exist in the midst of the confusion
you birthed me into
because i am the product
of two factions stuck
on extreme poles of reality

8 Comments

  1. MissGeorgios

    Beautiful piece that I can relate to. I remember when I was joining UOFS and had to choose weather I am black or coloured inorder to choose a hall of res I was quit confused on what that’s all about. I notice however that in England it is less of an issue in everyday life despite being asked on ethnicity in all forms we fill in and hopefully, as distant as the idea is, a day will come where we won’t need to be be grouped on the basis of colour.

  2. Kojo Baffoe

    Hey Inessa, it is fascinating because, in most instances, South Africans don’t understand why it should be an issue.

  3. Lebz

    My fiance looks coloured with green eyes but has extreme coarse hair. I’m not as light but have “coloured people’s hair”. We are both Tswana speaking but that’s never enough for our fellow South Africans. Very disappointing.

  4. Lebz

    The Roots: “You live, you die, spend the years in between asking the question why you’ve been through what you’ve been. You win, you loose, you even pay for others’ sins, but you must always adore the skin you are in.”

  5. DJ BLACK

    nicely put together

  6. Dominique Jost

    KB, you know I’m feeling this!

  7. lindelwa

    Beautiful Piece brother K

  8. Nomsa

    very potent Mr B.

    issues of race are forever facinating, especially when you don’t (or atleast try) not to live your life based on people’s skin colour…growing up in Lesotho we weren’t exposed to any racial prejudice, but living in s.a will certainly bring the issues to the fore at one stage or another of one’s life, whether one likes it or not.

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About Kojo Baffoe

Of Ghanaian/German heritage, raised in Lesotho and currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Kojo is the proverbial slashie, the professional ‘jack of all trades.’ He is an entrepreneur, writer, facilitator, content architect, former men’s magazine editor and speaker. He has a Bachelor of Commerce (1994) with majors in Economics, Marketing and Business Administration from the former the University of Natal (Durban), now University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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