As a pre-cursor to my articles I think I should state that I’m not going to pretend to know it all, I’m not going to define what’s right and wrong but what I’m definitely going to do is express my views on issues related to consciousness in the modern age, especially now in 2009.
A good starting point would be to define what consciousness is, according to the Oxford dictionary:
- the state of being conscious; awareness of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.
- the thoughts and feelings, collectively, of an individual or of an aggregate of people: the moral consciousness of a nation.
- full activity of the mind and senses, as in waking life: to regain consciousness after fainting.
- awareness of something for what it is; internal knowledge: consciousness of wrongdoing.
- concern, interest, or acute awareness: class consciousness.
- the mental activity of which a person is aware as contrasted with unconscious mental processes.
- Philosophy. the mind or the mental faculties as characterized by thought, feelings, and volition.
- raise one’s consciousness, to increase one’s awareness and understanding of one’s own needs, behaviour, attitudes, etc., esp. as a member of a particular social or political group.
The definitions of consciousness that I’ll be referring to are the first two, more specifically the second one, I’ll be referring to individuals within the ambit of consciousness as a group or sub-sect eg. Black consciousness.
We’ve all heard and studied material about black consciousness movements around the world, like the African-American civil rights movement in the Unites States led by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Consciousness Movement founded in the 60’s in South Africa and led by Steve Biko, as well as various other organisations. Even non-black revolutionaries like Che Guevara have also become idolised around the world as symbols of ‘the fighting man’, as evidenced by his image used in various marketing campaigns (I remember asking someone who had a t-shirt with an image of Che on the front who he was and they told me he was the famous painter from Italy who painted that chapel, Ja ne!!).
Another term I think I have to define because I’ll be using it is ‘soulista’ (My personal definition which isn’t from any dictionary). This refers to the soul brothas and sistas (not the Chicken Licken variety) that purport to be the ones still pushing black consciousness and are all about “keeping it real” which seems to mean being selfless, unique, anti self-enrichment, not being restricted by societal conventional norms and constantly versing to anyone that will listen about: what black consciousness is and ideologies that will benefit black society as a whole (Key to note how I’ve highlighted ‘versing’ because to me a lot of them are all talk and no action. However I digress).
The point of this article is that, I’ve often wondered whether consciousness or more specifically black consciousness; has a look. I’ve asked myself this question because the people that always go on about “keeping it real” and progressing the black consciousness movement have tended to have a uniform (for lack of a better word) and particular grooming habits.
Being from Joburg and having grown up and lived here all my life, I’ll use Melville as a case in point (I think Observatory in Cape Town exhibits similar traits) because that’s where I’ve tended to meet a lot of soulista’s. Let me let you in on my observations of the look I refer to.
Soul sistas typically:
- like wraps (as a skirt, around their head or both);
- wear Sweshwe tops and skirts;
- wear t-shirts in the red, green and yellow colours (Jah man, I’m not saying that they’re Rastafarian but they seem drawn to those colours) or have the face of an icon they identify with emblazoned on the front;
- have hair that hasn’t been contaminated by the “evils of white imperialism” (relaxers and weaves);
- wear leather sandals (that they’ll tell you “were made from the holiest cows in the Serengeti” etc) and
- have lots of beaded accessories.
I’ve seen many a soul sista pull the above-mentioned look off and still look good. Soul brothas on the other hand have mostly elevated their look beyond just their attire and hair to include similar grooming habits (or lack of).
Soul brothas typically:
- like cargo pants or shorts (they seem to have a lot of stuff they need to carry with them in their pockets like pamphlets or small books);
- wear the same t-shirts as soul sistas (or traditional African shirts that they’ll tell you “was made by a man from the Chewa tribe of Malawi who gave it to me after we shared experiences about our countries of birth and engaged on the ills of the world”);
- wear leather jackets, usually brown in colour (typically when they are forced to dress up for any sort of event, including black tie events without the tie of course);
- have beaded accessories;
- wear the seemingly obligatory leather sandals (with the same rhetoric as soul sistas) and
- have ‘natural’ dreadlocks (natural as in dreadlocks that have formed from not combing their hair in years).
In concluding about the final characteristic that most soul brothas tend to exhibit, I’ve been scratching my head in order to try find a politically correct way (with no success) of adding that soul brothas tend to look…dirty or unwashed (not in a fashionable Diesel dirty jean look kind of way). I’m sorry but they do. Come on brothas…getting in water, using lotion on your skin, putting on some roll-on and deodorant is not “selling out”.
I must state that I’ve worn most of the items I listed for the soul brotha look at one point or another (not all the same time though and I must admit that the leather sandals I’ve worn were not acquired on a trek up the Kilimanjaro) but I disagree that soulista’s should have a look.
Soulista’s by wearing their uniform are actually going against what they try to represent: being anti-establishment and unique because they’ve become easy to spot and identify (obviously there are people that just like this look but I opine that you’d be right most of the time). Pushing the movement for me is a state of mind and not necessarily armour that you need to wear on a daily basis.
I once went to a poetry session at Cool Runnings (in Melville) back in the day and was accosted and denigrated by a soul brotha I know (in his Chewa tribe African top) to people he was sitting with about my attire. He asked me in front of everybody why I was “wearing the threads of the man” because I wore a collared shirt, jeans and formal black leather lace ups.
I’m a black man who likes to wear nice clothes (Suits when the occasion calls for it), nice shoes and to take care of myself (in terms of grooming not necessarily going to the gym and eating healthy etc my beer boep can attest to that) but I consider myself a part of the movement as a person who is aware of my sub-set and is trying to ‘stick it to the man’ by thriving in the corporate environment so that I can get the required knowledge/experience to ensure that that I can start my own successful business and play a role in the upliftment of my people by empowering others.
PS: Why is it “selling out” to have a corporate job, I digress because that’s an issue for a separate article in itself.