ZAHARA: Can she be #BlackGirlMagic?

A while ago, I had an interesting chat with a friend during Solange’s “A seat at the table” frenzy.

Our conversation wasn’t so much about Solange, but we used her as a case study. If you love artists like Solange and Erykah Badu, you will understand how much #hoteps associate with these artists, as opposed to, for instance, pop sensations like Beyonce and Niki Minaj.

These are the same #hoteps who slam fake hair, but are okay with Solange and Erykah Badu having it, because the two artists are alternative. These are the same #hoteps against Beyonce’s cultural appropriation stunts, but are okay when Solange does it. Those #hoteps. The ones who only celebrate alternative black.

Idiosyncratic blackness and its hypocrisy sometimes bores me to death. In the past, the best version of black was always through a white person’s gaze. Since there is a revolution that currently dislocates the black reality from that aloof gaze, blackness is appropriated by black people whose accents, realities and educational backgrounds come from whiteness. Whitewashed black folks who cage decolonization in colonial gates. Black folks who wanted to be white, who realized that they will always be black and then ran back to us to be gatekeepers of our realities.

Those of us who were always black had to now abort our causes because they changed the black narrative to be about how horrible their lives were in white circles. But, when push came to shove, they would always used their English and privilege to be miles ahead of us.

Disclaimer: I don’t care how much you want to convince me what a tough life you had at Collegiate Girls’ High, it can’t be anything like urine and pads all over toilet floors, and gangsters visiting the school every Friday.

Therefore, this privileged black narrative is the reason I believe South African afro-pop sensation, ZAHARA, is not trending as #BlackGirlMagic after breaking records album after album. Huffington Post reported ZAHARA’s latest album, Umgodi “…certified gold in just six hours and went platinum in under 24 hours of release.” #BlackGirlMagic much? Not only that, after ZAHARA suffered backlash about being a broke artist, she now owns a record label called MLH Records. No? Not #BlackGirlMagic still?


Don’t get me wrong, I am not disputing the importance of the movement and hashtag, but am arguing for its expansion. I understand that I am as responsible for that as everyone else out there. We seriously need to rescue feminism and #BlackGirlMagic from the hands of (only) privileged black women who get the most time on microphones, and their celebration by privileged black men. They need to be more pervasive.

The politics of privileged black folks can be extremely dodgy. I remember dissecting the problem with one black guy’s type of woman because he refused to admit that he likes white. He is one of those who hate #OPW and Papa Penny in how they (mis)represents blackness.  Okay, I get that. He also likes mixed-race women – uh, okay.

When I probed deeper into him, he argued that he does like black women, just not the ones who wear weaves, flash materialistically and like Gqom music. He likes black girls who are weird, as in alternative, as in with Tatoos, weird piercings, with natural hair or braids. I asked him “how many black girls ekasi look like that?” because it was clear to me that he is the ‘alternative’ group of black men who can date natural-looking black women who can’t utter a word in their mother-tongue, but will not date a woman who mostly speaks SeSotho and has a weave. “Weave girls and religious girls are colonized,” and I assumed those who don’t speak their languages are not. Mind you, the guy also cannot speak his language.

I reminded the brother that most black girls in South Africa are going to celebrate their cars and houses whether in a narcissistic or inspirational way. Those are achievements to us.

It was clear that an ‘alternative’ black girl to him is a girl who carries black aesthetics, not blackness itself. Basically, he likes black girls who grew up in the white world. I knew that although Zahara carries the aesthetics he claims to like in black girls, she would not be his type of #BlackGirlMagic. Unobu lokishi mos uZahara. Typical black girl.

I have no issues with alternative black people and embrace what Inda Lauryn says in an article claiming that “there are many reasons [she] finally realized Black girls could, indeed, be alternative and were in fact catalysts behind many alternative trends and movements. One of them was that [she] realized a lot of the indicators for alternative lifestyles were taken from Black cultures and the cultures of other people of color: tattoos, piercings, scarification, and other forms of body modification, as well as alternative fashion and music almost always originate from Black and Brown people.”

However, having gone to public schools, I thoroughly remember how students from white schools assumed an “importance” and “more clever” status as their parents celebrated what an achievement it was that their children were now studying with whites. They did not even want to date kids from black schools and the inferior/superior relationship between us and them was distinct.

Fast-forward to a few years after High School, the hair revolt at Pretoria Girls’ High happened and although it was pivotal, I could not relate to it in first-hand experience because I never encountered such in black schools. Mine was the “no chairs, textbooks and resources” reality, and whenever it made headlines, it was always a joke and confirmation of how far behind we were to white schooled black children.

For those of us who come from the other side of the margins, Zahara’s story gives us life, the same way that Papa Penny gives some black people life. He is their version of black consciousness the same way Zahara is our version of #BlackGirlMagic. Not many women from Emdantsane have dared to be this brave! We are inspired. We recognize her. We see her. We honor her!