MALAIKA WA AZANIA
In a foreign tongue...
I’ve been going through the Honours proposals that students who want to be part of the research and writing seminar have sent to me and it has affirmed something I’ve always known: that colonialism is one of the root causes of mental health problems for Black students. I make this contention in my second book, CORRIDORS OF DEATH: THE STRUGGLE TO EXIST IN HISTORICALLY WHITE INSTITUTIONS (published in October 2020) and this exercise is confirming it.
Many Black students are intellectually astute. They have beautiful minds and profoundly progressive ideas. But they’re struggling with academic research, not because they’re cognitively deficient, but because universities are demanding that they make sense of their ideas and of the world in a language they don’t understand. And language, my friends, is, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o so aptly posits, a culture.
In this context, it is a foreign and incredibly alienating culture. To take on a language is, in many ways, to take on a culture. And so those of us who are applauded for being eloquent in English are, in fact, being applauded for our mastery of a foreign culture – for being able to negotiate that alienation, however bruising this in itself is.
But this isn’t something everyone can do, not least because it is so violently imposed. The result is that Black students are struggling with research, which is inducing stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health problems that emerge from feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, marginalised, alienated and also dehumanised by supervisors who lack the intelligence and compassion to understand that being hard and aggressive is not a helpful mechanism for educating Black students. It is not a mechanism for educating ANY human-being.
These Black students are not stupid. Their proposals, even those that are not well written, are not incoherent to a mind that is committed to making sense of them. But the mind of academia is coded with anti-Black bias. It has cemented the idea of an intelligence that is difficult for Black people to attain, because it is so foreign to their language, culture and worldview. But this is our world, this is what the “post” colony looks like. And it is psychologically hemorrhaging. But we go on with the motions of being alive, not always because we can, but because we must.
The condition of the native is truly a nervous condition…