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Forum Home > General Discussion > The biggest gift-Love Yourself/ Race issues

Gamuchirai
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Posts: 22

Racism-that dirty word, a topic we frown upon, a topic never to be discussed in the open, one that is left perhaps for the activists…or maybe the politicians—certainly not for the educated. At least not the educated African folk I have had the honour of meeting.

Recently we have been having some deep reflections on this phenomenon and the deep roots it has left in Zimbabwe. Having been well educated and coming out as the winners of this bottle neck system, one thing we looked forward to, is giving our child a ‘better’ education. But what is better, who defines better? Certainly there are objective measures to calculate that; when you look at the resources one school has over others, or the demotivated state of the teachers in the government schools due to low wages vs the better paid private school teachers and so on and on. So we asked around about good private schools, and got brilliant references from our well educated friends. I am not sure whether it is a coincidence or not, but it so happens that these schools are also the schools where white people learn! We drove around to the schools and without mentioning names;

School 1: We are looking for grade 1 place for our daughter for next year . “ I am sorry but we are full , there is no place for next year, you should have applied at least 5 years in advance…’ Okay, can we at least get an application form (thinking maybe we can reserve a place for our son on the way!!!!), well, you can come back another day for that!!

School 2: We started with the same line. ‘we have a very competitive process and only take 10 pupils each year’ Okay, can we apply for our daughter then. I am sorry it’s full”

School no 3: They did not bother with politeness and told us, it was full

And on and one the process went and in some cases policies seemed to be changed on the spot or fees hiked to discourage us from asking, it seemed. This is not just speculation because in a number of those schools we had friends who also got application forms and places because they had Indian, white or black friends connected to the school and community and did not need to stay on waiting lists. A bit disappointed we thought of suing the school for such rampant discrimination in a ‘free’ country… but we stopped ourselves to ask, is this worth it? Does a school with white pupils necessarily equate to better education? Is it really better and in what way? Is such a school even worth fighting for anyway to put your child there? Of course, that is besides the fact that discrimination on racial grounds is in itself ethically and morally wrong. It strikes at the core of one’s identity, on that one thing that a person cannot change- their skin. It’s different from schools that may discriminate based on religion (e.g. catholic school) because religion is a choice anyone can make and no religion is superior to the other or so I think.

I want to offer a few reflections on the deep rooted evil of racism, that which is in the subconscious, that which is perpetuated even without direct contact with the white people themselves. That which our movies and television promotes, subtle but dangerous, where most 'clever' people in soap operas are white and the 'dumb'  are black. That which is apparent when our black kids prefer to play with white dollies with white silky hair and cringe at the sight of a brown/black dollies with bald heads? And we promote these things without seeming to notice. It is apparent in the inferiority complex that blacks have. In always feeling you are not good enough… that my accent is not good enough… my color is not light enough… my contribution is not smart enough. It is clear in the way even the successful black people keep striving to be ‘white’, to fit in, in the way we talk (where schools’ only selling point becomes ‘English speaking environment!” as if that is all children need in school, in the choice of clothes, hair styles e.t.c. There seems to be a desperate need to be ‘white’ on the inside.

It is really sad to realize that many black people, (and I may be guilty of that sometimes), feel they are not Ok on their own. We feel the need to qualify ourselves for being who we are. This is usually not deliberate but based on so much historical data that we have stored up in our subconscious minds based on things we have seen and heard. For example, it seems natural for a white person to walk into a hotel in Zimbabwe and do nothing but sit and wait for a friend while sipping a glass of water. If a black person does a similar thing, rest assured the waiters will stare/ask them what they want in a way that makes an 'economic judgment' on them. And I have experienced this!!!

And there is no quick fix solution to this. There is need to deliberately and consciously unlearn many of these things we have learned unconsciously. There is need for reflection on things that pull you down and make you strive for things that can never be. And for the white, especially the Zimbabwean white I have been in contact with (and I can now tell a white Zimbabwean from a white non Zimbabwean while sitting in a plane based on the conversation and attitude they have!!!) they carry the superiority complex with them and expect to be served first, jump the queue and segregate themselves from the blacks. Sadly, the blacks feed their ego by doing exactly what they expect and not challenging the status quo.

I have one last category of a black person that I feel pity for. The ones who have become white inside and seem accepted by the white community, learn in these nearly all white schools and refuse to associate with their fellow blacks. I recently heard a case of one such black-turned activist. He had one lamentation, that he had lived in a cocoon all his life, a false bubble created by his white ‘friends’ where they made him feel he was okay and it was the other blacks they did not like. So he never faced real ‘racism’ until he moved to the UK and learnt at another elite, all white school. He had a rude awakening that made him realize he had learnt with white hypocrites all his life and he had been the worst hypocrite of all, because he had convinced himself he was one of them, until one told him, he was not.

I don’t normally call myself racist and I would like to believe I am not. I have many friends of different races and have sat in conferences where I am a minority race and have realized that skin color is all what it is… skin deep. We have put so much unnecessary value on it due to the historical baggage we inherited and perhaps carry. I do not have all the answers of how we can change that. But with the way technology is changing, I strongly believe there will come a time in the future when people can choose whatever race they want to be and it can be injected in or something. I am not sure what race everyone will choose. What i know for sure is that God is not a fool who created people differently. Its a pity that people never realise their own beauty and always want they can't have. 

My challenge to you is to begin to love yourself… To consciously decide to be who you are and then you can begin to live life.

 

February 20, 2013 at 9:29 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Luther Gwaza
Site Owner
Posts: 9

This is heavy stuff and takes guts to discuss this openly. But having a 4 year old child telling you she wants the “white” skin or the “long flowing hair”, or prefer the “white doll” to the “black/brown doll”, stirs you to start sorting yourself out! You start asking yourself, what actions you have made to make her not like how she is or stir the feelings of inferiority? What else has she been exposed to that implies being black or brown is not ok? And you realize, almost everything around us has made her to feel like that! Your article highlights the inherent stereotype of white is better than being a person of color, the subtle but evident and unspoken racism 30 years after independence. The painful part is that we, the people of color, also seem to have believed this stereotype and perpetuate it even to the next generation. It is almost 50 years since Martin Luther King’s (Jnr) wrote in a letter from a Birmingham Jail, and today, my experience make me identify with his statement, I quote, “…. when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you” unquote. Today I find myself trying to sort the same issues --- how one cannot get a place for a child at a school of your choice in a country considered to be “free” simply because you are black, the comments of inferiority that my child is starting to make as she relate to black and white, my stereotype when it comes to race and a default position that white is better than black! To be able to empower my child, make her love herself and for her to feel confident, I have to deal with my position first! Take for instance, how Zimbabweans (including myself!) cherish spoken English; it is almost synonymous with class, cleverness or academic ability. If you speak broken English, you are laughed or looked down upon. Consider, the adverts even for the preschool “English speaking environment”, forget the fact that this might be all black preschool, from the kids to the teachers. (Children are not told why speaking English is important, so instead, they conclude in their little minds, Shona is not OK). The excitement, black parents get when their 3 or 4 year old starting preschool come home speaking few words in English! The comments people (relatives & strangers alike) made in the beginning when they heard our daughter speak English fluently. (She had spent sometime outside the country during her early childhood). The comments & surprise relatives show now, when she speaks Shona fluently, as if she is no longer “OK”. While we should celebrate these achievements for our kids as they learn new things, this should not be conveyed in any way that one is better than the other. Don’t get me wrong either, I am not saying speaking English is bad; this is a more universal language spoken internationally, especially in business & academic fields. I actually want my child to be fluently in languages without discrediting other languages. Imagine the horror look on people’s faces if you speak broken English in Zimbabwe. Apart from just being means of communication, generally, your English is equated to being “OK” or how good you are. If you speak broken English you are automatically not considered to be smart. This has been my worldview until my “AHA” moments when I got the opportunity to travel to more than 17 countries including non English speaking countries, for work and attending conferences. I realize, how myopic my upbringing was, when it comes to this: seeing a Brazilian Professor, speaking broken English at an international conference; my smart, intelligent Spanish or Portuguese colleagues, knowing only a few words & sentences in English. I realized that English was just but a means of communication, a language similar to any other, albeit considered to be more universal when it comes to international communication. The more subtle racism in Zimbabwe, similar to Martin Luther’s King’s (Jnr) comments on racism, is how your race can determine whether you get into this school or not. Otherwise, you have to be well connected, wealth or well known. How some rules apply to some races but not others in schools which are predominantly white or other races other than black. If you are black, you need to have enrolled your child, the extreme cases just after birth! This is okay, until you realize it only applies to you because of your skin color. Call your Indian, or white friend and they will get the place instantly without question – somehow the places become available even for starting school tomorrow! You wonder, if there is something wrong in being black! Also reminds me of the story you shared about how you failed while in College to get an apartment at a certain apartment block in Avondale, because of being a person of color, despite reliable sources that a few apartments were available. On asking a black friend who spoke English fluently with a British accent, to call the same real estate a few minutes later revealed that there was a vacancy available for immediate occupation. The shock came when it was time to sign the papers and he went in person, only to be told it was a mistake! We don’t talk openly about these experiences. No one wants to discuss openly about racism and the real reasons that perpetuate the stereotype that white is better than being of color. Look at the emerging private school’s adverts and websites --- they will put pictures of white kids or those with lighter skin and a few brown faces! Some people when discussing about preschools or schools ask whether there are white people, if not they will not consider the school. And the funny thing is the whites prefer to have schools of their own with no brown faces, the upper or middle class professional blacks –follow them! (we do!). It’s like how neighborhoods change in America, and even in Zimbabwe, the middle class black professionals will want to buy houses in upper class all white neighborhoods. The unfortunate thing, once the number of people of color with houses increases, the whites move out to another new area, and the cycle continues. It’s no lie, that white dominated schools are well resourced compared to black dominated schools with a few exceptions, that property prices go down when the number of blacks in white neighborhoods increases in the US, schools in predominantly white compared to black neighborhoods perform better. Does this mean one race is better than the other, or there are inherent, historical, and other factors that contribute?

February 21, 2013 at 5:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Gamuchirai
Administrator
Posts: 22

 

 

Have just finished listening to a powerful talk by Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story, a female writer from Nigeria on TED talks http://www.ted.com/playlists/37/elif_shafak_7_truly_captivati.html

Here is one of her beautiful quotations:

“At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: how lovely it was that the sun had come out. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.”

Stories that we read create a powerful impression and develop our perceptions especially as young children. Unfortunately in countries like Zimbabwe, we lack our own stories. Book shops have foreign children’s books that tell other people’s stories, books that describe snowy Christmas and show children in nice pony tails, which our kinky hair, can’t properly make. This is where stereotypes about anything including race, tribes, sex come from. “Show a people as one thing — as only one thing — over and over again, and that is what they become”

I totally agree with her that the problem with stereotypes is not that there are not true, but it is that they are incomplete. They do not tell the full story. They are certainly many corrupt black people, but I also know of many honest, hardworking and kind hearted black people. People with power use single stories to disempower another people. They portray them as only one thing and nothing else until you subconsciously relate that thing to them.

America, has many stories told in the media and our TVs, mostly good and portrayed as an advanced nation such that when you hear one story of the psychopathic young man who kills 25 children, you do not generalize to say all young Americans are psychopathic.

We need many stories, many more stories about black people, about Zimbabwe, about Africa. Stories that show how diverse we are. Stories of love and stories of war, extended families, marriages and divorce and everything else in between. Only then and maybe only then can we begin to chip away at that inferiority complex created by stereotypes. I love Nollyhood, mainly for one thing…they are telling their story and we now know the many stories in Nigeria and not just the stereotype of a corrupt nation.

Let us begin to tell our stories loud enough because they matter as we create history for the generations to come.

 


February 22, 2013 at 6:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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