‘Get used to me’

June 18, 2020


The writer is an author.
The writer is an author.

GOD created Man; the Devil invented racial prejudice. No one but Satan could have implanted myopia in human eyes. It prevents recognising divinity in another fellow being, yet can distinguish the tone of his skin. Wasn’t it Justice Thurgood Marshall (the first Afro-American judge to be elevated to the US Supreme Court) who held that “In recognising the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute?”

Today, colour no longer matters, or more precisely the colour white no longer matters. It has been smudged by protests against racism. If the 18th century was characterised by commercial opportunism and the 19th by imperialist colonialism, the 20th century was smelted from crass capitalism. Since this century began, two decades have elapsed and already its chronicle bears two indelible imprints — the red seal of Chinese renaissance and the broken manacles of black resurrection.

For centuries, the continents of both China and Africa enjoyed an insularity that remoteness assured. Over time, China expanded into one gigantic nation state while Africa has contracted into 56 smaller nations. Both endured and survived invasions; both experienced colonialism and suffered exploitation; both are now making their presence felt within the First World.

One could say that their destiny came together in the 1950s when Chinese premier Zhou Enlai made visits to countries in Africa and Asia. The most strenuous must have been the one when, in February 1964, accompanied by Marshal Chen Yi, he toured 13 countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, United Arab Republic (now Egypt), Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana, Mali, Sudan, Guinea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Sightseeing in the Maghreb was not their objective. They had gone to nudge Africa awake. Their prescient mission was to assert, to whoever would listen, the right of every nation to claim independence, to underline peace and neutrality as unabashedly laudable foreign policy objectives, and to caution Western powers against the temptation to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

The seeds scattered 50 years ago have germinated, unexpectedly.

The seeds scattered by them 50 years ago have germinated, unexpectedly and vengefully. Rosa Parks’ obstinacy was not in vain; the martyrdom of Dr Martin Luther King is not unmourned; Nelson Mandela’s unconscionable incarceration has not been forgotten. In the now seemingly dis-United States, Afro-American voices — those of James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Malcolm X and countless others who had in Boris Johnson’s words “watermelon smiles” — have grown into a chorus. Those choruses have unified into an anthem that is spreading from Washington to Whitehall, and further across the globe. The new chant is ‘Black Lives Matter’. They do to blacks, but do black lives matter as much to whites?

White supremacists appear already to be on the defensive. Australia is no longer the country to which white migrants were encouraged to flee from the United Kingdom, to escape the banana boat migrants from Jamaica who landed at Cardiff in the 1950s. Liberia is no longer the mosquito-infested curve of West Africa to which Afro-Americans were pointed as the homeland of their species.

How long will it be before black policemen or coloured troops are called upon to quell or shoot unarmed black civilians? When will a black protester put a flower stem into the barrel of the gun of an infantryman and live to breathe? Are there enough museums to offer sanctuary to the statues of Winston Churchill and Cecil Rhodes?

It is clear that history is not only being written but it is being rewritten by a generation of educated, open-minded scholars who reaped a colonial education and are now sowing the whirlwind. Their black Macau­­lay is yet to be born.

White Maca­u­lay’s encyclicals on education lie interred with his bones.

The Covid-19 virus and the year 2020 have hit the world at an unfortunate conjunction. The consumer society which promised so much can hardly cope with the paucity of ventilators and the constraints of social distancing. The rhythm of schools, colleges and universities has been broken from a comfortable canter to a troublesome trot. Schools are adapting but not fast enough; textbooks have yet to be refashioned; teachers are yet to be re-indoctrinated. Most teachers tend to teach what they already know. Few have the foresight to impart lessons their wards need to learn. Suddenly, there is too much to learn — about our warped past, our unsure future.

Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and now many in Europe may be rueing the day they permitted, even encouraged open immigration. Whoever came has stayed. As the champion boxer Mohammad Ali Clay said to his fellow-countrymen, before his brain was addled in prize fights, “Get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

The writer is an author.


Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2020