Asked by my sister Spectra Speaks about reverse racism I decide to spend my sick day in bed thinking a bit deeper about race.
My father told me white people were evil. I found that hard to understand. He married a white woman didn’t he? He told me how they came to Africa and took away the peoples land Enslaved the black man. Made sovereign nation states their colonies.
He never spoke like a man colonized. He simply spoke like a man dominated and occupied by a stronger foe. There was always a sense of ‘we’re taking our country back’. Taking our rights as people back. Taking our humanity back.
I was traumatised seeing pictures of black people tossed off slave ships at 9. The chain gangs of slaves walking through the jungle to waiting ships. The whipping. The cruelty. The dehumanization. I cried even though I didn’t have the language for what I felt. Or saw.
I got more than a little bit of cognitive dissonance walking the myriad pathways of my fathers little village in the jungles of west Africa. Replaying history. Imaging the people I lived with running from slave raiders. In chains.
My great grand father escaped being sold into slavery. Its all part of the epic family saga. King Jaja of Opobo was a former slave sold from Amaigbo next village. He became head of a mighty household. Then the White Man deposed him and sent him into exile. His kingdom was extinguished. His wealth looted.
Young men in antiquity trained in jungle guerilla warfare. They had sign languages and codes. As part of their initiation they camped out alone in the jungle for days. To make them fearless. And self sufficient. And strong. They could ambush an enemy or escape one. Unseen. My father told me a story of continuous resistance.
My father was a racist. He abhorred white people as a group but had no problem engaging with individuals and could be quite charming when it suited him. He respected a few for their intellect. His engagement was combative and predatory. He believed himself the White Man’s superior.
White people were to be used and exploited. I can well imagine him in his prime gleefully slaughtering white people, friends and neighbours alike in a racial war. He was that kind of man. Ferocious. Candid. Militant. I can imagine what he would say about the Trayvon Martin’s killing.
My father didn’t treat the White Man with reverence. He confronted him. Challenged him. Probed him. My father was a proud black man perpetually alert to white oppression. White oppression included any religion that wasn’t African. My father believed in the superiority of what Zik called the ‘pristine knowledge’ of our forebears. After all they successfully occupied the land 6000 years before the White Man came.
When I was 4 we lived in Denmark. My father had Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches on those old vinyl discs. He played them over and over and over again till I could recite them from memory. I couldn’t speak English yet but I could recite ‘I Have A Dream’. In English.
My father was fiery more like Malcolm X. Fidel Castro. Che Gueverra. Mondale in Mozambique. Machel in Angola. Ojukwu in Nigeria. He wanted revolution. He believed it was inevitable. He studied Marx, Lenin and Mao Tse Tung obsessively. When his kins men refused to capitulate to his superior knowledge he dismissed them as illiterate ‘natives’.
It didn’t take me long to find out that the local slave raiders and traders were black. I visited Arochukwu the home of the diety Chukwu father of Eziokwu, diety in my fathers village. I went to the home of Obidimma now a museum or shrine. I couldn’t tell. Inside I found the pots and pans that he traded for human beings.
Before Eziokwu came to dwell with my fathers ancestors they had no osu or ritual slaves in their community. The village besieged by raids went to Chukwu of Arochukwu for protection. The price was a steady supply of flesh for the merchant ships on the coast. The villagers dedicated whole families to the deity and called them osu.
I had a friend once. I liked him a lot. We used to to sit and talk and laugh and have a mighty good time. My father said I couldn’t see him anymore because he was osu.
‘But papa. That’s wrong. Its the same kind of discrimination that black people faced during slavery. All discrimination is wrong.’
‘No my daughter. Some things the White Man does not have an answer to. Our native ways are more than the White Man can understand.’
I didn’t understand either. Were some people more equal than others? Or were all people equal? My Aunt T, my fathers brothers wife, answered the question for me when I was 10.
‘Some people were born to eat at the table and some people were born to eat on the floor.’
She invited me to eat at the table. I was expected to feel grateful and privileged. I felt neither grateful nor privileged. I was scandalized. After that I always sat at the table first without an invitation. In case someone should deny me my ‘right’.
My notion of ‘rights’ caused much consternation in my fathers village and with his family. There is no notion of ‘human rights’ in Igbo ideology. You have no rights until you earn them. Through age and achievement. Children have no rights. You’re told to be grateful your mother didn’t drop you on your head when you were born. Grateful you’re being fed and sheltered.
I told my cousin (from a different ‘poor’ uncle and in the worse type of domestic servitude I had seen outside a book)who was made to sit on the floor to sit at the table. She declined. It didn’t occur to me to sit on the floor with her in solidarity either. People sit at table to eat. No, wait a minute. Not everyone sits at a table to eat.
So we discriminate against people that don’t sit at a table to eat? Aunt T explains they’re natives. Still backward. They’re also poor. ‘Ogbenye’. Poor person. It sounds like a curse. Forsaken by the gods and their personal chi. Rejects. Their aspirations and efforts at a better life ignored. Disdained by the higher powers that decide fame and fortune. Or worse still just too lazy to make it.
Igbo-Nigerians believe only the lazy die poor. Like Onuko in Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart.’ The Lazy Dreamer. Fortune and all the good things that come with it are for the bold, the brave, the strong, the audacious. The hard working. They’re not the only ones of course.
White cops kill a black boy in America for being black. Black cops kill a black boy in Nigeria for being black. When was the last time you heard of a black cop shooting a white boy in Africa? Exactly. For all the trouble they usually get up to in Africa? They have money to pay off the cops. Race or money? Or both?
I have to tell my sons shit like ‘if you get to a check point don’t argue with the cops just give them what they want’ after I spent a life time ‘fighting’ impudent cops at check points. Because they will shoot a young black man. I was just a troublesome young ‘white woman’.
I often wonder. The tin on the Jos plateau was strip mined. The ecology destroyed. Cursed be the rapacious evil White Man. The Niger Delta is being decimated. Led by the rapacious evil Black Man (sorry Woman). Should I leave my fight here to go fight there?
When told by religious gurus that I have to fight unseen forces and principalities I reply that I am too busy fighting the evil I meet each day in human and material form to worry about the demons I don’t see yet. They have to wait their turn.
There is no tap root of evil that if we can just dig it up everything will be okay. Slay Lucifer! Evil isn’t a single personification. Its a choice. An action. A dynamic event that has consequences.. We choose to be evil or to be good moment by moment everyday.
Racism isn’t only white people hating on black people. Its about black people hating on black people too. And white people hating white people. And yellow people and purple people. Its about rich people hating on poor people. It just people hating people and looking for company to do so.
Dr. King said we have to be motivated by love even while we resist racist hate, injustice and oppression. I get that. I get that now. We must root our work in love, not anger.
Next time I eat with my cousin I’ll sit on the floor with her. Does it even matter whether we sit eating at a table or on the floor? Just so long as we’re together. And that kid is still my friend.
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