THE POWER OF WORDS: ONE #EPITOME @ A TIME

Tweet, Tweet #soyouthinkyouknowaguy?!

My mother once told me a story of a young boy we shall conveniently name “Gareth”.  Gareth was friends with my youngest brother. He loved coming over to my mom’s house to play with my brother and often slept over. He ate meals at our house, he treated my parents with respect.  My brother  and he would play for hours with the toys he hauled to the house every time he slept over. He was practically family.  One day as my mom was driving around town doing her errands with Gareth, my brother and others in tow she stopped at a  set of traffic lights near the local taxi rank.  Suddenly Gareth became panicked with fear and started screaming while pointing at the crowds of people crossing and milling about the street outside “Black people! Black people!” He shouted “Quickly, quickly close all the windows, lock all the doors” he shouted frantically.  Bewildered my mother asked everyone to close the windows and lock the doors just so he could calm down, after which she began to laugh heartily at the irony of Gareth’s outburst. He was the only white person in the car.

On the Other Hand…#canblacksberacists?

Many years ago I was on a fellowship in the US and it included a two day trip to Atlanta, Georgia. While there we visited the slave market to shop for souvenirs. I found leather wrist bands that fit my arms perfectly. I had been searching all over Jo’burg for them and these were just the right fit and texture, they  were perfect. But the guy who sold them was not  at his stall and after  waiting with me for a while, my group decided to head back to the hotel without me, they couldn’t wait any longer.  I waited for the trader to no avail until I too decided to go back to the hotel because it was getting dark. So I gave the lady manning the next stall  the money and took two the wrist bands with me. When I got out it was dusk and for the life of me I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel we were staying at. I couldn’t call my people because I discovered to my horror that I had no money left on me. What I had was for a cab back. But I didn’t know where or how to get one. So I walked around the city in the dark trying to think of a solution, I ended up near the station filled with homeless people, most of them on wheelchairs, many were drinking out of brown crumpled paper bags, most were smoking, some were chatting, others were sleeping in what was to me then  a large congregation of  forgotten people. It felt as if I had  stumbled into someone’s open house and I was the intruder. The majority of them were black. So naturally, I panicked  because I was afraid of them and didn’t know what they were capable of even though almost all of them  were in wheelchairs,  had missing limbs or were using walking sticks to get around. I  started walking  as fast as I could while looking straight ahead as  if I knew where I was going,  even though I was completely lost. Because there were hundreds of them and it was pitch dark. I followed the glimmer of street lights on the horizon until I emerged in an area of town full of white people all of them walking in the same direction towards the stadium. There was a famous rock band playing that night.  As I was walking among the crowd of white people under a very bright street light I stopped cold and began  to freak out, because I realized  where I was. In Atlanta, Georgia, in America, the only black among  a crowd of white people! Images of the Klu Klux Klan appeared in white hoodies among the crowd like a mirage so I ran across the street feeling afraid and uncertain of what to do.

I promise I’m not crazy  #AngaziButImSure

I saw an Irish bar and went in and used my last money to buy beer while I thought of a way out. I noticed that the bartender, who was completely white was also queer so I struck up a conversation. She gave me a paper straw to drink the beer and listened to my  story. She then  told me of a mixed bar around the corner. She met me there after her shift and then, she  took me to her house to meet her beloved cats and her housemate she then took me to a  go-go bar which featured 80 year old strippers of all races.   I have never seen anything like it in my life. The sun rose with us having coffee and picking at breakfast at one of the local diners like typical Americans trying to figure out how to say goodbye and thank you for one of the most unforgettable nights of my life. She dropped me off at my hotel in time for me to pack my bags and catch the next flight out to New York with my group.  I did not sleep a wink.

But then Again, What is a #pantyprenuer?

This race story in South Africa could well be some kind of Hegelian Dialectic aimed at ultimately restricting free speech.Opportunistic, coincidental, you decide.  Because what has it done? It has birthed calls to criminalize racism, which on the surface sounds perfectly justified, but wait. What would be the appropriate punishment for someone who compares black people to monkeys or a child-like Gareth? How does one explain “Gareth?”.   It clearly must be something he got from his parents, that’s what they normally do when they pass areas were black people are in large numbers; they lock their doors quickly and drive off fast. I know of black people who won’t venture to certain areas in town or anywhere near the taxi rank, including  historically black townships because they too are afraid of black people. Call it crime.  How about me in Atlanta Georgia, afraid of poor blacks with disabilities and other whites? Should Gareth and I be arrested? Jailed? Are we racists? Or is that not a function of our (societal) conditioning; what we’ve read, heard, seen how our parents, friends’ people we admire, trust and adore behave when they relate to people who are different from them? My mother’s response seems to be the most appropriate in this case.  Laugh. All I can think to say, using Trevor Noah’s voice when he mocks  black South African accents is “Fun-nnie  Guy!”:  Because if my idea of freedom conflicts with  your idea of freedom then neither of us can be free until everyone agrees to be a slave. Of hoe?

Come on Gooi, Gooi it! #letstakeitbacktothebeach

Unfortunately this post has no conclusion(s). But perhaps the story of the newscaster who belittled the education minister for failing to properly pronounce the word “epitome” is a perfect example of a possible solution to our problem.While he criticized her for her poor English he didn’t realize that he too had failed to properly pronounce the minister’s seSotho surname.  SeSotho is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages. The education minister could have easily delivered her speech or address in it,  her mother tongue or any one of the 11 languages she is most proficient in – and let the  news channels do their  own perfect translations. She is no longer forced nor compelled to speak English and if she chooses to do so, she must accept correction when she fails to pronounce certain words right. The same goes for newscasters (anyone) who mispronounce people’s names and surnames. As for the monkey saga; we all know who cleans the beach. Check? #Mate.

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