American police brutality and the apartheid module

American police brutality and the apartheid module

Mother's have to teach young black men lessons on inferiority (pic Huffington Post)

By Robert Mukondiwa

It was nothing more than just a cartoon strip following the intensification of the police shooting epidemic in the United States that suddenly spurred me to life; helping me peer into the future of the “Black Lives Matter” campaign by drawing into my personal past.
In it, a young African American, (also known as black) man was sitting on a couch before his parents, concerned mother and father giving him lessons on life and survival.
They look him in the eye in the lecture-fitting him with emotional shock absorbers before he journeys into the future. His future is almost certainly is death and taxes, sadly, atop of that discrimination based on the colour of his skin as well.
“Son…” says his mother, “you shall be subject to discrimination not because you have done anything wrong other than that you have a black skin….”
The internet, it turns out, is awash with such strips of black kids being told to get ready to live life as a second class citizen.
What was it about this young black man many thousands of miles from my own reality and upbringing in post-colonial Zimbabwe that struck me and made me understand him?
Although the black people in America originated from Africa, the connection was not genetic as there was no chance of sharing an ancestor. Where did I draw that umbilical cord that said wherever he was today, I had been before and shared in his struggle and the agony that has birthed the Black Lives Matter campaign?
I remembered suddenly how in 1988, eight years into my own country’s independence, I was sat down by my mother  and my now late father as they gave me one of the most painful lectures of their lives. A module I am sure they had hoped never to include in their raising me, whose lectureship and time had, sadly for them, come.
I had been raised in a multi-racial country in the fresh warm rays of Robert Mugabe’s policy of national reconciliation that said ‘if I was your enemy yesterday, today I am your friend’ and with those words, he had wiped away the racial divide of the past century of segregation.
I had been in class with more white people than black. I did not know I would not have been allowed to learn in this school and amongst my peers just eight years before. I was invited to all the parties and my girlfriend in a world of sweet puppy love was Heather Holmes; white, who decided to leave for Australia with her parents. My teacher was Ms Susan Dunn and Ms Sutherland who were white. My crush was Leigh Hammond who also happened to be white. My best friend was Byron Kumbula, who I never knew was in fact from a different tribe as I. All those things not only did not matter to me, but in fact were unknown to me. I knew not colour or creed.
But when my mothers’ former employers now living in apartheid South Africa asked us over on holiday, I had to be given ‘the lesson’.
“We are going to South Africa and we know you have been excited and looking forward to the trip but there is something we have to tell you,” mother had begun.
And we delved into the module.
I was not to walk into any bathroom without consulting her. While I could read the word ‘toilet’ pretty well as a way above average child in my grade, I was told there was something more than just what my celebrated intelligence could decipher.
South Africa did not allow me to get into the same toilet as white people or coloured like Graham, my classmate or Lucy my Indian friend from school. They had ‘special’ toilets for ‘my’ black kind. I would not like the toilets reserved for me I was told, because they were not as beautiful and dignified as the ones in my country but I was not to worry, I would only be a second or third class citizen for only as long as we were going to stay there.
I was not to smile and say good morning to everybody as I did in my free and multiracial Zimbabwe because some white people in the ‘white areas’ where we were going to be staying with the Geers and their son Barry were not as kind and accepting of me because of my skin colour.
The Geers, I was told, were however good white people and did not mind my skin colour. After all it is Mrs Geer who had named me Robert upon birth and now I was going to see my Jewish godmother for the first time after they left Zimbabwe.
“It is not you who is the problem,” mother had battled to make me understand;  It is a way of the world and not everybody likes the other but that did not make me any less special.
Perhaps, she speculated, one day we all shall have our eyes open and love each other in spite of any of our differences. Love simply because we are human and nothing else to make us more attractive as ‘likeable material’.
It was a lesson on inferiority. It taught me that because of my skin colour my life may not be as valuable on the stock exchange of souls.
It is the lesson that I used in the United States when I was asked to step outside of a bar after a shooting. I knew I was guilty before being proven otherwise with people looking at the black guy funny.
It is a lesson I used in the United Kingdom after twice being stopped and searched in one week  after David Blunkett introduced stop and search laws that seemed to target my own. Laws he put in place against my most loathed skin colour. A colour  he was tragically blind to see yet I felt he hated it anyway and asked myself ‘if he hates me this much alongside his guide dog how much more would he hate this skin had God given him sight?’
It is a lesson and lecture credits I used in Dublin when I was told ‘Chief’ cannot get into the pub without any explanation because entry was on the fellow’s discretion and I did not fit it.
A lesson I learnt much later even in certain pockets of my country in select situations and yet have kept calm knowing that I am not the problem but my skin just means I have to do a lot more to get the same treatment and respect that others easily get with little to no effort.
And so when I saw the young man on the couch I knew he was getting his moment as I had gotten decades ago.
It is a module I will have to lecture my children and I am realistic enough to know that it is a module that black parents will have to keep handing down from generation to generation.
And after returning from South Africa and being looked at as if my skin was crawling and emitting a stench by some bigots at the tender age of eight and relating that world to my best friend next door, Nicholas Katavenos, our lives had changed forever because we had partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of what attracts prejudice. Of black and white. Suddenly Nicholas discovered that I was black. It is a reality that we had to live with from then onwards.
And I still occupy that front row seat to prejudice. Still fighting to be judged for the person that I am and the value I add to my world and not what I am born as. It is a lesson the young man on the couch will also grow with. Provided, of course, that the police do not shoot him tomorrow as they did Mamadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile  or Darrius Stewart and countless other unarmed black young men.
It is a lesson on apartheid and how to behave when black. The better you master it, the longer you live. 

Robert Mukondiwa is a Zimbabwean Journalist


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