A few hours and some chow later, I, Steve Biko, my grandfather, and Shaka Zulu have reached that point in where the conversation has dried up and everyone at the table is either staring into the distance, scoping the room or going through their phone. I was staring out the large windows of the restaurant. I’m a bit agitated now. This topic has gone beyond irritating me. Blah, blah, blah, black this, black that, when is it going to stop?
My irritation has me tapping on the table when the waiter, Joshua (he’s white), comes to collect the dirty plates. “Hey, Josh”, I ask with a dead-pan face, “what does it mean to be white?”
“Err, huh?” he responds, nearly knocking over the glasses off his tray. My face doesn’t change. “Well, umm, I don’t know, hey. I guess I’ve never really thought about it. I’m not really into that kinda stuff, hey”, he answers me rather nervously. We watch as he Usain Bolt’s through the swinging kitchen door. I turn back to the table and ask, “so why must I constantly question my skin, race and everything about it if HE doesn’t have to, WHY?”
“All I want is a good home and a wife and children and some food to feed them every night”, says Gil Scott-Heron crackling over the sound system, riding a Kanye beat, and I bang my hand on the table. “Is that too much to ask?” “You and I are now in confrontation, but I see no Violence.” says a calm Mr Biko. I settle back into my chair and apologize for losing my temper in front of them, my elders.
The flipping socioeconomics of being black: You are black and poor, you are a shame. You are black and middle class means you are either a sell-out or irrelevant. If you’re black and rich, there must be a warrant for your arrest somewhere. Intrigued by my rant, Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, leans over from his chair behind me, taps me on the shoulder and says, “the community of economic life is the major feature within a nation, and it is the economy which holds together the people living in a territory.” I know, but I don’t think it’s achieving much holding-together in Mzansi. I won’t even start with the blame game. We run the Olympics in that field. Oh, and the gargantuan abyss of self-pity and victimhood, it’s like the Never Never Land of denial, the shit just refuses to get old and die.
As I’m going on, a young, lanky “dude” fellow walks into the restaurant. He’s the first generation coloured, father black, mother coloured. He’s sporting a nappy haired mohawk, board shorts and a vest with tattoos for sleeves. It’s Micheal, a modern day lucky packet of race, culture, sans politics and historical baggage. He strolls through with his blond, blue-eyed better half in tow. Both raised by ultra-liberal parents, they’ve lived just about everywhere, they are vaguely aware of their complexions. For them, their skin colour is more of a permanent fashion accessory than anything.
Ok, I have an idea. How about I just forget that I’m black? The same way one learns to walk until walking becomes a state one does not need to think about anymore. Or like riding a bicycle or driving a car. The same way Joshua does not need to think about his skin colour. I’m just going to carry on as a person. Marcus Garvey, sitting in a far corner, takes a drag and puffs; “whatsoever things common to man that man has done, man can do”. So if Joshua can do it, I can do it too. If he doesn’t have to bear the burden of self-definition, then why should I? I’ll be a racial Atheist, whatever the hell that means. I’ll be it. I will be consecrated as Pope John Fokol-Race I. How about that?
As I ask the question the table’s attention turns to the kitchen doors. Joshua is standing there with a burly, red flushed white man. We assume he’s the manager. Joshua keeps pointing at our table, still trying not to make eye contact. We all know what’s about to happen. “Well, you can forget you are black if you so wish,” my grandfather says, pointing at the accusing stares of Josh and his manager, “but they will certainly never forget”.
“In your forgetting, are you going to forget about me too?” Shaka asks. “Are you going to forget about him too?” he continues, nodding his head in Steve Biko’s direction. It was at this moment that I realized that I had not noticed that Steve Biko’s wounds had not healed. The ones he got when he was arrested, tortured and beaten to death for wanting the black skin not represent inferiority. I notice a smell in the air. I don’t know what it is but it stings the eyes. I hear shouts and screams in the distance. I look out the window of the restaurant and realize there’s a cloud of smoke hovering in the streets. I see school kids sprint through clouds of smoke, ducking for cover. I rush to the door to see what’s going on and then as I get there I see a young boy frantically running through the teargas. I hear a loud bang, sounds like a gunshot, I watch as a bullet rips through the small body of a young Hector Peterson. It hits him from the back and explodes out his chest. He stumbles to the ground, his uniform bloodied. I freeze on the spot paralyzed by fear. He falls to the ground, his head turned towards me. Blood gurgling out of his mouth. His lips start moving, with his last breath he speaks to me…
Disclaimer: With the exception of Shaka Zulu, my grandfather and Joshua, all “comments” made by the people above were taken from actual quotes and writings by the respective authors.
Writer: Vus Ngxande