The Other Side by Nathaniel Manheru
IT has always been a hard fact of life that in America as elsewhere in Europe, a black man only has condemned colour and a sorry history, nothing else.
But the ascension to power of Barack Obama as the first black US president created some hope and expectation among blacks world-wide that for once, the black man would begin to have both rights and geography, all against a long history of skin-based sob-tales.
I was not among those hopeful blacks, fulsomely hopeful in my view. This column kept reminding readers that it was a black man who had been swallowed by White House, never the other way round.
After Obama’s presidency, this column maintained, White House would be even whiter, harder against people of colour in ways that would make an Obama detour a naked insult on blackness. The column kept making the point that blackness did not necessarily connect, anymore than white racists sought to make it condemn.
Obama would never connect with his own skinmates, rather, he would be at happy one with skinheads.
What mattered, the column reiterated, was the colour of the heart, colour of the perspective of this man wading into White House. That in my view, Obama’s black tincture masked his white heart, his white perspective, which made him so eligible for this wonderful colour experiment in US presidency and history.
Taint from the cot
That the white establishment which would retain untrammeled power would never have entrusted such awesome power to a black maverick, to a political unknown or “maybe”.
In fact, that the white establishment would, at the end of Obama’s presidency, emerge a little more fortified, a little more legitimate, having paraded to the world that indeed America was a non-racial land of equal opportunity; that indeed blacks would govern America like their white counterparts, with the only difference being that they would do the same badly, thanks to their congenital colour-based handicap.
Which proved that nothing is wrong with the way power is apportioned, configured and exercised in US. That at the end of Obama’s reign, blacks would emerge very apologetic, apologising for misgoverning America, apologising for ever being made deserving of such awesome leadership when in fact they carried a taint from the cot.
Conquering Groote Schuur
Then I sounded savagely skeptical, an instance of black misanthropy. But well before Obama, I had seen the same here in our region of Southern Africa.
I had seen, helplessly seen a black icon get captured and cordoned off behind a white edifice, an apartheid edifice. His name was Nelson Mandela.
Incarcerated for 27 years by his white gaolers, his stature yearly rose with incarceration, yearly well beyond his prison, his person, his family, his community, his country, to encompass the black person worldwide.
He transfigured, became our messiah, a black Jesus, both by demeanour and crucifixion.
Then one day he walked out, walked from his gaolers a free black man, in that seemingly gingerly step and stride, personifying the triumph of black fortitude over brazen white animality. Against the colonial trope, the dark continent had flashed a white heart, hallelujah!
The wheel of fortune kept turning, auspiciously for all of us blacks. Mandela became President – first ever black President — of South Africa. Again we rejoiced. We had conquered Groote Schuur! The accursed steps of Cecil Rhodes had been overstepped by the mighty footprint of Africa.
Angry, red barrettes
Years wore on. More years into Mandela’s presidency. We became the beautiful colours of the Rainbow. We celebrated, even forgetting God overlooked the colour black to adorn that beautiful mirage. Divine racism? Soweto remained. Tembisa remained, even expanded.
So did Gugulethu. Much more, we all remained black, dark as ever. Much worse, they remained white, pale as ever, peeping down on us from refulgent skyscrapers we could not climb. Then one day Mandela decided to make way to a younger leadership, retiring into a less buffeting, quieter and serene life of a founding father. It became another cheer, more so on a continent where power rarely passes hands.
In came Mbeki, an exile on whose person greater hopes for a new black fate rested. He tried, soon finding out Mandela was much more than a predecessor; he was a standard, a shibboleth. After him came Zuma, the current president, and in between, a short but fraught interregnum presided over by Monthlante.
Still our world remained how we had received it, wrestled it: all white, hardly reachable to those who had grasped it. But that was hardly surprising. Even up north where firebrands inhabited and even thrived, the colonial legacy lived on, deeper than a tinge.
What more with South Africa, kindergarten age in the continuum of African independence! But anger grew, stiffened, taking the yell of Malema and his red barrettes.
Yes, we can
The real issue though was how the white world had captured our icon, Mandela, isolated him from us. White minders, both of person and legacy. White eulogists. White erectors of statues in his honor. White biographers.
White awards. Much worse, our icon was turned into a deadly whip with which the white world lashed black miscreants, most of them sitting leaders at odds with that same white world.
It taught me something that helped me discern America’s hidden motive in crowning a Blackman as its president: outside domestic America, such a spectacular raise of the Blackman is a deadly augury for Africa as a continent, for all Third World people.
I predicted a more thrustful American policy on Africa under Obama, adding such an aggressive policy focus on Africa would be pursued with little risk of charges of racist imperialism, than would have been the case under George Bush Junior.
I hailed Obama’s presidency as a masterstroke at home and abroad. At home, a massive gesture had been made to the demographically significant black population, which also personified a black scar on white conscience through slavery. The sin of history had been expiated and white America could now move on, conscience salved.
Abroad, America would pursue its African Command (Africomm) goal overlaying its resource control goal on the African continent without any sense of restraint. Its President was black, with African genes coursing through his veins.
How could he harm Africa, the land of his father? Sadly, Africa has since been aggressed by an America under a black President, with the smoke of American aggression on our continent still twirling up the blue skies. Yes, under Obama, America now could!
Another death, another man of colour
One day, on August 9 this year, a white officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson town of Missouri.
The 18-year old black teenager was unarmed, and was killed in broad daylight. Ferguson exploded, as did a number of American towns and cities, as black communities reacted with outrage to this racial manslaughter. Obama mildly decried the action, boldly called for calm.
He spoke on the side of law and order, barely on the side of black rights whose routine denial over centuries made his own presidency so spectacular. Much worse, Jay Nixon, Missouri’s white governor invited the national guard to move in to quell the unrest triggered by this cold-blooded killing.
The National Guard moved in, supported by a fleet of war vehicles called Humvees. The spectacle of an arm of the US military deploying home to challenge core freedoms on American mainland, shall be very hard to forget.. Expectedly in no time another black youth, 25-year old Kajieme Powell, was dead, thanks to the precision shooting of the National Guard.
Obama was forced to despatch the country’s Attorney General, one Eric Holder, himself another man of colour, who confirmed Ferguson was a deeply “fractured” community, something he said he understood and sought to act on urgently.
Tears and tees
As this crisis was petering off, another complication hit Obama’s presidency. Far away in Iraq, ISIS insurgents beheaded an American journalist, James Foley, grisly uploading a clip of that bloody act on YouTube.
The world watched with horror. So did Obama, who expressed his heartbreak, vowing to be “relentless” against the Islamic radicals who, in the meantime, threatened to behead yet another American captive. Soon after this media act, the President of the United States of America headed off to Martha Vineyard, his favourite golf course, to tee off. Apparently the President is on leave, cooling off.
This sharp twist from tears to tees has got America’s tongue wagging. By the way, Foley is a white American, apparently captured while covering events in Syria where ISIS, the very insurgent movement which has claimed his head, cut its insurgent teeth in a war against Assad.
And in that war, America supported Islamic insurgents who included ISIS, against Assad.
Foley had been despatched to sell that war which his country America supported not so covertly. He has since been sacrificed by his motherland, slaughtered by rebels armed by his government which is now contemplating fighting the same ISIS it created, side by side with Assad whom Foley routinely wrote to damn. Yes, states do betray, yes, states do sacrifice, kuchekeresa vana!
An epitaph that damns generations
But watch how white America weeps for a butchered white American employed to sell her unjust wars abroad vis-a-vis a black teenager citizen who gets gunned down on US streets for just being black.
The one represents the face of American imperialism abroad, the other the vulnerabilities of simple citizenry in a racist country founded of white supremacist ideals. The one demonstrates the wages of aggression, the other measures the retreat of civil liberties in a racialised democracy, if such an oxymoron means anything at all.
The one darkens the presidency of Obama, forecloses the prospects of his party come the next elections, the other is an opportunity to show duty and service to the white establishment. And here is the point: when all is seen and assessed, Obama’s presidency raised black hopes that today collapse into a heap of black bitterness.
To die under white rule strikes me as a lot more honourable, a better tribute to race history, than to be sacrificed under the rule of one of your own.
The epitaph in the one is that the white world killed you; the epitaph in the other is that the black president failed you, could not save you.
The last one leaves you with a foreboding sense of race impotence, a sense likely to transcend generations, making future black voters mistrustful of black leadership, believing in white misrule all the more thereby.
What a cruel fate!
When he could not serve Michael . . .
Looking back, I am struck by the irony of an Obama surrounded by African presidents all of whom represent a continent he pretends to want to save and serve. So many billions are pledged, the key word being “pledged”.
Africa, through its gullible, or desperate (or is it both?) Presidents, grins yellow with sickly, helitosis hope!
As their ashen bones of acute aid-need syndrome rattle in their shriven skin frames, none dare stop to ask: will a man who could not save Michael Brown ever save Mamoudou, Kwesi, Sizwe or Mucha? Could a man who could not save Ferguson ever save Bandundu, Kitwe, Tsumeb or Gwanda?
Or spare them should white terror target them? It is clear the rise of the black man does not change the world; rather, it merely helps him escape the world of tears. One badge of our servility as a race is the fact that symbols are deployed to run us, to pacify us, never to represent or demand for us.
Those symbols need our colour, need our history, need our heroes, to stick, to persuade. Aahh! Kuchazove riini, Africa?