Baba’s new sense to the things of the world were unrivaled. He liked every part of him to be a part of everything that went through him or around him. I particularly liked the way he dressed now. His brown shoes which suffered a few wrinkles from the moisture of the years shone each time he came to pick me up in the morning for school. His self-ascribed uniform was a short-sleeved white shirt and blue-black pair of polyester trousers deeply starched with ironed edges that would remain standing after a hug from an elephant. Even though his teeth had been stained from regular bouts of chewing cola the one gold tooth he had now made it all look perfect to me. Baba broadly showed me all the 32 when he asked me how I and everyone else in the family was doing and if we had a good night. After school, mostly on the pay-days, he would drive by Aunty Memuna’s sandwich shop to treat himself and I to sandwiches. When they came, he would say loudly “b-ismi-llāh-ir-raḥmān-ir-raḥīm “, take a sniff, admire the sandwich before he would take a bite. And when he did, his eyes closed, he allowed all the thousands of taste buds on his tongue to work, to bring to him what each portion of the morsel tasted like. Aunty Memuna and I would wait for his first bite, like he had trained himself, he could tell exactly what surprise Aunty Memuna had in the sandwich which always left her in amazing laughter and extra sandwiches at no cost. And this was only a tiny thing Baba could do. Once Madam Franca, my French teacher, joined us for a lift to town. Baba told Madam the name of the perfume she used and what the inspiration elements for the perfume were. Baba told me after Madame alighted with surprise and smiles on her face at her junction that Madame had resprayed the perfume on her to musk a certain smell. Baba said the smell was something for adults to discuss.
That evening when I told Mama about Madam Franca, she said Baba’s new life made him see the world in a different way. So, I asked him the next morning what it was he saw. Baba smiled and said I followed the light that has always been in me. He told me the world is such a beautiful place if we allow it to be. The next time we went to Aunty Memuna’s, I asked her to surprise me too. I did it just as Baba did, prayed, sniffed, though I failed to smell something at all. Baba watched me as I took my first bite grinning. Aunty Memuna watched me in anticipation. Everything tasted the same to me the tomatoes, salad, meat and bread were the same. Baba pat me on my shoulder and said it takes time Ali It takes time.
When you ask God to come into your life, you do it because you believe He is going to make you better. You are hopeful. You think He is going to come into your life (which we assume is like a house) and make things nicer. You think he is going to plant some flowers in the front, make a garden in the back, paint old things, change the wall colour and make the house look pretty and sophisticated. You like the ideas you form in your head because now everyone will see how beautiful you can be.
But the next day, He comes back with a wrecking ball and an excavator, with excitement. He says, which you already know, “am making all things new!” and thrusts the wrecking ball into the house. You scream! You loved this house; you did not even know how comfortable and in love you were with the house until it starts to fall. Can’t we negotiate this you ask Him? This has been your home for a long while, even if the doors creak, even if darkness fills some rooms, and even if some windows are sealed off. It is your home. Everything has worked the way you know it to till now even though it has always not been right.
And He continues, He says “I love you, I’ve got to do this dear friend, only then can we have that masterpiece”. He starts pulling, ripping, tearing apart. He pulls you from toxic situations. He grabs you from things and people who take life from you. It hurts because you loved them. He is touching the parts of your heart you never let anyone touch before. He pushes you into uncomfortable places. He makes you talk to people and do things you would rather not. You confront the darkest rooms together. And He is always, always there. He holds your hand while you tear up when you see the nothingness left, and out of that nothing He creates. With every brick he lays, you see the perfection. You see the beauty and are amazed at how you were content which that which was before.
And like a child you ask each day when He will be done, and why it takes so long? He builds your patience. He makes you love with your heart in His hands. You move over and he becomes the Lord of the home you have now. He amazes you at how slow but with precision He makes you, like Him. Your joy is overflowing, the pain is worthy, your home is His and your peace unwavering.
(The motivation for this piece is from a quote in Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird.)
Enraged, the questions, “Why can’t white people leave black people alone?” “Why can’t white people end the hatred and wickedness that now looks like it is genetically infused and transfused per blood from parent to child to black people” mount in my mind. They multiply, are edited, but the answers never come. Each year, the same questions, the answers, unsuccessful. And now, in this concise post which is incapable of holding all my thoughts on racism, I share some understandings of how white people even the nicest ones raise racists.
My first personal scrape with racism happened on my move to Germany, even on the Lufthansa flight. The white waitress believed she was doing me a favour by providing me for a service I paid. She treated me differently from the white man seated by me. Anyway, I moved to East Germany, former German Democratic Republic, the place mostly intolerant to anything foreign unless it is food and sex. I was shielded by being part of a student community, on a campus and in a University town. But this region is the headquarters of PEGIDA (you can google that), an organisation that started in the same year I moved to Germany. They go on regular protests and when they happen, we stay indoors. They are against Islam, foreigners, refugees, and anyone else who is not pure-bred white German. They believe that in speaking up against all the things they hate, instead of speaking up to the real problems they face in that region and the injustices they suffer as a bulk of industries are in west Germany, they make sure the dignity of their heritage is maintained. Ask what this honorable heritage is.
The thing is: each city I moved to, I experienced something, some form of rudeness, some form of wickedness, some form of hatred, even in West Germany I experienced the worst and hopefully the worst from neighbors who harassed me and were supported by the house administration. I also experienced other forms of racism from my son’s father’s family which I reserve for a future post.
I came to Germany with an open mind. I knew of racism had not prepared myself for it. The Germans I knew before coming to Germany were missionaries. I was naive. I thought most or all Germans were open minded, receptive of all races. I learnt the truth by burning myself in all the wrong ways. Last year, I had a conversation with a colleague, she (white) believed race tolerance was getting better, people were more receptive (how could she know? She is white). I argued the opposite, that people are rather now intolerant than 30 years ago even when the world is supposedly closer . As many as there are of persons advocating for freedom of the sexes, gender, etc. how many laws and legal instruments have been passed in the past decade against the injustices of black people? The disrespect white people and others have for black people is unwarranted and shameful.
How do you remain that proud of the injustices and murders your great-great-grandparents have caused for generations on black people and stay justified enough to pass it on to your children? As a parent, it becomes clearer how these biases are passed on to their children, for example through education structures that label heroes as those who destroyed, killed, manipulated others in their homes or through simple rhymes that do glorious storytelling and sing about other nationalities. I ask myself what essentially is for example the popular folk-song “Drei Chinesen” to teach children. Yes, it is to teach them vowels, but is that the only way children can learn vowels, by singing about the Chinese? The song lyrics says three Chinese with the contra-bass sitting on the street and having a conversation. Then came the police and asked them what that is. Three Chinese with the contrabass. The first time I heard it I knew it was wrong. Why should the police walk up to them? This song is passed on to children as early as 1 where the inherent message sinks in and is affirmed in school with gallant stories of heroes who civilized the uncivilized and how that makes them glorious and the know all. No song is just a silly song unless you wish to nurture silliness in your children. Another song “Ein Mann, der sich Kolumbus nannt”, lyrics here, is an over glorious storytelling of Columbus, a hero who discovers America where the people there yell in delight “We’ve been discovered” which we know is false.
Why can’t you make your children sing about apples, bananas, dogs, and cats like everyone else? These things start so early. There are many children whose parents never tell them there exist other races apart from the white race. When they see a black person, they stare at them and ask why they are like that, while their parents look away or say something like they are (beautiful) people too. Let us never forget, even nice people raise racists, even the well-meaning can raise racists unless they are intentional about addressing racism in their home.
Some years ago, one of the nicest people invited me over for dinner where I made a Ghanaian dish for them. When one child saw me eat with my hands, he made vomit sounds and said what I did was disgusting: eating with my hands. At the age of 8, no one had taught him to have an appreciation of other cultures and that no culture was supreme, not even his. I could go on ranting into a book. Maybe I should but not today.
Racism is believing that this world space is not enough for blacks and whites. That whites need to claim superiority over blacks by heralding ownership over blacks and making all crimes against blacks’ honorary badges for generations to come.
How will racism end? When all white people accept that they are racist and everything they have is built on their oppression of minorities and strive to address it.
That is when freedom starts for us all, blacks and whites.
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