By Field Ruwe
Gripped by a sense of failure, I sat on the bench and stared at the horizon in the direction of my motherland. A jab of pain couldn’t let go.
“Are we the forgotten people?” I asked.
I felt my eyes fill, but fought back tears. The smile on the white people in the hall is what had brought me here, to consult with God. I stepped out because I could not share their happiness; their joy, and their pride as a people. They were happy that I had come to see what had made them exceptional.
The guest speaker had bruised my self-worth with his words.
“There’s nothing we have failed to achieve,” he said in his speech. His pose exuded a calm confidence. “We’ve explored, discovered, and invented. We’ve built a rocket to take us far and beyond…to our neighbors in the universe, and now we have this baby here to take care of Mars.”
In the middle of the hall was a model of NASA’s rover named “Curiosity.” Currently on Mars, the six-wheeled robot is helping scientists to study habitability, climate, and geology of Mars.
“Because we are a curious people, we have named him Curious,” the speaker said. “It’s the curiosity in us that has produced geniuses of this world, among them, Isaac Newton, The Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. We can drive, fly, and tweet. Now, Curious here is trying to make it possible for us to colonize the red planet.”
“God bless America!” someone in the audience shouted.
The hall rang with applause and cheers. I couldn’t partake. I knew what the speaker meant by “we.” I knew it the moment I had entered the hall and set my eyes on the robot. It was an ingenious piece of work that evoked the graffiti I had read on a dilapidated building across my street: “Why do you blacks think you are entitled to a free ride through life?”
“Indeed why?” I asked myself. “What is wrong with us? Aren’t we entitled to the same curiosity, the same happiness?”
“Yes you are.” I thought I heard a voice. “Happiness is everyone’s responsibility. The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. The white people in the hall are happy because they have resolved to keep happy. Their success is their happiness. They are not sitting on a bench of failure like you blacks.”
“We’ve tried,” I said. “Each time we try, we are dragged down by the very white people you are talking about.”
“Rubbish! That’s the most damn thing I have heard in a long time. You ought to be ashamed of yourself blaming whites.”
“It is their fault,” I insisted. “In their effort to dominate us, they keep undermining our intelligence. They have put us at the top of the worst of mankind. Look at all the statistics. We are at the deep end. We’ve been at the bottom since we came into contact with them. They actually insist we are the worst.”
“And you believe them.”
“The world believes them and because it does, we are held in suspicion by all non-black people. When we present our ideas, they toss them out.”
“Have you tried to pick up the rejected ideas, brush off the dust, develop them yourselves to prove a point to the world?”
“Well until you do, you will be blaming happy people for your bad statistic. They laugh when you blame slavery, colonialism, and all the baloney. Get off that bench, you lazy pessimistic whiner, and do what other non-white people are doing, creating their own happiness. Oh, one thing, happiness is hard work, remember that.”
I got up. There was no way I was going back in the hall. It was Saturday afternoon. I wearily jumped into my car and headed for my local.
It is a rendezvous for my people, a kind of intellectual center for African-Americans and Africans in the diaspora. Every Saturday evening we mingle, drink and laugh, and often entertain visiting academics, African politicians, and cultural figures.
Set in bistro style, it is our version of Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park. I call it a dynamic mirror of black consciousness. Anyone can get up and say what is on their mind as long as it is not a load of bull.
It is here I learned how splintered and greedy a black people we are. I learned that just because African-Americans are black does not mean they embrace us as their own. Riding on white success, African-Americans believe they are miles ahead of us. Actually, many do not see themselves as Africans.
“I am a black American,” one professor keeps saying. “I have no African ancestors or relatives that link me to Africa. It was damn of Jessie Jackson to coin that African-American crap.”
I also learned that black islanders do not think much of Africans. No matter how much hurricane Isaac pounds them, they are glad they are not on the most impoverished continent.
Of course North Africans are ashamed to be called Africans. And although Ethiopians, Somalis, and Northern Sudanese are part of sub-Sahara, they too carry with them their own prejudices. Sadly put, we are no one wants to be.
When I walked in, a bearded black man was on the podium talking about Obama.
“Like Biden said, if you don’t vote for him, they gonna put you all back in chains,” he told a small crowd of blacks seated in a well lit room.
I sat next to Diallo, an accomplice from Senegal and whispered a “hi.”
The speaker acknowledged my presence and continued. “I’m told a group of African-America pastors is calling on blacks to give Obama a ‘no’ vote for his support for gay marriage. They want to take us back to the Bush-bush days. For four years we black people have walked tall…”
I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Here the mood was that of a black on black exasperation. Black blood was at hypertension level. But again that’s where it’s been in blacks around the world.
We are ever bombarded by melancholic issues like racism, hunger, conflicts, poverty, disease, dictatorship, corruption, back-stabbing, blatant lies, and empty promises by our political leaders.
“How do we as a people become as happy as them?” I asked myself as I watched the bearded speaker blast black conservatives in the Republican Party—Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Ron Christie, and all.
“They make black unity difficult to achieve,” he said.
I closed my eyes and felt my anger climbing in tandem. I was thinking about my own people in sub-Sahara Africa.
It is in black Africa that failure is deeply entrenched. It is here that 854 million blacks are locked in a time warp, content to live in anarchic and deplorable conditions. It is in Africa that the dream of a united Africa under one government, common citizenship and common destiny has eluded our political leaders.
Curious was still bothering me. All sorts of thoughts ricocheted through my mind. I felt the urge to speak and took to the podium as soon as the bearded man was done.
I spoke: “White people created their power on ideas. Why can’t we? Are we so lazy, we’ve left our plight in the hands of God? Are we to believe that this is who we are, a people without ideas?”
I paused. The audience was attentive.
“Let me ask an outrageous question. I have so often heard hardcore racists say that we are the cursed descendants of Ham, the “black” son of Noah. Are we really? Can someone please tell me we are not? If we are then it explains why we find ourselves in this abyss. But even if we are, we can pull ourselves out in the same way as other non-white people.”
I was expecting a comment or some sort of denunciation. There was none.
“Let’s forget the Ham nonsense and look at ourselves as a black people. Although black is no one’s favorite color because it symbolizes darkness, sorrow, and the primordial void, it is a color of power. It is authoritative. How then can we take pride in this color and be psychologically driven to become a happy and respected powerful people?
“I’ll answer. We must begin to convert physical power into mental power. Muscle power into brain power. That’s all we need to do. That’s what all successful people have done, Jews, Asians, and others.
“Today, Jews, victims of anti-Semitism, dominate most of the important institutions: academics, politics, the media, and sciences. Their success is the result of their own effort.
“Why can’t we, victims of racism, do the same?” I asked.
I insisted that the factors that work together to create Jewish wealth can be applied to blacks.
“First, like Jews, we must develop a culture of sticking together, hard work, education, and deferred gratification. We already have created an artistic community. We must now go scientific. Our children must enter college in significant numbers to study the sciences. We must produce scientists, engineers, and more doctors. We must have our own cars, trains…”
“We’ve heard that one before,” someone cut in. “It won’t work.”
“It’s a pity, isn’t it?” I responded. “Nothing works, so we don’t bother to try. In the Jewish community billionaires like De Beers’ Nicky Oppenheimer, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, computer mogul Michael Dell, Google co-owner Sergey Brin, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg invest in the ingenuity and creativity of their own people. Why can’t our rich black men and women do the same?”
The 2012 Forbes magazine features an African as the wealthiest black. Nigerian Aliko Dangote has a net wealth of $11.2 billion. Also, Nigerian Mike Adenuga is worth $4.3 billion, and South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe is at $2.7 billion.
The U.S. has black billionaires among them Oprah Winfrey ($2.7 billion) and Bob Johnson of BET fame ($1.1 billion). There are hundreds of black millionaires in the movie, entertainment, and sports industries like Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, musicians Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and golfer Tiger Woods. By last year the salaries of black athletes in the NBA, NFL, and MLB totaled over $5 billion.
“Ladies and gentlemen, black wealth in the world is estimated at more than $100 billion,” I said. “Our children need just a portion to elevate our race to acceptable standards. Let’s invest in their ingenuity and create happiness of our own.”
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012