Just a Passerby

Staring At Death

ATTENTION!
THIS ISN’T FICITION!
If its fiction you want at the moment, my apologies. I’m going to be rambling a bit about the concept of color.

To me, black is just a color, a black gown, a black goat.
Just a color.

I am a Nigerian and in my country, asides tribal and religious differences which can be a huge pain, you can either be fair as in oyibo or dark or chocolate even black in the sense of the color being used as a description of your physical attribute, not in the sense of the color denoting mental or racial superiority or inferiority as the case may be.

If/When I leave my country, I cease to be me, a fair skinned Nigerian and the identity ‘Black’ is foisted on me. When I refuse to be de-humanized and condensed to one single color, I am termed VIOLENT. Everything I am and represent becomes inferior because of that single word-Black.

A Muslim friend once told me of her experience in one of the UAE countries. She was shopping when she passed a little girl with her mother, the little girl smiled and said ‘hello’. My friend returned the favor, even stopped to say hello to the mother and compliment her, ‘You have a very beautiful daughter’. The mother turned with a smile on her face but on seeing my friend, her face froze and she grabbed her daughter, her face twisted in absolute disgust.
One might argue that my friend was a stranger and the mother was scared but we all know the difference between a look of terror and that of disgust. A few minutes later, another shopper, a man who incidentally was staying in the same hotel with my friend was drawn to the smiling little girl; this time the mother is openly smiling, even allowing him to pat the child, briefly. The difference being that this man had a different skin color-white. And I wonder, does religion not transcend the barriers of color?
I see Islam as a religion with strong cohesion but yet in my friends experience, they were both Muslims, Hijab wearing females but she was shunned because of her skin color.

At the moment, while I’m in my country where no one sees me as black or mentally inferior because of my color, do I have the right to speak up against the racial injustice perpetuated against people of like color?

Do I turn the other way because I am not directly involved?
Do I pretend like its not happening because it’s not my business?

These questions plague me incessantly and I wonder… It reminds me of this poem by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, an outstanding South African poet, the poem is titled Just a passerby:

I saw them clobber him with kieries,
I heard him scream with pain
Like a victim of slaughter:
I smelt fresh blood gush
From his nostrils,
And flow on the street.
I walked into the church
And knelt in the pew
“Lord! I love you,
I also love my neighbor. Amen.”
I came out
My heart as light as an angels kiss
On the cheek of a saintly soul.
Back home I strutted
Past a crowd of onlookers.
Then she came in-
My woman neighbor:
“Have you heard? They’ve killed your brother.”
“O! No! I heard nothing, I’ve been to church.”

For one reason or the other, we all subconsciously take on the attitude of the character portrayed in that poem.

Jesse Williams BET awards speech, an absolutely beautiful and powerful speech is a source of white outrage with people asking that he should be fired but when white people make clearly racist speeches they are give awards and even asked to contest for the Presidency. His speech is inspiring and if every black person would stand up and speak out, maybe there will be less unnecessary killings.

This is my favourite part of his speech-

“We’re done watching and waiting while
this invention called whiteness uses
and abuses us, burying black
people out of sight and out of mind
while extracting our culture, our
dollars, our entertainment like oil –
black gold, ghettoizing and
demeaning our creations then
stealing them, gentrifying our
genius and then trying us on like
costumes before discarding our
bodies like rinds of strange fruit.
The thing is though… the thing is
that just because we’re magic
doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

What does color mean to you?
I would appreciate your contributions.

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