Author, Scrabbler, Traveler

Systematic Racialism And Its Consequence

My East Indian community had established its roots in East Africa for centuries. Overnight they were forced to flee leaving with barely a suitcase in hand.

Why did this occur? Social and economic  circumstances were blatant – Idi Amin, in Uganda and Sheikh Karume in Zanzibar decided they could have as many wives as they wanted and chose to “wed” East Indian women and bed them ad hoc as their fancy took them.

Government corruption, resulting in diminished aid from abroad, led to financial crises. Ruling (and undemocratic) governments resorted to “nationalize”  East Indian businesses and real estate, looting their cash resources. The governments gambled on deflecting the blame and responsibility of their financial mess to the “greedy ” Asians. These actions escalated when President Amin gave East Indians twenty-four hours to leave the country.

From a place of power and influence they fell to inhabiting hovels in Europe and Canada.

Beyond the blatant, the East Indian community left a legacy of utter contempt for the African native populace whom they treated as servile and ignorant. For centuries the East Indian community, instead of building bridges to the native population, berated them as lazy and thieves.

My life in Africa was surrounded by the natives.

As equals?

No. As servants.

It was not until my teenage years that I made a trip by dhow across the water from the mainland to the island of Zanzibar, living for a fortnight in a home owned and governed by Africans. My whole perception of them was turned upside down.

Here is an extract from Chasing Aphrodite, :

Something wasn’t right. He marched into his uncle’s room.

 

“Uncle Sherali, where do I put my money and passport?’

 

” Beside your bed.”

 

“But there is no lock on the door and we are surrounded by karias (blacks).”

 

His comment didn’t register with Uncle Sherali, who had emptied his suitcase on the bed and spilled its contents across the room, as comfortable as if he were at home.

 

This simply wasn’t done. On the mainland, Africans were servants. You were told they were not to be trusted. They would steal the shirt off your back. They had to be watched constantly. They couldn’t cook – what was he going to eat? Now, here they were completely surrounded, with no locks to protect them, and his uncle couldn’t care less. How could he be so irresponsible? Perhaps his father had been right after all.

 

Lunch was a meal fit for a king. The whole family of twenty were seated at a large round table. All were served where they sat. Considering themselves within their own domain, the women had let go of their black garb. They were now dressed in sumptuous colours. The children jumped on and off their chairs, and the adults scolded them for doing so. In bits and pieces, the gossip of the town was laid bare. Teenagers back for their afternoon siesta from their nearby school gawked at the strangers who had so easily been taken in as part of the family. The boy looked surreptitiously at the girls with their doe-like sleepy eyes, their lashes and eyelids darkened with kohl.

 

He had never experienced this in Dar between their two communities. His Indian family and friends would frown and try to dissuade him from playing soccer with Africans. Yet, he found that once he had joined them , they forgot he was a stranger and took him as one of their own. This acceptance applied wherever he went as a boy, whether playing soccer in England or in Tiger Shark Park in Hong Kong. But his Indian community’s perspective was so different. Years later, peering through a snow-streaked window at the desolate Canadian prairie in mid-winter, he looked back at how his East Indian community had been expunged from Africa, their property and businesses confiscated, and he understood where that perspective had led them and why.

That cataclysmic exodus happened in the early 1970s. Looking back at the horror and heartache of my people, I am reminded of a quote from W.H. Auden :

“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”

The poem was called September 1, 1939 – the day World War II was declared. In 1945, Auden omitted the stanza ending in “We must love one another or die.”

“The three different colours paint represent black people, white people and brown people, and how you Emil, have had to compose a composition that is a blending of all three, as you have experienced both sides of the racial equation – you have had servants, yet also been treated as servants. You have had to navigate between these three cultures and find your place. And it has been a struggle to make sense of, and has been messy – hence the drips.” — Wes Pohl

Facing Down Prejudice

In 1960, I became the first person of colour resident of a down-at-heel, low Council housing estate in Maidenhead, a small town thirty miles west of London, England. I was five years old.

My East Indian single mother, in her early twenties who had neither education nor a true grasp of English had newly arrived in London. When she suddenly realized she could not look after me. A fellow worker – Flo – felt sorry and volunteered to look after me for two weeks until a proper family could be found. My Indian mum had just picked me from Heathrow airport where I had arrived from a long journey out of East Africa. After a few minutes of conversation at the Aslett’s, she left me to begin her night shift.

If this is a group of people this sentence needs some clarification, right now it reads as though Aslett’s is a last name of the people your mother had you stay with.

“Do you live in the jungle? ” someone asked.

“Is Tarzan your neighbour?” another voice asked.

A pregnant silence followed.

Although fluent in Swahili , Kutchi , Gujarati and Arabic, I barely understood, let alone spoke, English. The Aslett’s prided themselves in not knowing any other language than their native tongue. (What is their native tongue?) I could barely understand their simple questions, let alone try to answer them.

It is my advice you rework the above paragraph starting with the question “Do you live in the jungle.” Set the scene for the readers in its current state the narrative is a bit too jumpy. Help the reader understand who these people are who are talking to you.

How was I treated in this rough and tumble estate called home?

Here is an extract from my book, Chasing Aphrodite:

He loved playing football and would run around the crescent looking for a scratch game to join. The footballers all knew Flo and knew her wrath. None would harm him.

 

Back then, he would plead to join.

 

“What’s your name, mate ? ”

 

“Snow White. ” The standard answer with a goofy grin. But it always got him in.

 

” Na ! What’s yer real name ? ”

 

“Em.”

 

This underweight pygmy of a kid, jokingly referred to by his own English family as a “model off an Oxfam1 poster,” had the talent these street urchins needed – he could score goals. Once allowed in, he was taken as one of their own. They would later rant and rave about wogs and Pakis right in front of him, but him they accepted without reservation. His colour completely overlooked.

Later, as he escaped into accountancy as a career, he could never trust the well-spoken and always correctly mannered middle-class that surrounded him, never sure what they really thought of him or the low-class council house community he had come from.

Working as an accountant provided my chance to start life in Canada. Decades later, I brought my two teenage boys (“The Poodle” and ” The Monster” ) to my estate.

Aphrodite continues :

Although it was mid-morning on a weekday, a rag-tag group of youths approached, heads down, looking askance. The Poodle and The Monster beat a retreat along with the taxi driver. Their father just stood there mesmerized. The same motley group that his boys ran from were the kind he would play with.

 

Sadly for him, his kids knew no better, accepting naturally their enhanced class status and looking askance at the descendants of the Ellington Park mob who had sustained
and nurtured him.

I had worked so hard and taken so many risks to gain my freedom from poverty and prejudice, but what had I imbued in my own sons? Watching their reaction, I experienced the full circle of that prejudice I had fought so hard against.

Which is the worst kind of prejudice? The blatant or the courteously polished ? How do you overcome it? How do you immunize your children from it?


(1) Oxfam: An international charitable organization to alleviate global poverty