Some of you recognise the name Bryan Adams but cannot really put a face or a song to the name. The Canadian singer, who is on tour and recently performed a concert in Harare, is famous for songs like “Summer of ’69” and “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”. Believe it or not, the concert brought up some discussions about race in Zimbabwe, including reports in national newspapers. What started this racial debate? The first report that I saw was in the Sunday Mail in an article titled “Full House at Bryan Adams’ show” which alleged that the concert tickets “went on sale almost clandestinely”. The second newspaper article that I came across was “Keep your Bryan Adams and we will keep our Warriors” which focussed on the fact that the concert had a “99,9 percent” white attendance, with only 2 black people attending out of total of about 3,500 concert-goers.
While The Sheepish Shulamite is still on the topic of race etc., I thought it was
out of place ridiculous silly appropriate (along with the articles mentioned above) to put impute a political motive to what was just a fun night out for most of the party goers. Who knew that as Bryan Adams strummed the guitar, he was strumming the pain of black people with his fingers? Or that “Please Forgive Me” are the words that black people have been waiting to hear from a white man’s lips? Who would have thought that this was yet another “us against them” spy operation which was calculated to deprive black people of 1980’s rock music blaring through the speakers. Amaiwee!
All ridiculousness and jokes aside, this scenario does bring up some important racial issues that are relevant for most southern African countries. Regarding the fact that the show was attended by and advertised mostly (or exclusively) to white people, a friend on Facebook argued that it is hypocritical that we do not seem to have as much of a problem with the fact that concerts by black artists such as Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi are attended mostly by black people. But this misses the point. Bryan Adams posted a picture of his audience on Twitter and when I saw it, my first reaction was shock. To be honest, I was shocked to see such a huge number of white people, I did not even know that there were so many white people in Zimbabwe! It was a weird picture because there was not one dark brown hand raised in that crowd, in a country where the majority of people are dark brown.
Contextualising the problem::
Allow me to make my point clear:
i) in a context where the majority of people are black, it is unusual and problematic to have spaces where only white people are. The inverse is not as unusual because the majority of people are black and it makes statistical sense that they will dominate most spaces, simply because of their numbers.
ii) in a context where there has been a history of segregation of races (colours), the creation of “white spaces” that result in the separation of races is problematic, regardless of the motives of the people involved in creating these spaces.
We need to understand our present and historical context, even a concert is not independent of it. We need to stop defending images that are clearly problematic and start addressing the issues behind them. We need to address the issue that people feel marginalised – both white and black people, and we need to stop asking questions like: Why can’t we all just love each other? The real questions we need to ask are: Why are so many black people still angry with white people, decades after independence? and How can people living in the same context (black and white) see the same issue so differently?
Ignorance is bliss::
The reality is that we do not live in the same context, black/white and rich/poor. I am a black Zimbabwean who has a privileged background and I have never existed within the same context as my white contemporaries. We spent most of our days together at school but it very rarely went beyond that. The white girls had parties and holiday getaways that the black girls were never invited to and vice versa. We had our boyfriends, they had theirs. Separate and sort of equal. By the time l was in high school, Zimbabwe had already gone through a lot of changes, private schools were racially integrated and the controversial land reform programme was in full force.
Things had changed but they were still the same. In spite of the fact that my high school was made up of a majority of black pupils, the school leadership was still made up of mostly white people. The school board was mostly white, the prefects and sports captains were a majority of white people and the head girls were white. In 2007, a year before my last year of high school, my friends and I drew up a guess list of who we thought would be elected into the school leadership in our final year. The votes of the pupils would count but we knew that, ultimately, the decision would be made by the higher powers that be. Our list went something like this:
Head girl : obviously, a white girl.
Deputy head girl: token black girl / black girl who should have been head girl.
Senior prefect: one white girl, one black/ indian girl.
Games captain: Ah, white girl (what black girl can swim?).
Cultural captain: Can go either way.
And so on… Every year the prefects were announced on Speech Day and there was always a sense of anticipation in the air. In the entire history of our school, we had only had two black head girls and the last one was ten years before our year. On the 10th of October 2007, the tension was palpable. My journal entry from that day tells me that I broke into a cold sweat just before the head girl’s name was announced and I was still in shock and overwhelmed by the hugs, screams and kisses ten minutes later. The name they had announced was mine.
Lest we forget ::
“Never say never”
were are the words that I wrote on that day when I came home, still on a once in a lifetime high. People say that we cannot change anything in one day but I am telling you, my life was changed on that day. It was my very own ‘Nelson Mandela inauguration’ moment, my 17 year old heart shifted, I saw something historical on that day. I was the first in what has been a string of gifted, capable and promising young black women who have occupied the position of head girl at my high school.
Over 5 years later, that day is forgotten to many people, but it will never be forgotten by me, never by me. Because of that day, I believe.
I believe that there will come a day when white people understand where black people are coming from and understand the generational effect of things like colonisation and apartheid. And take some responsibility for it, even if it is not their fault. I believe that we will see black people embrace their blackness and choose forgiveness and reconciliation. And take ownership of their own destiny. I believe that one day the voices that will be heard in the public square are the ones that speak out on behalf of justice for all and not just the majority or minority. As crazy as it sounds, I believe in the kingdom of God coming to earth.
He said that unless we become like children we will never enter this kingdom. So I guess I’m always going to be a few months short of 18 ’til I die.
Thanks for reading.