FOR THOSE WHOSE COLOR BETRAY THEM. (Written for Art Republic.)
When one thinks of racism — global racism — she experiences it from the vantage of oppression and racial conspiracy. But what gives racism its double edged quality is its ability to camouflage and remain hidden and how it expertly keeps itself away from the glare of public discourse. More importantly racism easily becomes tied to blackness when we fail to recognize other spaces of minority as themselves being relevant to the broad picture: Arabs suffer too — having to be constantly pinned against terrorist agendas, South Americans are illegal immigrants in every foreign country and their women are empty headed bimbos. It is these subtle stereotypes — never heavily pronounced — that regulates the mind to think of racism as something suffered primarily by black lives.
What is most worrying is the distance between racism and equally repressive tendencies: immigration policies in certain states have been relaxed, religion is allowed to roam free and sexuality — however unorthodox — is embraced. How does racism remain independent of reform?
Walking through a neighborhood in Durban, the sidewalks are penned with early morning dew, and veined with moss, the weather is nice, but on this occasion I cannot enjoy it. For a boy of my age, seventeen, black, and in search of employment, my chances are rather slim. To be a black in search of employment in a city whose labor market favors white nationalists is to be maddened with rage. I turn into a street that is well paved, the houses are thoughtfully assembled, and it is as though the air here is cleaner: this is white privilege, pure and unbridled. On the window of a house, is a wooden sign, which hangs from a slender rope, it taps against the window frames in the soft breeze. On it are bold red words against a white background: ERRAND BOY NEEDED, ASK FOR MADAM COETZEE. I walk down the clearing that leads to an old fashioned kitchen, large and warm. I wipe my feet at the entrance, there is a pottage on the stove. A red cheeked girl who wears a bogus overall emerges from the opposite door, she wipes her hand on her apron and stares intently at me.
‘I saw the sign’ I say
‘Madam Coetzee is a very busy woman, very busy. Wait here’ she says.
She ghosts back into the door she came through and the room falls silent, no sound but the soft crackle of fire at the stove. She returns, her face seems renewed-reborn.
‘Madam will see you now, the first door to your right’
I walk down the dimly lit passage,the thudding of my footsteps accompanying me.
Madam Coetzee sits at the chestnut desk reclining in an old worn swivel chair. I peek in warily and then fully emerge into the room. She is a heavy set woman. I lower myself unto the netted chair at the opposite end of the table. She frowns, regards me the way one might regard a rodent.
“English?” she says
She sighs and realigns herself in the chair.
“Do you find rats, or skunks or cockroaches repulsive?” she is staring at me, her head rests in her palm.
“No one likes them-ma’am.” I say.
“You see, that is how I see you Negroes — you filthy Negroes, you come here, rape our women and steal our jobs.” She stands up with a groan and moves towards me “and this is the price a Negro like you pays for my employment.” She bares her chest, thrusts herself against me on the wall and does the deed, so that it is as though I no longer exist in the present but rather, the days of the earliest bondages.
The one who looks sees hatred — sees from a certain point — the image of a woman exercising herself on the body of a man.
She — the woman: white, privileged.
He — the boy: black, not privileged, and small against her.