I’m walking across the street in Lusaka a few months ago. Joshua and Ethan are holding either hand and I’m trying to negotiate the near death experience of the traffic around about Manda Hill Shopping Centre. So, there I am in the middle of the road and then wham! a huge 4×4 just flys towards us as we are in the middle of the road. He screeches to a halt, sticks his head out of the window and screams obscenities into the air. “you mzungus, you think you own the road”, I reply with some polite eloquent response pointing out he is intellectually challenged and may need some driving lessons. I say it definitely is not anything to do with me being white.
The thing is, I have learned here that racial tension in Africa is never far from the surface. Unfortunately there are a lot of white people who act like they do own the place, to my races shame. However, racism I don’t think is mainly between different colours, it is between haves and have nots. The Zambian madam, uber rich from property can be just as disparaging to a villager than any White I have ever seen.
The issue is for us whites is that we believe it is all to do with colonialism. It frankly isn’t. I’m quite sick and tired of the line I endlessly hear that goes something like, “well it’s all our fault, if we hadn’t of oppressed people etc. etc.” My friends, it is just not as simple as that. Whilst not helping, people do have the latitude to make their own choices.
Let me tell you how I know it is not solely to with colour. Last week, there was a gathering of villagers at my house. They come, relax at my house, learn about what we do and have a good time. One of them was telling me about an oppressive work situation he was in. Then a couple of other villagers chipped in and laid the blame at the foot of white farmers in the area. It would seem to confirm the white/black divide, but they were not counting me as an oppressor, they were talking openly as if I was on their side. I was white, but not a white, my skin colour had become irrelevant. In africa it is often a feeling of being exempted or used that causes problems.
Oppressive work is oppressive no matter who is enacting it, whether they are white or black. Corruption is corruption whether the official is White or black. Suspicion is suspicion, whether the person being suspected is black or White. Usually those who are rich are suspicious of the poor, they feel threatened. Those who are poor, are often also oppressed by the rich, and sometimes the poor are also not great in their attitude either, undermining sometimes even good bosses. To say it is White v black, black v asian is a gross over-simplification. In africa, most new money is locally grown and some Zambians are also being thought of badly. You can tell when someone is being discriminated against when they are referred to as “they”, an indiscriminate general term for everyone who is not like me..”They” can be White farmers, bankers, blacks, villagers, particular tribes or anyone else.
Only when we can see beyond the colour of our skin, the familiarity of our own ways of doing things, and to be honest our own socio-economic status can people be truly equal. Its not easy sometimes, because different people groups still do things wrong and all that does is confirm our stereotypes. However in a continent where success and Gods blessing is seen in financial terms alone, there is a long way to go.
Maybe it’s the colour of our money and not our skin that divides us.