What Do You Really Think Of Black People
March 24, 2012 § 14 Comments
It’s 4:32AM GMT and I’m up crunching numbers…or perhaps ‘tweaking’ my cost expenditure to make sense. Trying to run a business that has yet to make a single cedi revenue and more importantly trying to factor your forecast into your total cost can be a tricky thing. I’m not up because of this; the sun’s gotten to me. I think we’re in Ghana’s version of summer. I know it’s heat all-day, everyday, throughout the year, but there are subtle changes in the weather, and when you’re like me and your skin/body hasn’t adjusted to it, you really feel those minute changes. I’ve been sweating like crazy this past month. A year ago like today, the heat rashes are back and in full force (ok, it’s not that bad). I lay down and I begin to sweat. It’s remarkable. This reminds me…if you want to lose weight, come to Ghana for a month in March and you’ll hack off 10-15lbs easily! This is also why we’re having all these black-outs. I don’t know if those jokers at ECG/VRA are aware or are aware but not duly informing the public, but the high heat over taxes the whole grid and causes parts of it to fail. It happens often in the U.S., and if a developed country deals with it regularly, a backward poor country should always anticipate and expect worse.
Anyway…I can’t sleep and running numbers started to get boring, and when whatever I’m doing starts to bore me, my mind starts wandering, and it fell on a few encounters I had on my work run yesterday that got me thinking up until bedtime. This whole thing has gotten amusing the more I think about it. Have you ever seen that Dave Chappelle routine about different races sounding out private thoughts of how they really felt about each other to each other? That was very funny until I started thinking about it yesterday. I can also just see my white people keeping their distance from this entry or even ignoring it. I had a huge viewing drop-off when I wrote the ‘gay’ entry, so I’m not expecting anything different here, but sometimes, it’s better to confront some of these touchy subjects- even if it’s just within your own mind. Really, it can only help us relate better in the long run. So try not to cringe too much and read along.
Yesterday, I set out to source a lot of items I needed for work. I didn’t expect to find any or most, but I was pleasantly impressed with the outcome (way to go, expats!). So, luckily, I wouldn’t have to lean on mom to ship so, so, and so, which is a headache no one needs. My 2nd stop of the day was at Shoprite at the mini mall. I went through most of the isles looking to tick off my list (no luck there), but that didn’t help. I was already irritated at having to give up my shoulder bag and watching just about every white woman walk in with bags big enough to hold my rice cooker. What the fuck?! What would I want to steal from a grocery store? I’ve never stolen anything before, ever. The best you could get on me would be a few coins here and there to add to what I already had for soda or snickers bars, or maybe that slice of cake in the fridge I didn’t buy, but to go out and steal? One, it’s not my nature and will never happen. And two…I have only just two words: my mother. Yet, every time I enter that store, I’m made to feel like a thief.
After searching and not finding anything, I spotted a petite Chinese woman a few paces in front of me in an open area between the registers, entrance, baked goods, and vegetables. I thought she might be of some help with a few things I had on my list. I approached and gently asked:
“Hi, can I ask you a quick question… (I started to unfold a page with my item list)
At first, she leaned forward. I don’t know if that was arbitrary or intentional. But I went on…
“Suppose you wanted this (pointing to a sauce on my list)…” I was going to add “in Ghana, can you buy it locally or ship it here?”
I didn’t get to finish my sentence. She jerked back; looked petrified and clutched her shoulder bag. Then she peeled backwards without even looking down on my list “ask someone else.” I’m thinking…umm…ok…a Chinese sauce..a Chinese (yes, after high school and college, I can detect enough differences to tell Korean from Japanese from Chinese and that’s not even from reading their names). Besides briefly feeling a bit embarrassed, I started to wonder why she was in Ghana. Do people like her only bounce between their own kind, restaurants, the mall and their gated communities and never interact with locals? If you’re living in a country that is 99.9999999% NOT your ethnicity or nationality, you should at least have a relationship with its inhabitants besides the exorbitant income your hubby makes off the state, or even a slightly opened mindset about its culture before you left your China for it (Ghana or anywhere).
On my way out of the mall, there was this small booth with another Asian (man) selling fake hair. I began to try my luck with him, and then I quickly realized this guy had a terrible command of the English language. This is an English-speaking country, no? This one, too, didn’t even want to see the list. At first he thought I wanted to sell him something, then he reverted back to asking me if I wanted to buy hair, and finally went back to the standard “no, I don’t know.” I had only spoken out “can I ask you…” That’s it! I’ve long come to learn and personally experience this aversion Asians from the Far East and especially Indians have with black people. I could never tell where, how it began, cared, nor taken any time to learn why most hold fast to this attitude (and sometimes a sense of animus) towards black people. But that was in the U.S., and that’s not to excuse that behavior, but race relations in that country is far from the rosy picture we are so used to sharing from that sense of a ‘melting pot’ of different ethnic and social backgrounds all working together to make it. You only need a few clicks and a few reads from cowardly (and always anonymous) people to really understand that what we may perceive on the surface may be far different from what’s underneath. I’m not saying no two ethnic groups get along and would allow the idea that there’s far more harmony and geniality than there isn’t, but after days like yesterday, you can’t help wondering what people really think of you- you the individual they know, don’t know personally, and the you they only identify by the natural markers you cannot change (skin color, size, looks, etc).
The 4th leg of my shopping tour took me to a store opposite the police hospital at Danquah Circle. Over there, I slowly looked over items and checked off a few more things from my list. There were two Chinese people there with three locals; one (a woman) was at the front desk and the other (a man) was seated at the end of the first isle opposite the only male local attendant. When I couldn’t find something I expected the store to have, I naturally went towards the Chinese male who was closer to my position. He quickly motioned to the local nearer to the door to the backroom without raising his head “him!” Ok… ‘him’ didn’t have a clue about almost everything I thought they would have. Some help. I decided to keep browsing, and although I knew Chinese and Indians seem to hate you coming into their store to just browse, I was working a list and it would be fair to deduce that I was actually interested in buying those items on my list. As I worked my way around the back to the 2nd isle and towards the front register, I asked the woman…and like the last three before her, she didn’t bother to look at what I had or what I was asking. She, too, referred me to the girls “ask them.” Do these people have a problem with talking to locals? I also have to ask…do they see black/brown people as subordinate/subservient or only worthy of any real humanistic interaction when cash is involved? When this girl couldn’t find or even read a lot on my list, she went back to the woman at the desk. She took the list, read a while, and then asked “this for your madam?” “No, fool! I’m running my own business!” That didn’t come out; that’s how I felt inside. The temerity! So every black man who holds a shopping list of expensive Asian food items must be working under some master/madam? I took my list back and thanked the girl for what she found and made my way to the door. In my 10 minutes there, neither of the proprietors bothered to raise their heads when they spoke to me. It was as if I- like the image they have of their workers- was beneath them and wasn’t worth speaking to directly. It’s like how a chief lets you, a commoner know your low status in his presence, by only communicating with you through his otsiame (spokesman).
My last stop of the day was at Kwatsons. Theirs is on a backend street near Toyota on Graphic road. There, too, was another Asian boss. To be honest, I didn’t bother looking up to guess where he could be from. All I knew was here, too, were Abrofo bosses with six Bibifo and you only interacted with the Bibifo. I found more and affordable items from their little showroom, which seemed a well structured (and very lucrative) operation than I had imagined.
I know this handful of encounters shouldn’t be cause-enough for me or anyone to raise this topic, but this has only been the first time I’ve really thought about it. I don’t mind if people choose to clump together and only deal with their own kind. I understand it feels safe and you get the sense of belonging, but I’ve also long learned it’s a perfect way to remain insular, isolated from and ignorant about the world around you, and an easy way to develop a sense of antipathy for those not like you. But now, I’m left wondering a little about what, if any, views most non black Africans have of Africans. Black Americans I met in public school were the most ignorant and hostile of the bunch for some reasons I don’t have enough time to explain here, but it wasn’t all of them. The Indians and Asians (limiting to public school) held themselves in some rarified air and elevated sense of themselves that mixing with anyone darker was simply impossible. I didn’t and don’t mind people thinking highly of themselves, but there should always be limits before one spills over into narcissism. In my small boarding school, isolating oneself was just not prudent when you considered how we all needed and relied on each other, so that cultural norm didn’t exist. It did return with verve and in full form at Carleton, but by then I had no time for it. But even there and prior to that, I always saw bits of these ignorant thoughts and perceptions from people who felt I was cool enough for them to express those views. Cool, yes; allow you to carry on like that after I’ve heard those phrases from your mouth- no. But that was the cool thing about being open to other people. Their experiences with you help form new and better informed perceptions that replace the ignorant ones they had probably long held about you and your kind. I never judged or tagged anyone racist, although calling black African women people who liked to churn out babies (after I’d told you my sister was having her 3rd child) was very offensive to my ear, and this was coming from an ex who seemed to only date black Africans. So, if this perception was coming from someone I thought I knew well and who felt comfortable enough to speak her mind to me, I could only imagine what views others not so close or strangers held about black Africans.