Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Curtain on our eyelids

In an organizational leadership class, our instructor brought up cultures within the organization. She was therefore forced to discuss racial differences. The tier within the provided curriculum has the whites at the top, the mixed or passing (for white) in the middle tier and the blacks, Hispanics and natives Americans, amongst others at the bottom. In exactly 5 seconds, she had changed the entire mood of the class. Just by showing that one slide.

Then began the tense arguments that roughly said:
The white males: It's all bullshit. The whites are not on top of anyone. Power is mixed and evenly distributed.
The instructor: (Mixed race). In what sense? Think about who's running corporations, who's the leader of this nation...
Another white male: The governor of California is not white.
Instructor: Think about these things, Who has the ultimate purchasing power, the 6 figure jobs, in what ratios. That's the power. So who has the power?
Black female: Oh, we know!
all the above interjected with terse silences.

Finally, one black male, very senior position in a government establishment.
Black male: I notice that when we get to these topics, the white people get defensive and stop talking about it. We're all in graduate school, we should be able to discuss this, whether we agree or not.
White male: I would be fired for discrimination, My company does not allow this...
instructor: It's not about you. It's the general society.

This argument goes back and forth and involves several people.

I'm observing, literally from the farthest point of a V shaped class. And I watch them all start to bleed out. Silence and pain. Tangible. I'm still reeling in shock at how terribly the deeds from years past can haunt people in the present day. I knew but had never had a chance to feel, to really experience the tension that ensues in these instances.

It made me wonder about Rwanda 20 years from today. The hutus and Tutsis in the same classes. And if there was a way to intercept that pain and make it better and easier for the incoming generations to deal with the genocide after effects.

Because honestly, everyone in that class is a victim of slavery. The whites are descendants of the slave drivers and that's all most of them have ever done wrong to a black person. While the blacks are still angry about being brought up in a society that told them they were second class when it mattered the most in their growth years. Only I, and I suspect one other African native in that class were outsiders to that issue. We saw and understood what was intended by the author.

It's absolutely strange that a white man would argue about who has power in America when put in tiers as it was presented to us. I mean seriously, don't antagonize the black by pretending they too have the power in places where it matters.

But as you listen to the white, especially males, you realize they are protecting themselves. The white males is always a villain in these debates. Even if he's poor and struggling like the rest of the folk, he's still a white male. And that's the dorminant position. What's a man who has never experienced power to any significant degree, nor wealth for that matter, supposed to feel when injected in as a dorminant and perhaps oppressive party in a pie chart? What do you mean when you say to him the white male has power? Unless you're suggesting that he's not a white male he doesn't get what the F you're talking about. Or does he?

And the less he understands, the more the black man gets pissed.

The black man just needs this white male to accept that positions of power are held by people of white color, mostly males.

Are we all just walking around with curtains on our eyelids? Just protecting ourselves from the perceptions or accepted norms of society. So much that we cannot see the bare naked truth? To the point where we have become stumbling blocks? Are we so victimized by our own societies that we have become defensive of our positions and become blind to our realities?

So I thought about the general "I hate Kikuyus" sentiments that are all over Kenya. And tried to equate them to this. And came up with an apples to oranges situation. The similarities only lie in cultural differences. Or do they? Didn't the Kikuyus get better education sooner because the white man settled in and around Kikuyu neighborhoods? Didn't they therefore get better opportunities sooner? Did this lead them to become entrepreneurs when the country was just growing, giving them a chance to prosper? Even if the answer to all these questions is yes, aren't the differences obvious. In that Kikuyus did not oppress the other communities. They just benefited from geographical locations and got better opportunities. Including that they have fertile lands, and this is Africa, agriculture is the order of the day. At the end of the day, isn't the enemy the colonialist in this case? Basically, can I equate this to the racism debate I experienced without flawing logic and meaning? I personally don't think so. Still there was a lot to be learnt from it all.

5 comments:

acolyte said...

A very interesting post!It is amazing that their are loads of white people who say that racism doesnt exist in America when in actuality it is still alive and well just in more subtle forms.
In many ways white male priviledge is fading and white men are not taking it lightly and are fighting back.
As for the kikuyus I am not going to touch that one but I will admit that is one thing that unites the different tribes in Kenya at the moment; their mutual dislike of Kikuyus....

Mimmz said...

Aco, stop playing it safe! Touch the Kikuyu topic. Notice you just went into protective mode as well? Bila unleashing your opinions.
Masked anger/bitterness. It's scary but you're beginning to make me see the similarities between the anti Kikuyu sentiments and the black/white issues here much more clearly.

Knowing how many tangents that could go into, I don't blame you for taking cover. It's a wise choice.

Όstalgia said...

you couldn't be more right mimmz... right about kikuyu's vs 41... the good thing about it is it just makes you work the more harder. and Aco... this enemy of my enemy is my friend business is killing this nation.

POTASH said...

I am working on the Kikuyu issue for the next edition of Kwani? no holds barred, this one will be explosive... But you know me I always say that when I grow up I want to be a kikuyu...you cannot understand the sensibility now, but the articles on the Kikuyu issues will ruffle mad feathers.

Mimmz said...

@Ostalgia, I know I'm right. Thanks for your comment and you're damn right about enemy of enemy bull crap. Let me hold it here for now.

@ Potash, Really? Very interested in that article. By the way, I have so much more to add to it. I've been thinking about writing a blog dedicated to this issue. And it will be making no apologies.