Do Black Lives Really Matter? – Looking Within Me.
(Most) of the world watches in shock and repulsion as three indifferent policemen slowly, deliberately, ebb the life of a black man, George Floyd. Floyd has his hands handcuffed behind him, his face thrust and pinned to one side on a street near a curbside in Minneapolis, MN. The death is agonizingly painful to watch, lasting about nine minutes. Floyd pleads for mercy, begging the persons whose job it is to preserve and protect his very life, for mercy, for air to breathe, to no avail. The main accused cop, a Derek Chauvin, kneels on Floyd’s neck, two others pin his body down and another stands by casually, all inhumanly stoic. The man is dead shortly. His crime? Floyd had earlier attempted to pay for a purchase made at a convenient store allegedly using a fake $20 bill.
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp especially, are now in super overtime. Cries of shame, indignation, and repulsion crowd each other to remind us all, rightfully so, that black lives matter. The documented facts and statistics of unfair ages-old treatment of the police against the Black US population is appalling. The more I dwell on the brutality and meaningless of the acts these four cops meted out to another human because of skin color, I am certain that it is a learned and aped mindset that drives these actions. A mindset that begins at home, from the day we are born.
I was born and grew up in Tanzania – beautiful black Africa. My earliest memories of interacting with the black human race, in their backyard, was not from a racist mindset. I am told that I used to, as a toddler, mingle and play with the local Masai children outside my father’s duka shop in Monduli, near Arusha, Tanzania. I picked up an impressive vocabulary of Masai words, even. Not because of my parent’s love for the Black Masai, or their urging or encouragement; it was because we were the only non-black family for miles around so there were scant friends to keep me amused or occupied. So, instead of having to contend with a peppy, quarrelsome child at home, my parents tolerated my black Masai friends. As long as they played and remained out of the house, of course.
This natural acceptance of a fellow human being as equal rather than skin color must have changed as I became a teenager, shaped by my family and the larger Asian, particularly Khoja fraternity I was part of. Black symbolized evil and dirty and fright. Our bedtime stories associated everything bad with black or dark. We treated the black as untouchables, uncouth, dirty, dangerous, and evil. We got away with it because of wealth the Black Africans did not have. Our profit was acquired from selling to the very same Black man we disparaged. The White colonialists were adept at this, and us Waheendis considered everything the Whites did as Gospel to be admired and followed.
We employed the black man because of their muscle power and who tolerated the stench from cleaning our kaka. We worked them like horses, sunup to sundown, seven days a week. We hired chooros and or chooris, boys and maids, to do all the cleaning, washing and everything else we thought was beneath our dignity. Or muscle. The chooris became mothers, almost, to our baby totos, relegated to their care and amusement. Then, we shortchanged them by paying them a pittance. We berated them for the slightest mistake, threatening them with loss of work or pay. They accepted this treatment because they had no option. We, the Waheendi’s, the Asians, had the money and power to silence any objection or dissent with bribes to mitigate authority.
Then, there were no Black neighbors. It was an unthinkable concept, as remote as the idea and impact of the Carona Dudu. At school, I had no Black friends, although they were in the majority. Yes, I greatly admired a pretty mulatto girl who treated me with utter disdain. We always stayed away from them, not including them in sports or debates or other extracurricular activities. To us, the Blacks were different; humans, yes, but beneath our level. At our mosques as well, they were tolerated, never welcomed. They steal shoes, we moaned. They smell, we whispered in disgust. They are Sunni, they fold their arms! I never, ever, saw a Black man break bread with us at the imambargha, in the name of Imam Hussein (a); they were not welcomed, not even in the name of our blessed Imams (a).
At home, they were relegated to eat yesterday’s leftover or food that was unpalatable to our tongues. Or the tasteless ugaali and marahaagi concoction. A Black servant was never welcomed or joined us for a meal at the dinner table; that would be sacrilege. Yet, a little later at night, at a majlis lecture, listening to a fiery maulana from the mimbar, our Naare-Hyderi were loud and rowdy at the mention that Imam Ali (a) would feed the most succulent and tender piece of meat to his servant Qamber first. I do not know of a higher level of hypocrisy; do you?
Most of us Waheendis were first-class thieves. We looted the Black man, indulging in maghendo business tactics for accumulating wealth – black-marketing, hoarding, evading taxes, stealing from the government by over-invoicing / under-supplying and every other creative method to shortchange the people and government.
With the profit we made from this ill-gotten gain, we cleared our conscious by paying khums and zakat, we went for ziyaarat to Iraq and Iran and Hejaz, we contributed to charity. We were steadfast in our religious obligations, paying little matter to the expense of the Black man’s rights. The Black man did retaliate, occasionally. When someone is pushed into a corner and has nothing to lose, predictably, there is pushback. I saw a Black man cut up a Muheendi into pieces in front of my eyes for rights denied. This is just one example.
We did all these atrocities unmaliciously, of course, not because we meant to be mean. We prayed five sets of salaats every day, after all. We feared Allah, of course. We did it because we were so bloody racist to our very core. It was in our ancestral genes, from India. Lohana versus Kathia, Gujrati versus Kuchthi, Zanzibari versus Dar, or Mombasa, Navi versus Jooni… These allegations are not imaginary, these are facts.
Now, there have been changes since I left Tanzania, permanently, in 1975, of course. The Black man has been empowered greatly, the younger Khojas are more educated, more traveled, have learned from past jaahiliyat. We now have Black ulemaas who survived the unspeakable racist treatment in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon hawzaazs. Some are now our resident aalims, thank Allah. Even then, our mindset is yet to change completely. The Black man is still a Goolo, Kaariyo, Ghagoo – disparaging nicknames that the Quran commands us to shun. No matter that some of our very Imams (a) are the very products of black mothers! I still see the nervousness, in some, to be next to a Black worshiper at the Dar es Salaam Khoja mosque. We will build them their separate ‘Bilal’ mosques and Imambarghas and pay for their niyaaz to partake. Not with and amongst us, no Sir!
I am a product of this very mindset and this fact gives me immense pain and sadness. Yes, I have a lot to answer the Black man for his rights usurped on the Day of Judgement. I can only earnestly pray they will be compassionate to me that Day. It was not until I came to the USA, went to university and worked in corporate America, traveled extensively that I changed my paradigms, and took stock of my terrible sins of the past.
So, while I agonize and hurt with others about the treatment and murder of George Floyd, I will temper my written and vocal outrage to what degree a Black life matter. To me. I will never condone the looting, burning, mayhem, and rage the Blacks and other aggrieved minorities resort to for their pain, but I can understand where they are coming from. Totally. The last thing I want is to revert to the hypocritical, illiterate me that I fervently pray I have left behind.