No Rest For The Weary

The day after New York City told the world that it was okay for a man of the law to choke to death a citizen he was supposed to protect and serve, I sat across from my colleagues at lunch stoic and silent. The British teachers teased me (as usual) about not properly making tea. The Canadian teacher, who had asked me earlier with the sincerest confusion how could an officer kill an innocent man ON TAPE and not lose his badge, looked knowingly at me when I ignored the Brits’ jabs. The other American teacher knew why my talkative, silly disposition had drastically changed. She was white. An ally in this centuries old war to dismantle white supremacy, she knew the color of her skin dictated she proceed with caution.

“Are you okay, Keturah? You look troubled.”

“Do I?”

I realized at that moment I was not only troubled. I was tired. Tired of having these conversations. Tired because I had moved to another continent – one where everyone looked like me – and I still could not escape these inquiries about how it felt as a Black American to know that the country’s laws didn’t really apply to me. That I was foolish to even expect them to.

“Should I be troubled that the country my ancestors built for free is STILL trying to kill me? Should I be bothered that it is getting more successful at it with each passing day?”

The American teacher burst into tears and tried to tell me that she felt the same way. She said something about having two black brothers and the fear she had always felt for them only increasing since the non-indictment. She started to say something about the system being designed to screw her brothers, but I walked away.

Because I was tired.

Not even a full month after America reminded me that my life had little value since I had served my purpose several centuries ago, I took my weary self to South Africa for holiday. I began my holiday in the breezy beauty of Capetown since it had been cited by many travel magazines as a top city to visit given its stellar wine and breathe taking beaches. It was my goal to take full advantage of both the wine and the beaches for the nine days I was going to be here.

At Clifton Beach, the only thing whiter than the sand were all the bodies laying on it, as black ones brought them water and chairs and towels. At the nearby Bungalow Restaurant, more white people drank, ate and laughed as people who looked like me brought them food and cleaned up after them in the bathroom.

In one of many cab rides I was to take, a Zimbabwean driver said to me: “I bet you came here expecting to see Africans, didn’t you?” I told him that while I did not naively expect complete African empowerment only 20 years after apartheid ended, it was still jarring to see what is called the best African city on the continent essentially devoid of Africans. “Who calls this an ‘African’ city,” the driver quipped. “Don’t bother answering that. People who aren’t African probably.”

A Congolese bartender told me how he had to quit his last job because after training a bunch of white people who were being paid significantly more than him, his boss shrugged and simply said: White people get paid more. Sorry.

During my tour of the townships, my Black South African guide explained to me how he advanced from being “just a driver” to a certified guide. “A really nice German lady paid for my course. When I had gone to my boss to suggest the company send me to the course, he said not to worry about it because the exam was so hard that not even white people could pass it.”

The weariness I thought I’d left behind in Rwanda followed me as another Black South African informed me that while the running of the country was in the hands of Africans, all of the wealth remained in the firm clutches of essentially two Dutch families.

I am not the only person in this city right now who feels almost comatose because when my life is devalued by my country, that same country then tries to convince me that I am over reacting to or simply dreaming up its suffocation of my humanity. Somewhere in Capetown a man named Yonela Diko is so damn tired of white supremacy and its insistence that it does not really exist that he wrote a letter to The Cape Times. It’s been 20 years since apartheid ended on paper. Where is this new South Africa, he asks. Citing the white minority’s refusal to sacrifice even the easiest privileges that were gained on the backs of the black majority, Diko goes on for paragraph after paragraph wondering why he even has to write the paper to speak the obvious such as:

“Were white people, who had largely benefitted and made wealth under the apartheid regime, willing to underwrite the rise of the black majority that had been locked outside and remained impoverished, by allowing a specific tax transfer for leveling the playing field? That idea was rejected as anti-reconcilitary. What we were then left with was a necessity to believe in magic and hope for the best.”

And…

“The saddest part, however, about what is really happening in our country is that there is today no one who claims any responsibility for apartheid; the same people who are obviously holding on to generational gains of the regime, have today shifted into an almost pathological obsession with 20 years of democracy and what they think could have happened in the past 20 years. What they seem to forget is that we have been watching them since the beginning of these 20 years, at every turn.”

Oh Yonela, what can I say to you at 20 years in? We have been watching for over 60 years. We have written some version of your letter to every paper in every state and every legislator in every branch. We have marched every sentence of your weariness across every street in the country. We have fought with our dollars, our ballots, our fists. And they are still killing us.

Yonela, you haven’t earned the privilege to feel fatigued. Neither have you earned the luxury of time. You have no idea how exhausting this shit will get.

2 Responses

  1. I can’t even imagine. As a Jew, I understand, viscerally, millennia of persecution, hatred, and attempts at extermination; as an American and a human being I am nauseated by what continues to happen to people of color here. And elsewhere.

  2. Reblogged this on Projects for the New Paradigm and commented:
    Important (and heart-breaking) blog post to share from my India-traveling-companion Keturah, a NYC teacher who recently moved to Africa.

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