By Sampa Kabwela
Thing one — the innate behaviour so common in most black Zambians, including myself, of bestowing undue privilege to people of other races on colour value, often at our expense, must be unlearned. This propensity to act overly nice and overly foolish when faced with whiteness should be left behind.
Let me explain whiteness, which is different from racism. Whiteness is that thing that stirs something in us, black Africans, to break rules, to make exceptions, to feel less, when dealing or are in the company of white people.
In graphic terms, whiteness is showing up at a hotel and staff bending backwards including waiving strictly enforced hotel rules to serve you because your colour is white. Racism, on the other hand, is showing up at the same hotel and you are refused entry or service because you are black. Of course the lodge owners on the shores of the Zambezi or an infamous restaurant in Lusaka will not blatantly tell you the reason for refusing you entry because for racism to flourish, it must exist in sophisticated, refined subtleties.
Although post-colonial Zambia has not been as tainted by deep-seated race issues in the extent of some neighboring countries, it has not escaped whiteness because the big enforcers of whiteness are mostly us, black Zambians.
This is a no easy subject, but it is one that must be taken out of private conversations into the arena of public discussion.
I have wondered what it is about many black Zambians that make us dance-around when in the company of white people. I have observed this over and over, of how even the educated, wealthy black Zambians, including diplomats quickly shade their dignity and stature in the face of other races.
I once watched a guy talk non-stop for the entire duration of a function, probably explaining his entire history to a white guy, a total stranger.Surely, he couldn’t have been asked for his biography. It was perhaps a simple and straight-forward question such as ‘what did you study or where do you work?’ needing nothing more than a word, at most, a sentence. And if you think this problem is new, read The Fading Colour Bar, by Grace Keith, in which she argues why it is easier and better for white women to marry black African men because “an African has few cultural or religious beliefs that are not easily discarded upon his meeting with Western civilisation” writes Keith, in her incisive 1966 book. I am afraid to say that Keith, the mother of former VP, Guy Scott, has been proved right by time on many other observations that she makes.
Why are we overly nice or overly ‘stupid’ in the company of other racial groups?
Why are we overly nice or overly ‘stupid’ in the company of other racial groups? Years back, on two separate occasions, my children told me that I overly smiled and giggled when talking to people. I wasn’t even aware. On both times, the two people were of European descent.
It is the same giggling and telling whole histories of ourselves that I see all the time when many black people are confronted with whiteness. I have been to meetings where the only white person in the team is unanimously chosen as representative of the group. He did not nominate himself; chances are that he even refused, but there he was – anointed to speak for or lead a group of black people. I keep noticing this very pattern on social media groups such as WhatsApp where views of particular people are taken as sacrosanct on colour value.
I will not blame white people for whiteness because in all fairness, we have created and nurtured it to a point where it’s now mistaken as a birthright for many white folks who now expect it and even demand it. Many are stunned at how much easy life can be, especially in Africa for no other reason other than being white.
Sadly, I still catch myself time and again trying to lubricate whiteness. For instance, just last week at the gym, upon seeing whiteness, I started apologizing for, well, being black. A guy just walked towards me and, unsolicited, I offered him the 10 kg weights that I had been using, in case he needed them. When I caught my folly, it was too late. Other times, I am well alert. Like a few days ago in New Kasama at some shop. At the till paying for my wares, a woman accustomed to preferential treatment came behind me with such an air and stature beckoning with her eyes and body language to be served first. Not only was I on high whiteness alert, so was the cashier; we exchanged a tiny, but all-knowing smile saying, “sorry, but not today.” In silent unison, we claimed our victory and it felt good.
A few years ago, at a notoriously exclusive art gallery in Middle way Kabulonga, celebrating 100 years of the City of Lusaka, I liked and put a ‘red dot’ on a painting, to mean I wanted to buy it. The artist, a young black Zambian, was elated to sell her work at this exhibition, except she didn’t know who the prospective buyer was. Her work, she imagined, was going to adorn some venerable institution or an art collector’s home in Europe. You should have seen her disappointment upon learning that the interested buyer was a black woman from Chinsali. I was not paying less or in a different currency, but I appeared to have robbed her of the bragging rights, and she was not impressed.
The immigration officers at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport diplomatic counter deserve special mention. On more than three occasions, I have witnessed them cut whiteness to size. Once, a family of four, diplomats they were not, went straight to the diplomatic queue with a confidence I will never muster. “Confirm you are diplomats,” asked the officer in a loud voice. Inaudibly, the family leader muttered something to the officer who, in response with a stoic face, signaled them to join a snaking queue where they rightfully belonged. Since then, a friend now greets me with the phrase “confirm you are a diplomat!”
I hope in this new year, more than five decades after colonialism, we will resist the propensity to become clowns in the face of other races. We should not become racists, never. Racism is like a worm that eats an apple from inside, it destroys one’s soul. No person deserves to bear the yoke of being a racist.
Thing two – Needless eating
The number of overweight people, men and women including children, in Lusaka is disturbing. Here, in Chief Mubanga area where I am writing this article from, there is not a single person I have met with a potbelly, not a single man and woman, old and young who is even slightly overweight, forget obese. Here, everyone is lean, toned and muscular.
Why then is there such a disparity between the people of Kasanta and the folks in Lusaka? I am left to conclude that perhaps in Lusaka, especially among the middle class, there is excessive, carefree and needless eating.
There is little justification for young men — 55 years and below (very generous) — not to have a muscular frame. I am not talking about bulking, like bodybuilders, no. I am talking about the absence of beer bellies. Men are dis-positioned biologically and socially to have nothing, but strong arms and a six-pack. In most cases, they have the finances, time and physical strength to keep in shape and are unladen by biological factors known to affect weight.
Women are not exempt either. Post-pregnancy reasons are largely just excuses. Of the articles I have written in the past, the most significant feedback I ever received was men complaining of how their wives had gained so much weight, and didn’t know how to address the issue without offending them.
Let me not belabour this point, but the consequences of piling unwanted weight go beyond mere aesthetics. Don’t take my word for it, do the research and read for yourself.
Being healthy and wading off excess weight requires nothing less than a lifestyle overhaul – fewer pizzas, burgers, snacks, beers and inactivity to more exercise, fasting and healthier food choices. No one can lose weight for you.
And by the way, those slimming pills, powders, belts and teas DON’T work. If they did, we would all be in shape. What works, like for many things in life, is consistency, discipline, persistence, and wanting it bad enough. Anything else won’t cut it, sorry.
Losing weight is modern day warfare and I hope we will live to see tomorrow.
On this note, a toast to healthier versions of ourselves.
The Author is an artist, publisher & mother. She can be reached on lyrical.zambia ATgmail DOT com