Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Finally I am also a starring!

I am excited. You know from as far back as I can recall, I have been a black person. Simple. My parents never had to tell me I was black. But I knew. And that is how it has been since then. That is how it will be until my dying day.

I am black. Am I black and proud as the rallying cry used to exhort us? Given what Old Man is doing in Zimboland, I am not sure if there is anything to be proud of as a black person. But that is an issue for another day. I suppose my racial identity was accentuated by the fact that other people not of my race were rich. Ever since I was a kid, the only people I knew who were poor were black like me. That is why we were told to go to school so that we could escape poverty. When I saw my first white person, I wondered why they had everything I didn’t have. The white kids rode around on bicycles and could eat ice cream and sweets whenever they chose. Back then I never knew a single black kid who could afford all those goodies. Those things were reserved for kids whose parents were rich. And invariably the parents, like their kids were white.

The lack of money for sweets and ice cream made us feel even blacker. But there was nothing we could do about it. Whereas at our schools only a few learners could boast of a single pair of shoes, at the posh schools the white kids owned several pairs. We knew that because everyday after school we would wait for them as they rode their bicycles from their fancy schools so that we could stare. We could tell they had several pairs of shoes. They even had shoes for activities such as football.

I am convinced that some of the boys we kicked the ball around with would have become football stars had they owned a pair of boots like the white kids. Considering that, if lucky, we owned only a single pair of school shoes, and, therefore, played barefoot. There was no way we could have become international stars, and be paid lots of money to enjoy ourselves on a lush lawn. It was the lush lawn, the nice houses, cars, toys and the bicycles owned by whites that we dreamt of taking over one day. We looked forward to a day when everything the whites owned was ours. We knew that every white kid had money. That is why our first words in halting English were “hello” and “give me money.”

We surmised that if the parents owned two cars and lived in a big house with a pretty garden and a lush lawn then, surely, the children also had money. I want anyone whose first words when seeing a white kid for the first time were not “hello” and “give me money” to raise their hand. None.

That is how life was for us. We knew who was black and who was white. One group was poor and the other rich. I am reminded of the issue of racial identity because of the Chinese. I saw my first live Chinese when I was at varsity. Honestly. But they did not seem completely strange. That is because I had seen some Chinese as a kid when we went to kung fu movies.

Those movies were boisterous affairs. We knew our heroes. We knew our villains. The reason I don’t go to movies in my adult life is because they are boring affairs. They are watched in silence. I don’t like that. I want the movies of my childhood where we could cheer our heroes, whistle and jeer at the villains. To use modern language, those movies were interactive.
In any case there was no point in keeping silent to follow the dialogue because few of us understood what was being said. We just wanted action.

Anyway, our first movie heroes were what we called starrings. And our starrings were Chinese. The day following the movie we would try and emulate their moves. Then the kung fu films went out of fashion and for many years I didn’t see any Chinese people. That is until they started coming to this country in large numbers a few years ago. I was so overjoyed. I had never thought I would ever see a live Chinese. To say I had a healthy respect for them would be putting it mildly. As far as I was concerned, the new arrivals were all adept at deadly kung fu moves. I mean as youngsters we used to watch tiny starrings as young as seven years old avenging the murder of their parents by beating up grown up men. So for me the Chinese who came here were also born with kung fu skills. I just loved the Chinese. I never wanted to believe my friends who would say the local Chinese had no kung fu skills. I dismissed as a blue lie newspapers which reported a local labourer as having beaten up a Chinese foreman at a construction site. It could not be true. How could a Chinese lose a construction site bout to a local? Where are all the kung fu kicks I used to admire in the movies?

To believe that not all Chinese could dish out lethal kung fu kicks or even suffer defeat at the hands of locals would have destroyed fond memories of my childhood heroes. It would have destroyed my dreams to be a starring. Now we hear that the Chinese are black. Next door, where blacks recently burnt other blacks, they have a new law which says that all Chinese are black.

This is a wonderful law. I mean, for all these years since watching my first kung fu movie, I always harboured a secret desire to be Chinese. I wanted to be Chinese to be able to dish out a repertoire of lethal kung fu moves. I wanted to be Chinese to be able to avenge my parents against whoever might be foolish enough to harm them. But now, like me, the Chinese are black. I don’t have to be Chinese. We are the same. That means, finally I will become a starring!

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Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.