Letter from America:with KENNETH MUFUKA
My black experience in the United States was by far much more tolerable than that which is encountered by native blacks. Like Joseph in the Bible, even experiences meant for evil turned out to be tests of faith, and having passed the test of faith, they became blessings in disguise.
My first encounter could have turned bitter. Having been employed as a pioneer black professor at Lander University, my colleagues conspired to assign me a three-hour evening class, 6-9pm. They preferred day classes.
At the same time, though I came in at the associate professor level, my salary was lower than that of some of the assistant professors. This went on for 10 years, and I only discovered it through a Freudian slip by an official.
I complained about the salary, but nothing was done.
The evening class attracted mature students, businessmen and highway patrol officers, the majority of them the salt of the earth.
My missionary background stood me in good stead. I can honestly say that I have been invited to every church in Greenwood County, black or white, and have done nothing to disgrace either my name or my race.
As I was fixing to retire, a bank official had set an interest rate on my retirement account at 3,5%.
The regional manager, my former student, heard my voice from inside his office. He came out, all smiles. “This is Dr Mufuka, my favourite teacher. Surely, we can do better than that.” He set the interest rate at 8%.
This is called interest rate discrimination.
About the salary squabble, I could have taken the university to court, but my sense of gratitude overwhelmed me. Lander gave me an honourable job, and citizenship, especially when my party Zapu, was under persecution during Gukurahundi.
My employer, Dr Larry Jackson, was a righteous man and a former Methodist pastor. In my wisdom, I surmised that in setting my salary at the level he did, he could have been under enormous pressure not to employ a black to begin with.
On my arrival from Zimbabwe, he greeted me like a lost brother. “Ken,” he said, “I know the trials and tribulations you have been through in Zimbabwe. I want you to concentrate on your studies and writing. I will give Lois (my daughter) a full scholarship.”
The successor, Dr Bill Moran, was a man of action. His first action was to set up a salaries and wages commission which then awarded me two salary increments in one year. Oh, one could have heard the Egyptians howling: “Who made thee a favourite among us?”
My most egregious encounter with the law was really my first week at Lander. The chief of police came by to make sure everything was secure before closing for the night. It was 10 o’clock at night.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. I was not aware of the racial connotations of that statement at the time. A black man, with books scattered from my desk to the door, would have been the subject of a shootout.
“This is my office,” I said. Again, I was not aware that such a reply was considered saucy, a black man trying to be too clever by half.
To cut a long story short, I had to educate him that I was the new professor in the department, which he could figure out by my accent. Educated Africans in my time spoke in what was called the Kofi Annan accent, almost European but not quite, but considered “cute” in the US.
The price of being black
While I was free from bitterness against white people, even blacks in high positions will recount horrible experiences. It is the price of being black.
I have an email from Mrs Peter, a white woman with missionary instincts. When they moved to a new town, she was packing while her adopted black son was cutting grass in the front yard.
In a few minutes, two police cars arrived. Neighbours had reported a suspicious person in the neighbourhood.
That a 14-year-old boy, cutting his mother’s lawn, was a suspicious character, showed the depth of the white prejudice around her. She cried herself to sleep.
Cecelia Alexander is chairperson of the Carnegie Mellon Foundation. She is definitely a mover and shaker in the world. She married a Haitian black. When she moved into a certain neighbourhood, a little child, perhaps six years old, was riding a bike. Cecelia was flabbergasted when she heard her neighbours saying that they had called the police.
In Mrs Peter’s case, her 14-year-old son was sitting in the passenger seat when the police stopped her for speeding. The police asked for the boy’s licence, then for his social security number and then for a school identity. The issue here was that the white mother was speeding, but the “criminal person” was assumed to be the black boy in the car.
If I were to regale all the experiences I have personally encountered, I would make no end of it.
While it is true that through the movement, Black Lives Matter, people have made their point, I am not certain that blacks and whites of good will have a remedy.
The issue is to create a black society in which 40% of young males are no longer wards of the judicial system. That requires an enormous cultural shift.
Here are two visions by these dreamers.
The University of North Carolina at Raleigh has this advertisement, in an attempt to remedy past injustices. It reads thus: “Applicants are invited to apply for the position of director of African American Cultural Centre, Multicultural Student Affairs, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Centre and Women’s Centre.”
In my opinion, black problems are separate and racial and should not be conflated with those experienced by those on the above list.
The second vision is how best to eradicate the intersectionality between black boys and the judicial system.
The black society is matriarchal, a derivate of the slave system.
To cut a long story short, the book ROOTS shows Chicken George. George has just returned to South Carolina from England. George is dressed like an English gentleman, boots to the knee, his breeches tucked under, a long scarf, made more for show than for warmth. Surely, the Sheriff considers such a “free black” a nuisance and a bad influence. George is given a week to leave South Carolina or face imprisonment.
Aunt Kizzie had foreseen all this and in all his dealings, she acts and behaves on his behalf. It was the necessity to shield the black male from the law that created the proverbial overwhelming black woman.
The issue is how to restore the black male dignity, where his sister and mother no longer speak for him, where he can behave like a free citizen without coming into confrontation with the law.