October 18, 2019

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: THE POWER OF CHALK

FIRST STORY

Not So Colour Blind

“Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is white.” It was, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is Trevor.”

 By Trevor Noah

ONE AFTERNOON I WAS PLAYING WITH MY COUSINS. I was a doctor and they were my patients. I was operating on my cousin Bulelwa’s ear with a set of matches when I accidentally perforated her eardrum. All hell broke loose. My grandmother came running in from the kitchen. “Kwenzeka ntoni?!” “ What’s happening?!” There was blood coming out of my cousin’s head. We were all crying. My grandmother patched up Bulelwa’s ear and made sure to stop the bleeding. But we kept crying. Because clearly we’d done something we were not supposed to do, and we knew we were going to be punished. My grandmother finished up with Bulelwa’s ear and whipped out a belt and she beat the shit out of Bulelwa. Then she beat the shit out of Mlungisi, too. She didn’t touch me.

Later that night my mother came home from work. She found my cousin with a bandage over her ear and my gran crying at the kitchen table.

“What’s going on?” my mom said.

“Oh, Nombuyiselo,” she said. “Trevor is so naughty. He’s the naughtiest child I’ve ever come across in my life.”

“Then you should hit him.”

“I can’t hit him .”

“Why not?”

“ Because I don’ t know how to hit a white child,” she said. “A black child, I understand. A black child, you hit them and they stay black. Trevor, when you hit him he turns blue and green and yellow and red. I’ve never seen those colours before. I’m scared I’m going to break him. I don’t want to kill a white person. I’m so afraid. I’m not going to touch him.” And she never did.

My grandmother treated me like I was white. My grandfather did, too, only he was even more extreme. He called me “Mastah” In the car, he insisted on driving me as if he were my chauffeur. “Mastah must always sit in the backseat.” I never challenged him on it. What was I going to say? “I believe your perception of race is flawed, Grandfather.” No. I was five. I sat in the back.

There were so many perks to being “white” in a black family, I can’t even front. I was having a great time. My own family basically did what the American justice system does: I was given more lenient treatment than the black kids. Misbehaviour that my cousins would have been punished for, I was given a warning and let off. And I was way naughtier than either of my cousins. It wasn’t even close. If something got broken or if someone was stealing granny’s cookies, it was me. I was trouble.

My mom was the only force I truly feared. She believed if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. But everyone else said, “No, he’s different,” and they gave me a pass. Growing up the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks. I knew my cousins were getting beaten for things that I’d done, but I wasn’t interested in changing my grandmother’s perspective, because that would mean I’d get beaten, too. Why would I do that? So that I’d feel better? Being beaten didn’t make me feel better. I had a choice. I could champion racial justice in our home, or I could enjoy granny’s cookies. I went with the cookies.

At that point I didn’t think of the special treatment as having to do with colour. I thought of it as having to do with Trevor. It wasn’t, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is white.” It was, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is Trevor.” Trevor can’t go outside. Trevor can’t walk without supervision. It’s because I’m me; that’s why this is happening. I had no other points of reference. There were no other mixed kids around so that I could say, “Oh, this happens to us.”

Nearly one million people lived in Soweto. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them were black— and then there was me. I was famous in my neighborhood just because of the colour of my skin. I was so unique people would give directions using me as a landmark.“ The house on Makhalima Street. At the corner you’ll see a light-skinned boy. Take a right there.” Whenever the kids in the street saw me they’d yell, “Indodayomlungu!” “The white man!” Some of them would run away. Others would call out to their parents to come look. Others would run up and try to touch me to see if I was real. It was pandemonium. What I didn’t understand at the time was that the other kids genuinely had no clue what a white person was. Black kids in the township didn’t leave the township. Few people had televisions. They’d seen the white police roll through, but they’d never dealt with a white person face-to-face, ever.

Excerpted from Born A Crime, an autobiography, by Trevor Noah, published in 2016 by John Murray (Publishers). An Hachette UK Company.

SECOND STORY

Furo Savours the Advantage

‘I don’t know anything about you. Except that you’re white. And that you say you’re Nigerian.’

 By Igoni Barret

IT WAS STILL DARK WHEN FURO AWOKE. The bedroom curtains were parted, the air conditioner no longer sounded, and the world was swathed in that bottomless silence particular lo wildernesses and power cuts. Furo realised what had roused him when Syreeta shook him again.

‘I’m awake.’ He pushed aside the bedcover and sat up.

‘Is something wrong?’

‘You sleep like a dead man.’ Her voice was sleep-husky.

‘It’s almost six. Don’t you have to get ready for work?’

It took him a moment to realise she didn’t mean sex.

‘No.’

‘You don’t have a job?’

‘I do. But I start in two weeks.’

‘Oops, sorry,’ and her yawn drifted into his face. After she lay down, he asked, ‘Do you want to go back to sleep?’

‘Not really. Why?’

‘Can we talk?’

‘Uh-huh.’ She rolled around to face him in the darkness.

‘I’m listening.’

‘How many bedrooms are in this house?’

‘Two.’

‘Do you live alone?’

She hesitated before saying, ‘Yes.’

‘What of your boyfriend? Doesn’t he— ’

She cut him short. ‘That’s none of your business.’

‘I’m sorry, I just meant . . .’ His voice trailed off. He took a deep breath and tried again. What I meant to ask was: does anyone use the second bedroom?’

‘No. It’s my guest room.’

Through the window, the sky’s edges were turning mauve. The darkness was lifting.

‘Why are you asking? Do you want to live with me?’

Furo jumped on the chance. ‘Well, yes,’ he said. Syreeta said nothing; he wished he could see what she was thinking. ‘Please,’ he continued. ‘I don’t have anyone else to ask for help. I just need somewhere to stay for a few days, till I start work.’ And still she remained silent. In the distance, Furo could hear the highway, the honks that marked its trail. He began to count time, his lips moving in silent prayer. Ten seconds, twenty – time was going too fast, so he slowed his keeping-eighty-four seconds by his tally before she spoke

‘I don’t know anything about you. Except that you’re white. And that you say you’re Nigerian.’ In a gentler tone: ‘And that you’re a softie. Lagos will kill you.’ She raised her hand, ran her fingers through her braids, and the scent of sleep-tousled hair drifted to Furo. ‘I went and sent your picture to my man last night,’ she said with a sigh. ‘What will I say when he finds out you’re staying with me?’ She sighed again. ‘I knew you would ask. I heard you asking that guy in the café last night.’ The bed shifted as she adjusted.

‘OK, you can stay.’

Thank you,’ Furo said, his voice breaking from the weight of his gratitude. Thank you,’ he repeated, ‘thank you, Syreeta.’

Furo couldn’t help admitting that some part of his gratefulness was due to his new appearance. Syreeta was helpful to him because he looked like he did. He was almost sure of that, because why else would she do all she had for him? She had paid his bill at the cafe, allowed him into her bed, massaged him to sleep last night, and now, at some risk to her relationship (odd affair though that was, one where she made her man jealous by sending him a staged photo of herself in the arms of another man), she had solved his problem of a place to stay. He was grateful lo her, and yet he was also mindful of who she thought he was and why women like her usually moved with men like him. Her big new jeep, her well-furnished apartment in Lekki, her living alone in style and among gadgets, her ease with money and trendy places, her apparent lack of .in office job or a home- run business, all of these pointed lo her status as a woman who knew what was what. A woman who knew how to handle men. Who knew how to live off them. Who knew the going value of a white man m Lagos. And Furo, for all the street savvy and survivor skills he prided himself on, had no idea where Syreeta was leading him.

Excerpted from Blackass, a novel by Igoni Barrett, published in Nigeria in 2015 by Kachifo Limited, under the Farafina imprint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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