Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pawpaw negro blowtorch

i really wanted George Gwaze to be innocent.

George Gwaze is a Zimbabwean vet who immigrated to New Zealand with his extended family, and was tried twice for the sexual assault and murder of his niece. The first trial acquitted him. The second was called at the behest of the High Court. He stood trial again. It was a harrowing case, where each time the jury needed to decided whether little Charlene has died of sexual assault and murder, of of acute complications of AIDS. Either way it felt peculiarly unlike Christchurch. Not that horrors never happen in Christchurch, God knows i've been involved in some of them, but this was way out there, very, well... Dark Continent. Children with AIDS? Men committing violent sexual assaults and then it all being covered up by family and church? Not how we do things.

i wanted him to be innocent because he and his family are migrants and people come here for reasons. The Gwazes came from Mugabe's Zimbabwe looking for a better life. They live in cheap wooden social housing in Christchurch's spaced out cityscape - empty streets, bitter wind, the cool wide green and cream coloured suburbs, the lean grey lines of beach and sea. So different from southern Africa. You don't come here unless you mean it. Unless you want better for your kids.

i also wanted him to be innocent because i felt so challenged by my own racism. George Gwaze sat in the dock looking like, well, a middle aged professional male of recent African descent.* Which is what he is. So what do i make of older black guys in suits? i thought he looked arrogant. He stayed very composed, and made very direct eye contact. Was that arrogance? Should he look scared, or penitent? Would i have seen arrogance if he had been white? How should black men look? Should he flap his hands and roll his eyes? Then when he was found innocent and walked out of the court with his family and counsel, i could see the warmth of his smile.

When i think about older black guys in suits i think of Mugabe. i think of the overseers of copper mines and oil wells who employ children and and are in the pay of huge multinationals. i think of the corruption and dubious personal morals of people like Jacob Zuma. It takes a second look for me to see a gentle father, a man who adopted two girls and cared for Charlene as she suffered from AIDS.

And yet my own lived experience of black men is entirely different. For a start, most of the black men i have met have been Melanesian. Those who come from Africa more directly, or via the USA or the UK, have mostly been academics. When i think of the African men i have known, they have been slim bespectacled chaps with laptops. More Cornel West than 50 Cent. So where does my racism come from, if not from lived experience?

i have no particular answer to that one.i have a passing knowledge of the experiments in social phychology where people see the black man holding the knife in the video, when really it was the white man. i know we tend to gravitate towards individuals who are more like ourselves. Interracial marriages are still not common and at times derided.^^ Of course i am aware of the stereotype of the Scary Black Bastard, and the old cultural myth of the flagrantly overpowering sexuality of black men and how white men are supposed to fear for the virtue of their white women.# Is my thinking so crude that i resort to these poor substitutes for truth? Somehow i can have the most liberal opinions, and yet still i have to look twice, thrice, more, simply in order to see a person clearly.

* Of  course we are all of African descent, just some more recently than others.
^^ i recall my daughter having a sleepover at the age of about nine. Her friends were two girls, one of Chinese descent and one from Hungary. They were talking about marriage (as you do). The Chinese girl said her parents would allow her to marry only a Chinese man. The Hungarian girl said she was allowed to marry anyone except a black man. Next morning we talked about it. Why wouldn't you marry a black man? What was wrong with Abdi from Somalia, or Donald from Zambia, or for that matter Te Rongopai from Aotearoa (Maori is sometimes seen as 'black' here)?
# Hence the title of the post, which is a song from Brian Eno's album 'Here Come the Warm Jets'.

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