Friday, 20 January 2012
The day the Klan came to Italy
Recently we've been talking about race at home. And today a blog posted by a friend made me remember a particular incident that in its warped way became educational.
My kids grew up on the old Gold Coast, today's Ghana, a country where slavery has a lengthy and even current history. I mentioned the slave forts in my last post, and while not wanting to linger in those cold dungeons I will mention standing in the pit, looking up to where it was said the governor had a wooden walkway installed, so as to look down for the prettiest captive. It was said that a woman who became with child became a freed woman: she did not have to crouch and grovel along the tunnel called 'the gate of no return'.
One of the things about being white in Ghana, apart from sunburn and never being able to be invisible, nor wear swishing local fabrics with any sort of stylishness, was that one often felt one represented the evil conqueror, the culture of the slavers, the scramble for Africa, the whole school of European thinking about the 'noble savage', the many wars of independence, today's neo-colonial wars of mineral wealth and mercenaries...
A heavy burden. But it was my fault. I studied Lenin's Theory of Imperialism in university, where I learned that capital sought new markets in order to refurbish its greedy mechanisms. I also studied African and Asian Independence Movements and in my innocent way fell in love with Isak Dinesen's beautiful opening words, 'I had a farm in Africa' (years after I went to her homestead - not the one used in the film - with a hostile guide who made me feel every bit the Dane handing out sticking plasters and paracetamol).
But back to my educational incident. For I could go on endlessly about the friction between cultures, the discomfort of history, the stories, the stories. The ancestors of today's Ghana were sent off in slave ships to the Americas. Somehow, my half-Ghanaian kid hasn't seriously studied this in school yet, Italian school I might add. They do the Civil Rights Movement, but history, which he fortunately loves, is seriously euro-centric. Perhaps that is why he made this discovery in a school friend's bag he brought home by mistake. It was around Halloween time, everyone was thinking parties, pumpkins. Masks.
My kid pulled out a triangular white cone of cloth with three holes in it. The rest of us, his older siblings, sat there staring. My youngest called out What is it? What's wrong? Slowly, we explained to him. About the raids in the bush. About the men and women chained together, families broken, never to see each other again. About the long congested journey over the oceans with the stench of death.
What type of mother handstitches a child's Halloween mask from this type of terror and cruelty? What type of idiotic being?
I used to fight battles verbally. Charge up to people. Seek justice. Rant and rave. In Africa I learnt how to fight. But strangely, my older kids calmed me. Told me how dumb these people were, how rich. That didn't stop me going to the school and having them labelled, showing my outrage. Seething.
God knows that ignorant woman had better never cross my path.