“Shh! Be quiet. And no you can’t play in the park. Wait here.”
Mama pushed me gently backwards into the bushes. “Remember -“
“I know, I know. Don’t go anywhere.”
I watched her figure ripple in and out of the shadows thrown by the park lights. Another figure joined her. A man. A different one than the other night. Together, they disappeared behind the restrooms.
Five-year-old me knew Mama wouldn’t be long. I jumped out of the bushes and watched the cars honking on the street. The lamp-lit windows floated in the tall buildings.
I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Written for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Write a story in 100 words or less. Click the frog to submit your flash fiction and read other stories too.
What if we viewed the root of racism as a competition for a perceived lack of resources?
On the surface, racism appears to be about hate based on the colour of a person’s skin. I’m not quite convinced hate is the root of racial discrimination. It may play a role, but it comes about as a natural by-product of man’s separation from each other through ‘tribal-like’ power struggles.
The Ancient Egyptian angle
Almost five years to the day, I wandered into the Ancient Egyptian museum (Muzeo Egizio) in Turin, Italy. I literally stumbled upon it because I had no clue where I was. Not wanting to look like the lost female solo traveller that I was, I decided to go into this museum to look at artefacts while I figured out my next move.
Most curious of all the artefacts were the translated letters between people of those times. You got the sense that they were just like me and you. These letters revealed that people experienced issues with their parents, bad career choices and mounting debt. Although that’s for another post.
To protect the artefacts, some were placed behind glass, and others were roped off and heavily guarded. It felt weird that an Italian security guard was protecting Egyptian artefacts. Why was it weird? Because these were Egyptian artefacts in Italy.
On the one hand, you could see it as a European celebration of Ancient Egypt’s history and culture. And that’s great. It’s heartwarming to see one nation appreciate another.
Coming from a business background, I tend to be more ‘economical’ of people and their motivations. The artefacts clearly serve as a tourist attraction. Perhaps even as a basis for an academic research centre. All of which bring people, who bring pocketfuls of spending money.
There’s been a lot of modern debate about whether these museums and their foreign artefacts should be considered stolen property. I won’t go into that. I’ll just say that while the transaction might be legal they were probably obtained under unfair conditions. One of those conditions might be colonialism.
Colonialism and racism
In Colonial times racism was more blatantly practised. The systems, beliefs and practices of the colonising-country were forced upon the colonised people. By various systems, including restricting trade with the coloniser, native resources were reserved for the powers that be.
Colonisation began in the 15th Century and by as recent as 1914, (that’s just last century), Europe controlled 84% of the entire world.
The subjugation of races to another is of course not confined to European colonialism. History presents many different situations of one race dominating another. Often on intra-racial or inter-tribal levels like the Roman Empire or the English conquering the Scottish tribes. The same occurred in African Kingdoms and South American Kingdoms of the pre-colonial era.
How the preference for white skin began
European colonialism was the most recent and most widespread occurring from the 1600s onwards. Its fingers reached from the eastern continents of Asia to Western lands of America and down towards South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Undoubtedly, the most expansive and given its recent time in history, the most influential. Hence, directly influencing the preferred and most privileged skin colour of modern times ie white skin.
The allocation of resources clearly went to one race who claimed a superior right over the other based on race, nationality and skin colour. Many scientific studies were performed to compare the colonising race to the natives. These same studies were also used to justify gender roles that still have their sticky fingers in humanity’s collective mindset today.
Needless to say, these scientific inquiries were rigged to serve the ruling opinion of the times: that white was superior to black.
The 20th Century shook things up
The devastation of the First and Second World Wars triggered colonial powers to backtrack out of their territories, granting new-found independence to colonised countries.
And with the US Civil Rights movement racial equality became a foundational institution of leading nations, eventually having a domino effect on South African Apartheid.
It is easier to re-write an entire governmental system than to re-wire the human mind. Just because things seemed to change for the better doesn’t mean things are better or that people’s minds are re-programmed.
Even after the ink has dried on the new legislation, people still hold on to their beliefs about the superiority or inferiority of their race. Both mindsets are the result of centuries of propaganda and brainwashing.
Some who benefited from racist systems feel it slipping away and become defensive. Rallying against affirmative action labeling it anti-white and lashing out at any pro-black movement.
It isn’t hate that drives people to do this. Not really. It’s fear. Fear of not being able to enjoy the privileges and resources they once had easy access to: like better jobs, better education, and better living conditions. There are only fifty places left at an esteemed university or one seat left on the bus. In the old days, it used to be reserved exclusively for whites.
Psychological effects of colonisation
Lighter skin is viewed as more trustworthy, more attractive, more intelligent. Less dangerous. Whatever. I refer to the aforementioned ‘studies’ of colonial scientists. This isn’t just across the white-black divide but within darker-skinned race communities too. Hispanics, Indian and Asians have shown to favour lighter skin for beauty.
Beauty is another discriminatory factor that allows you easier access to resources. Ever heard of the saying that she’s so beautiful she can get away with murder? It echoes the truth because more attractive people have access to better jobs, better partners, and they are perceived to be just better overall.
We’re still talking about perception. In reality, neither skin colour nor beauty or lack of it, (nor gender) gives any reliable indication of a person’s intelligence or capabilities. Nor does it justify assigning privileges based on nothing else than superficial criteria.
But people don’t fight or wage wars against so-called ugly people to the extent that we wage war against other races.
War and conflict is a grapple for power. Which gives rise to hate. We naturally want to secure the best resources for ourselves. We extend this desire to our own family. By ensuring that our race is guaranteed the best, we secure it for ourselves on a larger scale. We reduce the competition by cutting out whole sections of humanity effectively reducing the pool of candidates.
It matters if your forefathers ate at the king’s banquet
Under hundreds of years of white authority and dictatorship, people start to believe that if they were white, their lives would be better. They wouldn’t be slaves. This mentality was compounded on a daily basis for hundreds of years, generation after generation. Kids grow up listening to dinner conversations about the other.
Depending on what table you were seated at, the other was superior. The proof was in the fact they lived in the best houses and wore the best clothes and you worked as a slave for them without any choice in the matter.
Or if you ate at the king’s banquet, the other was naturally predisposed to error and of lower intelligence and thus in dire need of a higher race to rule over them.
Just because it happened in another century doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact today.
If Egypt can’t get back their artefacts dug up in their land crafted by their ancestors, due to a transaction made decades ago; then why do we think the psychological effects of colonialism would disappear at the scratch of democratic pens on anti-racist legislature?
One quick look at my social media feeds and timelines, where people get on their virtual soapbox or express comments they think nobody else reads, is enough to prove to me that people’s perception of black people (and darker-skinned people in general) hasn’t changed significantly. Not only that, but people’s understanding of the modern-day struggles of those who come from a previously disadvantaged race-group is politely shallow at best.
How it affects us today
The opposite of love is not hate. It’s fear. And what’s fueling dangerous racist behaviour is persistent, low-level fear of not getting the things you need like a job or a house. In a world of that has become a melting pot of different races in one country, it is easy to fall back on outdated beliefs of racial superiority and inferiority to ensure on some level that certain resources continue to be reserved for the former colonial race.
This low-level persistent fear gives rise to fear of the ‘threatening’ other fueling unfounded beliefs such as ‘black men are inherently more dangerous‘. In heightened fearful states, we react in one of two ways to fear: fight or flight. Aggression is driven by fear. So is self-preservation. Perhaps this is what drives racist aggression.
One person’s fear of black skin due to systematic generational social brainwashing is the tip of the iceberg of the effects of our accumulated human existence.
Most of that existence was defined by dominating one another and securing resources for oneself. Something which still continues under modern political and social systems.
Only because, essentially, humans haven’t evolved beyond a continuous quest for power over others.
Egg yolk dripped down the Range Rover’s windscreen. Sweat dripped down the side of Joanna’s face. Turned out hurling eggs was tiring. Would the sight of his egg-covered car be enough to make Nick’s blood boil? A part of her felt bad. But, Nick should know his cheating days are over.
Joanna knew she could make him happier than that cow ever did. His indecisiveness drove her mad. That’s why she had to help him decide. Leave your wife, Nick. Choose me. I told you she was crazy, Nick. See what she did to your car?
Joanna threw another egg.
Written for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Write a story in 100 words or less. Click the frog to submit your flash fiction and read what others’ have written.
“You’re vegetarian?” Stefan asked. Cool, handsome, and funny, Stefan was her longtime crush. Safiya agreed on a date even though she knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. It couldn’t. Could it?
“Oh, no!” she giggled. “It’s just that the food here isn’t halal. So… vegetarian options, you know.”
“Oh Christ, I didn’t even think of that!”
He may have used Jesus name in vain, but she was pretty sure he was Jewish. She imagined Mama’s despairing disapproval, “Why Saffa? Why?”
Stefan winked and said, “Next time, you choose the restaurant.”
Next time?! Safiya’s heart soared.
I hope you enjoyed this little scene out of the romantic comedy script that I’ll never write.
I didn’t get to everyone’s posts the last time, because I was busy moving house. Let’s just say, I never want to move house again anytime soon. I hope to catch up on posts and comments and do better this week!
Written for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Write a story in 100 words or less. Click the frog to submit your flash fiction and to read others’.
Moving house has got to be one of the most stressful life events ever. It is a logistical, organisational nightmare especially if you have ADHD like I do. My planner was full of loose bits of torn paper serving as extra to-do-lists of my actual to-do-lists. Not to mention the other reminders and notes on my phone. Labeling of boxes served my logic – ‘white shelf‘ meaning all items in the box are from the white shelf that used to squat in the living room. This way it helps me preserve my piles of organised-chaos paperwork so that I don’t spend weeks looking for misplaced reports.
I’m pretty sure I lost stuff along the way, but I’m not too bothered. As long as I have the important things with me like my family and pets, we’re good.
Moving house naturally brings up the past, as you dig out things in the back of your cupboards or out of storage. (Hello, electronic keyboard!). I used the opportunity to get rid of a lot of stuff that no longer served me. Many were still unopened in their original packaging. Stuff like a juicing machine, electric grill, clothing, and some furniture. Things I’ll probably be looking for in a few years time, no doubt, wondering what happened to them.
I’m always busy with a hobby or side-project. Drawing, knitting, sewing, music, gardening, DIY projects (ADHD heaven!) Naturally some hobbies never go beyond the first project. Once it loses its novelty, it’s hard to stick with it. Even more so if there’s a lot of friction getting started and it’s not one that can be done anytime or anywhere.
Up-cycling furniture was one of those old hobbies I abandoned. But I can proudly say that I have rescued two pine writing desks, three pine chairs, three pine bookshelves, a dining table of some dark wood from the 1960s and a stool that I thought was a piano seat and have called it such since its rescue. The piano idea was so firmly implanted in my mind, that I didn’t realise I varnished it a dark ebony-ish colour and re-upholstered it in ivory faux leather.
Seven years ago
All of these pieces of furniture were saved from my late mother’s rubbish pile during one of her de-cluttering phases. I restored the dining table and the piano seat. The rest were put straight to use as I could no longer bother to restore them. They were still in relatively good condition. Old, but useful. Like how we all hope to be one day.
Over a period of two or three weeks, I sanded and varnished the dining table and the piano seat. For the dining table I used a sanding machine that left my arms feeling as if I was still sanding the table hours after I switched off the machine.
The dining table does not have an immediate appeal. Maybe that’s why I liked it. It has a simple design, made of solid wood with an odd punch-hole feature. Old cracked varnish and signs of wear and tear shine through the thin coats of new varnish – it is true vintage. It has proudly served as my dining table for the past seven years.
The piano stool was one of the items removed from storage during the moving process. I restored it seven years ago then it went into storage gathering dust.
Until this past week where it eventually found its destiny in this awkward pot plant area in a corner of my new home. You’d think I’d put it by my electronic keyboard, but no. Somehow I like it in this space. A makeshift window seat. My favourite place to have coffee and enjoy the winter morning sun.
Express your originality. Save the environment
With DIY you can be as original as you want. Custom made pieces or decor are literally at your fingertips. I enjoy re-using, recycling and re-homing furniture, appliances, clothing and books. Come to think of it, most of the things in my home are second-hand or up-cycled. My dad, who works in construction, gave me steel garden fencing that one of his clients threw out. That fence has been used at my old house and now re-installed at my new home. Painted a fresh white. Admittedly, I didn’t install it. So it cost me labour and paint.
Often we throw away things that are still in good condition. With some elbow grease and a few coats of varnish I obtained two pieces of furniture at a fraction of the cost. I find this kind of frugality very satisfying. Not to mention it contributes to the environment by reducing waste. Points scored!
A little magic and hope
When I see a worn out piece of furniture get a makeover, it’s like witnessing a tiny miracle. A little bit of magic and fairy dust. I guess it is so satisfying to me because it makes me feel hopeful. That all is not lost. What is broken, can be fixed. What is lost, can be found. What is worn and old, can be restored into beauty and put to use again. What’s more, all those cracks, pock-marks and imperfections will shine through in a beauty like no other. All it takes is your effort and determination.
We’re halfway into the first year of this new decade and it has been a roller-coaster ride. Worse, one of those awful rides that catapult you in a giant slingshot that straddles on rickety stilts. Only you’re still flying through the air, waiting to touch solid ground.
Everyone has been feeling their way in the darkness, only able to see three inches in front of their noses. Including governments and world leaders. That’s because everything has been upended, suspended high in the stratosphere. Our plans and us are in one giant vertical indoor skydiving machine, suspending us in mid-air.
All because of a tiny microorganism.
All those plans you had to travel to Lesotho in the winter months and see the fairy-tale wonder of thick snow everywhere – up in the air. Oh, you planned on doubling your turnover this year with your multi-pronged marketing strategy – in the air. Heck, you don’t even know if you’re going to meet overheads at this lockdown rate.
And if you’re a student, you might be worried if you’ll graduate this year, or if you will have to repeat again next year. (This is a looming reality in some countries. In South Africa, people are worried they will lose a generation due to the immense learning losses in no-fee schools. Most learners do not have access to online learning widening the inequality gap. It is unfortunate that the poor are the most affected. In Botswana, where I live, the government provided learning support on radio, which is widely accessible. However, not all children can adapt to this learning style and there will inevitably be learning losses.) When schools reopen will your child be safe or should you keep her at home? And if you do, you worry over how you’ll continue her education and ensure she doesn’t miss an entire year.
Getting to the root of the problem(Spoiler: It’s us)
For the purposes of this post, I am limiting my discussion to the average person’s general mental health and not professionally diagnosed mental illnesses and disorders on which I am not qualified to write about.
Anxiety is widespread. Like a co-morbid disease to the pandemic.
At the root of all of this though, is not the virus. Although it would certainly help if it disappears as quickly as it appeared.
All of this anxiety and disturbed mental health stems from uncertainty. Even the extreme measures being taken to control the outbreak is due to the fact that not much is known about how the virus works.
In times of uncertainty it is difficult to plan. Planning offers us predictability and gives us a feeling of control over our situations. Uncertainty hits us right where it hurts: in the lower end of the pyramid.
I’m talking about the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. Uncertainty takes away a feeling of security which is an important need. The pyramid indicates that needs will be satisfied from the bottom upwards. Without security, we cannot move on to other human needs such as a sense of belonging, freedom and personal growth. I’m no expert but, evolved human beings as we are, planning usually satisfies this need to a satisfactory level. When we are unable to plan, we don’t feel secure or safe, and this triggers the primal brain to take over.
This is when fear and anxiety kicks in to keep us ‘safe’. It works wonders for short periods of time. Think about any potentially dangerous situation you escaped and that was your fear and anxiety keeping you out of harm’s way.
The new uncomfortable normal
Extended periods of perceived danger from which we are unable to escape, creates a heightened sense of fear and anxiety that becomes the new uncomfortable equilibrium. And your mental health begins to be affected.
Economic fears over income losses or sudden poverty, restricted travel and fears for health and our lives are all real. I mean, it’s happening all around us.
This isn’t one of those problems that the good doctors tells us exists only in our heads. It isn’t a perceived fear that doesn’t exist in reality, like the fear of public speaking. Your bones might tremble in their sockets the same way they would if a lion was standing in front of you, but there is no real threat to your life speaking in front of a crowd. This time the life-and-death fear in our bones is based on a real danger.
So how do we deal with it?
Yet, it doesn’t have to induce all out panic, anxiety, stress and worry.
Uncertainty doesn’t have a pretty face. She smells of rotten brussel sprouts and cheese breath that we’d do anything to steer clear of her. Even make doubtful choices that keep us stuck in situations we hate.
Let me turn you 180 degrees and show you a different picture, that might put things in perspective.
This virus, that has shaken things up, is one of many millions of different microorganisms that could potentially kill us at any time. Some are literally on you body, your floor, kitchen counter, pet’s mouth, or in the air you breathe right now. But we choose to think about this specific one.
Outside your home, on the highways, there are thousands of vehicles traveling at high speeds in all directions that could knock you over or crash into your car killing you on impact, at any given time. There are people who may randomly choose you as their next victim. I haven’t even gotten to the flora and fauna dangers yet. Still, we choose to focus on this one virus.
In outer space, there are limitless combinations of meteorites, radiation and possible alien threats that loom over us like a dark shadowy monster. Again our focus is zoomed in on covid-19.
When you think about the trillions of moving particles on micro and macro-biological levels, both on earth and in the greater universe, it’s a miracle we’re not all struck by lightning, or even infected with a strange new disease everyday.
In a way, we have decided that this virus, over all the other very real threats, will have our undivided attention. Anxiety thrives on attention.
Zoom out. Not in.
Allow your attention to expand outwards onto the millions of other threats that exist and are also very real, and something really cool might happen. You may find that the virus and this pandemic shrinks back into the viscous mass of other potential threats. When that happens, you see it more clearly for what it is.
The reality is, you could be stressing about this pandemic and something else will come out of the blue to hit you sideways. It’s just how this world works. It’s how we work. We’re not able to process all the data around us all of the time.
When you allow it to be one of the millions of known and unknown dangers your vulnerable existence faces every second, trying to control it and its effects becomes pointless. When you cease to control something, you effectively give up control and let go.
Letting go is the trick to dealing with uncertainty. Like all good solutions, it is counter-intuitive. Uncertainty demands that we seek control, in some form. Even if it’s buying enough toilet paper to last you twenty years till the next global disaster. Allow yourself to go with the flow of what’s happening right now. Allow yourself to be suspended in the air.
You don’t know when it will end, or how you will make it through, but it’s okay. You know that no matter what, you will do what it takes. Because that’s how you came this far in your life. One thing you won’t do though, is worry unnecessarily over things you can’t control. For one thing, prolonged stress affects your immunity and right now that is one thing you need to increase.
Wash your hands. Become a pirate
I’m not saying don’t take any preventative measures. I’m saying take those measures and keep going. Follow the guidelines on preventing infection and then forget about it. It’s easier if you establish a routine and develop habits around sanitising your surroundings and your person.
Around the world, lockdowns are ending, easing into a watered-down version of normal. It’s a unique time. Changes are afoot. Once you’re out of the pandemic’s mental clutches, allow yourself to be an opportunist. A swash-buckling pirate of an opportunist. It will help you look to the brighter side of things when you look for the opportunities that change inevitably brings with it.
And go beyond just the economic opportunities. Look for new ways of doing old activities. This might just be a chance to improve, reconnect or start afresh.
There were times of panic -inducing uncertainty in my life and this quote always propped me right back up on my wooden leg:
“Tom! I thought I told you to do your homework? Give me those. Now!”
Tom moaned, handing Theresa his headphones together with his smartphone. Ignoring him, she returned to the kitchen. She was rushing to prepare dinner with minced meat that wasn’t fully defrosted yet.
She must have touched the screen by mistake because it started to play a song. The familiar lilts and mournful notes made her breath catch in her throat. Yet it was all wrong. The artist didn’t know how to capture the emotion in the song.
She would know. She wrote it. Ten years ago.
As soon as I saw the image I heard the song in my head. I sang Killing me softly at my school concert too – the Roberta Flack version. Embarassingly, I’d been singing it since before the Fugees version thanks to my mom’s karoake videos, which I hoarded. So of course, I had to write this story.
UPDATE 23 May 2020: When I wrote the story I had no idea of the true origins of the song. A youtube recommendation today revealed to me that Lori Lieberman wrote a poem about the way she felt at a Don McLean concert. The poem became lyrics to the song Killing Me Softly made popular by Roberta Flack. Lieberman was cheated out of the royalties. In my story, Theresa is taken aback hearing a song she wrote years ago being sung by someone else. In my imagination, she too was cheated out of the rights of the song that was close to her heart. Knowing Lieberman’s true story (and it being goosebumping-ly close to my flash fiction) I really wanted to credit her as the original artist and lyricist of the enduring song.
Written for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Write a story in 100 words or less. Click the frog to submit your flash fiction and read others’ stories too.