Nqobile is a young man raised in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Having been awarded a dream bursary to attend college in America, he thinks his success came as a result of his proximity to whiteness; something he's believed in since attending a majority white high school.
While on break, he witnesses a depressing incident at the border between Zimbabwe and South African that shatters his desire to maintain this proximity, as he now feels that blacks will always be inferior.
Back on campus, he searches for meaning through religion and by joining black consciousness groups. When both avenues fail dramatically, he soon discovers he will have to look within himself to find purpose.
In telling Nqobile’s story, which appears as a novella within his novel, author Mandhla Mgijima outlines a new consciousness paradigm of existence that will inspire people to move beyond the conceptual and materially obsessed world we currently live in.
Mandhla Mgijima, a native of Zimbabwe, attended an American college on a full track-and-field scholarship while majoring in economics. He nearly dropped out of college, however, when he realized that pursuit of material wealth would not provide him with the sense of purpose he longed for.
Although he kept plugging away at his studies up to graduate level, he spent more time reflecting on what the world’s wisdom traditions say about the true nature of the universe. His reflections have driven him to believe that humanity’s trajectory is singular, and as we face the same fate for our actions, we need to get together to shift the consciousness of the entire world.
Set in the build up to the 2016 American presidential election, black and white students debate the moral standing of #BlackLivesMatter, and the effect that the group's rhetoric has had on the safety of police officers.
Are white students insensitive for denouncing the group's inflammatory rhetoric? Do blacks have any moral standing when they make innocent white people cry then console them by shouting f*** your white tears?
Nqobile – The Story of Becoming
A few minutes later, after navigating some crunchy walkways through campus having had salt poured on the slippery snow, they entered one of the bigger conference rooms in the Symonds University Center. They stood to the side of the main door as all the 100 plus seats in the room had been taken. They found themselves standing next to Dr. Johnson, who greeted them with a nod and warm smile while his arms remained comfortably folded in front of him. “I knew two people were missing,” he whispered softly leaning toward them. “Don’t mind me, I’m just observing, and making sure no skulls are cracked. Interesting times we’re living in aren’t we?”
Nqobile simply nodded back and smiled, while Jade also smiled politely and whispered barely audibly, “Hey professor.”
The room had as many whites as it did blacks and they sat mixed together, with a few other minorities scattered randomly throughout. Nqobile recognized a few Africans, Moses included, and he could feel the tension in the atmosphere. The forum had started 15 minutes previously and they arrived right in the middle of a rant:
“…’scuse my French but what the fuck do these … black people want?” asked this tall chubby white boy with a rough ponytail resting clumsily on his faded black t-shirt.
“Woah! Please remember that as much as we encourage free speech, this is still a respectful academic environment. So refrain from using obscenities to express your passion lest they take away from the quality of your contribution. You may continue, if you tone down your language,” another white male spoke authoritatively, whom Jade pointed out to Nqobile was Richard, the president of the SGA.
“Fine. I can be totally PC,” retorted the tall white boy with a tone of annoyance. “Seriously though, what do these black people want? Did you hear the chants in New York? This is clearly a violent movement and Bill O’Reilly was right when he likened them to being a black KKK. They are an extremist radical group, and together with their white liberal buddies they should all climb back into the trees they came from! For those who didn’t catch their chants on Fox news, they were marching and shouting: ‘What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!’ How do you condone that kind of inflammatory rhetoric against the people who are here to protect and serve the country? Do they want anarchy? Maybe they should go back to Africa if they want to engage in this kind of lawlessness. This is America thank you!” he exclaimed while waving his fist vigorously, directed at a black student who had been trying to interrupt him.
“Are you kidding me, Fox News? That’s your reference point?!” asked the black male with a modest physical presence, which his voice compensated for in its vigor; he touched the rim of his glasses and pointed his hand in a 90-degree angle periodically as he spoke. “We out here marching over dead bodies, brutally murdered at the hands of the state and you out here complaining about inflammatory rhetoric?! Is this some kind of joke? And then you want to tell us to go back to Africa, forgetting that your ancestors brought us here? Ain’t nothing African about me, I am fully American with full rights as a citizen that were obtained by the blood, sweat, and death of my ancestors. This state-sponsored violence is infringing on my rights as enshrined in the constitution and it needs to stop. I would rather have inflammatory remarks directed at me than bullets! Any day!”
Another white student, Abigail, sitting on the panel next to Sean, stood up to speak: “That is short-sighted to say the very least. You have to be a fool not to realize the effect that kind of rhetoric has on police officers. Because of it there now exists excessive pressure on police officers who put their necks on the line every day, a scrutiny that hasn’t existed before. And when you have people asking for dead cops, guess what, you have people attacking these cops. The people who are meant to protect us are no longer safe and that bodes terribly for the rest of us. Who will we call for protection when we need it? To make matters worse, these cops, who are constantly thrown into life or death situations, are now second-guessing themselves because they fear the excessive scrutiny. They fear losing their jobs more than they fear losing their lives. They are scared to use forceful measures to quell situations in case it gets caught on camera and goes viral. How are they supposed to do their jobs properly if their main concern is public opinion? Let police officers, black or white, or whatever else they may be, do their jobs without having to worry about being attacked by rogue individuals incited by a movement that claims it wants to enjoy as much protection from them as other groups do. Let sanity reign.”
Sean, the president of the BSA and co-founder of the BLM chapter in the city, chimed in from his chair next to the president of the SGA. He was wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt similar to those worn by at least a third of the room. “Look, I don’t necessarily agree with the chant of the protestors but to suggest that it’s remotely comparable to the life of another human being is highly insensitive, and that’s why this movement exists to begin with. We are arguing about inflammatory remarks and black lives in the same breath as if they equate to the same thing. People are dying! Do y’all get that?! We must not lose sight of the bigger issues, particularly that police have been killing black people or using excessive force against them with no reprimand. It’s almost ok for a police officer to shoot a black man because he thought he was carrying a gun. It’s also ok for cops to place a man in a choke hold until he dies, and when people wear ‘I can’t breathe’ hoodies in support and memory of his last words, it’s also ok for white people to desensitize this and wear ‘I can breathe’ t-shirts. Where was the outrage on inflammatory remarks then? Where was it when that cop was selling t-shirts written ‘Breath easy, don’t break the law’? Was that appropriate? Certainly not! Was it representative of the position of all officers? I don’t think so. So why then should we focus on the incendiary, which tend to be on the periphery and not the norm? The issue is about racial profiling and the subsequent excessive use of force against black people, so let’s not take that away from our conversation because of what one isolated group chanted.”
Another white student sitting at the very back of the room was given the chance to speak: “Sean, I don’t know you personally, but it seems you are glossing over hard facts in order to make your flimsy argument. In Baltimore, people were so enraged they were rioting, trashing and looting shops in their own neighborhoods. They were so angry they were looting rims for their cars, weave for their hair, honeybuns, and one store owner even reported having all his strawberry Kool-Aid missing,” he said to a few snickers from his friends sitting around him. “So that one group is not on the periphery as you suggest. They are not the exception Sean. They are the norm. How are we supposed to take you seriously if you are loudly interrupting every single event where people are trying to have serious conversations on nation building? I mean look at those girls who interrupted Bernie Sanders. One was a co-founder of a chapter and yet she acted a fool toward a presidential candidate. Those are the ambassadors of your movement and they are behaving no better than spoilt kids. What’s worse still is that the message coming from the movement makes absolutely no sense. I’m no democrat but tell me, how do you disrupt Bernie Sanders to the point that he cancels his event? Bernie Sanders! With his records on civil rights, a man who marched with MLK all those years ago and has perhaps been the most vocal in the campaign when it comes to racial issues, how? Isn’t that a misdirection of your energy? I won’t even touch on the manner in which they hijacked the event, but we have come to expect that from you people. Is that part of the grand plan to achieve your racial objectives? Do your good intentions or your thoughts that your cause is justified, justify you rioting and trashing your own neighborhoods? Please explain. Help this confused white boy understand why your movement is doing what it’s doing and how it’s somehow adding to the value of national dialogue.”
A black girl in the middle of the room closer to Nqobile and Jade, who was visibly seething, and also wearing a BLM t-shirt, stood up. Her long black braids danced as violently as she spoke: “I really don’t appreciate the thinly-veiled racism by these bigots that’s being passed as legitimate academic contribution. We must climb up trees; return to Africa; rioters were looting rims; really? Weave, Kool-Aid, really? Don’t try to act smart because you ain’t that smart. We see right through you. Many of those people you mentioned aren’t exactly part of BLM so that racist quip is as irrelevant as you are. Now about misdirected energy, those girls did what they had to do because they want to hold accountable anyone who claims they are all for racial equality. The senator is one such person so we have to know what his platform is. We have to make sure he includes our demands into his thinking and policy. We have to know exactly what his plan is for prison reform. And that’s because he has promised us these things. The right clearly hates minorities so it makes no sense to go to such events. Did you see what happened at the Trump event when one of our members chanted ‘black lives matter’? It’s all on tape; he was punched, kicked when he fell, and choked. What did Trump say to all this? Granted, he may not have seen it as it was happening and simply shouted ‘get’em out of here,’ but after the event he didn’t apologize. He actually claimed that what that man was doing was disgusting and he probably should’ve been roughed up! That’s what the right thinks of us. And Trump’s rallies are becoming safe havens for all sorts of racism and bigotry. It wouldn’t be useful to have a BLM rally against him without it turning violent. One last thing before I sit down, it seems to me that white people are now using the chant #alllivesmatter as a rallying cry against what they feel is an attack on their privilege. I was watching a YouTube video showing one of the BLM demonstrations and what’s interesting is that white people in countering were using #alllivesmatter and #whitepower interchangeably. If it wasn’t clear before it is as clear as daylight now that they feel threatened by the acknowledgment of equality by another race.”
“Ok, so now I’m starting to have a problem with the manner in which we are so one-sided in our arguments, because it looks like it’s only black versus white yet there’s so much grey in between,” said a white boy at the back of the room who spoke in a calm, nonchalant voice. “I’ve heard complaints about equating rhetoric to bodies and it’s true, but let’s not act as if BLM didn’t chant what they chanted, and let’s also not pretend that what they said has as much an effect as brutal violence perpetrated against black people by police…”
“Tell ’em white boy,” said one random voice in the crowd.
“Don’t get excited yet,” cautioned the same white boy as he continued. “It might also be true that #alllivesmatter in some places might actually mean #whitepower, but black people, soon after the attacks in Paris, where did this magical hashtag come from, #FuckParis? Didn’t you all suggest that rhetoric could not be equated to blood? And yet many of you dismissed a terrorist attack that indiscriminately killed people of all races because you don’t agree with France’s history of racism? That’s the definition of a double standard right there. But anyway, this is my real point to black people. Did you see that grandma who posted a YouTube video about her granddaughter being killed by a stray bullet and yet no one from the BLM movement lifted a finger? No Al Sharpton protesting, no Jesse Jackson standing with the family. Is that because 90 to 93% of all homicides are black-on-black murders? You want to talk about police brutality yet no one seems to care about black-on-black brutality. There’s something horribly wrong with the picture that the stats have painted so I think it is necessary to redirect that energy if you really think that black lives matter. It also doesn’t help that you have BLM protestors storming into university libraries, shouting indiscriminately at white students who could actually be on their side to the point of making them cry, then shouting ‘Fuck your white tears’ for consolation. When you can transfer all that energy and anger, and march into ‘Chiraq,’ a virtual warzone, then that’s when we will take your movement seriously!”
Moses stood up to speak. “Good evening all. I am African and I have to agree with the previous speaker on changing the scope of the movement. Black people, you must stop blaming everyone else and get your house in order. You can’t expect the country to march with you for the seven percent who are killed by police officers yet remain mum on the other 93%. If you really care about other black people then you need to march in the ghettos when they are shooting each other. I have been on this website, world star something, and there are fight compilation videos where black people are beating each other up for the whole world to see! It looks like it doesn’t matter if the violence on blacks is done by other blacks, but the moment someone else does something to a black person then you want to cry foul? I was watching the news just the other day and something very interesting came up from a black man. His name is Sherriff Kaine. I don’t know where he’s from but he seems like a prominent figure in your community. First, he said that BLM is the bastard child of the ‘hands up don’t shoot’ movement. He also called it black lies matter because the whole thing is built on a lie. It’s a convenient collection of misfits from the occupy movement, criminals, black racialists, cop haters, and anarchists. And especially, because black lies matter isn’t concerned with black-on-black crime, then there’s no way they can be taken seriously. Stop blaming everyone else. Stop blaming the system, the government, slavery, and start taking things into your own hands. My country was once a British colony and today we are one of the biggest emerging economies in Africa because we are getting our hands dirty and handling our business. You should stop marching and do the same.”
“So why you in America then?” Sean asked tersely. “Never mind that, you are clearly an outsider and a sympathizer. If your country is so great now, then you should be back there contributing to it instead of telling us how to fix our house all the way here in America. To the confused African and the white gentleman before him, both of you need to know that there are dialogues every Sunday within the churches to discuss what’s happening in the community. Many people are very active and vocal about it, but you also have to realize that black-on-black homicides and police-on-black homicides are very different things. In truth, America fears us black people with all our cultural eccentricities, and the police in their excessiveness are a willful reflection of these fears. America needs to accept us wholly for who we are and when that happens this will be reflected in all spheres, not least of all in our interaction with police officers who assume the worst when they see us wearing hoodies. Did you know that 24 unarmed black people across America have been killed by police in the past year? That’s 24 too many!”
Richard, the president of the SGA responded: “And did you know that in the same period, 25 police officers have been killed by rogue vigilantes who have been inspired more than likely by the chants of your movement? To the gentleman at the back who spoke previously, this anti-cop rhetoric isn’t just rhetoric, and it’s sweeping the country. People are now intentionally targeting police officers, shooting them when they are unarmed and posting on social media how much they want to kill pigs. These words have real consequences so we have to be responsible in how we are shaping our dialogue.”
“But police officers have jobs that put their lives in the risk of danger every single day they step out. They chose that job,” Sean argued, gesticulating his hands wildly. “And yet by these statistics black people are in as much danger of losing their lives just because they are black! Gimme a break! It’s not the same thing!”