You know what’s interesting about visiting a foreign land? You’re an outsider, a stranger – a minority. You’re not part of the crowd, and you stick out like a sore thumb. As luck would have it, I’m not terribly uncomfortable in situations such as these. I do, however, have a short fuse when it comes to people crossing the line, so on several occasions, I had to exercise a good deal of restraint and keep my trap shut.
You see, racism against whites is about as rampant in Zimbabwe as it is against blacks in West Virginia. I’ve read stories, I’d been prepped and lectured on the dos and don’ts, but man, to experience it firsthand is a wholly different thing. It’s subtle, but it’s unnerving. At first you might deny it and chalk it up to chance, or whatever. But the more and more you observe interactions with other people, the more and more you realize that things are messed up.
I’ll run down a few quick examples: When you need to do some shopping in the Mbare, you take a black man with you. This is for two main reasons; the first is so that (hopefully) nothing happens to your vehicle, and the second is so that you can get a fair price for whatever goods you’re looking for. You see, the white man gets a different price entirely, unfortunately, so if you’ve got black friends, that tends to help.
The more commercialized locations are pretty much prohibited from switching up the prices on their goods and services, but if you’re not careful (and even if you are) you’ll lose your spot in line quicker than you can say, well, anything. This happened to me on a few occasions and it took every fiber of my being not to say something. If this were The States, you can bet I’d be defending my spot in line like a good little consumer. Unfortunately, if you call someone out on their crap in Zimbabwe, you’re probably going to be on the receiving end of a really bad day, if you know what I mean.
Here’s a question: When you go into a store with a 10 or a 20 dollar bill, you expect the cashier to have change, right? Imagine what it’s like to carry 15 dollars in goods up to the counter and hand the cashier a 20, only to be told that they don’t have change. Your only options are to just give the cashier the 20 and forego five dollars in change, look for more items to purchase, or forget the whole transaction. None of those options are what anyone would consider ideal, and even more so when you notice the black patron behind you was given five dollars in change for their transaction. Hmm…
Coming from the United States where we’re (mostly) over this sort of disgusting behavior, it all came as a real shock to me. Over here, race is something that seldom enters my mind. In Zimbabwe, it came up all the damn time, and it was extremely irritating and exhausting.
People try to justify racism and discrimination by detailing extenuating circumstances – this is how I was raised… I lived in a bad neighborhood growing up… these people took our land over a century ago… All of these, terrible excuses for an inexcusable attitude.
People are supposed to be better than this, and anyone who feels like this sort of behavior is okay under any circumstance is an embarrassment to the human race.