I am not vulgar by nature or inclination, but readers, can you allow me – hopefully, just for once – to cite inappropriate and offensive terms to put across a point without mincing words like a BBC panellist asked for the same exception and exemption last week to utter an unmentionable word before a global television audience: Shithole.
By CONWAY TUTANI
For those not in the know – and there many in Zimbabwe as they use the word liberally and publicly may be because English is a second language to them – “shit” is a vulgar word for human waste.
Well, in the past days, we have had the spectacle of some Zimbabweans – too many of them for comfort – falling all over each other in praising United States President Donald Trump for labelling African States “shithole countries”. These fellow black Zimbabweans took this as an opportunity to vent their resentment against their own leaders.
Unfortunately, arguments can be popular even when they are not sound, intelligent, rational and applicable as seen in the tide of approval from – of all people – these black Zimbabweans that met Trump’s racist demagoguery. Demagogues like Trump – and Adolf Hitler and many others before him – gain popularity by pandering to or exciting the passions and prejudices of the audience.
But then, being passionate against corruption and repression at home is one thing; and backing racist statements by Trump is another. Trump did not disparage African countries out of concern for the ordinary African suffering under repressive and corrupt leadership, but out of racism against Africans because of their skin colour lacking whiteness.
So, Africans in general were not “suitably” impressed, but outraged by Trump’s crude insult. People have the presence of mind that while they are appalled by the corruption and repression they see today, they won’t necessarily hanker for colonial Rhodesia and brush under the carpet the twin evils of racism and repression from those days. In the same way, many opposition supporters are refusing to go along with some of their leaders’ outright condemnation of the military intervention that led to the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe last year because these people know that something had to give to catalyse political change and socio-economic improvement.
To project the military as totally wrong is misreading of the situation which could cost the opposition votes. So, the sooner they drop that line of attack on the new government, the better for them. Zimbabweans could have been initially sceptical about military intervention, but that scepticism was far outweighed by the anger against Mugabe. Africans can be angry with their governments, but they can be even angrier against Trump, who is a throwback to colonial racism and reincarnation of America as the self-appointed “policeman of the world”. Self-respecting Africans will never be complicit in their debasement by anyone, Trump included.
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Wrote African-American author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates last year long before Trump’s “shithole” expletive: “(Trump’s) political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built.”
Birtherism is a movement in the US that doubts or denies that former President Barack Obama is a natural-born US citizen, thus implying that he was ineligible to be President. But being white is not an achievement. If being white was an achievement, an African-American of Kenyan parentage – Obama – wouldn’t have beaten white candidates in both primary and presidential elections, not just once, but twice. It’s increasingly becoming clear that replacing Obama is not enough for this racist as Trump has made the destruction of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own, as he moves to dismantle Obama’s major policy successes. And it’s not lost on people that racism is at play here not only because Obama was the first black US President, but also because his father came from Kenya, a “shithole” country.
Continued Coates: “But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the US government
. . . and railed against ‘lazy’ black employees. ‘Black guys counting my money! I hate it!’ Trump was once quoted as saying.” It’s also incongruous and most ironic that among those who are supporting Trump are womankind – some of them feminists – despite the fact that Trump has a track record of objectifying women. Trump is on TV footage categorising women as sex objects – so, how more can it be at odds with what feminists stand for? And particularly so in the case of African women who have shouldered the twin burden of both sexism and racism?
Such people who fell for Trump’s demagoguery despite being highly educated and intelligent individuals can be justifiably labelled reflex critics or knee-jerk critics of anything and everything African.
The same usual suspects totally opposed the setting-up of the Aids Levy and National Social Security Authority just because this was being pushed by their political adversaries, not on merit or demerit grounds. Some of this is out of gut reaction, which, in its rawest form, is defined as “a primitive response to external stimuli before reason modulates one’s behaviour”. So, even educated people are not immune to gut reaction. People did not stop to listen to the import of what Trump said: a blanket categorisation and characterisation of blacks – each and every black – as lazy, incompetent and inferior.
No wonder one of Zimbabwe’s best and brightest, Hopewell Chin’ono, said: “I found it astounding and tragic that some of our brothers and sisters living in the US, Canada and the rest of the Western world were the first to defend Trump, something that is mind-boggling.”
This touches on colonial mentality and the house nigger syndrome, the mental slavery or psychosis seen among those blacks who are always trying to ingratiate themselves with their neo-conservative white “masters” by distancing themselves from everything black and cheering everything European and Western. Without being anti-European and anti-Western – which is as bad as Trump’s anti-African racism – we need to cure ourselves of Eurocentrism – that tendency to interpret the world in terms of European or Anglo-American values and experiences with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the superiority of everything European and Western.
That said, Trump’s sanity is being questioned even in the US itself. Some of his behaviour is so strange, unpredictable, odd and bizarre that even his most ardent apologists are having a hard time explaining what makes him tick and have described him as “a troubled human being” with “obvious personal problems”. Speaking recently to an audience of farmers, Trump said: “Oh, are you happy you voted for me! You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.” Can it get more egocentric and more egomaniacal than that?
No wonder the Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary with definitions written by all and sundry, has quickly and fittingly come up with its own meaning of “shithole” as “Trump’s mouth, often a place from whence great amounts of shit spews”.
Indeed, if anything, it’s Trump himself who is a shithole. That, readers, is the inescapable conclusion.
lConway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org