Saturday, 4 July 2015

These people

There are people who will tell you that things are getting worse. For instance they’ll say that the quality of customer service in Botswana is declining. They’ll say that there was a good time in the past when people were friendlier and more caring. They’ll say that globalization, new technology and Facebook have killed the community spirit that made things so wonderful in the good old days.

I say that’s nonsense.

I genuinely believe that greater contact with other countries and cultures, either in person or electronically, has improved us as a nation. It’s educated us, broadened our minds and has given us an even better sense of our own culture. It’s certainly not done us any harm.

There are even those people who say that even the quality of our lives is in decline. I’ve met some people, most of them either peddling or using some miracle health product, who say that in the past people had a better diet, lived longer and were happier in those long-gone days.

I say nonsense again.

2015 is the best year in human history to live. Despite what the pessimists say we are living longer, healthier, safer lives than any of our ancestors. Our diet is better, we’re eating larger quantities of better food and even the poorest people are in a better state than their ancestors were.

However I can’t honestly say that everything is fine and wonderful. There are still some people who behave badly. There are still some people who have what can politely be described as nasty beliefs. I don’t know if what I am about to suggest is polite or not but frankly I don’t care. Some of them have racist impulses.

One of the first complaints we received, eleven years ago, concerned a woman who had fallen in a store, having tripped over a hole in the floor. She wasn’t badly injured but still needed to seek treatment seven times. The store’s response was to offer her just P210, P30 for each taxi journey she’d taken to hospital. No apology was offered, not even an expression of regret for the discomfort and inconvenience this lady had endured. And then it got worse and then we got angry. In a meeting with the Regional Manager of the chain of stores he told us “You know what these people are like”. Yes, he was white and I think he thought that as fellow whites we’d share his contemptuous and insulting opinion of his mostly black customers.

We didn’t share it. In fact he revolted us.

The lady in question didn’t settle for a mere P210, in fact she eventually received more than twenty times that amount. And then something else happened that balanced the experience we had with the Regional Manager. When we mentioned this situation to the white manager of another, entirely separate store he was as appalled as we were. Bring the lady to my store, he told us. A few days later we drove her there and he gave her an empty trolley and a helper to push it for her. Fill it up, he said to her, it’s on us. She told us afterwards that she felt like a Queen.

Unfortunately the phrase “these people” is still going around.

On Facebook recently someone posted a link to a revolting story headlined “He Went Inside A Noodle Soup Restaurant In China. What He Found Inside? Disgusting!”

A picture in the article appeared to show the bodies of dead babies that were about to be used to make soup. Firstly it’s important to make one thing clear. There is precisely no evidence that this story is true and the pictures are certainly not evidence of cannibalism.

What I disliked most were the comments made by people who saw the post. Talking of Chinese people, one said “they are capable to eat anything..not surprised at all” and another said “China have you no morals”. Later someone called the Chinese “sick people” and one even said “Are Chinese HUMAN?????”

This is racism and it’s despicable. Unfortunately it’s not unique. A few years ago I was one of many people who received a horrible email entitled “OMG-BLACK AFRICANS DON'T TRAVEL TO CHINA & THAILAND & BE CAREFUL WITH TAKE-AWAYS”. The email included some horrific photos of a real, dark-skinned human body being cut into pieces by a group of oriental-looking people followed by more pictures of a group of Orientals joyfully having a braai. The suggestion was clear: they had cut up the body of a dead African, cooked it and eaten it.

This was another lie. Someone who clearly had a problem with oriental people had constructed a shameful, despicable, racist lie, suggesting that Orientals eat black Africans.

It took me less than 5 minutes to establish what the pictures really showed. In Thailand there are cemeteries exclusively for bodies of unidentified deceased people and for various reasons these cemeteries fill up very quickly and then need to be cleared. This next bit is going to sound completely bizarre and possibly, to us, revolting. There’s a group of volunteers in Thailand who go to these cemeteries, exhume the bodies and then strip the flesh from the bones of the corpses. The flesh is cremated and the bones are then stored. This may seem totally strange to you and me but in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist culture, this is actually a deeply respectful thing to do. That was what these gruesome pictures showed. The pictures of the braai were something else entirely and they certainly didn’t show anybody being eaten.

And the corpse being dismembered? He wasn’t African. I’ve spent time in the Far East and there are many people there who are surprisingly dark-skinned. He was one of them.

The sad lesson is that bigotry is still out there and, despite what some rather defensive people will tell you, it’s something we need to keep discussing. That’s the only way we can put it behind us.

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