Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood: Book Review

by

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2016, 288 pp. K272.00 ($28.00), Hardcover, K155.00 ($16.00) Paperback.

Introduction

The diabolical South African racist apartheid policy felt its first death blow when the late great legendary Nelson Mandela was released on February 11 1990 after being in prison for 27 years. The crime for which Mandela was jailed was fighting against apartheid in the early 1960s. Africans and the world hammered the last nail into the racist apartheid coffin on April 27 1994. This is when all the estimated 40 million South Africans of all races; blacks, whites, coloreds, Asians and others held their first democratic elections under a brand new constitution.

Book Cover "Born a Crime."

Book Cover “Born a Crime.”

 

Legacy of Racism

When Europeans introduced racism or what was known as color bar in British colonial Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, that was bad enough. What was worse is when Europeans introduced racism on the entire African continent with whites always portraying themselves as superior and blacks as inferior. Black South Africans were the worst victims of racism as apartheid was uniquely formally codified into elaborate state laws of South Africa from 1948 to 1990. Although European colonialism formally ended in the 1960s when most African countries gained political independence, Africans and the world are still dealing with some of the serious legacies of the ugly tragedy that is racism. What were the experiences of black South Africans under the worst excesses of the diabolical apartheid policy? How did apartheid negatively impact other groups such as coloreds and whites as collateral damage?

Trevor Noah is a high profile South African comedian who has reached the pinnacle of his unlikely career as host of the highly acclaimed  The Daily Show television program in the United States. He has written a book about his experiences growing up under the dark shadow of apartheid in South Africa. The book can be best characterized as the great grand children of Nelson Mandela and South Africa vividly narrating the tragic and damaging story that was  apartheid in South Africa.

Noah was born in 1984 and was only 10 years old when South Africa held its first democratic elections. There are no doubt thousands of books and other historical accounts that have recorded and will continue to unveil the evils of apartheid. But Trevor Noah’s story has a very compelling and useful uniqueness that most readers may miss. Some readers will read the book and conclude: “….apartheid was bad, Trevor Noah survived. He is now rich and famous. Apartheid and racism are in the past….” This is hardly the whole story. Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, has a bitter sweetness to the book.

Bitterness

The bitterness to the book is that it vividly describes the pain and suffering that Africans  in South Africa and elsewhere have endured and continue to suffer under various schemes of European racism particularly under apartheid in South Africa. The extreme poverty, high unemployment, the crime infested crowded shacks but culturally vibrant townships, racial segregation,  poor schools, residential segregation, extreme hunger and life of squalor in the remote and rural dusty squalid African bantu stands under apartheid.

Describing some of the  deeply divisive and cruel aspects of racism, Noah says:

“If a black guy chooses to button up his blackness to live among white people and play lots of golf, white people will say, “Fine. I like Brian. He’s safe.” But try being a black person who immerses himself in white culture while still living in the black community. Try being a white person who adopts the trappings of black culture while still living in the white community. You will face more hate and ridicule and ostracism than you can begin to fathom”.(2016: p. 118)

Some of the ugly aspects of racism Noah describes as a child are reminiscent of Malcolm X’s experiences growing up in his black American family in which his parents treated more favorably his siblings who had lighter skin.

“There were so many perks to being “white” in a black family, I can’t even front. I was having a great time. My own family basically did what the American justice system does: I was given more lenient treatment that the black kids. Misbehavior that my cousins would have been punished for, I was given a warning and let off.”(Noah: 2016, p. 52)

And then there was the heart wrenching violence of necklacing among Africans, especially between the Zulu and Xhosa, from various so-called rival tribes in the townships during the dying days of apartheid as they vied for power and influence in the townships. One wonders just how a kid from a mixed racial background that is Trevor Noah survived. His mixed race of being colored, born of a black mother and white father, was both a blessing and a curse.

The silent victimization of whites under apartheid is often underplayed with the assumption that after all, all whites loved apartheid because they were benefiting. But many whites suffered physically but also suffered the invisible  pain of the soul for they could not live as complete human beings with total freedom. Trevor Noah’s white dad could never fully openly enjoy life with his son and his son’s black mother. Because under apartheid they were all a living and breathing crime scene every single day of their lives.

The other form of bitterness of the book is more hidden. This is not Trevor Noah’s fault for he is only narrating what I have no doubt are accurate experiences. It is what I would characterize as the sweeping power of Europeanization, Westernization, therefore urbanization. Noah’s father and mother are living in vestiges of extremely rural cruel oppressive patriarchal customs which his mother feels at liberty to mock when she visits her African husband rural village. Some of these patriarchal customs tragically result into gender based violence. These violent aspects of the culture should be totally eliminated. But one has to be cautious as there is a danger in eliminating all of the strong African traditional customs because many of them are beneficial even for couples who are married and both have Ph. Ds. Urban people  nearly everywhere, more especially in African and among their European counterparts, never fully understand and fully appreciate some of the positive rural customs among the so-called rural tribes in Africa.

Another bitterness happened when Noah  and his mother eat raw green caterpillars as food because of poverty. The caterpillars explode in Noah’s mouth to his disgust. I laughed. The green caterpillars are vinkhubala or matondo in rural Zambia. When they are properly cooked and sun dried and roasted they are very delicious. They are sold in many township markets in Zambian towns and rural roads. Of course you can never find them in the modern city supermarket.

The Sweetness

The sweetness of the book is that there is triumph of good over evil. In spite all the obstacles he and his African mother faced, Trevor Noah emerged strong from under the abyss of apartheid. Some of the heroic action Noah’s mother expose some of the contradictions that exist in child upbringing among some Africans and African-Americans up to this day. This is the notion of why should parents teach and expose their black child  to “white culture” if the child will never be part of the white culture? The white culture often is in form going to museums, going to libraries, reading, speaking so-called white middle class English or bazungu English, visiting parks, just exposing your child to different cultural experiences outside the African culture family comfort zone. Noah’s mother exposed her young son to as much of the outside non-black world as she could. It might have helped her son succeed and have more choices and opportunities later in his adult life.

Discussing how his mother exposed and educated him so much about life during apartheid, Noah says: “People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu – the things of white people. So many black people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom. “Why do this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?” ………I was nearly six when Mandela was released, ten before democracy finally came, yet she was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist.” (Noah: 2016, p. 74)

The sweetness of the book shows the incredible resilience of African people. We are not only the origin of all 7 billion people in the world going back perhaps a hundred thousand years, but European slavery, colonialism, racism and apartheid are only a  small bump in our long history. If you are a Zambian or an African, you ought to be proud of Trevor Noah’s story of resilience. If you are reading this story as a member of humanity, you ought to be proud that human beings can exhibit so much strength in the face of insurmountable difficulties. The message from the book is that you can also overcome anything.

The New Jim Crow: Book Review

by

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York: The New Press, 2010, 2011, pp. 312, $19.95, Paperback.

Introduction

The long history of African Americans in the United States since President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to end chattel slavery in 1865, is that of living a life of excruciating emotional torture and uncertainty the likes of which ought to devastate them and usurp their souls. Just after 1865 during Reconstruction, African Americans experienced brief periods of hope of freedom, euphoric potential for genuine emancipation, and finally achieving equality and dignity as human beings as proselytized in the preamble of that great document called the American Constitution. Then there was what should have been the predictable backlash from the white dominant group that quickly created the Jim Crow laws which were accompanied with absolute continuous terror and degradation of African Americans. So the oppression and discrimination went on until the 1954 Supreme Court decision known Brown vs. the Board of Education. The decision declared that racially separate schools between blacks and whites were not only wrong to be separate but they were not equal.The New Jim Crow

School Integration and Civil Rights Movement

The enforcement of school integration gave African Americans hope momentarily that they could finally get a decent education. There was hope that racially integrating schools may slowly eliminate racial hostility, prejudice, and discrimination of whites towards blacks. The vast majority of whites resisted integration some violently. The biggest hope of freedom and racial equality for African American was the tumultuous Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In the 1970s there was some potential for racial progress as African Americans and women made some gains in upward social mobility Then the 1980s started the era of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration of African Americans.

Book Review

In the introductory chapter, the author explains how she painfully came to the conclusion that a New Jim Crow existed in the form of mass incarceration of African Americans. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”  does an excellent job in the 6 chapters to first briefly but systematically describe how the enslavement of Africans started.  She explain how plantation slave owning whites created an alliance with poor whites against the black slaves. In the first chapter she addresses “The Rebirth of Caste” with subheadings such as the “The Birth of Slavery”, “The Death of Slavery”, ending the chapter with “The Birth of Mass incarceration”. In Chapters 2 and 3, she addresses what might be the heart of the book: how the Reagan administration started the War and Drugs, how the Justice System, harsh drug laws, the role of the media, the political system, and legislation in Congress, and policing: all worked in tandem in the drive toward the massive incarceration of African Americans. Discussing racial disparity of incarceration, Alexanders says:

Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino. ….There is, of course, an official explanation for all of this: crime rates. This explanation has tremendous appeal – before you know the facts  — for it is consistent with, and reinforces, the dominant racial narratives about crime and criminality dating back to slavery.” (p. 99)

 

Chapters 4 and 5 are probably the most disturbing as the author in Chapter 4 under the title “The Cruel Hand” discusses parallels in the African Americans between post Reconstruction Jim Crow racial victimization and now the devastating consequences of the miserable life of suffering African Americans lead after they get out of prison. Discussing what Fredrick Douglass at the National Colored convention of freed slaves said in 1853, Alexander says:

“Blacks were finally free from the formal control of their owners, but they were not full citizens – they could not vote, they were subject to legal discrimination, and at any moment, Southern owners could capture them on the street and whisk them to slavery.” (p. 141)

Alexander then makes the connection to the present day African Americans in the era of mass incarceration: “Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or black person living “free” in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow”. (p. 141)

The New Jim Crow

Chapter 5 describes “The New Jim Crow” under such subheadings as “States of Denial”, “How it Works”, “Political Disenfranchisement,” “Exclusion from Juries’, “Black Support for “get tough” policies. Chapter 6 has surprising conclusions and recommendations looking forward. The main point she makes is that finding solutions to the mass incarceration of African Americans is not going to be simple. According to Williams (2007), in 2005 an estimated 2.2 million men and women were incarcerated in the Unites States. Of these imprisoned people, 547,200 were African-American males representing 40% of those imprisoned, while whites were 35% and Hispanics 20%. While African Americans constituted only 12.7% of the population according to the government census in 2005. “Moreover, African American males aged 25 to 29 years had the highest incarceration rate when compared with other racial and ethnic groups. In 2005, 8.1% of African American males in this age group were incarcerated compared with 2.6% Hispanic and 1.1% whites.(Harrison & Beck, 2006)” (Williams, 2007:255)

The high levels of incarceration of African American males is an unprecedented complex problem that will require radical comprehensive solutions over a long period of time as there are so many parts to the difficult problem. This quote probably best encapsulates the serious problem:

“Although it is common to think of poverty and joblessness as leading to crime and imprisonment, this research suggests that the War on Drugs is the major cause of poverty, chronic unemployment, broken families, and crime to day…….imprisonment has reached such extreme levels in many urban communities that a prison sentence and/or a felon label poses a much greater threat to urban families than crime itself.” (Alexander, 2011:p. 237)

Conclusion

This reviewer came to an alarming and pessimistic conclusion after the reading the book.  All the while living under the invisible heavy chains and dark shadow of the American racial caste system, the white dominant group continuously creates reasons to ideologically justify the racial oppression directed at African Americans at every turn in the life of America since emancipation in 1865. This cycle will never end so long the racial caste system directed at African Americans is structured into and deeply embedded in the American society’s DNA. This makes the author predict that as judicial reforms are widely being discussed now, the white nervous white majority will find another justifiable means of keeping African-American oppressed: who would have predicted the Drug War and the mass incarceration of African Americans? What will be next?

References

  1. Natasha Williams, “Prison Health and the Health of the Public: Ties That Bind,” in Anna Leon-Guerrero and Kristine Zentgraf (Eds), Contemporary Readings in Social Problems, Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press, 2009.
  2. http://www.census.gov/population/pop-profile/dynamic/RACEHO.pdf

 

High Price: Book Review

By

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

Dr. Carl Hart, High Price: A Neuroscientist Journey of Self-Discovery that Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, New York: Harper Collins, 2013, pp. 340, $26.99, Hardcover.

Introduction

Whether you consider yourself an ordinary reader, a well-read citizen of the global world, a highly educated individual who is a Ph. D. holder in the specialized reified air of natural or social sciences in the highest echelons of academia, there is no book that you will read that may result into driving a seismic shift in existing epistemologies and paradigms. This is not mere hyperbole to sweeten the selling of a book. Reading this book gave me the same feeling I had when I first read “The Death of White Sociology” (1973)  by Joyce Ladner thirty-seven years ago when I was a young graduate student. It was the realization that what had been published in respectable academic literature up to the 1920s in America and the Western world as “objective” scientific studies that reinforced deeply racist foundations of Western culture was actually debunked by Ladner as being deeply flawed. The basic foundations of the racist views have not been eliminated since the publishing of that book by Joyce Ladner.

Is this also about to happen to Dr. Carl Hart’s work? Are most readers going to dismiss the book and therefore its powerful new ideas as mere usual grievance ideology to make whites feel guilty about racism and African-Americans and so-called minorities to feel righteous?

High Price and Color Blind Society

Dr. Carl Hart’s High Price: A Neuroscientist Journey of Self-Discovery that Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, is a story of the most unlikely African American man to become a neuroscientist. He grew up in poverty in a violent dislocated family in the toughest neighborhoods of Miami. But he fought too many odds to become someone least likely to be so: a neuroscientist and tenured Assistant Professor at the prestigious Ivy league Columbia University. So this is a story of an individual rising from rugs to riches, so what? There are perhaps thousands in if not millions of Americans who beat various types of odds and obstacles to achieve the highest positions in the professions they have decided to pursue. What is different about Dr. Carl Hart’s ideas, experiences, and biography?

Book cover iamge is the elephant in the room.

Book cover iamge is the elephant in the room.

It is very easy, in the contemporary atmosphere of political correctness of advocating a color blind society, to overlook the biggest elephant in the room that is right on the front cover of the book. Dr. Carl Hart is not just obviously black or African-American but he is wearing a suit and dreg locks. How many African-Americans who wear dreg locks are neuroscientists? Will the fact of his looks lead the potential readers to dismiss his book and therefore profound ideas? Will the readers wrongly judge the book by its cover? “As my scientific career moved forward, the number of black peers around me dwindled until frequently I was the only black person in the room. When I got my Ph. D. in 1996, in fact, I was the only black man in America to receive a doctorate in neuroscience that year.” (Hart, 2013: p. 221) If my entire argument was about his looks and his low social racial status in our present society, I would not waste my time writing this raving review.

Dr. Carl Hart discusses and exposes the massive misleading hysteria in American society since the early 1900s that wrongly portrayed African Americans as smoking marijuana and becoming high and crazed. While in this drug-induced craze, they would go on violent rampage endangering peaceful white communities especially white women. Except all of these assumptions were never true although they led to American society making marijuana illegal and inflicting stiff punishments on those who broke the law according to Dr. Hart. The actual impact of the marijuana as a drug was never really addressed or scientifically investigated rationally.

Crack Cocaine Hysteria

Dr. Hart fast forwards to the white powder and crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. The media, law makers, and society portrayed the black inner city crack cocaine user as an irrational addict, violent, crazy, and desperate to do anything to get a fix. The consequences were broken black families, high unemployment, rise in violent crimes, and dislocation of the inner city black neighborhoods. Harsh laws were passed against cocaine use that had the unintended consequences of incarceration for longer terms of large black male population while whites who perhaps used even more cocaine were hardly imprisoned. Dr. Hart debunks these myths and argues using his own research in neuroscience and his own abuse of drugs earlier in his youth that, most, if not all the assumptions we make about drugs, addictions, and their impact on African –American neighborhoods in the inner city may be wrong and based on hysteria. He says this might be the case even among the highly acclaimed research by prestigious neuroscience researchers who publish their articles in exclusive highly peer reviewed journal publications. This reviewer asks what good is a highly peer reviewed published research article if the entire foundation and assumptions that undergird the research might he seriously flawed?

“It became increasingly clear to me how prejudices about drug use and our punitive policies toward users themselves made people who take drugs seem less human and less rational. Drug users’ behavior was always first ascribed to drugs rather than considered in light of other, equally prominent factors in the social world, like drug laws.” (Hart, 2013: p. 260)

Challenging the Existing Paradigms

One of the most profound claims that Dr. Hart makes which will resonate and likely suddenly make so much logical sense to the reader is that any drugs that are introduced among any people, and especially African-American inner city neighborhoods, are done in the context of preexisting social pathology: unemployment, crime, poverty, violence, dislocated families, social isolation, poor schools and education, despair, and hopelessness. People in these circumstances may use drugs not because the drugs themselves cause the social pathology but it may be the other way round. People will use illicit drugs not because of the intrinsic and compelling neurological impact of drugs on the brain, but because individuals who live in and are experiencing debilitating social pathology may find drugs attractive to alleviate their anxiety, hopelessness, social isolation, and alienation. If this assertion by Dr. Hart does not challenge and question our entire epistemology and paradigm about drugs and society, I don’t know what will. The  entire book provide compelling evidence in support of his assertions.

Inspirational

“High price” will perhaps be inspirational to many readers. But it raises many questions as it also confirms many uncomfortable realities of American if not Western society. I find it frustrating that 50 years after the Civil Right Act, Dr. Carl Hart and perhaps millions of African Americans still live troubled lives of poor education, poverty, and rampant racial discrimination and segregation. Large segments of this population may not still be part of the American mainstream and may feel alienated.

I find the book to be so highly interdisciplinary that I recommend it for all scholars and especially teachers of social and natural sciences. If you just read or see the cover this book and dismiss it as “it deals with African-American and minority marginal issues”, you will be making a grave academic mistake. The beauty and strength of this book is that you can extrapolate and apply the ideas to many scientific, social ideas, perspectives and problems. After reading the book you just become a more educated and better informed person.

 

 

Inside the Presidency: Book Review

By

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

Dickson Jere, Inside the Presidency: Trials and Tribulations of a Zambian Spin-Doctor, Oakville, Ontario, Canada: Nsemia Inc. Publishers (www.nsemia.com) 2014, pp. 237, $27.00. K185.00, Paper.

I was browsing for Zambian news on the internet when I came across a horrendous story. Some reporter had taken very graphic images of a woman giving birth in the middle of the street in Lusaka. The graphic photos were apparently being circulated on the internet and the local papers to show how incompetent President Rupiah Banda was in handling the nation-wide strike by medical doctors. I was very furious asking myself: “how would any Zambian or let alone a reporter think such a graphic photo that grossly crossed basic lines of ethics and decency was the best way to show that a political leader was incompetent?”

“A reporter for the daily Post newspaper obtained harrowing images of a woman giving birth without medical assistance. Those pictures were circulated. Somehow the images found themselves on my desk and that of the President. One of his private secretaries must have put the envelope containing the photos in the president’s office without alerting him of the contents. He was extremely angry when he saw them. “This is very unethical and unAfrican,” he said as he threw the pictures away.” (Jere, 2014:p. 63)

 

Cover of the book: "Inside the Presidency."

Cover of the book: “Inside the Presidency.”

This is among the many inside stories  of the  challenges and triumphs that the former President Rupiah Banda faced during his presidency from 2008 after the death of President Mwanawasa to 2011 when President Banda lost in a general election to President Sata.

There are many Zambians since 1964 who have worked very closely with former Presidents Kenneth Kaunda, Chiluba, Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda. Although some of the people may have written some articles, given some interviews and perhaps a book, none have written an inside story. They have not answered the biggest question that most of us Zambians may be curious and ask: “How does it feel like to be the closest person to the President?”

Inside the Presidency: Trials and tribulations of a Zambian Spin-Doctor by Dickson Jere breaks new ground as he is the first Zambian in contemporary times to describe his experiences a President’s closest aid, confidant, advisor, and Spokesman. I found the 23 chapters in the book to be a fast paced quick read. I read it over 2 evenings after dinner in between my heavy teaching work schedule. If you are among the 13 million Zambians who are in the country and especially if you are in the diaspora, this is the book to read to understand one of our former Presidents.

Many readers will come to their own conclusions once they also read the book. I learnt four main things about my country from reading Dickson Jere’s story. First it seems any member of the press can print or publish any serious allegations of corruption or scandals about a sitting President with no judicial, criminal, or court consequences even when the story later proves to have no credible proof.  It seems there is little press accountability for reporting possible falsehoods. Meanwhile, the President or any political leader’s reputation will have been destroyed with virtually no recourse. Second, just as I have always thought, being a President is the toughest job in any country including Zambia. Dickson Jere was very lucky to go on this very thrilling ride to do something that served the public interest of Zambia as a nation.

Third, I was very proud of and became teary eyed about my country of Zambia when President Rupiah Banda peacefully conceded defeat after the elections and handed over power to the new President elect- Michael Sata. President Kaunda had done the same thing in 1991 after UNIP had lost elections to MMD by a land slide.

However, I was very scared when there was political revenge violence soon after the elections. I was tense when Dickson Jere’s house and family was threatened by mobs of youths banging at his gate at 4 hours as they perceived him as the enemy. “But the systematic attacks on MMD supporters increased. They were beaten and their homes looted that whole week following the conclusion of elections”. (Jere, 2014, p. 211) Although the violence could have been worse, violence is something that all Zambians, political leaders and parties should discourage before and after elections.

Fourth, what appears to be unjustified harassment or tormenting of former Presidents by the new government that has just been voted into power has to stop. “The new government carried out sustained negative campaign against the former President since he left office. He was depicted as corrupt man who was involved in several questionable deals with members of his family. The government also threatened to withhold his benefits unless he quit his position as MMD president because the law prohibited former presidents from engaging in active politics.” (Jere, 2013: p.224) Former Presidents ought to retire from politics to travel and conduct national and international diplomacy and peace building.

 

The Double Life of Billy Tipton

The Painful Problems of Biological Sex and Gender in Society

Since feminist scholars identified the critical difference between biological sex and the cultural construction of gender, heated arguments have been evident. Radical feminists have argued that sex differences are a biological reality that are perhaps only necessary for reproduction. Gender differentiation and social construction into the two exclusive categories of “man” and “woman” however, are not only arbitrary but their stereotypical proscriptions serve to stifle both men and women’s lives. This prevents both men and women from achieving sexual equality and realizing their full potential in society. Radical feminist scholars have further advocated gender-neutral socialization of males and females in societal child rearing practices. The proposed solution is often advocating androgyny during child socialization in society. These assertions suggest that gender may be roles that anyone can play and successfully act out or perform irrespective of the biological sex of the particular individuals. Could this actually be the case?

What if a human being was born biologically female, raised as a girl, during late teenage she decided to become a man and lived the rest of his life that way as a man? This would be a challenging but not an unusual Hollywood movie plot. But the astounding twist to this story is that it did happen in real life. The circumstances in which this human drama unfolded stretched over seventy-five years.

In “Suits Me: The Double Life of Bill Tipton,” Diane Wood Middlebrook describes the life of Jazz Performer Bill Tipton. His death in a trailer park in Spokane Washington, at the age of seventy-five years in January 1989, drew worldwide attention. This was not just because of his music, but when paramedics who had been summoned to attend to the dying Tipton discovered that he was a woman. An autopsy later confirmed that Billy Tipton was a woman. The reader’s immediate reaction might be that this is impossible.

Some of the immediate questions that arise include: how did his family and friends react to his changing from being a woman to a man? How did it happen and why? How could he have been married to several wives and have children too? How did he play his role of husband and father? How did Billy and his wives have sex? Since he spent most of his life on the road with many Jazz bands as a performer, how did he conceal the secret that he was biologically a woman? Most of all, how did he pull this whole stunt up to his death?

In the three hundred and twenty-six pages of the book, Middlebrook integrates the fascinating puzzle of the double life of Billy Tipton. Since Billy did not have a diary and had no inclination to reveal the secret, the author had a difficult task of conducting numerous interviews and looking at scrap books to recreate as closely as possible the early life and experiences of Dorothy Tipton and the later life of Billy Tipton.

Sociologists often engage in ethical debates and speculative analysis regarding human experiments. The classic one is: “Should a social scientist raise a child in total isolation to determine the impact of isolation and therefore to determine the necessity for socialization?” The answer is always no. Parallels can be drawn with the story in this book. A human being was born anatomically female, raised as a girl but later decided to become and lived her entire life as a man. The life of this one person provides a rare opportunity to investigate and validate the power and complexities of gender, socialization, and impact of social change in society.

The story of Billy Tipton challenges the society’ notions of gender role socialization especially the rigid dichotomy of man and woman. It demonstrates what can happen when factors such as family instability, poverty, rapid social change, individual ambition and a yearning drive for excitement can all combine to drive human beings to do the unusual and extraordinary. Billy Tipton’s life may suggest and confirm that gender is not only a social construction but the way humans live their lives may be entirely acting or like roles that actors play on a stage. This is the classic Goffman’s dramaturgical approach.

Nielsen says: “Which is more interesting – knitting or burglary? The idea of a woman committing a burglary has a certain bold flavor that a man’s knitting does not. …The comparisons suggest that there are advantages connected with the traditionally male activity, the so-called male job, or the male role that are not part of traditionally female activities, jobs, or roles.” (Nielsen, 1990:5) Nielsen suggests that men’s gender roles have higher status, power, privilege, and especially adventure. When Dorothy started to play music in Jazz bands, women Jazz musicians were neither respected not given the opportunity to excel.

This book provides a rare and unique opportunity to perhaps empirically test some of the propositions that arise out of the gender-neutral hypothesis. Parts of the story pose some critical challenges that seem to confirm what radical feminists have asserted for several decades; men’s gender accords them higher status, power, privilege, more choices, adventure, and more freedom.

Faced with a dysfunctional family, grinding poverty, limited options as a young teenage woman who barely finished high school, she becomes a man playing in jazz bands. She does this without radicalism and with no pomp and ceremony. Other men gradually accept her as a man and she enjoys with them the high status and incredible men’s comradely and banter including dirty jokes. It is apparent that it must have been physically and psychologically very difficult for Billy Tipton to conceal the biological reality that he was a woman.

When interviewed after his death, some of his previous wives expressed views that are philosophically challenging. One of the former wives said that Billy was a loving, kind, caring, and very supportive husband. The wife experienced sexual intimacy with Billy as her man, lover, and husband. In spite having had essentially positive and fulfilling experiences with Billy, some of the wives felt betrayed. The question that arises is whether “gender role” is something that is so neutral that anyone should be able to “act it” like one is on a stage? If gender was entirely disassociated with biological sex, would it matter if a husband was not biologically male or wife was not biologically female? Were the feelings of betrayal that some of the people who had intimate relations with Billy Tipton felt, entirely a product of societal expectation through socialization?

The book challenges many of the fundamental assumptions about the relationship between gender socialization, gender role-expectations, and social change in American society. One missing ingredient that would have perhaps precluded any lengthy theoretical speculation about Billy Tipton’s motives for living this was is Billy’s opinions. Since he seems to have been completely committed to living as a normal man, he never kept a diary or confided in anyone about how it felt like to live like a man. It is not possible to determine why she chose to be a man. This reconstruction of Dorothy and Billy Tipton’s life is what must have made the book so difficult for Middlebrook to write.

Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton is excellent for general readership. But it provides rare infinite resources for teaching American history of Jazz and music, the challenging nature of women’s gender roles in the context of social change.

****** Diane Wood Middlebrook, Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998, 326 pp. Cloth, 25 US Dollars. ISBN 0-395-65489-0

**********Nielsen, Joyce McCarl., Sex and Gender in Society: Perspectives on Stratification, 2nd Edition, Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 190.

Review: Intelligence and Schooling

The Significance of Schooling and Cross-cultural Differences in Intelligence
As modern influences penetrate all remote corners of the world, the contemporary universal view is that if you introduce formal schooling to any group of rural people, they will learn to read and write. The knowledge and skills learnt through so many years of school will enable graduates to improve their personal lives, families, and contribute to nation building by working in the modern sector of the economy in manufacturing, agriculture, and other professions. In “The Significance of Schooling: Life‑Journeys in African Society”, Robert Serpell explores the impact of schooling on a rural community in Africa. The book explores some of the most troubling issues regarding the status of schooling in a typical rural African or other Third World countries. On the basis of data from the study, Serpell argues that it is erroneous to assume that all individuals who have, for example attended seven years of formal schooling any where in the world, acquire certain amounts of quantifiable knowledge and skills that will both predispose and prepare them to perform clearly predefined useful roles and achieve specified goals  in the community. Because of reasons he explains in the book, the “Life‑Journeys” of individuals who attend formal school in rural Africa show remarkable differences in their life courses for many reasons. In many respects, what Serpell finds may have parallels to the impact of formal schooling on racial and ethnic minorities and non‑middle class communities in the American and other developed Western societies.  The findings of the study are intriguing.

In “The Significance of Schooling”, Serpell presents findings from a longitudinal study he conducted at Kondwelani School among the Chewa people  of Katete district in the Eastern Province of Zambia since 1973. The rich findings presented in the book are based on first, tracing the life experiences of a cohort of over twenty village boys and girls who attended Kondwelani School from their first grade in 1973 up to as far as they could go with formal education. Second, Serpell interviewed parents and surveyed teachers’ perspectives on the significance of schooling in the context of a rural environment.

The book has seven chapters which address such issues as “the multiple agenda of school in Zambia”, “Wanzelu ndani? A Chewa perspective on child development and intelligence”, “the formal education model of cognitive growth”, a description of the research cohorts’ “life‑journeys and the significance of schooling.”

Although it may seem common knowledge to scholars of cross‑cultural studies that people in various cultures of the world many define “intelligence” differently, this knowledge may not be fully appreciated by some scholars and policy makers outside the narrow confines of academia and the public in general. The publication of Murray and Herrnstein’s “The Bell Curve”* (1994) caused vituperative and searing controversy in the American society in 1994. In that study the findings that drew the most heated debate were that Asians had the highest levels of intelligence, Whites were second, and Blacks had the lowest Intelligence Quotients. Although Serpell’s study does not raise this issue directly, one is left to wonder how Murray and Herrnstein would react to these findings which strongly suggest the possible absurdity of their sweeping generalizations.

Among the many findings that are fascinating from Serpell’s longitudinal case study is that the Chewa people of Eastern Zambia define “Nzelu“, which is the closest linguistic equivalent of “intelligence”, very differently. However, he cautions the reader against treating the concept of “Nzelu” among the Chewa as being equivalent to “intelligence” in English. The latter in Western psychology seems to have an exclusively cognitive thrust.  Among the Chewa people,

nzelu…appears to have three dimensions, corresponding roughly with the domains covered in English by ‘wisdom’, ‘cleverness’, and ‘responsibility’, or in French by ‘segesse’, ‘debrouillardise’, and ‘serviabilite’.  Both literary and conversational usage draw on the contrast between the two dimensions ‑chenjela and ‑tumikila, and yet the full meaning of nzelu seems to embrace both of them. The central thrust of Chewa culture’s definition of nzelu is thus a conflation of cognitive alacrity with social responsibility.(p.32)

Another fascinating dimension of the study is that Serpell interviewed parents in the village and asked them to rank or evaluate the cohort of school children on the indigenous scale of nzelu or intelligence. The interesting findings were that the Chewa people rank their children. not according to the school abstract concept of intelligence which relies heavily and exclusively on cognitive manipulation of abstract symbols, but rather on such community criteria as whether the child can be sent by adult to carry out challenging tasks or chores, trustworthiness, attentiveness, and cooperativeness.

Serpell explores the significance of schooling in the lives of the research cohort in rural Zambia. He reports some important contradictions to the main stream expectations of the impact of schooling.  For example, he finds that completing a certain number of years of schooling neither necessarily guarantees functional literacy nor appreciation and acceptance of the values that are engendered by school. Children’s success in school among the Chewa people has, what Serpell terms, “an extractive definition.” Attaining high levels of education, for example attaining twelfth grade to a college education, means that the individual has to leave the village and become alienated from her indigenous community and culture. The child who leaves often is seen as a loss to the family, the community, and the child is said to have become a “muzungu” or White man or European.

Serpell also finds that inspite the Zambian provision in the official national policy that both girls and boys will have equal access to formal education, social pressures and expectations are such that fewer girls from Kondwelani School research cohort went beyond a seventh grade education. Finally, Serpell finds that teachers and parents have a very rigid conception of what school is about; something formal with a rigid “staircase model” of progress, and its operation is beyond their control, influence and contribution. Determination of failure and success is narrowly done by performance on tests.

Serpell’s  “The Significance of Schooling” in a rural community in Zambia case study raises some new interesting theoretical and pragmatic issues that are of great importance to all scholars particularly of cross‑cultural psychology and formal education in Africa and the Third World. On the theoretical level, the findings in this book do provide valuable ammunition to challenge and debunk the Western rather monolithic concept of “intelligence” which heavily and exclusively relies on formal school achievement, the manipulation of written abstract forms and often reified as a concrete entity that can be used to determine and  predict the life‑journeys of all individuals. (Murray and Herrnstein, 1994)   “The word ‘intelligence’, as the discussion of nzelu and other related terms in Chi‑Chewa …. should have made clear, does not stand for a thing: it is an abstract noun representing a quality of behavior: how people behave, not something they have. Once we stop thinking of intelligence as concrete entity, the absurdity of asking how much of it someone has got or how much of it was passed on to them by their parents becomes apparent.” (Serpell, 1993: p. 263)

On a pragmatic level, Serpell raises the question of how should, the rather limited formal educational  skills that rural children acquire, be used to improve their lives in the village once they leave school? At the moment, the study suggests that school has a mixed bag of outcomes and draws a repertoire of reactions ranging from ambivalence about its relevance to the lives of the village community and the drawing of complete separate dichotomy between school and the culture of the village life. Besides a few positive outcomes, school seems to be a largely alienating experience in the sense that it does not teach students skills that may more directly and positively impact their lives. Learning is done in English which is a foreign high status language none of the children speak at home.

Toward the end of the study, Serpell did something unique and unusual. He tried to get teachers, village parents, local agricultural extension, and health officials to hold a public discussion to exchange  views about some of the findings from the study. All participants in the public forum were either had a subdued reaction or simply played their expected parochial roles.  However, community participatory drama and popular theater performed under a village tree generated incredible enthusiasm  from villagers, teachers, and other community leaders of the church, political party and those who were employed in government‑related institutions. The animated discussions were about the crucial issues that were portrayed in the play but had  also been exposed in the study.

As the reader might be aware, the book is rich with research  knowledge that breaks new ground. I recommend the book for cross‑cultural studies, African studies, educational psychology and rural development in the Third World, and all scholars who are interested in the impact of main stream formal schooling on minority or underclass communities.

*********REVIEWED BOOK: Robert Serpell, The Significance of Schooling: Life‑Journeys in an African Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 345, Hardcover   59.95 US dollars

*Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve:Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Stephen Fraser, (ed)., The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America, New York: Basic Books, 1995.

My Sweetest Book Ever

city photoI bumped into my sweetest book ever over three decades ago purely by accident browsing in a downtown bookstore. As a sophomore in college at University of Zambia in the Capital city of Lusaka in Southern Africa, I had by that time probably read just over four dozen books mostly course text books  including a few books as a senior at Chizongwe Secondary or High School when I took an English Literature class. This was not for my lack of interest in reading books but because I lived in a stifling reading desert and I was in constant search of a reading oasis so I could find that one book that would quench my insatiable reading thirst.

The year before as a freshman in college before I stumbled into my sweetest book ever, I had read one of twenty books for my English 110 class that absolutely turned my world upside down. I was reading the book so intently and so engrossed in it late one night in my dorm room  that I forgot to jot notes. But at this point in the book, the more pages I turned the angrier I got. Somewhere in the middle of chapter twelve, I got so angry I slammed the book down and stormed out of my room.

It was dark and late at night and I didn’t know where I was going. I walked through the well-lit dorm parking lot and headed to the small path that led to the major highway next to the campus that went downtown City of Lusaka. I aimlessly walked under the street lights along the side walk going nowhere in particular.  Why did they have to treat him so badly? Why did whites in America enslave blacks? Who the heck invented racism and just why? Why was there racism and apartheid in South Africa? Why did Europeans colonize Africans? Are all Whites evil? Are all human beings evil? What about all the good whites I knew including som of my professors who were my friends? Why are human beings so mean and cruel to each other? I had so many furious questions rushing through my mind that I wasn’t conscious of where I was going and was barely aware of the few cars driving by because I had a glaze of tears of fury in my eyes. I had a million furious questions about the world. I was angry at people, at God, at education, at myself, at history, confused, 18 years old, and was reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”.Malcom X

It must have been the fresh air in the cool night. The fog in my mind cleared and I found myself calm and standing before the brightly lit magnificent Zambian National Assembly or Legislative building which  would be equivalent to the American Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. I turned around and walked back to my dorm room. It was past midnight and my roommate was asleep.

I read so many heavy or serious books in political science, sociology and especially about the brutality of the racial history during Euroepan colonialism in Africa, race relations in the American society and the Black Civil Rights Movement. My life was turning upside down right in front of me. It was scary. I wanted a break.

One afternoon I wandered into and browsed in a bookstore downtown City of Lusaka’s main Cairo Road. The place was so dry I could not find any book that interested me. Then I saw this only copy of a book by Nigerian journalist Peter Ehahoro. I had been reading Enahoro in the “New African Magazine” which was the African equivalent of the American Newsweek at the time. I was hooked.  He was my favorite. I bought the book.  I was so thrilled with anticipation.

After completing my homework back in my dorm room that night, I got ready for the special treat. I took a shower, put on my pjs and crawled into bed to read my book. I felt so good reading it, that after five pages I carefully placed a bookmark and put the book away. It was like eating a rare delicious  gourmet  meal as I did not want to eat it quickly all in one bite. I wanted to savor and enjoy every small morsel at a time over many nights  before I went to sleep.

So it was that I read Peter Enahoro’s “You Gotta Cry to Laugh” five pages only for over twenty days before I fell asleep every night. I enjoyed every page of it. Enahoro satirically poked fun at the absurdity, ridiculousness, and the conundrum of racism among Europeans, African Americans, Africans,  humanity, and there are no sacred cows that he spared. He addressed many other tidbits on different topics. He even used some of the well-known mathematical principles in one of his light hearted arguments about race. He must have my sense of humor because Enahoro’s timeless satire is not just  funny, witty, cutting, but in a very subtle and not  loud gratuitous way.

You Gotta CryThree decades later after easily reading perhaps  at least a thousand books, “You Gotta Cry to Laugh” is still my sweetest book ever even though it is old, torn, and has yellowing tape all over it. What makes the book even sweeter for me is that it is so rare I have not seen a copy of it anywhere; not even in any antique bookstore that I know of. Reading it now and again and owning it is like being a member of sweet secret club in which I am the only member. Is there at least one other  fan of “You Gotta Cry to Laugh” out there? Do you have your sweetest book ever which seems so rare you may be the only one who must have the only copy of it in the whole world?

Review of Zambia Sporting Score: A Period of Hits and Misses

Do you know who in Zambia were at one time the Muhammad Ali of Boxing, the Pele of the country or the greatest soccer player, or who was the best long distance runner? The easy to read book Zambia Sporting Score by Moses Sayela Walubita is what you urgently need at this point in our proud nation’s history.

Moses Sayela Walubita, Zambia Sporting Score: A Period of Hits and Misses, Bloomington, IN: iUniverse Publishers, First Published in Zambia 1990, 2011, pp. 219, $18.95. K98,000.00, Paper. All Zambians everywhere held their collective breath just before Stophira Sunzu of the Zambian Football team Chipolopolo boys kicked the penalty. When he scored to make the penalties 8-7 to beat Ivory Coast, pandemonium broke, wild celebrations, jubilation took place on the field and all over Zambia and among well-wishers everywhere. Most of us did not go to bed until the wee hours of the morning. Zambia had just won the most prestigious soccer cup trophy on the continent: The Africa Cup of Nations. This cup had eluded the nation since Independence from British Colonialism in 1964. During all the celebrations, Zambians have remembered the National Soccer team that perished in 1993 in a plane crash in Gabon. This may be the right time to ask all Zambians whether we know enough about our Zambian heroes in not just football or soccer, but many other sports. Do you know who in Zambia were at one time the Muhammad Ali of Boxing, the Pele of the country or the greatest soccer player, or who was the best long distance runner? The easy to read book Zambia Sporting Score by Moses Sayela Walubita is what you urgently need at this point in our proud nation’s history. ZAMBIA SPORTING SCORE describes Zambian achievements in 16 sports in such well known and popular sports as Soccer, Boxing, and Athletics but also less popular sports in Zambia including Netball, Volleyball, Table and Lawn Tennis, Golf and many others. The book describes sports in the Southern African country of Zambia from the 1950s when the country was a British colony of Northern Rhodesia. It describes Zambia’s greatest sports personalities, team sports, and their achievements.
In the country’s number one sport of soccer, the book describes the performances of such Zambia’s legendary players as “Ucar” Godfrey Chitalu; who is perhaps Zambia’s best and most dazzling soccer player ever. Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu and Kalusha Bwalya will forever be etched in the history of soccer and sports in Zambia and beyond. Chitalu is by far Zambian’s equivalent to Pele of Brazil soccer great. Chitalu in one soccer season in 1972 scored 107 goals facing stiff premier club and international defenses. Chitalu was a deadly striker who left goalkeepers sprawled on the ground diving to save his shots. He was Zambia’s scoring machine long before the era of Kalusha Bwalya, the 1988 Africa Footballer-of the Year.

Zambia’s greatest Boxer Lottie Mwale, with a ring name of “Kaingo” (the Leopard), used to pack the 30,000 seat Independence Stadium in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka. Mwale had dynamite punches and at the height of his dominant career travelled to the United States of America twice as contender of the World Light-heavyweight champion. Unfortunately he lost to former world light-heavyweight champions Matthew Saad Muhammad and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for the title. Mwale was the only Zambian boxer capable of fighting with intelligence, clean style, and strength. He usually knocked out his opponents who fell without staggering. Zambians burst into celebrations soon after the victories by “the Leopard” who moved stealthily around the canvass – and when he attacked, it was with lightning speed, which currently Zambian Woman boxing icon Esther Phiri is emulating. Samuel Matete competed in the US in track and dominated 400m hurdles becoming its world Champion in the 1990s. Zambia produced the greatest and legendary long-distance runner in Yotham Muleya in the 1950s and 60s. From an early age, Yotham Muleya chased calves into submission. He also excelled in ‘Kamando’ (a form of wresting). Athletics came to him naturally. Sadly, Yotham Muleya died in a car accident when he came to the United States of America to compete.

I would strongly recommend this book for educators, scholars, teachers, or coaches of sports history. This book can also be used to understand the impact of sports in creating national unity and globalization. Whatever your age and where you are today as a Zambian someone who is very interested in Zambia, I strongly recommend that you buy this book with pride for yourself, your family, daughters and sons, friends, and may be to show your grandchildren and visitors in your home.

Reviews of Tumbuka Histories

One of the biggest weaknesses for hundreds of years as Zambians is that we never developed written records or the archival tradition. This review highlights two books that can serve as a blueprint to preserve our history for the future generations.

Yizenge Chondoka and Frackson F. Bota, A History of the Tumbuka from 1400 to 1900: The Tumbuka under the M’nyanjagha,Chewa, Balowoka, Senga and Ngoni Chiefs, Lusaka: Academic Press, 2007, pp. 217, $16.95. K87,000.00, Paper. Yizenge Chondoka, A History of the Tumbuka and Senga in Chama District, 1470 to 1900: Chiefdoms Without a Kingdom, Lusaka: Academic Press, 2007, pp. 125, $14.00, K72,000.00, Paper.

One of the biggest weaknesses for hundreds of years as Zambians is that we never developed written records or the archival tradition. We relied only on the oral tradition. European history books described Zambians as belonging to the so-called 72 tribes or today called ethnic groups. Even though all of us Zambians may be Lozi, Bemba, Kaonde, Ngoni, Tonga, Luchazi or Namwanga just to mention a few, how many of us know the history of the various ethnic or tribal groups we, our parents, our close friends, relatives, or even our ancestors belonged to? Where did they migrate from? Who intermarried and intermingled with us? Who fought whom and why did they settle in an area? Who were the Chiefs, headmen or women rulers? What were the numerous customs practiced? How did the slave trade and the arrival of Europeans affect our lives?

When Zambia got independence from British Colonialism in 1964 forty-eight years ago, there were practically no history books written by Zambians. As a result, most of our history has tended to be portrayed from a European or Eurocentric perspective. One of the most exciting developments is that many more Zambians today are tracing, researching, and writing their own history. In the books: “A History of the Tumbuka from 1400 to 1900” and “The History of the Tumbuka and Senga in Chama District, 1470 to 1900” Yizenge Chondoka performed a phenomenal task that every Zambian should celebrate, emulate, and be proud of. While a history lecturer at University of Zambia for more than 25 years, Dr. Chondoka conducted extensive research into the history of the Tumbuka and Senga in Eastern Zambia.

Tumbuka History In “A History of the Tumbuka from 1400 to 1900” in Seventeen Chapters, Chondoka and Frackson Bota trace the history of the Tumbuka as migrating from the the Luba Kingdom in the Congo in the1400s, through Southern Tanzania, dispersing from Kalonga in 1435 to the present day Northern Malawi and North Eastern Zambia. During those 500 years up 1900, so many migrations, kingdoms, chiefdoms, trade routes, hunting and iron smelting skills, changes, influences, intermingling with so many different groups happened. All the major players are identified by maps and names. How did the Ngoni and the Chewa influence the Tumbuka? The book also described in detail the traditional family and marriage customs.

In “The History of the Tumbuka and Senga in Chama District, 1470 to 1900”, in the very first two paragraphs of the first chapter of the short 15 chapter book, Yizenge Chondoka identifies a major weakness in how Europeans may have recorded our Zambian history of the 72 ethnic groups. In this instance, the British identified a small ruling class or dominant group of the Senga and may have recorded a somewhat distorted history of the Senga in Chama district from that group’s narrow perspective.Tumbuka History Chama The book attempts to create a proper historiography of the Senga and Tumbuka people in the Chama District. Chondoka describes the rise and fall of the Chamavyose Kingdom and the reign of various chiefs such as Kambombo, Tembwe, and Chikwa. He explores the culture, salt making, disease, impact of the slave trade, and religion.

You might be asking: “What is the relevance of all these old details of names and places you might not even care about or be interested in?” “How does this old history of tribes or this stuff make you or young Zambian child a better person today with the internet and globalization?”

Even in the age of globalization knowing your history and cultural heritage will give you a stronger sense of identity and confidence in whom you or your children are whether you live in Lusaka, Kafulafuta, Lundazi, Mwinilunga,Tokyo, London, Russia or the United States. You will have a good idea where you came from as a Zambian or African. This information is useful if you are someone who is curious and interested in Zambian culture or has current relatives, friends, or ancestors who may have belonged to any of the 72 ethnic groups. This knowledge is power and will give you peace of mind.

I would strongly recommend these books for all Zambians, Africans, and all people who are interested in understanding Zambian and African history. I would further recommend that the books should not only be used for teaching African history in classrooms but families can read the books and sit together in groups and discuss the ideas learnt. These books could also be a blueprint for many Zambians who might want to do serious research about their own families or ethnic group history. This is how as Zambians we can ignite the writing and archival tradition to preserve our history for the future generations.

Book Review of Machona

Why and how did the Machona leave their villages? Where did they walk for months in the dangerous savannah wilderness? Read this book to find the positive and negative impact of this migration.

Yizenge Chondoka, Machona: Returned Labor Migrants and Rural Transformation in Chama District, North Eastern Zambia, 1890 -1964, Lusaka: Academic Press, 2007, pp. 125, $14.00, K72,000.00, Paper.
There was a popular song “A Phiri Anabwera Kucoka Kuwalale” (Mr. Phiri Came Back from the City) by Nashil Pitchen that struck a chord among Zambians that played dozens of times per day on radio Zambia in the early 1970s. . The song describes a Mr. Phiri who left the village to look for a job in the far way city. He worked for many uncountable years without communicating with relatives back home. One day, he suddenly returned home alone with an empty suitcase to find the village gone or relocated , (kusama) and his parents were long dead. Mr. Phiri looked down and stared into the sky. No doubt teary eyed, feeling destitute and heart broken, he did not know what to do. The thousands if not millions of people who migrated from all over their villages in Zambia in search of wage employment in distant cities and stayed away for dozens of years were called Machona. In the book: “Machona: Returned Labor Migrants and Rural Transformation in Chama District, North Eastern Zambia, 1890 -1964,” Yizenge Chondoka, who was a history lecturer at the University of Zambia for more than 25 years, conducted ground breaking research using 200 interviews about the lives of Machona among the Senga people in Chama district in North Eastern Zambia. In the ten chapter book, Chondoka describes why and how the Machona left their villages. How in the 1890s they walked for months in the dangerous savannah wilderness to such distant cities as Lusaka, the Copperbelt, Bulawayo and Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) up to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa. He uses maps to trace the Machona routes from Chama in Zambia and the Southern African region.
Macona cover The most interesting descriptions are the motivations for migrations, how the families and the kinship headed by women left behind in the village coped, and what the Machona brought back to the village on their return. The Machona brought change to the village. On page 105 and 108, for example, Chondoka lists some of the dozens of items a married man brought back to the village that included 3 children’s print dresses, 5 women’s blouses, 3 blankets, 11 bars of soap, 1 mirror, 3 saucepans. Some Machona brought back bicycles and used the money they brought with them to upgrade village houses so that some of the homes had wooden door frames and windows for the first time. Besides new material possessions, many of the Machona brought new ideas and social changes about different lifestyles, marriage roles, languages, food including tea, bread, and sugar, farming methods, education, politics, religion, and knowledge about the world outside or beyond the village.

Perhaps the most significant conclusions Dr. Chondoka arrives at after analyzing the data he had meticulously collected is that the positive aspects of labor migration or Machona outweighed the negative aspects. Machona benefited the people in Chama district. His conclusions for the first time contradict or debunk the Eurocentric narrative and economic determinism perspective of most of the Zambian history we learned in school; that labor migration initiated by European colonial industries always had an overwhelming negative impact on the village social, economic, and political organization. What is often overlooked in these main stream Eurocentric historical narratives of the Machona or labor migration is the reality that many Zambians may have been motivated by human curiosity. Beyond paying the compulsory colonial hut taxes, many of the Zambians may have been motivated by human drive and desire to explore, investigate, and experience change.Mbr/> It is a possibility that other future researchers of Machona experiences among the Lozi in Western province, the Kaonde or Luvale in the NorthWestern Province, the Tonga in Gwembe Valley, or Lunda in the Luapula Province may yield different results. But this is where other future researchers could carry out further investigations. There may be parallels of the Machona from the 1890s in rural Zambia to the wave of Zambians who left the country in the late 1980s to work in Southern Africa and in the Diaspora abroad. Are we the new Machona? If so, what do we bring back to Zambia when we return? Will we be like A Phiri who returned to the village alone with an empty suitcase, destitute and heartbroken?

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ABOUT REVIEW AUTHOR: Mwizenge S. Tembo obtained his B.A in Sociology and Psychology at University of Zambia in 1976, M.A , Ph. D. at Michigan State University in Sociology in 1987. He was a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Zambia from 1977 to 1990. During this period he conducted extensive research and field work in rural Zambia particularly in the Eastern and Southern Provinces of the country. Dr. Mwizenge S. Tembo is Professor of Sociology who has taught at Bridgewater College in Virginia in the United States for twenty years.
Dr. Tembo has authored 4 books: Titbits for the Curious (1989), Legends of Africa (1996), The Bridge (Novel) (2005), Zambian Traditional Names (2006). He is spearheading the building of a Zambia Knowledge Bank Libraries: Nkhanga Branch Village Library in Lundazi District in his native country of Zambia in Southern Africa. He is a weekly columnist for the Daily Newsleader Newspaper of Staunton in Virginia in the USA. He is a frequent column contributor to the Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg in Virginia in the USA. He was also a frequent contributor to the Sunday Times of Zambia in the 1980s. He has published at least 100 newspaper columns. He is a freelance photographer who has sold many of his works. He has written over a 100 articles and research papers which he has published on his web page: www.hungerfoculture.com . For more details: www.bridgewater.edu/~mtembo , www.bridgewater.edu/zanoba Dr. Tembo has also published at least 15 scholarly articles, 21 book reviews, and 10 journalistic articles.
He has just signed a contract for the romantic adventure novel “The Bridge” to be published this year by Linus Publication of New York.

 

Review of “Love in Black and White”

In the long history of vicious and often deadly racism directed towards blacks by whites, the most hated, despised, anxiety-provoking real or imagined incident was that of sexual intercourse between a white woman and a black man. Whether in colonial Africa, apartheid South Africa, and during centuries of African slavery and post slavery period in the Americas, a mere allegation of sexual intercourse between a white woman and a black man often led to immediate death of the accused black man by lynching. The legacy of this extreme racial bigotry might still exist today among some people. It is sometimes reflected in strong public objections to and disapprovals of marriage between such couples. The public often inflicts hostile and curious public stares at such mixed couples when they walk together down the street.

In “Love In Black and White,” Mark and Gail Mathabane “explore the power of love over prejudice and taboo.” The authors explore the contemporary dynamics of love and marriage between a black man and a white woman. The intriguing twist to the exploration is that the couple uses the development of their own relationship as the foundation for the exploration of interracial marriage.

Mark Mathabane is author of the best-seller “ Kaffir Boy”. He grew up in the racially segregated harsh urban ghettoes of racist South Africa under extreme deprivation and poverty. His early childhood memories are of seeing his parents humiliated by white police raids at four in the morning in his ghetto shack to enforce apartheid Pass Laws.

Gail came from an opposite background. She is white and grew up in some of the most exclusively white Mid-Western suburbs of the United States. When the two most unlikely individuals met in college, they fell in love. The book is an inspiring saga of their love, the anguish and struggle against public and family disapproval, marriage, and devotion to each other and their continuing battle against racial prejudice and taboo. As a bonus, the authors at the end of the book explore mixed race couples in general and societal prejudice against them.

The book is a very refreshing and valuable perspective on the rather negatively

stereotyped marriages between white women and black men. The book debunks the traditional negative and for a long time racist psychoanalytic perspectives of such marriages. For example, Gail exposes the traditional rather widely accepted views about such marriages and expresses her frustration.

“So-called experts on interracial relationships had a plethora of absurd theories and explanations about white-black man marriages. The woman was too fat and ugly to get a white man, was acting out against a racist parent, had already been ostracized by white society, or had such low self-esteem that she felt like trash that belonged in a black ghetto.

The black man was denying his skin color attempting to be white. He was trying to avenge himself against white oppression by defiling a white woman. The children of such mixed up marriages suffered the cruel fate of being caught, trapped between two worlds, rejected by both races, traumatized by a perpetual identity crisis. Anger and disgust made me slam shut each book I read. Where was the human story? Why were mixed couples constantly analyzed? When will they finally talk openly about whom they really are and what they truly feel?” (p. 116)

Gail and Mark Mathabane contend and reconcile with many contradictory and controversial issues. They express views on children of mixed race being forced to choose between being white or black, stresses of a mixed couple adjusting to public American celebrity life especially after the popularity of the book “Kaffir Boy”, racially mixed marriages in South Africa and much more.

This book adds a very valuable and unique perspective on interracial marriages especially between white women and black men. Because of its largely non-academic approach, the book is able to effectively persuade the reader to reexamine the traditional prejudices and stereotypes that seem to be so deeply entrenched in society. The book really convinces the reader that interracial couples are just normal humans who fall in love for normal reasons and not for some deep sordid ulterior motive requiring deep and complex psychoanalysis. Interracial couples though have to fight against so much more just to maintain their marriage and family.

I strongly recommend this book for readers of all races. The book does not preach against racism and at best it will give you an intriguing peek into what may really go on in those interracial couples’ minds and relationships. This book is also suitable as a supplementary text for contemporary racial and ethnic studies, studies of the family, and psychology of love and intimacy, modem gender studies, and cross-cultural studies.

*****Mark and Gatl Mathabane. Love In Black and White: The Triumph of Love Over Prejudice and Taboo, New York: HarpetCollins Publishers. 1992. 262 pp. 20 US dollars, Hardcover.