The burden of both worlds
Posted July 24, 2008on:
“Tell me , do you have any coloured blood?”
Mark recognized, with anger and embarrassment, the small halt in his breathing but he answered easily enough, “Of course. Why do you ask?”
“Shouldn’t I? It seems an interesting point about a man like you.”
“I suppose so,” said Mark. “But it’s not usual to hear a European ask it.”
“It worries you quite a bit, eh?”
Mark grinned…”Does it show so much?” he asked.
“You ought to have seen your face, ” Hancko said, “when I asked you.”
“It’s a queer business,” said Mark. “Being my colour and and my class in my sort of country. All your training…all your influences and most of the education you get encourages you to value one side of what you were born and to despise the other. It becomes a reflex by the time you’re about five years old.”
“What are you going to do?” Hancko asked him then.
“What [are] you getting at?”
“Everything,” he replied, looking steadily at Mark, and with the accent of his English only discernible by the faint hardness of the vowels. “Everything you want to do, no matter how complex and untidy it looks, has something specific in it that moves the whole thing. An essence that you can get at.” He closed his hand slowly, like a man grasping a sinking stone in the water before it reached the bottom. ” Every question, comes down finally to ‘What’, not ‘Why’. In our case it’s a matter of giving an allegiance to the destiny of the poor. A real allegiance, I mean, that’s almost like religious faith, but not quite. Don’t mind that, though. It’s an allegiance to them as a class, to what they have to offer, to the work you must do with them. In your country one lot of people who are white rule and prosper by using the people like you. They’re able to use you because they allow you a good share in their world, and because they’ve given you a set of values to live by that depend on the approval of that world. And the poor of your world, the blacks, they’re kept poor because you, people like you I mean, get an idea clearly in life that there will always be something irreconcilable between the white world and the black. And only the white world has any value, call it beauty if you like, for you. Is that right?”
“Yes,” Mark said slowly. “I suppose that is the way it works.”
“It’s not a question,” Hancko continued, “of starting a race war: that’s almost more stupid than the other thing. It’s only a question of taking sides. Every time history becomes urgent and a little sick, as it is now, a man has to pick a side. Especially men like you who carry both your worlds within you, in your blood.”
From Voices Under The Window by John Hearne, published by Peepal Tree Press