THE HIDDEN STORY OF BLACK ACHIEVEMENTS

 

‘Why we Kneel, How we Rise’ by Michael Holding was written for the world.

And, at a time so many white people in THIS country have taken the word ‘woke’ and, turned it into an updated version of swart gevaar to hide their racism, it is also a book for South Africans who believe – in some instances even vaguely – in justice and equality.

So, let us begin by getting ‘woke’ out of the way….

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as being ‘alert to injustice in society, especially racism.’

What is wrong with this?

Well, nothing.

Except perhaps that it should serve as a warning to anti-racists not to fall into the trap of using a word that lets the whole of South Africa’s main opposition party, the DA (as it is now constituted), off the hook.

Those who are against racism and injustice should be forthright in their opposition….

They should say exactly what they stand for. Anti-racism is something to be proud of.

They should – no, they MUST – let ordinary people see exactly what those who describe themselves as ‘anti-woke are: throwbacks to a terrible time in our history, when the most South Africans were regarded as inferior to others simply because of the colour of their skin … and consequently legislated into being second-class citizens.

Holding laid down the foundations of his book after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, in Minnesota.

It led to much soul-searching in the US and, indeed, in other colonialist countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia.

In the sporting arena, particularly in football in the UK, but also in other sporting codes, and in countries where Black people were in the majority, such as in Caribbean, sportsmen started taking what soon began to be referred to as ‘the knee.’

It was gesture to show the world that ‘Black Lives Mattered’

Not everyone supported the new activism….

Many people, in the UK, in Donald Trump’s US, in Australia, in former Communist countries in Europe – and, sadly, among white people in South Africa, quickly became arch opponents of ‘taking the knee.’

‘All lives mattered,’ they chorused almost in unison.

This, of course, was far from true. In the colonialist countries, especially, white lives had always taken precedence.

And in South Africa, from the beginning of colonialism. Black lives had never mattered – not in work, not in housing and not in sport.

Holding saw it like this: ‘Black Lives Matter. When I sign up to these three words, I am saying that Black lives have mattered less for hundreds and hundreds of years. And it’s time something was done about it.’

One of the world’s greatest cricketers, a terrifyingly fast bowler known as ‘Whispering Death,’ he decided to write a book to ‘show how racism dehumanises people and how it feels to be treated differently due to the colour of your skin.’

It turned out to be a magnificent effort.

There seems to be much more information in its 305 pages, in which Holding moved into difficult, painful subject matter almost as effortlessly as he did when he was crushing opposition batters for the West Indies.

A laid back, easy-to-understand style is one of the strengths of the book.

As one of the most respected figures in the world of sport – both as a cricketer and as a television commentator, he was able to call on a selection of the world’s top sportsmen and women to help him back up his arguments.

Featured in chapters of their own are his Jamaican compatriot Usain Bolt, Adam Goodes, Jeff Harriott, Thierry Henry, Michael Johnson, Ibtilhaj Muhammad, Makhaya Ntini, Naomi Osaka and Hope Powell.

All had harrowing stories to tell about the meaning of being black in sporting codes controlled by whites.

One of the most harrowing stories for me was Australian Rules player Adam Goodes reliving the story of his mother being a victim of state-sponsored abduction.

He explained to Holding that from 1910 to about 1970 the Australian Government forcibly removed children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander descent from their families and put them up for adoption with white families or placed them in institutions. His mother was an abductee.

‘Why?’ asked Holding. ‘To purge Australia of people of colour. It happened to one in three indigenous families. One in three.’

Goodes also spoke about having to run a gauntlet of racist taunts from spectators, in one instance by a 13-year-old girl.

Our own Makhaya Ntini spoke about how white players shunned him in his early days as an international cricketer – probably because they saw him as a ‘quota’ player.

He refused to ride in team bus ‘because he was an outsider’ and he knew the white players would not sit with him [or] talk with him.

It was the same in the hotel dining rooms, he told Holding.

One of the world’s great activist sporting greats Holding interviewed was the tennis star Naomi Osaka who, in August 2020, boycotted a semi-final in the Western and Southern Open in New York City after a police officer had shot Jacob Blake, a black man, seven times in the back in the state of Wisconsin, just three months after the murder of Floyd.

Osaka said: ‘Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.’

In addition to his interviews with sporting greats, Holding also meticulously researched the achievements of black people over the centuries – from Septimus Severus, the first black emperor of the Roman empire from 193-211 to the Haitian Revolution in 1791, the only successful slave uprising … and from Lewis Howard Latimer patenting the carbon filament lightbulb in 1882 to Katherine Johnson whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent crewed spaceflights.

These were just four of many achievements by Black people, but because they were black, they were – and still – are ignored.