Zulus and Liberals (and, No, This Isn’t Racist) by Malcolm Allen, Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley and a longtime commiserater with and supporter of Dissident Prof, as well as contributor to Exiled: Stories from Conservative and Moderate Professors Who Have Been Ridiculed, Ostracized, Marginalized, Demonized, and Frozen Out. British spellings have been retained–Mary Grabar, Posted August 22, 2016
In odd moments I am reading Donald R. Morris’s The Washing of the Spears (1965), the helpful subtitle of which is The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation. Amazon.com no less helpfully tells us that “this unsurpassed history details the sixty-year existence of the world’s mightiest African empire—from its brutal formation and zenith under the military genius Shaka (1787-1828), through its inevitable collision with white expansionism, to its dissolution under Cetshwayo in the [Anglo-]Zulu War of 1879.”
History buffs will remember the names of that war’s two famous battles, Isandhlwana, according to Wikipedia the “single greatest defeat for the British Army at the hands of a native army,” and Rorke’s Drift, a brave British hold-out against an overwhelmingly superior force that enabled the preservation of some national self-respect. It was followed by the awarding of eleven Victoria Crosses, the highest British award for valour in the face of the enemy, an act perhaps having a slightly politic component. Movie enthusiasts will remember Zulu Dawn (1979), a not very commercially successful film about Isandhlwana, and Zulu (1964), a hit about Rorke’s Drift. I am no historian, and am, anyway, presently much nearer the beginning of Morris’s book than the end but it seems superb, a vigorous narration of an absorbing, if finally tragic, tale.
The first chapter, after a “Prologue,” is entitled “The Bantu.” Morris describes what we know about Bantu provenance, which apparently isn’t very much (“No one knows from whence the Bantu came, and by the time modern man turned a scientific scrutiny on the problem a century ago, the layers of evidence were irrevocably tangled”), their social structure (subdivisions divided into clans, and kraals “inhabited by a single family”), and their sometimes self-destructive superstitions (a warrior who killed an enemy soldier had to undergo an elaborate “cleansing process” that involved going back to his own kraal, so military campaigns tended to be short). But what stopped me in my tracks were four paragraphs about Bantu, i.e. Zulu, belief in the strength and ubiquity of witchcraft. The italics in what follows are mine.
Witchcraft was universal. All illness, and indeed all evil, was caused by . . . wizards who made use of primal forces. . . . The unfortunate host would be quite unaware of the parasite until a witch doctor pointed it out . . . .
An accusation of witchcraft was fatal; once the wizard had been smelled, no defense was possible, and because the host was quite unwitting, no plea of ignorance, purity of action, or innocence of action could stand. Whenever the presence of [a wizard] was suspected, the chieftain would summon the entire male membership of the clan, which assembled in a large circle with the witch doctors in the center. These worthies . . . paused in front of each man, sniffing and howling, passing on and suddenly darting back to terrorize anew someone just starting to breathe again . . . . The volume [of the witch doctors’ chant] peaked as [they] passed, and died away beyond the suspect. . . . [They] were merely sounding out public opinion, cleverly reinforcing nuances of sound until they were certain their choice met with popular approval—a rich but miserly kraal head, or the transgressor of some social taboo. The witch doctors would pass him and return, until finally they were leaping and screaming before some poor wretch on his knees. Bounding clean over him, they flicked him with a gnu’s tail, whereupon he was at once dragged off to have sharpened stakes pounded up his rectum, while an impi [“regiment” or “army”] was dispatched to exterminate his family root and branch, destroy his crops, and burn his kraal.
Finally, “Witch doctors also waxed fat on private practice. They were called in as consultants for every form of minor crisis, and rarely failed to secure the payment of at least a goat. The vicious grip in which they held the people was made possible by an implicit and universal belief in magic; not even the victim of a smelling-out was indignant. He might register horror or fear or remorse, but not even in his final painful moments did he doubt the existence of the wizard that had possessed him.”
“The Ubiquity of Irrational Fear”: Doubtless you can see where I’m going with this. The ubiquity of an irrational fear, the catastrophic consequences of being found the unwitting host of an evil parasite, the submission of the victims to the onslaught against them, a priestly class that acquires and keeps material goods and power by means of officious intervention. Sounds like the West over the last forty years or so, does it not? It sounds in particular like elite segments of government, the university, and the media.
A few examples. My account of the first is taken pretty closely from Wikipedia, which is trustworthy for this sort of thing at least. Notoriously, in 1999, David Howard, an aide to the mayor of Washington, D.C., used the word “niggardly” in reference to a budget. A black colleague heard the word, or claimed to have heard it, as a racial slur, and made a formal complaint. “Howard tendered his resignation, and [the mayor] accepted it” (my italics again). After a public brouhaha, Howard was offered his old job back; he refused the offer but agreed to accept another position with his former boss, “insisting,” in the words of Wikipedia, “that he did not feel victimized by the incident. On the contrary, Howard felt that he had learned from the situation. ‘I used to think it would be great if we could all be colorblind; that’s naïve, especially for a white person, because a white person can’t [sic for “can”] afford to be colorblind. They don’t have to think about race every day. An African American does.’” It must be conceded that many commentators found the controversy absurd, the head of the NAACP, no less, saying, “David Howard should not have quit. Mayor Williams should bring him back—and order dictionaries issued to all staff who need them.” But then again this was seventeen years ago.
Two more contemporary examples, and when I say contemporary I mean occurring over the last month or so (I’m writing this in mid-August). A certain Rohini Sethi, vice president of the Student Government Association of the University of Houston, so far forgot the environment in which she lives and the nature of some of those amongst whom she lives as to post on Facebook, “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter” after five Dallas police officers were shot dead during a BLM rally. Blake Neff’s article in The Daily Caller (31 July) reports “numerous UH students denounced [the comment] as incredibly offensive or even hateful,” one of them, Nala Hughes, going so far as to observe, “Just for her to say, ‘forget Black Lives Matter,’ is a punch in the stomach.’” Sethi made an attempt to combine an apology with a justification of her words: “My response has caused enormous pain for many members of our community, and I think it is high time that I clarify my statement. . . . Let’s create the possibility of a culture rooted in open discussion” (Bob Price, Breitbart, 1 August). Although some students defended her, there followed a maliciously careful and detailed attempt to impose upon Sethi a protracted public humiliation. Shane Smith, president of the SGA, was allowed to sidestep the usual procedures and come up with a five-part punishment. I quote Neff again:
• A 50-day suspension from SGA starting August 1. This suspension will be unpaid (she currently receives a stipend of about $700 a month).
• A requirement to attend a three-day diversity workshop in mid-August.
• A requirement to attend three “UH cultural events” each month from September through March, excluding December.
• An order to write a “letter of reflection” about how her harmful actions have impacted SGA and the UH student body.
• An order to put on a public presentation Sept. 28 detailing “the knowledge she has gained about cultural issues facing our society.”
Furthermore, “If Sethi refuses or fails any of the requirements, she will be kicked out of SGA entirely.” Sethi commented, “I disagree with the sanctions taken against me by my SGA . . . . I have apologized for my words . . . . Even so, I will abide by the sanctions for as long as they are in place.”
Last example. It will be remembered that nine black mothers whose children had died, some in circumstances involving the police, were invited onto the stage at the Democratic National Convention. Bob Goosman, his feelings doubtless exacerbated by the fact that he was then a meteorologist in the Dallas area, took to Facebook: “As many of you have probably noticed, I’ve stayed away from politics on FB. The DNC parading the mothers of slain thugs around on their stage has me furious.” Two days later he was out of a job. I have found two sets of comments made by Goosman about his use of the word “thug,” published within a day of each other. Although this appears second (1 August, gop.usa, but originating in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), perhaps it was made first: “It was frustration that I believe the DNC party will do anything, like using these mothers, to garner votes . . . . Some have said the word ‘thug’ is a racial term. [But] it means a violent person, as in a criminal. It does not mention color. Anyone can become a thug. If some want to make this statement out to be something else, I cannot control that.” The second (theblaze.com 31 July) is more sensitive to contemporary susceptibilities:
Regarding his use of the term ‘thugs,’ Goosman said he wasn’t aware it carried racial overtones for some.
‘I thought a thug was just a violent person. The definition of thug does not mention any race . . . . I will say that I talked with an African American acquaintance and he told me that he feels like when he hears the word, it is in reference to an African American individual. I had NO IDEA.’
Goosman confirmed his resignation as well but said he would’ve been fired ‘and rightly so.’
‘What I say online, no matter where, reflects upon my station and employer. KRLD is a great station . . . and I am sorry if they have had to deal with all the repercussions.’
Brought to heel. For what it’s worth, I’ve lived in the US for twenty-seven years and thought I understood American English. I too had NO IDEA that the word “thug” implies an African American but then “The unfortunate host would be quite unaware of the parasite until a witch doctor pointed it out.”
My three examples above all deal with race, a subject of notorious sensitivity in today’s US. A couple of months ago I was in a local convenience store. The guy behind the counter, picking up on my English accent, asked me if I’m interested in soccer. He then immediately assured me that he wasn’t being “racist.” (Oh, and I “happen to be” white, incidentally.) I understood him. Say the wrong thing, no matter how innocently, and you could lose your livelihood, as Bob Goosman found out (he apparently doesn’t intend to try for another job in the media), and perhaps your savings, and your house, and your reputation. Our society’s “witch doctors” are vigilant, and getting far more for their pains than the occasional goat. But I could easily have chosen three, or three dozen, illustrations of the dangers of misspeaking about what I’m apparently supposed to call gender: feminism, homosexuality, and, nowadays, transgenderism. On another occasion, perhaps.
Let’s look on the bright side. Howard and Sethi and Goosman have been taught their place, doubtless a cause of grim satisfaction or even unabashed jubilation to their tormentors. However, they haven’t had sharpened stakes hammered up their arses. But that’s just because the aforementioned tormentors haven’t thought of that yet.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Zulu Diviners. Photo by Wizzy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.