So what do you do?
A reflection on South Africa
by Jeff McNair
So what do you do with the things that you see?
When natural beauty cannot hide the disparity. False Bay is aptly named.
And the love in their voices cannot mask an African’s plight:
the poor are the Black and the rich are the White.
So what do you do when people beg just for food?
In the shadow of cities and wealth so lewd
that embarrassed, you hide your affluence: not a motive of greed,
but a pleading desire to lie that “I am...I would be different.”
So what do you do when you give a beggar 10 rand ($1.65) and he breaks down weeping?
In worried humility, he creeping up to ask the time.
Such generosity reduces a man, crumbles him in tears.
We stand aghast, in wonder, as a beggar becomes a human and then becomes dear.
So what do you do as you take in the sights
knowing the person who drives you has never seen them?
He genially works nights for a living so basic, that you cannot believe
his friendliness is little more than an attempt to deceive.
So what do you do when driving a cab is a better life?
Thousands of miles from Dakar to Cape Town to drive a cab
is described, with a grateful, straight face, as a better life.
He pulls on the emergency brake, to stop at a light. “Mother is proud of me!”
So what do you do when Blacks and Coloreds and Whites are taught to say
“We’re all the same”?
While a “you know who” stands on each corner to guard those with wealth
as they scurry in safety by protectors on substandard wage,
who must see there’s no sameness from their economic cage.
So what do you do when you look in the eyes of a poor humanitarian?
Serving one’s people fuels the lifeblood that courses through proud veins.
“Will you be my partner?” the saint asks the rich man with averted eyes,
neither the rich nor the saint comprehending their respective guise.
So what do you do when leaders that Mandella’s wise plan brought to power
are kings of corruption?
Who in spite of their efforts cannot out sin, as the Whites’ “moral” replacement:
unquenchable greed and power murderous racism’s alternative.
So what do you do when the labor’s so cheap
that someone stands all day to keep you from pushing the elevator button?
With a kind word and friendly smile
protecting his job from the next in line.
So what do you do when you are back in the states
trying not to shake the memory of difference that grates
on your awakened, helpless sensibilities and uneasy ambiguity
destined to be gradually forgotten
in a file of pictures from a trip sometime back?
So tell me a story of a man and a people
who fought and gained freedom
from racism taken to the ridiculous extremes
of the color of bread.
Tell me they now live in a place just, as equals.
Because the story I heard, is perhaps better a sequel
where racism holds on by a rope not a thread
and has feigned its demise but is not as yet dead.
Prove to me that “We are all the same” by your lives,
as I am unconvinced by your blessed words.