Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, July 26, 2010

Leaders need to be healers

Sorry doesn't heal a wound, but it can clean a wound. (Africa)

Dear Zayda,

Shirley Sherrod heard a lot of people saying “sorry” when they wounded her. A lot of people judged her without hearing her side of the story. She got a phone call telling her to resign, but still no one had listened to her. Then, when people heard the truth about what she said, all (except for the most stubborn) hurried to apologize.

So the wound might be cleaned now, but what about the healing? If the wound is cleaned and left just like that, it might get infected again. Or it may just stay open and get hurt easily at the slightest touch. Or it might get people so pained that they stay angry all the time and want to hurt others.

Black people have had hundreds of years of wounds, and mostly we have not heard “sorry” let alone seen attempts healing. The wound to Shirley Sherrod, like all those others before it, is not just about a person. And every fresh wound gives another chance at healing that wound and the old wounds as well.

Not long ago, a policeman arrested Professor Skip Gates for breaking into his own home. Gates, a friend of President Obama, felt wounded at being treated like a criminal. White people wondered what the fuss was all about, and felt the policeman was just doing his job answering a call a robbery. Black people wondered what the fuss was all about, because they felt white policemen mistreated Black people all the time. But Professor Gates’ case was all over the radio, newspapers, Internet, and television stations. So President Obama invited both men to tea at the White House. The men shook hands, and that is the last most of us heard about that case.

But Black people are wounded daily. Race can determine who gets arrested, who gets sent to prison, who drives a fancy car without being stopped, who sits in a board room, or who gets a loan. President Obama could therefore accept Shirley Sherrod's invitation to visit Georgia. He could then see for himself how Black people live. He could get an idea of the problems Black people face because of unhealed wounds from the past.

Perhaps President Obama will invite Shirley to tea on the White House lawns. But after the drinks and the photos, what?

If Shirley gets to go to meet Obama in person, I hope she goes with company. I hope some Black farmers from the South go with her. I hope the farmers tell Obama what is happening to them and their families. I hope they tell him the challenges Southern Blacks have owning their homes, keeping jobs, and sending their children to school.

I hope they tell him about places in the South that are so poor they should be getting foreign aid.

Perhaps when the president is done trying to heal wounds of Blacks in the US, he might have a look at stretching a healing hand to Black people on his doorstep - in the Caribbean. In particular in Haiti where people still suffer more than six months after a terrible earthquake.

President Obama doesn’t have to do anything because he is Black. But he can do better than say “sorry” when he sees wounds that need healing.


Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at