30 January 2019

When Is Giving A Bike Not A Gift?

A 10-year-old boy is saving for a vacation with his mother.  Instead, he uses the money to buy a bicycle for a man who works in the local gas station.

How do you read this gesture?

Most parents, I believe, would be proud of such a child--especially if that attendant were, as one might expect, poor.  At least, I would feel that I'd done something right--or had been extremely lucky--if I were a parent to a kid like him.

When word got out about the boy's action, most of the reaction was positive.  Notice that I said "most":  There was, believe it or not, at least one person who saw the boy as some sort of embodiment of his country's recent history--specifically, an aspect that made the nation a pariah in the world community.  

I am talking about apartheid and that country is South Africa.  In all fairness, it should be said that, in many ways, South Africa has more thoroughly and honestly confronted the ugliest part of its history than, say, the United States has done with slavery or some European countries have dealt with the Holocaust.

Still, because there are still so many people who remember living under apartheid, the wounds are fresh and deep.  So I can understand why someone might read paternalism or even colonialism into a white boy giving a black man a bicycle.  If nothing else, it represents the economic injustice that still persists--though the boy probably wasn't aware of it. 

I do believe, however, that a Twitter user who identifies herself as @_BlackProtector was going a bit far in saying "Keep the bicycle, give us our land."  I agree that the people should get back what was taken from them, and further compensated for their intergenerational trauma.  On the other hand, the boy does not have the power to give back that land.  He can only do what he can to make someone's life a little easier.  

I'd say that even if he doesn't know words like "colonialism," he already possesses some sense of fairness, and is certainly generous.  The only thing, really, that can be done is to teach him, honestly, about his country's history.  He would be a good student, I bet.

Oh, and somehow I don't think that gas station attendant was upset about getting a bicycle--especially if he'd been walking to work.

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