Chapter 1: December 6, 1972
"Systematically... When we come together, I have either a subject or target upon which I intend to address. Today, however, I have neither a topic nor subject to confront, but a question."
The grace in her demeanor spoke along with her words, and the assertiveness in her steps only expanded the power with which she enforced in the tone of her voice. Her first speech had ended with anger amongst her small audience, and her second had concluded with stone throwing and unpleasant accusations that she may be the devil's daughter.
But this being her 5th time to speak in front of the people of California, they had come to hear her word and submit to her teachings, willingly.
"My name is Abeni (Ah-Bee-Nee), a Yoruba name given to me from my mother, meaning 'We asked for her and, behold, we got her'. For those who may be confused, I have a genetic condition called achromia, better known as albinism. However, I am Nigerian-born from both a dark mother and father. Having informed you a bit about myself, it leads me to my question for today..."
Lowly, she sighed into the microphone, as her green eyes darted from one face to another in the small crowd of her supporters. The large sanctuary in which she held her California meetings was dark this day, with only one dull light beaming across the faces in the crowd. It was once a large church visited every Sunday by African Americans until it was set afire and attacked by the Klan just a year earlier.
She smiled, spreading her full pink lips, displaying the small gap separating her two front teeth.
"What do I look like?"
Low murmurs settled over the audience. Surely, this question had to be the most absurd.
"I know very well that many of you may be slightly puzzled by such a foolish question, but in another aspect we must view this question. No one in this room have actually seen themselves in person.. only in reflection. Therefore, my next question to you must be.. What started racism? Now, some of us have read old schoolbooks and we believe we know what started racism, but besides skin color, and physical advantage of a black man opposed to a white one, what started racism?"
In the front row seat of the seated audience, a white arm was raised in the air.
Abeni's eyes met his, as he stood to his feet, clamped his hands together behind his back and nodded respectively her way.
"I think I may know," he said. Modulated and smoky, this white man's voice captured and retained possession of everyone's attention in the room, whether they were white or black, men or women. Even Abeni had been slightly touched by the beauty in his voice.
"You think?" She challenged with a pleasant smile to ensure her comical expression in the moment. He returned the smile, displaying the hallow indentations in each cheek.
"I believe so," he said with another slow nod her way.
Abeni looked at her crowd and smiled at them.
"Well, what has he delayed for?" She readjusted her attention to him and raised an eyebrow. "Tell us what it is you 'think you may know'."
"Well..." he began, maintaining eye contact with Abeni. Unlike many other white men, he did not express puzzlement in her appearance. He displayed, however, a slight interest in it, as he squinted his eyes at her and nodded yet again, as if in approval. "You did say that no one has ever actually seen themselves in person. I have never thought of it this way, but now I can grasp and fathom the subliminal message behind your words."
He was shortly cut off by a raised hand to silence him by Abeni.
"There is no subliminal meaning behind my words. For my audience, I speak simply so that everyone can make sense of my meaning. This question requires a simple answer, nothing more or less, so please do not waste my time and my audiences time with any accusations against me." Abeni turned her attention to her audience and prepared to speak, but was quickly hushed by the man's voice again.
"Is 'mirror' the answer you are looking for?" He asked.
Abeni raised a brow and snorted lowly in slight disbelief. She gestured with her hand for him to resume.
"Go on," She urged.
He smiled, and began to speak again; this time his voice was even more alluring and captivating.
"If no one has ever looked at their reflection in a mirror they would not look into the eyes of someone different and see something they cannot have, and hate them for it, am I right?"
Low agrees and nods washed over the audience and Abeni smiled.
"Our appearance is what further initiated racism but our reflections was and still is an everyday reminder that racism has some purpose. We cannot be someone we were not born to be, and some of us hate it, therefore we raise our children to hate it as well, but claim it to be for different reasons."
Abeni let out breathy air. Astounded and a bit surprised by his answer to her question, she could not help but further encourage him.
"Who are we speaking of? And what are some of those 'different' reasons...?"
"Whites and blacks. It works both ways. Some of my people may want to appear as though they were from Africa too, and some of your people may want to appear as though they were from Europe. Racism works both ways, just with different actions do we express our hatred." He paused, readying himself to answer Abeni's second question. "And when I say that we have raised our children to hate for different reasons, some of those reasons could be to say that black people are dirty grimy people..."
Oddly the crowd chuckled at this. Perhaps it was the hesitance in his voice. He didn't want to say it, and everyone knew it, but he had brought the spotlight upon himself.
Abeni chuckled and shook her head in amusement. She, again, raised her hand to silence him and this time he submitted to her wish.
"He is right, racism works both ways and is played on both sides of the fence, thus it only makes sense that I have one volunteer -black volunteer- to stand and explain to me why you despise white people..." she held a hand up and raised an eyebrow as she scanned the dark faces in the crowd. "But, when you stand to share your story do not tell me anything about what the white man has done to anyone else, or what you have heard. Speak to me solely upon what you know, and what they have done to you."
To begin with, the room was silent.
When it seemed no progress would be made, Abeni lowered her head solemnly, and sighed.
"I come here to California when I was 16 years old from South Africa."
Abeni's head shot up. The woman was dark with short kinky hair and full lips that complimented her beautiful face. She was short and wore tribal attire. Despite her beauty, she had an angry expression as she spoke.
"I was a young gal coming here, but I was intelligent. Now I am even more bright; my accent has almost completely gone and I speak very fluent proper English. I am not belligerent and violent to the people around me and I do not involve with anything gang affiliated, but I have never received respect from no white man nor woman that resides here.
"My first job here, I was a maid for a white husband and wife, trying for children. I was paid very little and treated like garbage. I can remember showing for work one day, and the library shelf was completely toppled over. I was immediately ordered to clean the mess, and because I did not know much English then, I did not complain. I kneeled down onto the floor and began to gather together the books. Shortly afterwards I began to feel warm liquid drench over my hair and into my face. My boss, the husband, was pissing on me.
"I began to do as you, Abeni, do. I traveled and spoke to people in hopes to both inspire and empower them, but hope only left room for error, and everywhere I went I was beaten and tortured. I have been tied to poles overnight completely nude and raped by white man who claim that I was dirty, but yet had such strong desire to penetrate me.
"I spoke my last speech here in California 3 years ago when I was 20, and I was confronted by a group of angry white women who claimed my stories to be false. I then said, 'Do any of you gals want to trade skin with me, if only for the night?'. The naive women were eager to raise their arms and declare that they were prepared for the life I lived, so I said to them, 'Let's not inadvertently neglect to consider that I may be the ugliest women you have ever seen, or that I am partially blind in my right eye from being beaten by white men, or that my womb is permanently split open from being raped by multiple white men at a time, or that I will never be able to walk properly again because I cannot afford the proper medical attention I need, or that I will never have children to call my own.' I said, 'Let's not fail to remember those things that should be so heavily considered, but if you women are as strong as I am, let's, if only for the night, trade skins'... and these women were silent."
Abeni found the woman gathering her things together, readying herself to depart when the speech was done. She limped out of the row in which she sat, close to the stage, and came face to face with Abeni.
"Tinashe (Tee-Nah-Shay)." She held a hand out for Abeni to shake, which she welcomed with a warm smile.
"I am Abeni."
Tinashe smiled and nodded, in amusement. Abeni could not help but notice that Tinashe's right eye was prolonged as opposed to her left, and a bit less responsive. This realization hatched onto her heart and clutched tightly, for it pained her to see this beautiful woman suffering from the hands of one who was not God.
"I know very well who you are." Tinashe said. She returned the smile and hefted her large tribal bag over her shoulder.
She began to hobble away but Abeni quickly caught pace with her, and of her own accord, she took Tinashe's large one strap, and rested it across her arm and chest.
The woman stopped and raised a brow at Abeni's bold amiability.
"What are you doing?" Tinashe asked expectantly. She displayed a smile, but curiosity was evident in her tone, and she truly did seek an answer.
"I believe it would be necessary that you and I sit to discuss, rather than walk when we have such large baggage, do you agree?" Abeni asked. She nodded her head to the row of seats facing Tinashe's back. "Do you mind?" She stepped around Tinashe and took her seat.
"Are you aware of the power we will posses working beside one another, Tinashe?" Abeni asked, as she watched the woman reluctantly take a seat. Once she was seated she turned her body completely to face Abeni, and sighed once.
Her face exhibited displeasure, and a bit of the same anger she'd displayed earlier during her testimony.
"Abeni... I promised myself that I would not return to a life where I dedicated my life to empower people here and then to my dismay I am dragged away by white man and thrown into the back of their cars, before that same group of people. Where is the empowerment in that?" She didn't give Abeni time enough to respond before she began to speak again. "Without enforcing power into these people successfully, I have no purpose for trying at all." She politely withdrew her bag from Abeni's grip.
"Would you not do it all over again, even if for your people?" Abeni challenged before the woman could leave. She seemed in such a rush though with what had been confessed this day, it was decided she had no real destination.
The crippled woman hissed lowly.
"The people here in California, are not my people. My people are in South Africa where we fight back, and do to others as they do to us."
"You openly solicit revenge now, do you not?"
"What I seek my friend, is to go back home, but I cannot. I have nothing left to offer, no money, nothing to trade... If I will die anyway, why die in shame, when I can die in honour in my own homeland?"
Abeni was quiet for only a moment, before she decided to give it her last try.
"I have food, and a large apartment with room for more, money, and... security." She gestured toward the men that'd stood behind her during her speech. There were 10 of them, all with their hands folded at their waist, looking as though they would follow this woman anywhere she wished to go.
Of course, nothing satisfied Tinashe. She was a stubborn woman who was still very young in many ways.
"Security, eh? As if black men in black suits will keep away white men in blue uniform, or any average gang of white men at all. Naive Abeni.. naive you are."
"My black men will alter any amount of white men as long as it be needed. Our only concern will be to speak and successfully reach the people in California, because they are still afraid too."
"Listen to me well Abeni. They know my face now, and they know how to get to me. All they need is for my return once more, and you will be a fine addition to these twisted California white faces. You are their skin and you are beautiful. They will find us first, when your men are asleep, and they will save us for pleasure purposes until their wives become weary, and even then some white men will prefer our kind over their own. When we are as low as skinny pigs they will hang us in front of this abandoned church so that our audience know that power amongst the black race is not tolerated."
And with those words spoken, and still hanging in the air, Tinashe, the crippled woman, stumbled out of the church doors into the blinding morning light.