Patrick works for our family. In the garden of our home on the Southern tip of Africa.
His name is not actually Patrick. It is Mzwamadoda, which in Xhosa means ‘a home or place for men’. Mzwamadoda is kind to me and lets me call him by his English name because my brain and my tongue can’t get around the sounds of his mother tongue. Perhaps its not kindness but mere economic necessity on his part that I get to call him Patrick. I’m sure he cringes at the way I stumble over his Xhosa name when I try to say it. In my defense, I am new to this part of the world so I am still learning.
It is with both a sense of shame and of duty that I employ Patrick. The centuries of colonial rule make it unlikely that he will ever work as anything other than a domestic gardener. This is the product of my forefathers. Hence my shame. And my duty.
It is a privilege to employ Patrick. He works hard. He is reliable. He is skilled. He is good at what he does. Patrick smiles a lot. When I hear him laughing over the fence with our neighbor’s gardener, it’s contagious. It is my joy to employ this Xhosa man.
Patrick has the hands of a man who makes his living doing physical labor. They are rough and cracked. I once purchased gardening gloves for him. He laughed gently at me and accepted them but I see them hanging in his tool shed, unused. He wears rough-worn work clothes and shoes. His is honest, but hard, work.
Patrick smiles at the games of my two-year-old grandson who imitates him with a toy rake, wheelbarrow and lawnmower. I appreciate the grace with which Patrick indulges these baby games knowing that the real tools are what he uses to make his living.
Patrick and I live a few miles from each other, yet we are worlds apart. I have the benefit that comes with my economic status and centuries of being born into a world that has privileged my race. I understand that “unfair” is hugely inadequate to explain this situation. I think that is all I understand. How can I possibly understand what it is like to live as a black man who sees the privilege of my race every day? How can I possibly understand the disadvantage he faces every single day?
Every. Single. Day.
I can’t possibly know.
Patrick has three children. His eyes burn bright when he speaks of them. Just like I imagine my eyes do when I speak of mine. We are, after all, both human. It is our humanity that makes us love our family and want more for them. It is our humanity that makes us both laugh and cry countless times a day. It is our humanity that makes us humble ourselves before God and pray. Our humanity makes us the same, not different.
Which is why I am ashamed of the shooting at Charleston.
“Thou shalt not kill.” – Exodus 20:13 “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” – Mark 12: 31