‘The day I’m not able to say my opinion, I’d be alive but dead’

UNMOVED by vicious criticism over his comments about George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in the United States last month, former international cricketer Tatenda Taibu has refused to back down, maintaining that venerating the slain African-American on basis of simply being a victim doesn’t set a good example for future generations about true heroism.

ENOCK MUCHINJO

Zimbabwean Taibu – who for 15 years held the record for being the youngest captain in the history of Test cricket, the pinnacle format of the game in the world – made the controversial remarks on Tweeter on Friday.

While condemning the Minneapolis policeman for the 46-year-old’s death, Taibu wrote that Floyd himself was “wrong too” for being in possession of a “fake bank note.”

Floyd died on May 25 after the police officer, Derek Chauvin, choked him with his knee, sparking widespread protests in the US and across the globe.

Although Taibu has retracted the part about the counterfeit money, admitting he was misinformed, he however insists he stands by his view that Floyd cannot be seen as a hero, commenting that naming a street after him, as has been proposed by rights groups, would create a bad precedent in a country where systematic racism is rampant.

A popular figure in his homeland and the first black captain of Zimbabwe’s cricket team, Taibu has been roundly criticised for his remarks, mostly by outraged fellow countrymen, with many stating that they have lost respect for the former star.

The 37-year-old ex-wicketkeeper, who is a devout Christian, is however not known to tone his views down under pressure.
“I do not think I should take back what I said, I still stand by what I said,” Taibu told the Zimbabwe Independent on Saturday.

“I believe that the day I’m not able to say out my opinion, regardless of whether it will be popular or unpopular, is the day that I will be alive, but I will be dead. So I believe in saying out what I feel, and it’s okay it someone disagrees with me. And it’s okay if I disagree with someone. But I would never take it personal. It’s just my opinion. We are different human beings, we’ll never see things the same. So that is what I think.”

Speaking from the United Kingdom – where he now lives in Liverpool with his wife Loveness and two young sons – Taibu added that honouring Floyd with a street name would be a knee-jerk reaction akin to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Trump’s administration has come under fire on several fronts, including the handling of such issues as race.

“As a person who follows all the presidents of the United States from the time of Abraham Lincoln to now, I feel that Donald Trump is the worst of them,” Taibu said.

“I feel that he has failed dismally to deal with the coronavirus issue and also even with the George Floyd issue.

However, I’ve also got to understand how a person like Donald Trump ends up in office. It’s because of how the American people generally just decide to do things without thinking. And deciding to name a street after George Floyd is what I’m saying is wrong. He is a victim, but not a Malcolm X. That’s simply what I’m saying. The point I was bringing across is this, 20 years from now, there are going to be kids that did not experience this year, 2020, and don’t know about this George Floyd issue. So a parent is going to be walking with a child. And the child says ‘oh, George Floyd, who was George Floyd?’ And then the parent has got to tell the story of a heroic George Floyd. I can understand someone telling a story about Malcolm X, I can understand someone telling a story about Nelson Mandela, I can understand someone telling a story of the heroics of (Barack) Obama. I can understand that, because I think they were heroes. I think George was a victim at a certain time when hearts are heavy.”

Taibu, widely travelled around the world during his playing days, has never however been to the United States, a country that plays cricket at a much lower level than his native Zimbabwe.
But even without experiencing it first-hand, Taibu doesn’t view the type of racism in the US as any different from places he has been to on the planet.

“I’ve been asked this question many times by different people,” said Taibu. “I’ve met whites who are racist, and whites who are not racist. I’ve met blacks who are racist, and blacks who are not racist. I’ve met Asians who are racist, and Asians who are not racist. If you look at my Tweet, it’s nothing to do with race, nothing! I’m smarter than talking about race. Even if a white person or an Asian person doesn’t like me, I never think it’s because I’m black. No no no no! I never think that way. I always think, you know, maybe they don’t like my character, or whatever. Just the same way as a lot of blacks don’t like me, I never put it on colour, I put it on personality. I think you are not going to be liked by everybody. It’s just how life is. I’m not shallow to always point issues on race. I’m not saying I ignore what happens in America, but my Tweet has nothing to do with race.”

A 17-year-old Taibu first set foot in England exactly two decades ago as an uncapped prodigy in Zimbabwe’s team, but did not make his anticipated debut in the two Tests against the hosts as well as in the ODI tri-series also involving West Indies, due to an injury in a warm-up match against Yorkshire.

Thereafter, Taibu made several cricket-related and personal trips to the UK before deciding to permanently settle in the country with his family four years ago.

A thick skin, one of his known characteristics – as well as an open-minded attitude – makes him blind to any forms of racism, he remarked.
“Look, when I look at issues I never put race,” Taibu said. “I believe that if someone is a racist, they are so ignorant. It’s not only in race, I believe that a person who discriminate against colour, who discriminate against a disability, I believe that those people are the most ignorant people in the world because no one chooses what family to be born in. So when I look at issues, I never look at race, I just look at things as they are. I never look at how the race issue is like in UK, or how the race issue is like in America.

I hear about it, and I hear people talk about it. But personally, in my family, I teach my boys the same way. And I believe because I do that, my boys are confident and they know who they are. Race means nothing to them. The colour of someone else’s skin means nothing.

The colour of their skin, or my skin, means nothing. Personally, the only way I’m going to know if someone is talking to me about race is if they actually mention it. But who is going to be bold enough to say that in my face? No one is going to be bold enough to say that in my face. However, even if a white person shows that they dislike me, I don’t look at it as if they don’t like me because of race. Because, look, I have black people that also don’t like me.”

Taibu joked about how he has sometimes felt Asian, on account of his popularity in the cricket-mad subcontinent, where he enjoys some kind of folk hero status.
“Maybe I’m more Asian (…laughs) because they are very few Asians that don’t like me,” said Taibu. “Most Asians do like me.”

Being from Zimbabwe, where a bitter race row cricket once tore the game apart – with Taibu’s name featuring prominently – the diminutive former batsman said the experiences in his own country also shaped his stand.

“Look, I know what I’ve said is unpopular, I know that,” Taibu said. “But I don’t take it back, because it is my opinion, it is what I strongly feel. And to have a different opinion…there is nothing wrong with that. But to try and impose an opinion on me, or if I tried to impose my opinion on someone else, now that is wrong. Now look, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. (Zimbabwe’s limited-overs captain) Chamu Chibhabha and I are good friends. Chamu will go to Mars and back about Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC). I’ve so many things that I see ZC doing wrong, which Chamu doesn’t see. Now, that is his opinion, and he knows that is my opinion. But that doesn’t stop us being friends. And I don’t see him less of a person because he doesn’t see my way.

And neither does he see me less of a person because he doesn’t see my way. And it is okay to have different opinions. I also have another very close friend of mine; I will not mention a name. He underperformed as a cricketer and he thinks it was because of the whites that he underperformed. Now, I think that is wrong. Colour had nothing to do with it. He was supposed to prepare better, he was supposed to work hard, in order to become a better cricketer. I’m putting this into the open so that people can better themselves. And I see a lot of my friends, I see them blaming other people for failure of hitting their targets, and I think that’s wrong.”

George Floyd’s death at the hands of callous police, Taibu continued, shouldn’t divert the attention of people in his homeland, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere on the continent, from the injustice they face themselves at the hands of brutal political regimes and security forces.

“There are people that have been victims of what is not right in Africa,” said Taibu. “Where I think black people have got it wrong, in America, and mostly in Africa, is this: there were freedom fighters, there were people who fought for black people to be free. And in America, Abraham Lincoln then made it possible for black people to be free.

There was a lot of energy that was put into protests and whatever else that was done for black people to be free. Now, what was not done was preparation for when people are free. Now let’s come to Africa. Africans are at the forefront about George Floyd. How many people have been killed unjustly in Africa? How many black people have been killed by our own people, our own military, even our own police? How many blacks have been killed but the people in Africa say nothing about it. But now that has happened in America to someone they don’t even know, whereas somewhere in Africa it has happened to someone very close, maybe a neighbour, and everyone knows about it, no one says a word.

That is wrong. But they will quickly run and say ‘oh George Floyd, oh George Floyd, oh George Floyd!’ But what about the one that’s next door to them, there in Zimbabwe, there in Africa. Now that is wrong. You see. So for what is right, people must stand up for it. Not only standing up for what is right, they must make preparations for when things have been corrected.

Now, I know what I’m saying is not popular. You take for example, take Zimbabwe. People fought that black people get land, that black people become fee. And that happened. But how many prepared themselves for after we have the land? What are we doing with the land? The black person is still suffering. So that is not right, that is wrong.”

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