It’s Friday afternoon and my husband and I are sitting in one of these “luxury long distance trains” excited that we got the best viewing seats when a middle-aged white couple out of nowhere plunge into the two vacant seats right next to us. We nod at them as a gesture of greeting and they in return nod back. The lady breaks the ice by introducing herself and her husband as Marika* and Ben*. They aren’t pulling the typical “white people smiles”; they’re just normal…real. We strike a nice conversation, from language politics, to culture and ultimately careers. Two minutes into the conversation I realize there’s a Lerato* in their life whom they refer to as their god-daughter. Out of intrigue, I start asking more about this Lerato and discover it’s a girl from Freestate they decided to parent after her single mother and grandmother died, along with her two younger siblings, whom they took in (as in moved them from FS to come live in their house) and got them schools in Joburg.
I watch them gushing about Lerato’s traditional wedding in Venda, how Marika fascinatingly abided by the Venda culture of ulosha, without reservations. I watch the proud look on their faces when Ben shows me pictures of that big day where Marika played the role of mother of the bride. These are good white people. I like them. I mean it takes a lot taking another person’s child in as yours, even when they are of the same race as yours. I suddenly gain major respect for this couple, even my staunch anti-white supremacy husband starts melting and we engage in one of the most meaningful hours of our adult lives…with white people. I mean, who would have…thunk!?
Now as I’m busy having a great time with Marika and Ben, I remember the racism draft I have on my blog’s admin page and suddenly feel bad about publishing it. Yes, judge all you want; I’m weak. This happens all the damn time; each time I want to bicker about social ills on my blog, I have an encounter that softens me up!
Back home, two days later I’m fully back to reality – Helen Zille’s twitter utterances, the Spur incident and ultimately Bokang Montjane’s disheartening racist encounter post on Instagram. It’s Human Rights’ Day, a public holiday in South Africa decicated at…you guessed it; I’ll give you an A for this one. I then decide I can’t remain silent. I have to say my piece.
Anyone close to me knows that I’m pro-women (major feminist), pro-black, love children, proudly African and for wildlife preservation. Any law and individual (yes including the Bible) that objectifies, portrays and treats any of the above-mentioned as inferior infuriates me and loses my respect the moment I pick up those traits in them. Enough about me.
Today’s not only National Human Rights Day in SA, but it also marks the end of this year’s Anti-Racism week. So basically this past week was meant to focus on raising awareness and fighting against racism in South Africa. I for one heard only one radio interview on Aphelele Somi’s show, Power Lunch on Power FM; followed by callers expressing their take on racism in South Africa. Only one white person called; the rest were black – topic for another day. Being the radio station hopper I am and given the fact that I spend my time in the car, I expected more from broadcasters.
So here’s my own take on racism:
- We must acknowledge non-black freedom-fighters
We mustn’t let our daily racist experiences make us forget the white folk who took part in the fight for human equality and our freedom – the likes of Ahmed Kathrada, Joe Slovo, Braam Fischer, Helen Joseph, Anton Fransch, Ronald Kasrils, Marion Sparg to name but a few. I can only imagine how it was back then going against your own people, turning your back on privilege and comfort all in the name of fighting for what’s right…what’s just…equality. I truly salute these individuals and hope their descendants carried the legacy forth and never got swallowed by the hatred we’re experiencing today.
- Racism is taught…at home
I know most of us can relate to this – you’re in a store or office; a white person/couple walks in with their 7-year-old child. You catch the kid giving you either the you’re-a-nasty-person or why-aren’t-you-in-a-maid’s-uniform look, a dozen times. When you try to make conversation the kid steps back like you have the word paedophile written all over your face. You then realize the child’s 360 when a white colleagues chats to them. Oh and here’s another one, your kid brings a white friend home and they point-blank refuse to eat the snack you offer them or even accept a glass of water from you despite signs of thirst evident on their face. Of course I pay attention to these things! Duh! Until white people teach their children that we’re all equal despite the colour of our skin and texture of our hair, then I’m afraid we’ll still be talking racism in 2095.
- Black people still have it hard compared to their white counterparts
Believe it or not, don’t let BEE fool you. Only a small percentage of us are benefiting from this concept. The rest still have to deal with being overlooked in corporate and watching our less-educated, less-experienced, overpaid white counterparts thrive while we have to work three times as hard to “prove ourselves” with salaries half theirs. That is a reality. So yes, our Honors Degrees and now-famous MBAs are still invalid compared to straight hair and fair skin. When you finally gather up courage to speak up, you become “that girl with attitude”; because in corporate South Africa, speaking up = attitude = poor KPIs. One ignorant a**hole could say “Then why don’t you go start your own businesses?”. Look, moron, not everyone is a born entrepreneur.
- Black aren’t racist, but defensive
I don’t even know if I must add anything to this. I realise most black people are always open to relationships with white people, but we are so guarded given the fact that in most cases we are the victims. Now what does a victim normally do? Uh-huh. I mean if I was a rape victim and found myself walking in an alley and a male person was approaching, what would I naturally do? I’ll leave this one here.
- “I don’t see color” is a sh*t statement
Of course you damn see colour. I find it so patronising when white people say that. At least say “I see beyond colour”. What do you mean you don’t see colour? I know when you talk about me to your white friends you put the prefix ‘black’ before ‘friend’; whether you’re telling them good things or not. And the fact that 100+ years later you don’t feel any sort of pressure to learn one or two African languages and BE FLUENT in them just shows how spoilt and comfortable you are with the privilege of being white. Get out o’ here with your I-don’t-see-colour lies. And if you’re A WHITE SOUTH AFRICAN married to a black South African, I applaud you; that conversation with the parents about your partner couldn’t have been easy.
- When you forgive someone who isn’t sorry
Yah yah Truth & Reconciliation committee blah blah. Let’s face it, those were forced apologies. I mean we can all see that it’s always black people willing to engage in racism talks than those who should be – white people. And don’t give me that “I wasn’t there when my ancestors did that to your ancestors”. Well newsflash; I wasn’t there either; but it WAS evil and you have inherited it given the fact that you are still benefiting from it and neither speaking nor taking actions against the whole imbalance.
- Some whites dislike their fellow whites
…because when you’re an a**hole, no amount of melanin or lack thereof will change that. Some people are just horrible people – mean, arrogant, ignorant, rude, bullies despite race. Believe me when I say this, a lot of white people can’t stand each other due to personality clashes, and this apply to all races.
- There actually are A FEW genuinely non-racist white people
Please refer to my story above. We all know that there are A FEW white people who find the idea of white supremacy revolting. Pity they don’t speak up.
In conclusion, I’ve decided to reciprocate energies. I’ve stopped walking into an elevator and greet. If a white person in the lift decides to greet me, I will welcome the greeting. If a white person invites me for drinks and our energies sync then I’ll tag along. My wedding photographer was white and we remained friends since because…energies/vibes. I’ve stopped being the one that greets only to be answered with silence, the one that smiles only to be met with the hateful look; the one that always had to soften my voice because I’m too loud; the one that always had to explain why my hair has shrunk from yesterday’s blown-out Afro; the one that has to explain dreadlocks vs braids. I’m done. The person I am now is a black feminist who advocates for the truth that we all belong in this world and that no-one’s superior to the other; including animals and children.
*Names changed to protect real characters