I’m not sure why I woke up thinking about this, but I am sure that this will probably result in negative feedback, that being said, this is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I have no intention of offending anyone and if I have, I hope you’ll understand that it wasn’t meant.
I grew up in this wonderful country and I was raised to treat everyone as equals, regardless of religion, culture, sexuality or race. Colour has never been an issue for me and it took me a long time to realise what an issue it was for everyone else. South Africa has come an incredibly long way and I, for one, am proud of us as a nation. We’ve kicked anarchy in the head and so what if we’re stuck with cretins running our country – push ’em out and move on. We’ve dealt with a lot worse.
However*, there is one thing that I’m struggling to deal with – how we as South Africans have started to deal with race. I was once taught that it’s not politically correct to refer to ‘blacks’ and ‘whites,’ but rather black or white people. We are not a colour nor an adjective. We are all people, we just happen to come in different shades. Having said that, I’ve always believed that talking about issues helps us solve them. I remember an interesting comment from a colleague in the UK who visited SA: “I have never heard a nation talk about race quite as much as in South Africa.” It was an interesting observation, but I think it’s healthy. Our history is based on race issues. We (I use that term loosely) fought apartheid and won, as much as the Germans have the Holocaust to deal with, our cross to bear is race-related. Talking about it, joking about it and bitching about it is our nation’s form of therapy.
However, what was once an open platform now seems to have one of those terrible signs that we used to see everywhere, with one change: “Geen Blankes.** It seems as though white people are no longer allowed to voice our opinions on race-related issues and/or South Africa’s political state. I’ve always spoken openly about political issues and race (and sexuality and religion…etc.) and while I’m well aware that I’m not black and that I haven’t suffered, I am African and I live here too. Don’t take away my right to speak.
While in University, I had a wonderful ‘diverse’ group of friends and we all felt free to say whatever we wanted and joke about everything. Just as someone will tease me for being ginger, I was teased about being white and alternatively, I teased my friends about being black. It was an open, honest environment – we made light of our history. When I started at Uni, there was one person who made a drastic change in my life, without even knowing. My friend Nonny rocked up and my door and decided to introduce me to everyone. Long story short, I got to know a lot of people in a very short time and found they actually liked me. I went from an insecure, shy and moody post-adolescent to a confident woman…and a lot of it is thanks to a girl I used to mission around arm-in-arm with, calling her my fashion-accessory, making light of a current fad of preppy white students, making ‘friends’ with a black student (it was strange, but it was definitely a thing for a while). My friends were my friends not in spite of our differences, but because we could make light of them.
Before you go off at me, I’m not advocating that everyone goes around slinging racial slurs, but I do think we’ve taken a little step backwards. I would like to be able to have an open discussion that mentions race. For Pete’s sake, I was chatting about my cat and actually stopped myself from saying ‘black,’ in fear of offending someone. I know this is my problem, but it’s something that I think a lot of white South Africans feel these days. We even fall short when describing a person. Imagine this: A man forgets his change at Checkers. The cashier is a white woman, about my age (still under 30, thank you!), she asks her friend to run after him and give him the change, but I can almost guarantee you that when she describes him, she’ll say he’s tall, with a small nose and brown eyes. The poor sod would have disappeared changeless before she mentions that he’s a black guy wearing a checkered shirt. I want to be able to mention race without people assuming I mean anything negative towards that race. I am not racist. I have never been and I never will. By mentioning someone’s race, I am not showing that I have ill-will towards them, I’m mentioning it because it helps me get whatever point I need to across, even if it’s something as simple as returning change.
If we write a political statement, say on Facebook, we’re swamped with angry, sometimes violent, comments about how we don’t have a right to say these things. Yet, we live in this country too. I’ve never felt as separate from my black friends, even those I consider family, as I do lately. I don’t believe I have the right talk about politics or race anymore.
I generally don’t do politics… it’s not my thing and I couldn’t be arsed. This kind of post is definitely a first for me, but it’s my way of saying I love my country. I love my country so much so that it hurts. Unlike others, I have a British passport, I can bugger off to another continent if I so please. I don’t. I’m a first generation South African. My family chose to live here. My parents loved this country so much so that they moved back to SA right in the middle of what they thought was about to be a civil war. My grandfather was taken to that terrible seventh floor, where they used to make you bungee jump sans cable (obviously, as he turns 84 on Sunday, they couldn’t prove that he was helping out a Chinese couple, as they suspected and which he was). My folks were at every ‘Free Mandela’ thing in the UK that they could get to, wearing hats and sunglasses, as they knew that the SA government was watching and recording faces, so they could stop them coming back into the country. I was born here, 10kms from where Shaka was, out of love for this country.
I have the ability to drop everything today and move. I could go live on the dol and stare at people’s shoes on the tube in a second. But*** I don’t want to. I chose this country. If that doesn’t make me African, what does?
All I’m saying, is that it should no longer be a case of black vs white, but Africans vs our pathetic government.
*Those that heard my rampage on sentences starting with a conjunction, this is my poetic license. It applies to *** too.
**After much Googling, I still can’t find the spelling, so I hope this is right.