Coming back to my new home was just what I needed, I thought. Resuming my studies and getting back to my safe and standard daily routine. Sitting comfortably at my table in the cafeteria and attending the odd campus party here and there with my friends. Things were different now though.This was a different ball game for me. I had more or less abandoned attempting to internally define my identity with either of my parents cultural heritage.. and I hoped to go on to build an identity for myself but I was carrying something with me. A nice heavy anchor on my back. One that I had reluctantly picked up on my first conscience journey through my fatherland. I began to look at every interaction, social or otherwise, in the context of race relations. Deeply sensitive to how I was being received by others around me. Self aware, and often ashamed and resentful, of how I received others. It was of lot of work, to think about life this way.
More realistic though if you ask me.
Many of my friends and family would warn me to relax. To be more colourblind like they supposedly were. “We’re all the same” my mother would maintain… “If they treat you differently the problem is with them not you.. you need to forget about them and get on with what you came to do”.. this was her mantra whenever we debated race related issues together. My father was of a similar ilk.. “You simply need to get on with things” was about as much as I could get out of him after one of my characteristic “angry black man” rants. Virtually everywhere I went I would hear some version of my parents reaction..
We’re all equal after all let them be, they’re just backwards… Just get on with life… Don’t think too much about these things it will make you bitter… Focus on your work… Focus on what you need to do… It’s not you it’s them…
I just couldn’t do it.
I mean I’m not even sure how they’re able to do it. To pretend like our colour, regardless of our personal philosophies, isn’t a major factor in the way we are received by the world right now. To pretend like its something not worth discussing, that the best way to deal is to behave like there is nothing wrong. To pretend like the fake smiles, bad service, patronising behaviour and the odd shifty side eye at my favourite trendy café in the city are all things that I essentially need to “get over” – or worse yet, pretend like they aren’t happening at all.
I felt then, and I still do, that to deny to myself that these things are real, that my experiences are valid and well worth the time I was spending thinking about it would be a form of subjugation.
And I refuse to submit.
Things are not okay.
Here in South Africa we talk about transformation, affirmative action and redress all too often in the context of employment. We need to take ourselves and our communities to task from the ground up. I can think of no way of dismantling the chains of the structural racial oppression that bind all of us in some way or another that would not be in their very essence disruptive. These chains are not bound together by locks. There is no key. No quick fix and no cure all. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and painful discussions that need to be had.. not only by Government or well meaning NPOs but – probably most crucially – by you and I. Through conscience conversations. Through acknowledgements of privilege across the board.
The status quo is not alright, we have so very far to go… we have not “arrived”… and too many of us are too quick to behave as though now living in some kind of post-racial oppression, meritocratic, free market wonderland where if you keep your head down and your grade scores up then gosh darn it you might just turn out alright!
Like most things I thought about at the time I decided to keep these thoughts to myself as much as my hasty tongue would allow. I kind of had the feeling that I didn’t want to rock the boat you know? Especially considering that the vast majority of my friends and family are incredibly open minded people in their own right. It didn’t really feel like their was all that much space to have the discussion about the race unless I chose my company and my moment quite particularly. So steadily grew more and more restless and it wasn’t before too long that I decided to change my approach to life.
Then, with my new prescription in hand I went on to explore and experience this beautiful city they call Cape Town and I have plenty of thoughts to share with you about what I’ve seen through these flawed tinted lenses of mine.
Until we meet again. Tchau.