Friday, January 22, 2010

An honest conversation about skin colour

I hurt someone with comments I made. There is no justification in it, just the reality of what was said.

So, how do I justify painting everyone the same through the actions of a few? I can't. There is no reason on this planet why any one of us should look at someone and immediately assume something that may or may not be true purely because of their skin colour. However, especially here in South Africa, we do that. Some white people especially do it because of an almost inherent trait to see black people as the enemy. After the fall of apartheid, that view never went away. It is still here, with us, each and every day. What makes it even harder, is that we suddenly find an influx of people from countries across the border and further north. They come here, seeking employment or escaping a really shitty life in their birth country, only to find that the grass is not always greener across our border. They also find that the people born and living here don't like them being here as the zenophobic attacks of 2008 showed. Black on black violence in townships got completely out of hand and many immigrants were hurt, their possessions ransacked.

So how do we change this point of view? Not easily, and not overnight. It takes a conscious effort to change your way of thinking. The easy part is deciding that you do not want to make assumptions about people because of skin colour. The difficult part is living that decision daily.

J&C often come home from a predominantly white school with statements like black people smell bad. Black people are bad people. Black people are poor. This they pick up from their friends who in turn pick these signals up from their parents. In order to change their perceptions, we discuss why they say these things and if they would like for their friends to say these things about them.

Going into the history of apartheid with them is difficult right now. We live in a part of the country where white people still use the K word in polite conversation, where black people are seen as subhuman (with biblical texts supporting this theory). It takes repetition and hard work to make a 7 year old and almost 9 year old understand the underlying reasoning behind their friends's statements and I know that we are still not in a place where J&C will or can turn to their friends and have the same discussions that I have with them.

All I can do is hope that by giving them a good example (mostly, sometimes I fail), they will find their own way in life based on being openminded and looking beyond the colour of a person's skin.


Ei said...

As with all things, you start exactly where you are. It is the only place to begin, as it is impossible to start elsewhere. I guess this may sound cryptic but I think you know what I mean. They say that every journey begins with a single step. I'd say you first have to recognize you are even on a journey.

JustMe said...

Interesting post. I guess admitting our prejudices is the first part. We all have them about something or other another - it's a matter of being aware enough to do something about it.