Into the polite but lucid hour of Friday evening’s cocktail special, the table’s conversation turned to Apartheid and how people feel it today. The convo was between a young black girl, a white “rocker” guy, me - a young white chick, and my darling Friday drinking partner who chose to sit this one out, mainly cause of rising music levels. Clever of her though, cause at some point it felt like there were three conversations taking place across the emptying & refilling glasses & cherries & nachos, rather than us all discussing the same point.
I had an internal brain wave, put it out there, realised the over-kirred champagne might not be allowing my articulation free reign and vowed to get back to the thought at a more sober stage.
Yesterday it surfaced again, when seeing a review for “Race”, authored by Ryland Fisher, in the Sunday Independent. The book looks blatant and in-your-face. Good. A conversation generator then.
Anyway… the black girl was saying (and recognise that I was not hearing its subtleties too well by then) that she is still “suffering from Apartheid” and that this needs to be recognised. I was saying back that she could not claim to be “directly” suffering from it, as “directly” it no longer exists. She would lose people’s understanding and sympathy as soon as she lays down such a claim. Perhaps, how she should rather be putting it, is that Apartheid is indirectly still holding her back in certain circumstances, particularly socially and psychologically. And that these ways need to be publicly recognised already.
The guy was arguing about “political correctness” and how it can become the greatest obstacle to realising our exact position today.
These issues we all know. But what, I think, the three of us were trying to get to, is what exactly is lurking in each person’s subconscious when it comes to other races?
Enough with the polite way of how each of us SHOULD be thinking. How is each of us really thinking? How were we programmed to think, back when we were raised during an era of legalised racial segregation? Are our years of early development in such a political environment still influencing how we subconsciously act in 2007?
On a rational level, I do not think that my skin colour means I am intellectually superior to any other race. Or physically inferior to other races. I do not think that because a man is black, his perceptions of sex are more animalistic than those of white guys. That a woman from the rural Eastern Cape does not have the ability to lead a corporation AND do so with utter respect from her employees, especially when many of them are white men.
But right now I am trying to probe my irrational side, the elements of my mind that were formed during the earliest years of my development. What was I made to believe about black men and women, about Indian people, or coloured people, or Asians or or or. Hell, there are even stereotypes of Jewish people, Lebanese, Afrikaans, people who choose religion. Of any group that is outside of the basic stereotype that is me.
I do not need to feel guilty for having these ideas exist in my head. But I definitely need to recognise them. And it ain’t easy. Because we do try to be so “PC”.
What I think that girl and I were saying to each other was, what are the unconscious thoughts and assumptions that govern the way we converse between each other. Do I sit down and talk to her with a notion of, “that’s cute” or “look how white and western and civilised post-94 has made you”. Does she speak to me like she is inferior, or that I wouldn’t really have a clue how to understand her, as I am a rich white girl….which means I have a closed-off mind and unchallenged life and ideas.
Are there any racial thoughts that you do have that you try to fight against or suppress within yourself? What do you really think about another group of people? For whatever reason – lessons, parents’ influence, experience?
What about your experience is governed by what your upbringing put into you? Are your experiences shaded by labels you were taught by Apartheid-raised parents and teachers?
Do our conversations and actions still hold traces of Apartheid and the enforced notion of the benefit of separation of races?
I do not believe I have to defend myself to anybody else. Bugger that. But I do want to know how my own mind is shaped and how it operates. I do know several years back I realised and accepted that I did own the idea that any poor black man was a rapist. In recognizing it, and brining it into my consciousness, I was able to work through the idea, that it was an outside notion, and that I do think it is ridiculous.
The same way that people hold the idea that poverty means lawlessness. Bullshite. I have met and worked with many destitute people who do not turn to crime. Who work their asses off, in principled manners. How more derogatory can you get than saying, “Oh, it’s ok if you steal from me, I understand you have so little”.
You take value and respect away from a person by holding onto such stereotypes. With your interactions occurring though such ideas, so is your learning of the world immediately shadowed and limited. And the longer you try not to recognize that such stereotypes do exist in your head, cause it’s not “PC’ to think that way, so the longer and harder do you hold onto them.
I have not been raped by a black African man. I have not caught a disease from sharing the same toilet with black women in Orange Farm. My mate who is Indian has never tried to con me out of my money. (Hmmm…. I don’t think…. But she is always one step ahead of me….Chikita, I am watching you! ;-) ) My streetkid never stole from me and still loves getting hugs (saw him Friday, and he is no longer homeless!!). An Afrikaans mate does laugh her head of at the notion of having to pronounce clicks when saying a Zulu name. A white friend from the Far East Rand is bouncing off walls cause of her engagement to a doctor, who happens to be a Eastern Cape Xhosa guy. My coloured mate…hey, hold on, do I currently have any mates who are coloured? Well there was that one cute business guy on Friday night….but hmmm, nope. And does it matter? Do I need that for my quota? Do I have friends of other skin tones who I say are my good friends, but when it comes to the crunch, such as inviting them into my house, do I hesitate? And if so, why? And what do I need to do to work through this odd but very real notion?
Do I hold people back when I consider them inferior in thought, mind, body and soul? And how on earth do I expect us to become THE developed country of this globe if I subconsciously do not believe that the people I am aiding to gain all opportunities can cope with these opportunities and the goals at the end.
As Ryland Fisher points out, do we see South Africa as having a Black Government, or a South African Government. And if the former, what does this really say at the back of your head? How much support and respect are you giving to these people who pull the strings of your state? Or are you just waiting for them to fail?
Then I sat back, sipped more cocktails, which turned into bad white wine, I collided into past mates, ended up standing on a bar counter on my ace singing about being a “Sweet transvestite” and no longer maintained comprehensible conversation.
And everyone of every colour just shook their collective head.