I was 17 the first time I felt myself discriminate. When I was younger my father was a teacher so I basically grew up in the boarding house of a private school that was home to children of business moguls and politicians from all over Africa. I basked in the attention of the school boys – I was piggy backed around the school, fed their post cricket match doughnuts and humoured through hours of amateur piano playing.
Looking back I remember my two favourite baby-sitters as being black boys, and I think because of them I have always been predisposed to preferring black men, but at the time skin colour meant absolutely nothing to me. I first realised that it meant anything to anybody when, walking around the school with my two best friends – an Indian and a black girl – the College boys started calling us the “Rainbow Nation.”
My parents had always been vaguely politicised, because of my father’s roll at the school and my mother’s work at the PFP. I stood in a Black Sash protest at the tender age of 3. They still have remnants of the typical white South African superiority complex embedded in them, but on the surface they are not racist, and I was lucky to grow up in that environment.
There are not many people who are lucky enough to be unaware of their race. I was never prejudiced by it, and was exposed to all races my whole life, so from an early age was telling people that race was not in fact an issue. By the time I was 14 I was a firm believer in the existence of “classism” but thought racism was only for the aged and the ignorant.
When I was in Matric our history class took a trip to the Hector Pieterse Memorial Museum. Walking in, I got the same chills I had which I had on my many visits to the Apartheid Museum, Robben Island, and others. Still, it was a historical exercise for me. The class split up into groups, and I inevitably landed up with two of my closest friends who happened to be black. We had spent the last two years leaning on each other for political information, sharing biographies of Struggle heroes and discussing the latest government failures. We’d been walking around for about 10 minutes when they stopped talking to me. Eventually the one turned to me and asked me to leave. “I’m sorry”, she said, “I know it’s not your fault and I know that it’s unfair, but right now, at this very moment, I hate all white people, and I just can’t even look at you.”
I spent the remainder of the day in a blur. I was angry at them, but more so I was angry at myself and I was ashamed of everything I stood for. I suppose I realised that things don’t just happen and then go away – that our histories, our sex and our colour are stuck to us and define us for ourselves and for others, even if we ignore these characteristics; even if we hate them. I don’t kid myself anymore.
I’m a white female, and that means certain things to certain people, and I feel that I have to be sensitive to that. At the same time, I’ve resolved my guilt and am happy with who I am and what I’ve made of my white self – and I think that’s the most important part.