The First Time I Encountered Racism

grand canyon, trip, race
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I was about 12 years old. Every summer holiday we used to get in the car and take road trips across the US.  The Grand Canyon, San Francisco, down to the Florida Keyes, Yellowstone National Park.. we saw it all.

On these trips we would drive and sightsee during the day and in the afternoon settle into a motel and usually have a swim, and go out for dinner somewhere. My 2 brothers were 9 and 6 years old and the 3 of us always kept an eye out for a motel with a pool.  We would drive along until we saw a motel with the neon “Pool Facilities” signboard and shout, “Daddy, daddy, there, we want to stay there!” As soon as we parked, we would run out of the car, change into our swim wear and jump into the pool.

I don’t remember what state we were in, what motel we were staying at or what swimsuit I was wearing. But I remember the feeling I had that day. I remember looking at my dad’s face and the sadness that overcame me completely.

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That day as we headed to the pool with my parents we saw another family; a dad and 2 kids around my age swimming.  We jumped in, my dad slowly waded in and my mom perched herself on a deck chair. It was as though our splash into the pool had set an electric wire loose. The dad immediately pulled himself out of the pool and made a mad dash for his towel. He then shouted at his 2 kids, “Get out now!”  The kids didn’t really know what was going on, but the sight of their dad, standing at the edge of the pool, water dripping, red face and finger pointed at us was enough for them to hurdle out of the water immediately.

It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening; the other mom had already gotten their belongings together and moving quickly out the pool entrance. As they walked past my dad said something along the lines of ‘thanks, we will enjoy the pool’. The man muttered something about ‘going back to your own country’. It was over in a flash…they were gone and it was quiet in the pool.

I saw the look on my dad’s face and getting this sudden urge to jump out and shout and curse at the man. And then I just felt like crying.  I knew then that nobody should ever have to feel what my dad felt right then.  He was in America completing his PhD, supporting a family and working to improve agriculture for farmers in a country that was not his own.  And yet the other man only saw the brown of his skin and perhaps thought his whiteness would be contaminated.   My mom tried to lighten the atmosphere by joking that since we now have our own private pool she was going to skinny dip.

I pity racist people. I hate the hypocrisy of their life; repulsed by black people but partying to Beyonce; trusting their children with the black maid but giving her separate cutlery and dishes.  As much as I know racism is everywhere in the world, I cannot help but think we are just on a different level in SA. The incident described above happened in America and I cannot recall another incident to that extent happening to me again while living there. (Granted, I was still a kid.. but my parents who lived outside South Africa for 22 years agree with my observation).

rainbow nation, race, racism
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In the 8 years I have lived in South Africa I have encountered racism on a regular basis.  No racial group is exempt; Indians, Blacks, Whites, Coloureds, we all have prejudices.  Our country has definitely come a long way; the recent World Cup is proof of that.   We still have a long way to go.

5 thoughts on “The First Time I Encountered Racism

  1. Well done, this is really an eye-opener as a mum that’s rearing up a child for the next generation- I pray that it will be different!


  2. Reading this story again, living now in a different country and just realising the damage of racism in any country. Racism is a tool the Devil loves to use – to attack God’s creations. God created us all.


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