All my life I was taught that every human in the world was worth getting the same treatment. I have always believed and taught my students that there is no human difference between different nationalities, races or skin colours. It has never been an issue for me when I meet someone new. I have never been prejudiced and believe that everyone deserves the same chance of showing their true character. I thought that, as I have that attitude of dealing with new people, I would get the same in return… well, I was mistaken. I knew that I would have to deal with the race issue during my stay in South Africa but I didn’t really know what to prepare for.
Living and working in Soweto, a fully black community, I am the alien among all the locals. I have had that status very often when travelling, but I never felt standing out from the crowd this much. What did I expect… I am the blond and blue-eyed Caucasian woman in the middle of an only black community, of course that would be an issue, especially as the period of Apartheid is still in people’s heads. I guess that I am still sometimes considered as the enemy for some people and I have received that critical attitude from a few, as I experienced a few racist comments within the black community.
There are all the looks that I receive from everyone when I enter a place. It feels like people are asking themselves: What does she want here? I sometimes feel rather uncomfortable as I feel like I am intruding an area where I am not really welcomed and which seems to be for black members only. Being in this newly-established democracy, where finally everyone officially has the same rights, I can still feel the tension in the air sometimes. I am basically experiencing a tiny part of what black people had had to go through for many years, during the time of segregation and the period of Apartheid.
I realised that I have always been on the side of the advantaged in the Western world. I have never really strongly been discriminated against for my skin colour or my gender, and so this is quite a strange experience. Being white here, still gives you certain privileges and puts you into a specific light. People just assume things about you, as for example when I was in an all black hospital in Soweto with a patient from the Nanga Vhutshilo project and people naturally assumed I was the doctor. Being white is still linked to a specific power and higher status.
Even though the period of Apartheid has fortunately been over for some time and a more or less structured democracy has been set into place, the race issues is still present. I feel that the younger generation is more open to mingling with other races even though I feel the reluctance of speaking to me in English from many people. I often sit in a circle and try to pick up on a few words in Zulu, but I usually don’t manage to join a discussion. I guess it is one thing to be there and another thing to communicate about daily issues within a group. The two attitudes seem to be nicely illustrated by the young boy who drew this picture of and for me… confusion of skin colour and how to deal with it seems to preoccupy many people even at a young age.
I have also realised throughout my first week that there seems to be an innate attraction for whites to find their way to other whites. If I am in a place and there is another white person they always seem to find their way to me and start a conversation of some sort. I am not even looking for them but it seems to be an innate mechanism. Of course, I have randomly met many very friendly black people who came around chatting with me at random or who I have addressed. However, I have learned that for some of them it is still some sort of status upgrade if they have white friends or can easily talk to a white person.
For me it still is not an issue if some is black, white, green, purple, blue or pink, I consider everyone the same way and I guess that attitude is the reason for comments like: I have never had such a pleasurable talk with a white person. Or I never thought a white person would think that way about us. These comments, which I have only heard from the other side of the camp before, give me hope. I hope that those who I have shared these experiences with me, will also become a little bit more tolerant in their views and adapt their prejudiced attitude the same way as I have to realise that I should probably need to be a little bit more cautious around that issue.
All of this still makes me shiver at times, as for me this issue never was an issue at all, but I it is still a long way to human equality at all stages of life. I can only wonder how different attitudes are around the world in today’s modern world. I reckon being more educated than ever before doesn’t come with tolerance, but is very often even more boosted by ego and money. The human and social way of dealing with situations often seems to be replaced with capitalist attitudes. This general attitude is pitiful and therefore I am thankful each time I meet someone who shares the same human opinion about life and humans.