City Press 30: My kid, the non-black

2012-03-02 11:51

To celebrate thirty years of City Press, we feature gems from our archive.

Not too long ago I brought a dog home for my son, aged seven. For years he had been beseeching me to get him a dog – and I thought I had finally fulfilled his dream.

But lo and behold, Kgosi would have nothing to do with the animal. To be more precise, he hated it.

I ranted, raved, and made all sorts of threats – all in vain. When I was nice and mak, I sat down with him and asked why. “The dog is black,” came the reply.

“But you are black yourself,” I tried to reason.

“No, I’m not black!”

He looked at me as if I had insulted him.

Hours later I was still trying, without luck, to make him understand he was a black person and there was nothing wrong with that. I tried the black-is-beautiful thing. I even tried naming great black people – Nelson Mandela, Eddie Murphy, Doctor Khumalo, Michael Jackson (may he never encounter my boy).

The harder I tried, the more “insulted” he seemed to feel. There is this joke – you must have heard it before – of a little black boy who was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I want to be a white,” the boy said innocently.

My experience with my boy made me wonder if the “joke” was not a true story after all.

I remembered when I was seven myself. My granny, who worked at the kitchens, brought me a present from her employer. My father (bless his soul) ordered me to write a thank-you letter, which I did. “Thank you for the present I received from thee blah blah blah.” My old man, who had a vile temperament, hit the roof. He tore the letter up in my face.

I was shocked. To me, whites were important – and “thee” was meant to show my respect.

Grandma’s employers received a much toned down letter, dictated by my father. I never received any more gifts.

For months I relived the incident with my son in my head, without answers, until last week when my daughter asked me to confirm something her Setswana teacher had told her – which was incorrect. My girl knew it was incorrect, and so did I.

Sadly, the teacher thought it was correct. Not surprising, because the teacher is white, and apparently speaks very little, if any, Setswana.

Why, you may ask, can’t so-called “white” schools employ teachers who are capable of teaching African languages, if they are to be in the curriculum?

Now I am not one to see racism where no racism exists – but it is absurd to get teachers who can barely string words together to teach children a language which the children understand well. In fact, in my kid’s case, she could teach the teacher Setswana.

I did a quick mental audit of the situation at my children’s school – and realised sadly that there was not a single black teacher on the staff. In my book, introducing black faces just for the sake of balancing the racial composition is out. But I refuse to believe that apartheid so defiled our minds that in spite of thousands of black teachers being out of work, they cannot fill vacancies.

If white teachers can teach our children, surely black teachers can teach white children too. The point of this scrambled tale is that children who go to former Model-C schools encounter black adults only as gardeners, teamakers and cleaners. It does not occur to them that a black person can teach mathematics and science.

I do not pretend to be a psychologist, but when our children go through school without being exposed to a single black teacher, it cannot affirm their love and respect for blackness.

So it makes perfect sense to me for little boys to get mad with their fathers who dare say they are black.

– City Press,
March 31 1996

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