Goats’ heads, ancestors and blackness

2008-10-27 00:00

I refer to “Thinking about culture over a goat’s head”‚ by Michael Worsnip (The Witness, October 20). I can imagine a conversation at Worsnip’s home between himself and his two “very white children with black skins”.

Child: Dad I am black, aren’t I?

Dad: Oh my child, you are white, haven’t you noticed?

Child: But can’t you see? I look different from you.

Dad: No, really, you are just a different shade of white.

Child: No Dad, I am actually black, everyone says so.

Dad: Then everyone is wrong. You used to be black, but now you’re white.

Scary stuff. The article entitled “Thinking about culture over a goat’s head” smelled, no reeked of a sort of “whiteness” that I was surprised could even be voiced in public. Of course, everyone has the right to identify with a certain culture and to live in a way that makes sense to them. Obviously to Worsnip that is “white culture” (whatever that may be, a Russian is as different from a Brit as a Kenyan from a Zulu).

Worsnip is white, very white. So white that he doesn’t know what NY stands for and that Xhosa children are introduced to the ancestors. All that really isn’t a big deal as such. But it should be. Worsnip adopted two black children who have to find their own identity in a country that has huge identity issues.

The ancestors seem to bother Worsnip a lot. And he seems to have safely kept his white-black children away from any ancestor, up to this age, away from the culture they came from.

I remember growing up with Mom, who was white and prayed to Jesus, Dad, who was brown and consulted the ancestors, and Gran, who talked to both. During the week we had Western meals, at weekends we ate curries. We were part of an extended family where everyone was part of each other’s affairs. All of that in ultra-modern Holland.

Scary? Not at all. Challenging, yes. As children we had to find our own identity and make sense of the world and cultures around us. And all of that would not have been possible if my parents had withheld from us the opportunities to interact and interrogate both cultures. We made our own choices. My brother became a follower of an Eastern belief, I became a Christian.

And yes, Holland is not South Africa. I know that from experience. Being a mother to a black son (black black, not white black) comes with challenges — but not always. We have wonderful, supportive friends, and lovely multicultural church and work environments. But there are the odd moments, the stares and the weird comments. One day as I walked with my son in a nursery, a man I don’t know walked past, looked at us and said: “Wow, did you do it with a black man?” Another time a granny asked me whether I had produced this child myself.

We are always different, we stand out. And that is not as much a problem for us, the parents, as it is for our children. My son is going to be a “new category” in the realities of South Africa. He needs to be safe and secure in his own little category of adopted children. The only way we think he will be safe and secure is for him to be exposed to all cultures — goats, ancestors and all.

Multiracial adoption could be a great thing in a country with up to two million orphans — but only if the adopted children can stay black.

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