I have nothing profound to say and this is not an open letter to anyone. This is only an admission of guilt and a tale of how social media, mostly twitter, changed me.
It’s done under a false name to protect the not so very innocent.
I grew up as a stereotype white Afrikaans middle class boy. I finished school in 1991. Did national service in 1992. Started working 1993.
I grew up under apartheid and reaped many of the benefits associated with that era. Even though we were never made aware of the fact that we are receiving unfair benefits we all knew how things worked back then. If you grew up in this era and say that you did not know, or did not notice the inequality then, Buddy, you are a liar and should stop reading.
The admission of guilt is for being a “casual” racist. I think in many ways I still am. Common language of people I associated with included all the words which would land you in jail today. We never gave a second thought to using racist names for all the non-white people of this planet. Name a race and I bet you that we had a commonly used racist term for them. More worrying however was the time I wasted thinking that these ideals, drilled into me over years and years, are true. Years of being told that you are superior to the other races. Years of being told that the ‘swart gevaar’ will kill you in your sleep. Communist bad – SAW (Suid Afrikaanse Weermag) good. ANC is the terrorist, etc. Thinking back I can’t help but wonder how many friendship I've missed because I did not want to play/drink/swim/exercise with the black kids I saw during my childhood and young adulthood. I wasted so much of this short life hating and fault finding the new South Africa. I was a fool.
Things started to change for me when my daughter used a racist word which she brought home from kindergarten. I nearly died. To be honest I wonder if she did not pick it up at home. I was horrified at the thought of her growing up with the same mental eye patches as I did. We immediately started changing our vocabulary. But not using the words means nothing if the thoughts still remain. And it did.
I then started working abroad. My eyes opened so fast that I could hear the mental barriers in my mind cracking. I shared a room with three black guys for 4 weeks at a time. We started talking and chatting. I was almost shocked to see that they long for their families as much as I do for mine. They shed a tear when calling home on their kid’s birthdays, just like me. They laughed about the same things that I found funny. They watched sports, loved beer, longed for girlfriends never kissed, all the things me and my friends did. I sometimes thought to myself that this guy could be the black version of my friend back home. They spoke the same, had the same demeanour, etc. SHOCK, HORROR! We might actually be the same. HUMAN.
I became a closet liberal. The guy at work and the guy at home would not like each other. I lived in two worlds.
Time went by and not much changed. Until I started using twitter for more than looking up rugby feeds. I started to see that there are more people like me. There are people all over South Africa that get along, regardless of race. These guys can debate race and politics from all angles and still be friends. I started seeing that Trolls are more like the guy I used to be and less like the guy I would like to be. After months of tweeting and following I got followed by a guy, to protect his ID I will call him THE_METRIC. We exchanged views and things that amuse us. We found a shared love for Andrea Bocelli’s music. I often disagreed with him and I still do. I found myself wondering if this is not just a white guy with a fake account. How can we be so much alike? He tweeted that he counts me among his friends. Do I have a black friend now? How cool I thought.
Then the death of Nelson Mandella. Twitter went into overdrive. Emotions run high. As a white guy I was amazed at how many of my black twitter friends stood up for me, and people like me, when we were ‘attacked’ for saying that he was close to our hearts as well. In much the same way as Madiba did, these guys shielded us from harm. It might only have been in the digital world but in some way it changed me. I wonder if I would have shielded him from the closed minded in my community? I will now. I now count him among my friends.
To close out I would like to thank this digital buddy and ask, no beg, my closed minded digital friends to make a black buddy. Even if it’s just on twitter. I still need to break down a lot of the barriers in my head and I’m working on it daily, this letter is part of that. We all have to start somewhere and as a great man once said “It’s a long walk..”