Martin Luther King Jnr. once said, “Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism”.
As a young, white, female born and raised in South Africa I read this quotation with a heavy heart. For I am part of the future generation he was referring to and from a very young age, this South African society has made me increasingly aware of race. This is not a reflection of my upbringing at home or of my joyful years at school. I have been lucky enough to grow up surrounded by people who have taught me the most valuable life lesson. That is, to never judge another person by their race, religion, culture or heritage.
My father always told my siblings and I, “There are only two things that any man or woman can ever be judged by, their character and their behavior, especially in how they treat those around them”. This is something I have personally chosen to live by. However, in day to day life it becomes more apparent that I am surrounded by certain individuals who see race first above any other quality.
When I sat down and thought about this issue in depth, which seemed to plague my mind, it seemed so illogical, so unfair, almost as if I was sitting reading Bill Bryson’s, A Short History of Nearly Everything, all over again, in which he explains the size of the universe which leaves you utterly perplexed and bewildered while trying to wrap your mind around how small and insignificant you are as a human being on earth. Just as I had felt then, I began to feel again. I tried to make sense of a belief my mind could not fully understand. I thought “Why in the world would you hate someone or dislike them because their skin is a different colour to what yours is? That makes no sense! Race does not give an insight into your character, your level of morality, your work ethic, your intellectual capacity or your behavior!”
And so I made the only educated and reasonable conclusion I could come to. If you are a racist and believe that one human is less than another solely because their skin, culture, language or religion is different to yours then, for lack of a better word, you are just stupid.
A lot of the time I find myself in the awkward and uncomfortable situation (which I’m sure the majority of people have found themselves in) when you happen to be in the company of a racist. Sometimes their prejudiced remarks are blatantly obvious leaving you dumbstruck and other times slightly more inconspicuous, using a “they” or a “them” to avoid using the word black or white or coloured or Indian as they do not want to seem as if they are being hateful. Most of the time it leaves me in a rather foul mood when I hear the less obvious racist utterance as it is also most of the time accompanied with, “I’m not trying to sound racist but. . . “(This being followed by an intolerant or generalized acquisition of some kind). Well, what are you trying to sound like? Because it’s abundantly clear that what you just said was nothing but racist. Whenever put in a position as such, I’m always the first to glare, unblinkingly in their direction and snap back at them with an either sarcastic or “smart-ass” response. This comes as a shock to most as the age of the other person is indifferent to me and a lot of the time they are adults and I am only twenty which leads them to view me as a rude, spoiled brat. My so-called “out of line” retorts are met by, “I used to think that way when I was younger, but as you get older you will realize . . .” or “Wait, you are still young, ignorant and naive. You still have a lot to learn.” or a, “One day when you have to work with them you’ll see what we mean.”
This leads me to smirk cheekily at them, raise an eyebrow and retaliate by questioning how they actually believe that what they have said can be given any sort of credit or merit when it projects nothing but an impoverished and premature culmination of an unjustified philosophy. As well as this, I never fail to mention how my parents (both in their early fifties now) have lived in this country as long as they have, if not longer but do not share the same moronic opinion.
All this being said, (keeping in mind my reactions to racial prejudice) above the anger and above the annoyance I feel towards such people, is a true sadness. I cannot help but think about how a large portion of our South African society has not learned from our country’s History. How many, have not yet grasped the concept that all human beings have been created equal and whenever another tries to implement a system to compromise that fact, it always ends badly. Has our country not endured enough hate? Is it really necessary to continue a spiteful and hurtful legacy which spreads danger and pain?
My whole life, this nation has provided me with exposure to multiple races, religions, cultures, nationalities and languages. Instead of burdening myself with the effort of carrying around blame and animosity due to this, I have looked at my life being surrounded by these things as a privilege, an education and a pivotal point in shaping a well-cultured, tolerant and accepting human being. Please understand, I by no means believe I am the perfect stature of morality or that I represent the model citizen. But I can hold my head high and say with pride that I do not practice in any way, shape or form repulsive and vile hate speech.
This is not written with the intent of making anyone feel bad or ashamed. I am aware that our Rainbow Nation contains many lovely and kind people who share my views. I am simply pointing out that it is never wrong or a mistake to care about other people and their feelings by treating them decently, the way you would want to be treated. I do not want to spend my life being just a colour, and most people I’m sure feel the same way I do. As people, we can set no better example of humanism to those around us by being kind and caring.
Race issues have gone on for too long now. It’s about time they ended!