Why is racism still a thing in this country? You would think that after 20-odd years of preaching the rainbow nation and oh, I don’t know, some 10 000 years of human civilisation, we would’ve had this problem all solved. We don’t. It is abysmal, heart-breaking and completely idiotic on our part. Most of all, it is scary. We can try to deny it all we want but the fact remains that racism is still alive and well. Often at times manifested in our own homes. Whether you’re white, black, coloured, Indian or Chinese; it doesn’t matter because you know somebody or maybe a few somebody’s who are blatantly racist. They could be family, friends or colleagues – people you really care about in your life. It could be you, for that matter. There is no one group to be singled out for racism because I think everybody has the capacity to be guilty of it.
How exactly do you deal with racism in your life? Coming from a coloured family, with a lot of coloured friends, I find myself constantly shocked and utterly disgusted at how blatantly racist people can be. I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation where we’ve been talking to certain people and out of nowhere they’ll begin to discriminate against a different group of fellow human beings as if they were worth nothing. These racist people might even expect you to agree with them on their racist statements. They could easily be surprised and angry if you don’t agree with them. They leave the conversation believing that you must be the ignorant one. You might even believe it, for a time, before you come to your senses. The worst part is that I am guilty of an even worse kind of ignorance: being complacent and choosing at times to just ignore the comments accompanied with hateful remarks. I remained silent when I should not have been. I thought that the problem would solve itself.
How do you fight ignorance and prejudice, especially from people who are close to you, without destroying that relationship? Maybe the best solution is for no relationship to exist with such people in the first place? If you find the answer, I would also love to know.
Where does racism come from? I’m under the impression that for our generation it is mostly inherited. It’s partly the fault of our role models: our parents, older family members, even teachers. We see and hear them act in a certain way, and as we grow older we come to mimic them. Old prejudices die hard, after all. If you grow up in a household where racist remarks were the norm, would you not think that it is the norm? But it is not even their fault because most of them grew up in a country that was under colonisation for hundreds of years and then apartheid for decades more. The roots of racism run so deep in this country that it is hard to trip over them. We’ve come a long way since apartheid, but as always there is more to be done.
Now the question becomes how to fight against this breeding of prejudice and bigotry that is sown into our character from birth.
I think the best way to fight racism is to:
- Just read – you have the entirety of the internet at your disposal, not just the racist section of Facebook.
- Be so utterly free from all the prejudice that you set your own example. You do not have to be a puppet, following every action that people around you perform. Be able to rationalise for yourself whether what you or someone around you is saying or doing is offensive or discriminatory to a group of people, and then act accordingly.
Now, I am a bleeding heart liberal, someone who firmly believes in the goodness of humanity, despite all evidence to the contrary. To that end, I surround myself with a diverse group of friends, from all ages, races, and sexual orientations. This keeps me honest, keeps me from inheriting the poisonous toxicity of my environment. If I don’t like someone it is because that person is known to make racist comments about other people near me, not because his/her skin is a certain pigment. I guess what I’m trying to say is keep an open mind about people, people!
“Try to keep your mind open to possibilities and your mouth closed on matters that you don’t know about . Limit your ‘Always’ and ‘Nevers’ “- Amy Poehler
Written by Mikha-eel Fester