The Running Commentary

Racism and me……..

As with many folks I watched, and at times took part in, the Jessica Leandra twitter saga.  So given that a tonne of people have already spoken so eloquently about the topic, I felt like I wanted to answer a question posed by John Maytham, of 567 Talk Radio, in which he was looking for stories on how people have changed perspectives.

I paraphrase the question, but it was something along the lines of: “If you were a racist, but now fight against it, what motivated you to do so”. My immediate response was that I was never a racist, but this I am afraid, after careful reflection, was not true.  You see I was a racist, I was groomed as one, by influencers around me when I was a child (parents & friends alike) I grew up in a home filled with sayings like, “get the boy to do it”, in reference to flies…”there are a lot of K#@#$R budgies around” and the real pearler, “I have a thirst of 10 K’s”

Today I am not a racist, I abhor racism and I will correct at every turn anyone who speaks in a derogatory fashion based on racial grounds. I spent some time reflecting on when it was that I changed and it all boiled down to a single event in our countries history, coupled with an incident some months after that.  This day was the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and more importantly his speech that he delivered, with a specific emphasis on the ending:

I Quote: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

At the time I was conscripted in the defence force. I was sitting in my bungalow with a bunch of other troops as we watched the release. The commentary ranged from “we are stuffed” (insert many expletives here) to “we are going to go to war now”. In my mind the only thing raging was, why is this man so calm? why is he not baying for blood? I was conflicted. I couldn’t reconcile his stance. It was counter everything that I was feeling. I said nothing though……

A few months later cue the Wimbledon tennis tournament, specifically the woman’s final with Zina Garrison and Martina Navratilova.  I was watching this at a friend’s house (in Kimberley). We were all huddled around the television, when my friend dropped the following line….”Daardie Ousie kan tennis speel ne” I absolutely lost it, in wholly unrighteous fashion, condemned him for what he had said.  I rallied against him as if he had suddenly become the enemy, how could he say that? did he even know what Blacks had gone through in this country? He looked at me as if I can gone mad, he was confused.

I had worked through what I had been feeling and I had come to place where I realised just how wrong the whole apartheid situation had been. I realised in that moment that I was not ever going to be the same. That was 22 years ago.

What I also realised, thankfully just a few hours after that, was that he had not had the opportunity to work through this. He needed to see the error of his ways (even if this had effectively been the error of his parent’s ways). We did work through it over a number of conversations and happily he also is a changed person. I am also happy to say that our family has changed.  I think though that many people need to still work through this, even if it is on secret self-reflection.

So in response to John, I know the time that this happened for me, I know why I am the way I am today and I am infinitely better for the depth and breadth of my friendships today.  Thanks for the challenging question!

Ending off, I have also come to realise that rage in it’s simplest form is misguided passion and while we must rage against the scourge of racism, lets try not make a heap of more victims as a result of it. In the chorus of voices condemning the likes of Jessica there would have been many who use the same racial terms in private.  Each of us must work at removing racial (or other derogatory) language from our vocabulary, this step alone will help change our attitudes.

And just for my wife….. calling someone a chop is not derogatory, it is a statement of fact (insert smiley face here)

armycitizenFuturegrowthpoliticsracismSouth Africa

Mike • May 9, 2012


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