Monday 24 March 2014

When does an assumption become racism?

As a visitor in South Africa, despite being in my 4th year of living here, there are many things I still do not understand.

I understand racism; I spent 2 years working for The FA in Child Welfare and on the RESPECT campaign. I dealt with issues of racism on a professional level.

I’ve been at the receiving end of racist abuse; I ended up with a cut forehead as a result. I was British, he was an Afrikaner. He objected to me being in his country, because I was British. We were both white, we both lived in the same estate.

But what is racism? Is it an assumption? Is it the use of the word ALL? Is it when you call someone black/white/coloured/foreign/immigrant? Or is it when those words and many more are used to describe something negative?

If anyone wants to challenge me on this blog post, please feel free to do so, but nicely. I can reference this if you want, but it’s a blog post NOT an essay.

There are many assumptions I’ve heard since I’ve been in SA, let me list you a few, but please understand, these are not my views. These are assumptions I’ve heard from South Africans white and black, South Africans living in the UK and people from other countries.

All black people will rob/rape/hijack/murder you

All black people are uneducated

All black people live in poverty

All black people work in the service industry.

All black people live in shacks

All black government officials are corrupt

All white people live in security estates

All white people are rich

All white people live in fear of being robbed/raped/hijacked/murdered

All white people if they own a dog will set it on a black person

All Afrikaners hate the English

It makes me sad to hear these things being said, it makes me sad that people have such a view of South Africa.

Maybe some of these assumptions are correct in the minds of some people through personal experiences, from experiences of family and friends. But if you are hijacked by a black person, what right do you have to say ‘ALL BLACK’ if you are unable to express a want to a black person because the language you speak isn’t understood, what right do you have to assume all black people are thick and therefore uneducated.

We live in a security estate. The house at the bottom of the garden, to the left is owned by a black family. Two years ago he was murdered in a hijacking.

The house a few doors down was robbed at gunpoint by a white man.

A black man at a place I volunteer at held a gun to the head of another black man during an armed robbery.

We had a white maid when we first moved here; the cost of a cleaner was included in the rent.

There are white people serving in restaurants, white people begging on the sides of the roads, white people living in areas I volunteer in, in townships.

Today I visited Maropeng at The Cradle of Humankind. I asked at the security, a black man, if I could bring my dog in with me I just wanted to have a coffee and use the toilet. I was told it was OK to go in. As I walked into the open space with Bob on a short lead, black people scattered, quite literally. I tied Bob to a pole and ordered coffee; people were looking at him and me. As I drank my coffee a white woman, who was visiting, petted Bob a white child said ‘look doggy’ After a few minutes a black man who introduced himself as Head of Operations told me there was some concern over my dog being there and I would have to leave. I told him that I’d already checked with security and that when I finished my coffee I would leave. I was watched the entire time, Bob sat quietly, no visitor complained, no visitor looked at me any differently. I was openly watched the entire time and made to feel very uncomfortable.

As I left with Bob on a short lead, close I passed near a black woman who was at least 10ft from me and not in the direction I was walking, swung her legs round to the other side of the bench and said ‘you won’t let your dog bite me will you?’ the car park attendant ran back into his hut and I returned to my car, very upset that people could have these thoughts about me and my dog, think that’d a) I’d take a dangerous dog out in public and b) think I’d let him lose on them and order him to attack.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this reaction, it occurs almost every time I walk Bob around the estate especially in the mornings or going home time for the maids and the gardeners.

So can I make the assumption that ALL black people are afraid of dogs? Or is it that ALL black people assume that ALL white people will set their dogs on black people?

Our gardener is black; he isn’t frightened of the dog. Our ironing guy is black; he walks the dog and feeds him if we are away overnight. The Gardener is from Zambia; the ironing guy is from Malawi. The black woman on the campsite with her caravan and Toyota Fortuner said ‘your baby came looking for you, I gave him a biscuit, while you were in the toilet, such a lovely dog’

My friends here are black/white/English/Afrikaners. We are friends because we share common interests/experiences/views/beliefs. Not because of where they come from, not because the colour of their skin.

What do you think? Do you have experience of racism, based on the previous actions of others that now put you in a category where you must be feared?

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