Growing a thicker black skin
(Translation: Kele just left here. A Sotho girl from Pretoria. It's so hard to look past culture. She says she earns enough money. Please call me. Not easy at all.)
Kele: "Sy verstaan ook Afrikaans. I think you sent that sms to the wrong person. Don't worry about it though. It was nice meeting you. Kele"
This was a few short years ago.
I had just come from checking out an apartment in Cape Town. I'd been in the city exactly three days and was staying at a backpacker with half the population of Europe. That's what I love about Cape Town. It's a real cosmopolitan city. In one week, I had lunch with a woman from Germany, a date with a French guy (I'm not kidding), a braai with Australians and spent a night partying down Long Street with doctors from Liberia.
Anyway, two days later I got a message from T saying, "Hi Kele, good luck with ur work today. Everything will go well. I unfortunately have to inform u that the room hs been taken. All of the best with flat hunting. T"
If I hadn't found another flat, I would have been in moerse kak. Between starting my new job, unpacking boxes, trying to remember names and always being lost, I was already in a state of perpetual confusion. Then last night I was thinking about how I would blow my first paycheque (YAY!) when this thought struck me: If that racist b*tch had her way, I would be homeless! I mean literally homeless.
Suddenly the whole plethora of race-based equality policies
made sense. Because the truth is, people like T exist. And they have
the upper hand. As long as they aren't forced to change, they won't. So
now I've developed a love-hate relationship with affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment.
And while I may not agree with every single keystroke, I do think they're necessary.
It's not by chance that all the residents of Khayelitsha are black. Or that most of the lower class population is non-white. As my new housemate Djuri, said, "Apartheid was an entire manufactured social system. Do you really think anyone wants to live in a shack? Have you seen a white family living in a shack yet? Sorry to offend your coconut sensitivity."
There's another term to throw into our South African vocabulary. Coconut sensitivity refers to the attitude of a black person who is privileged but doesn't recognize their benefit and doesn't care how it came about. And yes, sometimes I display just this... coconut sensitivity.
"What's the big deal?" I used to say to my girlfriend, Lebo. "So I'm black. I like it. Even if I didn't, I can't change it. So let's all just get over it. Let the past be the past." That is a common slogan spoken by the coconut sensitive.
I lived with Lebo a few years ago. She studied politics and law, and knew that race matters. We spent Thursday evenings in front of the TV debating essays, men and clothes. "But, Kele, don't you see it? How can you not? In your world everyone is happy-go-lucky. Everything's perfect. And it's not! It's small stuff that happens every day."
"If you want to see something, you're going to see it. It's all about perception," I said (I studied psychology, can you tell?). Three hours later, Lebo would be fuming and trying to slap me. I would duck and fall back on my anti-baggage argument. "Apartheid happened. That was then, this is now." The naivety of youth...
Now, I've seen a little more reality. I'm sure Lebo's jumping in joy on some rooftop in Jozi shouting, "I told you so". I think I hear her.
Do you think race-based reformation policies are necessary?