So yesterday I was at Papachino’s on the west rand.
It’s a stunning place for kids to play. I’d taken my seven year old brother there.
I had a beautiful big T-Bone steak complete with all the trimmings.
My brother, Caleb, wanted to make a pizza so he had that.
We had a wonderful time – for the most part.
I’ve been there a few times – enjoyed myself each time. The service isn’t particularly astounding – but it is also one of the busiest restaurants in our area.
So how did a blog post about racism in South Africa end up being a restaurant review?
It’s not really.
It’s what happened upon our leaving that finally compelled me to write about how I see things in this country.
So what I didn’t mention about yesterday was that from what I saw my brother and I were the only black customers there yesterday.
Other times I’ve gone there have been other people of colour including black folks.
Every single time my brother befriends someone – yesterday was no different.
He befriended a friendly, insightful young man called Kyle. I don’t usually classify people but for the sake of this story I have to say that Kyle was white.
They seemed to hit it off and had a great time.
Before leaving I greeted Kyle’s mom. As a mom myself I’d like to know who my kids are talking to so I thought it polite.
As we were leaving Kyle ran after my brother and I – I stopped (obviously!) to speak to him – and just as I did I saw what seemed like the manager of the restaurant (or someone else in authority there) rush to where we were and I said to him:
“Oh we were just leaving. We’re done here.”
“Ok” he said to me (in what felt like a very cold manner) – and I must add it felt very suspicious to me.
I was taken aback.
Did this man really think I was about to steal Kyle?! – ok back up a little – before people jump up and say oh but it was just safety measures – my argument is this: had my brother Caleb ran after a white mom with her kid would this “manager” person’s reaction had been the same?
I know with everything in me that that would not have been the case.
So I ignored the man and took out my business card and asked Kyle to give it to his mom – I told him she was welcome to call me anytime if he wanted to hang out with Caleb again.
The manager dude remained planted right where he was watching me – and looking back now I should’ve probably asked what his problem was and confronted him about how he was treating me.
But I didn’t.
Kyle ran to his mom and no sooner had my brother and I turned around to get to the car – Kyle ran after us again – Mr Manager dude was still standing there – watching me.
When I saw Kyle I said “Let me take you back to your mom.”
I escorted him to his table. Told his mom I’d given him my card and it would be really lovely if we could go out sometime to take the kids out.
She was real sweet and told me about other places in our area that would be fun – and that’s how I left – hoping Kyle would stay with his mom and keep me out of trouble.
I don’t think I’m over-reacting in how I read the situation.
Many times I hear that we black folk are “so sensitive.”
Could be. Or maybe some of us have stared in the eyes of racism far too many times to not know what it looks like when we see it.
I’m not saying the manager was racist – I’m saying that’s how I read his actions.
I live days like yesterday most of my life.
I don’t know about the rest of Jo’burg but I can without a shadow of guilt say my husband and I probably live in one of the most racist areas in Jo’burg.
But it’s not just where we live where I feel constantly watched and made to feel less than – I see it in the workplace sometimes. I see when I go shopping-
So the one time I went to the Flora Clinic pharmacy – I was the only person waiting to be served. Every single person behind the counter was white. Every single one of them looked at me and turned away.
Eventually as the moments ticked by with me standing there I yelled: “Is anyone going to help me!”
Like they’d been bitten by a billion bees in their butts they rushed to my aid.
Why do we have to act like crazy people to get some attention?
It’s quite odd that in some of the circles I find myself in – even some white people I would consider totally un-racist will say something that reveals that superiority complex that tells me that deep down they still see me and other black folk as beneath them.
Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes so unintended that I know it doesn’t come from their conscious minds. But it’s still there. I’m not judging them because I feel these are deep seated psychological issues that take a while to get rid of.
But what I cannot excuse are blatant and purposeful actions of hate.
I think of a man who once told me he couldn’t lease out his property to me because I was black and added: “…and in any case my dogs won’t let you in!”
I think of how my friends and I were treated like dirty rodents at Bibs bed and breakfast in what used to be St Lucia in KZN when we holidayed there.
A few times I have posted articles on the race issue – I’ve written about interracial marriages because I’m in one – I’ve posted comment on the white model who reminded us of the ‘K’ word on twitter- I called absolutely nonsense and stupid the comment from the black model who wished all white people dead…
I make a point of making these comments and writing on this topic because it’s important. It’s not because I’m in denial of how rotten the race issue still is in South Africa – I may be married to a white man – and there are white people I love dearly – but I’m not blind to the real hatred far too many white people I’ve come across have for us black folk.
I see their discomfort with having to share spaces with us – with having to shop in the same areas as us – living in the same area (Oh goodness their white god forbid!) – and I see how much they try to keep a lot of the holiday places white.
I don’t say these things out of hate or malice – I say them because I live them. I’ve seen my friends live them and we continue to live them.
I say it not to rile people up and open old wounds – I’m saying the wounds are not old and they are definitely not healed.
South Africa is far more racist now that I think it’s ever been because it used to be that some white people used to say during apartheid they had “no idea” what was going on.
I wasn’t there so I don’t know.
But what’s the excuse now?
For those white folk who still treat us with such disgust, disrespect, disregard or suspicion or… who knows what else – pray tell- what is it you don’t know about racism and that it degrades?
I say it’s worse now because we’ve had almost two decades of having the opportunity to learn about each other and if after two decades I’m still going be treated with suspicion – if after two decades I’m still going to be called a kaffir – if after two decades I’m still going to be seen as a less than human and a creature without a soul – I have to say we are far, far, worse off now.
I love God. And yet even as believers we have to be real about these things.
I think men and women who lead in the Church have to be sensitive about race issues in their congregations – and just the way hatred and division were preached about in the apartheid infested congregation pre ’94 (and some still do it) love and God’s grace for us all has to be preached today.
I hear some of my black friends speak – they didn’t experience apartheid but the bitterness in their throats is scary.
“Why do they still treat us this way?” I’ve heard friends ask.
I don’t even know how to answer that.
Yes I do get really angry.
Incidents like what happened at Papachino’s yesterday hurt me more than they anger me.
They hurt because how does it make sense that the colour of my skin would make me an evil person?
And they hurt because of things I don’t know how to articulate.
I worry about where we’re headed.
I worry about the anger I see in black eyes.
I worry about the constant feeling of injustice regarding how we’re treated.
I worry that perhaps we not really telling the truth about where we are – some black people harbour it in and some white people pretend it’s not happening.
I emphasise some because it’s not all black folk and all white folk.
When we do hear it on public platforms it’s from angry voices (from both races) that scare us all –
I wish I could say what we need or how we can get out of this. In all honesty I don’t know.
But perhaps we can start with just telling the truth – the two models that tweeted racist garbage a few weeks ago – silly as it may have seemed I applaud them for revealing to South Africa what’s really going on behind close doors.