OPINION: Dear Gideon, I've also experienced that feeling of being unwelcome
A friend sent me the link to your article and seeing the title, "As an Afrikaans person, I felt unwelcome at the Samas", my first instinct was to dismiss it as another chronicle of white privilege.
But, I have come to understand how much perspective we often lack as black and white South Africans, being from completely different worlds. I have come to appreciate that we need to expose ourselves more to life through the lens of the other. So, by the end of the day, I had ultimately given in to that rationale and read your article.
Thank you for a view through your lens, Gideon. I got to see a perspective I completely missed watching the Samas, and actually, I understand how you felt. In the moments of your experience at the Samas, you and I could probably find more commonality than the sum of our life experiences would offer.
I understand how you felt because I know first-hand what it is to feel like a stranger in your own country. I know how it feels like to be jeered at for using your own language and I am all too familiar with being among the minority in the room. Allow me then, to offer you a view through my side of the lens. A view through the lens of a black female South African born in 1982, a year before your own birth.
When I was four years old, my educational journey began at a white pre-school in central Durban. My parents and others who could afford to entertain the idea, realised that for their black children to access the quality of education they felt they deserved, to have access to sporting, cultural and educational resources, they would have to be educated in what were then (and let's be honest, are still now) "white" schools.
This was the start of a life of assimilation: learning English and communicating exclusively in the language at school, learning white culture and nuances, acclimatising to being the only black girl in class. This would continue for most of my life because as I would learn, the boardrooms I would sit in would be mostly occupied by white people. Unwittingly, my "white twang" and ability to relate with white culture would open doors for me and ultimately, the road to economic progress would be paved with "whiteness".
As a black person, throughout my life, I have not only had acclimatise to foreign environments where I was in the minority, but I have also had to experience that feeling of being unwelcome in spaces where I was in the minority. Not only that, I have also blatantly been refused entry on the basis of the colour of my skin. At restaurants, properties, hotels, schools. This is the lens through which I read your story, Gideon, and I imagine some other black people did as well.
Some of us and are now raising children who are in the minority at their schools for the same reasons we were – because the legacy of apartheid is a reality. Many black children, although falling into the majority population group, are a minority in their schools today, in 2018, and many of them will at some point have an encounter with racial discrimination or marginalisation. Sadly, the phenomenon of racial slurs and social exclusion did not end with apartheid.
On the issue of language, there is nothing acceptable about people being jeered at, as you relate, for speaking in their language and that should be condemned, always. It is unfortunate that an award winner had to experience that for speaking in Afrikaans.
But as I read your article, I couldn't help but think of the many black people who have struggled to adapt socially in work environments and those who have been excluded from the economic system because they are not able to communicate in English or Afrikaans. Some of those people are my family, my friends. Tales that my own parents have relayed of their experience with the Afrikaans language of oppression. Truth be told, my association with Afrikaans is oppression.
In the same way, I associate my state of landlessness with apartheid. I associate land with freedom. The call for land – that is a real pursuit, one which might have not shocked you, one you might have even expected to hear of at the Samas, had we truly been integrated at the dawn of democracy.
These are conversations black people are having daily. Land is often on the tip of our tongue. For me, it is our shot at economic freedom. Because this is something that we are speaking of and striving for, it is something you should hear about. You should be hearing about it as often as it is spoken of.
One of the things I believe was a mistake when we became the "Rainbow Nation", was the suppression of real conversations which were happening behind closed doors among racial, social and cultural groups. It is my belief that to give true reconciliation a chance, we need to openly and constructively share the truth of our South African experience.
I commend you for choosing to share your experience beyond a homogenous circle, Gideon. It gave me a view through your lens, I hope that you will appreciate the view through mine.
- Webster is a speaker, author and media proprietor.
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