I’m not talking reincarnation here, but rather a blast back to the past.
I’ve been wondering about this question for a few years now and as I was watching The Help the other night, it struck me again that timing, education and circumstances could perhaps have made a completely different person of me. Or could it? You should watch the movie (I highly recommend it) and decide for yourself.
I suppose it’s my own, personal version of the “Nature vs. Nurture” conundrum. Is it in my nature to abhor discrimination in all its forms and like/dislike people purely according to their behaviour and not their skin colour? Or was I nurtured to be this way?
What differentiates me from the racist-next-door? And if I grew up like he/she grew up, would I have been a different kind of person?
I’d like to think that God created me to be who I am and that the era I live in wouldn’t have affected me, but perhaps it’s more of a hope than a fact…
My parents have told me about how I always offered to share my bottle with everyone I met as a toddler, be it a white baby in a pram or a black one on his mother’s back. I can’t remember, of course, but I do know that the only thing I cared about was sharing with the other “baba’s”. Skin colour (or factors like the ridiculous “separate utensils and toilets” rule) was definitely no deterrent. And why should it be?
As a Christian, I’m taught to emulate Jesus and his love for all human beings, regardless of race or social stature. But in the churches of the Apartheid era, this part of the scripture was often ignored or misinterpreted to apply to “all people, but only if they’re white”. Would that indoctrination have had the same effect on me as it had on thousands of otherwise “good” citizens?
If my parents were raving American racists and had a penchant for parading around with white hoods and pitchforks (among other much more horrible things), would I have joined the KKK too? Or would something inherent to who I am have prevented me?
What if I grew up in Nazi Germany? I’m blonde and blue-eyed and therefore theoretically Hitler’s perfect Aryan. Would I still have fallen in love with my tall, very dark, handsome husband? Or would I have shunned him for his “inferior”, subordinate genes?
In our house, my parents leaned towards the liberal more than some, although they were still quite conservative in their political views, up to a certain point. But I know that my mother proudly made her mark next to the ANC in ’94, which definitely made her part of a minor faction among the white minority. Luckily for me, therefore, my parents raised me to be tolerant and I’ve always had friends of all races.
If I like you, we can be friends. If I don’t, your skin colour is irrelevant to me. If you’re a sexist, brutish oaf with a foul mouth and poor social skills, you won’t make the cut, and that’s that. That being said, our world is still often divided along racial lines.
Or is it? Well, I think that’s debatable and it depends on your perspective. I dislike Julius Malema, for example. He fits nicely into the above-mentioned category (and then some). But if he were a white upstart with the same traits of ridiculous verbal diarrhoea, I know I would have felt the same. I find it sad that some people interpret the Malema dilemma as a sign that “all black people are like that”. That’s like saying all white people are like Hendrik Verwoerd… and I’d be the first to protest that comparison.
When people cheer Malema’s suspension, I wish we could all be sure that it’s purely because he’s an idiot, but I don’t think we could ever be. I do think we need to be honest, whatever our skin colour, even if we believe we’re no racists. We owe a debt to our society, to be sincere and think before we act. There’s enough dead wood lying around for the smallest spark to ignite an unnecessary inferno.
Of course, these days I have an even greater motivation to see with more childish, colour blind eyes. My parents adopted a black baby when she was two months old (through interesting twists of fate that could only ever have been the Lord’s providence) and she is my absolute favourite little person in the world. From Leandra Kgomotso van Deventer, I learned that children are born colour blind, until society teaches them differently. To her, we are all of the same (human) race; the only difference is the shade of human we come in. I’m yellowish, with my fair skin. With his red hair and freckles, my dad is pink. And my husband is proudly light brown, just like her. But we’re all family!
When I try to imagine a world where my sister would have had to grow up neglected and unloved, because the system didn’t allow space for an adoption across racial lines, I prefer not to imagine myself living in it. All I can do is pray that my childrens’ children will grow up to be ever more tolerant and loving, because it’s in their nature. And hopefully we’ll nurture the generations to come to be kinder to all their kin, not just the familiar ones.