OPINION: #RacismMustFall

I have compiled a few tips on how not to be racist.

First, a bit of background: I've experienced overt and veiled racism on many occasions throughout my life. I was raised to be humble, and forgive. I was also very sheltered from politics and protected from what was happening in the fight against apartheid in the 1980s.

However, racism is everywhere and here are some of my experiences:

I've been asked if I am foreign because "you speak so well" and "sound different from the rest of them". I've been referred to as "a girl" and my children have been called "half-breed". I've had people dismiss me as though my opinion did not matter, and later, exclaim that they thought all Indian women were quiet and submissive. "Do you people celebrate Christmas?" I was once asked. I've been called a "terrorist" by an old man as part of his post-apartheid joke repertoire which was accompanied by tales of how things "used to be". The same man adopted a Zulu nickname to show how transformed he was. And the list goes on. Assumptions, stereotypes, racial comments muttered under breath, being stared at when in the minority, name confusion, being told that we all look alikeā€¦

There needs to be change.

And, no, I don't think that all whites are racists.

Here are my tips:

  1. Dismiss all stereotypes that you may have. Be honest - do you look at a person and assume that he or she is going to act in a certain way or say certain things based on their melanin level? Maybe some people play into certain stereotypes, but ask first instead of making assumptions because a person is not from your racial group. Not all people of Indian heritage love Nando's extra hot or can give you tips on how to cook a curry. Don't assume that every black male is a threat to you. The sad reality is that crime is a huge problem in South Africa, but criminals come in all colours and you need to be alert regardless of where you are or the people around you.

  1. Actively change your mind-set in order to treat all people equally. However, don't forget your heritage - it is important to acknowledge and accept the historical differences between racial groups and the role your race played in the past, as well as the impact of those actions on the present regardless of when you were born.

  1. Dismiss your preconceived belief that you are better than people of other races. No, you are not smarter and you don't have a higher IQ by virtue of your race. Even though a lot of people were and are still raised to believe they are better than others based on race, if you're a thinking adult in the real world, there's no excuse for you not to realise that this is wrong and ironically, very stupid. You may prove to be better than an individual in terms of achievements, actions and ethics, but that does not mean you are on a higher level of an apartheid-constructed racial hierarchy.

  1. Don't assume that a person does not understand complex concepts or have opinions on major issues just because they don't speak your language of choice fluently. Here assumptions are good. Assume that everyone has an opinion regardless of class or job status or area code. Learn new languages, or use Google Translate instead of speaking louder or v e r y s l o w l y to someone and don't tell a person of another race that they speak English so well. It's not a compliment even if the person smiles politely.

  1. Get out of your comfort zone. Make a concerted effort to frequent social spots with a mix of clientele. Even if you're accustomed to socialising with people who are similar to you, you will broaden your friendship circle and educate yourself in the process.

  1. Respect everyone. Yes, people must also earn your respect, but start off at a basic level of civility, thereafter that person may earn or lose your respect based on their actions, but never their race.

  1. Educate yourself. South Africa has many amazing cultures and many interpretations of political and social history. Read books, watch talk shows with a variety of themes and target audiences. Find out the difference between Sotho and Zulu, the meanings of traditions and religious and cultural practices of other people. Just as there are many Christian denominations, Hinduism has many sects, many based on different languages and traditions. Don't live in a bubble. Cultural ignorance breeds stereotypes.

  1. Call a person by the name they want to be called. Even if a person has a name with two clicks and four syllables, you can and must learn how to say it. And don't expect applause just because you've made an effort to call someone by their name. You cannot abbreviate another person's name for your own convenience or give another person a nickname unless that's the name a person asks you to call them. There is a long, sad history of slaves, indentured labourers and other colonised populations' names being simplified and even completely changed for the convenience of the oppressors. Don't perpetuate that regardless of how considerate or clever you may think you are being. And if you have a complex name and you love it and want everyone to call you by that name, demand it.

  1. Be brave. Don't stand by and listen quietly, or worse, laugh along in order to fit in, to jokes based on race. You may have grown up listening to 'van Der Merwe' or 'Philemon' jokes or mocking Indian and black accents, but that's no excuse not to recognise that it's wrong and perpetuates racism. If your family, or friends, or colleagues make these jokes, or use terms like "they" and "those people" or refer to people of other races using derogatory terms, speak up. Before you say something about another race in your inner circle/bubble/comfort zone, ask yourself if you would say this in front of a person of that race, or on a public social media platform, and if the answer is no, stop saying those things. You might lose friends, colleagues or even family members when you speak out against racism but in the long term, you'll be a better person for it.

  1. Cultural appropriation is a form of oppression. Cultural appreciation is a form of respect. There's a lot of information out there on both. Figure out the difference so you know what's acceptable and what's not.

  1. Raise your children based on all of the above and practice equality in and out of your home. Children are a reflection of the adults who surround them so be the person you want them to be. You're not doing your child any favours by raising them to judge, or worse, hate other races, but you will open up the world to them if you teach and show them what is right. They will be part of and not against the transformation of South African society that is needed to get rid of the racial tension that lurks everywhere and keeps rearing its ugly head.

Sholain Govender-Bateman is a Pretoria-based new media journalism lecturer, former The Star and Pretoria News journalist and editor of magazines. She is mum to two girls, Isobel and Aishwari, and wife to Barry Bateman. Follow her on Twitter: @sholain