RUBY HEALING: How SA’s young, white people can help fight racism
When I was eight years old, I was getting into my mom’s car when I pointed out the fact that a woman was buckling her daughter into the backseat of her car. I was surprised that a lady who ‘looked like that’ could have stuff like ‘daddy’s car’. My dad owned a silver Mercedes at the time and I was shocked to see that a black women could own something I knew my dad paid a lot of money for. Shocked, my mom replied: “Everyone can have the same stuff, Ruby.”
I’ve looked back on the memory and realised I asked this because I’d grown up watching black people have less than white people, primarily on TV, in books and at school.
I was 10 the first time I heard the n-word. A white girl at my school said it and understandably there was uproar from the students, but not from any staff member. Because I didn’t know, I asked why it was a problem. It was not like my school was going to handle it, so the black girls explained it to me.
People had to be offended before we were told why something was unacceptable, when the entire situation could have been avoided if there was education on the subject. Children at school had to explain racism to me, not the adults. Too many times, I’ve seen racism happen in the school environment, but instead of the people in charge dealing with the conflict, they make sure no one on the outside hears about. If you don’t want to talk about racism, then you, my friend, are the problem.
Now, 16 and in lockdown, I’m finally becoming socially and politically aware.
Years before the lockdown, I joined my school’s debating team, willingly read ahead in history textbooks and listened when my mom spoke about stories she edited in the newsroom where she works. I’m privileged to go to a racially diverse school with a friend group that is just as diverse. Most mornings, I storm into my mom’s room, shouting and banging my hands on whatever I can find, updating her on the bad news I’ve read scrolling through social media.
The outbreak of COVID-19 kept me locked inside my house. With schools closed, I was spending more time on the internet. I heard the news right after it happened and had more time to research events and concepts.
I did more reading up on apartheid, which if I had to explain in a sentence it would be: apartheid was legal racism. Yet somehow, we still imagine the events of apartheid to happen in black and white, like an old movie, making it seem as if it happened 100 years ago. But it was only 26 years ago that democracy came to South Africa. A cycle of poverty continues for decades, so people are still dealing with the repercussions of apartheid and slavery.
I’m sure we all know about the Black Lives Matter movement that started in America and has led to protests across the world. It wasn’t simply about the unjust killing of George Floyd. To borrow an analogy from my history teacher: gas had been building up in a room with closed doors and no windows. Then a match was lit in that room. The very beginning of oppression and discrimination was the gas build-up, and George Floyd’s murder was the match which ignited the flames of protest.
We’ve all faced some sort of discrimination in our lives due to our gender, race, sexuality, religion, abilities or even socio-economic status. But imagine if that prejudice and hatred led to your death or that of your loved ones?
Racism and police brutality do not only happen in America. Police brutality rates have gone up in South Africa during lockdown and Collins Khosa was killed for drinking on private property by the very people that were supposed to protect citizens from people like them.
I recently finished reading Dear Martin, a book written by Nic Stone about a black kid in a primarily white environment and the daily racism he faces. There’s a part in the book where a black father has to explain to his black son that he will not be treated equally in this world.
Despite white people in South Africa being the minority, my parents didn’t have to have that conversation with me because they knew I’d be treated just fine when it came to my race. But imagine having to explain to your child that while on paper you have the same rights as everyone else, you will not be treated that way? I will never know what it’s like to be racially discriminated against, but I’ll read more books, listen to my friends to try my best to gain perspective.
There is no such thing as one racist in a group of people, a family or a friend circle. Racism is taught, not something you’re born feeling, and we drift towards those who we have common ground with. And so it goes on for infinity.
Sadly, racism in South Africa didn’t vanish after apartheid.
But what can we, the youth of South Africa, do to fight against inequality?
Learn. Pay attention, get informed. What is racism? What is the history of racism?
Listen. If you’re white, listen to the people of colour around you. You don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated against for your race, and neither do I. So listen.
Speak. If you want change, then actually do something to change it. If you have white privilege, then use it to speak up for those who are constantly silenced.
Encourage your school to inform the students. Often, hate and prejudice are continued due to an unwillingness to educate. Religion or ‘discomfort’ are no excuse for adults to fail to teach acceptance, or a reason to discriminate against others.
Parental figures may be racist, and their children are likely to follow the path of racism as that is what they’ve grown up with. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but the pain caused by racism outweighs the discomfort of unlearning bad behaviour and attitudes.
Change cannot start from the top when those at the top are racist, so perhaps the biggest changes must start from the bottom.
Be the generation that gets to tell your children that no one is allowed to treat different human beings differently.
Ruby Healing is a 16-year-old grade 10 pupil from Ekurhuleni. She’s fascinated by history and all things political.