Please note this story is not indented as a racist story and I am literally just regurgitating what happened. I feel it’s a story that needs to be told and that race issues are tip toed around way too much.
It was two and a half years ago, one Friday after school when I took Sammy to the chemist (Clicks) to fill his script and grab a couple things. The queue as usual filled with a number of people (probably on the same mission as us). A Mom and her boy, he was 9 and Sammy was about 7 at the time (the image used for the article was around the same time) stood behind us as two tills opened shortly after one another. The lady and her boy stood next to us and started unpacking their goods. We were halfway through ringing up our items and could not help but overhear the conversation taking place at the till next to us. The boy (as boys are) was excitedly chatting to the cashier about his future and this is roughly how the conversation went;
Cashier “Hello how are you today such a big boy”
Boy 9 years old “I am great thanks I am 9 and I go to X School”
Cashier “That’s wonderful what grade are you in”?
(By this time the mom was very proud of her boy as he was so well spoken and confident, I totally get that, I also feel extremely proud when my boy engages in a conversation with an adult and he can “hold his own”. Especially when the adult is actually interested in what my boy has to say. I really, really get it and in the mom’s eyes I recognised that the way she was looking at her boy, is also the way I look at my Sammy when he is being confident and when people take interest in him.
Boy 9 years old (now fully fuelled by all the attention not only from the cashier, but also from the other patrons who were smiling sweetly at him) “I am in grade 4 and when I grow up I want to be in the army.
(By this time my items were all rung up and I was about to pay)
Boy continues “But I don’t want to be in the army in South Africa because the black people took it over. I want to be in the army in Europe. When you go to the army in Europe there are not black people so it’s better”
I immediately, as if I could not help myself, searched the eyes of the cashier (an African lady). What just happened has clearly been such a shocking and hurtful event and statement coming from the young man. I immediately saw how her soft eyes turned to disbelief and then finally anger as she packed the packets for the customer and her stare hardened on her hands.
I briefly searched the mom’s face (and so did all the other patrons as silence has now fallen over the whole cashier desk) she hastily mumbled something barely audible. The discomfort and shame clearly visible and felt everywhere. Literally by everyone.
Sammy through all of this being a curious boy and also witness to the conversation, was janking on my jacket seam. He was indicating that he wanted to ask a question. At that moment I was so uncomfortable that even I was desperately trying to swipe my card and get out of the store. I purposely hushed Sammy as I knew whatever is coming out of his mouth now could potentially just put more fuel on the fire. He never has had any filter.
Grateful to escape outside I asked Sam “yes?” Sammy innocently asked “What is a black person?”
I realized that he didn’t know. He didn’t have a clue what the boy was talking about. His friends are peach and his other friends are brown. He has no black friends. He has no white friends.
So where am I going with this story?
I think there is an incredibly important take away and lesson in this story.
I don’t believe that the boy came to this revelation by himself. This must have been taught to him by his care givers. a Boy does not just naturally form an opinion such as this. This information was fed to him and he was saying it with such conviction that it must have been repeatedly said to him. He is not to blame for what happened here. I don’t think when things like this is told to children, adults realise what incredible damage is being caused.
In South Africa we have an incredibly difficult and challenging history of racism and hate. It’s so bad and destructive and sad that the festering wounds may never actually completely go away. I would just like to make it very clear that I despise getting into political conversations it’s just a topic I don’t enjoy but there is one thing that I know for a fact. We must stop poisoning our country with affirmations to our children about other races. If we don’t stop feeding our children bullshit about race and what “THEY” are doing, what THEY have done to US etc. etc. there will never be true change. It may seem like a small thing and that it would not make a difference but this is the only place to start, at home, teaching our kids, on a very small scale. Small riffles cause big waves. Make sure your small riffle is a positive one.