By Mosima Matlala
Mosima finds herself in trouble when her ‘Boer-soek-‘n-vrou-esque’ boyfriend repeatedly makes racist statements in front of her and she has to decide how to confront him about the issue.
If there is one person who has embraced the spirit of Ubuntu, democracy and freedom, it would be me. I have dated an Indian man, been with a couple English men, even crossed boarders and had a whirlwind love affair with a tall, sexy, blonde haired, blue eyed Belgian man. Sigh.
But some how I have managed to find myself for the past month sharing a bed with an Afrikaans man, from the Free State nogal.
On top of that, he is not particularly good looking or charming. He bares hair on his pastey white skin everywhere: his back, his neck, his potbelly and chest. His English is of a shady standard and his dress code worse than that. How the hell did we get here?
The simplest answer is that I’m having a major Charlotte moment. For all the Sex and the City fans, we will all remember the moment Charlotte met Harry. But for those unfamiliar with the show, Harry is a slob and Charlotte is the picture of class but somehow Charlotte finds herself in love with Harry. Yep, HUGE Charlotte moment. And like Charlotte I have learned to accept the things I cannot change, but at times I have been caught off guard.
Three weeks into our relationship he said he loved me over the phone. My reply: “okay babe, I’ll talk to you later.” Shucks! Crisis averted. It will still be six weeks into our relationship when we go visit his sick mom. There’s no phone between us so I meekly responded yes.
But there are some things that make me grit my teeth in agony and I lose all control of the self and want to punch him square in the mouth.
The first race card he dropped was about my ex-Indian boyfriend. I guess I had a role to play as I initially am the one that referred to his race but I was never ready for what was about to be said. “Yah, what were you doing with an Indian [and I highlight] all those people are full of s***.”
My first reaction was to laugh and mid-laughter the Biko in my head pointed out what a racist comment that was. I quickly stifled my laughs but I didn’t know how to approach the situation. So I quickly changed subjects and continued with some light conversation. And I mean what was I tripping about? He wasn’t exactly racist to me…
Again my breath was taken away when he mentioned something about Jeremy Clarckson. The Top Gear presenter, was caught driving in a taxi. In South Africa those are mini buses that always seem to be over packed with passengers and recklessly (but always efficiently) zig zag the roads of our country.
As we quietly both do our morning ritual of reading the news, he laughs loudly at this particular piece. I ask what was so funny and he nonchalantly says, “That presenter on top gear was driving a taxi. You know, like the ones you people take.”
My inner Shaniqua stands up in my brain and I am ready to cuss him out when Mandela walks in and grabs Shaniqua by the hand and tells her to settle down.
As I have this mental warfare going on, I lay quiet as I try to stop the ringing of the words “you people” that resound so loudly in my ear. With the fight between Shaniqua and Mandela in my head and this loud gong in my ear, I lay paralyzed as I start to laugh with him. Biko stands firmly in the corner of my brain and shakes his head and again I quickly stifle my laughs and change the topic of conversation…
For everyone that knows me well, they will be aware of my undying and devoted love for my very black doll named Siphokazi. As I grow older my broodiness has been overwhelming and so with deep shame I admit to have stolen the doll from a two year old.
In walks my boyfriend and climbs into bed with me as Siphokazi lies warmly under the covers. I stick her out and shout “papa!!!” as I put her over his chest. He looks at the doll for a second and then tosses her on the floor.
The utter devastation! I’m still mad at him tossing my doll on the floor when I hear him say, “That baby is not mine, where would I get a black baby from?”
Biko who had quietly been sitting in the corner now walks forward with a slow clap. He is mocking me. I try shake it off but Shaniqua struts to join him and she too waits to see what I will do. Mandela advocates peace: I encourage myself, give him the right cheek. But he too nods his head in shame and says, “27 years…”
I pause and collect my very black baby and look him straight in the face and ask him what kind of babies he thinks he’s going to have. I say this sternly but I don’t give my anger away.
He says, “It would be nice to have twins with blue eyes and blonde hair like their dad.”
I am in shock and the black activist party in my head starts to grow. In the crowd I see Malcom x, Rosa Parks, Thambo and Walter Sisulu and I am filled with an awkward unfamiliar feeling of resent.
“Steve you do get that I’m black, right?” I say a little too loudly, and he responds quite childishly with a “duh.”
I don’t know if it was the “duh” that set me off or the fact that a 31 year old just said that, or that as seven years my senior he does not see the issue at hand or a culmination of everything above but it was then when I had to break my silence.
“Steve, you are actually racist and what you just said was offensive and inappropriate. Nxa! Sies!!!” (I made sure to make my nxa click extra hard and my sies to be full of insult).
He stares at me in utter disbelief and and asks why I’m so angry.”Do you think what you said was politically correct? If you are looking for a Susan with long hair and blue eyes then you are wasting your time here.”
I walk away angrily and decide that I have said enough. But was that it?
Steve is not the only culprit here. Everyday everyone makes some sort of racial comment that is borderline hate speech. It’s a culture so often practiced people are immune to jabs at their own race and especially when someone refers to a different race.
“You people” or referring to someone by their race should not be a norm in the country. We need to strive to all embrace the spirit of Ubuntu. A spirit of oneness.
So you do not need to wait till your boyfriend throws your black doll on the floor to protest, what I have learned to do is let the person see the mistake on their own by probing them with questions and asking them to elaborate on their racist comments. A polite, “I’m not sure what you mean by you people” goes a long way.
My boyfriend might be wonderful in that he buys me relaxer for my hair and takes giant (some times uncomfortable) steps to get to know me better within my blackness, but he does not get to insult me and “my people” cause I’m “a better black” (a term I should leave right there for the moment).
Rhodes has fallen and we have the headstones of people that fought in the struggle. Let’s not continue oppressing ourselves with silence for fear of offending someone. The time to speak up is now.