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A Sign Of The Times

segregationI had a bright yellow blanket – Blankie (not very original). It had soft, satin edging that I would rub against my top lip while sucking my thumb. Everywhere I went, Blankie went. We were inseparable. When I stood under the washing line, Blankie flapping in the breeze; good and clean and fresh tra-la-la, my mom decided something had to be done. Blankie was cut up into Blanklets, which meant that one was always in the wings, when another was in the wash, or lost.

It was a Sunday afternoon. My dad had taken me out walking in veld; the pale winter Transvaal sun on our skin, the tickle of tall, dry grasses around our legs. At some point I dropped my blankie but sounded the alarm too late. My dad turned around just in time to see two young black boys run off with it. When we got home, I burst into the kitchen, flung my arms around my mom, shrieking, “The flater-boys stole my blankie”. I was two and couldn’t quite get my tongue around “native”. It could have been worse. It could have been coon or kaffir.

The thing is; I had always considered my parents to be liberal, certainly more liberal than the Afrikaaners. They treated our maid well. Sarah was one of the family, except that she was only allowed to use the peppermint-green enamel plate, bowl and mug. She lived on the property, except it was a back room, and her shower was in the toilet. She could come and go as she pleased, except she had to use the service entrance. And, she couldn’t really come and go as she pleased, could she?

As a young South African growing up in the late 70s and 80s there was a lot I didn’t question, there was a lot I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice that there were only whites on the beaches in Durban in the Christmas holidays. I didn’t realise that the bomb drills at primary school were because there was a State of Emergency and we were too close to Alex for anyone’s comfort. I did know there were toilets for whites and toilets for blacks at Eastgate, but I didn’t know there were different coaches on the trains, different rows on the busses. I only heard about the pencil test well into my twenties. Ignorance is bliss.

And now?

I rebuke my parents who exist in some sort of racist overdrive. Words like kaffir, coon, and native aren’t tolerated anymore; black doesn’t feel PC, so now it’s just “they”. “They” broke into the neighbour’s house. “They” shot the guy down the street. “They” are causing trouble at work. “They” give shit service at the mall. You know the drill. They won’t say it, but we know what they’re thinking. The signs aren’t there anymore, but the words are. Perhaps that was the dialogue all along, when the adults were talking. And I’m ashamed.

A few months ago, my car was broken into, in my secure parking lot, in the middle of the night. I called my dad and shrieked down the phone, “the flater-boys stole my car radio, my gym bag, my Havaianas …”

My life lesson.

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  1. October 7th, 2009 at 11:37 | #1

    I think that probably every single one of us who had a domestic working for their family could recall that sort of treatment of the domestic. We were very liberal and God-fearing and we treated everyone with equal amounts of respect and decency…until you actually think about it.

  2. avatar
    Cloudgazer
    October 7th, 2009 at 12:24 | #2

    So true. The faux-kindness and politeness was just a veneer to hide people’s actions/apathy.
    And yes Wends you’re right, this whole ‘they’ thing is an attempt to be PC and stay away from the word black… as if it actually makes a difference.

  3. October 7th, 2009 at 16:48 | #3

    When you speak to the older whites, it’s always awkward to hear them belligerently refer to “you people.”

    Then again, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you?
    .-= Good Charlie´s last blog ..Awulethe iPolygamy Yami… =-.

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  1. October 6th, 2009 at 05:04 | #1
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