When This Christian Became Black

I’ve always viewed myself as a Christian. That was my only identity. Christian. I’m the girl who spoke to her guardian angel on campus as I walked alone. And the deeper my knowledge of Who God was, the stronger my identity was as a Christian.

I was a female..a mom. A Christian mom. A Christian woman.

Until White people told me they didn’t see woman, they saw Black. And not in a neutral or positive way. Because you CAN see colour and it not be negative. “Not seeing colour” is not something to pat yourself on the back about. My simplest example is my high school Afrikaans teacher. )Afrikaans is a language that came from Dutch colonisers who bastardized their Dutch language and mixed it with some African words. (That’s what I believe anyway!) During class one day, she suddenly remonstrated with my classmates. She told them, “Look at Thandi! She’s doing so well in Afrikaans, she’s getting better marks than YOU! Yet YOU only speak English! She’s Black! She knows African languages too, yet she has the time and motivation to study Afrikaans and do well in it! Come on girls, what’s your excuse!?”

She saw my colour. She saw what my colour MEANS to me. It means knowing my mother tongue, my father tongue, English, AND Afrikaans..and French. She knew my colour, my Heritage had an impact on my upbringing, background and experiences. And it made her respect me.

She saw colour. In a positive way. (For me.)

Obviously I knew I was Black. But I never fitted in as one. At school, I was the only one. At the pre-school in our township where my mom was principal, I was amongst my people. But when I sang in their Black accent, my mother disapprovingly shouted at me to “sing properly.” (Ie, with a White accent.) So, I didn’t talk like a typical Black person.

My hair was long. Most of the little township girls (and boys) had shaven heads. I assume to prevent lice? Their parents were both speaking the same language, so their home language was (usually) isiXhosa. Which the children spoke too, and spoke at school and HEARD at school. On the other hand, I had a moSotho father whose wife spoke isiXhosa. I went to English crèches and spoke English. It was my first language.

I never FELT Black though we shared the same experiences. Our Christianity also took us away from African ancestral beliefs. I didn’t wear amulets to protect me from witchcraft. I didn’t have cuts in my forehead like some people got-not sure why they got it but I know it had to do with traditional beliefs. I didn’t have animal pelt belts around my waist to protect me from evil. I ate pap and offal, but I didn’t drink umqombothi. (African traditional beer.)

So yes, I was just me. A Christian woman. Till the Bayside incident I referenced in a previous post. And till we moved to Moorreesburg, a town 100km from Cape Town. Afrikaner kingdom-we just didn’t know. We wanted a rural, country-like place. But not far from Cape Town where my husband worked. Yes, 100km one way actually WAS far! Doh!

The agent who sold me the house was fine. I viewed and chose the houses. Husband joined me in signing the papers. We had a palisade fence which we didn’t really like as we’re quite private as a homeschooling family whose children were outside a lot. The day we moved in, we were outside in the garden. My husband was washing the car that late Sunday afternoon. Suddenly, one by one, cars drove up to our T-junction where we lived on the corner. The people -all White-would look at us, then make a u-turn and go down the street again instead of turning right. (Left was a short street then a farm.) It was eerie! And scary. They kept driving up to our house then turning around. Some did drive and turn right and not make it obvious that they had come to observe us. I felt like we were in the Deep South of America. (Wow, just typing about it makes me emotional.)

Maybe one or two greeted us when we took walks. But others studiously avoided making eye contact. Like, NEVER! We’d greet, and they’d keep looking away from us. They looked so stupid, craning their necks away from us. Same thing happened where we later moved to.

But their stupidity was so hurtful.

Like I was dog poop.

I remember once at the co-op, some Afrikaner did say something.

He asked why I spoke English “so nicely. Who taught” me? I hate those questions. Especially coming from people who don’t know an African language while living in Africa. It implies that only the White way of speaking it is good. My husband has been asked that. By an Afrikaner. But he was also asked to TEACH the Afrikaner English, as he doesn’t know it, but only knows Afrikaans. THAT’s different.

Coloured children started harassing my children. They stole their bicycles that my sister in law had bought them. They followed my children and made monkey noises at them. This one hurts too and tightens my stomach muscles as I type. A neighbour had to intervene when they started throwing stones at my children.😭

There was a group of children that used to play outside our yard every day after school. One Coloured girl and a mixed group of White children. One day, one little White boy asked to come in and play with mine. I knew.. I knew that if his parents knew, it would be the end of his ever coming to play by our house again.

But what could I say? My children were so happy that finally a child wanted to play with them. My house was clean and roomy. How could I say no when I love children and that’s what country life is like? All children are meant to belong to everybody.

So I let the boy in. He was so happy. He spoke only Afrikaans. My children spoke only English. But they understood each other.

His mom eventually came looking for him. She inspected every single room as I led her to the back where they were swinging. If tried to keep them out in the front where they were visible, but he’d wanted to play everywhere. She didn’t say much.

And I was right. Never again did that boy play outside our yard ever again.

Adults teaching children to hate. For no d—n reason. (Apologies to my Christian friends.) I love children. To do this to them. To make them learn to cause pain like the one they’ve caused me..unimaginable.

A month after we’d moved in, a man who was watering his lawn called us over as we walked past. “Welcome! Welcome! You must be the new neighbours! You’re the first Black people to live here! Ignore the others. They are racist. You are welcome!” (So he KNEW! We weren’t just imagining it as so many White people like to claim when we feel racism pouring off their skin like bloody stigmata.) He proceeded to tell us how when he’s in Johannesburg for work, he lives in Hillbrow (a very Black township.) He was telling us that he knows what it’s like to be the only one. Except Black people generally venerate White people who choose to live amongst them. We almost worship them. It’s different to being HATED and alone.

He offered us his gardening equipment should we ever need to borrow anything. Shook our hands again and called his wife to come meet us.

It was the ONLY positive thing that ever happened to us in Moorreesburg.

One Saturday as we took a drive, we were followed by police who had been parked outside a shop. They followed us out of the little town, across the highway and stopped us on a dirt road. I’d seen my husband checking in the rear view and kept my eye on them as they kept following us. Happily talking to my children.

I honestly thought they were going to kill u on that empty first road. There was nobody around. 😭My children were asking why police were stopping us. How to explain that they hated us?? They asked my husband for proof of car ownership. How demeaning! A family with two (We had not adopted yet ) children in the car. No car matching our one’s description reported as stolen. Yet they had the nerve to do that. I was scared. And scared my husband would stand up for himself and THEN get shot for being an uppity Black who knows his rights when he shouldn’t have rights -according to the police.

That was it. I was Black. I could not escape it, no matter how Christian I was. They saw my skin, not me. They saw ugliness, not my loving heart. They didn’t see God in me, they saw someone lower than an animal.

And that’s how I became Black. Then Christian. But PROUDLY Black. I was a Black Christian woman. I didn’t choose my skin, God did. And I know what He thinks about hatred. I am secure and confident in who I am in Him. I love all the stereotypically Black things that were pointed out in school or by relatives as negative. My thighs, my hips, my lips, my skin. I can’t stop them hating me and my features. But I rejoice in being fearfully and wonderfully made!

I wish the negative reminders of my Black was ended there. But we decided to move…

One thought on “When This Christian Became Black

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