I’m middle row, third. This is a teacher who always pronounced my name to rhyme with Mandy. (PSA for my overseas readers. An African A, as in my name Thandi, is a short U as an in cup.) She irritated me for not knowing that, being in AFRICA, you know. But I never had the courage to correct her.
Two years before this class photo was taken, my friend and I were lying down on the grass one night, holding hands, looking at the sky and talking about boys.
Now, to set the context. I’d moved to the Junior school when the law now allowed Black children to go to White schools. The independent school Id been going to was too expensive. She’s the first friend I made there. She was White. I’ll call her Lily. It was a weird time. There were threats of violence against Black children who dared attend White schools, so I used to walk from Rondebosch to Mowbray bus rank choosing where to walk based on if there were cars parked on the side of the pavement so that if some angry White man shot at me, I could try dodge the bullets behind the car.
I remember reading an angry letter in the You magazine at round about the same time. An irate White woman complaining that the TV ads were shoving nonsense down our throats. She took umbrage at one ad that portrayed children of different races being friends. “That’s impossible! A Black will NEVER be befriended by a White child. Why are they trying to bring the races together. Black people must know their place.”
Meanwhile, I was even sharing the same bath as Lily and being invited to wrap my arms around her step-dad to go try out his new motorbike like the rest of the family was doing. I wished I could send this Re schist letter writer a photo! I even brought her to the township! So THERE, racist lady. When love exists, nothing is impossible between the races-or so I thought my friend and I agreed on.
She’s the friend who at age 12 pointed out that our teacher hated me purely because I’m Black.
We felt the same – race didn’t matter. I assumed we were aligned on race not mattering because we never discussed race except one other time when she said one of the reasons her mom divorced her dad was because he was racist. I thought that meant she knew there should be no difference between opportunities she had, versus the ones I had.
Our choir was putting on a production with a boys’ school choir. I think they only had like two Black boys in the entire choir. As we lay on the grass, she commented on some boy she had a crush on. And then said something like, “It’s a pity there are only two boys for you to choose from.”
My brain froze.
I thought I was entitled to all the boys. Whether Black, Coloured, Chinese, White… Why would I only have the ‘right’ to date within my race? If she could kiss me on my cheek, if we could bath together, if her mom could trust me enough to lend me her books and let her come into Gugulethu soon after another young White woman was murdered by angry Black people, why couldn’t I experience the same closeness but romantically, with a man?
It bothered me.
Was I not good enough to be the girlfriend of someone of her race?
I never asked. I wish I had confronted her and asked why I could only have the Black boys.
My aunt is married to a White German. Maybe that’s why for me it was a given that all races can fall in love with each other. Maybe it just hadn’t occurred to her that if she found me good enough to be her best friend, that a White man could find me attractive enough to be his girlfriend. Maybe it was outside the realm of her experience so she assumed it wasn’t possible for romantic love. Maybe she thought White people couldn’t find Black people sexually attractive? I don’t know. I really really hope it was just because it was because she had never seen it so it had never occurred as a possibility.
We had an elderly man at our church who insisted that the races should not intermarry. He said it would harm the biracial children. He was White.
I wish I could ask them how they feel. If they feel it would have been better to be fully White or fully Black rather than mixed. Is it harmful to the children? I really want to know.
I know being Black is harmful but we can’t change our own genes. And I know it’s tough for White parents and children who are facing university systems that are redressing past wrongs by giving first preference to Black applicants.
I really DO wonder.
If I’d had a White boyfriend and married him and made children with him, would it have been worse for our children to be mixed than it us for my Black children? Would my husband have fetishised me like some men fetishise their non-White partners, or would we have been equals?
I saw in the UK that the White men THERE (more than here) didn’t have my friend’s mindset. I was fair game. I was visible to them in a way I’m not ‘visible’ to White men here, they saw me as a woman worth having-romantically. Not that I go around looking for White men. But the British men there were so blatant and comments showing attraction were so common that it stood out as compared to my own country and how to most White men here, I’m invisible in that way.
I know for sure that not a few mixed race couples get abused by racists here. I was saved from that by marrying a Black man. My cousin who sent that photo yesterday married a White Brit. They’ve not been abused like they be here. (From what I’ve heard.)
In the same way I wish racism would end, I wish anti mixed race relationship hatred would end. Strength to the couples who are verbally abused or treated less than. And to the family members who didn’t want my cousin to marry a White man because it showed she thought she thought she was better than the rest of us, that’s sad. That says you think you’re inferior.
You are not.
Inter race relationship hatred is so bad that my friend had to stop kissing her Black adopted daughter goodbye when taking her to school. Then she had to drop her off round the corner so the children wouldn’t see her being dropped off. All because school children were mocking her child.
The media shows a lot of transracial adoption. For these children to still have it ingrained in their heads that familial love can only exist between members of one race and if not, it’s perverse, is sad.
I wonder if my friend could have brought herself to adopt a Black child.
Maybe I don’t want to know the answer.
If we can’t be husband and wife, can we be mother and child?
I know the Blacks whose comments I see on gossip rags don’t like Black marrying White. But I don’t knows if they are the majority view.
What I know is this. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. For me, SKIN COLOUR will never be the reason why I’d not allow someone to be my future son or daughter-in-law. I would have adopted a child of any race. Colour should never stop families from forming. And if biracial people do suffer, would they suffer as much if everyone was non-racist? Or is much of the harm coming from outsiders with attitude versus from within?
Let love win.
Dear angry letter writer, the media was not pushing an impossible and disgusting agenda.
That ad… That ad was pushing love.