This is a submission from a white lady who is engaged to a coloured man. As a mixed race couple, they’ve experienced much of they’ve named “casual racism”. The problem is that no racism can be casual when it hurts. This came to a head when her fiancé was racially stereotyped and wrongfully arrested by George local law enforcement yesterday. This is her letter:
I am a resident of the Garden Route which I love very much… but there are some troubling trends that I am hoping to make people more conscious about. It’s quite possible that they are unaware of what they are doing.
On July 23, my fiancé, who happens to be colored, was pulled over by the police who said that his description matched that of a suspect who has just committed a robbery – a black male in a black Volkswagen Golf. As a colored male in a blue Golf, my fiancé was confused at why he “matched the description”.
He never argued because we live in a country where he feels that it is advisable to not be “rude” to the police, especially they already seem to have something against you. He was detained. He waited for the woman who had been robbed to appear, to confirm or deny whether it was him.
I suppose this is just part of the inconvenience of being a person of color – but the worst part was that when a young white woman came to make her identification, all she said was, “I don’t know, they all look the same.”
Completely misguided and uncalled for. It perpetuates racism in its us vs them connotation. It promotes the idea that while one colored or black man may be a thief, there can be no other colored or black men. It does not leave room for people like my fiancé, who is dedicated to service work with the kindest and biggest heart, to exist.
What if she had instead said it could be him, as in her mind it may as well have been since ‘they’ all look the same? He would be in police custody for a crime he didn’t commit.
I know it can be horrible to be the victim of a crime. I sympathize and empathize with those who go through that horrible experience – but PLEASE DON’T LET THAT DEFINE AN ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE.
In this instance, what was done hurt my fiancé’s sense of identity. In fact, it is another instance in a long line of instances that pushes people of color to feel bad about who they are – to feel belittled or marginalized or discriminated against because of something as inconsequential as their skin color. They are made to feel as though their allotted space in South Africa is one where they are cast as a criminal or gangster when, in reality, they could be like my fiancé who strives to improve his community. He’s vehemently against drugs (even alcohol). He’s far more likely to stop to help someone on the side of the road than do them any wrong (and many people who have stuck in Knysna are very grateful to him for this).
This isn’t the first time someone had been rude to him or about him. While driving along the Simola road in Knysna, he’s been called the ‘k word’ by motorcyclists speeding by. He’s been physically assaulted and told he doesn’t belong somewhere. He’s had people continually ask where he works and to give up personal information about himself just for existing in the mostly ‘white area’ that we live in – the assumption being that since no colored person could afford to live there, why is he there?
But this last incident is more severe because it’s not only casually cruel but the kind of racism that could’ve sent him to jail for something he did not do. I hope that there are many who understand that this was a horrifyingly and soul-crushingly unfair.
My wish is for everyone who reads this to pause…
… take a deep breath…
… and consider that a great diversity of humans exists in our wonderful little corner of the world. There are good ones, bad ones, irritating ones, charming ones etc, a great diversity irrespective of color lines.
Our sense of moral obligation and our sense of kindness, humanity and respect do not come from our skin color – they are far deeper qualities than that. If you know this about yourself, please know that it applies to all those around you.
My fiancé is a gentleman. He likes his pasta al dente and he is often caught sneaking cheese to my dog whom he refers to as “our son”. He can discuss economics and international politics with ease but he much prefers to sit and share his meal with someone on the street, professing that dignity and respect for people for who they are gives them more hope than just handouts.
He grew up in a violent ghetto. His parents struggled to put food on the table in that violent place they found themselves in after apartheid forcibly removed from their home. Despite this, my man grew into a deeply kind and caring person, attributes he hangs onto despite facing these weekly challenges.
Recognizing that there is as much diversity within any population is a key component in eradicating harmful stereotypes.
Please think of people when you make statements about them, whether they are there to hear them or not. Judge people on their actions. Judge them harshly if they are bad people! But please refrain from stereotyping, belittling, marginalizing and reducing whole groups of people into one simple thing.
We are not simple. We are beautifully complex. We don’t just all look the same.