Now I am far from perfect but there are few things that aggravate me more than:
- People who say “I’m not racist, but…” and then proceed to contradict themselves (these are perhaps also the same folks who like to tell you how they “have a Black /White /Indian /Coloured friend” or how much they like curry)
- Speaking in questions. “Like, OMG I was so embarrassed?” I want to blame it on the Kardashians who seem to make it popular to be dumb but I feel this problem lies far deeper (maybe all of life really is a question?)
- Saying “that’s so funny” instead of laughing (makes me want to pull my hair out just thinking about it)
Ok, I’m not saying that I am not annoyed about the deeper stuff (how our government fails us, the state of education, how to remove mildew from your shower) but these seem to be top of mind today. Recently I met someone who said to me “Wow, that’s funny. I didn’t know Indian people had a sense of humour”, okay I admit that if there was a hint of sarcasm in his voice I would have probably just laughed but this poor guy was unfortunately serious! I want to describe him as he stood there looking at me, slowing blinking, as a moron but here is the sad reality; it is likely that his limited interracial interaction had fashioned a stereotype the South African Indian and his perception of me clearly ran counter to this generalisation. It was also clear that he thought himself as a bit of a daredevil to approach the strange contradiction and to confront it head on.
Of course I was annoyed, angry even (can you imagine what a blood bath there would have been had he spoke in questions and said “that’s so funny” in a deadpan voice?). I wanted to slap some sense into him and ask him whether he had been living under a rock but then I realised that he probably had been. He probably grew up in a “White area”, he probably went to a “White school” where all his friends where White. I suspect that his family had a Black domestic worker but that being a bit older me; he never really had much interaction with other races at school. All of a sudden I felt like an elusive animal in the zoo, the slinky leopard that is so rarely seen that when you do spot it you are mesmerised and intrigued. Well, of course you don’t go telling a leopard that you’re surprised that it is a cat but we’ll ignore that for now.
It surprised me how easily my anger transformed into pity. I pitied this man whose sad life meant that he saw someone as boring as I am, as “exotic”, whose sad life meant that he did not know or appreciate the diversity of our beautiful country. Sure I was raised in an Indian area, I went to an Indian school, I mainly had Indian friends growing up but that did not stop me from realising that the world is much bigger than my backyard. Clearly this poor guy did not see that and from the moment I pitied him something else happened, I also knew instantaneously that I was better than him. I was not better based on my race or gender or by virtue of any characteristic I had entered the world with; I was better because I did not have his blindness. I don’t want to say anything as cliche as “I don’t see colour”, we all do. I see the blondness in your hair, the colour of your eyes. I envy the curve of your hip, the colour of your skin. The point is not that we should be colour blind but that we should embrace our differences instead of using them as a way to divide us.
Perhaps, in a way, his interaction with me helped to improve his sight, perhaps it cracked the mould he had created and provided opportunity for new thoughts and ideas. Or perhaps, he was just the kind of guy who couldn’t see the cat in the leopard.