What if White people were criminals too?

Now before you think I’m throwing stones, let me first remind you that I do live in a proverbial glass house here, I too have deeply ingrained prejudice that is at times very difficult to shake, so I write this now more to explore my own thoughts than anything else. But before I get ahead of myself, let me first set the scene. It is not too late on a Saturday evening, my hand is curled comfortably around an oversized glass of wine, two sleeping dogs fit themselves into the shape of my bent legs, emitting a groan of happiness when an ear is scratched or when a more comfortable spot is found and Johnny Clegg plays in the background. It was a still, quiet night with but without preamble, the calm is broken and the dogs are mobilised, an errant paw finding the softness of my leg to spring off from, leaving me muttering under my breath and rubbing my leg as I follow them to see what the commotion is about. The dogs are on high alert, barking and eager to be let out and when I reach the gate I see two people running away. The sight chills me to the bone, I make a hasty retreat towards the house calling the dogs and locking the security gate once we’re all safely inside. My eyes are fixed outside as I hurriedly tell Husband what I saw.

In the moments before I can take any decisive action, Husband is bounding through the door shoeless and armed with nothing other than his wit. I call after him in vain as the darkness envelops him. Before I can locate my phone to call the police, Husband is back inside the house. He tells me that there were some youngsters running around in our complex. Three white youngsters to be exact. I pick up my phone to check our complex WhatsApp chat and there is a frosty silence. Yes, these are the same people who said that my mother was a “suspicious person” when she waited in a parked car outside the complex. Yes, these people are the same ones who posted about similarly “suspicious” people seen driving around our neighbourhood. And yes, in all of these instances, the people under suspicion were people of colour. Maybe that’s just a co-incidence but I can’t possibly be that naïve. Clearly my neighbours are always on high alert, but clearly this level of “alertness” does not cater for those who are blatantly not of criminal disposition. And of course, for those of us not able to understand the criminal mind, we can always use race as a proxy. A bunch of white teenagers running around was not cause for concern but what would happen if I took the word “white” out of the equation?

I think I know why this one incident is something I wanted to write about. Because at the core of this matter, something bothers me. Something bothers me when we associate “right” and “wrong” based on colour. Right: White teenagers having fun. Wrong: Black people livings their lives (driving a car, parking outside a complex). I know that I said this was not about throwing stones, and it isn’t. If I walk the streets of an area known to be particularly unsavoury and a Black man walks towards me, I know that I am more likely to clutch my bag closer to my chest than if it was a man of any other colour. Why? Well I can rationalise this to say that statistically we expect more Black criminals than any other race group because Black people form over 80% of our population, but there is a hollow placation in that. The truth, as we hear our parents and grandparents speak it, is that prejudice runs deeply in our country. Apartheid media taught many people that Black people were savages, turning to violence at the drop of a hat and that in actual fact Black people could never really fully be integrated into a “civilised” society. If you listen carefully to the embedded prejudice of those from generations before, you will hear it in their words. I am not making excuses for this either, none of us should. It upsets me this feeling, living amongst my colour fearing neighbours, this feeling of being less than. As if I have to catch up, as if I have something to prove, every interaction a test to see if I am human. I don’t know what the solution is but I certainly know that it does not start with silence.

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