“I’ll stop talking about racism when racism stops!”

“I’ll stop talking about racism when racism stops!”

Terence Pillay says he’s so tired of racism. Have we not evolved sufficiently as a nation to throw our efforts into building, rather than breaking down, he asks.

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A few weeks ago I went to a kid’s party venue to enquire about booking it for my niece’s birthday party. As I walked towards the office, a kid’s party was on the go right in front of the office. The mother of the child whose party it was snarled and said, “I think you’re at the wrong party!”

Her tone made a switch flip in my head. “And what party is it that you assume I should be at?” 

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There is so much blatant racism around at the moment; people aren’t even bothering to be subtle about it anymore like they used to. Last week, the Adam Catzavelos video surfaced and caused outraged among South Africans. In it, Catzavelos used the k-word to describe black South Africans and faced the wrath of millions of people on social media.

He then issued an apology, and someone on Twitter went through it with a red pen and changed wherever he was doing a lame attempt at an apology, for example: “I’m really sorry I’m such a bad person and I didn’t mean to upset anyone” – they crossed it out and changed it to “I’m really sorry I’m such a racist and I didn’t mean to offend black people”, and made it very specific.

If you read his entire apology, nowhere does he use the word racist or black. And this person on Twitter just edited it and wrote racist, racist, racist, and racist over the lame attempt. So was the apology actually an apology?

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In the case of the woman at the kid’s party, I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to decipher what her intention was with her unsolicited interaction with me. But I can only go on how it made my skin crawl. And I felt angry. Rage even.

If her intention was honourable, then the exchange would have went something like: “Are you here for Lucy’s party?” And I would have said, “No I’m here just to enquire about the venue.” And that would have ended there – as opposed to this hateful tone in which she accused me of being at the wrong party. She didn’t even consider that I might have been there for something else, which would not have been any of her business in the first place.

The thing is: if we don’t want to have a nation of Adam Catzaveloses, we shouldn’t raise our children to be Adam Catzavelos. We need to consciously raise our children better. If we want our children not to be racist, then stop being racist in front of them. And we need to go back to the beginning and ask: do these lunatic, fringe, racist South Africans really want their children not to be racist? It would appear not. How do young people who have grown up in an integrated society still hold these views? It can only come from their parents. Unless they grew up under a cardboard box in Stalwart Simelane Street, they’ve learned this behaviour. They were raised in homes with influential parents that passed down these values and this woman at the kid’s party, whatever her intentions, wasn’t’ sensitive enough to the implications of what she was saying and doing. And if I confronted her further on it, my bet is she would have passed the blame saying that I was being too sensitive.

If we want to move forward we all need to make an effort. We need to reprogram our brains. And it starts with building new relationships, giving people time, bringing them into our lives, and having an understanding that we have shared values. Everybody wants a future for their children, a roof over their heads, food in their mouths, and real opportunities. Unflinchingly, I can tell you that, unless you’re a complete sociopath, and they do exist in the fringes of society, the vast majority of ordinary people in this country just want a better future for their children. The same as people who live in privilege and relative wealth want a prosperous better future for their children; people living in poverty want the same.

By defining ourselves as an “in” group and an “out” group is not helpful. Otherwise you must just pack your bags and go. You are either going to be part of the solution or part of the problem. So, if you’re going to be part of the problem, I don’t want to deal with you. We have enough on our plate as a country to deal with and so we shouldn’t be fighting and wasting our time and energy trying to deal with this nonsense. We need to be building and rebuilding - that’s where our energy needs to go. It’s not helpful to have to spend an entire week tweeting about some new racist that emerges. We could be tweeting about young girls going into mechanical engineering. We could be tweeting about building hope.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know what the answer is not. The answer is not to ferment racism in our families. The answer is not to believe everything you hear or see on Facebook or Twitter – check the facts. The answer is to build this country back up again.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts.

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