A racist is a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
Growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid era, I didn’t get much exposure to black people. The only ones I came across were domestic workers or gardeners. They couldn’t speak much English and seemed to be uneducated.
It’s funny how not being able to speak a language prejudices people against you. In those days there were a lot of Portuguese people in Brakpan where I lived. They would stand in shopping queues and hold up everybody as they fumbled to find the right money and didn’t understand what the tellers were saying. I thought they were stupid.
It was only when my family went one holiday to Lorenço Marques, now Maputo, when the shoe was on the other foot. I couldn’t understand a word of Portuguese and I fumbled in my purse for the right money. I was holding up the queue. It was my turn to feel stupid.
While at University our SCA group held a camp including black students. I realized that black people are not stupid. It shocked me that some of my new-found friends couldn’t go to movies with me because the cinemas were “whites only.”
As I’ve grown up I have made a conscious effort to snuff out any remaining prejudice. I try to treat black people with kindness and respect.. Through the Gideons my husband and I have made some lovely black friends. And let me tell you they are often more committed Christians than we are. However, going out of your way to be nice to black people might also be construed as racist.
I read a blog post once telling the story of how a man thought he was not racist. One day he saw a black man painting a wall. He went over to him and said, “You’re doing a great job.”
The black man stared at him for a bit and then asked, “Would you have said that to me if I was a white man?”
The author realised that by complimenting the man for doing a menial job which anybody could do implied that he thought blacks were normally incompetent.
I’ve tried to find this blog post without success. If anybody else knows who wrote it, please let me know.
My epiphany came in the last week. I was walking along a corridor at school past where a black builder was laying bricks along the side of a classroom. A learner in grade 8 or 9 was coming in the opposite direction.
He greeted me, “Good morning Ma’m.”
Then he greeted the builder, “Good morning Sir.”
I was taken aback, almost shocked. He was tarring me with the same brush as the builder! Then I came to myself. Of course, that’s exactly the way it should be. A teenager shows respect to people older than himself. Excellent! What good manners!
The reason I was shocked shows that I still have some racism in myself to snuff out. I thought I was better than the builder. Perhaps it was not so much racism as classism. I wouldn’t have blinked if it had been a black teacher the boy was addressing. Whatever the case may be, the Bible teaches us that we are all equal in Christ. (Gal 3:28)
So I confess that, like others in our church, I am a recovering racist.