One of the most entertaining this for me is watching the responses of people who see me (white person) in a “black” village, walking/sitting with different races, inside a taxi, or waiting on the side of the road into or out of my village. I cannot count the number of times a car passes me, then the person inside stares as they drive by….”rubber-necked”, eyes following me intently as they past, head swinging around impossibly far. White or black, the race doesn’t change the surprise at seeing this lekgoa in a place where white people rarely go, though I do notice that white people watch me far more intently. You can see them thinking “WHAT THE HECK?!” and wondering if they need to rescue me.
While I do find this entertaining, and rather enjoy the surprise I give people, how sad is it that racial divides still exist SO strongly in this country? I swear, my normal day involves “going where no white person has gone before, doing what no white person has dared to do before!” This could be the mantra of my superhero alter-ego: Superlekgoa!
The rubber necks I see when South Africans see me in an usual place reflects a dark reality in South Africa: 18 years after Apartheid, there are still strong racial barriers in this country. Arguably, it is worse because now a white/black/coloured/Indian person CAN legally go anywhere they wish, but they CHOOSE not to. The “separate areas” law created during Apartheid no longer exists, but in many areas of the country, it has become a form of customary law, enforced by engrained cultural practices stemming form the oppression of Apartheid.
In the urban areas of SA, this is not as noticeable as in the rural areas. Places have integrated, but generally only one way. “White” neighbourhoods during Apartheid now host various races. But a “black” township? You won’t be finding a white person there.
My service in SA has forced me to think long and hard about race. Heck, everything I do and say is related to my race, and is one of the only representations of white people my village will ever have. I have to filter every single thought and action, viewing it from the eyes of my villagers to ensure I am not reinforcing negative beliefs of white people. It’s exhausting!
On Sunday, when I returned home from Thanksgiving, I was waiting for a ride into my village on the outskirts of the next village over. I was sitting up on a pile of curbs for the soon-to-be tarred road, umbrella in hand to stave of the scorching African sun. A nice white truck drives out from my village, Eskom Energy written on the side, drive by a white guy. He stares at me incredulously, his neck craning around as he drove 270 degrees around me (due to construction). I know he wondered what I was doing there, and was quite obviously concerned for my safety. If he hadn’t been working, he likely would’ve stopped to talk, or even given me a ride home. The disbelief on his face was plainly-written, and I’m sure he went home and told his family about this white girl sitting on a road in the middle of nowhere, waiting to go to this “black” village.
So little has changed for many South Africans in the past 18 years. I laugh at the rubber necks I see. If I didn’t, I’d be very discouraged and frustrated. I love that I get to help change minds in my village and the surrounding areas. Who know a white girl could “survive” in a “black” village, or even ENJOY living there? But I do.
*Black/white/coloured/Indian are official designations of race in South Africa, and not used as derogatory terms. Also, quote words reflect statements I’ve heard, not what I would call/describe something.*