I hate that I fear

Learned emotions can create a physical reaction in you so instantly, you have no time to deliberate, migigate or suppress it. You feel the giddy euphoria of joy, the heart racing knot of fear in your stomach, the jaw clenching, bile taste of anger. Whatever the emotion is, it can be so deep-rooted, that no amount of trying to rationalize it away changes what it was, and nothing can make it sit well.

I fear black men.

There, I said it. How perfectly horrible those words look, in black and white, on a page. Of course, I do not fear all black men, but strangers in the street? A car full of young black men behind me in traffic? Someone crossing too close to my car? All of the above can make my heart pound and my hands sweat. In the new South Africa, the one in which we are forgiving and reconciling, I have these ugly, horrible emotions that I feel betrayed by. I am passionate about SA and making it better, and yet on Reconciliation day, of all days, I had to face the ugly, uncomfortable truth, that we all carry lasting effects of the past.

Reconciliation means literally to meet again, a re-establishing, reinstatement, restoration, renewal of a relationship that was damaged. On this public holiday I was driving out of my parents street, in Pretoria. I am more aware of safety there, than at home in Cape Town, as it has a statistically higher crime rate. I was doing all my pre-journey adjustments: seat belt, changing the angle of my dad’s mirror and locking the doors. Which happened to coincide with a black man crossing the street near my car. I cringed. I just hoped that the sound was not audible outside the car and that he did not think I was locking the door because of him, but I did feel the momentary fear. I can not even imagine how he felt, or if this reaction is so commonplace, that it is not even noteworthy anymore. Even if that is the case we are both poorer and separated by these feelings. There is nothing restorative about fearing, or being feared.

I am a white South African woman, 33 years old. Old enough to have known apartheid as a child, young enough to embrace change and want SA to be different. I have written before that, whether I agreed or not with the way our country was governed, in profound ways, I benefited – you can read it here.

I remember visiting the Apartheid museum before my daughter was born 6 years ago and being shocked at just how much propaganda I had been fed, as a child. I came from a liberal household but still, through news, media and school, the seeds of belief in the threat and danger were sown and allowed to germinate. Die Swart Gevaar ( the black danger) was a deadly, menacing force and something to always be aware and afraid of.

The problem is, that creating a blanket, unfounded fear in people, results in individuals on all sides being harmed. Long-term. As much as my rational self will fight against the notion, and try always to do more and work harder for a better SA, the fear remains.

I hate to admit, that sometimes I am scared. I hate that this fear is so undiscriminating, I hate that I fear someone’s, husband, son, brother, lover, friend. I hate that I have a blanket fear of good people. I hate that because of history, socio- economic reasons and certainly just pure demographics, it is true that more crime is committed by black males, which “truth” aids and abets my fear, offers it foundation. I hate that because I HAVE HAD a gun at my head, my coward brain says: “See? I’m right!”. Fear.

But overwhelming feelings like this are what keeps us apart, keeps us from breaking down the barriers, because for every one criminal that walks down the street, thousands are just normal, good people.

This country’s history has damaged us all in so many ways. I hate that I feel what I do, I am ashamed to even say it out loud. I could ignore it, and not blog openly about it, avoid risking anger and hurting others. I could pretend that it is easy to change the past, and that if we all blow enough vuvuzellas and act unified, it will be enough. But unless we look at these issues, and face them, instead of feeling them in stomach’s pit, and denying them, we don’t learn. Unless we stare these ugly truths in the face, and talk about them, we can not change.

For every person I fear and have built-up a barrier towards, I am sorry. This “thing” has eroded my soul. And yours. We are both poorer for it.

It made me think of this video

12 thoughts on “I hate that I fear

  1. I love this post. So real, so raw. Wish my (late) mum wouldve read it…she was “‘n k*ffir bly ‘n k*ffir” school…I vividly remember her using a 5cm thick rubber sjambok (hose) to beat them when they “misbehaved”. You’ve brought Light into a dark place by telling the truth about our shared Post Traumatic Country Stress Disorder… Brava!

  2. Wow what an honest post. It takes a lot of courage to face your fears or even just talk about it openly.

    I’m too young to know what it was like to live under apartheid but its clear to me that there are no winners. There might have been advantages for some at the time, but in the long term, everybody suffers. Be it fear, guilt, anger or humiliation.
    The good thing is that we’re working on forgiveness and slowly but surely rebuilding our beautiful country.

  3. Sally,

    firstly I applaud you for writing such an open, thought provoking, honest account of your feelings and fears.

    Secondly, I have to say that the viewpoint is not yours alone. Yes I am a white male, 36yrs of age, but I too have the same fears, thoughts, feelings and hopes for our country.

    I hate that we were indoctrinated as children. I hate that we lived a life of fear. I hate that these thoughts and fears cannot be wiped away. Much has changed, yet much has not changed. I have much hope for our country and love my country. I just wish we could get past the fears that we all live with. I do not want to drive alone at night and pray that I will be safe. Hope that nothing happens. Worry when I get to a stop street or traffic light.

    I don’t have a magical cure for this. I just wish it wasn’t such a deep seated fear that was implanted in us as children. For this we have to thank the apartheid regime. In a way, years later, they still succeed.

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  5. Sally-Jane
    You are brave, to write this, to admit this, to bring it in the open. Jy slaan die spyker op die kop, for many / most of us??
    I have that same fear, and admits that it is a hidden, secret thing, never mentioned – I mean how could we???
    I have lived under apartheid (separateness) but also “apart hate”. Born 2 days before HF Verwoerd was killed. oh, I gave away my age ;-0. Grew up under the smothering blanket of apartheid – especially in Afirkaans schools. Even when my parents, who couldn’t teach me me any ‘nasietrots’, we all got it in the mere 6 school hours. My parents emigrated from Holland in 1963.
    Yes, the crime situation does not help us with this.

    Is there any good solution to tackle this?

  6. The thing i hated most about myself after the hijacking was that I became terrified of black men. Even the guys i’d worked with for years. If one of them walked too close behind me i’d become a complete wreck and have to leave the room. i’m still like that and i HATE it, but as much as i try i can’t shake this. It sucks.

    Well done for being brave enough to write thes. xxx

  7. well you should blame your parents, I’m a 30yr old white south african and grew up never seeing race and thought everyone was the same, all thanks to my parents. i had no clue about apartheid coz during apartheid I would visit my black friends in townships and they’d sleep over at my house etc. and we went to school together (private schools) so i dont know how you had a “liberal” upbringing if you knew of a “swart gevaar” coz that isnt liberal.

    • C don’t make assumptions about me or my family! I grew up in Boputthatswana and I have a Tswana name given to me by the nurses my dad worked with. We had people of all race colour and creed stay in our house regularly.
      But I am literate and I went to school. I know about the swart gevaar as something spoken about on the news and in media. I knew apartheid was wrong and my parents taught us that colour did not matter and to fight for a better SA. They never advocated fear or violence, in fact at times when I feared, especially after having a gun at my head my dad was the rational one who spoke of seeing people and not just criminals.
      I had a gun to my head while delivering food parcels in a township where I worked on a team helping HIV+ patients as part of my palliative care work for hospice.

      BUT living in SA means that crime is high and there are risk, I think it is now more of a socioeconomic thing than a race thing. I am sorry that sometimes I feel vulnerable and in some place I feel nervous. It does not stop me loving SA.

    • Maybe I was not very good at making my point, but it was that despite growing up not thinking that black was dangerous and being very involved in community work from a young age, and always striving to make a difference, even then, the messages from the past ( whether you bought into them or not) and the crime now, does sometimes make normal non racist, very pro south african people frightened and I hate that. ( wow that is a long sentence that I am sure Andre would chop and add a hundered commas and fullstops to if he was editing for me, but I am leaving, as it was how i said it all fast and in one breath in my head)

  8. Sjoe Sally, I cannot even begin to imagine how absolutely awful it must be to have a gun held to your head. I don’t think that I would easily recover from something like that.
    I am not sure what to say except that I think that you are extremely brave to voice your fear and essentially give it a name. I also think that you have nothing to be ashamed of. At least you admit that you are fearful – not like that author Annelie Botes who admits to hating black people (obviously also based on fear). The first step to healing is usually to admit the fear/problem. You have done that here. I think that based on our context and the fact that we do live in South Africa, it is perfectly natural for you or anyone to have some degree of fear. As a person of colour I have similar fears. We did not have swart gevaar drilled into us and we were not indoctrinated or anything but many people of colour on the Cape Flats are extremely racist and will not hesitate to use the K word or the D word. I do believe that the media play a huge role in our perceptions of people and I also think that we all do the best we can with what we have. Please don’t be so hard on yourself.
    xxx

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