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