“As a child is born without fear, so is it born without prejudice. Prejudice, like fear, is acquired” Marie Kililea

 

BlackWhiteKids

My parents left South Africa in 1972, when I was 2 years old, for a number of reasons; one being that my mother, Afrikaans by descent, had, at first unconsciously, and then later consciously, known that apartheid was inherently wrong, and she was happy to follow her English husband to bring up their children in the more free and accepting society of Europe.

Growing up in Holland as an expat, although not really English and not really South African, in the 1980s, the racial equality movement was loud and clear to my teenage ears as Nelson Mandela  became the most powerful symbol of equality and freedom since Martin Luther King Jr.

Bizarrely, during those years, I was often asked if I agreed with apartheid or if I was a racist because I was a white South African.  I will always remember the feeling of confusion over that question.  Why/how could I be, or think, a certain way, just by the geographical coincidence of my birth and the genetic coincidence of the colour of my skin?

Racism, and indeed any prejudice, is not something someone is born with.  It is not genetic or inherited.  It is taught and learned.  Thank god for my parents, who never once showed me any reason to judge people by their race, colour, creed or sexual orientation.  Thank god I grew up in one of the most open minded societies in Europe where, as a young child and teenager, I grew up knowing mixed race families and openly gay couples and I’ve continued, as an adult, to remain bemused by any form of prejudice.

This is why I scratch my head and ask how it is, more than 40 years after leaving South Africa; more than 25 years since Nelson Mandela was freed, there is still such prejudice around the world and particularly in the United States of America, the supposed leading country of the ‘free’ world.

How is it that, in 2013, 45 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a man is allowed to walk free, apparently not guilty of murdering an unarmed young black man, under the Stand Your Ground law, which allows a person to use ‘lethal force if he or she feels in imminent danger’ but in the same state a judge dismisses that very same law, and sentences a young black woman to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of her abusive husband, against whom she had a protective order, when she fired warning shots to scare him and avoid a beating from him?

At the end of the day, after all these decades of fighting for equality, the real paradox is that, as the world waits sadly for the inevitable passing of that great freedom fighter, my generation’s symbol of racial equality, the great Nelson Mandela, we STILL live in a world where a friend of mine can say that as the mother of a young black man she lives in daily fear for his safety, where an unarmed young man loses his life merely because the colour of his skin brands him a criminal in another man’s eyes, and where a young black woman is put in prison for trying to save her own life.  And, on our own Australian shores,where, by the way, same sex marriage is, bizarrely and unbelievably, still illegal, young teenagers and media role models alike ‘thoughtlessly’ call racist slurs to sporting heroes yet love to bathe in the glory when those sporting heroes bring back the trophies.

I only hope and trust that, as the mother of two children in the middle of their most formative years, my own upbringing and values are rubbing off on them so that they can live a life free of prejudice and hatred and can stand up to the perpetrators of what is truly the biggest acquired chronic disease in human society worldwide.