Emergence Of A Rainbow Generation

3 Nov

On a hot day in February 1990, I stood still, waiting for history to happen. It was the middle of a South African summer; I had just started my final year at the University of Cape Town, and it seemed as if the entire student body – no, make that the entire population of the Western Cape – had turned out. I was going through a lot of difficulty in my life at that time, but wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from this.

Finally, it happened: the event everyone had been waiting for. A well-known and much-loved figure appeared and waved at the crowd, which was going nuts with excitement. Tears of emotion flowed all around me and within me as this great man stood before us. It was official. Nelson Mandela, the icon of freedom in South Africa, was a free man.

During my childhood years in South Africa, I was a little afraid of black people. This is hardly surprising when you consider the draconian laws that were in effect at the time. Black people and white people were completely segregated. They were required by law to live in different neighbourhoods, they could not attend the same schools or churches, and they could not use the same public facilities. In many cases, they could not even enter stores through the same doors. When I was a child, my exposure to black people was limited to the gardener and the cleaning lady.

My parents, and the parents of my peers, did their best. They themselves had been raised to distrust people different from themselves. Fortunately for me and my contemporaries, common sense and basic human dignity had prevailed, so the generation above me had gone against their own upbringings and taught us to treat everyone with respect, no matter what colour their skin was.

And yet, it has to be remembered that our parents were trying to raise non-discriminatory kids in a society that legally mandated racism.  We couldn’t have playdates with black people. If you looked at the student body during school assemblies, you would have seen a sea of white faces. We never shared grocery store line-ups with black people; we didn’t even pass them on the street.

How could a generation of kids learn how to interact in a positive way with a group of people they were never exposed to? It is no wonder that despite the eventual dismantling of the Apartheid regime, race relations in South Africa remain troubled. People are still learning how to get along after generations of having been told that they were not allowed to.

My two kids are having a childhood that contrasts sharply with my own. They have never known an existence of discrimination. They interact freely with kids from all backgrounds, regardless of ethnic origin. To them, people are just people. A telling example of this happened almost two years ago, when my younger son’s Kindergarten teacher unexpectedly died and a new teacher was brought in. When I asked my son what the new teacher looked like, he said she was absolutely beautiful. She had long black hair, and a big smile, and big brown eyes. It is perhaps a damning indictment to my own upbringing that I was surprised, when I finally met the teacher, to see that she was black. My son had not once mentioned this in his lengthy description of her. He had not even noticed her skin colour.

My kids are growing up in a world that sadly still experiences some racism. But so far, they themselves have not shown any signs of discrimination. If that ever happens, it will be nipped in the bud immediately. My dream is for my kids to grow up respecting everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from.

As Scout says in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, “There’s only one kind of folks. Folks.”

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20 Responses to “Emergence Of A Rainbow Generation”

  1. Alison@Mama Wants This November 3, 2011 at 8:54 AM #

    I love that your son doesn’t even notice skin color. I hope to raise my own children to be non-discriminatory too. We ourselves, are a multiracial, multicultural family, so I have high hopes!

    • runningforautism November 3, 2011 at 8:59 PM #

      I truly believe that the environment a child grows up in makes a big difference. Growing up in a multicultural family will provide your kids with just the role models that they need. I too think it’s really amazing that my son doesn’t notice skin colour.

  2. Jennifer Burden November 3, 2011 at 11:15 AM #

    Kirsten!

    Great post! What a great topic to think about: “How could a generation of kids learn how to interact in a positive way with a group of people they were never exposed to?”

    Thank you for linking your growing up in South Africa experiences to World Moms Blog!

    Jen 🙂

    • runningforautism November 3, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

      Thanks for providing the link-up! It gave me an opportunity to some real thought to the differences between my childhood and my kids’.

  3. Galit Breen November 3, 2011 at 3:10 PM #

    I love the topic that you chose to examine and discuss.

    I also love how transparent you are about your upbringing and how it puzzle pies to your parenting.

    And lastly, that last line about folks? Swoon.

    • runningforautism November 3, 2011 at 9:06 PM #

      Thank you! When I went to live in Israel in my early 20’s, I encountered some fellow South Africans on my travels who were ashamed to admit that they were South African. Me, I embraced it. South Africa has a past that no nation should ever be proud of, but I grew up during the most exciting, definitive period in its history. Yes, I got to see some of the Apartheid laws in effect, and they were truly terrible, but I got to see Apartheid crumble. I witnessed the release of Nelson Mandela, and I voted in South Africa’s first-ever democratic election.

  4. Liz Sawyer (@lrs4216) November 3, 2011 at 5:26 PM #

    Oh my – I LOVE, LOVE your post. You finished it off with an excellent quote that I very well may reuse on one of my quotable Fridays. So much I could say on this topic, alas so little space… if I decide to write a post of my own on this I will for sure link up to you 🙂

    • runningforautism November 3, 2011 at 9:08 PM #

      Thank you! You’re so right – there is so much to say on this topic. Link up to me for sure! I’d love to hear what you have to say about this!

  5. Tatter Scoops November 3, 2011 at 11:21 PM #

    This is such a great written and thought provoking piece. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your own childhood in South Africa and it’s so wonderful that your kids doesn’t see people from their skin colors. I’m trying to teach that to my son too. PS: Love the quote!

    • runningforautism November 4, 2011 at 6:56 PM #

      Thank you! When you consider my childhood, it’s kind of interesting that my kids are growing up in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

  6. Asta Burrows November 4, 2011 at 6:52 AM #

    This was so interesting – I was in SA on holiday a few years ago, and although I loved it, I also found it a bit difficult to see how, still, there seems to be a separation of black and whites, some towns where white and some were black. It was great to read this article and learn a little bit more!

    • runningforautism November 4, 2011 at 6:59 PM #

      The international community sees South Africa as a place where all racial divides have crumbled. There are certainly occasions where that is true – two that come to mind are the first time South Africa won the rugby World Cup, and the first democratic election. On both of those occasions, South Africa was a true rainbow nation – it was phenomenal. For the most part, however, people are having to overcome very deep-seated ways of living and thinking.
      Thanks for reading!

  7. Inspiration to Dream November 4, 2011 at 7:07 AM #

    Great post, I love the way your son described his teacher and your quote from To Kill a Mockingbird just summed it all up beautifully.

    • runningforautism November 4, 2011 at 6:59 PM #

      Thanks! To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all-time favourite books. A lot of lessons can be learned from it. I think I need to read it again soon.

  8. Ms. V November 4, 2011 at 7:21 AM #

    Just beautiful! Well done, mama!

  9. Joanna November 4, 2011 at 9:31 AM #

    Funnily I was just talking about this with some South African friends on Wed night. They had just seen The Help in the cinema, and obviously responded to it very differently as they were all brought up with black maids. Interestingly, they all said their parents hated the film, as it was far too close to home and made them think about their own shortcomings. Sadly however, racism these days is not just about skin colour and I do worry about the future. I see so much discrimination these days against groups of people, be it Jews, Muslims, Eastern Europeans, it makes me sad that people transfer their prejudices on to another culture that they feel it is more acceptable to be openly abusive towards. I fear for the next generation sometimes.

    • runningforautism November 4, 2011 at 7:04 PM #

      A film that I found very difficult to watch was District Nine, which was based on South Africa’s District Six. I thought the film was kind of lame, but some of the scenes in it were so reminiscent of the way things were during South Africa’s darker times.

      You are so right about the other forms of discrimination that we are seeing. What makes some of it so dangerous is that it is, like Apartheid once was, ingrained from childhood. I believe that the best way for us to safeguard the future of our children is to model positive behaviour for them, and teach them to have respect for all of humankind.

  10. The Alchemist November 5, 2011 at 5:46 AM #

    It was interesting to read this post and I appreciate the topic you have chosen, which gives a lot of insight into South Africa and Apartheid.

    Infact there is a lot of discrimination we have to eliminate and work towards a better unified humanity. Our tiny bit begins at home and thank you for sharing your experience.

    • runningforautism November 5, 2011 at 10:42 AM #

      Thank you for reading!

      Sadly, there is discrimination of all kinds, and as you said, our part has to begin at home. Unfortunately, I see a lot of parents being too afraid to address this topic with their kids. Diversity is a fact of life, and I believe that the only way to accept it and benefit from it is by embracing it.

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