The memory marked my soul. “Do …..you …speak …English?” Not a polite first greeting but a bellowing question in brash tone. He and his friends burst out laughing and so too did people in nearby seats when I replied in perfect English.
A few years ago, I was on a plane to the USA to visit my oldest sister, Karen. A tall, boisterous, white man with a group of friends found his seat next to me and made assumptions about me. The reason the memory stuck with me is because of how he publicly shamed me. Now, over five years later, those words are still a dented reminder that ignorance over people groups exists in modern society. But I’m not alone in my experiences. Non-white folk experience this sort of thing all the time. That’s why racism is painful. People live with the memories of words and actions on the repeat cycle.
I’ve been asked, “do you speak Indian,?” – no such thing. “Do you come from India?” – even though I have an entirely foreign geographical accent or I’m energetically told: “I can cook curry!” But I didn’t ask the question or want to know that. I’ve heard my Black and Asian friends go through similar things. Assumptions. We drive racism forward because of them. Assumptions, though, are on both sides of the table. Then there's police brutality and misuse of legal power, which needs to be considered.
My grandmother and her co-workers were thrown into the back of a police van for crossing the street in Apartheid South Africa as the traffic lights changed red. White police officers sported that kind of activity during that period in history. She profiled every white police officer in a certain way after that even after Apartheid ended. Till the day she died, she held on to her beliefs. Now, that belief isn’t true. Not every white police officer has that heart, but the public rarely trades personal and community experience in these sort of instances.
Over the weekend, I interviewed Jane Elliot, an American Anti-Racism Activist and Kiru Naidoo, a South African Political Scientist. Both are on the equal plain about what drives racism forward. Amongst power and privilege, ignorance and assumptions about things we do not know or don’t care to be educated on, are top elements. But education cannot be one-sided.
(Watch Jane Elliot's first Livestream Instagram interview with me here
I believe that we need to communicate and agree on what we’d like to see not happen and what we’d like to give permission to thrive in our own communities first. With the Black Lives Matter Campaign, we’ve seen first hand just how much organisation it takes for peaceful protests to go ahead so that the message can be heard and history doesn’t repeat itself. While the current protests focus heavily on the #BLM movement, people of colour have the opportunity to reflect on our own experiences, and what we’d like to see as a change while we support the main focus.
If we are working towards societies who don’t profile others based on colour, treat people as equal, then it takes a solid plan. My great-grandfather did the same in South Africa when Apartheid had its legal knee on the coloured people necks.
T.S. John was president of the Durban Indian Municipal Council (DIMES) in the 1940s. A team of committed people planned and strategised for change in Indian Indentured labour laws and treatment.
As a person whose experiences are real, if I cannot or will not educate myself on how to dialogue for irreversible change, then I am equally responsible for keeping society protesting. I am using this blog to call for educational comrade amongst people of colour to pursue the same.
My commitment is to use my platform to encourage and facilitate a meaningful discussion about race and inequality. You’ll hear a lot more from me about this subject. Please feel free to tag and share this post with people who want to be interviewed on this subject matter. Through community, we can do a lot more than one individual can achieve.
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