Caroline Mkhize, the adopted African daughter of Indian parents, reveals how she is confronting racism.
“They can’t be your parents because they are Indian and well, you’re not.” “So how long have you been working for them?” “Why do you call her mum?”
My name is Caroline Mkhize. I am a 22-year-old African female. My parents, legal guardians, are Indian. Being the “black sheep” of the family, literally, I have always had people, including relatives, make intentional and unintentional racist remarks.
I was raised not to see race, gender or social status, so when I was put in such situations, I would never know how to react to it.
I was not equipped to tackle racism.
That was, until recently.
As I write, I cannot help but reflect on two of the many experiences that have left me not only hurt, but angry as well.
I follow the Hindu faith, hence I partake in spiritual occasions such as Thai Poosam Kavady, a significant festival observed during the Tamil month of Thai.
The ceremony is preceded by 10 days of fasting, which I devoutly observe.
At the 2013 event, before the prayers began, an elderly Indian woman assumed I was lost or confused about being at the temple.
Besides the security guards and caretakers, this woman had probably never seen an African person inside the temple.
“Oh, you are black and you are Tamil,” the lady noted. “Don’t you know that you have to be born into this religion?”
I politely responded that I had kept my fast and that I would be partaking in the prayer, before walking away.
When I got home, I told my mother about the incident. She informed a relative of mine, who was meant to have contacted the priest, but the issue was not dealt with.
One often assumes that it is the elderly who are more averse to change.
I was, however, shocked when a friend of mine called me by a derogatory term a few years back.
I really liked this Indian boy, whom I schooled with. With time, he came to know of my interest in him.
It was then that he used the equivalent of the “K” word in Gujarati to describe me.
Until then, I did not have the slightest clue what the term meant.
I was told by my best friend that it was intended to be an insult. I lashed out and fought back by generalising all Indians – ironic because my parents are Indian.
This situation could have been dealt with in a different manner, if only I had known then what I know now.
And, by the way, the boy and I have not spoken to each other since.
Recently, I attended a youth indaba hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation at the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance.
At the indaba, young people got to interact and share their ideas as well as experiences of racism. I gained a much broader view of the “system” of racism, putting my experiences into perspective.
What I learnt at the programme reminded me of the words of the great author and poet, Maya Angelou, who said: “The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstream.”
Racism is like a parasite – a disease that lives in society, its host, feeding off solidarity and peace at humanity’s expense.
Just like a parasite, the hardest challenge is how to overcome it without inflicting harm to the host and to prevent lifelong scarring.
I went on to do some research of my own and the conclusion I’ve come to is that if we can’t sit down and have honest and temperate conversation about racial issues, not only in South Africa, but globally as well, it makes it tougher to tackle this plague.
We need to recognise the magnitude of the impact of our history of racial segregation, and the actions needed to rectify it.
In this context, governments, as well as ordinary people, need to lead in a socially conscious manner, with a greater sense of public obligation, understanding, compassion and unity.
As the youth, we can start fighting racism by speaking up. Challenge the person who makes a racist comment to explain what they said, and use counter-examples and facts to dismiss myths, prejudices and stereotypes.
Focus on the action or the comment and not the person. We need to develop a new generation of young people with a non-racial mindset. We can unlearn racism.
As Nelson Mandela said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion.
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Since the youth indaba, I have become a volunteer for Anti-Racism Week, which is to be held from March 14 to March 21.
Being a part of Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s quest to challenge racism, I feel I will be able to explore more options on how to tackle racism practically, as well as gain deeper insight into the issue, just as I have from the youth indaba.
I plan on beginning at home – getting my parents, siblings and other relatives involved, providing an understanding and suggesting ways in which our family can address racial issues when confronted by them.
It will be a long and slow journey ahead, but I do believe that there will be greener pastures ahead, not only for myself, but for South Africa as well.
However, we will have to unite and work in harmony to tackle racism.
This speaks to my favourite quote by Bobby Seale, an American activist, who co-founded the Black Panthers with Huey Newton: “You don’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.”
This is the quote I plan to live by until we can overcome the absurdity of racism, to a point where one’s colour does not define one’s potential, but one’s humanity does.
* Caroline Mkhize is a volunteer at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s media desk. She writes in her personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
* Independent Media has launched a microsite to carry its curated content on racism and race-related stories from across the company’s print titles and digital media platforms. Visit stopracism.iol.co.za for more.