This past week, as I drove from Willowmore to Klaarstroom, I passed a signboard on the N9 that pointed to the Warmbad turn-off.
I brought my car to a sudden stop as traumatic memories flooded my mind. I had not seen that signboard for 37 years.
In April 1984, I was detained in the then-Transvaal town of the same name, now Bela Bela, because of the colour of my skin. I drove a car with a group of white students as passengers. I was arrested because they claimed my driving licence was “false”.
The real reason was that I was black and my passengers were white. My interrogators told me that. What was I doing with white people in my car? I had never been back to the Warmbad of my imprisonment until I drove past that sign on Wednesday. It was surprisingly painful to bump into past trauma.
People who do politics and preach that they don’t see colour are the ones we should be most wary of – for they are the ones most prone to treating you based on your colour.
For not to see my colour is to deny and dismiss a fundamental and primary representation of my presence. You see my clothes. You comment on them. You see my hair. You touch it. You hear my accent. You make fun of it. But you ignore my colour.
Is my colour so reprehensible to you that your timid logic cannot endure the torturous journey of processing my colour as part of how you should engage with me, and therefore it becomes easier to dismiss that part of me than to engage me with my colour?
Non-racialism is not about “not seeing colour”. Non-racialism is processing colour in all its complexities, unpacking its brutalised journeys, confessing its past and its pain, while not having a colour-coded hierarchy in how we treat people in the present.
For the timid soul of racists will feed me and laugh with me and study with me and pray with me because they have managed – through wilful and determined practice – to ignore my colour. It makes their engagement with me less complex for their souls. For if you really saw my blackness, you may not feed me, laugh with me, study with me, or even pray with me.
For in our colour confrontation lies the treacherous mountain pathways to the pain in both our souls. And unless we traverse it together – and intentionally – we will never see its pained beauty, the beauty of the soul, from the peaks of the treacherous mountains of colour.
The pathway to my soul is through the pigmentation of my skin.
For like the sunrise on a clear blue day tells us it will be a sunny day and like the gathering of storm clouds make us reach for our coats and rush home to warm pea soup, so our skin colour informs us what will happen to us next.
In South Africa, we have seen enough Leon Schuster films to realise how quickly anger flares up when colour is inserted into the storyline.
We will laugh at it because we all realise colour is the reason that scene is so funny or so tragic. But we will leave the movie theatre and ignore it in our own lived experiences. We become colour denialists.
It’s easier to pretend you don’t see colour than to have to deal with the other person’s colour complexities.
So don’t tell me you don’t see colour. I am black. And in some discourses, I am coloured. And unless you see that and recognise that, you insult me and my mother and my father and my brother. And I am angry enough and proud enough to say so. The pigmentation of my skin matters to me.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected]
All letters to be considered for publication, must contain full names, addresses and contact details (not for publication).