A girl. A journey. A new start.
Over the last few months, we as South Africans have been through some interesting times….facing decisions about who to vote for in the upcoming elections, waiting for and eventually living through the Oscar Pistorius trial, the passing of Nelson Mandela and the embarrassing episode of the DA and Agang’s hilarious short-lived union, to name a few.
In my mind the loss of Nelson Mandela was definitely the most impactful of these experiences for many of us. So impactful that his legacy as an advocate for peace somewhat lingers in the air around us and pierces through all the images we see of him everywhere – celebrating his life, the freedom he, along with so many others delivered to us and his cause as not only a South African leader but a world leader too.
I had an experience today that brought me back to what the meaning of freedom is. This freedom that Nelson Mandela, his courageous counterparts, our parents and grandparents so courageously fought for.
I was in a store shopping for birthday presents for my Mom and sister, Botho. A lady was trying to catch my attention and as I looked up from the clothing item I was admiring, I noticed her and acknowledged her. She moved closer and said to me, pointing at the mannequin “These hats. Where can I find more of them?”. I looked at her quite astonished and said, ‘I have no clue’. She responded saying “Why not?” and I just laughed and laughed as I walked away.
It was at the moment when I was walking away towards Monika, whom I refer to as my other mother, that I realised with the exception of the ladies operating the tills, I was the only person of color in the store. I then looked at Monika and we laughed loudly and uncontrollably. In this silly, ignorant woman’s mind, I had to be the help. I was not wearing uniform or anything remotely similar to what the store attendees wear; and I was walking and talking to a white lady, so I had to be the help – not her daughter or friend. And to be honest, the only difference between me and everyone standing in Witchery at that very moment was nothing but my skin color.
I happen to live in a country where everything that is offensive across racial lines is always reduced to racism. So before anyone calls this racism, I would like to say that I don’t believe it was as the lady was actually genuinely polite when she asked me. And before anyone says that it was a genuine mistake…..hold up! It was not a mistake, it was pure ignorance. Ignorance because this lady spotted the ‘splash of color’ in the store and ‘bingo’ she had found the help; but most importantly, she was genuinely confused when I walked away and later when she spotted me said to her friend, pointing at me, that all she was doing was asking for help. She probably did not and while she sits at home on this chilly evening, still does not understand how I was shopping in the same store or section as her.
I have always believed that true freedom is a state of mind. It cannot be bought nor negotiated. It cannot be found in the hundreds of pages that articulate the constitution or laws that state that a country is now free from oppression. It is only in one’s mind that freedom can be found.
This experience confirmed that for me. I could have spiralled into anger and confrontation and been offended. But I chose to laugh it off and walk away because I refuse to be enslaved by someone’s ignorance. If anything it made me feel privileged to know that I don’t need anyone’s confirmation to be or feel free.
A good listen for all of you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDPW_g2AhAU#aid=P–6y47tpHM