An open letter to a racist
by Robyn Wolfson Vorster
We have never met but I have known you my whole life. I’ve seen you in shops and on public transport, you have sidled up to me at parties, you even appeared at extended family gatherings when I was a child. Perhaps you thought I was happy to chat, to hear you pour out prejudice and vitriol. No Penny, my skin colour has never been an invitation—you do not get to speak to–or for–me.
Nonetheless, I was surprised by your New Year’s Day outburst: not just because you were brazen enough to voice the unspeakable, to dehumanise so many of your fellow South Africans, but because I honestly thought that you had gone to other climes, that you had slipped away on the tide of discontent and fear in ’94, or when Mbeki came, or Zuma.
But oddly, it wasn’t your post that saddened me most, it was the apology that followed, an apology devoid of self-awareness, of repentance, of insight, an apology that reinforced everything you clearly believe: that people of different skin colours are “other”.
My daughter walked into the room while I was reading it. She stared at me for a moment and then asked, “why do you look so disappointed, mamma?” My three year old daughter: with emotional intelligence, acumen and awareness way beyond her years. Would it surprise you Penny to know that she is black?
Perhaps you, like some of the more hardened racists I have met, think that is down to us, that somehow our “whiteness” has rubbed off on her. In truth, I am grateful that she is benefitting from all of the “privilege” that I have enjoyed (advantages not available to many of my peers—or yours Penny—and sadly, advantages that may not be available to her peers either): educated parents, generational wealth, early childhood development, to name but a few. But, privileged or not, she would still have been this kind, this intuitive, this fiercely intelligent. How sad for you that you will never know that, that you will never understand. How sad that you cannot see past the colour of her skin.
Of course, I may have misjudged you. If so, the irony is not lost on me. But, as loud as your voice was on New Year’s Day, it was simply an unwelcome echo of the past, one that will eventually be extinguished. The future, in South Africa, does not belong to such as you…