An open letter to a racist

Posted by in Opinion pieces on 08 Jan, 2016

An open letter to a racist
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by Robyn Wolfson Vorster


Dear Penny,

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…


  1. 09 Jan, 2016

    What an insightful and well written piece. My own thoughts could not have been better articulated! Thanks, Robyn!

  2. 10 Jan, 2016

    There are so many orphans, so many children need homes. Praise and blessings to those who take them for their own, love and nurture them.

    Remember the words of our Lord Jesus “John 13:34-3 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

    Jesus did not specify that one must only love people of your own race. If you are a Christian (and I suspect “Penny” considers she is), you will love all races, have no prejudices against others because of a gene that dictates the colour of our skin.

    Would that I had a magic wand to change the colour of “Penny” skin for her to experience the hurt that she inflicts on others.

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