Black and (or?) White – Part 1
It was inevitable that Kay and I would end up discussing race between the two of us and with others. It is simultaneously a reaction to how we see and perceive this place, but also what we hear. There is no denying that there is still a deep divide. Kay is dumbfounded by walls and wire fences but I will let her tell that story from her perspective.
As for me – I am struck by how much my own perceptions are being challenged. We continually hear about crime and are given warnings and advice on how to stay safe. After our car was unintentionally boxed in during early evening rush hour in Pretoria (and yes everyone around us was black), we momentarily panicked, having been warned about it. Certainly the crime is real, but so is the attitude that feeds the fear. I remember how many whites avoid downtown Atlanta at all costs after daylight. I remember how often I see white women in the States clutch their purses when passed by a black man.
We often see injustice and prejudice in other places but become immune to it at home. We make it “normal” in order to cope. Did I become a woman who clutches her purse?
I live in a mixed neighborhood. My neighbors to my left are a normal American family with a mom, a dad, two kids and a dog. The neighbors across the street are refugees from Katrina who moved to Atlanta to make a new life for their family because there is no work for them in the city they loved. My neighbors to the right are from Nigeria.The husband was once a college professor. Now he works at a bank.
The neighbors to my left have a key to my house and if I leave town, they will watch my home. The neighbor across the street will fix things in mu house. He is a handy man. My Nigerian neighbors have only just moved next door but we have metand say hello when we see each other.
All are African or African American.
But are we close? No. I would count my neighbors to my left as friends. But not close friends. We don’t hang out over dinner and drink coffee and talk trash.
In my defense I don’t hang out with my white neighbors either. I don’t have children as most of them do. I work in an offbeat industry that must seem odd to most nine-to-fivers, if not downright suspect as legitimate work. I’m never there. And most of all,I’m just not very chatty. I prefer to write my thoughts. Frankly, I get bored with small talk.
But I have to ask myself, am I so different from white South Africans who build electrified walls around their homes and happily pay some black person a small pittance of 5 Rand to make sure no one breaks into their cars while they shop and quickly tell us to keep our purses out of sight beneath our feet when we drive in town? I really don’t know.