I stared for a good few minutes just to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing.
Leaving the gym, a white man. Behind him, a black man running after him carrying his gym bag to his car. Not knowing how to process this sight I contained it just long enough until I was face to face with the receptionist who swipes my membership card upon entry.
“I am wondering if you can help me”, I asked her in dismay, “did I see what I think I just saw?”, sharing the black bellboy running-after-white-man scene with her.
“Yes, those things still happen here,” she smiled, a beautiful young black woman with huge brown eyes and gorgeous long braids, “and do you know what else”, she said lowering her voice and staring intently into my eyes, “imagine what it’s like to hand someone back their gym card after you swipe it for them and they make sure that your hand doesn’t touch theirs when they take the card back”.
I asked her how she copes with that, everyday. “We have no choice”, she smiled, “we have to stay strong”.
I tried to imagine being her, being black- standing behind the desk of this white-gloved fancy shmancy gym, plastering a smile on my face every morning as the predominately all-white clientele try to avoid being contaminated by my black fingers.
Welcome to South Africa in 2014, where the legacy of Nelson Mandela is still trying to catch up from behind the scenes with the leftover bits of the Apartheid regime.
It is taught that the children of Israel had to wander the desert for 40 years so that the generation who had known the slavery in Egypt could die out. This would enable a generation without the mentality of slavery to enter the land of Israel, in order to build a nation free of bondage.
I wonder if the slave mentality will ever fully die out in South Africa and if the white man will ever really cease viewing the world in black and white.
It has only been 20 years since apartheid ended.
My South African born child will not know apartheid, but she will most definitely pick up on racial tensions that are still very much on the surface of this rainbow sea, sometimes as slick and strong smelling as freshly spilled oil.
And thankfully at not yet 2 years old my daughter is still colour blind. I watch her as she interacts with her black nanny and I think of my mother growing up with her black nanny in South Carolina. “Mama!” she exclaimed excitedly one day to my grandmother, “Nanny is a chocolate cookie, and I’m a vanilla cookie!”
I guess being colour blind does not last forever. Perhaps one day my daughter will make the same discovery and then it will be up to me as her parent to give her eyes, now seeing colour, context. “Yes darling, Nanny is a chocolate cookie and you are a vanilla cookie,” I will say, “and you can hug her with all your heart forever, just as you do today.”