This week i was hanging out with my friend Susan and she told me a story that happened recently about standing up to racism.
She was in a supermarket with her two young daughters waiting to pay for her shopping. She was behind an old man of about seventy years of age who was complaining to the cashier [a black woman] because the cheese was not the size he wanted. The cashier was trying to explain that she was sorry but that was the only size they got it in and there was nothing the store could do. And the guy was getting more and more rude and then started to make his attack more personal.
Eventually Susan had had enough and spoke up and told him to stop harrassing the woman.
While i believe and hope that that poster is true a lot of the time, it wasn’t this time for Susan. The man went off at her, all the more traumatic because her two young daughters had to experience it. He turned his full anger towards her and started shouting at her loudly and embarrassingly. A few days later and i think she was still shaken and wondering whether or not she did the right thing.
In terms of her family having to experience such a vicious verbal attack, i don’t know. That’s a tricky one. And in terms of the old man – from stories some of the staff told her when he left, it sounds like not much change is likely there. But for the cashier, i imagine it was HUGE. Someone stood up for her – someone interrupted the barrage of violence that was being directed her way. She realised in that moment of vulnerability and pain and racism, that someone [of the same race as the person perpetrating the violence, and it WAS violence] cared enough about her to be an Ally.
You know what would have been better in that situation? If three other white people standing nearby had stepped in and said, “No! Old man you don’t get to do that any more. You take your racist and unpleasant behaviour and you stop it right now!” Because the more people that stand up to him and tell him to his face that this is not okay, the more chance it has of sinking in. Racists tend to be bullies and bullies tend to seek safety in numbers. Part of being an Ally in situations like these is standing together and firmly stating, “Enough and No More!”
i don’t experience racism in Cape Town [Hello, White Privilege!] and to be honest i can’t remember seeing much of it happen but know that if and when i do i will [hopefully] step in and be a part of the voice that says, “No more!”
At the same time i can’t deny from the many stories that i have heard, that Cape Town sadly remains quite racist in many of its people. Stories of black people struggling to get restaurant bookings [and then the “Sorry, we’re completely full” restaurant suddenly have plenty of space for the white sounding person on the phone with the English name] and find places to rent and more. A table of four black people in a restaurant being asked to move to the side so that a table of white people can be seated. That is when we need to raise our voices and get embarrassing if necessary and cash in all of our white privilege currency and say, “Not on my watch!”
The first few times you may find that you are alone. And that may be hard or embarrassing or tough on your family members. But the more it happens, the more likely someone is to join in. When we say “No!” we invite others around us to do the same. At the very least we are reminding the victim that they are worth more than that, that this is not how the rest of us feel and that they have a right to be angry and feel hurt. We are starting to put cracks into the racism that continues to pervade much of our society, even 21 years later…
All that is necessary for evil to triumph [and boy have we have enough of that one] is for good men [and women] to do nothing. [Edward Burke]. Don’t do nothing. Stand up, speak up, make a scene. Let the racists scurry away.