Monday, September 28, 2009

Waved through

Once upon a time I rocked an afro.

Or at least something that was as close to an afro as a Finnish girl's hair with the aid of an adventurous Danish hairdresser with no greater knowledge of witchcraft or wizardry, could curl to.

So really, a very tight perm.

But I really insisted on it being an afro, and nothing like what had become the trademark poodle-y curls of this guy. Nothing like that. Regardless of what some people said.

Why exactly are you talking about hair, Ext? Did you go ahead and dye it blue, like you said? Did you cut it off and get confirmation on how uneven your scull still is? Did you decide to grow it out to perm it again? And if so, come on now. Really?

I'm talking about hair, or African hair to be precise, because again today I was reminded of what not having it, and sporting a head of blond (okay, rather greyish white) hair and pale (okay, rather greyish white) skin, mean for my existence on this here globe.

Yesterday, exiting a grocery store the alarm goes. One wouldn't expect packages of sliced French emmental to have alarms on them, but I guess they're perfect pocket size. Or sticking down your pants size. Who knows? All I know is that I have paid for everything (unlike that time I walked out the store with the toilet paper under my arm thinking it was shopping bags), but the alarm goes off nonetheless. In runs the guard, takes one look at me, glances over my shopping bags, turns to me and says: "I'm sorry ma'am."

I continue on my way without him ever taking a peek into my grocery bags.

Today, I arrive at a guarded gate, the visitors' lane. I frantically search in my bag, but apart from those evermore moldy tissues I don't seem to have brought anything relevant, let alone something with the address of my destination on it. I look in the rearview mirror at the cars behind me, waiting to enter. To my shrugging the guard answers with an enquiry on whether I can remember the name of the street, or the name of the person I'm there to see. I can't. I'm starting to get nervous because there are quite a few cars now behind me, all holding workmen waiting to get to work. I offer to back up and pull over to the side while I either go on the internet to find the address, miraculously remember where I'm going (can't even remember my own phone number or pin-code, so fat chance there), or call someone who might know the address.

"Oh no. It's okay ma'am," the guard tells me. And I call my friend. Right there. Sitting in my car, blocking the entrance.

I sincerely wish this would keep happening to me because I exude supreme kindness and happiness or at least some awesome sisterly quality, but we all know that would be something far beyond a gross overstatement. Instead I'm forever waved through because I lack great quantities of pigment. Because I'm somehow quintessentially white.

And that must mean that I could never, ever do a bad thing. Right?

None of the real baddies of the past have ever been white. Correct?


omchelsea said...

Wowee. Living in reasonably multicultural Australia, I can see at once how ethnically diverse and how white bread we are. The degrees of discrimination are not just skin color related, but linguistic and economic. Will we ever get past it?

ellen abbott said...

How black does a country have to be before white stops being the trump?

Judearoo said...

Oof, thats frightening! And am sure the same happens all over, not only in SA.

I'm Kim, by the way said...

Great post. I've perceived similar things happening to me, though I'm sure only in a shred of the way you experience it in SA.

Lora said...

I am white, and work in an almost all-black setting.

It's strange what people will let me "get away with". I'm not meaning that I say or do anything differently, but sometimes I notice people being a bit standoffish with me, or unsure how to react to something I may have done or said.

It's strange, no?

Molly said...

Like at OR Tambo airport in that place where you are ABSOLUTELY NOT ALLOWED TO STOP EVEN FOR A SECOND but its always full of white ladies in their cars waving away the guards 'cos they'll 'just be a minute' ...and getting away with it.
Ah the times I've considering robbing a bank or committing a murder most foul - it would just be too easy.

caroldiane said...

I think the only place that I ever felt like I was a disadvantaged and suspicious minority was in in French Polynesia when I was there for work briefly - it is a strange thing this roll of the dice, pigment of the skin advantage we seem to have. Mostly undeserving, I would say...

kristine said...

it doesnt happen here, i have to say. it's the first place I have been (outside of Europe, I mean, outside of home)where it gives me no advantage whatsoever being white. it is an interesting and very noticable experience after south east asia - probably a VERY healthy one!

Vision in Blue said...

I find this really interesting and really sad at the same time. I wonder what needs to be done for real equality to happen. I live in the states so we like to pretend we have it, but it is very apparent that the equality is up to par. Lame.

Extranjera said...

Wow. It has been a while since I answered any comments, and I'm not guaranteeing I'll keep doing it, but at least I'm trying, hey?

Chelsea - But that's the thing. When I'm really in my element (I have piercings, My hair's a kind of stylized mohawk, I drive a piece of shit car, I swear in public unless my mother's present, and I keep wearing the same shoes and ratty jeans (which sometimes makes me smell like a homeless person) so the only real variable left is skin color.

Ellen - nearly a 100% doesn't seem to do it. I hear you.

Judearoo - Have never had it happen to me the way it has been happening here in SA though. This country is almost having a backlash to ANC rule currently. And it's not pretty to see or hear.

Kim - It's tough. It is.

Lora - I hear you. Most times there's such a slight difference that it becomes something that can't really even be addressed.

Molly - SA still has quite a ways to go. I swear though to never to be one of those ladies. Deal?

Caroldiane - Imagine living your life like that. One almost can't, yet it's a reality to so many.

Kristine - Weird? In my experience Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and Brasil (at least my) white was still trump.

Vision - I think stopping to pretend is the first step. Highlighting the presence of the subtle and the not so subtle inequalities in our everyday. Not being content with the present.