Have you ever had an argument with someone on a topic of race and it resulted in you losing all respect for them and questioning your friendship? I have, and through all this I’ve come to realise that one needs to ask some key questions at the beginning of a friendship to figure out who people really are. Below are three such cases.
She didn’t understand Fees Must Fall
I met one of my friends, Becky*, in a philosophy course that we were both doing. We sat next to each other in class, and always had lunch together. Things started going south during the Fees Must Fall protests. She told me the protests were such an inconvenience to people who were serious about their future, and those who were protesting were doing so because they were excluded from writing exams as they had not done their work during the semester.
This girl basically watered down struggles that students all over the country were fighting, into an excuse to not study. I tried to explain to her the different reasons the students were protesting. That’s when she said, “Black people always want everything handed down to them. Apartheid is over, get over it and stop using it to get free stuff.”
She then said everyone had the same struggles, and that I had a working mother, so I was protesting because of greed. She mentioned that I had expensive weaves, bags and clothes, and wore heels every day to campus, meaning I could be more privileged than white people. That was when I lost all my patience and respect for her. The friendship was never the same since so we eventually stopped talking.
I was her hired black friend
After a few months of being close to Becky, she introduced me to her other white friends. And whenever they were around she would say and do racist things. She had this one friend with whom she would imitate black accents and say racist things like, “Black people are so stupid, they cannot think for themselves, that’s why they are poor.” They’d explain it by saying it was satire that makes fun of white racists. They got used to doing this every time they saw me and asked me to join them. It was confusing behaviour because she went to student meetings with me during #RhodesMustFall and claimed to want to understand our struggles as black people.
We eventually disagreed on something that had nothing to do with race and could’ve easily reconciled, but I started considering the racism she had been justifying for months. I then decided the friendship wasn’t worth saving. She would always continue being racist when she was with her friends but use me as the black friend that proved that she was not racist.
She was a self-hating black girl
Sabrina*, a coloured friend of mine, invited me to the cinema after an exam, and we bumped into an old friend who asked her if she had ever dated a black man before. I wasn’t really listening until she said, “I’m not attracted to black boys, because of their hair. I want nice hair I can run my hands through. Your hair is hard, guys.” This is when I jumped in to ask if the issue was just with the hair because there are many coloured boys and girls with coarse hair too. I asked if she would date an Indian boy, and she said, “No, because they are a bit dark.” She added she prefered fair-skinned coloured boys, but favours white skin and hair more.
I was stunned because she was dark-skinned herself. She could see my respect for her draining from my eyes, and tried to explain that she just didn’t want to have babies with black hair and dark skin, because she wouldn’t know what to do. I told her to love herself and her people and reminded her that her mentally enslaving thoughts were dividing and immobilising black people. I couldn’t continue to watch the movie with her, because she quickly made an excuse about being sick and left. I never saw her again and never attempted to, either.
All these experiences have taught me to ask the right questions at the start of a friendship, and make my opinions heard so that people know the kind of things I’m passionate about and my political and social stances so I can determine who should be in my life or not. I’ll continue to lose friends as I grow, but at least now I know who I am and what I will not stand for.
*Not their real names
Photography: Onele Liwani