Monday, 19 March 2012

On being a monkey & waking a sleeping dragon...

I've spent the better part of the last week consulting with lawyers and government officials. As it turns out, someone has thought it apt to try to victimize me - without any prior knowledge on my history or what I tend to do to people who "want to teach me a lesson". But I won't get into that right now. Not today.

Anyway, I was discussing racism with my class the other day and one of my students told me a story that left me both disgusted and thoroughly amused.

My student, Miguel, is an Angolan National. I asked him to tell me about his favourite place on earth and he replied "my country". So I responded, "Really? Surely you must have been to other countries?"; to which he responded "Yes, Portugal, Brazil..."

"OK, good" I said, "tell me about Portugal, and why it isn't your favourite place?"

And that's when he told the class that as an Angolan National, he couldn't walk through the streets of Funchal without random strangers calling him a "Monkey" and then hiding away.

Shocked, we all laughed. And then he continued "yes it's true... they call you a monkey and then run away or hide behind pillars. Sometimes they throw bananas at you while you're walking in the street. And if you're in the supermarket, they come up to you and give you a banana - because you're a Monkey".

We laughed again and after making a concerted effort to be serious about a serious matter, I told him that was the most appalling (and funniest) thing I've ever heard. I guess what's most surprising is that this kind of activity continues in this day and age, when people are supposed to be at their most tolerant and accepting. But alas, it's not to be.

I then proceeded to explain to Miguel something worse than being called a monkey in the streets of Portugal. That, 18 years after Apartheid was abolished, we as South Africans are still required to specify which "race" we come from on just about every piece of documentation - official or non-official. That, 18 years after the Blacks have gained freedom from an oppressive regime, most of them have emerged as racists of the new world, often discriminating against everyone else as well as each other and each other's tribes e.g Zulu's against Xhosa's etc. as well as being extremely Xenophobic to immigrants from all over Africa.

And worse, that in a country where Indians are 5th and 6th generation descendants and recognise themselves and their nationalities as proudly South African, there is still an overwhelming majority that are prejudicial and will discriminate against each other because once-upon-a-time their ancestors came from different villages in India... absolutely ludicrous, but true.

We all laughed again. At least we can laugh at these things.


  1. Oh my gosh. It's great that Miguel can have a good sense of humor about his experience in Portugal (when D-Man and I went for our 1st year anniversary, a waiter at a restaurant we ate actually had the balls to tell D-Man in Spanish: "Morena, no! Rubias, sí!", which pretty much means, "Brown girl, no! Blondies, yes!" What enticed him to say it was that we were trying to decide between blonde beer and dark beer). Probably an honest joke, but it irked me.

    Anyway, I've often wondered what it is that makes people push each other away only on a basis of skin color (even if people belong to the same race, they still manage to find a way to discriminate based on SHADE of skin color - very common in Latino culture, and I'm sure in several others). I know that thousands of years ago, it was only survival to be wary of people outside of your tribe or group (and you should still be careful with strangers), but in the case of your student from Angola...really?! It's just too immature.

    But again, kudos for Miguel for being able to laugh it off. Sometimes I feel like I'm still too immature and easily angered about these things, because my own blood would have been boiling!!

  2. You know that people will never be 'at their most tolerant and accepting'. I always wonder if it's because of a lack of brain cells or brain cells that are barely used. Whichever it is, it makes me sick to my stomach. Calling someone a monkey... Give me a break.

  3. It's hilarious that after saying "monkey" they ran away or hid like naughty children. It reminds me of children ringing doorbells and running away, or shouting "knickers" at their schoolmistress from the edge of a building. Hope you get the better of whoever was trying to victimise you.

  4. Take no prisoners -- and let the victimizers know who it is they're messing with.

    I wish that I was there to help in that regard.

    As to racism, it's wrong and it's repugnant but if it wasn't one thing, it would be another. I'm afraid it's part of the human condition (whether village of origin, shade of skin color or some other chauvinism is at work.)

  5. How heart breaking! For my part, the only prejudice I face is for being American. As a people we seem to be difficult to like, as people tend to apply a single political thought to all of us. It really only affects me in international forums or when traveling. For the most part, people either ignore me or make disparaging comments about my country.

    I've only ever once been discriminated against for the color of my skin because my ex's parents wanted him to date a nice Korean or Japanese girl. I cannot imagine the pain you or your student have faced. To me that is heart wrenching!

  6. it's sad when things like that happen. here, after more than 50 years of independence, there is still a space for Race in our offical forms. some friends of mine tend to do this:
    Race: 100m

    policies made over the years after the independence have totally created more room for racial segregation here, methinks.

  7. and..hope all that legal stuff gets sorted out soon.

  8. Racism is ugly. The worst part is it happens everywhere and it is so difficult to learn from.

    Especially as history is forgotten. Which is why its so important to pass on the experiences and compassion to the next generation.

    This has got me thinking. I'd like to write a blog post about this soon, from the perspective of my family: Japanese Americans during WWII.

  9. Oh man, the Indian province thing hits close to home. My best friend from college is dating a fellow Indian-American, and her parents don't like him because his parents are from the same region.

    I wish we could all just get over ourselves.

  10. Michi
    It's one of those things. Most people from Africa are accustomed to being discriminated against and it's actually sad that we've become so de-sensitized to it all. That's why we can laugh. It's almost as if we EXPECT racism wherever we go.
    And you're right, most times the ugly face of racism extends to the very SHADE of a persons skin colour - it's very prominent amongst the blacks here and the Asians / Indians etc.

    I wonder if it's just ignorance Randy... especially since I can't imagine any intelligence and originality behind using the word "monkey" as a derogatory term.

    That's exactly what made it so funny... that grown-ass men and women would call out names and then run away like school children. They can't even own their prejudices.

    It's true that human-kind will find every excuse to "other" people who don't fit into their ideas of what is normal. There are way more prejudicial people in the world then there are those who are tolerant and accepting.

    Even as an American, you shouldn't be discriminated against because of the views of others. Like I said, as Africans, we're so used to such discrimination and prejudice that all we can do is laugh about it.

    Thanks :) I also think some of our policies do nothing but further the divide in our population.

    You make a good point - compassion is essential. Yet it seems so lacking in most societies because people are so focused on seeing the differences and not focused enough on the fact that we're all human and have the same human needs.

    I have the same wish... get over it. There's other more important things to worry about.

  11. I got lucky today - no, not in the naughty sense of the word. A student walked up to me after class and she said, 'Randy I just wanted to tell you you're one hell of a teacher and you're a good person.'So much better than being called a monkey. It's been a good day and there are still a couple of hours left. :)

  12. WHat on earth is wrong with them? The poor Angolan kid.

    Funny, what you said about having to fill up your 'race' in forms in SA - happens here too in Malaysia even after so many years of independence. Thing is, the people of the same community are no different either, they actually try to find out which village your ancestors came from. Looks like there are some similarities between our countries :)

  13. RCB
    At least you're getting compliments Randy... that means you're doing something right :)

    Terra Shield
    People who discriminate against others in the same community are the worst. It's one thing to be ignorant about your prejudices, it's quite another to *know* and still choose to be an asshole.