Opinionista Lwando Xaso 21 November 2020

The not so black and white issue of navigating my childhood friendships

‘See, my white friends live in a world full of hope – they put up missing posters and expect their dogs to be found and brought back. I wonder what having that hope is like.’

First published in Daily Maverick 168.

This past weekend I officially launched my first book, Made in South Africa: A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress, which is a collection of essays reflecting on my experiences as a South African. Made in South Africa is available at all good bookstores nationwide. Here is an excerpt from pages 174 to 175:

“I sensed my white friends were different from me because they would put up posters of their dogs when they went missing. I am a dog person too. I had a St Bernard dog while growing up in Soweto – yes, the idea of a black girl with a St Bernard in the township sounds ridiculous but my dad, who shares the same love for dogs, found him, bought him and brought him home. When he got lost it never occurred to me to put up missing dog signs all over the neighbourhood. First of all, I knew that the people in my neighbourhood had bigger things to worry about than my missing dog. Secondly, I think little black girls do not have the hope that their missing dogs will be found and brought back to them. So we do not waste our time with missing dog posters. We accept loss and chalk it up to how the world works. See, my white friends live in a world full of hope – they put up missing posters and expect their dogs to be found and brought back. I wonder what having that hope is like. When I was younger, I remember coming home from school and asking my mom why she had not named me ‘Michelle …No one ever stumbled over pronouncing Michelle. I also felt that a ‘Michelle’ would have a more pleasant experience of living in this world, rather than someone who often had to teach people repeatedly how to pronounce her name …

“My parents thought it was ridiculous that I wanted a white name, as it was a very deliberate part of my family history that none of us would have white names. My dad and his siblings all have Xhosa names. My grandfather refused to give them any white names, whether first or middle.

“Another moment of unease in my white friendships was when I was invited to a white friend’s birthday party in the suburbs. I used to relish going to those birthday parties because it meant an opportunity to swim; I did not have a swimming pool at my house. When I got to the party, no one was in the swimming pool and I eagerly asked if anyone would be swimming. No one seemed excited about swimming and, in my mind, I thought it was because they all had the luxury of swimming whenever they wanted to. So, I put on my swimming costume and dived into the pool. I later realised that the reason that no one was swimming was because the pool was green and it was assumed that I would know that if the water was green it meant that the pool needed to be cleaned. However, not having had a home pool, I did not know that the colour green was prohibitive. My friends said I could go in the pool if I wanted to. I failed to read their sarcasm … I did not realise my white friends were giggling behind my back while I swam in the green water.

“Those are the moments … you realise that you and your white friends speak a different language, even when nothing at all is said.” DM168

You can get your copy of DM168 at these Pick n Pay stores.

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