Fear is irrational; an emotion that, as humans, we capitulate to without thinking through what we are precisely fearful of. It must stem from our childhood traumas; whether big or small.
Most people I grew up with feared the police.
At 13, we knew the police were brutal; they killed, they beat you, and we understood somewhere deep in our psyche that we didn’t stand a chance of living if we stood up to the authority they wielded at the barrel of a gun.
At 13, rumours abounded in the township I grew up in that police were killing and torturing young people. These were not unfounded because there were many children who were picked up by those yellow monstrous vans, driven away, never to be seen again. Along with the constant smell of burning tyres was the smell of teargas mixing with what would ordinarily have been fresh air. Because we weren’t allowed to walk with more than 2 people, the information would be shared via letters, pamphlets, telephones or groups risking their lives meeting at “safe houses.”
At 13, we struggled to understand what the police wanted in our townships! We knew we weren’t allowed in “whites only” places, but there were no white people near us, (besides the police and the odd salesman), so what did they want!
At 13, I discovered that this was happening because we weren’t white. I didn’t know what being white meant but I knew a few of us could never be white because we never had fair skin or sleek hair. Why could they not just leave us alone? Who decided that white people were more important? What could I do to stay alive to discover why this was happening? And finally, if my life would seem easier if I was white then prayed to God to make me white too; to let me wake up knowing that it was ok to be alive with the colour of skin I was born into!
At 13, our responsibilities were simple- go to school, do your chores, stay away from the police, and respect everyone. The situation in the States; with black parents telling their children how to react to stay alive, if they are stopped by police, reminds me of the way life was growing up.
At 13, we would listen to music, joke about, dream our big dreams and talk about school and life in general when we were in the relative safety of our home, but survival instincts kicked in the moment there was a knock on the door or when we stepped out into the world we were placed in.
At 13, we looked forward to high school because we knew being young was being vulnerable and it could cost us our lives.
At 13, we saw and experienced things that children should never experience, heard about death and destruction, and the brutal regime we lived in, though we couldn’t comprehend what or why we were here!
When white people think that Apartheid was ok and all it was about was separate amenities and living spaces, they ignore the very real lived experiences of people like me.
I survived 13; enough to give a glimpse into what life was like for one of the “lucky,” ones that woke up every single day never knowing if we would make it to 14 because so many didn’t.