Can we try this?
Can we give the “principal dancer” in The Nutcracker ballet her time to shine and be brilliant without the understudy peeping from behind the curtains distracting not only the dancer but the audience?
Let me give you an example:
In 2016 Caster Semenya won gold at the Rio Games and instead of media the world over watching, interviewing and praising Caster, the media turned to a blonde-haired runner who burst into tears when she lost.
She never came second or third or even fourth but sixth.
And there she stood crying at the unfairness of running a race with Caster and Caster looked as if she wanted to comfort this runner who came sixth place. Caster looked, from the brief moments, the world media was on her as if she wanted to apologize for winning!
My heart bled for Caster because I have been there and that white girl who wanted center stage had no idea just what Caster and her family had to sacrifice to get her there.
Years ago I entered a Talent Competition in Cape Town. The prize money wasn’t much but it was the exposure I was interested in. I wanted my name out there and wanted to be a singer and my mom saw the ad in the paper and signed me up.
The competition lasted 6 weeks and every week I was chosen to get to the next round was another: “Where will we find someone to take me through to the City center from the Cape Flats?” thought!
We then decided my sister and I and a friend would like to save my mom having to beg someone to take me there and have to wait for 2 or 3 hours then bring me back home.
So we would plan my next outfit with clothing we all had and mix and match until we felt I looked presentable for the stage. At the time it was intimidating enough just walking into an all-white establishment and there were always dress codes and if there was no dress code then there would be if they felt we were not dressed appropriately.
So off we would go with thick coats to disguise the outfits we were wearing because we were hiking and had to walk a long distance to get to the place. (Bearing in mind this was at night).
Weeks came and went and every week I would go through to the next round.
Finally, we got to the semi-finals and from about 560 people we were down to 8 that week.
I made it to the finals with 4 others (all white people) and was so nervous that during the last week I developed laryngitis and naturally I panicked even more.
The day of the finals it rained and kept on raining as only Cape Town can when it does rain. By the time we walked to the highway to begin hiking we were drenched and I wanted to turn back. I wasn’t feeling well and the rain wasn’t helping.
We arrived at the venue and I rushed to the toilets to dry myself. We would each do one song, break then another and after that, the winner and runner’s up would be announced.
There were 2 guys and 2 girls and me. The one girl (beautiful girl with blonde hair and blue eyes), tipped to be the favorite sang Whitney Houston’s “You give good love,” beautifully and the crowd went wild.
During the break, I encountered the other girl in the toilet where I was tidying up. She introduced herself and begged me not to continue with the competition.
I was confused and didn’t understand what she was on about.
She said she would commit suicide if she doesn’t win or come 2nd or 3rd place and I comforted her while she cried and felt really sorry for her.
Then she told me that she was raped by 4 “coloured” guys and looked at me accusingly. At this point, my sister overheard the last bit and joined us and the girl said just looking at me reminds her of those guys because they could’ve been my brothers.
My heart broke and I asked what I could do to help her and she said, “withdraw from the competition.”
If I had any decency in me, based on what those guys had done to her, I would withdraw my name.
I was just about ready to go and let her have her moment in the spotlight when my sister (who is often my voice of reason) asked why I would withdraw?
Yes, she feels bad for the girl if that was the truth but I never harmed her! I am not related to those guys and how do we know she’s telling the truth?
She and my sister were arguing a bit and as I was leaving she said, “I know you’ll do the right thing!”
“All you have to do is not get up when they call your name!”
I did get up! I got up for my mom who encouraged me to sing. I got up for my sister and friend who risked their lives hiking at night to support me. I got up simply because it was unfair. I had nothing except my voice and I had dreamed of being a singer. Not for the glamour but for the opportunity to do something I loved and lived for and finally I got up because that girl never told the white girl her story! She never mentioned anything to anyone except me.
I had nothing of value. I was a poor woman of colour living under a brutal regime. The little we had my mom worked hard for but I had dreams and my dream was to be a singer in a band.
It was glamorous, I would earn money, get to travel and sing. What more could I ask for?
I won that competition and as my sister and friend were screaming my name as I walked up to the stage to receive my prize, all I could think of was that girl and her tears and it robbed me of my joy. The absolute joy I should have felt at finally winning something in a country where the colour of my skin wasn’t the right one.
Do you understand where I am going with this?
Do you realize how frustrating it is when you try to take center stage and it becomes about you?
Do you know how hurtful it is to be a victim of racial slurs and discrimination?
So I ask why do you tell me what good work you are doing in the townships/projects? Are you doing it for me to feel bad or for you to feel good?
Why do I need to know how you helped a black or brown person that was stuck at the side of the road?
Why do I need to know about the soup kitchen you’re volunteering at?
All these things are great and I applaud you but it doesn’t make you understand racism or white privilege better!
So why the need to hand out your resume whenever the subject of racism comes up?
Why do I need to be told about those poor white people living in shacks when I speak about the grinding poverty and inequality evident in our society?
Do you have any idea how frustrating and annoying it is to have a conversation hijacked by your need to personalize things and to talk about how you feel and how you “fought” against a system that protected, mollycoddled and benefited you?
There are white allies who I am very close friends with and they know who they are. There are white allies I have great respect and admiration for because they don’t ever center themselves.
Because the fight against racism is about us not them. They understand that together we can make a difference.
Then, of course, there are the, “You don’t know me and you know nothing about my life” white people jumping up as if I made a judgment on their lives. The “I grew up poor, can I also get a house for free” ones.
(As if it’s a mansion the Government gives and as if you’re on the street)
Can we look inward and stop trying to take center stage and break down in tears when BEE is implemented or when a black or brown person has done well?
You have had the limelight.
You have had your time to shine.
You have had more than 25 years of being center stage.
Could you now step aside and applaud us when we are center stage?
Can you stop robbing us of our joy and remain backstage for the few moments while we are center stage?