I came to Denmark 19 years ago. During one of my first visits here, before I got married, I was cycling with my then-fiancée when she nonchalantly cycled through the gates of a marina, or yacht club. I stopped in my tracks like a vampire on a doorstep.
Back in Knysna, in my youth, I used to go fishing near the yacht club with my dad all the time. One Sunday afternoon the whole family was on the boat. I was throwing up as usual and my dad was teasing me for getting seasick on a perfectly still lagoon. A big boat came by with 4 or 5 people on board. A white man pointed at our boat and told his friend that he maybe could invest in something like that. “So ’n roei ding?”, said the friend, to everyone’s delight. It didn’t matter to them that we were people. That we were a family.
There were many spaces that were off limits. The area outside the yacht club seemed fine. I didn’t know the laws, but trusted my father to know what he was doing. And yet, we flew too close to that sun. We rarely interacted with Afrikaners, but when we did it was a good idea to brace yourself. You acquaint yourself with the constant sense of expectation when you’re in a white space. The sight of a white person makes you want to blurt out an apology for being there. That was the state of affairs. But then 1994 happened. The ‘Rainbow Nation’ happened. I was finally free.
And so I got stuck at a yacht club’s gate somewhere in Europe anyway. Over 19 years ago. But just last week, while walking through a manicured suburb, I had an expectation of some blustery old man appearing from behind a hedge and asking me what I was doing there. To explain myself. To explain my presence in his perfect idyll. And I had a response ready. I always have a response ready. When I check my phone in the supermarket and put it back into my pocket I am a potential shoplifter – and I have a response ready.
It’s like an affliction. I wonder how many black people have it, and what it means to them. What would it mean to them to truly be free from it? To live unapologetically inside a full white gaze. I know it would mean a lot to me. A burden off my shoulders. And yet, when white people tell me to get over it, I get the impression they think I’m carrying it by some conscious choice (do they know I’m carrying it, even? They must). Those men on the boat, who think nothing of me and my family, are still out there. You just have to scratch the surface a little bit. Say that more black people are killed by structural violence than white farmers, and there they are, writhing in the woodwork like maggots. They didn’t get over apartheid. No, they did not change a single thing about themselves. Why should I?