I have experienced living in the township (the Cape Flats) where I grew up and the suburbs I moved into as an adult.

As a “coloured” (although I identify as Black) growing up during the height of Apartheid and the subsequent racist world, I am still dumbfounded at the labels the people with the colour of my skin have to bear.

Most owners of retail stores that choose to trade in townships have a policy of “suspecting” you of a crime the moment you walk into their store. For some, it’s a noticeable “leave your bag in the locker” rule while others, try to be “subtle” by insisting security personnel “tape” your bag before you enter the store. Whilst I understand that shrinkages (theft) can seriously affect the liquidity of the store, I can’t help but compare my experiences as a shopper in a store in a township and one in a suburb.

The store in the suburb will treat me in a “less obvious” manner, depending on what I am wearing that day. If I am dressed in a tracksuit and look a bit “unkempt,” then I have eyes on me from the moment I enter the store. Should I be dressed up, the suspicion that I am viewed with is less! Bearing in mind that where I live, I have seen white people walk into stores bare feet and often with worse clothing that I am wearing on one of my bad days.

It may seem as if I am exaggerating, but I can “feel” the suspicion levelled at me! As a casualty of racism, the assumption of criminality I am subjected to is never far from the surface. It’s always there, hovering just below, watching, waiting for me to transgress and to “prove” people right that “coloureds are good for nothing.” 

It’s assumed that I must have grown up as some type of gangster or at least the girlfriend of one. 

It is assumed that all coloured people drink or do drugs, and while I acknowledge that there is a problem within the community, it’s not as “cut and dried” as it seems. That, though, is a story for another day. 

It is assumed that I am involved in some dodgy deals if I approach a bank for a business loan.

The colour of my skin is the entire basis on which people who look like me are judged! It takes years to build a reputation that can be destroyed in an instant by some nasty, racist person uttering, “you know what coloureds are like.” – and with that simple sentence, my reputation is gone and all of the good I have tried to do.

The assumption of criminality is tiring, traumatizing and taxing on the body, but it is something that black and brown people have to deal with every day. While not “all white people” behave this way, enough do it for the behaviour to become normalized. Think about it, a white person who is homeless is viewed as that and not automatically labelled a criminal (not that homeless people are naturally criminals) but, the assumption is never that they are automatically criminals, as opposed to a black or brown person.

I can only wish that this will change but having witnessed the slow pace of change, I have resigned myself to the fact that it may not in my lifetime.

There is a saying to understand me, “walk a mile in my shoes,” and this is my wish for everyone who sees criminals when they see black and brown people. I long for the day that I am judged by my actions, not the colour of my skin- that the “assumption of criminality,” is not placed upon people like me from the moment we are born.