Beware the poison of prejudice – set our children free… 19

The free spirits of our children, are in our hands.

Thirty Zulu community leaders sat in a dusty rural school room. It was 1995 in the newly free South Africa, at a village called Molweni, near the great harbour city of Durban.

The delegates watched and listened as I showed and spoke of community management. Most were dressed in an array of political T-shirts. The recent political victory, over Apartheid’s minority, spoke clearly in their aggressive and somewhat arrogant mood.

As the training ensued, I began to notice a language and behaviour pattern that would prevent them from benefiting fully from the workshop and their lives.

Whenever I asked them to carry out an overnight exercise, they would say, “Sizozama”, (We will try.) When they spoke of me they called me an “Umlungu”, – (White.)

Their exercises were never completed and I was isolated by their perceptions.

One day I asked if they would like to be really great leaders. “Yes.” Came the response. I asked if they would stop using certain words, as this would help them to grow and lead. They suspiciously gave me permission to carry on.

I said, “The first word that I would like you to stop using, is “Try.””

“Why?” they began, ending their enquiry with, “If you don’t try, you won’t get anything.”

I asked if anyone smoked. A few raised their hands. I then asked how many of them had “tried” to give up smoking. They smokers all laughed and said they had. They agreed that they were still smoking so “trying” had done little for them.

I then asked if anyone had tried to lose weight and various plumpy people raised their hands, amidst fits of laughter. We agreed that “try” should be traded for committed phrases and words.

I then asked them to remove the word “Umlungu” (White person), from their vocabulary. Immediately there was anger in the room. People jumped up and shouted, ”Why!” I responded that it was that very type of language that denied them opportunity. One man was particularly angry.

“I will use that word to describe you and your kind,” he said,
“until the day I die.”  I asked him why.

“Because I have been injected with that poison, through apartheid.” As he angrily jabbed his finger, like a needle, into his forearm.

I asked him, how our country would move from political freedom into human respect, humanity and freedom from prejudice. He replied, “The children play together, they will make us free.”

I then asked him, if the poison that now coursed through his veins, was like a disease. And, if it were a disease, was it like flu or HIV Aids. Would he be able to treat the symptoms when they arose, or would he die from the terminal poison.

“It is like Aids!” He said angrily, “I will die like this!”

I then asked, “If you had AIDS, would you go to your children each day, draw your infected blood and inject your disease into them?”

“No!”, he said, horrified.

“Then why do you do that with the poison of prejudice?” Each day you will go home and talk negatively of someone by colour. Or you will say things like, “Us blacks have a problem.”, or “The whites have all the luck.” Other people may say. “Us whites have a problem, the blacks are getting all of the jobs through affirmative action”.

And from some Indian and Coloured people, “Once the white bread was on the top of our sandwiches, and the brown underneath. Now the brown is on the top and we are still just the sandwich spread!”

And each time as these things are repeated, an impression is created in the minds of our children. And one day when they realise that they have been grouped by big people into a colour, they will begin to believe that life holds nothing for them. They have been poisoned by us and the disease will not be stopped.

There were gasps of shock around the room. A man began to moan, “Hau! Hau!” in surprise and shock at the reality.

I asked once more. “Who will set us free from prejudice?”

They answered, as one, “It is us.”

Where are we today, in 2016?

21 years have passed.

Penny Sparrow’s dumb, ignorant and prejudiced remarks have opened up Pandora’s box. The racist demons are screaming in rage – and even Hope seems to have fled.

Yet there is still HOPE. And we are that vital ingredient.

Us adults have not woken yet up to our  responsibilities to the future  our children and humankind.

We are the hope and the light for our children.

Children are born open to all people. They are open to all knowledge and learning and live in the moment. All people are their family, as they are an integral part of a great world.

And it is our responsibility to keep that wonder and openness alive. It is our job to ensure that our prejudices are not injected or drip fed, into their beautiful spirits.

You and I must take responsibility to keep our prejudices to ourselves and eventually remove them from our own souls. We are responsible to stop the ancestral isolations that we learnt from our parents. Pity them for they were first poisoned by their ancestors.

All of us, in particular teachers, have an incredible responsibility. Children come to us pure, or a little blemished and perhaps, misguided. We have been chosen to hold their free spirits in our hands.

Let’s go forth guardians and do our duty. For only then will children be born, as children of the universe. Free to learn, love and appreciate all things and everyone.

Warm regards,

Brian V Moore 12 11 2002, Durban – South Africa.

+27 79 643 4457

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19 thoughts on “Beware the poison of prejudice – set our children free…

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    One last things Sylvia, that Arthie taught me.

    And this is not a judgement. It has helped me tremendously.

    I had stepped aside for a person in the supermarket. They ignored me and stormed past. So I called out a sarcastic “Thank you!” behind them.

    Arthie turned to me, and asked, “Did you let that person past because you thought it was good and kind, or did you do it for their thanks?”

    It has taken a while, but I do not look for thanks from cars, or people. I just do things because it is right.

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Hi Happy.

    Thanks once more! You are bringing some great thoughts to the discussion!

    I obviously am only one person – with my thoughts and ideas. I welcome your thoughts and those of others.

    Most kids would not be focused on white, Indian, coloured and black – without having been exposed to those ideas at home.

    We are far too focused on colour, race and religion. This child believes he can not be defined because he does not sound like “them.” How do “they” sound? Why should he be defined anyway.

    I am a fluent speaker of isiZulu – you can call me on 079 643 4457 – to test me. Apparently I sound Zulu. That does not make me Zulu – or a colour. My use of Afrikaans, Swazi and Ndebele are all pretty fluent. Yet I am a Zambian born South African, of Irish Scottish descent, married into an Indian family, member of a Zulu tribe and I originally only spoke English. How should I be defined. Am I Zulu? Am I Afrikaans? Scottish? Irish? Indian? Or white?

    It is awesome to know what language a person speaks, to know something of their background. There is so much to learn from people who are different. But there is no value in negatively defining people by these things.

    And it is in every child’s natural learning impulses to be curious – and that is awesome. We all should learn to be just like them.

    My curiosity has got me to the point of knowing how to greet in 90 languages. And my curiosity has helped me to learn languages. I always assess a person on their behaviour – not on their appearance or beliefs.

    On ethnicity. This is a huge challenge in our beautiful country. We are often called in to transform supposedly racist teams, made up of different ethnic groups without white, Indian and coloured team members. And we have recently been called into do the same for Xenophobic teams – all people at a high educational level. 

    This land of judgement needs to call a halt to jealousy, disrespect and hate and open the doors to love and respect!

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Thanks Sylvia.

    It is all about awareness. The moment we head into the them and us, or slip into :everyone says so”, we are in trouble.

    Thanks for your stories. Ageism is a reality, and genderism lives on.  We all need to be aware of what is in us and how our experiences form the basis for our judgements.

  • Happy Huhlwane

    I really loving this mainly because I agree with you Brian. I was at a school tennis practise last week. And I heard one child who would be classified as coloured telling the other kids, mostly black and some whites, if you’d allow me to use these terms for now, that he is not coloured because he doesn’t sound like them. And later on on that day at soccer one kid introduced himself and the kids started to ask if he’s Italian or … He was quick to say he is Portuguese. What’s your take on this and ethnicity?

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for your response. Yes, I always speak to all car guards and usually ask for their “home” name because their badge says what is obviously a name given by the employer.  I use a few local shopping centres and depending on which one the guards are either from the Eastern Cape, or from Zimbabwe or Zambia.  

    One car guard asked me about my UCT sticker on the car and whether I was a teacher – and was completely amused when I told him I am a student! 

    On school – much humour was recently caused in our family recently. One of my granddaughters is going to camp with her grade and the instructions were that the BOYS would help with fire-making.  She is a girl guide and very good at making fires, her mom was quickly off to school to object to the gender discrimination.

    I have had many conversations about with a young woman I mentor and the key word I think is “consciousness”.  As Des points out a lot of words are used unconsciously.  The worst word is “they” – it slips in so quickly and brings with it a world of assumptions about “a group” that has no basis in reality.

    This is clearly our life challenge.  

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Hi Sylvia. I have found out this morning that Zambians and people from the DRC also use two hands when giving and receiving or simply shaking hands. However I am sure there are many people who are more, or less, traditional. This is not disrespect, or a failing on their part. Not everybody follows a general way, or belief system.

    Keep on showing respect, as you do. And do not be annoyed if someone does not – it is simply their way. And that is OK. Your respect, is all that matters.

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Thanks Des,

    This is the second time that I have stood up to the school. The last time they sent ME a form to sign that racially SEPARATED my own family! I think that their ears are still ringing!

    However, we need to stand up to the system that forces them to do so. This is a government and Education department lead, statistics focused process. All it does is separate us as human beings. I doubt that anyone actually uses the statistics.

    We have found in diversity training – team members have to define themselves on the registers and we are teaching unity, respect and equality.

  • Des Squire

    Well done Brian on standing up to the school. I agree, we are all one race and its time we all understood that. Your statement in response to Sylvia -“The chances are that this and all the other words that are used to define people by colour, race and religion are simply cornerstones of prejudice. They facilitate negative judgements and help to isolate people by group” could not be more true. We are all prejudiced but fail to realise it. When we make statement like “They always behave that way, or they always…… whatever” who do we mean by they?? This is prejudice at is best. The one word I really have come to hate is the word “they”.   

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Thanks Sylvia,

    Happy is right in that there is no intended prejudice in her housekeepers reference to her “Umlungu.” The challenge is that she sees herself as less than that person. The term is more often used to describe a person who is in charge, and dispenses largesse to those less privileged.

    I know another person who “affectionately” uses the the K word to describe his employees. “I love my K’s!” This is unacceptable, even though he is expressing “love.” Why can he not just love his people?

    In terms of the two-handed giving and receiving. Many people from an Indian or African South African background will use two hands to  do so. However many of our car guards are from other countries and this is not a custom where they come from. Perhaps it would be an idea to ask where they come from.

    I do and then I greet, or thank them in their own languages. Which I have learnt from them.

    On the other side of that – some people are not traditional and have become used to the more individual norms. In Namibia, the Nama Damara look one squarely in the eyes and will not trust you if your do not do so. This goes counter to eye-contact norms in South Africa.

    And lastly, my African style of giving and receiving was most appreciated in China!

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi Brian,

    I think that Happy may be right that the use of umlungu may be used as a habit – but I must say when I hear it used in close proximity to me I take it as an insult and always turn and glare directly at the person who said it.

    I also take offence when I give a car guard money (always with two hands) and he takes it with one hand.

    That is just me – I think we South Africans are complicated people – all of us – and depending on where we were brought up does influence who we are – and we all need to be very aware of what we think – and what we do – and most especially what we say.    

    Thanks for another very interesting discussion. 

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Hi Happy. 

    It is common, in recent years, for a person to call their boss Umlungu. 

    This is because the bosses always used to be “white.” It does not fit when a person is not their boss. That is in the case of most people who happen to be pale in complexion. The plural Abelungu – is often used to describe all “white” people – and not “bosses.”

    A few questions..

    When a politician uses these words, would he be describing his bosses? When a 7 year old, at my son’s school, calls me Umlungu does he think that I am his boss? Were the people in this story calling me that because I was their boss?

    The chances are that this and all the other words that are used to define people by colour, race and religion are simply cornerstones of prejudice. They facilitate negative judgements and help to isolate people by group.

    Words have power. By moving away from such definitions we come closer to being able to respect each other as human beings.

    There is only one race – and that is the human race. We should let our children know that they are human, and not allow the system to categorize them.

    Yesterday I told me son’s school that I would not be part of their system to judged my children as coloureds.

    Although their mum and I would have been classified differently under Apartheid, we will not be judged as separate sub-species of the human race. (This would put 2 sub species in one family!) We are human beings FULL STOP!

    As my wife would say – “Yes, we are a mixed couple. 1 boy and 1 girl!” And our children are both extraordinary boys! And we love them as parents normally do.

  • Happy Huhlwane

    The term umlungu is confusing at times. It is nowadays generally used to mean my boss. I have a lady who helps me around the house 2 days a week. She fondly and affectionately talks about her white employer by referring to her as umlungu wami. She’ll be saying umlungu wami bought me this and on and on and on. Will this be considered as being prejudice?

  • Des Squire

    Oh if only – let’s hope all members of Skills Universe read this and respond to the positive message. Keep up the great work – regards to Artie.

  • Toni Dapshis

    Thank you for your valuable insight Brian. It’s an attitude that must not just be the clothing one puts one for convenience sake but rather the core of who one is and how they live their lives to make a positive difference in the lives of others.