An ugly and jarring reminder

klansign

There it was, posted on a light pole outside my house — a flier that made my heart skip a few beats.

“The KKK Wants you. The Loyal White Knights Neighborhood Watch.”

I’ve seen several of these fliers around in Atlanta intown neighborhoods. Two others were posted in front of homes I know are owned by people of colour.

I called the Southern Poverty Law Center — which tracks hate crimes — yesterday to find out whether this was a sign of Klan resurgence. The intel folks there assured me there was nothing to worry about. Turns out that the KKK is trying to capitalize on the current immigration crisis with a recruiting drive. Apparently the group has been spreading their message of hate in other states as well.

I called the two numbers listed on the flier. One call went to the Richmond, Virginia, area. The other, to North Carolina.

Both times, I got a recorded message. The first was a diatribe against immigrants that urged shoot-to-kill orders along the Mexican border. The second was a racist rant against black people. Niggers, it said, have IQs barely above mental retardation.

I have lived in the South for a majority of my life. I know well the brutal history of racism.

As a brown woman from another country, I have felt racism’s sting many a time. I’ve been called a sand nigger, a camel jockey, an injun. I’ve had readers of my stories tell me to go the hell back to the dirty, stinkin’ place I came from. They’ve called me Osama lover. Some have even sent me death threats.

But something about these fliers made me stop dead in my tracks.

I spoke with my friend, Valerie Boyd, about it last night. We talked about how — despite the hatred, bigotry and discrimination that still exists in American society — we were (fortunately) never victims as our parents were.

Val’s parents grew up in a Jim Crow South. My parents grew up under the British Empire. The movie theater near my mother’s childhood home had two drinking fountains. One was for Europeans, the other for Indians and dogs.

We talked about how the Klan burned crosses in the front yards of black people. The fliers, Val said, were the crosses of our generation.

I am by no means making any comparison here. But that’s how it felt when I first saw the “KKK” in front of my house. I felt the Klan was sending me a message: We know who you are and where you live. And we don’t want your kind here.

The Southern Poverty Law Center assured me I should not be scared by this routine canvassing attempt. But to me, there is little that is routine about what I heard on the recorded messages. They were another reminder to me of how far America still has to go.

Even with a black man in the Oval Office, even with America on the verge of transforming into a minority-majority nation, racism is alive and well.

Perhaps it will take many generations to eliminate racism. Until then, it behooves us all to talk about ugly things in the open, to make sure the brutality of the past is never repeated.

 

 

 

 

Seeing through the colour lens





Driving through picturesque Cape Town and its environs in the Western Cape, I was truly awed. If you have ever driven down the Pacific Coast Highway, especially from San Francisco to Carmel, you will have good idea of how incredibly beautiful the scenery is here.

Rugged mountains heaving upward to the sky from humble beginnings where Atlantic waves crash violently on jagged shores. Pablo Neruda’s ocean green clashing with azure skies and the lime green of Fynbos, Afrikaans for Fine Bush, the native vegetation of succulents and shrubs.

Snaking highways take you through paradise at Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay, Camp’s Bay — idyllic fishing towns where fish and chips shops serve up freshly caught Hake. And vineyards that offer tastings of the best Pinotage, Merlot and Chardonnay.

The houses dot the hillsides, graceful and full of splendour. You think: Yes, I could live here. Spend every day in this lush, luxe setting.

But you need a non-white person with you to tell you the real story of the Western Cape.

Even now, 16 years after South Africa established democracy and passed the strongest constitution in the world, perhaps, that bars any sort of discrimination, the vestiges of apartheid are not lost on a person of color.

Yes, you can go to South Africa and go on safaris and see its National Geographic beauty, but you cannot ever forget what was here. And if you look closely, behind the hills, far away from the tourist signs, you will still see apartheid.

At Hout Bay, you can see the flats built for coloreds when you get high up on the hill. There it is. In all its ugliness.

Or what about Ocean View?

“Look there,” said my guide Gillian Schroeder, a coloured woman who grew up in the Cape Flats (pictured with me at Chapman’s Peak). “How ironic. There’s no view.”

Just rows and rows of horrific housing built inland to house coloreds evicted from Simon’s Town, a place where tourists now venture to look at African penguins and shop for antiques.

And what about the blacks? You can’t even see their townships from the main roads and highways. They are tucked away like the poor in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

Only here, I cannot forget that they were forced from their homes and put in segregated communities when apartheid was enforced in 1948. The Group Areas Act mandated separate communities and non-whites were plucked from the homes and throw into horrid shanties without any surrounding trees, without electricity, without anything save gray dust and misery.

My drive to the Cape of Good Hope (pictured above) was marred by conversation with Gillian of the past and present. Even though everyone is equal now in South Africa, there still is apartheid. Blacks still live in the townships. They still do the manual labor. the most menial tasks. Coloreds live in the flats. The richest neighborhoods, the nicest places are still all white.

In the United States, laws were changed but racism has taken many years to subside. It still manifests itself now, more than 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In South Africa, it was different. There was brutal white rule and then a black majority democracy. But centuries of oppression don’t just go away, especially when the ruling class is still here. In my native India, the colonizers left. Here, they stayed.

How do you live side by side after all that hatred, all those tears, all that cruelty. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission can help, but it cannot erase the emotions swirling in millions of hearts.

I have to say that it is truly amazing to me how blacks, coloureds, Indians and whites live side by side now. Those who were oppressed have amazingly forgiven.

But as my friend, Stephen Moagi of Capetown said, it is hard to forget.

His name tag at work reads: Stephens. Like a last name. None of his white employers have bothered to correct it. Small, but telling, I thought.

Eunice, a black waitress at Bertha’s restaurant on the ocean in Simon’s Town (pictured, top, left), gives her name as Thabiso. That’s her name in Xhosa. That’s what she prefers. Except no one ever bothered to ask.

You don’t have to look hard to notice. Just take your eyes off the guide books and tours. And you will know the real South Africa.