There are many things that I can easily apologise for but being angry is not one of them. It takes a lot to make me angry, really angry. I get irritated with little things and annoyed with big things but often I swallow it down and deal with what needs to be dealt with, as we all do.I have been in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival performing and enjoying theatre and art. Watching work, talking about work and thinking about creating new work. I am tired. When I am tired I am not as sweet-natured or tolerant .
Yesterday I went to watch a children’s theatre show called The Incredible Journey. As an audience member I expect to be able to watch theatre in peace. To be able to watch and enjoy without interruption. The performance was based on bullying and used dance, song and text to create imaginative situations that illustrated the story for us. There was a white woman next to me, I had not noticed her until she tapped me on the shoulder. First mistake. This is theatre, why are you wanting to talk to me. She then proceeded to ask me to tell her the meaning of a song that they were singing on stage. My facial expression must have given her a fright because she removed her hand from my shoulder so fast that she almost elbowed her 5 year old in the head. But still she waited for a response, which came, short and clipped, “The song is in Zulu, I don’t know!” Second and last mistake. I was livid. This lady taking up my listening time with her faulty racial profiling. She didn’t even apologise for wasting my time and asking me stupid questions. She just shrugged and went back to watching. I was furious.
This morning I went to go and watch Return of the Ancestors, a brilliant physical theatre piece which I would describe as modern protest theatre. I sat down next to a beautiful black woman with braids and a head scarf. We were in the second row. A white man, his little daughter and his teenage son walked past us, his daughter tugged at his pants and asked where they should sit. He looked around, pointed at me and the woman who I was sitting next to, coughed a laughed and said, “Not behind them, they have big hair.” We looked at him, then at each other trying to see where our ‘big hair’ was taking up space. We were both so shocked. I took off my beanie and showed her my short back and sides. She shook her head and said in a sad, tired voice, ” And they say that things are changing.” I was so angry, angry that I had not torn his face off and angry that again we, women, black people, were having to swallow and accept.
I counted to ten. My parents taught me to do that. They told me that being angry makes you say and do things that you don’t mean. They taught me to do the counting thing so that I could speak logically and bring my opinion across after a fight or disagreement. 9, 10. I got up out of my seat, walked the 3 steps up to where the white man sat with his two children. I stopped in front of him, cleared my throat to shake out the 11 and 12, last little bit of rage. I looked him right in the eye and said, “That comment that you made…..” I did not even have time to finish my sentence. He was already apologising profusely. He was embarrassed and annoyed by the fact that I had come to confront him in front of his children. I could feel that he wanted me gone. I lingered after his apology and said, “It is important that you know that we were offended by your comment. That is all. ” He looked like a frightened, embarrassed puppy that had weed on the carpet and was waiting to learn the consequences of such a deed.
I walked away from him, hot and sweating in my armpits. I sat down, my hands shaking, lip on the verge of quivering. The woman next to me turned to me, smiled and said, “Thank you.” I gave her my most powerful nod, turned to the stage and was eternally grateful that the show began right then so that she could not see the tears beading at the corners of my eyes. I cry when I am angry. Really angry. It is so annoying. One tear fell, I wiped it away hard and fast, bit my lip, squeezed my hands together and focused hard on the performance.
How are these things still happening to me? How is it that there are still people like them around? White, educated, middle-aged people? I have no more patience for people like that woman and that man. I am tired of having to count to 10. I am tired of hearing other women, black people, sigh and accept. This is not the life that I want. This is not the life that I should be expected to be happy with. It should not be solely my job to correct these attitudes.
I am so unimpressed.