I began teaching with a drama company that teaches speech and drama classes. It is an interesting job filled with unintentional, subconscious politics, racism and sexism. I began by shadowing some of the classes and now it is all me. All 24 classes, all 9 schools, scattered across the peninsula, both private and government owned.
I began teaching, and so my own education began. It all started at one of the religious schools that I teach at, with students that I have come to love. I asked a boy to stand up, tell me his name and something that I and the class did not know about him. He stood up with a heavy shadow over his eyes and a hint of a smile on his lips, and stated with pride, “My name is Jaden and I hate Xhosas!”
I’m not Xhosa, so it was not that aspect of the statement that punched me in the gut. It was the knowledge that not child in the world makes such ridiculous statements without it being learned or observed from an older person. I am black, and these words sounded like words that a naive, racist South African would say. A statement made by a parent, maybe, who calls all black people ‘Xhosas’ because that is all that they know about black people.
I was livid, but trying to remain calm and professional under the gaze of 20 pairs of young, impressionable eyes, I did a lightning speed count to 10. I swallowed what was left of my shock and anger and asked him if he knew ever single Xhosa speaking person on Earth. His answer was no. I asked him how, then, could he hate all Xhosa speaking people? His answer was, “I just do!”
He was gaining confidence. His classmates were beginning to laugh. I stepped on the laughter like on steps on a cigarette. Putting it out with the weight of a heavy foot. I told him to stand up and look me in the face. I explained to him, in front of the class that he was being racist to me and all of the other black people in the class. This grade 6 boy was then taken to the principle. I demanded that his parents and teacher be called. I was not in the mood for jokes or being tested. The principal, apologised profusely, his parents were called and apparently felt extremely embarrassed .
His teacher reprimanded him, saying, “we don’t teach racism at this school. You don’t know what racism is. You were not born in apartheid.”
I felt as if someone had just beat me through the face. How can an adult tell this child that racism does not exist in his world when I , an adult, am calling him to the principal for acts of racism? Jaden was confused and afraid. He began to cry. He sat and cried through the rest of my class and then wrote me an apology explaining that one of the Xhosa boys in the road had broken his toy car and had laughed at him when he had been asked to fix it and say sorry. Jaden finished the apology with, “I am sorry Miss Antamu, you are a good drama teacher.”
A new lesson happens every day. Little experiments take place with me ,my skin and my sex being used as a method of finding a conclusion. All of my private school preschool class students ask me if I am ‘Sipho’ or ‘Thandi’ s’ mom. Conclusion. These private schools often only have one ‘Sipho’ or one ‘Thandi’ there are no black teachers and their young minds can already conclude for themselves that I am not a cleaner. So by a series of deductions they come to ‘mom’ because ‘teacher’ is not a part of the picture that their world has created for them.
What is this reality? The actions of parents is what keeps racism, sexism and classism alive and growing. Children are not born prejudice or cruel. Parents, communities and media teach them to be that way.
Educated, black, female, me. I am on the inside now. Educating the minds of your children. Showing them that I demand respect and attention just as anyone else does. This is their future. Allow them the space to have it.