How I Saw the Light About Race (Part V)
Danie, Cape Town:
After 1994, when modern South Africa became what some call a democracy, the will, whims, and folk customs of the black majority became the order of the day—in law and in fact.
Recently, when I was a post-operative patient in an ultra-modern coastal hospital in South Africa, lying immobilized in a web of tubes, with ice-cold oxygen hissing into my nostrils, I shared the spacious ward with three black patients.
One afternoon as I dozed off, I was startled by clouds of acrid smoke rising from the floor next to me. There, squatted next to my neighbor’s bed, was a grotesque semi-naked figure, festooned in rattling cowry shells, with shriveled eagle talons and tortoise shells, dried snakes and feathers strung around his scrawny neck, a starkly white painted face, arms and legs covered in red and blue ochre smears, a jockstrap pulled tight between his wasted thighs.
I reached for the nurses’ bell, and minutes later the black supervisor arrived.
I had a litany of complaints: violating sterility, general unhygienic practice, anthrax from dead wild animals, stench, danger of open fires near oxygen tanks, rampant bacteria. . . .
The supervisor archly reminded me that “traditional medicine” was now officially legalized. Witchdoctors (now called healers) routinely called on and treated their patients in well-equipped first-world facilities.
My complaint was dismissed as “racist and unconstitutional.”
That was the moment I graduated from being a long-suffering, silent, liberal-minded white South African to a firm believer in racial reality.
I have always been passionate about basketball, a sport dominated by blacks. Even in youth, white kids can tell that black kids are on another level athletically on the basketball court. By high school, anytime we played an all-black team, we knew they would be extremely quick and would be able to jump really high. Ball fakes were very effective against them, however, as they move as soon as they think you are passing or shooting the ball. As a high school coach now, of course, I can’t say this as I would be deemed a racist.
As I grew up, I noticed how black culture (rap music, the focus on cool clothes and sneakers, the slang, the dancing, and so on) was affecting the game. Many white players adopted this culture to fit in with the good players. In college, during an intramural game, I was once punched in the face by a black kid much bigger than I. When my teammate, who was his size, got in the black kid’s face to defend me, the black instantly backed down. It was funny that he decided to punch the kid smaller than he was. He was supposed to be banned for four games, but he showed up anyway and harassed the other team from the sidelines.
It was shortly after this that I began Googling phrases such as “black crime,” “black behavior,” and “black athletic dominance.” Sure enough, AmRen came up, and my life began to make more sense!
In 2007, I suffered multiple organ failure and was placed in a medically induced coma for a month and a half. Afterward, I was transferred to a nursing home, where I was one of the few white patients. I was also one of the few patients who had all her mental faculties. The staff was largely black as were most of the patients. They resented me because of my race because I lucid enough to perceive and protest the horrible treatment I was getting.
I weighed 89 pounds, and the nursing home served primarily soul food—for example, collard greens. My friends brought me food to put in the patient refrigerator, but most of it was stolen. A white nurse then gave me permission to put my food in the staff refrigerator. At shift change, a black caretaker came on duty and discovered the items with my name on them in the staff refrigerator. She became irate, brought everything into my room, and told me I was not entitled to special treatment just because I was Caucasian (her word). My food was put in the patient refrigerator and was of course stolen immediately.
Once, I woke up at 4:30 AM and pressed the call button to ask for some water. The black nurse huffed into my room and advised me that water would be delivered to all patients at 6:30 AM. I called home and had someone call the nurse’s station so that I could get some water. The nurse came back in and slammed down a hospital pitcher of water and asked if I was happy now. I was afraid to drink it.
I signed out the next day Against Medical Advice (AMA) and went home, after a month as a patient and failing to gain even one pound. At home, I quickly gained 20 pounds.
That was my first experience with hostile, racist blacks. Even as licensed caretakers, they displayed their contempt for me as a “Caucasian,” a word they used often. I had expected more from licensed caretakers, even black ones. I learned very quickly during my month-long stay that my expectations were unrealistic. This was my wake-up call.