Mummy, I don't want to grow up...

my friends daughter told her not so long ago. When she asked her why, the sad answer was:
Because I don't want to be a nanny....

For the first time it really sunk in, what our - dark skinned and adopted  - children are exposed to growing up in this country. If seen through their eyes, our privileged lifestyle becomes a scary reality:  White people drive cars and live in big houses, people who look like them beg on street corners,  have to walk everywhere and the lucky ones with  jobs are nannies or cleaners.

Of course I was never blind to these sad facts in the past. But cushioned by my sheltered upbringing and a heart felt but somewhat blue-eyed vision of a future for my children, where race would not matter , reality never hit me like this before.

For the first time in a long time, I am lost. Lost for words,  that can make sense where there is clearly no good reason behind a bad situation. It is only a matter of time, when Leah will start asking more pertinent questions. In her school, she is one of only a few non-white children. All her teachers are white. Almost all the parents are white. The cleaners and gardeners and security guards look like her.

At home we have only two or three friends who are not white (none of them "black") - but everybody who works for us is (not white).

All the better known children's stories have pale, blond, blue eyed princesses and princes. I haven't seen a children's movie - (other than the princess and the frog, which by now bores me to tears) with beautiful, strong, dark skinned and black haired heroes and heroines. At toy shops the choice of dark skinned dolls and toy figures is limited to one barbie-like doll at the back of the shelve amongst rows and rows of pale, golden or silky brown haired barbie clones. Looking for a doll house family for Kala was another eye-opener. Not a single brown skinned family around. Eventually I bought a set called the "modern family" (ha bloody ha) and ended up dying their hair and skin tones to give them some flavour and variety.

The two beautiful brown baby dolls that I got Leah and Kala from Germany are  not the babies  in our house,  but - officially labeled by Kala - the NANNIES. Whereas the impossibly long legged, small waisted blond barbie dolls have been made into babies and get carted around in prams - looked after by - you have guessed it by now - the brown baby doll nannies....

Where a couple of months ago this might have made me laugh, I am now more aware of the implications that this has. My children clearly not only realise the differences between us, they are also starting - unknowingly still,  but obviously - to identify with people who look  like them. Soon they will need to have strong role models in their lives, people who they can look up to and who will inspire them to live to their full potential.

This was never an issue in my all white world before.
And what is scaring me most is the fact that it is my job to find those role models for them.

Again, I feel lost. As I look around  -  Cape Town - I see separation, racial stereotypes and hidden and open racism everywhere.

I now get truly excited when I see people from different racial backgrounds having lunch together and must restrain myself from openly staring or eaves dropping, because, what I really want to know is: How and where did you manage to hook up and be friends?

My friend (whose kid doesn't want to grow up) has a similar experience at her school, where dark skinned children and parents are scarce: When I try to get a play date with the other little "black" girl in my daughters class (she told me), I immediately feel like the mother looks at me funny thinking: What??, you want your daughter to play with mine, because they are both black???

.... and that would be a ....BAD thing?

Sadly yes. Certainly in a country - where racism until quite recently was not only legal but compulsory. People are suspicious and tread carefully around color issues - and as a result might get stuck  a little too snug in their own small world of strictly one color.

My friends answer (and my answer ) would be: yes , that's one of the reasons I would like them to play together. I would love for my daughter to have amongst her friends girls who look like her, with whom she can  (too soon I am sure!) discuss hairstyles and cosmetics, somebody she can compare herself with.

And as for me, I too would love to have amongst my friends a mother or parents who are not white and who have jobs other than nannies or cleaners.

( I need to emphasize that this is not because I don't value our beautiful nannies and  treasured house keepers?  It's the stereotype that I hate and the many ways it might restrict and damage the self-image and self-confidence of my children)

So yes, if this would be a possibility I would love to be able to walk up to the young professional AND black family at the table next to us in our favourite restaurant and say: Excuse me, I am looking for "black" friends, here is my telephone number, won't you give me a call sometime.

And of course, this would be enough to be officially certified with a mental instability a couple of degrees short of crazy axe murderer. So I am not doing it (yet).

  I have been  trying now for a while to reach out to people around the world with this blog, or on face book, who are in similar situations. Mainly I have been trying to connect with strong women of color who have also been adopted. To learn from them, but also - I admit - in the hope that this will lead to connections that my children might be able to benefit from in the future.

And so far this is the only proactive thing I was able to come up with. Leaving this country is not an option, because this is not a South African problem but an issue that concerns our racist world, everywhere.
And leaving here for - what? - Europe would only alienate us further from their (and I cringe saying this - but this is how far I am taking this now)  origin, which I believe is so important for them.

My children were born here, this country could be their future. In fact, I believe, they are the future of this country. And in the meantime, watch me stalking "black" people trying to make new friends....


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