Updated: Nov 18, 2019
I had been preaching at a conference in South Africa and was now in a taxi on the way to the airport. My driver was a mixed-race guy, friendly and affable, so I was encouraged in our conversation to ask him to tell me about the changes he’d experienced in South Africa in the years since apartheid was outlawed. What followed was a shocking conversation that allowed me to see beyond the surface where ostensibly now everyone in the nation was considered to be equal, and into the still potent undercurrents of racism. Although the laws had been changed, the scars remained, red raw and filled with pain.
Looking at me through the rear vision mirror, the driver began to tell me, a white Aussie, of his growing up years in a nation which, though his own by right of birth, was not his own by privilege. He spoke bitterly of the long, dusty walks in the blazing heat of the day to get to water holes because the local swimming pools were out of bounds to him and his friends. He told me of doors designating entrance to Blacks, Coloureds, and Whites, each damning word denying entrance to anyone but those who fit the label.
The conversation began as an exchange of information, but, heartened by my obvious desire to understand, my driver became increasingly intense about the anguish that still lay in his heart, covered by the mask that preserving his livelihood required him to wear. The torrent of words became a deluge as the toll of generational injustice, disrespect, loss of dignity, everyday freedoms, outright cruelty, disregard, vilification, and racial hatred rose to the surface.
We lamented the tragedy of accidents or sickness in which the time taken to get to a hospital that would admit non-whites resulted in the death of the patient. As he continued to hold my gaze in the rearview mirror, he appeared to take comfort from the tears streaming unbidden down my cheeks. They were tears I could not hold back as I listened to the tirade pouring from a heartbroken ten thousand times ten thousand by man’s inhumanity to man, experienced up close and personal, every day and in every way.
It was tough to hear, and overwhelmingly tough to feel my own whiteness as I sat in the back of that cab, knowing I was not actively responsible for these travesties of justice, but feeling deep shame nevertheless.
It was when he told me of the penalties for interracial relationships that I finally became totally undone. If it so happened that black and white formed a love relationship, the white person would be heavily censured in those days, but the black person would be jailed for a period of years, with all the accompanying penalties accrued for such a crime. (Read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah to gain more understanding of the context of this horrific season in South Africa’s history.)
Sobbing, I thought of my lovely, wise daughter-in-law, the one who married my youngest son and changed his life forever—the one who had brought hope and grace and freedom to my boy. She showed him again who Jesus is, and he believed it from her, when it had been so hard to believe it from others. It was she who came alongside and healed so much of the pain in his heart. From early in our relationship, before they ever fell in love, I had hoped and believed that this girl would be my daughter-in-law, and I thank God for her every time I remember her for the way she has loved my son back to life.
That beautiful woman comes from a mixed racial heritage. My grandsons, too.
To read more, come on over to Redbud Writers’ Guild http://www.redbudwritersguild.com/facing-prejudice-from-the-back-seat/