This is an autobiographical work,a coming-of-age book of the author, Diane Brown, that depicts her struggles as a black woman trying to navigate a racist Apartheid society. This book includes a history lesson that is very important to know, especially to someone like me who had never really questioned how Apartheid came about.
Born in the 1960s, a decade of so much change in the world, the author stresses the importance of knowing one’s history:
“The winds of change were blowing over Africa too and over a period of eight years between 1960 and 1968, thirty two countries gained independence from their European colonisers.”
This book puts you in the skin of a black woman growing up in Apartheid South Africa. Not only that, it helps to show how the abuse children and women experience has its roots in the evil system. Brown did not shy away from discussing the violence and abuse. This is a story that makes you wonder of the immense number of stories on racism out there.
I so appreciated the honesty, the candour, the exploration of themes that are so important to discuss, themes that are often swept under a rug in Africa and in the rest of the world. Issues like colourism and hair texture are talked about. Some shocking things like the “Pencil Test” to test racial purity made me shake my head in disbelief, though I have heard about the “Paper Bag” test in some American sororities.
I enjoyed this book because instead of taking all the stuff that happens to her and all that she has to witness, the author tries to understand the reasons these things happen. The self-awareness seems to be something that is continuing until this day:
“But as I have grown I have come to realise that there are contradictions, dualities and surprises in us all. That each of us always and already has the ability to be both demon and angel, that we can have incredible strengths and display weaknesses in the most bizarre forms, that we can be dull and boring but also creative and intriguing. Mostly I have become aware that all or any of these abilities can be revealed at any time. It is like we are ticking time bombs waiting for life to present us with situations that allow each of these to be manifested.”
And I must say, for me personally this is one of the strongest quotes in the book, one I can relate to on a very personal level:
“What always first defined you was the colour of your skin. It didn’t matter that I loved to sing, had a good knack for languages, had an incredible memory for things I deemed important or that I loved being alone. All other characteristics both internal and external were secondary or, more precisely, invisible, always subject to what colour you are.”
The realities of race are something many of us cannot deny. I love books like this that don’t shy away from being honest about the struggles when many people want for us to believe that we live in a postracial world (the “I don’t see race” folk). Although Brown’s book is mainly about Apartheid, so many of the issues she detailed are very much with us today, just look at Ferguson, Missouri:
“The truth is that when you grow up being or feeling less than, you have to work so much harder at everything, just to get to par on the golf course of life. When you start at the first hole, you are already eighteen over par, and to make it, just to keep up, you have to sink birdies and eagles. To really win, even a par score on any one of the holes is just not good enough. You can try many courses, work very hard for very long, employ tremendous spells of concentration, practise hard for hours each day, endure hours in the blazing sun; and it is never good enough. And then one moment in your very tiring lifetime you realise that it requires too much effort, the decks are stacked too heavily against you. It is time to stop playing the game, or get busy changing the rules of the game.”
Not the easiest of subject matters to get through but very very important for us to acknowledge racist histories and the legacies they left behind.