The following text is a letter I sent to three Namibian newspapers following my rather unpleasant experience last Sunday. At the time of writing it has not been published by any of them, but letters are usually published on a Friday, so I hope it will still get published.
I stood with the young boy, who was in floods of tears after his bike had been stolen. I and my future in-laws had just tried to chase after the thief. I called his father to explain what had happened. “Those people are troublemakers,” replied the father. “What does he mean by ‘those people’?” I thought to myself. This was back in 2014, when I’d only spent a couple of weeks in Namibia. Then it clicked. He was referring to black people, completely oblivious to the fact that everyone who was helping the boy, apart from me, was black.
Since then, as a white person I’ve often heard comments that I rarely seem to hear when I’m with my wife, who is black. Racist people who don’t know me obviously think they can air their pathetic, antiquated views when I’m around because I’m white. They assume I’ll agree with them, or at best that I’ll simply tolerate them. If I’m with my wife, who is black, I don’t tend to hear such conversations (though on the odd occasion I do).
This Sunday, my wife was away visiting family in the North and I was in Windhoek, so I spent the afternoon working and watching sport at a restaurant in the city centre. There was a group of people on the table next to me, and one of the guests got chatting to me. She was very excited to hear that I was from the city of York, in England, because her grandmother came from there. She seemed a pleasant enough lady at that stage.
Then I started to hear what kind of person she really was.
I was watching the Formula 1 on the TV, as was one of the men on her table. Both he and I were supporting Lewis Hamilton. Then, while they were talking about Hamilton, I heard the woman say, “He’s not even white.” Later, when they were discussing where he is from, I told them that his father was from Granada. “He should go back there,” she quipped.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! If she thinks a second-generation Briton with Caribbean ancestry should go “back” to where he is from, surely it follows that she, a third-generation Namibian with British ancestry, should go back to the UK?
Then it got worse. She started churning out nonsense about the differences between Caucasian and African brains. According to her, blacks have thicker skulls, and therefore less brain tissue, which explains why, according to her, blacks “can’t even fly planes” (strange, because every TAAG, Ethiopian or Kenya Airways pilot I’ve ever seen has been black).
Of course, there is not a shred of reliable evidence to support her ideas. And those ideas are extremely dangerous, because they are what fuelled the holocaust in Germany in the 1940s.
Next, the people at the table got ready to leave. What was I going to do? I knew she was going to come say goodbye to me because we’d been chatting earlier, but I couldn’t bring myself to smile, shake her hand and say, “Goodbye. It was nice meeting you.” I was far too angry by that point.
I told her how upset I was at what she’d said, and I told her she should go fly with Kenya Airways because she’d see black pilots (I could have said TAAG or Ethiopian too). She just said “Okay” and left.
The saddest part was that she had a four-year old daughter who heard everything she was saying about Africans and all her pseudo-proofs to support what she was saying. A whole new generation will grow up as racist as their predecessors if they keep hearing such nonsense.
I’m not sure I achieved much by challenging her. I’m sure she’ll be the same racist bigot when she goes to bed tonight. But if all decent Namibians, including white Namibians, stand up to the racists, they will start to realise they can’t get away with airing such views in public places, even if the only people who can hear them are white people. And if we reduce the number of spaces in which they feel they can get away with expressing such toxic views, fewer people will be infected by them.
Despite the title of this piece, all decent Namibians should take a stand against racism, but since white racists feel safe expressing their bigotry in the company of other whites, it is vital that decent whites stand up to them and make it clear that we will not tolerate it.