Yesterday, my daughter had her first after-school-playdate. We were both excited about it (I’m still, to all intents and purposes, considered a foreigner in Australia and genuine friends are difficult to come by, and Azuri (my daughter) started ‘big school’ several weeks ago, so I’m eager for her to make friends). Enough said.
We arrive at Azuri’s friends house (I will call her Emma), I greet Emma’s mother (I will call her Ilsa), I give her the blueberry muffins that I baked that morning, the kids go outside to play and we sit down with a cup of tea. I know Ilsa fairly well by now – after all I have spoken to her many times over the last seven weeks since school started and have even attended a coffee morning with her – so I’m not feeling socially awkward (as I can sometimes feel).
We talk for about 5 minutes, and everything seems to be going well, until she inquires if she can ask me a personal question…My stomach knots slightly, but I nod politely and give her permission to ask away. She says, (I quote):
“Emma told me that she had a conversation with Azuri today…and Azuri said that her mum doesn’t allow her to play at brown or black people’s houses…”
Ilsa and Emma are Australian, and they are of ethnic descent, and, as far as I was aware, this insignificant fact (which I would not have to mention if it wasn't for this incident) is a non-issue for both myself and Azuri. In all the conversations that I've had with Azuri, the subject or question about different skin colours has never arisen...hence my shock.]
I can feel the tears, forming like fingers in my throat, clawing to escape, because I know that these words and this sentiment is totally uncharacteristic of Azuri, and I know that no matter what I say or how much I explain, I will always have the shadows of South Africa and Apartheid looming over me, and, in those shadows lurk stereotypical misconceptions and preconceived judgements about South Africans and racism.
The tears, you understand, are not for me; South Africa will always be my burden to bear; they are for my daughter who is guilty by association, even though she was born in Australia and knows nothing else.
I manage to stem the tears, push them back into my chest, and stutter through my first few sentences, explaining that I doubt my daughter has said that, because I know my daughter and I know myself…
I know, I just know in my bones that my daughter doesn’t think that way, I know that she doesn’t even understand or recognise this colour difference. I know this, because her only influence over her 5 years of life has been me and my husband (I’ve never spent a night apart from my children, we’ve never had babysitters, I’ve instilled and encouraged respect for people, nature, animals, intuition, compassion)…
In short, I know that this accusation is as erroneous as the misguided belief that rhino horn has mystical powers.
At some point of the conversation I realise that I am explaining myself, and my philosophy, defending my position…and I think to myself, “Stop. What are you doing? This woman has falsely accused your daughter, and you by inference and association, of a racist comment. Stop explaining yourself, dammit!”
My daughter, my Azuri, is 5 years old; she is sensitive, intuitive, and respectful – as far as wildest dreams dare to go, the goodness and wonder that is my daughter exceeds my wildest dreams.
I eventually tell Ilsa that of all the things she could have said to me, this is the worst, most insulting accusation. I also suggest that if, by some chance, Azuri has said this, then it definitely hasn’t come from me. I suggest that we bring the girls in and ask them. Ilsa is vehemently against my suggestion. I tell her that I will ask Azuri later and that I plan to get to the bottom of it – one way or another…We struggle through the remaining hour and, just before we leave, I suggest that perhaps it’s her daughter that has made this statement, or, even more likely, that Ilsa has totally misunderstood and misinterpreted the alleged conversation altogether. She seems offended by my comment and remains oblivious to the fact that she is the one who has offended me.
I ask Azuri, while I’m strapping her into her car seat, if she said what she’s been accused of…
I immediately feel like crap, because I can see the confusion shadow her face like a cloud passing the sun. She doesn’t have an answer, because she doesn’t understand the question, and I know that my instincts were correct.
As I drive down the hill my phone rings, and it’s Ilsa. She’s phoning to tell me that she has made a terrible mistake, that she’s spoken to Emma, who confirmed that Azuri DID NOT say that, in fact Azuri hadn’t even been part of the conversation in question. I accept her apology and say goodbye, but there is a storm brewing inside me.
I receive a text message from Ilsa in the evening, apologising for the mistake and saying: “I should have realised that 5 year olds can misuse pronouns!”
Her apology doesn’t really help. On the contrary, it’s worse than I thought, because Ilsa simply showed poor judgement and jumped head first into the wrong conclusion without getting her facts straight. She comfortably assumed the worse of me and Azuri due to her own prejudice. I replied to her text, and told her as much. She wants to talk about it some more, but I think I’m all talked out.
What do you think?