Racial profiling is still a common experience for people of colour living in predominantly white suburban neighbourhoods in South Africa. ANGELO C LOUW writes about his experience and wonders how much he has to prove himself and his presence so that he can be left alone.
The jacaranda trees along the avenue were in full bloom, street cover in purple blossoms – it was simply spectacular. I had noticed it quite a few times on my way to work and, being an aspirant slay kween, decided I would take a picture for the ‘gram on a day I wore my favourite outfit.
The day had arrived and on my way home, I pulled off on the side of this quiet road a few block from my house: no cars, nobody walking in the distance, just me in my designer treads walking to-and-fro the camera phone set on auto capture.
After a while, the owner of the house where my car is parked pulls up in an SUV, watches me for a while and proceeds into the yard. No biggie. I was almost done; in fact, I was pretty sure I caught the money shot 10 minutes before. As I began to pack up my stuff, another car pulled up in the driveway – I assumed her husband. He rang the intercom and without a “hello” a quivering voice on the other side asked: “Are you okay?”
Are you okay?!
Why wouldn’t he be?
Oh wait, there was a strange coloured man standing outside your house.
Let’s just pretend that in the five or so minutes she spent watching me that she didn’t see me take photos of myself; did I look like I was dressed to rob or hijack white people in the suburbs? Because the last I checked, hijackers wore Uzzi hoodies, not Zara shirts.
Did she really miss my new iPhone sitting on the specially ordered, paid-way-too-much-in-duties tripod in front of me? Surely she looked out the window if she wasn’t sure. I mean, she would have realised that I wasn’t so much of a threat the moment she made it into her home without incident, right?
All she saw was a coloured criminal ready to do something bad to her.
This is not the first instance I’ve been mistaken (to put it lightly) for a criminal by white people in my neighbourhood. I jog every day. I take the same route. I start my jog at the exact same time. Yet, every time I am out for my daily run, one of the neighbours (perhaps the same one each time) calls the security company to follow me around.
I am sick to death of being policed in I placed I pay good money to live in – ironically, by the same security company that I am subscribed to. Being one of the few coloured people on the block, surely they would remember my face. I cannot believe I have to constantly justify my presence in the land of my ancestors to the same criminals who stole it from them.
You end up smiling and waving off every ADT car that stalks you around the block to show that you’re not there to cause trouble. It irks you and you take it to social media, but you don’t risk being gunned down with the pump action shotguns that these boys have been dying to play with. (Hell, you even buy reflective running shorts to make sure you don’t look like a fleeing burglar).
But, no matter what you earn or own, the number of degrees you have up on your wall, or the level of twanglish you speak, it only adds to the suspicious minds of suburbanites who then assume you’re just another corrupt BEE businessman – read as crook.
What they don’t get is that I didn’t choose to join the apartheid-era trend of migrant labour for myself. Quite frankly, it is not my fault that all the economic opportunities are in the north; selfish white business owners pulled out of the CBD at the end of apartheid to cause its collapse.
To be honest, I would much rather live where I grew up, surrounded by good food, good vibes and people with good manners – you know, the type that greet their neighbours, not call the cops on them as if we still live in 1980-voetsek.
But, this is the reality I have to navigate, and no amount what-could-have-been is ever going to change it. I suppose I’ll just have to soldier through my daily jogs until it finally scares my racist neighbours off to one of those gated estates – transformation will come one way or another.
Angelo C Louw is the advocacy officer at Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII). He is also a Fulbright/Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship 2016-2017 awardee. He writes in his personal capacity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.