Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Growing up in South Africa

The intrepid and adventurous four

This picture says it all for me about children growing up in South Africa today.
Ryan, the son of our coloured gardened/farm worker drew it a few days ago and I grabbed it to photograph to share with you. He goes to school with our children, his fees paid by a sponsorship fund we’ve just set up, and he spends most weekday afternoons here playing with them, until his father finishes work. Our children look on him as an extra member of the family by now – he gets invited to all their birthday parties. It is taken for granted, even if the girls are only inviting other girls for the main part. He’s an honorary brother.

In the picture he has drawn our son as the leader, then himself, followed by the two girls, all armed to the teeth off on some perilous adventure. What I like about it is that they are all the same shade of brown: he sees them as the same as himself, until he made a belated attempt to give Youngest light coloured hair – a dawning recognition of a difference, but only as an afterthought.

It reminded me of another illustration of how our children perceive colour these days, using it as a descriptive term rather than a racial pigeonholing, and saying that a friend is 'light brown' or 'dark brown', rather than 'black' and 'coloured', which are the racial identifiers used by the adult world around them. To them it's just another physical characteristic like hair or eye colour and I hope they never have this perception clouded as they grow up.

I’m sure together they will vanquish the mysterious fire that is engulfing the tree and any dragons that lurk off- stage and stride victorious into a new world that they claim for themselves.


  1. That is wonderful. For several years my kids went to school in Hawaii and then in Georgia - both places had very ethnically diverse classrooms. Then we moved to Nebraska, to a small town, and their classes were filled with blond was only then that my Middle Daughter said anything..."Why is everybody blond here? Where are all the other kinds of people?" It seemed unnatural to her not to have diversity in her classroom.

  2. What a great picture!
    When Ilsa was 4, she came home from school and described her new friends--Aida had gold skin and black hair, and Bomby was dark chocolate brown. (One was Lebanese, the other from Cote d'Ivoire.) For Ilsa, she was simply telling me what her friends looked like, with no other meanings. Last year in the US after 6 years in Africa, Elliot said, "Why is everyone here white? It's weird."
    I hope this new kind of colour awareness lasts, for your kids and mine and all other children in this world.

  3. What a great picture and story. I think that this is one of the beast things that has quietly happened in SOuth Africa since 1994: there is a generation of children growing up colourblind, without the racial baggage that my generation grew up with. They simply don't see things in terms of racial steroetypes and it's wonderful to witness!

  4. Beautiful picture! I grew up next to a major airforce base that had many kids of color from all over the world. I was so fortunate to have diverse classrooms and neighborhoods growing up. Many of my best friends were African-American and Hispanic-American, Asian-American and on and on...unusual for the racially divided 1960's-70's in the US. in the midwest. It was such a blessing! Your children are blessed to have this upbringing.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!