Friday, 4 March 2016

The Only One: What You Noitce When You Are The Only Black Person In The Work Place.

I know we don’t experience things the same way so this may or may not resonate with you. We’re individuals in the end. This is not a criticism or an opinion piece, it is simply an observation. I don’t hate white people – although I recently I got so furious that I very nearly did, but that’s another story altogether. So white people, I don’t hate you. Here we go!

1. The amount of time you say 'I don't know'.

No, I don't know this person. No I don't know that person. No I don't know that musician. No I don't know that song. No I know that movie. No I don't know. No I don't know. No I don't know. 

2. You are the only one who knows anything about the majority of uniquely SA culture.

I find it so bizarre that any South African can have no knowledge of Bonang Matheba, Our Perfect Wedding, black languages, terms like 'yellowbone' or 'Ben 10' and the growing power of socio-political SA twitter. It's a bit weird to know that before I even dare to talk about the AKA-Cassper saga, I first have to explain who Cassper and AKA are.

3. Your hair becomes a frequent topic of discussion.

I don't mind people touching my hair but for the love of God, ask. I understand the curiosity with texture but  no one should be touching anyone. Whether it's their hair or pregnant belly.

4. You can’t get over how insular their world is.

Every morning black person in the country wake up to work in  fancy white-occupied suburbs or learning institutions and get introduced to two sides of the country.  Most white people in the country don’t experience the country the same way and this comes out whenever they speak about social-
issues in the country. I’ve heard some teeth grinding, naive and downright ignorant , painful comments and even harsh trivialization of certain matters like the significance student protests. You realize how unaware are they of the lives of ordinary South Africans. You realize how much of their own world they digest because they only know their own languages and know their own heritage. 

5. The unseemingly insensitive comments.
'You are not so black'. Yes, I am black. I am just not the stereotype floating in your head. Black people come from different backgrounds as do white people. Within the community of black people there are differences but white people have a tendency to see black and make general assumptions.

6. White people love dogs. 
Black people treat dogs like pets. White people treat dogs like human beings. Every single day I am subjected to conversations about dogs as if we are talking about a child. I hope your life never depends on a white person choosing between you and a dog cause you'll be dead. 

7. You are constantly surprised by how little they understand about their privilege 
Whites have the privilege to ignore issues that haunt and hurt black people, issues which black people cannot ignore. Yet because the privileged don’t have to think about these issues, many of them don’t—and working with whites who are blinded to their privilege is discouraging. White people view Slavery and Apartheid as 'something bad' that happened and something that black people need to get over. When you work with white people you move between two worlds and you notice just how much racism has been institutionalized that most white people think it’s normal and thus okay.

8. You constantly resist the overwhelming urge to explain.
I often wonder if I should give my colleagues some perspective on the impact of Apartheid and Slavery but I always choose not to because it has always been more important for me to listen to them. Apart from that, I don't want to play teacher to anyone that is not open to gaining some perspective. You cannot explain anything to someone that is in a defensive mode. 

9. You constantly have to fight to renew your mind
This is probably the hardest part of working with white people. Every single day I came across condescending white people with a superiority complex from hell and everyday I have to remind myself that not every white person is a jackass that needs to move to Australia.

Have you ever worked with people that were culturally different from you? How was the experience?


  1. interesting comment about your hair. Good that you voice your concerns and you will be heard!

  2. What?? People have touched your hair?! That is so NOT ON and reveals a deep level of "not thinking" on their part. Incredible!!

    Thank you for this very eye-opening post. Of course I have no idea about SA culture, either, but I do like to know and learn about the history and culture of the place I call my home, which is this small town of 90.000 inhabitants in South Germany.
    As for # 1 on your list, that happens to me all the time, too, because I am not interested in a lot of what many people watch on TV or listen to on the radio.
    Also, I don't read any of the classic women's magazines and so am often the odd one out - unlike most women I know, I don't constantly worry (and talk) about my weight, my diet, my hair, my skin, my relationship.

    # 6 is interesting. I observe that unhealthy attitude some people have towards their pets. It seems there is no middle way between being cruel to animals and treating them like humans - which they are not.
    One lady whose blog I used to follow a while loves dressing her dogs up in little dresses. She then posts the pictures on her blog, and her readers comment on how "cute" they are. No, they're not! I have stopped following her blog for that reason.

    Your last question: Yes, many times. In my part of the world, we have a very high influx of immigrants, and that has been so since the 1950s. There are lots of Turkish, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greece people here, as well as many other nations from Eastern Europe.
    Last year, nearly a million refugees came to Germany, many of them from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and some North African countries.
    The experience I have working with people from a background different from my own is that there are nice and less nice ones, diligent workers and lazy sods, intelligent and less bright ones among them just as they are among my own ethnic group.

    1. I really enjoyed reading your reply. I like that you also shared you experience! Thank you!

  3. The fact that I can write a similar article you just did as a black person living in America has left me dumbfounded. Different country. Different continent. And the effect of slavery still holds true. This is amazing to me.

    We definitely have a long way to go when it comes to social and racial justice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It has opened my eyes to other issues that plague our world today.

    I totally relate to everything you have written. Scary but true.

    1. I am not surprised. South Africa and America have a very similar history.

  4. Hi Cindy, thanks for your comment on my blog. I appreciate it very much...

    I'm white but I can somehow relate a bit to what you said about people wanting to touch your hair. For me it was the lack of it after I had chemo. I accepted that I was loosing all my hair and that Jesus was always walking beside me and accepted me the way I was. I felt confident that it was nothing to be ashamed of and didn't want to hide the obvious... I went to our local grocery store and this lady almost took a flip when she saw me with my bald head. She looked at me as if she had seen the devil and couldn't get away from me fast enough. I felt pity for her. Ignorant people react very strangely when they see someone different than them.

    One interesting thing I've noticed throughout my life was how much whites pay big bucks to look like blacks. Have you noticed that?...They go to tanning salon and pay big bucks to tan their white skin, they get their hair curly and dye them black and even wore afro hairdo back then. They want fuller lips and get injections to increase the fullness of their lips.

    I hope that you have a great day.

    1. 'Ignorant people react very strangely when they see someone different than them.'

      So true!

  5. I'm with you with touching the hair. It is like touching a pregnant woman's belly. Ask first!

    1. Or don't ask at all. Black people are not some zoo animals.

  6. Hi Cindy – thanks for coming over the blog – apologies I’ve been away meeting an old school friend up country in Shakespeare’s area.

    This will be interesting to respond to … I lived for 14+ years in SA – Jhb, but travelled around … living abroad opened my eyes to other ways of looking at life. Because I was English I didn’t behave like a white South African …

    Certainly #1 I would be "don’t knowing" in England too … subjects I don't relate to ..

    # 2 Being a different generation we’d have differences … I know a little about SA and its culture .. I lived there… but the terms you mention I’ve no idea about. AKA-Cassper .. it’s rap I gather .. but again I know nuffin!

    Bonang Matheba: no! – yes Miriam Makeba … Ladysmith Black Mambazo; and others ...

    How about a game of squash?

    Emily Hobhouse – do you know about her?

    # 3 Hair … I have dreadfully fine hair … so am surprised people feel able to touch your hair – that would ‘frustrate’/irritate me ..

    # 4 I feel coming back to the UK that people who haven’t lived abroad are insular … we just need to be open minded … a different perspective on life.

    We all need to read more, try and understand others’ points of view … I’ve written about Mdaba Mandela, and about Malala … they understood/understand …

    #5 Difficult … you should come to London … 270 nationalities, 300 languages … I mix with a lot of bloggers – a Cuban for instance …

    # 6 Many people of all nationalities love their dogs … Swedish, Mexican to name a couple …

    #7 I can agree with you … all peoples suffer …

    #8 Slavery is a big subject and is different in each country, or part of the world …

    #9 Understanding is difficult for us all – let us understand and help each other …

    So via the blogging fraternity there’s lots to learn about most cultures … this is an interesting post … cheers Hilary

    1. You are right! We need to read read read read and listen. That's the only way we can gain perspective.

      Thank you for being so generous with your words Hilary!

  7. I can imagine how you feel. Here, it's more like the black people are dedicated to ass kissing and preferential treatment to white people. It gets annoying but you get used to it. I guess the only way to be different is to make sure you're not doing the same.

  8. blesings...
    People know what they want to know, knowledge and education is a voluntary act, people do what interest them. If they don't know is because they don't want to know. Knowing a particular thing or culture is not designated to color its designated to willful ignorance.


    “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but makes our life in harmony with all existence”-Rabindranath Tagore

  9. Lol I don't get the fuss with pets either. Why does a dog need to have an ig page? White people make me doubt myself sometimes but really, it's just different perspectives that are borne out of different sets of exposure. I try not have issues with people with differing opinions so we're always good :)

  10. Hi! This was an interesting read! I guess at the end yeah.. We are all Different people.. of Different races.. Living in the same world. Hence Somehow someway ba.. We have to ACCEPT one another.. cause we caNNot change one another even if we tried.

    Thanks for sharing Cindy! Blessings!

  11. I hope your life never depends on a white person choosing between you and a dog cause you'll be dead.
    This cracked me up! Though its really not cool.
    I've never worked or lived in a white environment though, but I can imagine it all.

  12. I used to get a lot of "You've got a new hairstyle again?!?!?!? I wish I could change my hairstyle as often as you change yours." Tried severally to tell them I dont even do nather - those back home change hairstyles weekly. I change mine monthly or bi-monthly cos it is more expensive over here/ *sigh*

  13. I know what you mean - in my first three years of university I live in households which had mostly white people and the lack of privilege awareness is astounding.

    Also, I don't get the dog obsession, but then again I live in Britain, where a dog is considered to be "man's best friend."



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