Mark Mathabane in his autobiography Kaffir Boy gives a clear picture of what life under apartheid is truly like for those who are on the lowest level of humanity. In his words, he was a “fourth class citizen.” The struggle of what faced human beings because of other human’s desire for control and power is so vividly described in this book. The ability to write and tap into the human emotions that are so violent on the spectrum when there is abuse and mistreatment from the front row seat is griping and moving. The book from beginning to end was intense and caused me to have such empathy and to feel despair with the author. How could one human being treat another human being with such disrespect and disdain?
One of the powerful thoughts that was raised in this book is the incredible power of stereotypes. Escaping what others place or project upon you is a struggle within South Africa for sure but I believe it is a struggle universally. Is it possible to escape what others say you are or what they embrace you as? The moving script of this book is the intensity with which the author and his family faced the abuse and total human disregard from those who should have had a heart for them because they were simply brothers and countryman. The stereotypes on both sides of the issue is one of the things that really comes to light in his writing. The truth will set you free or it will make you act.
The other part of stereotypes that I observed was within the color of the cast of characters. The stereotype of who white people were, who black people were, who outsiders were and the most gripping even within their own family who they were and how they were treated. I think one of my favorite parts of the book is when the author for the first time at eleven years old encounters being in the “white” world. What he had been told and what he saw in his mind that was “projected” from others of who “white” people were not what he encountered. So often our human nature is to think what we think is universal and that everyone is the same because of their race, religion or ethnicity. It was quite interesting that the author found life within the margins of where black, white and other nationalities met. His bravery and his ability to be stealth enough to discover through sports an avenue for some equality.
Discipline of education and sports
Not really surprising is the fact that sports and a drive to have an education, even though not easy, were the two things that helped take time and take dedication to take our author off the street and from becoming a thug. Life is filled with choices. Simple disciplines were in his writing from his view on sexuality and his view on the hardship that he had to endure. The practice time spent on tennis to become someone and his devotion to reading to really be someone is impressive. It reinforced for me the importance of education.
This was a very eye-opening book. The mistreatment of people is never easy to see or learn about but when it is a legalized oppression it makes it really hard to stomach. One of the other things that really stands out to me is the ability to not really know that is going on just a mile away from where you live. Putting your head in the sand or choosing to look the other way is not a n acceptable excuse for the mistreatment of people. Believing what your told instead of knowing the truth is the great revelation of this book.
I am looking forward to once again discovering a culture that I know very little about. I do remember when I was in fourth grade my parents hosting a student from Zimbabwe. His name was Tambari Esoi and he was one of the great influences in my life. He helped me to just see people as people. His color was different than mine and his food traditions was entertaining (he had never had a hamburger before) He could do a standing back flip and I learned so much from him as he lived in our home. It changed my view as I lived in a very segregated Oklahoma town. Get to know someone before you hate them or put them down.
My best friend is Reggie Dabbs and he is one of the premier youth communicators in the USA. He is black and I am white. I have been in all kinds of situations with him nationally and internationally. In just the past days I have seen him have to deal with the harsh reality that even still in America there is conflict simply because of race. How people interact with each other based on the color of their skin instead of the content of their character is something that still disturbs me and makes me sad. This book did give me hope that as long as I live I will continue to do what I can to change that trend in my community and within my church culture. The individuals who went past the line and did all they could in their power made a world of difference for Mark. I can do the same where I am.