Maybe you don't know her name, but I hope you do.
In 1955, she refused to stand up. A small action in itself but sparking a movement greater than anything she would have imagined in the moment - the African American Civil Rights Movement. Events in the USA would change the world, as more and more people began fighting for equality and freedom.
For South Africa, my home country, 1955 was just the beginning of a long fight. We are a young democracy at only 16 years and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is lauded as being one of the most open and forward thinking constitutions in the world.
But how far have we really come? The creation of equal rights and freedoms doesn't mean the eradication of racism. In a world where people increasingly choose to define themselves by their race, can we ever put racism behind us? When I was younger, my race wasn't something I thought much about, it was the thing I filled in on forms, the way I explained my tanned skin and dark hair. Being indian didn't have any particular connotations for me. But as I grew older, and especially this year at uni, I found that many people expected certain things of me because of my race. I can't count the number times someone remarked, "You don't act very indian."
Well, what the hell does that mean? I asked some people.
-Being indian means I stick to having indian friends.
-Being indian means I watch hindi movies and listen to hindi songs.
-Being indian means I am conservative.
-Being indian means I must be smart and good at maths and science.
-Being indian means I am spoilt.
-Being indian means I wear indian clothes and like indian food.
Last week, I turned down an invitation to watch a hindi movie at the cinema - the response was, "Why? Are you one of those indians that think they're white?"
No, you moron. I just don't enjoy sitting in a cinema for 3 and a half hours.
I also found that people were surprised to find that I was indian. Most assumed I was mixed race. Why?
"Because I have english or coloured tendencies." What exactly are coloured tendencies? hmm? Because I sure as hell don't know.
I began to notice how defined people feel by their race. Most people attached some sort of pride to their race, the way people are patriotic to their countries. When I didn't do that, it was viewed as me rejecting my heritage, which is hardly true.
So, people want to be free from racism, but want to identify with their races and create definitions of what it means to be a certain race. Any time you create definite groups, you allow for the hostility between the groups.
People create separate empires and they clash.
Separate countries go to war.
Create separate races and define people by them and you'll find racism.
We've come a long way since 1955.
I won't detract from that.
However, I think racism is inherent in all people.
You can't not see colour. People form identities from their races, if they include their race in who they are, you have to acknowledge it in getting to know them. We all see colour. We aren't that colour though.
I hope no one else asks me why I don't act indian because I don't know how much longer my resolve to be patient will last. I don't act indian because there is no way to act indian. I am indian, I am from India as are my family but I act like the person I am. I don't feel particularly attached to people just because they are indian. I don't feel particularly proud when other indians accomplish things.
16 years later and though, we are no longer persecuted for our race, we still defined by it.
People are inherently prejudiced because that's how we are engineered to think. Us is better than them. We are better than them. I am better than you. And I will side with my own. I'm not saying don't be proud of your race, but don't expect it of me. Don't take what you define as being indian and judge me by your standards.
1 December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand up.
Well, I refuse to sit down and be classified as people want me to be.
I'll fill in indian on my forms but if you meet me, how about asking me my name instead of "Are you really indian?"
-- Today is also happens to be World Aids Day. I know my status, do you know yours? --