By: Thandeka Heather Dube*
“Where do you get these children from”, the secretary asks. “Silvertown”, I say to her.
“Where is that?” she continues to ask.
I was shocked! The secretary who had lived in Queenstown for 25 years did not know Silvertown or where it was located. Silvertown, the squatter camp is literally a five minute drive from town, in Queenstown. “I hardly go to the black areas”, she went on to tell me. “Maybe I should get the car and kids, and go see this place” she tells me.
I was slightly annoyed I must admit. She made it sound like Silvertown is a zoo or something of that nature – a spectacle to be viewed by explorers. I have always thought our secretary at work is a tad insensitive at times. I am always shocked for instance at the way she casually sprays air freshener in the reception when clients are sitting there, a tacit indication to them that “you stink” and are not welcome here.
It dawned on me however though that we are no different: the secretary and I. Every time I go on home visits to Silvertown, I insist on standing outside because I just can’t stand the putrid odours inside. If I do happen to go inside, I stand by the door salvaging what I can of the fresh air from the outside. I insist on standing even though am sometimes offered a chair, it might be flea-ridden I always think to myself.
It is almost always easier to take the moral high ground when someone else’s prejudicial tendencies come to the fore, but we are quick to deflect from our own. That’s why I got annoyed at the secretary; I was deflecting my own deep-seated prejudices.
We need to be brutally honest with ourselves, admitting to oneself that you not as progressive in actions and open minded as you think. It is not easy but it is the first step in effectively staring down our prejudicial attitudes and behaviours.
The experience with the secretary has been the proverbial “cast out the beam in my own eyes before I can cast out the mote in her’s”. And this is what I take away from 2012, the ability to own up to my own prejudices in the hope of becoming a better person.
*Thandeka Heather Dube is a post-graduate student at University of Fort Hare and works as a Social Worker in Queenstown, South Africa.