I’m an optimist.
I have hope. If there’s an opportunity to look at something humorously, I’ll take it. That’s why I wrote 16 Things Black People Wish They Could Explain To Their White Friends. It’s good not to take ourselves too seriously.
But every optimist needs to cross over to the dark side now and again. Every optimist needs to stop and realise that, "Whoa! The world is really, really messed up!" Every optimist needs to turn off the Kardashians and get a dose of reality.
On a long distance bus ride from Johannesburg I eavesdropped on a conversation between two women sitting behind me. Both of them were well dressed black women. They were gossiping about some of the other passengers, talking about their families and work.
One of them was a domestic worker. She spoke fondly about the little white babies who called her Mama and her white "Mrs" who loved pap. And how the little boy who adored her interrogated her about who she was: "Are you my aunt? No, you can’t be my aunt because you’re black!"
I chuckled inwardly.
And then reality struck: this forty-something year old woman sitting behind me was a domestic worker. She probably didn’t finish high school. She never went to university or had the opportunity to choose a career. She spends most of her days with little ones who call her "Mama" but aren’t her children. Hers would be waiting for her at home after work. But first she needs to take a long taxi ride home from the leafy North to the poorer South.
She’ll shout, After robot!, hop of the taxi and walk home briskly, clutching her handbag tightly to her side because the street is dark. It’s the middle of winter and the power’s out. The children will be waiting, her oldest girl will have supper ready for the family, and her little boy will be in for a scolding because he hasn’t polished his school shoes. She’ll check their homework, finish evening chores, take a quick bath and collapse into bed. Exhausted. Tomorrow morning she’ll hug them goodbye before sunrise.
Another day’s work.
No child dreams of being a domestic worker when they grow up. Or a car guard. Or a bathroom cleaner at Rosebank Mall. Little girls dream of being doctors and pilots and social workers. Little boys want to be lawyers and musicians and engineers. But most of them will fail high school or get through by the skin of their teeth.
They’ll never pursue a diploma or degree or even technical training. The pilot will be a car guard; the engineer a cleaner; and the doctor a domestic worker. Their dreams will be extinguished by the harsh reality of a poor education system and economic inequality.
I’m still an optimist.
Because there is dignity in all work. The idea of ‘menial’ jobs is a false because all work is worthy of respect. My grandmother and that woman on the bus, the people you call your ‘maid’ or ‘Mama’- they do important work. And the fact that their careers were constrained by their circumstances doesn’t change the fact that their work matters.
I still have hope.
Because there is a man in Soshanguve who was born into poverty. So poor that he couldn’t stay in school and became a gardener instead. That same man worked his job and raised enough money to finish school, study towards a Bachelor of Arts, his Masters and finally his PhD. Read Fannie Sebola’s story and be inspired!
Not if you’re an optimist. Not if you have hope.
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