Yesterday I had three little children from our block of flats: Sindi, Phana and Bongi visit me at the flat ... Sindi, who is 5 years old often comes with her brother, Phana, who is 6 years old and asks for an orange or an apple. Bongi is a friend of theirs who is also about 5 years old. Sindi was wanting to see Trish. I explained in broken Zulu that she was out and asked what they wanted. Sindi said she wanted clothes and so I asked them to wait for Trish. I asked why they were at home and not at school and Phana told me it was because their mom, had not washed their clothes. I remembered then that Trish had met with their mom (Zandi) just two weeks ago and she explained to Trish that she did not have money for school fees.
Zandi is a sex worker who is struggling to break a drug addiction. Sindi and Phana's Dad is not allowed to visit after he tried to give the family rat poison in an attempted family suicide and there is a court order stopping him from from visiting. The 3 children went into our boys room and took out some toys and began to play with them.
Out of the blue, Sindi said something which really struck me... actually her brother Phana translated it for me... He said "she want to be an Umlungu" (Umlungu means "white person"). I did not know what to say or how to respond... I said something like... "No, no... it is better if you be you", but these words felt empty... I have been thinking of this all night... what do you think I should have said to them? What is an appropriate response? What can we do to de-construct this inferiority and create a world where children do not grow up wishing they were not born black?
Please note I have changed the names to protect the identity of the children.