As Mark Mathabane describes it, South African society is replete with prejudice and racism on an individual level, which both contribute to apartheid and are exacerbated by it. As an oppressed black child, Mathabane spends most of his childhood hating and fearing all white people. However, as he grows up and begins to meet “white liberals” who value him as an equal human being, Mathabane begins to realize that his own prejudices are ill-founded. Mathabane’s battle with his own personal prejudice suggests that such prejudice is based on ignorance and fear and can be counteracted by personal relationships with people who are different from oneself.
Mathabane recounts that, as a child, his entire worldview was dominated by race, suggesting that South Africa’s segregation laws create deep-seated personal prejudice between groups of people. White Afrikaners are taught in school that black people are stupid and beastly. A white child, Clyde, calls Mathabane “Kaffir”—the South African equivalent of the N-word in America—and says, “My teacher tells us that Kaffirs can’t read, speak or write English like white people because they have smaller brains […] you’re not people like us, because you belong to a jungle civilization.” Clyde’s malevolent racism shows how white prejudice toward black people is propagated by South Africa’s education system. Just as white Afrikaners are prejudiced toward black people, Mathabane and the people he grows up amongst bear similar prejudice against white people. Mathabane’s mother tells him, “To the black man and woman in the streets all whites are the same. All they know is the white man who’s making their lives hell and whom they hate so much they would kill at the first opportunity.” This prejudice is so strong that most black people despise other black people who have any association with white people, such as migrants who work in the Afrikaners’ gold mines or even Mathabane himself when he starts playing tennis with white foreigners. The black community’s hostility toward the white population suggests that an intense personal prejudice between the two groups runs in both directions, even though the structural oppression of apartheid only oppresses black people. Mathabane recalls, “My conception of the world, of life, was wholly in racial terms; and that conception was not mine alone. It was echoed by all the black people I had come across.” Mathabane’s observation suggests that alongside apartheid’s systemic injustice, personal racial prejudice also dominates South African society during this time.
However, as Mathabane grows up, he comes to realize that much of his own prejudice is based on a long-held fear of white people and ignorance of their world, suggesting that personal prejudice is often rooted in one’s fear of an unknown people or culture. Because of night raids and police violence, Mathabane and his siblings learn to fear white people from a very young age—from as young as five years old, Mathabane envisions any white person as a “bogeyman,” and contact with a white person evokes a “naked terror” in him. As a youth, Mathabane watches violent white films in the cinema about gladiators, mobsters, and soldiers, all of whom are usually killing people with swords or guns or tanks. With no other image of the white world, Mathabane comes to believe that the movies represent “the stark reality of a world I was forbidden to enter,” full of “bloody murders and savage beatings and indiscriminate shootings,” fueling his fear of white people and prejudice against them. Mathabane’s misconceptions about the white world reinforce his belief that “white people had no hearts […] they were to be feared and hated.” Although Mathabane does suffer violence from white police officers, his ignorance and fear about white people overall lead him to generalize from these experiences and believe that all white people are menacing. Mathabane’s experiences suggest that not only his but also many white people’s prejudice may be driven by ignorance and fear of people who are different as well.
As Mathabane’s junior tennis career introduces him to a variety of white people, he begins to realize that not all white people are equally prejudiced, showing how exposure to people who are different can help one to see other people as individuals, rather than as a monolithic group. As Mathabane rises to prominence in South Africa’s tennis scene, white expatriates (non-Afrikaners living in South Africa) invite him to play at their tennis clubs so he can train against more talented athletes. Through this avenue, Mathabane meets white people like the German Wilfred, who hates the Afrikaners’ racism and encourages Mathabane to tell white people about his suffering under apartheid, and who gives Mathabane clothing and tennis equipment he wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. One of Mathabane’s most significant relationships is with Stan and Marjory, wealthy white Americans who meet Mathabane during a tennis tournament in South Africa and immediately befriend him, eventually sponsoring his tennis career with thousands of dollars. In the first day that Mathabane spends with them, he realizes, “Stan and Marjory treated me as an equal, a human being […] treating me as if we had known each other for years, as if we were brothers and sisters.” Their friendship helps him to realize that some white people are friendly, generous, and loving, rather than prejudiced. Mathabane’s relationships with kind-hearted, unprejudiced white people challenge his old beliefs that all white people are heartless, ruthless, and selfish. He realizes that “whites were not monolithic, not all racists to be hated and destroyed,” suggesting that his exposure to white people helps him to see them as individuals, rather than as a single, unified, evil group. However, this sets Mathabane at odds with the majority of his black friends, who still believe that “no [good] white man exists in South Africa.”
While both structural racism and individual prejudice remain powerful in Mathabane’s story, the changes in his perspective over time suggest that relationships with people who are different from oneself are critical to deconstructing prejudice between groups.
Personal Prejudice ThemeTracker
Personal Prejudice Quotes in Kaffir Boy
In South Africa there’s a saying that to be black is to be at the end of the line when anything of significance is to be had. So these people were considered and treated as the dregs of society, aliens in the land of their birth. Such labelling and treatment made them an angry and embittered lot.
For the first time in my life I felt hate and anger rage with furious intensity inside me. What I felt was no ordinary hate or anger; it was something much deeper, much darker, frightening, something even I couldn’t understand. As I stood there watching, I could feel that hate and anger being branded into my five-year-old brain, branded to remain until I die.
From my experiences with white policemen, I had come to develop a deep-seated fear of white people; and seeing the bloody murders and savage beatings and indiscriminate shootings in the movies, that fear was fueled to phobic proportions. I vowed that never would I enter such a world, and I thanked the law for making sure I could not do so without a permit.
My conception of the world, of life, was wholly in racial terms; and that conception was not mine alone. It was echoed by all black people I had come across. There were two worlds as far as we were concerned, separated in absolutely every sense. But somehow […] they had everything to do with each other; […] one could not be without the other, and their dependency was that of master and slave.
[Uncle Piet] had been released—without being charged—and given a warning that he better get himself a pass soon, for he was getting too tall and was beginning to wear long pants, factors which alone made him adult enough to carry a pass.
They, like myself, had grown up in an environment where the value of an education was never emphasized, where the first thing a child learned was not how to read and write and spell, but how to fight and steal and rebel; where the money to send children to school was grossly lacking, for survival was first priority.
And oh, how I yearned for the day when armies of black peasants would invade the white world and butcher, guillotine, hang, machine-gun, bury alive and drown in hot lead every bad white man alive.
“Yes, I do believe in the Bible. That’s why I cannot accept the laws of this country. We white people are hypocrites. We call ourselves Christians, yet our deeds make the Devil look like a saint. I sometimes wish I hadn’t left England.”
It struck me that [Granny] could not read, like millions of other blacks who worked for whites? How did they function normally in a world totally ruled by signs?
Thus my consciousness was awakened to the pervasiveness of “petty partied,” and everywhere I went in the white world, I was met by invisible guards of racial segregation.
To me, and many blacks, whites were a race peculiarly obsessed with creating contradictions that they, and they alone, could understand—if indeed they really could understand them in the strict sense of the word.
The thick veil of tribalism which so covered [my father’s] eyes and mind and heart was of absolutely no use to me, for I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that black life would never revert to the past, that the clock would never turn back to a time centuries ago when black people had lived in peace and contentment before the white man.
The government generally treated Coloureds slightly better by giving them better jobs, better housing and better education than blacks. As a result most of the Coloureds were ashamed of their black blood, and often their prejudice against blacks was fiercer than the white man’s. But a new generation of young Coloureds, which saw itself as more black than white, was emerging, and it embraced the entire range of black aspirations.
Worst of all, I found among members of some churches a readiness to accept their lot as God’s will, a willingness to disparage their own blackness and heritage as inferior to the white man’s Christianity, a readiness to give up fighting to make things just in this world, in the hope that God’s justice would prevail in the hereafter.
For an instant I became aware of the senselessness of what we were doing. But those misgivings gave way to euphoria as I saw black peasants making off with plundered goods. I joined in.
Out of touch with sane whites, I began to hate all whites. Why weren’t liberal whites doing something to stop the slaughter of innocent black children? Why weren’t they demanding investigations into the brutal and indiscriminate use of force by police? […] The loud silence of the white electorate turned many black moderates into radicals and radicals into revolutionaries.
“You know […] this whole thing reminds me of what Hitler did to my country. His madness left us Germans with a feeling of guilt and shame that can never go away. The very same forces of racial superiority of that idiot and madman I see at work right here. There could yet be another Holocaust in the world.”
If four years of attending college in America had awakened Andre to the brutal reality of how wrong his race was in subjugating blacks […] then I had hope that some day the rest of his race could similarly awaken—if they wanted to.
Many blacks believed that such arbitrary racial classification was blatant proof that the government had created apartheid not because God so ordained, or that the races were so radically different they could not coexist as one nation, as white supporters of racial segregation claimed. Apartheid was purely and simply a scheme to perpetuate white dominance, greed, and privilege.
How would he deal with the fear, the frustration, the hate, the anger that were the lot of every black child? Would he stay out of trouble long enough to become a man, to realize his dreams, whatever they might be?