About a week ago I found myself in the waiting area of a state hospital. I was in a particularly hideous state and had a brilliant supportive friend with me. It was a Saturday evening, probably around 7 or 8pm. In a group of, I’d imagine, around 60 people, there were 8 white people and the rest made up of black and coloured people.
A 16 year old boy sat next to us in a wheelchair. He was wearing cricket clothes and a red bandage around his calf. We asked him what had happened, and he replied that he slid after a ball and something cut his leg open. It did a great job of cutting his leg open, the kid was bleeding loads. Yet he sat there, with no complaints, no requests, no sign that he was just a 16 year old boy in pain in a hospital with only the opposing side’s coach there to help him.
Next to us was a lady with probably a 2 year old girl in her arms. I have no idea what was wrong with the kid, but she quietly sat with her daughter on her lap. Waiting. A man with a drip went to sit behind her and tried to find a place for the drip bag, she turned around and pointed out the clothes hooks on the wall for just that purpose. She moved up a spot so he could get close to it, and settled with her daughter on her lap.
A rather drunk man walked up to one of the doctors – all female, all young, all busy – and insisted on being treated – apparently not for the first time. She told him in no uncertain terms to sit down and wait his turn, and that if he bothered her again she would call security.
Right in front of us was a father and his daughter. His features looked almost Somalian to me, but for some reason I thought Malawi. He had not arrived with her alone. There were a few other people, one carrying a huge bundle of blankets. The put down the blankets on 3 chairs and lay the little girl down. She was emaciated and very very weak. Suddenly the bundle of blankets made more sense. The father was skinny too, but his daughter was obviously the patient. She lay very still, the line of the drip running to the wall with the clothes hooks. A male nurse came along with a cup and medicine bottle. He was singing her name. And told her in his sing song voice to sit up, take her medicine so she could feel better. The father tried to lift his daughter into a seated position, but she would just collapse. His hands were shaking. He managed to get her upright, and the singing nurse poured the thick green medicine into the cup and held it for her to drink from. After finishing it, the lovely man sang what a good girl she was. Her father tried to make her comfortable again on the very uncomfortable chairs.
Another man walked through the waiting area with what looked like a 5L juice bottle draining blood from his lungs. I asked Sjan-Mari what was wrong with him. She said he had most probably been stabbed in a lung and couldn’t lie down. He would have to be upright while it drained. Apparently Tygerberg hospital has a room with Lay-Z Boy chairs for this…
And through all of this, there were 3 drunk white girls. The one had her probably 2 year old daughter on her hip, something had fallen on the little girl’s fingers. You could see a bit of a bruise, but in Sjan-Mari’s opinion nothing was broken. Not much they could do for them. But why then did these 3 girls (I say girls, they were in their early 20′s) assume that they could enjoy their Saturday night out? They were laughing and giggling and making insensitive comments constantly.
When they spotted the young cricket player, they asked him what had happened. When told, one of them said:”Well, clearly you’re playing on an illegal field if there’s stuff like that lying around.” No, you stupid fucking bitch. You just don’t move from your white happy place and see that not all cricket fields look like the beautiful green grounds we’re used to.
They were making a racket. They tried to stop various doctors and nurses to ask when their turn would be, even with all the devastating pictures around them, the assumed themselves superior. They never sat down, but stood around laughing.
After a while a security guard came around and asked them who the patient was, and that only that person was allowed in the waiting area. Most of the patients, in including myself, had someone with them. The difference though, that everyone else sat quietly, waiting their turn. The girl with the daughter on the arm said that she was the patient. Her friend then said: “I’m also a patient. I have a pain in my ass from waiting so long.” If I had had any energy I would’ve stood up and slapped her. The security guard, patiently, asked them again to leave. With a lot of grumbling and noise and bitching the other 2 left. Suddenly, the young mother was all alone and sat in a corner with her daughter on her lap. Just like everyone else. She did tell a passing doctor that her daughter was tired and hungry and that she wanted to know when her turn was. Clearly none of the other many children in the waiting area were hungry or tired or scared.
Sjan-Mari and I sat there in shock. Out of all the people in the waiting room we would supposedly be like this woman and her friends most. We’re all white right? But I’m nothing like her. I want to be nothing like her. Out of all the people in that room, I’d align myself with her least.
Ayn Rand said the following about racism:
”Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage … Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.”
The thing about racism then is, that if you see yourself as so very different from another race, then you align yourself with your own race. And you know, I don’t want to be one of ‘them’. I could see all the other people in the waiting room watching them, and seeing the way they acted. And why shouldn’t they say, well, must be all white people who insist they’re worth more than us. I wanted to get up and apologise, but also realised that it would probably be just as arrogant. Those 3 morons managed to drive the wedge just a little deeper.
Sitting in that waiting room opened my eyes. It was a horrible experience, but I could take something good away from it. I knew that even if I didn’t have much confidence in myself, I was nothing like those girls.
Oh, and the young cricket player’s team won.