My Race

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The Book of the Week is “My Race, A Jewish Girl Growing Up Under Apartheid in South Africa” by Lorraine Lotzof Abramson, published in 2010.

Born in March 1946, the author grew up in Orange Free State in South Africa. Her ancestors were originally from Latvia. Many other fair-skinned people (hereinafter called “whites”) were descended from British settlers. The Afrikaners (descended from Dutch settlers) were the country’s ruling majority. They imposed apartheid beginning in 1948. They interpreted the Christian Bible in a way that depicted dark-skinned Africans (called Africans; hereinafter called “blacks” but the derogatory term is Kaffirs) as servants. All white families had sufficient wealth to employ at least one (black) servant.

The black population way outnumbered that of the white. The Afrikaners felt extreme pressure to oppress the blacks unmercifully, lest they revolt against any and all whites. The Jews were thus largely left alone. The author was the only Jew in her elementary school. She showed natural running ability at an early age, and after collecting a bunch of victories in footraces, she became a source of local pride for the community. So she was tolerated, even though she was Jewish.

In August 1961, the author was chosen to represent her homeland of South Africa in the Maccabi Games, a competition for Jews held in Israel. She met athletes of all different nationalities, including surprisingly, an Indian Jew. Under apartheid in South Africa, simply having a conversation with an Indian (or any non-fair-skinned person) was a crime, in public or in private.

The South African government used a divide-and-conquer strategy, outlawing assembly of ten or more individuals of dark-skinned tribes. The government fomented hatred of one tribe against another. Signs saying, “Whites Only” or “Non-Whites” were posted in all public places to indicate who was allowed where and what they could do. Whites would be arrested for entering a place bearing the “Non-Whites” sign. The police kept photos of protest-marchers (troublemakers– including whites). A person of any skin color who criticized the government would be punished.

In 1991, after serving 27 years in prison, (black political activist) Nelson Mandela was elected leader of South Africa. The whites were deathly afraid the blacks would wreak revenge against all whites. Mandela was forgiving, and didn’t hold a grudge against his oppressors. But he could’ve– as happened in previous decades when various other African countries achieved independence and a black person became the top leader. The South African whites were relieved as hell.

Read the book to learn much more about the author’s life and times and places.