A person my colour – love, adoption and parenting while white
Publisher: Modjaji Books
I found A person my colour to be a surprisingly enjoyable read. Anyone who has read and enjoyed Marianne Thamm’s delightful Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and me should consider reading this text by Martina Dahlmanns, as well.
I admit that I took to this book with some trepidation. I, too, have adopted black kids. Frankly, they are kids to me. Whiteness and blackness only become issues when we have to choose bedding and paint for their rooms. Both have an odd black and white preference in these matters.
Be warned: the book’s bumbling introduction increased my doubt. Skip it. Jump straight into the first chapter. That first story immediately grabbed me, and the joy lasted to the end.
Dahlmanns simply tells stories; she does not ever preach or try to convince the reader of anything.
Her first story starts under a table in a German camp during the Second World War. It is so vivid, the reader can observe the environment and the fear of the little boy hiding there. Dahlmanns mixes the stories of her past with those of her present. She describes her mother as a “magical storyteller from 1 001 nights”, but may pat herself on the shoulder: this book holds magic, as well; the reader is immediately absorbed. Narratives of sex with former boyfriends are brutally honest; the story of falling in love with the man she has settled down with, is understated and charming. Then, there are the stories of adopting, of holding the little bundles of joy for the first time. I think any parent would be able to relate, even more so if adoption has been part of their own story.
Yet, the truly fascinating part of this book actually starts when Dahlmanns joins a group trying to deal with culture, race and privilege in a country as divided as ours. There, she meets Tumi Jonas-Mpofu, a young, angry black woman from the “wrong” side of town. The two become friends. Their road to friendship is not an easy one, but the stories they tell are beautiful. Both tell their stories in the book. Jonas-Mpofu shares much less, but her sharp, insightful looks into the lives of her privileged friends are wonderful. It is a black and white book, after all. It is also a book about privilege that many of us are not even aware of. While close friends need to sell essential items for food, we worry about keeping our wines cool. This is South Africa, one of the most unequal countries in the world, and we need to understand what is happening a few kilometres down the road, where “the others” live.
Not all the stories are easy. Some stories are fun; some are sad. Many of these stories I could relate to, some I could not; but I could appreciate each of them. Take, for instance, the story of Jonas-Mpofu having to pass herself off as a domestic in order not to be harassed in the white suburbs. Black domestics are okay and understood, but black women wanting to visit white friends? Eish, no.
On the back cover, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela has written: “If you are tired of hearing about ‘whiteness’, and if you think racism exists in the hearts of evil others, or if you believe that having a black friend unshackles you from racism’s hold, I dare you to read this book.”
I could not agree more.
Gobodo-Madikizela also points out that “Martina Dahlmanns’s deeply personal narrative” is the backbone of this book, and that the dialogue with Tumi Jonas-Mpofu “reveals so much of what’s possible”. Indeed.
I liked the stories and I loved this book. The stories challenged me. They made me want to reread the book for the gems hidden in between these pages.
A person my colour is by no means easy, but it is important. Apart from the ill-conceived introduction, which ought to have been a reflection at the end, the narrative is stylish and gripping.
Buy the book, skip the intro and challenge yourself. We need stories like this to be told. I highly recommend this joyful read.