Skin we are in
Sindiwe Magona and Nina Jablonski
New Africa Books
Sindiwe Magona in conversation with Naomi Meyer regarding Magona’s book Skin we are in.
Sindiwe, you are co-author of the book Skin we are in (the other author is Nina G Jablonski). Firstly: how would you describe the book?
Skin we are in is a children’s book, frank about something we all have, we all know, we all relate to – the skin we are in.
Is this a storybook, and what is the story about?
Yes, it is a storybook, and the story is about the meaning of skin. First, why we all have different skin colour; how it all began, what it means and, more interestingly, what it does not mean.
The colour of everybody's skin is still an issue in this country in 2018. How does one write a story about this, a tale accessible for children? Even if it is not a fictional and conventional bedtime story, still, my question remains: how do you write such a tale in such a way that children would want to read this and be educated at the same time?
By placing the children at centre stage. Let them talk it out, air their feelings, their fears, their confusion and their curiosity and uncertainties about the issue. Arouse in the children the questions that society is busy telling them – perhaps not overtly, but through the attitudes the children observe – are questions they should not ask. Do this in a manner that is respectful to all – children as well as grown-ups; make this a journey of discovery, an amazing eye-opener.
What would you like children to learn from this book? Or what message would you like to convey?
That everybody has the skin colour that is right for them, and all skin colours serve people the same way. That clever melanin, inherited from great-great-grandparents – because of where they were in relation to the sun – that clever melanin knows when to be plentiful and when to be light as breath. Above all, that colour of skin means absolutely nothing about the person under the skin. It is far less than 1% of who we are. Now, isn’t that an amazing fact? That we would judge someone on 0,001% of what she is made of? Under the skin we are in, we are all the same – 99.099% the same.
Do you think children in this country are ashamed of the colour of their skin?
They are made to feel ashamed when other people ridicule them or treat them differently or call them names … exclude them. They are confused, angry and sad, and want to be or wish they could be other than what they are.
This book is translated/written in five languages. And hopefully, it will be published in all of the country's languages later on. Why, do you think, is this important for a book like this one?
All children deserve to get the message, as early as possible, that they are perfect as they are, and that the colour of their skin does not have anything to do with their character or ability. It has nothing to do with what they are capable of and what dreams they may cherish or goals they may set for themselves. Skin colour is not a determinant of destiny.
What is your own background, and in what way did the colour of your own skin influence your life's journey?
That’s a very long story, and I have written two autobiographical books about it: disenfranchisement, 3rd class citizenship, jobs I could not even apply for – all because of the colour of my skin. To this day, because of skin colour, there is a putting down, an othering that is sometimes annoying: a salesperson to whom I will always be invisible; the “Mama” I get from people who respect me and mama me, though they are old enough to be my father – because “It is your culture!” The only thing they know about my culture: mama every woman of my skin colour – nothing more.
Do you think that in a country where generations of people have stereotypical views of each other (because of skin colour), people can still change their opinions of each other?
Oh, yes! They just have to be convinced. But, that can only happen when the country takes bold and meaningful steps to reverse what was done in our past. South Africans need to be called to order, and reminded that they all belong and had better begin understanding that, accepting it and embracing it. When that happens, people as individuals will work towards integration, because that is the only way we will get to know one another and stop being strangers who live in the same house.
Is it, in the end, about skin colour? What do you think is of more importance in human relationships than the colour of one's skin?
No. The colour of one’s skin, as I have already pointed out, is less than 1% of that person. How, then, can that be of any importance? But, it is that and nothing else. What has happened, not only in South Africa but the world over, is that we were all misled – as my co-author, Nina Jablonski, puts it – by eminent scientists, centuries ago, into believing that physical characteristics, including colour of skin, had bearing on the personality, character and ability of the individual. That has been disproved over and over again; but, unfortunately, it is so ingrained in the minds of human beings that it will take this book and others like it, and a lot of eye-opening and soul-examining, before people rid themselves of this erroneous belief.
What did you discover while writing this book?
The science that underpins what we usually say without having any proof: people have more in common than they have differences. Now, to be told the fact that skin colour is less than 1% of what comprises the human body – 0,001% – is staggering.
- The book is available from Van Schaik, Exclusive Books, Bargain Books, takealot.com, Loot.com, Book Lounge and Clarke’s Books.