Apartheid's forbidden love

Chapter 20




I always felt that blacks exaggerated a bit when they told me such things. Being brought up in the tremendous security of a welfare state I have a deep faith in the goodness of people. Without this faith I cannot travel the way I do, as my faith directly encourages the good sides of people.



Consequently I got along well with southern whites who I am more fond of because of their warmth and honesty than the perhaps more liberal, but less warm and direct whites in the North.



The bitter truth, however, dawned on me when I came to Mary and her son John on the sweltering back-roads of Alabama for a drink of water.



With no indoor plumbing we ended up - in more than one sense - sharing water at the Samaritan woman's well.
Black women usually wanted nothing of a penniless vagabond like me, but in all oppressions there are exceptions.



She was a single mother living in a shack with no plumbing, but at least with a TV and an old refrigerator which looked good against the cardboard walls. But her trust in people around her was not like mine and she had three pistols and a shot-gun under the bed to defend herself.



Mary and I romanticized our relationship and those were some of the happiest days in my life that I spent with her and her son despite the fact that I lost some of my local white friends because of the relationship.



When I decided to go away for some time to observe a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Kentucky, Mary gave me a silver cross to protect me. (From my tape recorder:)
- We got a surprise for you...     - What is it?
- It's in my hand....     - Let me see it.
- It's a present from all three of us...



But it soon appeared that Mary could have had more use for the silver cross than I. Apparently for no other reason than that she had had a relationship with a white man, three white men threw a firebomb into her kitchen in the dead of night and the entire house went up in flames in seconds. She managed to get her son out, but though she ran back three times to try to reach him, her brother, who had been asleep, perished in the flames. "I couldn't get him out... They had to pull me away before I got burned... I was sick and in shock."



Business goes on as usual



the corn and the profits are high
and TV's boom in every living room.



They tell us what deodorants to buy.




Business goes on as usual



except that my brother is dead...




The tragedy threw me into my recurrent dilemma:
Can I as an outsider have fully developed human relationships with people condemned as pariahs?
If we wish to maintain a caste system we will always condemn such relationships. Yet, we can only end crippling taboo systems by trying to be completely human toward everyone - thereby risking deeper involvement and love. Without such openness of heart blacks would never have opened up to me.
But totally ignoring each other's background does in rare cases - like Romeo and Juliet - imply danger for oneself and others - a danger (or fear if it is conscious) which must never limit us in our human involvement - the love of our neighbor as of ourselves.



Often Americans end up blaming me for Mary's tragedy in guilt about the unspoken apartheid line in their hearts and minds which actually caused our Shakespearean tragedy.
We Europeans always condemn Americans for this peculiar gut resistance to intimate black-white relationships, while we forget our own clannish resistance to relationships with Muslim immigrants - or the one between Irish Catholics and protestants, - Israeli Jews and Palestinians etc. etc



Everywhere in the world the minds of both oppressor and the oppressed are devoured with obscure obsessive blockings towards intermarriage and intimate inter-relationships. For the outsider of a particular oppression it is easy to see that neither the oppressor nor the oppressed is free!



The relationship between Mary and I have only grown deeper over the years, but her life since has been hard. After her brother's murder, her sister was murdered.



When Danish TV interviewed her, she shocked Europeans speaking about the escalating violence around her - such as the recent murder of her daughter-in-law.



Between my university lectures I often help Mary with her field work. The white landowner still picks us up at 5 in the morning driving us to the fields where we slave away in stifling heat.



TV ends the night with a picture of Lincoln who freed the slaves. But is Mary really free?

Or see
an interview with Mary on Danish TV.