We have often joked that my youngest son Tom, 9, is ‘the whitest boy in Africa’.
His brother Jesse, 13, is almost as white, with that skin the colour of the membrane beneath an eggshell; alabaster and translucent enough to see the blue veins beneath.
The glorious African sun is hell on the skin of my children. Both Tom and Jesse are - on the face of it - so ill equipped for this weather that it rather begs the question: What are they doing here?
This is exactly the question these boys are being confronted with everywhere they turn in South Africa today: What are you doing here? Do you belong here?
This thread proceeds naturally to: you are from somewhere else; you should go back there, to the snow and drizzle and your weak European sun.
Political debate is rapidly becoming such that we can no longer shield our children from the racial hostility endemic to our public discourse.BEE and my kids
As an adult who grew up during Apartheid and who witnessed the transformation of the country since 1994 I can make my personal peace with the past, the present and the future.
I thought Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and later BBBEE a necessary evil.
‘Necessary’ because there could be no future for any of us if the lion's share of the economy remained owned and controlled by whites; and some attempt had to be made - for reason both moral and practical - to release the damned-up human potential of black South Africans.
‘Evil’ because the chosen mechanism immediately encouraged cronyism and a corrupting blurring between the private and the public sector.
I have never been comfortable with the idea of affirmative action but I have always believed that I am invested with advantages of eduction and upbringing that were, in part, a result of being relatively advantaged during Apartheid. I decided long ago to treat any obstacles I encountered as a white male as a kind of necessary and appropriate redistributive tax.
But am I to accept that my children are invested with some kind of advantage derived from Apartheid? Am I to accept that they need to stand aside for anything or anybody because of an accident of birth?
Actually it this is not about whether I accept it or not. It is about whether they accept it. Could these boys even imagine that they might be culpable for Apartheid?
I let Jesse read the responses to a column I wrote here about two weeks ago (Were you on the Apartheid team, Dad?
Among the comments were rare islands of sanity - from black and white respondents - in a sea of largely white vitriol raging against the new South Africa. I sat next to him as he ploughed through the anger.
At some point he said: ‘Do you think black kids might read this? Because this is sick .... it will make them feel so horrible.’A place in the sun
Tom hated wearing clothes as a child, which meant he got dunked in suntan cream almost every day.
Humans are unique amongst animals: our use of tools makes us able to control and live in almost any environment and geography.
Tom and Jesse live here.
Who they think they are, where they think they belong is not something over which I have absolute control. These things are shaped by the world they grow up in - a part of which is the public discourse about race in this country. Every word we say or write goes out into the world in which our children live and grow.
How can you protect children from the social environment? Should you even try?