10 February, 2016

“Love has no colour, why does hate?”

Racism is a mental disease and it’s a choice.”

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Racism has taken over our hearts and minds.

While this complex beast lurks in our streets, workplaces and in the corridors of our social media platforms, we take a look at interracial adoption for a more nuanced understanding around the issue.

Lisa Sofute, 23, was adopted at the age of 10.

Lisa Sofute, 23, was adopted at the age of 10. She is pictured here with her adoptive mother, Wendy Oelschig.
Lisa Sofute, 23, was adopted at the age of 10.
She is pictured here with her adoptive mother, Wendy Oelschig.

Her biological mother, Joyce Sofute died from cirrhosis of the liver before she was a year old. Her adoptive mother, Wendy Oelschig took her under her wing at just 5 months when her father Mark gave her up for adoption. Lisa’s adoptive father, Raymond Oelschig passed away three years ago.

“I will fit in where the love is.”

Sitting in her best friend’s home in Krugersdorp, Lisa shares her story and how her upbringing has changed the way she views South Africa today.

“It has shown me how diverse we are and how much love there is. I mean, with my family I’m not the only adopted one so after I was adopted, there was another little boy who was adopted, he’s coloured.

And after that, there was another little girl who was adopted and she is black. So I sort of started a chain of adoption in our family which wasn’t previously there. We’ve opened up a channel that was never there before.

So I can definitely say there are two sides to everything,” she says.

While her family is filled with diversity, she mentions how her mother lost some friends because of her choice of bringing a black person into her home and into her life.

“My parents are very strong. My mother lost contact with so many people, people she never thought she’d lose contact with because she brought a black child into her life. That is a blessing in a way. I can imagine being her, in a situation where you are rejected by people because you’re trying to do something good for someone else’s life,” she explains.

Lisa says she has been blessed with the family she was given. Her siblings accept her and have always been welcoming and loving. Like other siblings they fight each other and love each other just as much.

“It’s the only family that I’ve known. So I’m grateful that there was no animosity or grudges from their side. I’ve had a really blessed childhood.”

Explanations and stares

“I’ve stopped explaining myself to people. People only understand their level of perception.”

Lisa has had to explain herself to people when asked about her background, why she doesn’t speak a vernacular language and how she grew up.

“If I’m approached in a loving way I’ll give people an explanation, depending on who they are. When it’s a harsh and brash manner then it puts my guard up. I am who I am, accept it or don’t. Over the years, it’s gotten better.”

On a visit to the local shopping centre with her mother Lisa says a woman gave them the usual strange look and her mom found it strange how there were still people who stared.

“I said mom, think about how it was when we first moved to Johannesburg, we knew nobody and this adoption was not really a common thing to see. Think about how many people used to stare at us in shopping centres, make remarks when they would walk passed us, using derogatory language such as the ‘k’ word. It has calmed down so much so in a way, I do feel that we are definitely moving forward regarding people’s views and reactions to us.”

Adoption is a blessing

You are changing someone’s life.

“I would not be standing here today if it wasn’t for that. I would not have these opportunities in my life if it wasn’t for that. And it could be anyone, of any colour, with any sort of cultural background that can bring someone into their home and love them as their own”.

Lisa doesn’t think she can live her life and not adopt a child. For her it is a life-changing experience she knows she will be able to do for someone else.

“I’m ok with not knowing my mother tongue. I’m black beyond the colour of my skin, I’m black beyond the language that I speak, I’m more than just being black”.

Friendship is key

Daina Lee Pelser has been friends with Lisa since they were 15-years-old. “We have become soul mates – we get each other. I don’t see colour with her. I don’t see colour with anyone. I have mixed race friendships. Lisa is my best friend.”

Lisa with her friend Daina Lee Pelser
Lisa with her friend Daina Lee Pelser

Lisa gets teary-eyed when she reminisces on a birthday gift Daina had bought for her.

“On my last birthday, on the box was written, ‘God made us friends, but our hearts made us sisters’ and that is true,” she says, tearfully.

Daina says her friendship with Lisa has always been an accepting one.

“She was the first black friend I brought home but nobody saw it as that”.

“Once they start to see who you are as a person and stop seeing you as a black individual, that’s when their whole perception changes”

Both the girls believe that it is the older generation that carries over racial tension. There was one incident when Daina’s mom used the K-word while driving in the car with the girls.

“Once the ice was broken, it was not a big deal anymore. That was the first and last time she said it.”

Daina’s father took a while to come around to the idea of Lisa. He was curious, like everyone else, about her and what she was. Overtime their relationship grew to become a father-daughter bond.

Social media and race

The recent racial tension that spiraled up on social media has everyone talking. “To me, it’s pathetic. It’s a different generation; you need to get passed that. Just move on,” Daina insists. Lisa adds that it’s not just the older generation, its people of the younger generation who are involved in it too.

“What’s so scary is that it’s not just a different generation. Some of the people that we know are getting involved in it as well. It’s influence. Someone put up a video on social media about racism being a disease.

It’s so true – you are not born having hate. You are not born knowing the difference between black and white, and hating a certain race”.

“Why does hate have a colour?”

“Love has no colour, which is true. So why does hate? Why does hate have a colour? That makes no sense to me. I’m honestly getting tired of it.”

She mentions how racial issues have affected some of her friendships and relationships.

“It affects so many things. Even with me, I can’t post certain things with people because their parents will find out. We are in 2016. And I can’t post a picture of you and me together because your parents will freak out?

That gets to me. When does the line get drawn where you stop letting people influence you? You are an adult. You can make your own choices.

Racism is a mental disease and it’s a choice.”

Compiled by Lesego Makgatho and Mpiletso Motumi (MOJO) for the #RacismStopsWithMe campaign, an initiative by Independent Media and Sactwu.