The Current

How getting beat up taught a new Canadian not to be racist

Growing up in South Africa in the 1970s, under apartheid, Derek Newman and his friends used to play a game. Little did he know that game would change his life.
Derek Newman all grown up.

Growing up in South Africa in the 1970s, under apartheid, Derek Newman and his friends used to play a game.

Or at least it seemed like a game to them at the time.

"We'd be walking home from school," Newman says, "and these black guys would be coming out of the mines... One of us would throw our books down. And then we would use a pejorative which is common in South Africa. We'd say 'hey, [blank], pick that up.' Not only would they pick it up, but they would bow their heads and hand it to you and say, 'sorry boss'."

Newman says that, at home, he was taught to treat everyone with respect.

"But when you leave the house," he says, "the entire law of the land is based on the fact that white people are superior."

Derek Newman moved to Canada in 1980, at age 11.

And when he tried the same "game" in Toronto — trying to impress his new friends - the results were very different.

 Newman's Canadian friends took off immediately — and the three young black men he had insulted didn't hold back.

"They beat the snot out of me," Newman says.

And that's the moment, Newman says, that he learned racism was not right.

"It occured to me right then and there," says Newman, "that equality starts with the right to fight back. Those guys in South Africa, they had the ability to fight back, but had they touched me the wrath of god would have descended upon them. And I can only imagine how heartbreaking it was for them to see, here's the next generation of oppression."

Listen to the full story at the top of this web post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley. 

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