Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Hyper-Vigilance

December 13, 2008 Comment on this post [20] Posted in Africa
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Yesterday a car full of young, white boys slowed along side my mixed family as we walked from the mall, slowly lit a firecracker and threw it at us.

I saw the whole thing happening in slow-motion, time didn't speed up until the boys sped off. In retrospect I have had all sorts of fantasies of grapping the firecracker and throwing it back in their car, or stepping on it. I knew what it was and what was happening as it was happening, but it was all in the space of maybe 5 seconds.

All the stream of consciousness...Why are they slowing? Hm, white folks in the car. Hm, five blond boys, maybe high-school age. Why do they have a lighter? They are smoking? Ah, they are disposing of a cigarette. Why would they light it and then immediately throw it out? That's a firecracker! They are throwing it at us. Why are they smiling? They are speeding up. Put my body between the car and the boys....wince. Everyone jumps. Didn't think to get the license plate. What would I have done with the number anyway? Feels like the police in the states would take this seriously. Too many boys in that car. Teenagers are stupid, but multiple teenagers are dangerously stupid. Being on my guard 24-7 is taking a toll on me. My head aches.

I am very disappointed, and very sad. Fortunately my three-year-old isn't old enough to understand that this marks a first in his life.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 13, 2008 14:37
I'm shocked and horrified Scott, this isn't what I'd call normal in South Africa. Unless I've been living here with my eyes closed and haven't noticed it. I apologise on behalf of my country.
December 13, 2008 14:55
This is sad... Ignorance and stupidity working in tandem...
December 13, 2008 15:08
Really saddened to hear about this Scott. I agree it's ignorance and stupidity but I would add that religion, culture, tradition and upbringing often breeds an intolerant attitude and that's what really, really sad.
December 13, 2008 15:19
I was just saddened when I read your post. When things like this happen, it feels like a step back.
All the sympathy to you and your family.
December 13, 2008 16:07
One of the reasons we left SA and went to Australia is the Hyper Vigilance you speak of - for different people you have to be vigilant about different things but for us it was crime , unbelievably dangerous driving and other things that keep one looking over your shoulder constantly - its not easy to relax , especially in the cities.
Its a sad fact of life that there is still a fear of "the other" in SA, from both sides.

I am hoping that in time it will lessen but as long as the gulf between have/have not and black/white remains, it manifests in events such as the Skierlik shootings , your firecracker scare and even the passport control woman at JHB international.

SA remains a contradiction - beautiful yet ugly. For all its charms , it has an undercurrent that will make it or break it, it needs tremendous political will to solve - and unfortunately since Nelson Mandela left office there is every indication that solving it has been put on the backburner.

Stay safe Scott, hopefully your kids are ok after this horrible incident.
December 13, 2008 16:55
It's always possible that it could be just general teenage stupidity rather than specifically racism. As a cyclist, I get kids in cars shouting as they go past to try and startle me - and it's not racist since Im the same race as the idiots in the car.

I want to be really clear that Im not trying to minimise the existence of racism or anything like that. I say this only to provide a perspective on this nasty incident that might help make it less disgusting and easier to get over.
December 13, 2008 18:59
commenter - I think you have a very valid point, and I appreciate your perspective. I don't know now. It could be either. The constant stares can't be denied, certainly, nor the rude remarks in 6 languages, but you're right. Teenagers are stupid, regardless of race.
December 13, 2008 20:13
I'm really saddened and angered reading this Scott. While there's no doubt that pockets of such absolute backwardness still exist in the country it's certainly not a common occurrence here and I'm really truly sorry to hear that this happened to you on your trip.

To other people with comments or remarks just flip them the bird and tell them to f*ck off to Orania where they belong with their retarded cousins...
December 13, 2008 22:22
When the post showed up on my reader, I didn't expect something like this, and it really shocked me...
But don’t consider it racism; they were probably just some retard boys. Happens all the time, everywhere. Just try to forget it.

And since you mentioned your cute little son… just show him your new president on tv :D

December 13, 2008 22:34
I'm glad to hear everyone's okay.
December 13, 2008 22:54
I'm glad that this was only a fire cracker. I wish you luck for the rest of your trip.

For quite some time I think of RSA as a country where I don't want to go with my family because it's just too dangerous. It's very sad, that the list of countries in that category is getting longer and longer...
December 14, 2008 1:02
Reminds me of when I used to live in the Bronx in New York. Same type of thing. Your constantly on the defense against everything and everyone. Not a good feeling.
December 14, 2008 1:09
December 14, 2008 1:36
Hi Scott --

As a South African I would also like to apologise for the behaviour of the teenagers: it simply isn't acceptable, wherever the country or whatever the circumstances.

That said - and, please, this is in no way in mitigation - yours is the first example that I have ever heard of such behaviour. It certainly isn't the norm.

I would also have thought that hostile comment was a thing of the past. I was in a mall this morning and saw several mixed family groups, all ignored: everyone was simply too busy with their Christmas shopping.

I also spent several hours this afternoon as part of a multi-ethnic group enjoying the proverbial picnic in a [public] park. None of the passers-by gave us a second glance.

So, yes, I would like to believe that this isn't the norm. Doesn't make it any less real to those - like you & your family - who have been on the receiving end ...

My apologies - once more - for the intolerance of my fellow countrymen

Hamba gashle

-- rowan

December 14, 2008 2:31
Having lived in RSA before, I think it was just a prank by a bunch of idiots. Here in New Zealand, we've had firecrackers/bottles/eggs/loaf of broad/you name it thrown at us by moving cars. But on the bright side they don't slow down, which makes their aim pathetic. But the downside is that they're not just teenagers, more like in their twenties...
December 14, 2008 3:23
Wow, last thing I expected to read. How sad that parts of the world still act that way. I hope you and your family are okay.

I guess even though parts of the US have still not advanced past stupid racial things, we are generally lucky to live where we do. However, this is just a reminder that we still have work to do as a human race.

Enjoy the rest of your trip and keep all the good blog posts coming!
December 14, 2008 4:30
Wow. I have not made it to SA after having got visas 4 times now. Something almost always crop up and stops me from jumping onto the plane.

But being a teenager, growing up downtown south Nigeria, we did probably worse things to others. There were no strings attached, just plain old teenager stupid stuff.

I agree the racial balance in Nigeria is fundamentally different from SA, but you shouldn't probably see this as a reflection of the larger SA society...I hope I am not being naive there.

For whatever its worth, the news coming from SA over the last few months is very worrying. Please dont go our way yet. We, Nigeria is already a huge joke, for the continent to suffer another failed project.

Kisses to your boy.
December 15, 2008 4:47
Sorry man...

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. One time teenagers threw an empty beer bottle at me from a truck going about 40 mph. Luckily the rednecks missed or I would have been in a world of hurt.

One thing is certain, 1 in X number of people you encounter will be jerks. Unfortunately, X in this equation is unknown and you never know who you're dealing with.
December 18, 2008 22:14
This reminds me of driving into a black ghetto like neighborhood in LA, and being stopped by black youth, was forced out pretty quick. Didn't want to get killed. I understand this happening in RSA, but in the USA?
January 08, 2009 0:18
I can see it just being teenage stupidity. When I was living in Romania from 1999 - 2000, a couple months before the end of 1999, fireworks were *everywhere*. And it seemed like high school and college kids in particular got a real kick out of lighting them and throwing them at people. My wife (then fiancee) told of one thrown at her, and I saw kids doing it, especially in pedestrian areas. There weren't any racial aspects; it was just stupid kids doing stupid things.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.