Out of My Depth

Out of My Depth by Emily Barr

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Authors: Emily Barr
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class were correct in their reporting of it.’
    ‘Of course it did. I told her she was racist, she said her uncle lived in South Africa so she has a first-hand account of the situation, unlike me who just believes whatever I read in the Guardian — and she spat out “Guardian” as if I was reading Trotsky.’
    ‘So you said?’
    Tamsin remembered the conversation.
    ‘You might not like it,’ Janie had added, ‘but it’s a fact. It may not fit in with your world view. That coloureds are downtrodden and repressed and we’re mean and oppressive. But did you ever think about this? That whites are far more advanced than the coloured races for a reason? That we have an innate superiority?’
    Tamsin snorted. ‘Have you ever heard of a man called Hitler?’
    ‘This has nothing to do with him. His issue was with the Jews. Although my uncle says the Holocaust has been exaggerated. But that’s a different issue. The fact is, you don’t know what really goes on in South Africa.’
    ‘Whereas your Uncle Adolf is thoroughly au fait with the politics of the townships?’
    ‘He has servants from places like that, yes. Which amounts to a lot more experience than you have, Tamsin Grey.’
    ‘Lucky servants. Those lazy Africans need British men like him.’
    Janie, who had a particularly fine zit between her overgrown eyebrows, raised her voice at this.
    ‘No!’ she said. ‘No, my uncle is African. That’s something that really bugs him, the fact that he’s supposedly never going to be a “real” African because he’s white. If that’s not racism, I don’t know what is!’
    Tamsin had been incredulous. ‘Urn,’ she said. ‘I think I know what is. Racial segregation of beaches and parks? Mixed marriages and interracial sex being illegal. The Black Homeland Citizenship Act — you know what that means? That black people were told they weren’t even citizens of South Africa. The Sharpeville massacre, that was pretty racist. Having to be white to be allowed to vote? Racist. And locking up Nelson Mandela. He should be President, not your racist Mr de Klerk.’
    Janie looked at the crowd, which was now considerable. More of them were sympathetic to her than to Tamsin.
    ‘Did you hear that?’ she asked, laughing. ‘Nelson Mandela for President? If he’s ever President of South Africa, I will dance naked down Queen’s Street. The man is nothing but a black terrorist, and you are nothing but a red Communist!’ She looked at the audience. ‘De Klerk’s almost as bad, mind. But, Nelson Mandela? Tamsin, you make it too easy. He’ll die in prison. And you can go back to Peking with your Communist friends!’
    Most people laughed.
    In the car, Tamsin looked at her mother. ‘You teach Janie,’ she said. ‘How can you? Why don’t you get a job at a proper school, where there wouldn’t be so many fascists? Whatever the issues might be, at least normal schools don’t accept fascism. Doesn’t it depress you?’
    Her mother fiddled with a strand of greying hair. ‘Don’t misuse “fascism”, Tamsin. It devalues it. I teach her French. That’s all I do. If I taught politics, or religion, or even history or geography, I can see that I’d find it harder. As it is, we just talk about hobbies and transport systems, and Le Grand Meaulnes. And when there are subtexts, Janie doesn’t get them. And you know what, Tam? You make me feel bad. You’re so passionate about things that I believe in too that I feel slightly ashamed of myself because I never bother to pick anyone up on anything any more. I ought to stand up for my principles, like you do. And maybe I should leave Lodwell’s one day and go and teach at a comprehensive. I’ve always said to your dad that when you and Billy leave home, we should go abroad. I’d like to do VSO or something, teach in Africa or India.’
    ‘Good plan.’
    ‘I’m sorry you hate school.’
    ‘Not your fault.’
    ‘Why don’t you start planning a gap year? Sign up for a

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