Suddenly the small body stirs, and in its mind ghostly faces appear around it. Some of the faces are kind, some are frightening. They stare at the baby, silent and solemn.
After a few moments one of the faces, a man with a beard, moves forward and in a slow, deliberate voice says:
“Little one, when you enter this world you will be expected to follow Allah. Because you are female you will, when you grow up, cover your entire body in public, and your only desire will be to serve your husband. You will have no choice, because you have, by the very fact of your birth, inherited our religion.”
A second face, a black one this time, moves forward:
“Little one, because you will grow to be a Xhosa male you will go to initiation school to be circumcised in order to enter manhood. You will follow all our traditions, because you have, by the very fact of your birth, inherited our culture. You have no choice.”
A white, angry face interrupts:
“Because you are black you will, for the rest of your life, serve your white masters. Sadly, you will never have the intelligence to rise above the tribalism of your race, you will never have the ability to govern your own affairs. By the very fact of your birth, you will become the very stereotype that we have imposed upon your race. You have no choice.”
Another face speaks up:
“Little one, because your skin is white you will always be expected to feel guilt for the evils of the slave trade, colonialism, and apartheid. Your race has been responsible for much suffering, and by the very fact of your birth, you have inherited the sins of your forefathers. You have no choice.”
A man’s face, full of kindness, smiles and says:
“Son, I’m so proud to be your father. You will grow up as I did, and as my father before me. You will play baseball, and will excel in mathematics. You will follow the family tradition and become a successful lawyer. You have no choice son, because by the very fact of your birth, you have inherited the responsibilities that come with the privilege of carrying our family name.”
Suddenly, more and more faces make their demands, and soon their voices blend into a cacophony of unintelligible sound.
The baby stirs its little feet, and within its mind it shouts:
The faces are quiet for a moment, and the baby addresses the crowd from within its mind:
“Why do you demand so much from me? Look at me for a moment, will you? All that I have inherited are two sets of chromosomes that will determine my physical attributes. But in terms of your beliefs, traditions, culture, and religion – I have inherited nothing. Those things do not currently form any part of me; thus I have no obligation to pay homage to them in any way.
“I can’t understand why are you so eager to mould me to according to your expectations, or why I must carry the burden of your fears and desires? Is it fair that I be a victim of the pain, mistrust and guilt that you caused in the world before I existed? Would it not be better for me to represent a new beginning instead?
“Why do you think you have ownership over me somehow? This is my body, my mind, and my future. You own no part of me. My genes determine what I am, but the only agent that will choose who I become is me, and me alone.
“You can teach me your creeds, culture and traditions, and instruct me on what to wear, who to love, how to live. You can even condition me to act according to some racial or gender related stereotype. But I am the one who will one day make that final decision whether to live by your expectations. I do have a choice, and you can’t make that choice for me.”
The baby pauses as the first spasms of labour shiver through the womb. As the faces, now expressionless, fade away, the baby tenses in preparation for its birth into an unknown time, place and culture; and one final thought lingers in its mind:
“I’m sorry, but I will choose my own way.”