i am hope-filled for South Africa.
i am not so naive to not suspect how much of a knife point this country feels on at the moment and to know that at any moment things could suddenly go horribly wrong.
We have a LONG way to go still and time feels short.
But being in contact and engagement with an incredible growing amount of people who get it or are working towards getting it, really just keeps me encouraged and hopeful.
The only alternative i really see is giving up and declaring the situation hopeless and using my white privilege and British passport to flee the country… But i’m not planning on going anywhere.
Sorry, South Africa, but you’re pretty much stuck with me.
I SEE YOUNG PEOPLE [getting it]
This weekend, tbV [the beautiful Val] and i were privileged to be a part of the Christ Church Kenilworth Young Adults Getaway [NOT a camp! i called it that once, but i think i got away with it] which saw 70 young people [from students to young workings] head out to a beautiful site near Tulbagh to chill and be challenged and rest and worship and seek transformation and stuff.
i was doing one of the big group talks and then Val and i each did a workshop and then we did one together.
Mine was on my book, ‘i, church’ and the idea of church being so much bigger than that meeting that happens on a Sunday at that place with those people – really the idea of us living out what we believe in the world around us.
tbV did one on Generosity with a focus on Common Change and Generosity Dinners which ended up being one of the most attended workshops [so great when people are hungry for generosity]
Then we did one titled, ‘South Africa: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp!’ based on Race and Reconciliation and recent Varsity happenings and general country vibes.
The group we had was completely white [something i always end to notice these days] which gave us the freedom to tackle some hard issues head on.
After a seventy five minute workshop we officially ended and told people they could go but that we would continue if anyone wanted to [i don’t think one person left and by that time other workshops had finished and we had a gathering crowd around the back of ours of people listening in] and we continued for another half hour. Then we decided to take a fifteen minute break before lunch and then invited people to bring their lunch if they wanted to continue the conversation and a group of ten or so did that. Which was incredible for me – people deciding to sit for close to [and more than] two hours to dive deeply into a conversation of race. We got to cover some really exciting things.
WHITE PRIVILEGE UNPACKED
We started by going around the group asking why people had come to the session [and unlike three of the people from my first workshop it wasn’t because the workshop they were going to go to was cancelled!] and a number of them mentioned that they ‘got’ white privilege but were not sure about what to do next. What can i do? Ooh, well here are some ideas.
But actually before we even went there, i decided to use a different analogy that i have found to be one of the most challenging and helpful in terms of me seeing ‘white privilege’ as something beyond just ‘I got the money and opportunity and you didn’t.’
About twenty years ago [and let’s be honest, still so much today although Hollywood seems to be slowly getting better at this] if you were a black person in a Hollywood movie, you would very likely be the bad guy or the help.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Whenever i watched a movie growing up, i could see someone who looked like or represented me [in terms of skin colour] as the hero of the film. Someone who looked like me would be the president, or the king or queen. Someone who looked like me could be the love interest, the rocket scientist, the adventurer, the doctor, the spy, the sports hero who scored the last second winning underdog point, the prison warden, the priest, the astronaut, the singer, and perhaps strangest of all, i could see someone playing Jesus, a middle eastern born man who looked just like me.
If i was a black person watching a movie growing up, the strong likelihood was that i would be the bad guy or the person cleaning up after everyone else [the slave, the maid, the servant, the prisoner] and more recently the token black guy in the group of college friends who would be taken out third by the serial killer.
You can list exceptions, i am sure. But for the most part, i believe that is the way it has been.
In fact, only recently it was announced that this guy:
Was chosen to play this guy:
That’s right, Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson.
Let that simmer for a while.
THE BOY AND THE BICYCLE
tbV used another analogy of two boys with bicycles and the one pushes the other off his bike and steals it. Twenty years later he goes to the first boy and genuinely feels bad and apologises for stealing his bike.
That’s great and everything, but the first boy still doesn’t have a bike. And not only that, but in the twenty years that followed, the kid who stole the bike was able to get a paper route to earn extra money and he was able to get an after school job. The money from the work he got was able to be put towards a car and driving lessons which increased the opportunities he had for work and entertainment and social connections later in life. The kid without the bike had to walk everywhere and so it impacted on his time and on how many pairs of shoes he would go through. It impacted on his opportunities and social life. He wasn’t able to get to sports practice easily and so he missed out there.
And so on. You get the picture. The cost and consequence and missed opportunities over a twenty year period of being bicycle-less add up to so much more than just a missing bicycle.
That is one of the tough/complicated/confusing places we find ourselves as a country, eespecially when more than just a bicycle was taken.
Land and relocation. Two different educational systems, designed to raise up or dumb down. Social, identity, job opportunity, relationships, sport and the list goes on.
WHITENESS MUST BE DEFEATED
This is where white people get particularly fearful. i would bet you that the majority of white people who read a statement like that would interpret it as saying: White people must be killed. Or harmed, or injured.
But i don’t believe it is suggesting that at all. But going back to our Hollywood analogy, there is a global system [this is not just a South Africa thing and it is being fought against in other countries like the USA as powerfully] that favours whiteness and lifts it up as the standard of all that is good and pure and true. And by default, anything that is not white has to be less than. Just read the comments on any race incident article online and you will see how strongly so many people actually believe that lie.
The other day tbV and i saw a post on Facebook advertising black dolls and we both got super stoked about it. For a lot of white people i imagine if they’d seen the same thing they might have been, ‘Oh, that’s cool, black dolls’ or not thought anything significant at all. But it is so completely significant and so here is one range of dolls called ‘Natural Girls United’
And some words of explanation from creator, Karen Byrd, on the significance of creating them for her:
It started when I was a kid. I used to idolize all my dolls and I thought they were beautiful. But then, I would look in the mirror and I wonder, “Why don’t I look like my dolls? What does that mean? Am I not beautiful because I don’t have the long hair, the light skin, or the light eyes?” I questioned my own beauty.
Then even growing up, you would look in the neighborhood stores and only see the white dolls with the blue eyes. And you would wonder, “Well, where’s the doll that looks like me?”
With my last boyfriend, I helped raise his daughters. They were bi-racial and had big, beautiful curly hair and brown skin. I would try to find dolls that looked like them, and still twenty years later, I would go to the store and face the same problem. And I thought, this is ridiculous! So I decided that if I ever had the chance to do something about it, I would.
You can read the rest of that interview in an article titled, ‘You probably didn’t know black dolls like these existed.’
To back up the significance of this as just one area of whiteness needing to be challenged, you can read about Taofeek Okoya from Nigeria who created the Queen of Africa dolls series in 2007, which are outselling Barbie dolls
One young girl who loves the dolls has said, “I like [the doll] because it’s a good doll and it’s Black like me.”
PAY BACK THE ICE-CREAM
A third analogy i came up with on the spot in the workshop was a really simplistic one but helped to convey the idea. A child with two scoops of ice-cream where one scoop of ice-cream is taken away from them so that the child with no ice-cream can get a scoop. The child with two scoops feels like they have been wronged because they had some of their ice-cream taken away, but we need to start seeing it as the reversal of a highly unfair system. When you had two scoops and the other child had no scoops, that was unfair. You giving one of your scoops up so that both of you can have a scoop is a step towards greater fairness, not the person with two scoops being persecuted or attacked or robbed.
In theory so much of this stuff becomes to easy to talk out and figure out and understand and when it comes to practical solutions that seems to be where so many of us are stumbling and fumbling around in the dark. “We get it, bit what do we do now?” is a growing chorus of voices… but at the same time, there still seem to be so many people who have not even gotten to that stage yet and so there is work to be done in getting many people to still arrive at the table and start to understand these issues.
But here are some ideas we had to get us moving forwards:
# The biggest one is relationship – i firmly believe that as we prioritise and work at growing our friendships with people of other races we will start to more easily be able to figure out some of the answers as to what this looks like going forwards. Once an issue becomes a person, the whole conversation is transformed. Because issues can feel somewhat removed from us and so easy to debate and try and figure out but not do anything about. But when it is my friend who is hungry or thirsty or needing a room or not able to pay off their studies, then everything changes. We can turn a blind eye to issues or sleep okay when we know they need to be resolved. But who of us can sleep when it is a friend who is suffering or in need? Deepen your friendships.
# Listen and learn and listen some more – My friend Line Ndaba wrote this for someone on my wall this week:
Racial Engagement For Dummies Part 1:
1. Don’t speak just read.
2. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve got a solution that hasn’t been heard before – listen.
3. When your feelings get hurt, keep quiet,stay quiet – Listen.
4. Revert to #1
A lot of LISTENing in there, something we white folks seem to really struggle with, cos we just have to have our say. Well STOPPIT. Learn to listen and not to be so precious when it comes to people saying things that make you uncomfortable. My friend Megan said it best to one of the guys who was struggling to hear what was being said on a particular topic: Stop making this about you. This is not about you. We have to learn to see this as bigger than us and primarily about other people. [We’ve had it be about us for most of our lives – go back and read the Hollywood bit and add the general media to that]
# Put in the work – i wrote about this already in my Stop Expecting To Be Spoonfed Piece – If you haven’t read ‘How Can Man Die Better’ by Robert Sobukwe or ‘I Write What I like’ by Steve Biko, then a lot of people are not going to think you are really taking this stuff seriously. Add in Antjie Krog, ‘The Country of my Skull’ or ‘Better to be Black’ and Alan Paton ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ and some others and you will find that you are on your way. You don’t have to agree with everything you read, but having a different perspective and hearing other peoples’ thoughts and ideas and experiences will go a long way to helping you catch up, a journey i am still very much on. i have just started reading ‘No Future without Forgiveness’ by Desmond Tutu.
Articles and blogs and conversations and questions will get you so far. Put in the time and effort to build up some kind of idea of what is going on. If you’re on the Twitterer then any time a racial incident happens, spend some time following the hashtag because that will often give you a more clearer picture of what the person on the street is feeling and thinking about these things.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
On Wednesday night, our friends from Fusion are hosting a Robert Sobukwe movie-watching event at their cafe in Manenberg, Jou Ma Se Kombuis and it has been amazing to watch that event look like it is going to be absolutely jam-packed. A couple of carloads of young adults will be heading out from the camp we were just at. Other friends from Social Media platforms are heading through.
The Warehouse is an organisation who host a lot of important and helpful conversations – sign up for their newsletter or follow them on Facebook as they often link to helpful articles and activities and can definitely help guide you into many of the ‘What next?’ questions you might be asking as an individual or a group.
My friend Megan from Improguise and myself are ready and waiting for a company to pay for us to come in and run our ‘Elephant in the Room’ workshop doing similar [and possibly more hectic] conversations to this aimed at a middle to senior management level through the medium of Improv and Story-telling.
I’m sure there are many more and feel free to leave some links and names of groups in the comments section below who are promoting positive change in South Africa.
BACK TO HOPE
This weekend was not the hugest or most significant deal in that it was 15 young people who had a helpful conversation and some spill over to the 70 people who were there. But what was significant to me was that it was a church saying, “We see this as an important conversation” and we are going to give it time and space. i am in conversation with two local churches about the possibility of hosting a Deep Dive Conversation about Race on a more church-wide scale [so ten dinners instead of one] and we have had a number of people asking us about resources and are planning to look at putting something together to help anyone host such a conversation.
People are stepping in, stepping towards, which feels vital and completely crucial in South Africa at the moment. It has to happen more and more and we really just have to hope that we don’t all arrive too late and find that those who have been stepping towards us for years have run out of patience and grace and moved on without us.
What do you think? What is exciting you and giving you hope in South Africa at the moment?