So #BlackMonday was a thing. For anyone who missed it, i wrote a post during the day collating a lot of the stuff i shared and read which i titled: Bleak Monday: Studios were touched
It was in some ways a frustrating day, but i also saw a lot of what felt like really helpful engagement which for the most part was positive and for that i am grateful. We don’t have to all end up thinking the same on these things but we really do need to be thinking, at the very least. And listening. And open to changing our mind on stuff. i am super grateful for a voice like Jacqui Tooke who often slips in quietly and cleans up some of the debris i leave behind in her gentler, more rounded approach.
And i spent a LOT of time thinking about all of the things. i think a lot of people don’t think i think at all – they think i just jump onto Facebook and spew a bunch of stuff looking for a fight and have no idea of any kind of responsibility i might have or who might be reading or the effect i might be having on people. i know this because people tell me all the time. Which generally just tends to make me thing about it some more.
The one thing i was thinking about was the black clothes wearing and last night i was thinking about jumping on this morning and writing something to encourage those who did wear black who i made feel bad [or if the stronger critics are to be believed ‘illegitimate’ and i can’t remember what the other really strong word was]. But then instead i thought of this story:
The other day i was driving around my neighbourhood and i saw some kids on the side of the road who were hungry. i didn’t have any food and so i drove past them. But then i thought to myself, “No, doing something is better than doing nothing, so i pulled over, collected a bunch of rocks that were lying at the side of the road, drove back to the kids and threw my rocks at them, making sure i hit each kid at least once.
Yes, my mind works like that sometimes. But one person commented an often used thought in relation to the wearing of black clothes, that ‘Doing something is better than doing nothing.’ In my ludicrous that-is-not-a-true-story-i-didn’t-really-throw-stones-at-a-bunch-of-hungry-kids story the answer is clearly no. And with a whole lot of short term mission trips that churches have done where they go into an area, do a bunch of stuff they think is a good idea without connecting with the locals, take a lot of selfies and then head home… sometimes doing nothing is way better than doing the wrong, unhelpful, potentially damaging thing.
When we lived in Philly we stayed with a friend Sueihn, who used to spend her holidays with a Native American community to serve and love them. She told us the one story about how one summer during a six week period six churches came on a missions trip to the community, painted the church, and left. So each group goes home with photos and stories of how amazing they were in this community. And a church got painted SIX TIMES!
WHY WEARING BLACK MAY NOT HAVE BEEN THE BEST
A lot of people yesterday told me all about the disunity i was sowing. At a time when South Africa needs South Africans to stand together and surely any movement towards unity is worth taking. At face value, that sounds true and i spent a lot of time checking myself – Am i really sowing disunity in South Africa? That’s really the last thing i want to be doing.
But for me it was what i read on the Twitterer that confirmed for me that #BlackMonday was not a unifying thing and that it was not solely down to me why this was so. While i imagine there may have been some people of colour who supported #BlackMonday and the idea of unity behind it, the only voices i heard telling me i was wrong to critique it were white as far as i can remember. And if not all then overwhelmingly. White people were telling me i was a bad person. But comment after comment that i was reading on the Twitterer kept suggesting that a large number of people of colour thought that #BlackMonday was a bad idea, and a painful idea for them.
The resounding chorus i heard was one of “Hypocrisy” – where were all these #BlackMonday people during #FeesMustFall? Where was the #BlackMonday after Marikana? [if you still haven’t watched Marikana: Miners Shot Down i strongly suggest you make a plan, that is such an integral part of our country’s recent history] Where was #BlackMonday when those bullies put that black man in a wooden coffin? And the list goes on?
The harmony to the chorus was an accusation that many people only protest when something affects their space or money or things and when the call they are making is towards unity, then that calls for support even when something is not affecting you personally.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CRITIQUE
What worried me most about yesterday is seeing so many people’s gut-response reaction to honest, authentic critique.
i get that there is a fine line between critique and criticism and sometimes it can feel like anything or everything you are doing is being criticised and i imagine that must be quite tiring and frustrating. But we should be very careful about confusing the two and we should also realise that honest and authentic critique will often lead to much-needed criticism if it is warranted. And sometimes if it is not, because sometimes we get things wrong because THIS IS ALL SO VERY COMPLICATED AND DIFFICULT TO FIGURE OUT… on a daily basis.
So to those who think i think i have it all together and i am the only one who has it right and i am the only one making a difference, get your head out of your bum holes. Because that is just not true. i could write a list of 100 people without even having to think about it who are actually doing the doing so much better than me and who continually inspire and challenge and encourage me to look at my life and figure out how more and better i can be doing. This is not easy, but it does feel crucial.
A Revolution is coming. i completely believe that. In some way, shape or form. The meeting i attended last night with SA1st was looking to co-ordinate and hopefully connect with other groups so that there is more of a one direction [not the band!] movement towards change, which feels like a good thing. But there are good ways that revolution can happen and there are painful, violence-involved, probably-not-a-good-time-to-be-white bad ways revolution can happen. Neither way is going to be easy or comfortable. Neither way is not going to require sacrifice of some type. But the one way is really really scary and not enough people are realising that and the need for change to happen as quickly as possible. All of us need to be engaging with these things on a daily basis and building relationships and listening and trying to hear and understand people’s pain and cries and demands and hopes for our country. That is the only way this turns out well.
THE ONE THING YOU CAN DO
During one particularly heated back-and-forth exchange yesterday someone asked me for the one thing we should do this week. Along the lines of, “So if wearing black and marching is not the thing we should be doing, give us one thing that all South Africans should be doing this week. Just one thing that we can do that will being us closer to unity.” So i responded with this, and i will be adding a few that came out of comments at the bottom as well as possibly a few of my own.
i don’t think there is any one thing. i think us hoping for one thing to turnover centuries of oppression is unhelpful. And i understand that could be taken as being sarcastic but it’s not. White people tend to want a band aid – the one thing we can do to make everything okay. But everything is not okay and very likely not going to be okay for the rest of our lifetimes. But it can be better. Better than yesterday and then hopefully tomorrow even better than today. So definitely start with a one thing and then move very quickly on to a second one thing.
# The Living Wage vs Minimum Wage is an easy one – if you are a person who has someone in your employ, invite them to a conversation [realising the danger of power dynamics in that] about what the earn and what they need and where they would like to go in life…
# Investigate Common Change which my wife Valerie Duffield Anderson heads up – basically a tool that helps groups of people pool money together to meet the needs of people they care about – so giving through relationship and justice over charity – grab some friends, start putting R10, R100, R1000 into this fund every month and start looking for genuine needs you can meet – i know people who are using groups like this to fund black students education as one tiny part of the kind of Reparations this country needs to see – if a thousand of these groups start up and suddenly 2000 students are being financed then suddenly it becomes a significant thing
# Get informed by people who don’t look like you – whether it’s books or podcasts or blogs or sermons or whatever, start inviting people of colour to help you frame your worldview – if you haven’t read Robert Sobukwe ‘How can man die better’ that’s a great place to start – i imagine many South Africans have no idea who Robert Subukwe is and that feels like a tragedy… Tristan Pringle Ashley Visagie Sam Mahlawe are just three people that spring to mind of young voices of colour that can help shape our thinking and wrestling
# Move. If you live in an all white neighbourhood, seriously consider moving into a space where not everyone looks like you. And it doesn’t have to be house moving – it can be space moving – if you’re in an all white church consider moving… the restaurants you go to [if you can], the gym you go to [when my wife Val was still at gym she moved from Constantia to Kenilworth Centre for this very reason] – try and limit the times you find yourself solely in white spaces – as you do this you will start to find and build relationships with people who don’t look like you [there are still a scary amount of people who live in Cape Town whose only contact with people of colour is in a power relationship – person who works for them or serves them in a restaurant or fills up their car with petrol] and THAT is where true change will come across the country – you can’t “THOSE PEOPLE” people of colour one they are your friends, genuine friends. Also try and be aware of when you are in a space and it happens to be an all-white space. In a country where we make up 9% or so of the population, that has to be somewhat intentional in some way – start asking why?
# Volunteer – find an after school programme, get hold of Ashley Visagie and ask if he needs volunteers for his chess clubs, tutor a child who has had a tough school upbringing [maybe the child of the person who cleans your house]
# Learn to speak an African language [Jess Basson] Okay, this should have been number one and it is ridiculous that i forgot this. Val and i did a coourse with a group called Xhosafundis and are busy saving up for Level 2 of that, which we will probably do sometime not too long after we get back from Durban. i have found Memrise to be a super helpful phone app which helps increase dialogue and improve pronunciation. And there are a myriad of other ways and building relationships with people who speak another language are probably the most key.
# One additional idea – Use public transport more often than just traveling by yourself in a car. Golden arrow busses are a great start because you get to sit with people who are not like you. I’m fortunate to be able to travel to work by train on the Cape flats line on a train starting at Heathfield so it’s not too packed. At first it was just a smile from other passengers but we have now moved on to a greeting and brief conversations. [Roger Wood]# Develop a #NotOnOurWatch mentality. i’ve been speaking about this for a long, long time, but only had one real opportunity to put it into practice [which you can read about here] The bottom line of the #NotOnOurWatch movement is to commit to a life of not allowing racism to happen in front of you unchallenged. Whether it is online or offline, whether it is a joke being told in the office or a family member referring to the gardener, a man of 54 years old, as “boy”, when you see or hear something that is out of line, to be able too insert yourself in the moment and say, “That is not okay!” As more and more people commit to this, the easier it becomes and the more wary racist people will become about letting it all hang out.
1.) Buy supplies and services from the smallest owned business you can find. Sidewalk fruit sellers, Tuisnywerheid, farm stalls, craft markets… this way you become a small cog in the machine of keeping enterprise, hope and actual families alive.
2.) Give really big tips to people who have the smallest jobs. Car guards, petrol attendants, waitresses… they’re either just starting out or just hanging in there. They need it the most. They are working.
3.) Plant your own food garden and share the produce with your staff, neighbors and family (believe me, your children will have no use for spinach).
4.) Plant fruit trees in every garden you have access to. You don’t have to buy seeds or trees, just use the pips from your avos, throw the paw paw seeds into the garden and ba na na naaaaah! Just imagine if there was a fruit tree or two in every single garden?
5.) Give stuff away – the smallest things can make the biggest difference. One pair of shoes is the complete opposite of none. The same with blankets, jerseys, T-shirts, sports equipment, phones, laptops… These are lean times, we need to clear out our cupboards to make space for all the food we need to be harvesting from those fruit trees….
6.) Share your skills with the community. A plumber can fix a pipe, a painter colour a wall, a seamstress sew a curtain, an artist can teach a skill. My entire career is hinged on a half an hour screen-printing lesson I got in Standard 6. That half an hour paid for my varsity education and is still the cornerstone around which my career is built. We can all plant such seeds. Most of them won’t grow, believe me, I am a gardener! But some will, and every seeds that flourishes will grow into a tree which will feed many families.
THE ABSOLUTE KEY
i cannot stress this enough. One of the biggest problems in our country is Us vs. Them mentality and it plays on all sides. The moment we have genuine friendships with people who are not like us [and that doesn’t mean being able to insert “I have a black friend” into a conversation to try and prove that you’re not racist.] we will start to be on the way to establishing a country of South Africans and not just the different races all vying for attention and air space and resources.
People continually come with comments like “Can’t we stop seeing race?” “Can’t we stop making this about race?” “I just want a unified South Africa” and the answer to all of those is that all of us [i think] definitely want to end up there… but many of us are saying we are not there yet, and while there are still some glaring race-related issues [which a lot of the time white people don’t experience and so we are first in the line of wanting things not to be about race] we have to continue to focus on race and speak about it.
IF I AM GOING TO ERR
This is another radical story thought i had in my brain last night that i’m a little nervous to share, but i think that an outsider’s perspective often helps us see things we can’t see at home [for example, it took me living in Americaland for three years to be woken up to the absolute need for me to be involved in race conversations and engagements in my own country when i got home, because of seeing everything that happened over there with an outsider’s perspective!]
Picture it: Germany January 1946. Brett Fish Von Uberstein writes a blog post about two groups of people that are struggling to see eye to eye. There was an incident in Paris between some German and French citizens and Brett’s post seems to favouring the French perspective.
“But you’re making the Germans feel bad,” someone writes to Brett on Gesichtbuch.
Now, in that situation, knowing the history of Hitler and the Nazis, someone on the outside might be okay with the approach i’ve taken right? You know what? It’s okay for the germans to feel bad for a little while. They did some pretty bad stuff… “But #NotAllGermans”. Oh, be quiet.
Spoiler Alert: i don’t have it all together. i don’t see myself as the premier voice on racism and unity in South Africa. It is all very complicated and confusing and i am making it up as i go along and doing the best that i can. There are always voices telling me i’m doing amazingly and there are always voices telling me i’m disruptive, argumentative, causing so much pain and pretty much buggering things up for everyone. i get that. i am trying to listen better. i am trying to inform myself of our country’s history [past and present] via a mix of different voices to those i am used to or even comfortable with. i am building friendships with people who are not like me. But, given the history of white people in this country, if i am going to err, then i definitely want it to be on the side of whiteness. Because we did some pretty bad stuff.
If you haven’t watched the movie Kalushi yet, it may still be on our screens and it is meant to be coming to the Labia in Cape Town, but that’s another thing you can do. If you haven’t watched the Miners Shot Down documentary on Marikana then you really should try and make that a priority. If you haven’t read ‘Country of my Skull’ by Antjie Krog, that is another harsh read that is worth going through. If you don’t know who Robert Sobukwe is, then firstly shame on you and secondly get hold of ‘How can man die better’ and educate yourself [i share a number of extracts from the book on my blog].
i love white people [a common misconception is that i don’t] and i love everyone else who makes up this nation. And i never want to be colourblind, because i think we lose too much when we reduce everyone to a common thread. i want to celebrate our diversity and learn from it. i want to embrace different cultures and be challenged and grown and inspired by them. i want us to learn to celebrate the differences we have instead of using them to head butt against each other.
Wearing black clothes is not going to achieve that. But everyone who wore black clothes with good intentions [and i don’t think i could name a single person who wore them with bad intentions] i want to invite you to dive into some of the ideas above. To keep moving forwards and educate yourselves where necessary and make friends and give those friendships time priority. Work on your listening. Find out people’s stories – that will change you. And let’s spur each other on to a unity that is deep and effective and will help bring about the very best kind of revolution.