If this last week was the first time you ever did anything in terms of protest then THAT IS AMAZING.
Well done. Good for you. That’s really great. At the same time it is very possible that it also sucks that it took you so long. i fall into that category. For the last two and a half years i have been going on about this stuff in terms of writing and engaging with people on social media and attending a number of different marches and hosting dinners and more. But before we left for Americaland for three years, for a period of thirty or so years, i did relatively nothing.
i’m not proud of that. But i also don’t carry around shame for that. While i can’t go back further in time to start campaigning for equal rights and living and working conditions for all South Africans, i HAVE to do my best to make sure i make the most of all the opportunities i have to do so now.
This goes for you as well. If you only got around to doing something this week for the first time, you can’t go back and join a #FeesMustFall march, you can’t say or do more about Marikana in terms of reacting to it as it happened, and you can’t go and spend time with 19-year-old Sinoxolo Mafevuka’s family in the aftermath of her body being discovered in a Khayelitsha toilet.
But there will be more you can do with regards to education… and there will be opportunities to point back to Marikana as it relates to present day situations [something like Napoleon Webster being wrongfully detained in prison] and there is definitely a lot to be done with regards to sanitation in townships. You probably can’t do everything – none of us can- but you have to do something.
…the most crucial thing for everyone who moved a little bit out of their comfort zones last week is WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!
There has been A LOT said on and off social media this last week about the way we protest or don’t protest or should we or are we even allowed to if we never have before… and while there are some valid questions in all of that, what’s going to be key for the sake of your integrity is what you do – or don’t do – next.
If you were someone who wore black on Monday or who did decide to march or be part of the human hand-holding-chain on Friday and you never protest again or change your behaviour or engage in conversation or do anything different from how you lived before, then chances are good that you wasted your time [besides all the pictures you might have to show for it].
One thing i am going to be doing is heading to Durban tomorrow for two weeks to engage with 200 or more different people on various aspects of race. We will be hosting three Deep Dive Conversation Dinners as well as one Generosity Dinner. Val and i will also be co-hosting a 50-70 people lunch workshop around matters of race, i will be doing some Improv training and conversation with some students who perform Justice Productions as well as one or two informal conversations.
i am also busy working on a book about race for white people and hoping to be able to focus more deeply on that when we get home from Durban and see if we can bring that together as quickly as possible.
Part of the giving that tbV and i do is very much Justice related. So finding an individual or family or organisation or combination of them that you can give towards, that you know is working towards justice, or where your giving can become a small form of restitution or empowering.
i am committed to continuing to read books written by people who look different to me, whether that is people of colour or women or people from different faith or culture backgrounds. And specifically making books from or about South Africa a priority.
i would love to suggest that if you are serious about change in South Africa, that you get hold of Robert Sobukwe ‘How can man die better?’ and Steve Biko ‘I write what I want’. i would also like to strongly encourage you to grab a bunch of friends and go and watch Kalushi, which is showing at the Labia this week, as well as other cinemas around the country i believe.
Embody the idea of #NotOnOurWatch which is a commitment to refusing to allow racism to pass by unchallenged in front of you, whether online or offline. Speak up. Insert yourself. Let everyone know that THAT IS NOT OKAY. It can be done gently or calmly. Or sometimes it might need to be done loudly and angrily. But it has to become a culture we develop as all South Africans. That when people speak or act in ways that are belittling or dehumanising or harmful to others, they will be challenged.
We will refuse to stand by and let these things be experienced as normal. Especially on whatsapp neighbourhood watch groups. If you are someone wanting to defend neighbourhood watch groups, don’t even bother – i have heard too many stories – no it’s not all of them, but it is a LOT of them. Don’t let them get away with it.
Some maybe harder things for some of us, but worthwhile things to consider doing include the following:
# Learn about your privilege. That word scares a lot of people off. But it doesn’t have to. You are not blamed for having privilege, because most of the time it happens just by the luck of who you are. [So for me each aspect of me being male, white, able-bodied, Christian and heterosexual grant me different forms of privilege]. When it comes to race, check out this post and the related articles. i find the cartoons in particular super helpful. When it comes to privilege i firmly believe the three stages to pursue, which may overlap are – Recognising Privilege, Acknowledging Privilege and then Levering that Privilege to benefit those who don’t have it.
# Lose the Defensiveness. If you are truly wanting to make and be a difference in South Africa, then you will put yourself in places [online and off] where someone is going to say something offensive to you. Sometimes that will be because there is something in them that needs to change and sometimes it will be because there is something in you that needs to change. When you read/hear something that offends you, try and train yourself to pause… ask yourself: Was that true?
If the answer is No, then ask yourself: No wait, really, was that true? Am I the problem here? If the answer remains no, then choose to engage with the statement, rather than reacting to it. It would be helpful for a lot of people on social media – myself included – if we had a ‘Don’t respond for two hours’ policy in place. So if something offends you, save it for later, chew on it for a bit and then come back and respond later. Even if the thing is still offensive to you, you might be able to better manage some of the emotion around it if you give it some time.
# Learn and Repeat the mantra: THIS. IS. NOT. ABOUT. ME.
If we could all get this one right, we would immediately halve all the issues on social media and be more open to learning from each other. Phrases like White Fragility and White Tears are there because of our tendency [maybe as people in general, but definitely with white people] to make every issue, statement, post about ourselves and then throw in the defensiveness from above, usually missing any points that may in fact have something to do with us changing or unlearning or shifting perspective. This thing is much bigger than you.
Again, if a statement doesn’t relate to you, instead of firing off a “Not all whites” or “Not all men” response – issues and generalisations tend to go hand in hand because they are generally true, not because they are true in all cases, so the “Not all” goes without saying – take a moment to see who is does relate to, and whether it might be true or not for them.
# Create or find physical spaces to dialogue and debate these things around meals or activities where you can intentionally spend a lot of time diving deeply into these topics with a variety of people. If you’re a parent, start engaging with your children around justice and race issues – you may be surprised at how much you will learn.
# If you employ people in your home or garden, work towards paying a living wage where possible and not merely a minimum, this translates directly into improving people’s ability to survive and advance themselves and their family.
# Learn a South African language besides English or Afrikaans. This may not be an act of anti-racism itself, yet the importance of language cannot be stated enough. Ubuntu Bridge, Xhosa Fundis, Funda Isifundo are all great groups, even apps are available. Organise to do courses with a group of friends to stay committed and make practice easier.
# Volunteer. Find a group near you that is serving justice and not simply degrading charity, and volunteer some of your time, money or skills. Give some thought and conversation engagement to the possible differences between Charity and Justice.
# Lastly, if you are a follower of Jesus and part of a church congregation, i would love for you to speak to your leaders about Jesus and Justice – look out for some of the messages that are going to come out of the recent Justice Conference soon. Speak to me if you want to find out how you can maybe get some Deep Dive Race Conversations happening at your church. Ask your leaders what Jesus and the bible have to say to the current situation in South Africa, particularly with regards to the poor and marginalised. If they refuse to engage with you on these things, you may want to consider going somewhere where they won’t.
Consistency is key. If this last week was a once off for you, you have wasted your time. If you got it wrong this last week in any way at all, there are more than enough opportunities in the day to day and also in the long term to get it a little bit more right. The level of engagement of South Africans this past week was for me higher than i have seen since 1994 probably and that excites me. As long as we keep moving forwards.