Today’s Facebook status with regards to the #BlackMonday in response to farm murders has garnered a lot of attention. This is what i wrote:
Anytime someone is murdered it is a tragedy.
But, if you are concerned about the farm murders to the point of wanting to wear black for the victims, but have never considered wearing black for the black, coloured or indian victims of murder [which check your statistics, are all being killed at a greater percentage than white people – a white person is the least likely to be killed in South Africa] then maybe it’s not so much murder that you are concerned about, but white people, and there may be a word for that.
i think my friend Claudia Klaase just helped bring clarity for me with the phrase ‘selective outrage’.
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Lorenzo Davids commented this earlier, which also helps capture the helplessness and disconnect i think many people are feeling:
“I feel this incredible sense of despair when I read the “wear black for farm murders” posts. Total despair. If ever there was a sign that black deaths doesn’t matter, doesn’t register on the white conscience then it’s this.
Even saying that “it’s just natural to feel more for your own” carries such deep rooted culpability for this culture of insensitivity towards all deaths.
Here’s my conclusion of racist thinking:
Black Deaths: “hey shit happens, they mustn’t complain.”
White Deaths: “oh my god, it’s a genocide!”
I’m sick of it.
I’m black and I’m sick of it.”
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i remember taking part in a march/walk for Sinoxolo Mafevuka, the young woman who was found dead in a toilet in Khayelitsha last year, and the response to the death of Franziska Blöchliger in Tokai Forest and just how the two events and responses to them felt so completely different.
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My friend Jacqui Tooke asked this, which i think is a valid question:
I also feel a deep concern about this campaign but not for the reason you stated. If we follow logic we used when people shouted “All Lives Matter” when we were saying “Black Lives Matter”, are you not now, in essence, saying “All Murders Matter” to those who are calling for us to remember “Farm Murders Matter”
I think the murder of farmers is tragic, heartbreaking and wrong. We need to stand in solidarity with these communities in their call for protection.
What does concern me greatly is that Farm Murders have become the poster child for the “white genocide” narrative that falsely declares that white folk are under threat. As we know, all measures of human well being in SA show that white folk are, in fact, least under threat, least likely to be unemployed, least likely to be poor, least likely to die early.
I cannot support this campaign because I will not do anything that gives oxygen to this racist and oppressive narrative that puts white folks as victims when in fact they remain beneficiaries of the system. Wondering how we can “mourn with those who mourn” and “comfort the broken-hearted” in the farming community without feeding the “white genocide” myth, because as politically incorrect it may be, I do believe Jesus would call us to do so.
And i responded with this:
“i’m not sure it’s the same thing, Jacqui Tooke, although perhaps worth giving more thought to so thanks for the challenge. When Black Lives Matter came out the point was that black lives obviously did not matter as much as white lives mattered and so a call for White Lives Matter or All Lives Matter was ridiculous in the face of the message.
With the farm murders there has been a general lack of feeling that Township Lives Matter or Cape Flats Matter and so it is not going against the general understanding that All Murders Matter but rather suggesting that all the other murders don’t matter so much because they happen all the time and no one does much about it and certainly never calls for a campaign or protest – so i think these are two different things?”
To which my friend Alexa Russell Matthews responded with this:
“Been wrestling with what does it look like to both stand with and challenge the white genocide myth.
I have friends who have had to ‘clean up’ blood and sit with children who witnessed their parents being raped and tortured in horrific ways.
Been trying to work out how do we engage invitationally in this all.
Knowing I have friends in my world whose lives and families are living in violent systems and spaces because they are black or coloured.
Also knowing that I have friends in my world who have lost family members in farm attacks.”
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i think my friend Robyn Wolfson Vorster also gets to the heart of much of our frustration on this issue with some helpful context, going back to selective outrage:
I can’t speak to the intent behind the campaign, but the effect (which should have been foreseeable) is racial polarisation. For some it is blatantly so, I have even seen a “whitelivesmatter” hashtag associated with the event.
But for those who don’t see it that way, this is a country where statistically, 52 people are murdered every day. That means that in the tragic five day period the campaign is referring to when two farmers died, they were two of about 260 murders. It does not make their deaths less tragic, but why don’t we wear black for the matric pupil caught in the cross fire of gang violence who died just days before writing his finals, or the ten year old girl raped and murdered and dumped in the veld, or the two people shot dead in Scottsdene or the 14 year old boy shot in the head while playing outside of church in Uitsig? They all died during the same period.
And what about the others who didn’t make it into anyone’s newsfeed who died because they were poor and easy targets and have poor policing in their neighbourhoods? Murder is a devastating force in this country. Surely it would be better if we all worked together to deal with the reasons why it is so rife (like poverty, unemployment, injustice, economic disenfranchisement and the systematic devaluing of people’s lives), rather than singling out one group to mourn.
As with anything in this country to do with poverty, race, violence, class etc etc IT IS NOT A SIMPLE THING and there are probably no easy answers… and it is uncomfortable to keep on going there – especially as white people if white people are being called out as the problem [but let’s look back at decades of apartheid and throw in some colonialism and maybe ask ourselves if maybe it’s okay if we as white people feel uncomfortable for a little while longer?] but because the country is still a mess and because racist thoughts and attitudes and actions do previal, we need to continue to have these conversations.
These are some of my thoughts:
# Every murder and violent act is sickening. Some feel more so than others because of how they play out but i don’t think that’s super important. Any time any person in this country is killed that should move us.
# If we only react when a certain group or type of person is being killed in the face of overwhelmingly more deaths to other groups or types of people, that feels unjust and deeply so and a spitting in the face of people belonging to those groups or types of people.
# We need to learn to value every person as bearing the image of God [if we believe that] or just beautiful and worthy of love [if we don’t] and so any harm be it physical or emotional or situational or political should move us.
# Twenty-three years down the line, give or take, there are still circumstances that were put into place during apartheid [i’m thinking specifically of geographical shifts so the formation of townships and the cape flats, the situations of lower education that were presented there to intentionally dumb down those populations, economical disparity of those who worked and so on] that have present day knock-down effect and to make statements like “it’s been 20 years, can’t we just move on?” and others like it misses the extent of the original problem and the lack of work done to eradicate or restitute or reconcile the people involved.
# i am convinced in the depths of my soul that fostering deeper relationships with those who don’t look like us – specifically when it comes to race, culture and background – is the way forward for South Africa. The ‘Us vs. Them’ language seen in generalise statements like “those people” and in coded neighbourhood patrol whatsapp messages up and down the land is doing us no favours, and quite the opposite.
While we don’t know people, an issue concerning someone of another race is just that, an issue, and because it doesn’t affect us deeply we may or may not have an opinion and are unlikely to get involved. The moment we have deep relationship with someone and something affects them, then it automatically affects us because that is our person [not possessive] who is involved and so it’s no long “an issue” but an act of injustice that must be dealt with.
# As white people we need to be wary of the apartheid-amnesia that is settling over so many of us like a mist [it is easy to forget something that didn’t affect you personally on a deep cost level] and so even the idea that “apartheid was a bad thing that happened” is unhelpful – No! Apartheid was a horrific thing that was soul-destroying, dehumanising, identity fracturing and deeply intentional and continues to affect millions of people across South Africa because something so dark and insiduous cannot just be swept away in a moment or a law change. We cannot call for the conversations to be comfortable and palatable because we are tired of discussing them. Other people are tired of living them.
Those of us who have the privilege [which i feel i can be spokesperson for to some extent cos i tick pretty much every flippin box] need to quieten down and push into the discomfort and spend time learning and listening and trying as best as possible to understand, whether this is conversations about race [me as the white person] or gender [me as the male] or a host of other things… we need to stop making it about us and really press in to the greater cause.
There is work to be done. It is going to be messy for a long, long time still but i am encouraged by incredible people and organisations like BottomUp and Ujamaa and Life Matters and Common Change and The Warehouse and The Message Trust and The Justice Conference and so many others who are working so hard for change and i believe we can get better and be better and hopefully be kinder to each other in the process [no-one likes being called a CHOP!] and continue the hard but necessary work of building relationships and bridges and stepping towards other people and listening and learning and more.