As we head into the second half of our journey as white people seeking to do and be better, let me encourage you and remind you once again that i have so much love and respect for you. Which is why i have been compiling this list. The past in our country is completely messed up and in need of redress and healing and building and so on… us taking these tips seriously is us committing to step towards those who are different from us and particularly those who have been hurt [and are being hurt] and say, “I care enough to change!” Let’s keep going…
But What Can I Do? Tip #21
Today’s tip is a lot about nuance and understanding context and will be revealed through an example, but the tip is about taking time to understand the history of words and meanings and being sensitive to potentially painful situations.
A white parent can call their child “a little monkey” as a term of endearment, indicating that it is playful or mischievous or naughty.
A black parent can call their child “a little monkey” [i know! i did a double take when it happened the first time, recently, and was halfway through a mental, “Oh no, you can’t do that, it’s rac…” when I realised it was perfectly okay] as a term of endearment, indicating that it is playful or mischievous or naughty.
I would go as far as to suggest that a black person who is familiar with a white child can call them “a little monkey” for the same reasons.
Here’s where it gets interesting…
A white person CANNOT call a black child “a little monkey” even if they have the strongest relationship with that child and completely innocently are meaning it as a term of endearment or fun.
The difference in those various scenarios lies in this – the term ‘monkey’ has been used in all seriousness and with all evil and malicious intent as an insult and act of verbal violence by white people against black people in South Africa [and around the world] in the past, and sadly not even in the not-too-distant past.
We need to understand that even to a much greater extent than burning a painting or a car is seen by us as a violent act, this term has been part of an act of violence by white people against black people. It has been an act of questioning people’s identity and capability and a deliberate attempt to attach a “Less than” label on someone else. It is the refusal to recognise the humanity of a person.
So the meaning and intention and innocence you hold when it comes to a black child you might really love and care for deeply, is cancelled out by the history attached and it is safer and wiser to just stay away from it altogether.
This is just an example of the nuance that is sometimes needed when dealing with race. Not everything is the same for everyone, because not everything was the same for everyone.
These are the trickier, finer line ones we learn by taking time, putting in some energy and doing the work.
Edit: I was involved with a conversation with a parent on this topic today who has three white kids and one black kid and so feels the need to treat them all the same and what was running through my head the whole time was, ‘Why are you fighting so hard to keep the word ‘monkey’?] – if there’s even a hint of a possibility of it being a wrong thing it should be such an easy one to stop saying…
Also a different friend shared her story of changing her mind on the topic after an incident involving her children which is super helpful to read over here.
But What Can I Do? Tip #22
Add your voice, presence, words to someone else’s commitment to interrupt racism and prejudice.
Tip #10 was: Commit to interrupting racism and prejudice.
I talk about a #NotOnOurWatch mentality where we refuse to let racism and prejudice go unchallenged in front of us as far as possible. This both online and offline.
But actively interrupting racism and prejudice can be a scary thing. So if it is not something you have been doing then moving towards it being a natural action and response may take a bit of work.
For the few who are actively and tirelessly doing their best to tackle racism and prejudice on a regular basis, it can get quite tiring and feel quite lonely. So perhaps in some ways this should come before #10 but also by now you may be a little more aware from the tips and conversation around the tips more of the kinds of things that need to be taken on.
So when you see someone taking a #NotOnOurWatch stand, back them up!
When I started using a hashtag to try and call people towards a movement and mindset that would start engaging with racist and unfair behaviour, it was #NotOnMyWatch. But that changed really quickly because I realised that as much as it takes a village to raise a child [thank you, Africa!] it takes a nation to stamp out hate and violence. Or do the very best it can to minimalise it as much as possible and at the very least stop it from being normalised.
So, if you don’t get there first when something needs to be said, done or written, make sure that you rush to add the weight of an additional voice declaring boldly, “That is not okay!”
[p.s. on a side note this works with jokes about rape and mistreatment of women as well!]
Racism and prejudice will start taking a much bigger hit in this country when more of us start showing up. When the peer pressure to not be racist outweighs the peer pressure that says it is okay or we will let you get away with this.
And by standing alongside someone else, it may begin help grow in you the courage to start standing up by yourself.
But What Can I Do? Tip #23
If you are completely serious about a transformed South Africa and you live in a suburb or area that is majority white, then i would encourage you to consider moving.
So much of putting apartheid into place was geographical and so one of the biggest ways we can interrupt the consequences or legacy of apartheid is by being intentional about geography.
This is obviously a big life decision – maybe easier for those of you who like us are renting than those who own – and also super tricky because of this strange little phenomenon called gentrification [so rich person moving into poor suburb and doing work on property to make it better can drive up local prices and rates and end up forcing the original people who lived in that area to move]. So this is not simply as straightforward as decide to go and live somewhere else.
But I do think that once we are living with and around each other and being a little more intentional about connecting with our neighbours, that we will see greater change happen more quickly.
So if we take a few steps back on this one, perhaps you can start by considering what spaces you are in now that are predominantly white. And move away from those.
When you go shopping for groceries, do the people around you all look like you or does the shop more closely resemble the overall demographics of South Africa?
If you go to gym or to a restaurant or play for a sports team or join a park run or a mom’s group is it with a diverse group of people, or does everyone look like you?
Are you at a church where the majority of people are white? What about a church that looks diverse but has a leadership that is completely white? [Is that really diverse?]
What about restaurants or places of entertainment?
These are all spaces that are quite easy to change up and this might be a place where you choose to put your money where your mouth is and drive a little further from where you would normally go so as to increase the priority you have on connecting with a diverse group of people.
I’ve asked this before, but when was the last time you invited a black, indian or coloured family around for a meal? If you never have people who don’t look like you eating with you, don’t pretend to me you are serious about this stuff.
One thing we can do to help bring about transformation is to move.
But What Can I Do? Tip #24
People with dogs. This one is for you.
A lot of black people are scared of dogs, much of which can be linked to how dogs were used by police during apartheid times. Much of how a lot of dogs owned by white people were trained/taught to be against black people from back then and sometimes even into today.
Many people with dogs that we have encountered could use this as just a lesson in general, but when you understand the history of the country I think there is a call to be even more sensitive when it comes to black people. Assume they might be scared of your dogs or at the very least do not love your dogs as much as you do – that’s pretty impossible for anyone to achieve, it is really commendable how much you love an animal you have chosen to take care of – and please keep your dogs under control.
Also maybe if you suspect you have a racist dog, commit to doing something about that, whether it is training it yourself or paying someone to train it for you. I don’t know much about dogs but if you can train one to be racist you can probably train one not to be racist? It seems to work with people on occasion.
Please do not call out, “My dog doesn’t do that!” when it barks aggressively or jumps at a Black person. Your dog has just done that. Any prior history is irrelevant at this point.
If you are out and about with a dog then it needs to be on a leash (I think that might even be the law) but if you notice someone walking towards you and there is any suspicion that they may not be a dog person, please pull your dog towards you, shield the person with your body and make it absolutely clear to them that you will not let your dog go at them.
Not all black people hate dogs. But a great many of them have been seriously traumatised by dogs and have a strong fear of them. Don’t assume that the immense love you have for your dog will overturn that in them.
If you have dogs, be extra sensitive when it comes to black people
Cristi Little added: Are dogs these days racist because of specific training, or because they sense more unease in their owners when approaching a black person? I’m guessing it’s more of the latter, and maybe white people should be reminded that if they are going to tense up and think fearful thoughts every time a black stranger approaches them (and relax more when it is a white person approaching), then they are being racist and the dog is just an extension of that. Train the human to not be racist and the dog will follow. Dogs shouldn’t be walking up to any other people without consent, and you are right about the leash law (except for the few leash-free zones provided for dogs to be dogs).
But What Can I Do? Tip #25
Guys, you need to call your friends on their crap!
When it comes to inappropriate race jokes or comments or words or attitudes, you need to call that stuff out.
Now I know we’ve covered this to some extent when we’ve spoken about interrupting racism and #NotOnOurWatch and so on, but just yesterday a friend of mine sent me a screenshot of a friend of hers with yet another shockingly prejudiced statement – not quite a Penny Sparrow or an Adam Catzavelos… but just not okay.
And I can’t do anything with him because of how completely blocked I am on Facebook by him. Because I have called him on stuff before. And he didn’t respond well.
But this is the thing. I am not friends with this chop. And so naturally my words are not super likely to have much significant effect on him, if any. I am an easy voice to switch off.
But I am good friends with some of his good friends. And you are the ones who are letting him get away with this stuff! You, who he respects and wants to be friends with and who he cares about what you think. You have so much more power in this than me and apart from my friend who sent me the screenshot, who has challenged him a number of times, I am not seeing you stand up to him and say, “THIS. IS. NOT. OKAY!”
So he thinks it IS okay! Clearly, because he keeps on doing it. It’s doubly embarrassing to me because he calls himself a christian and yet is displaying very un-Jesus-like behaviour. And so his Church leaders and friends – if they’ve seen this stuff – are complicit too.
The thing with this story, though, is that although this is a particular story with a particular name and person attached to it, it also is fifty other stories I have personally intervened in.
Sometimes people have listened or chosen to engage, but for the most part, I have been ignored or told to butt out or been blocked or whatever.
I will continue to challenge and call out and engage with those who my #NotOnOurWatch radar alerts me to, but this really is the thing – you need to call out the people you are in relationship with – you have the relationship capital and you need to spend it, even if it runs out…
Seriously now, because I’m kinda actually getting a bit tired of doing your work. And it is not only me doing this by a long shot but the few are continually doing the work of the all. And we grow weary.
You need to start calling those people you have relationship with on their racist crap!
Comment by Caren Falconer:
Call those you know…. those you love out on their racism. Tough tip but I think Brett is spot on. We need to be encouraging one another to think deeply about racism. Too many people simply say ” I am not a racist,” without really interrogating whether this is actually true. Doug and I often say that if anyone grew up in Apartheid SA we were really groomed, dipped and roasted in the language and essence of racism. None of us can be truly not racist on our own without some real work and thought……continuously. so we need to have these tough and painful conversations so we can really grow and change. This is real love.
It is too easy for us sometimes to look at messages/jokes etc and say “That’s so racist!” among each other and then feel self-righteous about it without doing the work you just referenced above.
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