But What Can I Do? Tips #26-30

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But What Can I Do? Tips #26-30

Are you still with us? That’s amazing. If you have made it this far all the way from Tip #1 and are still engaged then i’m really stoked, well done. This can seem like a lot of stuff. I really do love white people and I still have a lot of work to do in many of these areas and it is just great to know that other people are committing to this stuff as well. So keep going!

#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #26

Consciously defer to black/white/indian people.

Now this might be a trickier one to explain if you don’t get it, because if you do it wrong it could possibly come across as being condescending.

It rides on the back of white people centering themselves or being centered in conversations or spaces which we looked at in tip #16 and this is very close to tip #15 as well so maybe go back and check those out again.

Scenario A: You walk up to the manager in a store to ask a question. There are two managers of equal status standing next to each other – one is white, one is indian – choose to address your question to the indian manager by looking at them directly in the eyes and asking your question. Don’t worry, this is not ‘reverse racism’ – because whiteness has been elevated, the idea that the white manager is more likely to be able to help you than the indian one has been fed into your psyche and so all you are doing is trying to balance it out a little bit and train your mind to assume that two managers of equal status might equally be able to help you.

Scenario B: I’ve seen this a lot. I am with a black friend and a white person comes up and asks a question. My black friend answers. Then the white person looks at me and asks a follow-up question. The same mentality is playing out here and it needs to be interrupted. How I can defer in this situation is to say nothing and to turn my body towards my friend and look them in the eyes in a silent confirmation of ‘You have the mic on this one!’

Scenario C: In a meeting [work, church, sports, board] white voices tend to dominate and white male voices even more so. You can interrupt this in a variety of ways. If a white person cuts a black/indian/coloured person off, you can interrupt that and ask that the person finishes what they were saying. If only white voices have been speaking, you can say, “I’d love to hear what Keegan has to say about this.” Unless, of course, the coloured guy in your group’s name is Jerome. Then you’re on your own! 

This is Tip #26 for a reason. If you just jumped in here this might be a bit of a head wobble, but if you’ve been doing the work and are starting to understand privilege and whiteness and power dynamics in a group, then this may come a little bit more naturally.

Also for some of you, this is just being a decent human being and you might do it naturally. Not every tip is going to be as relevant for every person. But if you get this one, then see it as an opportunity to help your friends who don’t. The best place to do some learning on this one is directly after it has happened. Pull your friend aside and gently ask them, “Did you notice how in that meeting Emily got interrupted three times and then a man said exactly the same thing and everyone agreed?”

This is a great tip to help us to start to understand what some call Intersectionality a little better. We can view race dynamics in this tip, but it works exactly the same if you take out black/coloured/indian and substitute women. It’s never a case of let’s finish dealing with all the race issues and then we can start focusing on the unequal nature of men and women. The two happen at the same time all the time and it is up to us to become more aware, more intentional and more direct as we start to notice these things more as well as empowering those around us to do the same.

White men. It’s so tough hey? Everything is directed at us. We have to do so much of the work. This is made easier when we recognise and acknowledge that until this point, we had unknowingly benefited from things always pointing in our direction. Now we are simply trying to increase the opportunities for others. And that is a super beautiful thing. Carry on!

We need to start deferring to those people around us who are often ignored, cut off, silenced or pushed to the side.

#ButWhatCanIDo

#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #27

Being a Sunday, let’s make this one for the church people, cos some of us have a LOT of work to do.

Firstly, if you for a second think this “social justice stuff” is a nice little hobby for Christians to do in their spare time, you need to check your book again.

The Greatest commandment specifically states we need to love our neighbour as ourselves and the good Samaritan reminds us that everyone in need is our potential neighbour and Matthew 25’s sheep and goat’s judgement is God telling us that if we are not for those in need then God is not for us. Then read Isaiah 61 and Mark 4 where Jesus picks it up and says “This is me!” which by definition makes it us.

It is not bonus marks, it is our D.N.A. Or it should be.

Good, now that we have that sorted let’s move on.

Church leaders, who are meant to be serving like Christ – you know, giving your life to the church which is the people – you need to be speaking this stuff and modelling it to your people. There is no excuse for a pastor in South Africa in 2018 to not be advocating for Justice in this country and maybe take a moment to see what Amos tells us God thinks of our Sunday meetings if we are not.

If you claim to be doing the work of justice in South Africa but have no black, coloured or indian people in significant roles in the leadership of your church, then please stop pretending. There are diverse looking congregations in Cape Town who look to their leaders and don’t see anyone who looks like them. Many feel token and are treated as second-rate or less than, and it’s time for you to put this right.

Christ followers. If your leadership is not diverse and if your congregation all look like you and nothing significant is being done to change either of those things, I want to strongly suggest finding another church to be a part of.

If you can’t worship alongside people who don’t look like you, you may find it a lot more work to love them.

#ButWhatCanIDo

#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #28

Yesterday’s tip was addressed to church people, cos family first yo. But today, what I am going to do is cut and paste yesterday’s tip and change out some words and edit it a little bit to make a lot of the same points but about your workspace if you’re an employee or your business if you’re an employer.

Let’s be honest some of you have a LOT of work to do.

Firstly, if you for a second think this “social justice stuff” is a nice little hobby for “social justice warriors” or “activists” to do in their spare time, you need to think again.

This should all be the work of all South Africans, but especially so for white South Africans who are in the unfortunate position of representing those who largely messed this up. Sure, we can feel bad, but that never helped anyone, so let’s rather get on with the business of cleaning this thing up.

This is not bonus marks, it is our D.N.A. Or it should be. If you want to be part of a country you love, then you really need to adjust your mindset towards caring for all of the people of that country. Not just those who look like you.

As I said yesterday:

PLEASE do NOT call yourself “proudly South African” if you refuse to engage with 75% or more of the population of South Africa. What you’re thinking of is the opposite. That’s proudly anti-South African and you need to STOP. Or seriously go somewhere else, mate.

Get to know and love the people of your country, man. It’s that easy.

Good, now that we have that sorted let’s move on.

If you claim to be doing the work of justice in South Africa but have no black, coloured or indian people in significant roles in management within your company, then please stop pretending!

There are diverse looking offices around South Africa who look to their leaders and don’t see anyone who looks like them. Many feel token and are treated as second-rate or less than, and it’s time for you to put this right.

Office workers. If your management is not diverse and if your office members all look like you and nothing significant is being done to change either of those things, I want to strongly suggest finding another job. I recognise that it is a lot easier to find another church than another job, but I want to seriously suggest that being in all-white spaces for the majority of your time is not going to help you with the work that needs to be done in South Africa.

If you can’t work alongside people who don’t look like you, you may find it a lot more work to love them.

As my friend Mbali wrote, ‘honestly speaking in this day and age it’s appalling to walk into certain niche sectors and find white faces looking back at you from reception to consultant’.

There is much work to be done. Talk to your boss today or if you are the boss, start brainstorming as to how you can become more intentional on this one.

If you own your own small business, this is an area you can seriously work at when you make that next hire.

Let’s de-pale those office and leadership spaces for a richer future.

#ButWhatCanIDo

#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #29

Show up at a protest, meeting or conversation that doesn’t benefit you. Or at the very least, take some time to learn what is really happening there.

When #FeesMustFall was happening on the University campuses the last couple of years, a lot of white people were very vocal about how violent these protests were, where tyres and paintings were being burnt.

The same white people were strangely silent when there was another story of a child dying in a pit latrine or a march for service delivery as if the absence of decent sanitation or basic services was not an even greater act of violence that took place for thousands of black people day in and day out.

Then there was a #ZumaMustFall March and suddenly all the white people showed up, albeit with deck chairs and lattes in hand and for about an hour (and in some cases with the person who cleans their house or tends their garden holding their posters for them).

When my friend Craig shouted “Zuma must pay back the money” everyone cheered, and when he added “and those of us with swimming pools and holiday homes must also pay back the money” there was an awkward silence and people were suddenly checking their phones or looking off to the distance at some imaginary thing.

Many white people were offended for receiving criticism for finally kind of showing up for a march that benefited them but never being around or even supportive of protests that called for basic needs to be met or protested the violence in townships and so on. They were often vocal about how inconvenienced they were by these other things.

We need to do some work of deep listening to the pain of people who do not look like us, that exists in their daily lives, before rushing to judge or condemn or dismiss. Maybe even choose to show up sometime in solidarity for a cause that benefits someone other than yourself.

If we fail to develop empathy for each other’s stories we will struggle to build a nation together.

Mary-Ann Naidoo shared some helpful tips:

Communities in the Western Cape are standing up against crime and gangsterism in their communities. Some communities are marching and shutting down road access to the communities as part of their protest action.

How can you be an ally:
1. Don’t complain if traffic is slower that day. Find another route, leave earlier.
2. Don’t encourage conversations about “those people”. Those people are fighting for their lives.
3. If you come across conversations about “those people”, engage and educate the speaker that those people have come to the end of the road and have exhausted all other opportunities to fight to save their children. Ask the speaker what they would do if their children were traumatised and their communities were under siege and the authorities are ignoring them.
4. Offer to help pay bail money if protestors are arrested.
5. If you have legal expertise step up and assist. If you have any skill that can assist, step up and assist.
6. Help raise awareness of their protest. Reposting articles in your networks is useful.

#ButWhatCanIDo

#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #30

One thing white people could do a lot better is to listen, really listen to hear and try to understand, when black, coloured and indian people talk about their experiences of racism.

This tip was encouraged by a comment I saw on Facebook yesterday:

‘Dear fellow citizens, can I suggest that you listen to people of colour when they talk about their experience of racism. We know that your comments are often not thought through when you make offensive remarks. But, it is the effect your denial has on those who have experienced prejudice and discrimination for most of their lives that is tough. No harm in admitting to the offence and to work on improving your outlook.’ [Beryl Crosher-Segers]

I would suggest you should probably have a relatively good relationship/friendship with someone before you ask them, ‘Would you mind telling me how you experience racism in this country?’ although I imagine there are a number of people who might be open to this if they believe the request is genuine. It can also be a softer ask maybe to start by asking how they have experienced prejudice in South Africa because I expect a lot of the answers will be the same.

In fact, that has been one of the questions we have started many of our Deep Dive Dinner conversations with. Pair people up and invite them to share one story of either privilege or prejudice that they have received and if they have both and want to share they can. Then we join up two pairs and ask people to share one of the stories they heard which is a great listening exercise and shows people what aspects of what they said other people picked up on. Then we come together as a big group and give feedback and move on from there.

Can you as a white person commit to asking someone about their experience but at the same time commit to listening without challenging/giving excuses/defending or telling a story about a similar thing you feel happened to you? Just listen and try to hear the pain behind the experiences of people who do not look like you in your country.

It can be such a powerful experience for someone to receive an “I see you!” especially when that person looks a lot like the person or people who might have been responsible for the prejudice and pain.

Can we take time to draw close and really listen and just sit in the pain with our fellow South Africans?

In terms of people’s voice and understanding their pain, this super powerful video shared by my friend Mike Cheney is well worth checking out: https://youtu.be/lpPASWlnZIA

#ButWhatCanIDo

[To move on to tip #31 and beyond, click here]

[To return to the start of this series and catch up on the ones you missed, click here]

By |2018-09-24T07:16:31+00:00September 10th, 2018|#NotOnOurWatch, positive ideas for change, race vibes|3 Comments

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

3 Comments

  1. An evil white male September 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    This article turned me from centrist Neoliberalism to someone hoping Trump wins 2020.

    • brettfish September 20, 2018 at 9:24 am - Reply

      No. No, it didn’t. You only have yourself to blame for that. The fact that you call yourself ‘an evil white male’ might be a clue.

  2. […] [To move on to tip #26 and beyond, click here] […]

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