#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #36
We can be a little kinder to each other.
Now this works as a tip and life lesson in general and the world would be a better place if most of us adhered to it, but specifically here i am thinking about white people on the journey away from racism to other white people on the same journey.
‘When we forget that before us is first a person and then an opinion we shift the narrative. The arc from injustice to justice and injustice to revenge are blurred when we ignore our Imageo Dei.’ [Wayne Eaves]
i find this a tricky tightrope to navigate, because i try to model my life in general and in this area specifically on that of Jesus.
Jesus tended to be most harsh towards those who got it or thought that they got it [the pharisees, sadducees, even his own disciples at times]. Jesus tended to be most kind and gracious and gentle with those who didn’t get it or were seen as being on the fringes or the outside.
This series of tips for me is an example of the kind of kindness i am talking about. To those who are on the journey of being conscientised or woken up to the fact that there is still much work in their lives to be done and who are actively trying to figure out, ‘But what can I do?’ i thought i would be kind and share some of the things i have learned and am still learning from the last four years of my journey where i have read and listened and engaged and wrestled and got it wrong and got up again and tried again and slowly figured some stuff out.
To those wanting to learn and trying to do better, i have a lot of time. It is important for us to remember that we are all at different moments on this journey and it does get hard for me four years in to deal with yet another person who is falling into the same hurtful behaviour as someone who is just starting out as it must be for someone who is twenty years in to watch me bumbling about at this stage getting a lot of it wrong. This is where i believe we can be a little kinder to each other.
But to those who should be getting it and aren’t, to those who refuse to do the work or cling tightly to their misperceptions and harmful thoughts and behaviours, to those who aren’t willing to put in the time and effort and real change required, i think the kindness required goes out to the black, coloured and indian people still on the receiving end of your prejudice, more than to you.
On this journey, i have decided that if/when i do get it wrong, i want it to be in favour of black, coloured and indian people over white people. If there must be hits, i think it’s our turn to take a few.
It is far less tiring to be conscientised and doing the work every day than it is to be living with racism and prejudice against you, but it is still tiring. Especially if we’ve never been the recipients of the racism and prejudice to compare it against. So to keep us in the game, we need to be as gentle as we can, while still holding the urgency in mind, which might be tomorrow’s tip.
We should be a little kinder to each other.
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #37
Develop a sense of urgency.
This is where yesterday’s tip on ‘Be kinder to each other’ has to be held in tension and even moderation at times.
Because we do not know how long we have. It has been 24 years of relatively little movement from white people as a whole toward previously and currently oppressed people. Whereas we have experienced a whole LOT of grace and patience. Most of us do not get this.
One aspect of privilege to recognise is that as a white person i can typically turn my attention towards race on and off as i feel like it. i can choose to have a #NotOnOurWatch mentality when it suits me and look the other way and not get involved when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
Black, coloured and indian people can’t turn off being black, coloured and indian and the consequences of that in a still-too-prejudiced land.
White people are not suspicious characters in a neighbourhood whatsapp group scenario for simply walking down the road. White people do not tend to get followed around by store security while walking around a shop. White people don’t get asked to move at restaurants so that a black family can have their seats. People do not lock their car doors or hold their bags more firmly when a white person walks down the street towards them. And sure, you may be able to dredge up an exception here and there, but i am talking about the norm. There is not an equivalent experience of being white in South Africa for a black, coloured, indian person except perhaps in certain spaces and times.
Imagine that you feel like you have nothing to lose. You receive a vote you never had and an election happens and you are promised a different type of country than the one you grew up in. Twenty years on and not too much has changed for too many of you. If you still have nothing to lose and a breaking point is reached, the results will be devastating for those who do.
As white people, part of the need to develop a bit of a thicker skin and to lean into uncomfortable, awkward and painful conversations and costly actions and to at times forsake kindness for table-throwing is an awareness that this tipping point could happen any time.
Our movement has been slow and steady and it has been tolerated, but that may not always be the case. If there ever is that tipping point, it does not end well for us [SPOILER ALERT].
There has to be an increased sense of urgency. Get a move on. Do the work. Come to the party. Completely, not just when and how you feel like it. We need to get a move on! [Also, this should not happen simply because we fear the consequences of it not happening, but also because it is the right thing to do!]
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #38
Do your homework before hitting share.
Now this is a bit of a bonus tip because it works for all people in all situations, so when you think Bill Gates is going to give you a thousand bucks for clicking send or iPhone is going to send you their latest phone for doing the same, take a moment to breathe and consider the likelihood that if something seems unbelievable, it likely is.
But when it comes to white people and race vibes we can be too quick to share the latest ‘white genocide’ stats article or Helen Zille birdfeeder analogy without spending two minutes to fact check.
In the age we live in of actual fake news there are quite easy and non lazy ways to check a story before passing it on. Snopes.com is a great example of a site that checks out the validity of popular news stories and let’s you know if they are legit or not. But often by simply googling the story title and the word ‘scam’ you can get a good idea of how likely it is to be true.
But i would like to add a second piece to this and ask you to consider what the ratio is between good news stories and bad news stories that you share.
There are so many people, organisations, groups and communities doing really quite incredible work across South Africa – I share often about BottomUp, Life Matters, uJamaa, Outliers as some examples – when you see a story of good news, start conditioning yourself to share it and become a part of changing the narrative of South Africa.
We have the power to share fear and hate and help create anxiety and mistrust, and we have the power to share hope and inspiration and achievement and celebrate life and the real heroes who live among us. Choose life.
Let’s take a moment to do our homework and also to consider the consequences of the stories, pictures and jokes that we share.
My friend Crystal Warren added: And if you are told you have posted fake news apologize and take it down. I have lost track of the number of times I have pointed out that something is fake and got a version of “ok, s/he didn’t say it, but it is the sort of thing “they” would say”.
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #39
Don’t place conditions on your acceptance of people.
I will engage with you if you talk more like me.
I will be your friend if you adhere to my definition and understanding of time.
I will accept you if your hair looks more like mine.
I will hang out with you if you speak more softly, if you dance more deservedly, if you show less emotion, if you make less of a political fuss about things… and more.
We have touched on this before when we spoke about the concept of ‘the better black/coloured/indian’ but the phrase ‘conditional acceptance’ came out in a meeting last night and so I want to push a little further into that.
This also pushes back against the concept of colourblindness which seeks to paint us all the same with one brush. Rather, let’s be overtly colour aware and let’s be colour and culture celebratory.
Show me who you really are and let me embrace that and learn from that and experience that. Let me see the real you and let me be okay with that.
This may require daily dismantling and unlearning from some of us. Maybe all of us. A redefinition of what we see as ‘normal’ or ‘right’ or ‘the standard’.
Stop placing conditions on the people around you and step into the realisation and lived experience of knowing that I am because you are.
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #40
Let those who are oppressed regularly based largely on the colour of their skin let us know when we can ‘move on’.
White people who suggest that because it’s been twenty plus years since the free elections can’t we all just move on and stop talking about race already because of how we are now a colourblind rainbow nation and all?
So many assumptions packed into that statement but the one that is the most challengeable perhaps is the idea of moving on when to a great extent not a whole lot of work has been done by white people as a whole.
Look at it this way. If people have been discovering – as some of you have through these tips based on feedback i have received – twenty-four years later – that we should call people the name they would like to be called instead of an english ‘easier-to-say’ name, that paying the woman who cleans our house a wage she can live on as opposed to getting away with minimum wage and that the ideology of ‘whiteness’ when viewed as a superior entitled mindset seriously needs to be dismantled… then there is still much work to be done.
And it should not be those doing the hurting that get to decide when it stops.
“Are you still being discriminated against, insulted, treated differently in a negative way because of your race? Yes? Okay, then let’s keep working at this.”
The oppressed gets to tell the oppressor when oppression is not happening any more. And then we all get to move on.
[Spoiler Alert: in a system that took decades to put into place – if you ignore the centuries of colonialism before that – this will not be fixed in 24 years of largely not trying to fix it… We still have a long road ahead and the more people who join in and really get serious about this stuff the better]
As white people, we should change our question to, “What should I do next?” being aware that it is probably not just one thing but a number of things that we need to push into every day.
#ButWhatCanIDo? Tip #41 of 40
Rinse. And Repeat.
This is not another tip. Simply a reminder that being conscientised or woke or treating all people who live in South Africa equally is not a moment or an action or even a decision.
It is a series of moments, actions, decisions that should start every morning as we wake up with the question, “How can I do this a little bit better today than I did yesterday?”
It is a journey that starts in the mirror of what needs to still be changed, unlearned, dismantled, reimagined, learned, completely stopped or reprogrammed in me… moves through the area of which relationships with people who do not look like me do I need to develop, prioritise, lean into, nurture and help grow… through the valley of the shadow of #NotOnMyWatch’ness which requires me to be alert to moments of racism or prejudice occurring in front of me – both online or offline – that need to be gently or more forcefully interrupted (“That is NOT okay!”)… through the corridors of listening and learning and reading and doing my homework so I can understand a more truer version of both the past and present… of being aware of all-white spaces I might occupy or visit or entertain during the day and being mindful of how I might change up or relocate myself from some of those… and on.
This is a commitment. To do the work I can do to help South Africa truly discover the rainbow we were told about but have only ever seen rare glimpses of. In me. And then to do what I can to help other people to join this journey as well.
So return to Tip #1 and walk through the list again and see what still needs to be done. And then discover what Tip #42 and #43 might be and do those and share them with fellow journeyers before moving on to #44…
Commit to the journey of this and invite friends and family and colleagues along for the ride…
White people, i have so much love for you… and i really believe we can get there. Keep on!!!