40 Tips to help white people to answer the question, ‘But what can I do?’ when it comes to race and reconciliation in South Africa. And we have made it to the end of the 40 – which one[s] felt most helpful or relevant to you [show us some love in the comments section]? In this post i give a quick summary of each tip to remind you of the journey we have made together and remember these exist in groups of five on my blog, starting over here:
#1 There is a lot of reading you can do – books, articles, blogs etc, but to get you started I recommended the Robert Sobukwe book ‘How can man die better’ by Benjamin Pogrund and Steve Biko’s ‘I write what I like’ – to start to understand the SA story from a different viewpoint. To start to see beyond just Mandela.
#2 Commit to calling people by their name or the name they would like to be called by. This might involve gentle questions when you come across a black garage attendant called ‘Eric’ or ‘John’ and not deep interrogation. I’ve found the question, ‘what would you like people to call you?’ very helpful.
#3 Interrogate the words that I use – it is offensive to call a fifty-year-old man who works in your garden ‘boy’. The term ‘maid’ might be problematic because it comes from ‘maidservant’ and we don’t do servants any more [well, technically at least]. It is so easy to be able to change up some words we use that might be causing others pain.
#4 We examined the concept of ‘the better black/indian/coloured’ – when we say things like “you speak good English” the assumption it carries is [as most of your people don’t] but it also puts whiteness or english at the centre and assumes we are the standard to be measured by or attained. We should not be. We need to look at things we say or think that add to this as well as the expectation that black/coloured/indian people must behave a certain way when they are with us that fits in with our culture and way of doing things at the expense of being themselves.
#5 Spend some time intentionally with black/coloured/indian friends deepening relationship. Initially this tip was ‘take a black person out for coffee’ until a black friend gently educated me that taking someone for coffee is a very white thing. So it might be a walk or an invite to your house or responding to an invite to theirs or a dinner, but prioritise building friendships with people you know who do not look like you.
#6 – Interrogate the spaces you inhabit and visit – start to take stock of the people at the various places you go to in your week and if they are majority white consider mixing that up a little by going to some new places. Change where you shop, gym, get entertainment, train, church and even live.
#7 – Volunteer – so many organisations doing such good work in formerly [and present] disadvantaged areas and there is a spot for you at one of them. You have a skill or even just a presence which can make a difference and hopefully help you build up some empathy and relationships along the way.
#8 – Change up the voices you listen to – the books you read, podcasts you listen to – start inviting black/coloured/indian and other voices to inform you – if all you read/listen to is white middle-aged men for example, don’t be surprised if you think a certain way. You don’t have to agree with or even understand everything you read, but by connecting to other voices in a humble, looking-to-learn way, you will grow immensely.
#9 – For those of you who employ a black/coloured/indian person in your home, honestly ask, ‘Am I paying a living wage?’ and after having a conversation with them about life, family, transport and the future, see if there is not some work you can do there, possibly in exchange for that extra meal out a month or snob coffee every day or next family vacation.
#10 – Commit to interrupting racism and prejudice. #NotOnOurWatch – refuse to let racism happen in front of you – online or offline – without at the very least letting it be known that, “that is not okay!”
#11 – Do some work understanding ‘whiteness’ and the difference between that and being white. No-one wants you to feel bad for being white which you can’t help, but everyone is wanting you to become a part of dismantling whiteness as the podium-placed position to achieve or strive for.
#12 – Do some work in understanding ‘white privilege’ which does NOT mean you weren’t perhaps poor growing up or that you didn’t work hard for everything you have, but simply states that as a white person in this country it was a lot easier to navigate forwards than it was for other people. Recognise. Acknowledge. Leverage.
#13 – Visit a township. Not on a tour bus, but work on a relationship with someone who lives in a township who can invite you in and help you gain a picture of how so many people in this country live. Leave your selfie-taking camera phone at home when you go.
#14 – Make some effort to learn the predominant black african language in the area where you live. At the very least start by learning how to greet people and exchange names, but then grow from there.
#15 – Be aware of your loud white space in the room [for men there is a bonus of being aware of your loud white male space in the room]. Part of unlearning, dismantling, re-imagining and building is creating space for voices that have not been so eagerly listened to. Find spaces to hold back your voice or your comment and invite others to have a go at the mic.
#16 – Don’t center yourself or white people in the conversation. When you hear a term like #BlackLivesMatters, realise that it is not suggesting that white lives don’t matter or that all lives don’t matter, but rather that we live in a world that has largely suggested for hundreds of years that black lives matter a lot less. Allow a conversation to be about poverty without feeling the need to interject, “but white people can be poor too!”
#17 – Push in. Stick around. And take some heat. A lot of white people get offended and studios get touched and we demonstrate what has been called fragility or white tears the moment things get uncomfortable. Apartheid was a crime against humanity and once we realise that and acknowledge that, there is no way this thing is going to be turned around without visiting some really uncomfortable places. Grow some thicker skin and push in when people start speaking with anger and deep pain in their voices and look to understand ‘Why?’
#18 – Recognise and acknowledge the dignity of those who do not look like you. A lot of this one was really tips on how to be a decent human being [as are most of these actually #PlotTwist] but because we tend to treat cashiers and car guards and those on street corners as if they are less than us, we need to start changing it up!
#19 – Learn how to pronounce Umhlanga. Really, just this one. [There is no S in ‘HL’]
#20 – Understand that justice does not always mean treating everyone the same. We used a cartoon of boys standing on boxes to show that a person limited by height needs more boxes, a person who is tall might need no boxes. Understanding that context and history and present systems and structures that have been biased in one direction might need a massive correction to take things towards being more equal for all.
#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. The example given was calling a child ‘monkey’ and how that is very much different if the child is white or black, regardless of the relationship involved.
#22 – Add your voice, presence, words to someone else’s commitment to interrupt racism and prejudice. Building on Tip #10 which was a #NotOnOurWatch mentality, this one is about joining in when someone else makes the first move to interrupt racism, so as to add numbers and positive peer pressure.
#23 – Consider moving. If we are serious about bringing an end to the systemic and structural lingering violence and consequence of apartheid, then geography [which was used to create so much of the apartheid system] has to be considered. Start small when considering where you shop, gym, eat out, church, sport, but when you consider where you are going to live, let this be a top priority.
#24 – A specific tip for people with dogs to do some work at understanding the relationship so many black people have to dogs, especially concerning the legacy of apartheid and how dogs were used as a weapon against black/coloured/indian people. Be overly mindful of your dogs when you are out in public and even when you are home and invite people into your space.
#25 – This one was titled – Guys, you need to call your friends on their crap – when it comes to jokes and posts and comments that are racist or prejudiced or just generally othering, you need to speak up. Don’t let your people get away with this stuff cos often silence indicates agreement and you become complicit.
#26 – Consciously defer to black/white/indian people. We can never give anyone else a voice but we can step to the side or hand over the mic or look someone in the eyes so that they realise their voice is valid and appreciated and looked for. Typically, given the history of our country and all of the prevailing mindsets, people defer to white people and more directly to white men and so we need to be alert and recognising when this is happening and help redirect the narrative.
#27 – This one was written on a Sunday and so specifically direct to those who are part of a church and called Christ followers to understand that this is not an optional extra, but should be part of our DNA. Jesus was all about those pushed to the side and marginalised and so should we be. To church leaders who claim diversity exists in your churches but there is none of it on your leadership teams, there is much work to be done.
#28 – This one was basically yesterday’s tip aimed at businesses, especially those in charge of who is hired and promoted and placed in key positions. If there is inequality between employees of colour within your company that needs to be addressed and changed. Tokenism helps no-one. Do the work. If, as an employee you notice this disparity exists then speak to your bosses.
#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. Basically this is calling for us not to be silent on issues that don’t directly relate to us but which hurt other people. #FeesMustFall and Sanitation strikes as two key examples. Do some research, listen to those protesting and get involved.
#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. And not experiences past as if that stuff is magically over – i hear stories from black, coloured and indian friends on at least a monthly basis if not weekly and often daily, about their experiences of racism in South Africa in 2018. This stuff is still real and happening and we need to be listening and trying to understand and then committing to doing something about it.
#31 – Leave your camera at home – this one relates to township trips and volunteering. Once a selfie has been taken with you in the middle of it, the thing you are doing is no longer about anything or anyone else but you. As you commit to learning and growing relationships in this area, spend the majority of your time unplugged so that you can really be in people’s lives and spaces.
#32 – Be a tag ally for friends of colour. It can get quite exhausting trying to combat racism as someone on the outside. i can’t even begin to imagine how overwhelming it must feel as a black/coloured/indian person having to deal with the stuff day in, day out, and not being able to switch off or choose not to focus on race today. One relatively easy way for us to help is to let some close friends know that if they ever want to tag us into an online conversation so that we can fight the racism on their behalf or engage with white people who are not listening, then we are available. i have had people take me up on this and even had some people ask me if i would mind or even just tag me in conversations because they know i’ll get involved. It’s not a white person doing something a black person can’t do but rather us stepping us so they don’t have to. This is about giving your friends a bit of a break where you can.
[#33 has been moved to the end as it feels like it belongs there…]
#34 – Support black businesses. For white people this is one way for us to dismantle some of the prejudices in our minds but it also helps in terms of economic redistribution of wealth. Do a little research and choose to shop at some different places and support black/coloured/indian people who work with the skills you need.
#35 – Unlearn your stereotypes. This involves a lot of interrogating the media and seeing how differently they often report crime when it’s a white person than when it’s a black/coloured/indian person. And this happens internationally so there is a lot of research material. A lot of the work we have to do is unlearning and dismantling and reprogramming and this is an ongoing daily thing.
#36 – Be a little kinder to those who are trying to do this stuff alongside you. This one is aimed more at us white people and it can be a hard one when different people are at different places in their journeys and you are explaining ‘white privilege’ to someone who doesn’t get it for the hundredth time. Breathe, try and remember you were back there not so long ago and try to dig into patience, grace and kindness when dealing with others. The flip side of this is that sometimes when choosing kindness towards black/coloured/indian people it will require being harsher to a white person. This is a tricky concept to balance.
#37 – Develop a sense of urgency. This will be helped by really getting to know people who don’t look like you and especially by spending time at protests or with people who live in the worst of conditions. By realising the levels of pain and anger that are out there, we can hopefully start to understand that 24 years later, for people who feel like not all that much has changed, we really need to get a move on and sometimes that will mean sacrificing the kindness mentioned in #36
#38 – Do your homework before hitting share. This is a general note for all people but especially for white people trying to grow in these race conversations, be very careful about what we forward on. Are we sharing stories of hope and positive action around the country or stories that will spread fear and mistrust. Are we checking the sources before we send another ‘farm murder’ or ‘genocide’ ‘fact sheet’? We can use our social media as a space for growth, story-telling and understanding which can add to the solution and not grow the problem.
#39 – Don’t place conditions on your acceptance of people. Let’s celebrate the differences in people and not expect them to look, sound or be like us.
#40 – Let those who are oppressed regularly based largely on the colour of their skin let us know when we can ‘move on’. We don’t as white people get to decide when we are no longer hurting those around us. It needs to come from them. And until they give us the thumbs up, we need to keep on committing to the work every day, every day.
#41 – Yes, it wouldn’t quite be me if there wasn’t a tip 41 out of 40. But all this is, is Rinse and Repeat. Once you’ve made it through all of these tips, head to the start and try again. Some of them you won’t need to repeat [if you’ve read the books i’ve suggested move on to other books that are written by South Africans about South Africa] but maybe you can sit with a friend or family member or group of classmates or lifegroup and work through them again together, hoping to see new things and find more changes you can make.
i hope you found these helpful. These are not the 40 tips that will make you not racist or prejudiced, but they will give you a good start and there are many others we can add to this list. In fact, if you have an idea that is not on this list, please leave it in the comments section.
Alternatively if it is work with white people, invite Megan Furniss and Brett Fish Anderson to come to your company and pay them to run their Diversity workshop with your white staff or their Story-telling workshop with your diverse staff. Companies really need to start getting serious about this stuff and Megan [the most excellent improvisor, story-teller and work-shop facilitator] and myself have some skills that will make it easier for you to engage and face some hard things and be equipped to move beyond them. Email us [firstname.lastname@example.org] to find out more.
But in the meantime, let’s keep at this stuff. Not just because we must, but because there are so many incredible people in this country who don’t look like you who we continue to hurt by being slow to change in these areas.
Please SHARE this post and feel free to cut and paste and use it elsewhere as long as the message is getting out.
Let’s do this!