This has been an interesting week which started with the explosion that was #ImStaying bursting on to the scene.
In response to what was happening in the group and some feelings of uncomfortable that a growing number of people were having, i made this Facebook Live video sharing my thoughts. Then i wrote a piece called ‘The Rise and Flaw of #ImStaying’ which has been my most visited post of the year and which a number of people said helped them put into words what they were feeling about #ImStaying
Yesterday though, everything changed. In a number of ways.
The founder of the #ImStaying group, Jarette Petzer, posted a video on the group saying in no uncertain terms that there will be no posts that mention race, politics or religion, but only positive vibes. The video came across as somewhat agitated or aggressive and was taken down a couple of hours later.
Let’s backpedal a few steps – yesterday morning i was involved in a number of what felt like really positive conversations in #ImStaying around race and apology and the work needing to be done. It felt like we were able to get below the surface work which most of #ImStaying feels like and actually talk about real issues and the need for white people in particular to own their space in the work needing to be done. So i was feeling the most hopeful i had felt in the group.
After Jarette’s video though, all of those posts disappeared. In fact, the only post i seem to still be on is the most irritating birthday post that someone posted asking people to wish them “Happy Birthday” and i keep getting notifications from it and with thousands of replies have been unable to find my original message to delete it.
The overwhelming message of that group, even more than before, feels like “Be positive and say positive things but don’t commit to doing any of the work or even acknowledging that any uncomfortable, awkward, painful and costly work needs to be done.” In a word, Kumbaya.
To which i respond, Kumba-ja….Nee!
The Start of Conversations
Later that day my friend, Tamsyn Elaine Allison, started a group called Conversations for a Better South Africa [now changed to ‘Conversations for a Just South Africa’ in which the hope was to gather people who felt positive and hopeful towards South Africa BUT also recognised and acknowledged that there was much work to be done, that it would likely be uncomfortable/tiring/awkward/costly and patience-requiring, but that we would commit to doing it anyway.
The hope of Conversations online that will inspire/add to/encourage/challenge the work that needs to happen offline.
Within a couple of hours, as the numbers of people asking to be added in to the group kept growing, i felt more encouraged and hopeful than i had felt after a week of #ImStaying posts.
As Tamsyn keeps reminding me, Conversations for a Just South Africa is not a group created to run in opposition to #ImStaying or any other group on Facebook gathering people to have conversations and share ideas and stories. It is its own thing, but at the same time we are open to and encouraging the kind of work #ImStaying has been overtly emphatic in declaring they will not tolerate in their space. So we have attracted a number of people who found #ImStaying problematic or uncomfortable for different reasons. And some who choose to be part of both.
We are 25 years into the so-called New South Africa and it is beyond obvious that we have so much work to be done. The promised rainbow never materialised, and to call for colourblindness as the solution is an insult to the destructive work that has been done for decades and centuries, where colour was in the centre of it. The law might have changed in 1994, or most of it, but in so many places and spaces and people, as well as structures and systems, the spirit of the law remains. Especially in Cape Town where i live and which is known as the most racist province in the country. i’m just not interested in being part of something that refuses to address that in the interests of feeling good and nice.
Dip your foot in
So if ‘Conversations for a Just South Africa’ feels like it might be something you are interested in, please come and take a look. It is a day old and so we are still trying to figure it out – we are working at bringing a diverse group of moderators together [official Facebook term although i love the idea of ‘Facilitators of mutual growth and learning’ that my friend Annie Kirke suggested] and figuring out some guidelines to keep conversation respectful, but we really are wanting to go to the hard places and acknowledge that white people bear the responsibility of doing the majority of the work, but in relationship with other black, coloured and indian people so that we end up doing the right work in ways that build and inspire and encourage and restore and empower.
i am hopeful for South Africa precisely because i do recognise colour and race and background and culture and am excited to see what kind of melting pot emerges when each of these things are able to be expressed together, rather than morphed into one ‘South African race’.
How about you?