My friend Terence is so negative:
Seriously though, on a day when white people were showing solidarity with their one black friend, Terence had to go and make them feel bad.
And they did – read the comments.
There must be discomfort when confronting injustice
Let me just be clear here – Terence is not negative. i agree with his status completely. But it led to one interaction with an old friend of mine who is a beautiful person and a lovely soul who really was trying to engage with the race stuff but finding it so uncomfortable. And the need for it to be comfortable [easy/cost-free etc] was verbalised.
This is the thing that white people [i am white – this is to me first!] need to realise. When we are dealing with race [and especially in the context of South Africa] we are talking about a system that saw and treated black, coloured and indian people as less than human. It embarrassed and weakened and tortured and killed them. This is a system and mindset that still causes black, coloured and indian people so much pain today.
Yet we want to deal with it comfortably. We want it to be nice. We want it to be easy.
Can you see the problem with that?
I want to see you committing to using your privilege and power to dismantle the structures of white supremacy, racism and inequality.
With the blacking out of profile pics and statutes the other day i have no doubt there was a positive intention to it. However, sadly intention is not enough. Also what i saw on the Twitterer was a number of black people calling for white people to stop posting -all-black pictures because it was taking up space with nothing in a sense. So something that was good-intentioned and meant for support ended up becoming distraction.
Let me just say right here that dealing with race stuff is complicated. Figure that one out early. There is no race handbook. And something that will be praised by one black person might be problematic for another one. We really need to learn to listen really well and to be less defensive. Which is hard.
Confronting an oppressive system is not going to be easy or comfortable and so we need to realise early on that we are going to have to make choices. One choice – when looking at the George Floyd example – is to be more outraged at the death of a black man than at destruction of property or looting. So many white people got so caught up in dismissing the looting that they missed the fact of where it came from and what it was related to. And that George Floyd’s death was not an isolated incident. Can we hold a viewpoint that his death was wrong and that looting is wrong? i think so. But we absolutely have to be louder and more focused on the fact that his death was the bigger injustice.
When #FeesMustFall happened in South Africa in 2015, many white people were vocal when paintings were burnt or vehicles were set fire to, but had nothing to say about an oppressive system that poured injustice on the lives of black people.
We need to listen to the voices of the oppressed
It is always white people who lead the chant of, “Can’t we just move forward? Why do you keep bringing up the past?’
But it is the oppressed who get to say when they stop feeling oppressed. It is those who carry the burden of a historical system that continues to work against them who get to let us know when it is over.
And while we have to be extra careful that we are not expecting black, coloured and indian people to carry the burden of educating us [“Help me be less racist!”] we do at the same time need to be led by them.
It feels like an easy one to listen to a voice like Terence who says, “This is not helping!”
Our response should not be to try and convince him that we are helping. It should be to apologise and ask how he would like us to help. But first and foremost we need to be doing the work of educating ourselves [Here are 40 ways to get you started!] and perhaps figuring out better what might be helpful. And then only using Terence to check in that we are on track instead of hoping he will plan our journey.
This is a tough one to grab on to. i desperately want to be an ally to my black, coloured and indian friends. But i never get to decide when that has happened. My focus is on doing everything i can to be an ally. But only they can ever let me know that it is working or not.
So let’s return to the beginning of this blog post. i don’t think Terence is negative at all. i think Terence is tired. i think that Terence, along with so many other black, coloured and indian friends in South Africa [and in America and other places as well] are exhausted. From having to to this work every day. A think that i don’t think we as white people come close to getting.
Think about it this way: i can choose to be tired of talking about race and stop for a few days to recover or refresh. Black, coloured and indian friends can’t turn racism off. It is perhaps one of the highest forms of privilege to decide when race is a thing for me and when it isn’t.
Take a look at the questions over here to understand this a little further if you haven’t yet.
This is why we need to commit to an every day doing of the work.
To read up and educate ourselves.
To be aware of current issues.
To be checking in with our friends in ways that feel life-giving to them.
To be inviting others to be a part of the work and conversation. And to refusing to let racism pass by unchallenged – online or offline – which i call a #NotOnOurWatch commitment.
To be giving space to our black, coloured and indian friends if they want to tell their stories and share what is going on with them.
To being better neighbours in every sense of the word.
If this is you, then check out this list and see if there are any areas that still need some work for you.