My name is Brett “Fish” Anderson and i am 46 years and for the last 6 years i have been actively fighting against racism.
Although people at times accuse me – and people like me – of being smug or self-righteous or feeling superior – i don’t think i am any of those things.
To be honest, i feel shame and embarrassment.
i have for the longest time been someone who has challenged the leadership of the places i have been in. Most of the time this has been churches and i have recounted the story of the pastor who pulled me into his office and said to me [as a passionate idealistic youth leader wanting to change the world!]: “One day, when you are in the rut of life, you will be just like me!” i can’t remember if it was out loud or just in my head, but my immediate response to that was, “I would rather die!”
And that part is still true today. i’m not sure when that rut of life thing is meant to kick in, but i’m guessing that pastor was younger than 46 when he spoke those words to me. i am still absolutely passionate about life and idealistic about wanting to change the world – and don’t really think that idealism is as bad a thing as so many people make it out to be.
So what has changed?
i still see myself as a follower of Jesus. One who takes His words seriously and tries to honour His call to “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me.”
Looking back though, when i was a youth worker, the biggest focus we had was on trying to stop teenagers [and ourselves, pretty successfully in my case] from having sex and smoking and drinking and doing drugs. Cos those were the bad things.
That is what causes me shame and embarrassment now. Not that i have very different stances on some of those things. But because we seemed to put such a huge emphasis on those things when there were certainly bigger issues of injustice in the country and in the world demanding our attention.
The journey is a long and complicated one for another day, but i am grateful to my family for teaching me to love everyone equally and for organisations like Scripture Union and the Student’s Christian Association and later Movement for granting me space and connectivity with some incredible black, coloured and indian leaders from around the country.
Where is the Justice?
But even that was not enough. The connection between really loving some amazing black, coloured and indian people and feeling any kind of call or pull towards Justice for them was absent for far too long. Despite working in a multi-cultural church in Stellenbosch or even moving into a township for 18 months before i got married.
Despite having read a book that spoke about God’s heart for Justice and the marginalised so often and so deeply and for my whole life.
Despite a greatest command that included, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Fast forward to three years spent in America with and around some truly Jesus and Justice loving people.
A news story about the shooting of a young kid of colour, Trayvon Martin, which sparked outrage and led to the start of a movement.
A shocking story about another black man named Eric Garner who gasped the words, “I can’t breathe” countless times before dying from police brutality.
A different man returned to South Africa
i returned home to South Africa having spent months reading up on the race violence in America, consumed by a passion that overpowered my laziness when it comes to research.
i landed back in the country of my birth with the knowledge that i could never again be silent in issues of race and injustice that were affecting the most marginalised people around me.
The shame and regret and embarrassment i have is based on the fact that it took me so long to get here. That it needed a story of injustice with race in America to spark my outrage and commitment to the different but overlapping one back home.
And that is not okay. Even today, it is not okay. i can’t change that because i can’t go back in time and do it differently. But i can change the way i live ad speak and i can change how i spend my money and where i live and who we engage with and who we commit to knowing and caring for deeply. And all of that has changed.
It is not that i have arrived anywhere that gives me any reason to be smug or feel superior or anything like that. Every time i look in the mirror there is the shadow of the time it took for me to get here, looking over my shoulder. And i could let that paralyse me, as white guilt seems to do to most people. Or rather, as i try to do, i could use it to convict me, to call me to the responsibility of a daily #NotOnOurWatch commitment and to live differently and call others to do the same.
There is no prize for being decent or humane
Not for reward or praise or any kind of celebration, as my friend Lovelyn put it so well the other day:
Dear white people [and non-Black allies]:
You DO NOT deserve brownie points for speaking out against anti-black racism. I will not reward you, thank you, congratulate you or applaud you for taking a strong stance against white supremacy.
You are doing the most basic thing required of you which is to look out for your fellow humans because you are human.
Let’s normalise solidarity, standing in the gap for others and stop expecting an applause for performative allyship.
– Women should not thank men for not raping them.
– Queer people should not thank cis-het people for not attacking them.
– People with disabilities should not thank able-bodied people for not infantilising or ignoring them.
– Etc. Etc.
THAT IS THE LEAST PEOPLE WITH DOMINANT POSITIONS IN SOCIETY SHOULD DO.
You’re not doing me a favour by recognising my humanity.
Thanks for coming to my Ted-Talk
But because it is necessary. And it is SO overdue.
There was some conversation on social media today provoked by a status Val wrote last night. The status basically said that the fact that we have to do so much work to move white people to a starting point of understanding injustice and committing to doing better feels like too much. If police shooting at township people shopping for groceries with rubber bullets and tear gas is not enough to move you, it is pretty awful that a cartoon about a pigeon or a sheep does the job. If a video of a policeman kneeling on a black man in America [George Floyd] is not enough to move you, but a series of pictures of a burning house does, there is a problem.
Analogies help make difficult truths simple and obvious to some people. We have been sharing them for years and we will continue to. But even if you are someone who has been educated by that and not moved by the known stories of violence against black bodies, surely you can also agree that you messed up.
i messed up!
i messed up. It wasn’t about not having enough passion and it wasn’t about not being committed to things and it wasn’t even about not being prepared to even die for the things i believed in.
It was about being blind to the injustice that people i said i cared about were facing every day. It was about preaching “Love your neighbour” while being oblivious to obvious lack of love to neighbour being shown by government and society and even church.
i cannot dwell on that. There is forgiveness and grace and the ability to move on. But i also cannot be okay with that in others just because i was there as well.
In South Africa, the majority of white people have shown little or no movement in 25 years. How long do you need? How comfortable do you want to be? It is just not okay anymore [it never was!]. And i stand by the status Val wrote that offended some people and may have even ruined some friendships we have.
You’re offended because she F-bombed? If i don’t see you MORE OFFENDED by what happened to George Floyd and Christian Cooper [Collins Khosa’s death is as much a tragedy but quite possibly somewhat of a different story we need to talk about soon!] then that is a problem for me!
Your lack of awareness and compassion and empathy for the lived experiences of black, coloured and indian people must be held to account. Not by us trying harder to make it easier or more comfortable or more palatable for you.
So many people keep bringing up the ‘milk for babies’ analogy. And if we were talking about babies that would be absolutely relevant. But we are talking about adults here. That’s where Val’s status came from last night. The realisation that we bend backwards to keep white people happy and comfortable and make it easy. And then make it easier. And then make it easier. No! Stop! Realise like i do, that the time it has taken is embarrasing. The level of analogy needed to get you here is an injustice in itself. For those of you who like me claim “Loving your neighbour as yourself” as a core value. That really should be enough. Let’s admit we have failed dismally in doing that and let’s lean into the uncomfortable and hard and work-enducing and even blame-taking where necessary cos we are so far behind where we should be.
And it is not okay. If the ways we use to tell you it is not okay are far more painful to bear than the fact that it is not okay, then i don’t know what to do with that. People literally call me a c-word regularly in blog comments you never get to see. i have friends who do work in this area who have had death threats in their inboxes. You are getting the absolute gentlest forms of reproach and that’s too much? Then return to the bubble. Because this stuff is literally life and death for so many people. We cannot leave the world like this for so many children of black, coloured and indian friends that we love so much just because your hurt feelings are slowing down the change. That is not okay!
None of this is okay. We have to do and be better. Absolutely starting with me. And i will commit to that once more tomorrow cos i have so much to learn in this thing. But there are also tables which need to be thrown over. Val took one down last night and it was good. There will be more…