Johnscheepers

One of the most insidious forms of racism or paternalism is to take the voice of another away from them.  I do not intend to speak for black people in this post and so rob them of their own dignity and humanity.  You see, I am white and so I can only ever speak as a white male. While I can resist speaking for another I can choose to speak with another so adding strength and tone to the richness of their own voice.  So this is not a post speaking for black people but just one white person speaking to another choosing to join my voice to speak with those who are not like me.

 

I am like you: I grew up a standard white guy in the 80’s.  Life was good on my whites only beaches.  Education was excellent at my whites only school.  I loved the freedom to ride my bike all over my whites only suburb and play in the streets unsupervised.  My family were not wealthy and my parents worked hard to put food on the table.  But we did enjoy the benefits of my dad’s job reservation, brilliant medical aid and standard working hours and conditions.  Not to mention relative proximity to our work.  I also sometimes find myself thinking of these days as the good old days and wistfully wishing for a similar childhood experience for my kids.  Except the whites only part because my kids aren’t.

 

But the truth is there was (and in many cases still is) a radically different childhood story for most people in our country.  The system of apartheid was as brilliant in its execution as it was evil in its intent.  The economic and social system was a masterstroke in creating social instability.  And the resulting poverty, migrant labour, absent fathers, informal settlements, crime, forced removals, gangsterism, substance abuse, lucrative trade in contraband, imprisonment, restricted movements, shootings and a live for the moment hedonism through sex and violence, bears testimony to its effectiveness.   Not forgetting the humiliation of the “Bantu education” system, designed to create a race of inferior servants to serve white privilege. While the law books may have been wiped clean Bantu education is alive and well today in the hearts and minds of millions of South Africans throughout our land.  Ah the good old days…

 

And yet… I am not like you: Please can you stop assuming that because I share the same pigment as you that I also share your political, racial or cultural views.  I cannot tell you how many times complete strangers have given me the “boys club” wink or nod followed by some disparaging remark about “the blacks”.  You don’t know me, so please do not presume to know what I think or feel.  If the criteria you are using to make your comment is the colour of my skin, then please look deeper. I am not like you.

 

The world is profoundly white-centric: White is normal in our world.  Do you know what skin colour is?  Do you know what the standard language of instruction is?   What is the international language of business?  An educated person is someone who has grasped the intricacies of a western education system. Our lives are governed by a western/white concept of time, achievement and community structure.  Yes that is just a reality and there is probably nothing I can do about it. But wake up! This world is not an equal world.  It is a white-centric world where white people have set the standards and the norms for all of us.  Is it the best system?  Who says?  Who gets to make that call?  Even biblical characters are normally assumed to be white.  Even some of our cherished biblical virtues we might find to be more white and western virtues than actual biblical ones…

 

I am not an idiot because I do not vote for your particular political party.  Politics in South Africa is far more complex and nuanced than many of my white friends care to acknowledge.  Our history has made it complex.  That history still informs life today in deeply significant ways.  We are a young democracy with many challenges and many obstacles. There is no singular saviour in South African politics. The charge often levelled at black people that they vote unthinkingly for the ANC is possibly true for many people.  But how many white people vote unthinkingly for the DA?

 

You are not colour-blind: I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this one.  Mostly from people whose friends all look like them as they hang out in places and live in areas where all the people mostly look like them.  If you live in South Africa, colour is an issue and we need to learn to engage with it with integrity, honesty and humility.  The claim to be colour-blind in my opinion is normally a plea to pretend everything is ok so we can ignore the hard conversations and escape to our white ghettos of privilege.  Or in its worst expression it normally goes something like this “I don’t see colour but…(insert disparaging remark about why black people do not live up to your expectations of how society should work).

 

White privilege is real:  if you are white you have and continue to benefit from the system of apartheid and its continued influence through attitudes, accrued social and economic capital as well as the continued crippling effects of apartheid policies.  You are regarded as smarter, trustworthier and harder working, until proven otherwise, if you are white.

 

Many of us may not have committed the sins of our fathers in the implementing, supporting or perpetuating of the apartheid state.  Nor were we guilty of courting evil’s shadowy twin sister quiet acquiescence.  But all of us who are white have benefited and continue to benefit from those sins. White Economic Empowerment was after all around long before Black Economic Empowerment.  So we may not in one sense be guilty of any crimes.  And you may resent the idea of being held accountable for other people’s sins but what we cannot deny is that we have benefited from those sins.  And while you could make a case for being not guilty, I would suggest that we have a far greater calling than proving our innocence and that is grabbing our responsibility to put right the sins from which we have benefited.  How?  Now that is a question we must ask together and a road we must be prepared to walk together if we are to emerge with any true answers.

 

If you are a Christian and you think talk of racial reconciliation and politics is taking away from preaching the gospel you need to read your Bible again.  The story line of the Bible is not simply about saving souls for heaven.  It is about the restoration of all things through Christ.  It is about the restoring of true humanity, of dignity and of brotherly love.  Sin deceived us with its promises of freedom, self-actualisation and satisfaction and instead led us into creating a world of injustice, hatred, prejudice and individual gain.  Jesus has come to rescue us not in order to take us away to some disembodied heaven in the clouds.  He has rescued us not only from the punishment for our sins but he has invited us to join with his far greater and more beautiful story of redemption, restoration and healing.

 

One day he will restore all things but now his kingdom has broken into history and he calls us to live new lives, lives that embody his kingdom of justice, mercy, peace, joy, beauty and reconciliation.  Racial and national reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel.  And we in the church ought to be leading the way.  Our Saviour is the one who is so unlike us, so truly superior to us and yet he laid down his life so that we might live, so that we might be restored to God and to one another.  And so the gospel leads us in this to lay down our lives for those not like us, to serve, to love, to give up our rights and privileges so that they who are not like us might also be restored to God and to us.

 

[For more great conversations on Race from all kinds of different angles and perspectives, click here]

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