A short while ago i introduced this panel to you made up of friends of mine from South Africa who are from a variety of different race groups/backgrounds and then invited you to ask any race-related questions you might have. The opinions of the members of the panel are in no way expected to represent the thoughts, feelings and ideas of a whole race group or culture, nor are they anticipated to be complete expositions into the heart and soul and depth of every question asked. They are simply opinions, thoughts and feelings of that individual, who is someone i deeply respect and think is worth hearing from and collectively i hope they will bring a strong degree of variety and depth to answering every question we look at. Not every panel member will necessarily answer each question, but i am hoping to have a few different perspectives on each question we tackle.

Because the answers were slightly longer and worth thinking about a little more deeply, i decided to simply use the first question in this post and i may add some answers as more come in, but in the meantime:

QUESTION 1: [Dave Child]

 “As South Africans, in 2014, how do we begin to frame our identities (as whites, blacks, coloureds etc) in a young democracy with such a long and deep history of racial hatred and discrimination?”

Caley Daniels:

I think we’ve all experienced one or two human beings who are still caught up in the culture of discrimination. What’s sad to me is that it’s usually the opinion of the parents that has been passed on to the children – and I think that is where the problem lies: ignorance breeds ignorance (that’s what it boils down to – racism, sexism, homophobia, whatever). If there are still people of the previous generation whom we can’t rely on to lead us by example, then the change has to come from us. I take my stance from Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:12 (But this can apply to everyone in the context of the question) “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

I say this with the utmost respect for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations which includes individuals who have been through more than we could ever imagine! But we know better than to continue in those ways. We have better circumstances, and environment more peaceful than it was in their time. We should be building on that and using what’s in our hands right now: an opportunity to use acceptance to eradicate ignorance, discrimination and racial hatred.

Tony Nzanzah: 

That is an excellent question that will sadly be visited for thousands of years to come. The thing that is against us is that our past has been framed through the eyes of race and the reality is that some of these feelings are deeply entrenched.

All one has to do at times is to read one negative article about one of the politicians either from the left or right and follow the online comments. Some of the comments remind me how far we are to fully embrace diversity and celebrate it. I believe this journey of transformation takes root when I choose in my interactions to refrain from referring to “them” or “those people” to us and to see myself as part of the whole. It is probably easier said than done and the recent elections in South Africa were a good reminder. You see some of the racial profiling is sublimely entrenched in our society through the forms that we are forced to fill in that ask us to refer us to our racial tag.

We need to be comfortable with people with a different shade and as a Christian, I believe that we are all created equally. Yes, at times the access to resources plays a role in dividing us further. I need to learn to walk across the room and reach out to others and not feel that I have to be invited. It requires me to be comfortable first in my own skin before I can try to reach out to others. One of the influential post- apartheid presidents, Thabo Mbeki, penned the famous words, “I am an African.” In my own journey I tend to embrace my Africanness as a way to help bridge the huge cultural chasm that exists in South Africa. This to me is a new way of referring to who we are as people that see themselves better than just the pigmentation of their skin colour!

We need a new revolution of finding each other and identifying each other as an African. This is hard work that a lot of us refrain from embarking as this hard work comes with a sprinkling of pain and tears. I have cringed when I hear people from a different cultural group saying things as “I understand those people”; this comes out as condescending and out of touch with reality.

It is dangerous to believe that since one has tuned their taste buds to eat tripe or sheep heads this qualifies them to utter such patronising comments. We all need to undergo a cultural detox that removes preconceived ideologies that silently occupy our minds. The battle is really about how I free about myself as opposed to how others need to be freed. As Africans we need to divorce ourselves from victim mentality that only aims to imprison us in the past. The challenge is not out there in some leafy suburb or township but is in our minds. Fear is a powerful weapon that paralyses us as the unknown outcome can be more daunting. The Bible talks about ‘renewing our minds’ and this is a process that is needed to allow us to see each other beyond racial tags. This also speaks about our view of people.  

A utopia of a colourless society is a figment of our imagination but we need to learn to dance with each other to a new rhythm that celebrates our uniqueness as Africans. A perfect dance is only possible when dancers are willing to step on each other toes, laugh at their mistakes and be enriched by them. Come let’s go dancing!

John Scheepers:

 When it comes to identity our world has such a strong push to what I call unique conformity.  In a world drunk with the quest for individuality there exists somewhat paradoxically a co-dependant drive for conformity.  Somehow the uniqueness of racial identity is seen as an evil thing.  We must strive, we are often told, to “not see colour” anymore.  While this might be admirable when it comes to judging a person’s character or ability, it is not the whole picture when it comes to culture.  It is not wrong to understand, at least in part, your identity racially or culturally. But it is when you understand the values of your race or culture as the normalising values by which you may judge the value or worth of another culture that things go wrong.

The Bible celebrates both the unity (common humanity) and the diversity of our world.  The creation narrative displays both the unity of origin, of structure and of order as well as the diversity of animal and plant life.  Humanity is then given a cultural mandate to take up the raw materials of creation and to shape and use them to fill the earth with God’s glory.  Even sin cannot fully destroy that original intent with the result that in the picture language of Revelation the splendour of the nations are brought into the New Jerusalem.  The riches and beauty of every culture and every nation, I suspect, will somehow be redeemed and included into God’s new creation.  Note also that the picture of the redeemed people of God is not simply one homogeneous church service but a seething mass of diversity, people from every tribe, tongue and nation together under one King.  Equality and diversity are not mutually exclusive. 

As a Christian though, the ultimate thing is not my cultural identity but my identity in Christ.  For so many of us who call ourselves Christ followers, we have simply tacked our Christianity on to our cultural identity and values.  But the biblical picture is far more radical than that.  In Christ we have died to our old self riddled through with sin and self-interest and been raised to a new life of hope, joy and renewed identity.  My primary identity is now no longer rooted in my family, my culture or my race.  My primary identity is as a member of God’s new family, his new people through whom he is bringing hope and restoration to a broken and dying world. 

I do not stop being a white, English-speaking male but it is no longer that which primarily defines me.  I am now set free to, like Christ, lay down my life, my rights, my cultural markers, my skin colour, in service of those who are not like me.  I no longer define my brother by the colour of his skin or the language of his birth but by his inclusion into the people of God.  I have a new identity that both affirms the beauty of my culture or my people and yet sets me free to find my identity in a far bigger and more beautiful story than the shade of my skin.

Tasha Melissa Govender

Hi Dave, you know the question of identity is so tricky. There comes the process of defining identity and defining what constitutes as identity. As with everyone else, I can only give you my own opinion on what I believe it to be – it may be biased but I’ll try to be as honest as I possibly can. 

I identify myself first and foremost as a female and then as a South African. I always find there is a tendency to classifying ourselves by race and then nationality, I don’t necessarily agree with this – I simply see my Indian ethnicity as my heritage as opposed to my identity. 

Given our very young democracy, I feel the notion of identity falls into a very tricky arena. I think the crucial factor is that within a society that has so many different facets be it interracial relationships or individuals being adopted into families with different ethnicities than themselves there is a large arena in which the individual begins to define and determine their own identity. I may be simplifying it too much but I truly believe it depends on the individual and the space in which they feel comfortable calling home. At this point it now becomes the responsibilities of those the individual comes in contact with to be open to the possibility of this person identifying with something that may seem other than what they are. I really hope this made sense!
 

Do you have any thoughts, ideas or feelings to add? Please jump on to the comments section and voice them respectfully – we would LOVE to hear from you.

Did you find this question and answer helpful in any way? Well then please SHARE it across your social networks so more people can become a part of this conversation.

Is there a question you would like to ask the panel that relates to an aspect of race and culture? Pop it in an email and send it to me at brettfish@hotmail.com

[To continue to question 2 of the panel relating to ‘When will we be ‘over’ apartheid?, click here]

[To view other aspects of our race-related conversations on this blog, click here]

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