race

So this past week all the bloggers of colour have been writing to all the other bloggers of other colour but since they do not know each other personally [maybe the main problem?] they are simply sticking them on their blog for mostly people of their own colour to read and cheer and like and comment on… although every now and then a person of the other colour stumbles upon it and makes themselves known…

ALL THE WHITE PEOPLES

It started with this piece by Ntsiki Mazwai titled Dear White South Africans where the word ‘dear’ was clearly chosen only for its letter-beginning properties. If you have not read it yet then please go and do so before continuing [and if you want perhaps greater insight, take some time reading the comments and be very sure that this is not only one person’s opinion]. The gist of it is a response to all the white South Africans changing the idea of Heritage Day to Braai Day and begins with this very all-inclusive broad-swept statement:

Owing to this concept of Braai Day, I am forced to have this honest and somewhat uncomfortable conversation with you. I had hoped that since you have grown white people, they would teach you better…but they have not.

If the opening sentence is not directive enough of where this piece might go, the next paragraph throws off the gloves completely and no holds are barred as we are reminded that as white people we are descendants of such fun folks as Hitler and friends:

Let’s start at the beginning……my dear white people, you are not descendants of this land called Afrika. Afrika has its own children that it has birthed and nurtures.

It is written in the history books (which your people wrote) that you came from Holland, France, Britain, Spain…..all these are European countries.

The moral of the story is….You are descendants of Europe.

You are the children of Elizabeth, Hitler, Bismarck and others that built their legacy on stealing lands and making people slaves.

And so on, with lots of mention of ‘You white people’ [as in all of us, of course] and the fact that it was only black people who were responsible for the end of apartheid [really interesting when you take a look at her ‘Dear ANC Open Letter’ where she makes it clear that ‘There were many political parties who liberated us…a fact you like to blatantly ignore.’ in fact, i really enjoyed that post of hers much more than this one so give it a read]

While there may be a lot of truth in some of the things Ntsiki writes, she loses a lot of integrity by her continual blatant use of sweeping generalisation:

When you white people speak to a group of black people why do you speak ‘stupid’ English? That thing where you talk down to black workers makes you look stupid.

So absolutely, when that happens it is an abomination of racism and should be stopped. But it is not all white people and if she had given her piece a more balanced tone, i think it would have carried greater weight.

Possibly the strongest part of her piece for me was when she signed off with the words, Your rainbow nations counterparts, especially when i googled the word for full definition and saw adjectives like ‘equivalent’, ‘complement, ‘coequal’ and ‘fellow brother or sister’ as the descriptors.

There is definitely value in reading what she says and understanding this is how she feels and in going through the comments and knowing she is not alone in voicing it. We need to be aware of these voices and not just toss them aside because we disagree with everything they are saying or how it might come across.

A RESPONSE 

Next up i read this blog by someone who calls himself Paul ‘or Juby or Jubez or Jubalizer or Jabualani or whatever you prefer.’ [i suspect that the ‘whatever you prefer’ bit is why he keeps having so many names!] titled ‘A response to “Dear White South Africans”‘ which surprisingly ended up being a response to the above blog post [who would’ve thought with such a deceptive title?]. Again, if you have not read this piece, do yourself a favour and go read the whole thing – this is just a summary of some parts that stood out to me:

Paul addresses Ntsiki directly by starting off with a description or explanation of who he is:

I have read your post and given it much consideration. I should perhaps start by saying that I am a white male who was born and raised in Durban. My heritage is non-Afrikaans, but I am not sure that that makes me ‘English’. I am however English speaking. There are a few issues raised that I would like to share my view on.

It is true that that I am of European descent. My ancestors (mostly in 1820) arrived in South Africa and committed atrocities against black people; enslavement, Apartheid, etc. I was born in the early 1990’s into a privileged life. I will never be able to understand fully what the people of this country went through, the oppression and the humiliation. You will always have my sympathies for what happened.

And then goes on to address specific points she has made. What i liked about Paul’s piece is that it felt quite gracious and humilitous [it’s a word!] in its response where it could quite easily have come across as knee-jerk responsive as Ntsiki’s did to me. And he describes his identity in a way which i really strongly identify with myself:

I would like to talk about identity. I believe that I am African. I might not be black by my family has lived here for 200 years. I have been to Europe and certainly do not consider myself European. African identity is not a matter of race, it’s a matter of culture.  I am a South African because my culture exists nowhere else. It is what makes me who I am. It is my home.

A clever look back into the past extending the argument of why white South Africans should be referred to as ‘European’ into one looking at where the Zulu and Xhosa tribes moved in from, leads him to this witty and apt conclusion: Calling me one of the children of Hitler is like calling you a child of Charles Taylor, this is simply wrong. I could go on endlessly with such arguments. Ultimately, we are South African as our culture exists nowhere else.

Paul gives an understanding of how he sees Heritage day from the point of view of being more inclusive for each person to be able to celebrate their heritage. He also invites the idea of Heritage day being a day of sharing cultures and celebrating the differences in each other.

And Paul’s ending is also a really strong one: My fellow South African

Maybe we should just be focusing on the last lines of these posts and work from there…

ALL THE BLACK PEOPLES

Over on ‘To Muse and Abuse’, Matthew de Klerk responded with his piece titled, ‘Dear Black Bloggers [A Response to Dear White South Africans]’ which i would also highly recommend that you read.

i have to assume the title is a typo as his post seems to be a direct response to Ntsiki and i don’t think he is doing the same thing of generalising that all black bloggers need to hear this stuff, but maybe he opened it up as a response to the many people that were commenting on her blog in agreement as well?

While similiar in content to Paul’s piece, Matthew’s piece does tend to head to more emotional extremes as can be evidenced in his opening:

Emotion can be a dangerous thing. Sure, anger can lend to our words and actions a passionate intensity that enables a vociferous, unbidden expression of what we’re feeling at the time, but it also brings with it a dangerous cloud of obscurity to our thoughts, a choking fog that surmounts clarity and seeps in at the cracks of our rhetoric and renders it illogical, irrational.

Which is why when I read a Facebook-furore piece yesterday entitled “Dear White South Africans” , I was unsurprised to see what can only be described as dangerous, illogical generalisations at play in the form of that ever-emotional issue, race.

There are differences though, as Matthew agrees with Ntsiki that the concept of ‘Braai Day’ which he refers to as ‘a capitalist, consumerist and shallow hijacking of a public holiday’ is not something he is a fan of and has actually written other posts against.

i found this post quite interesting as there is the misdirection of this teaser:

Now then, to the issue at hand: it would be easy to call Mazwai’s blog post a baseless, moronic, stereotyping, hate-mongering mess of oversimplified sweeping generalisations and unfounded accusations, but in lieu of an ad hominem attack, I feel it is better to debunk the article on its own merits and bases.

Followed by a direct dealing and picking apart of Ntsiki’s various points with regards to points like ‘original heritages and countries of origin’ and ‘stealing lands and making people slaves’ by panning the camera out a little and showing how if you take a far enough back look, you will find that everyone is pretty much guilty of the same kind of  thing.

i really liked the  thinking behind this paragraph on ‘multiple contrasting heritages’:

The idea of having multiple contrasting heritages is also not made on logical ground. Yes, technically white people may or may not come from countries where they were the “children” (not literally, obviously) of “Elizabeth, Hitler, Bismarck”, but what of those living in the diaspora, those who were born in countries outside their so-called “homes”? I am ineligible for citizenship in my “homelands” Scotland, France and Britain (so much for being the son of Napoleon and Louis XI, right?), was born in Zimbabwe but have South African citizenship – how then, does my belonging here be erased because a bunch of unrelated humans came before me? In the same light, there are many aspects of these ‘bad’ legacies that can be celebrated: Nazis pioneered rocket engines, Uganda wants to kill gays, and the industrial revolution was thanks mostly to the Scottish people. Any Heritage comes with good and bad: if you chose to celebrate Shaka Zulu’s legacy, you would also have to accept his dark, violent, warmongering side instead of just sanitising his historical image as a faultless black Jesus.

Who tells the story and how we tell it generally has the hugest affect and persuasion on exactly what kind of story is being told. As opposed to necessarily what actually happened.

Matthew makes some strong points debunking ‘facts’ and ‘claims’ that Ntsiki makes, demonstrating them to rather be ‘opinions’, but sadly this is where his emotion starts to take over and what might be well thought-out arguments loses some credibility and likely audience, through the use of descriptors such as ‘weasel-wording-y’ and ‘a magnitude of imbecility that defies description’. Point made, audience lost perhaps. Especially those who already approached the post from an antagonistic stance.

 So, some really good points to be made and read and understood, but also some emotional language to avoid so as not to lose all the good. Matthew might have led us to believe that he was going to debunk the article on its own merits and bases, which he does a lot of, but he can’t resists flinging a final piece of emotionalism to close off his piece.

In short conclusion, this article is nothing but a condescending, patronising, baseless bunch of unfounded opinions and childish assumptions that lead up to grotesque mess of hatemongering drivel. The author should, in future, not be so clinically myopic or as viciously race-hate hungry.

MY THOUGHTS

As someone who has been living in Americaland for the last three years [and been paying careful attention to a lot of the goings on over there with cases like Trayvon Martin and the Ferguson shootings and more] i am pretty convinced that i am not the best person to be speaking into the race/reconciliation/diversity conversations that are so necessary in South Africa, which is why the majority of the posts in the ‘Race’ section of my Taboo Topics’ space on my blog have been written by other people so far, and why a lot of my thought on ‘White Privilege’ were informed by the situations around us in Americaland.

What i DO believe though is that these blog posts are important – all three of them – and maybe even more important is to read the comments and try and hear the heart and tone and conviction behind the comments [difficult online, i know] on each of these posts as that is often where you find the heartbeat of the people as opposed to one person’s ideas or thoughts. If 2000 people are liking and sharing Ntsiki’s post [i don’t know if that’s the number – might be more, might be less] then we can’t simply dismiss it as ‘one person’s opinion’ and if it is our friends who are the ones sharing it, then that seems like a great point of connection for good healthy conversation.

And that we REALLY need to be talking about this stuff. Apartheid as an official thing might be dead but its roots are very much alive and unless we keep on cutting them off when they appear, or doing the hard difficult, maybe even dangerous work of digging under the ground to remove them completely, things will not change.

I’m leave you with some thoughts and a response from my new friend Ambu Madilonga [well almost friends, he hasn’t accepted my request yet on Facebook] who posted this to Ntsiki on Facebook, which i think contains a lot of generous Truth:

Molo Sisi…

I’m a SOWETAN (born and raised, in the 80s), a son to political activists (one of them being a veteran in the ANC, SACP& SANCO) and am Venda/Tswana.

I have to say I shared your post on Facebook because it is thought provoking and would like people I’m friends with to engage with such thinking.
Your posts suggests,I think, that you are a great person who is very passionate about her South Afrika and her people. But it also suggests that you are upset with certain people and issues in our beloved country. Now, when you express issues from a place of anger, you need to be careful that you don’t overshadow the good points you are trying to put across with emotion filled statements.
Although I agree with certain things here, I must say that some points here were made without any research and make you seem very impulsive (don’t mean to judge, sorry if it comes across that way).
Yes, Some white South Africans still undermine Black South Africans.
Yes, Some white South Africans still think Black South Africans are dumb.
Yes, Some white South Africans still think they are superior to black South Africans.
Yes, Some white South Africans still don’t wanna engage/interact with Black South Africans.

Oh and yes we all must remember our heritage and not overshadow it with just braaing (Rev Tutu is going to kill me for saying this, because he was the spokesperson for National Braai Day in 2007)
And celebrating is going to be messy, I mean can imagine all cultures in SA celebrating their own heritage? But it would be a beautiful mess none the less.

But please..
NO, Let’s not kick anyone out of SA (unless they are here illegally and harming our people and land)
NO, Lets not remind anyone that they are the minority.
NO, Let’s not do what their forefathers did (Racism, Apartheid and Hate speech).
Rather…
Let’s teach them what their ForeFathers did not teach them, what we (black South Africans where taught by ours)
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
“If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.” -Mandela

BLACK AND WHITE South Africans HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY
– To make friends with each other
– To respect each other
– To learn from each other
– To lead together
– To forget the Crappy past and embrace the present and work for a good future for all.

All of this starts with people like you and I who are in strategic places or have circles of influence.
For example, I’m friends with both whites and blacks and so I teach blacks that some whites are not bad and I also teach whites that some blacks are not bad. Practically, I invite my white friends to SOWETO and take them on long drives and visits to the beloved township. There I teach them our history briefly, feed them our food and show them our places. I very gently suggest that they atleast one of the Black african lingos (like a white South African in KZN, i tell them to try zulu). I do the same with my black friends and family. I bring them to the suburbs to hang out with the whites.

Of course its easy to say what’s in our heads when offended but we need to be careful to not go public with those before we have processed them first.

Hats off to you for your bravery and speaking out. You are one of the people that we need to help this country be what it can be for all.

Ndo Livhuwa nga maanda

Be blessed.
Ambu.

Ps. to you who commented on this in a less than childish way… SIES!

[For more Race-related conversations from a number of different perspectives, head over here]

 

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