I would like to think that I am good at putting my thoughts onto paper (virtual or not) but sometimes I come off as ignorant or unaware of something because the thought process that made me think or say something just wasn’t explained properly. So when the topic of transformation came up I was weary to even try to say anything about it.
If you have been following the discussion there have been some really great pieces on transformation and wow! Some people have hit it right on the mark. As a whole I feel as though my opinion may be a combination of ideas that I have read mixed in with my outlook on life based on my experiences. But here goes anyway…
Honestly, if you had asked me five years ago I would have said something like, “we are on the right track”, “what is the problem?” “racism, nope that is a thing of the past”, “white privilege? What is that?”
5 years is a lot of time to change a lot of thinking processes though and so as it stands today I can say that I disagree with everything that I had thought about transformation in South Africa. I was living in a very sheltered life where the world’s problems could be solved if you had an education and some sort of drive to do something with your life. However, things are not as simple as that. Simply expecting someone who is the first in their family to attend school and then suddenly become the next Barack Obama is an anomaly, not the norm.
I think that the biggest problem is that transformation seeks to quietly bring us together while Apartheid was not quiet about separating us. There aren’t laws that force us to get to know someone of the opposite race or even of a different culture for that fact. I’m not saying that, that would be a solution. What I am trying to say is that there was this huge thing that happened that affected everyone and for the most part a large number of people got together to fix it. Together. But now we are trying to ‘fix’ things individually and no longer as a country. We no longer have the drive to do something together as a country.
Remember 2010? How it felt to be South African? It felt awesome! I could even go out on a limb here and say that the togetherness we experienced then was a glimpse of what transformation should be like. We were actively teaching each other things, like how to blow a vuvuzela or even where the best place is to get food before a match.
Sadly, the World Cup came and went. We fell back into our habitual lifestyles that held no diversity.
I am 24 which means that I was born towards the end of the regime that separated a country. I went to a private school with a large white population and for most of my life my best and closest friends have always been white. Having said that I feel grossly incompetent and unqualified to say that there needs to be a change. I mean come on. I fall into the middle class category in a country where a large amount of its citizens fall below the bread line. I don’t know the struggle and to even try to act as if I do would be insulting to a person who does know what it is like to go to bed hungry again, for a third night in a row.
So from my middle class view I will tell you how I wish transformation would happen from my own experiences.
Firstly, could we just acknowledge that we are different? I used to think that when a person said to me that they don’t even regard me as black that it was a compliment. That they saw me as a human before they saw me as a black human. I don’t think that, that approach works. Being black is something that is inherently me. You cannot miss the colour of someone’s skin. What is happening is that a person is in effect saying, “yup, you are a certain colour BUT because you act like me, speak like me or even dress like me I can overlook your colour and we can form some sort of relationship”. That doesn’t sit well with me anymore.
We have to acknowledge that we are different because our differences are what will bring us together. If you think that what I’m saying is impossible then let me explain.
I don’t know about you but I love learning new things. I can bet you that at some point you have gotten lost in the YouTube loop and that is because humans love getting new information (even if it is useless to you as you will never build a boat. Yet, you still watched 10 minutes of that video right?).
Learning new things is exciting, challenging and brings out a new side to you that you may never had known existed. Having a friend of a different culture, ethnicity or even gender and never learning from them is such a bore.
Here is where the whole thing about how our differences can bring us together which will be my second point.
Let’s start learning from each other. Not only on a one on one basis but on a mass scale. Having one friend who isn’t ‘like’ you really does not count as that is not a representation of the wider scope of people.
I know that there are cultural and religious barriers which sometimes seem like the end of the world. I have had Hindu, Muslim, Portuguse, Afrikaans and even an Athiest friend or two. Each experience taught me something that I will always treasure. Because I love learning new things…
With this new found keenness for learning from each other we also need to be willing to understand that past injustices do not go away overnight.
This is my third and last point. Let us all be aware and mindful of each other. Not every white person owns a ten bedroom house with 6 cars just like not every black person is living on the street. But the reality is that the general trend leans towards the effect of white privilege. (Brett has some awesome pieces on that and please do yourself a favour and read them, because I can’t begin to put it as well as some people do).
I feel as though I have oversimplified a very complex situation. That was not my intention. This is merely an expression of how I feel on the matter in less than 1000 words. Transformation does not happen overnight.
So I will keep on hoping for a better future because we are not quite there yet. (But we will get there, of that I am sure)