So those of you who follow my blog will be aware that i received an email from a friend who wanted to remain anonymous but was wrestling with some questions and issues as a white South African who is currently living overseas but looking in. i published Bob’s email over here.

i then invited some of my friends to respond and so far Alexa [white woman], Marlyn [coloured guy] and Tsholo [black woman] have shared some of their thoughts as well as a number of other people in the comment sections of each post.

And then i got this email from another white friend, Colette, which takes this whole conversation in a bit of a different direction so i thought i would include it:

Colette

[My name is Colette. I’m a young, white South African with a passion for my country. I’ve worked in various contexts and currently am self – employed in the adult education sector.]

Having read through ‘Bob’s’ story as well as the comments and the other related posts, I had mixed reactions. For the most part I’m in tears.

1. I know that this issue is never going to be an easy one and, for all that I may not fully agree with everything, I am still grateful to see someone have the courage to say what they think even when it is not necessarily ‘politically correct’. To the commenter who called him ‘an idiotic, arrogant, ignorant, bigoted, whining racist’ I have to ask how this helps the situation? I don’t agree with his point of view but insulting him doesn’t help to change it. I think part of the problem is that many people are too scared to speak out and voice what they are thinking because they are too scared of the response. I know that is why I tend to lurk – reading posts but not responding. I want to ask questions, to understand other perspectives and ask for input but how can I do that when I risk being dropped on from a dizzy height because I’m still trying to unpack my understanding of race and otherness. According to the hierarchy of needs, the issues that we are trying to address only come once the practical needs have been met. We all spend most of our time doing whatever we need to do survive and this does cloud our perceptions of the world. Trying to grapple with the challenges of a broken society is hard, let’s at least give grace to people who are asking questions and trying to understand.

2. Dealing with race and otherness is something that we all face. I will never truly know what it means to be black in South Africa. I can empathise, spend time in the townships, do a thousand other things but I know that it is never really the same. I try my best – please forgive me when I don’t ‘get it’ and let me to grow by correcting me. I’m trying to look beyond my stereotypes but I need help.

3. My heart breaks for this country because I see how much hurt and suffering is still out there. And sometimes I am paralysed by the magnitude of the problems. I don’t know where to begin so I do nothing. I want to be able to help every person I see but I know that it’s not practical. I work in the field of adult education and see so many people who are who are trying to better themselves by taking the opportunities given to them but I also see those who waste opportunities and believe that they should be given everything without working for it. It’s very difficult to help people who don’t want to be helped…

4. The issue of white privilege is something that I’m guessing I still don’t fully understand but I’m trying. And yes, I do often feel guilty for it. I know I’m a white middle class South African but please see beyond the stereotype. I would love to be able change things and, where I can, I will try. There’s a lot more I would love to say but I don’t know how to. I’m writing this as a young, white, South African who has a lot of questions but I want to listen and to understand as best I can.

Kind regards,

Colette Tennison

[To return to the beginning of the story and have access to all the posts, click here]

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