About two weeks ago i published an email from a friend of mine who is white, male, South African and presently living in the UK who had some thoughts, feelings, questions and frustrations about life in South Africa and some of the conversations we’d been having on here. i shared his email under the guise of ‘Bob’ and invited a few of my friends to respond, all of which you can catch up with over here [worth a read!]. Bob has taken it all in and had some time to think about it and compose some follow up thoughts, which you are again invited to respond to in the nicest of let’s-all-see-if-we-can-somehow-learn-from-this-and-be-transformed fashion in the comments section [or if you want to respond in a post, email me]. So here is some more from ‘Bob’:

It’s been a great discussion and I have learnt a lot from it. I think one of the main things learnt is that maybe a more humble less frustrated approach should have been taken.

I tend to take things as I see them, when it comes to a starting point and so the points I raised were points that I have read in other news, blogs and comments. These points struck a nerve with me and in order for me to get my head around things I thought it best to start by putting those points out there in order to get feedback and better understand the issues.

There have been so many great responses as blog posts and comments and these have given me a lot to think over. Some have been eye opening and given me a lot to think over and adjust my way of seeing things and others have prompted further questions, the “I see what you are saying, but…” type ones. My responses to these are not to say I disagree with you, but rather it is my way of eliminating things in order to come to a more balanced point of view. Its just how my mind works (rightly or wrongly). As an example there are many ways to join wood, however only one way is fit for the purpose that you need wood joined for. I generally will try multiple ways before giving in and using the right way, because only then does it make sense to me.

I thought the best way to respond would be to answer each person at a time, rather than jumping around posts and comments. I have not responded to all points raised, this is not to say that what was posted by various people was not taken notice of, it was.

I had also come up with a number of responses to various people and points. However following reading a link that Brett sent me (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710.html –  AN EXCELLENT READ!!!!!), some of my responses seemed very insignificant all of a sudden. So it was back to the drawing board and here is what I came up with.

I would like to say that, though I may not get everything right I am genuinely here looking to make sense of things, understand, learn and grow… so please bear with me and the way my mind works…

Megan – As my harshest critic I thought I would start with your post [Find comment in comments section here]

You had some pretty harsh words for me and at first I actually thought you were a troll and had to ask Brett. After your rant you said… “hate your pronouncements that are from the voice of knowing better, without doing a thing to engage, understand, imagine, talk and listen.”

I never claimed to know better and what you are criticising me for “without doing a thing to engage, understand, imagine, talk and listen”, is the very thing I am doing. I can’t listen or engage without asking the questions that I have. My questions are based on where I am at in my journey (which albeit is probably the very start of it). I genuinely want to understand and grow more and that was what I had to go on to start. They were questions based on initial observations and thoughts based on my point of view and by asking those questions I can listen and reshape my thoughts and points of view.

While I think that sometimes a direct “Hey brother catch a wake up” is needed. I do think that your approach does nothing for the conversation especially to encourage a white person to get involved. Your comment is more likely to drive people back to square one and not engage for fear of being berated for wanting to engage.

ChevsLife [Find comment in comments section here]

I really liked your comment and it really got what I was thinking with regards to (amongst other points) government exploiting the poor and apartheid, to maintain power and serve their own interests. I think that is where a lot of my frustration lies, in that I see (at the moment and I am not saying I am right) government using race to divide us in order to distract people from the issues that government isnt dealing with.

Alexa [Read blog post response here]

You made an excellent point about recognising the past issues but not needing to feel guilty about it. I think a lot of people white/better- well-off do feel guilty about the past or (from a non racial point) their better lot in life versus those less well off. This means that they don’t want to be engaged with people who aren’t as lucky as they are, more often than not because they don’t know and don’t have the tools to deal with the uncomfortableness of the situation. Even those who started from a point of disadvantage and worked dam hard to get to that “middle class”/wealthier state feel guilty and are then seen as turning their back on where they came from. It’s a difficult one and if people don’t realise that they have nothing to feel guilty about, when it comes to the actions of others, they will be more defensive. By removing guilt but recognising someones plight and seeing them as people, we can form strong real honest relationships.

I also agree that engagement without fear of condemnation is important. I am not saying that this will be any less uncomfortable or that it’s about the white perspective, but many post apartheid whites were brought up with a way of thinking. This way of thinking in most cases misses out key information and life experiences, so I think that it is about working with white people to alter their way of thinking to include histories, life experiences and understanding of others points of view without condemnation, as condemnation breeds guilt and guilt breeds defensiveness and no interest to engage.

I think associating with people unlike us when we are the odd one out (no matter the group make up, 1 person from a race group with a bunch of people from another or a poorer person in amongst a group of wealthy people) will always be uncomfortable and that person will be mistrusted by the group. Why? Because that one person is different and the group as a whole doesn’t know that persons motivations for being there.

I have spent a number of nights, spending time with friends in Langa at shebeens (not the mainstream ones) and in Manenberg. i felt massively uncomfortable because those that didn’t know me, didn’t trust me. Cops (1 coloured 1 black) pulled me over when leaving Manenberg wanting to know what I was doing there, was I buying drugs? The same for entering Langa, we were told by our friends that they would meet us at a certain point and escort us in… not something my black friends needed to do when they came to visit me.

I think you were spot on about us celebrating together but not healing together.

I am wanting to engage and I don’t see myself as losing power as I don’t have that much power and wealth anyway, but yes I do see what you are saying, especially from those whites who have IMMENSE wealth. I do though have a follow on question from this though. What about the black leadership of the country and the black super wealthy, they don’t want change either because that will mean possibly losing their power and wealth?

Stephan [Find comment in comment section here]

I don’t think it’s about giving up what we have worked hard for, it’s about doing our bit to help lift up our brother or sister. I think it’s a shift that humanity needs to do as whole and its not unique to South Africa or even Africa and I don’t think that it has anything to do with race (although in Africa the wealth gap is clearly defined by race because of the past). So many of us live beyond our needs or have more than enough to provide for our family and secure their future. I also think that we should enjoy the finer things in life, especially if we have worked hard to achieve them. But do we NEED everything? Should our success mean paying people poorly so we make a better profit? I don’t think so.

Marlyn [Read blog response here] 

I am not trying to play victim, I am though wanting to understand things from a different perspective. I am not a victim but I am confused about where I stand in South Africa.

I make no argument that I haven’t benefitted from the past. I have.

Yes, I have visited Langa and Manenberg and felt uncomfortable and treated suspiciously as an outsider.

I agree totally, I need to acknowledge the suffering of the past, but what I don’t understand and what frustrates me is that the suffering continues from the very people who fought the suffering of the past.

I think there is also a difference between someone saying “Get over it” and saying “move forward”. Structures remain in place because those in power allow them to. I am not saying go to opposite extremes, but they do need to be addressed in a balanced and methodical way.

I genuinely don’t see race, I see people. But yes the apartheid government did engineer things, which the effects of are still present today, so with that said my outlook may differ or be skewed but that is what I am wanting to work on.

I totally agree UCT (and others) do need more black (female) professors, deans and so on. So why then isn’t there this change? Especially as the chancellor is a black women. Surely she has that power to employ a more balanced faculty?

You raise an excellent point about invisible privilege factors and a lot of whites do need further education about this, because it doesn’t even appear on our day to day radar.

I totally agree with you about the conditions the vast majority of South Africans had to live and grow up in during apartheid. But what about now…It was the current government who disbanded the specialised anti gang and drug police units, the current government who is not building or upgrading schools, it is the current government who is leaving tens of thousands of school books in warehouses and not delivering them to schools in need, it’s the current government whose ward councillors are charging people for the keys to their free home in poor communities and it’s the current government who hasn’t significantly increased minimum wage or put proper HR regulations in place.

You also mention the opportunities of White people in the suburbs getting in decent schools and having a better start in life. On the whole I agree with this, but it’s not entirely accurate. If I were to live in the same house that I grew up in, firstly there is no way I could afford to buy there and secondly they would struggle to get into Rondebosch or SACS as we would be outside the catchment area, even though I went to Rondebosch. These catchment areas have been reduced to accommodate pupils for poorer more disadvantaged areas, who have just as much right to that eduction. I agree that the balance is still not there, but it is getting there and should get there faster.

Looking at ANC corruption and business, I hear what you are saying, but…

  • ANC corruption is what we hear about pretty much all the time, by what I hope is a balanced unbiased media
  • Why hasn’t the government increased minimum wage?
  • Why are HR regulations and hiring processes so poor? My wife, who is in HR is constantly amazed and shocked that people need to attached a photo to their application, or questions about disabilities are asked or job adverts are placed “Seeking experienced 20-30 female”.
  • Labourers and domestic workers need better wages and more fairer wages

I would like to also point out that I was referring to small white owned businesses (the ones that operate fairly). It’s only the big multinationals who have the money for the legal clout to skirt around things to maintain power. I now source work for the business from the UK and we try to use bright people who have started life from a disadvantaged point for contracts. We then work with them to help them develop as self employed individuals and going on to find and manage other contracts from within SA and the rest of the world.

With regards to your point on donations. Yes the west offers (and in some cases assumes that Africa needs it), but if South Africa doesn’t want it they are free to make the choice to say no thanks. Not sure if you are aware but the UK has committed £170 million (I may be off by a couple of million) of its regional aid budget to South Africa for 2015/16 with a yearly top up of £80 million each year thereafter with no plans to cap that. If SA doesn’t want it then tell the UK, there are plenty of impoverished areas in the UK (to the same extent as South Africa) that could REALLY do with it.

Of course there are strings attached, same goes for the aid/investment from China (or the aid from SA to other African countries), but once again it’s our leaders who accept the terms. What confuses is that on the one hand the west is called on for this that and the other and then they are told not to interfere and get out of Africa. It’s the swapping of one imperialistic agenda for another (western for eastern – china tells SA not to give the Dalai Lama visa or small mineral mining, carried out by Chinese miners and not employing local people)

I agree my humanity may be damaged, which is why I am on this path to change that. Its not easy when it comes to self reflection and imbedded unaware thoughts.

Tsholo [Read blog response here]

Thanks for calling me on my statement of “moving in reverse”. That was very much a point of vent first, think later. I totally agree with you regarding white privilege and still working to try get my head around it there is a lot to breakthrough and fully understand and not having the opportunity to experience it from the other side does not make it any easier to grasp… but I continue to try.

Thank you for your perspective of the statue issue. I have never seen them as a celebration but as markers of points in history. I can see now how they are used to celebrate and that in so doing continue to cause upset. point taken view changed.

I found your perspective on “What Colonialism brought to SA” really great and never thought about it in that way in that Africa’s progress was interrupted, but surely the same could be said for other nations, countries and people across history, what makes Africa so special in this regard? Is it because in terms of history it’s relatively fresh still?. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Africans were sitting on their thumbs waiting to be rescued and I apologise if that’s how it came out. The question was very much based on other arguments I have heard from “one-sided-ness” and want to understand more from a more balanced perspective.

On your aid to Africa with strings attached point, I covered this in my response to Marlyn.

Yes I am well aware that black people donate and do humanitarian things, apologies if you thought that was a point of criticism. I guess what I was interested in was when you donate and so on, is it view with skepticism or if a wealthy black person donates is it seen as a guilt payment?

When I give, I do so because I want to give back and help where I can, but then I am told by some that whites don’t belong. So my humanity is based on me being white.

Conclusion – Sorry If I didnt get to respond to you all… 

…as you can see I have written a small book and there is loads more that is swimming around in mind. I guess the point is that I have taken everything that has been said on board and am now able to start to see things from a more informed perspective.

I will continue to listen and digest. I am now able to have those conversations with people and better understand where they are coming from.

I think the thing for a lot of whites is that they dont understand or see the difference between racial acceptance and racism. If you havent yet read http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710.htm read it.

I have a long way to go and I am sure that my comments, questions and reflections above are probably not totally there yet. I am though asking the questions to change my perspective and outlook.

I won’t be responding further, I will though be reading any further responses with interest, listening hard and trying to correct areas that need correction in my life.

Sorry Megan if I am not quite as far along as you might like, but every journey needs to start somewhere.

[for Andrea’s response to this piece, click here]

[To return to the original mail by Bob and a link to all the responses that have followed, click here]