i received two sets of comments after the last post in this series and felt that both were worth sharing.

The first was from Sabrina and was really helpful in reminding me that racism can be localised. One strong example we came against when we were in the States is that the term ‘coloured’ there when referring to a person of colour, is very strongly racist, whereas in South Africa, for the most part, it refers to a particular group of people, who as far as i have been able to ascertain, do not take it offensively [although some prefer to refer to themselves as brown] but definitely doesn’t carry the strength it does in the USA. So Sabrina reminded me that the ‘girl’/’boy’ post was referring specifically to the South African context:

Sabrina: I totally hear what you are saying and totally agree that people should respect each other and use respectful terms to do so. But I think that you must also acknowledge that in this particular blog because you used specific terms you are speaking from an ethnocentric perspective and so what you say is culturally constrained and not a universal truth. So for example I live in Ireland and many women of all ages refer to each other as ‘girls’. I’m in my 50s and call myself a girl and refer to my friends as the girls. In fact I smart a little if someone refers to me as that ‘woman’ over there. For most women in our culture the term ‘girl’ would be considered endearing rather than insulting. For males in Ireland the word ‘boy’ would really only be used for prepubescent boys, then they become teenagers, young men or men but just like women use the word ‘girl’ men would tend to use words like ‘guys’ or ‘lads’. So my point is what is insulting in one country or culture might not be insulting in another country or culture. So I totally agree with your point that people should address each other respectfully in a way that is acceptable within that particular society. However to dictate particular words makes it only applicable to the the example society that you discuss here rather than universal to all societies. It is a little difficult to explain so I hope that you ‘get’ what I mean.

My good friend Nkosi [who is probably being way more gracious than he needs to be] weighed in with these very powerful words that really made me stop and think. Boom – punch to the face right there.

Nkosi: My difficulty with this series Brett is that I feel it is more based on individual experience which I always try to avoid. Individual experience leads to reactionary actions which are limited actions. The fact that in this status in particular we are talking about “boy and a girl” and we already know they are black shows the biggest problem of racism. The fact that a domestic worker is black and “must not be refered to be a boy or a girl” shows a problem. Why does the domestic worker have to be black? Now for me the solution to racism will come from asnwering that simple question! Racism won’t end as long as blacks are still the definition of a domestic workers in houses of white people, they are petrol attendants in cars of white people, they are tellers in shopping malls of white people etc. So I am just going to read other peoples responses on this!

Just a further input on this issue, in my culture it is boys who wakes up to clean up after dogs mess and the irony of it all is that the boys are normally wakened up by their fathers but the same fathers wakes up to clean the dogs mess of white people. The dignity of the white peoples gardener’s is what matters for me!

In our culture shacks were created for pigs but it is our fathers who find themselves in shacks (Dignity again).

So basically for me racism is the power that puts white people as a group on top (to be the domestic helped) and black people as a group at the bottom (to be the domestic helper)!

Nkosi makes some strongly helpful points. And i believe he is speaking of the bigger picture and the systems that need to be changed and there is a whole lot of ongoing conversation about that. [Which often feels helpless because it is so huge and so much needs to be done]. So maybe the best thing is to stop for a moment and just read what he said again and let that sink in a little. Maybe it will help emphasise the hecticness if i was to replace myself and my father in that story and then try tune into those emotions.

So i don’t want to remove focus from any of that. It is all true. We need to catch a wake up and really realise what is going on around us. And try to figure out together what can be done to bring change faster. BUT at the same time i do still feel that maybe it is a BOTH/AND thing rather than an EITHER/OR. When the Bible gives slaves advice on how to treat their masters, i don’t believe it was condoning slavery, but in the context of what was a bad and unjust thing, saying that ‘Since you find yourself in this [unjust – understood] place, here is a way to live that is kingdom.

And so while the present situation [with, for the most part, black people cleaning white peoples’ houses] is not a fair and good one, there is still, i believe, ways we can work within that broken system to live in the best way possible until it is fixed/better as a whole. So if you have someone older than 20 cleaning your house or garden or looking after your children, in South Africa, then calling them girl/boy feels unacceptable. As does paying them minimum wage over a living wage. And a whole lot more.

What do you think? Are we able to tackle the smaller subtler racist tendencies that we may not always notice in ourselves while still needing to take on the bigger systemic changes that need to happen? Or do you feel that we need to start at the top and move down? Is this a helpful series to invite people to share their thoughts on, or is it proving unhelpful? 

i would very much love to have your feedback on this before the continuation or decimation of this series…

[To jump back into the series and look at how we refer to people as ‘they’, click here]