This rollercoaster looks familiar.
i had just posted a link to an article titled Get Real White South Africa, written by Milisuthando Bongela on the Times Lives site.
It contained this challenging and eye-opening statement:
Only white people can end white supremacy from within their communities – from their churches, schools, dinner tables, clamber clubs, sports clubs, boardrooms, banting restaurants, neighbourhood-watch WhatsApp groups, advertising agency brainstorms, rebranded Broederbond organisations, newsrooms, coffee roasteries, and homes.
Which i believe contains a whole lot of Truth as typically [you see it in the USA right now with their different but similar-themed story] it tends to be those who were formerly oppressed who find themselves doing the majority of the work to end the oppression and build the different-looking future.
And ended with what it called this requirement:
This is not a request or a plea, it is a requirement if we are all to live in the peace we are all desperate to achieve. It is time to divide more equally the responsibility of dealing with the racial dialectic we find ourselves in. But there has to be the will to change. If there’s no will to change, those who do care will die trying, as will the dream of our new-look nation.
And typical to me posting a piece on ‘White Privilege’ or other related Race or Reconciliation writing, there was push-back. Some of it has been addressed quite effectively in this nine part series of letters and response, titled ‘What About Bob?’ that i ran on my blog not too long ago. If you missed that, i would seriously put aside some time to work through the posts as they were really helpful.
Two comments stood out in the brief conversation that followed. The first is from a friend of mine, Brett [good name!], who works in a township and so i think should have a greater understanding of a lot of these things or at least greater access to the stories in front of him. i know Brett to be someone who is genuine and so i don’t doubt his questions at all, which is why i feel it is worth taking the time to address my concerns.
The second is a guy i don’t know and to be honest feels like the angry words of someone not that interested in change. Derick contradicts himself in his own paragraph and i don’t know that going to deeply into that one will be helpful, but it is good to highlight how some people think and react so that we can understand what change still needs to happen.
THE CHALLENGES I SEE IN YOUR THINKING
To me, that sounds a lot like all whites, even the white people who had no active role in apartheid, must simply give over their wealth to the previously disadvantaged portion of the population and that the previously disadvantaged must do nothing in between then except waiting for the hand out and redistribution. I don’t see how that is a viable solution. Where does hard work come in or rewards for personal betterment and effort? Again, I acknowledge that the effects of apartheid are still seen today and we still have a long way to go to reach proper equality, but I don’t believe the correct way to empower the poorer portion of black people in this country is to simply give, give, give while we sit with white guilt. [Brett Miller]
Three phrases in this paragraph concern me, and i want to deal with them all briefly:
# All whites, even the white people who had no active role in apartheid
This is a very problematic statement. Is the person who calls someone ‘the K word’ more guilty than the one who stands by and lets it happen? Is the one who enforces a ‘Whites Only/Blacks Only’ beach more guilty than the white person who enjoys the privilege to be found in getting to use the best beach? Does a church or a Christian Student organisation that chose to be segregated rather than fight segregation or simply refuse and take whatever consequences follow not need to stand accountable? The words ‘active role’ i don’t think help create much of a distinction. There is guilt by action and guilt by association and guilt by being complicit and not standing against what was wrong. Most whites in the country fall into those categories although there was a small percentage who actively fought against it and received some consequence for their actions.
But it goes deeper than that. Especially now that we are 21 years in to ‘the New South Africa’ and all of that and so you have people who have been born and are growing up as the generation who wasn’t around for apartheid. But that is where an acknowledgement of White Privilege comes into play. Not that you particularly did anything to create the difference, but that you were born into the difference and purely by being white, received certain advantages [whether you were born into wealth or not]. Many people seem to confuse the term ‘White Privilege’ with ‘White Wealth’ but they are not the same thing. You can be born into poverty as a white person and still have a certain amount of privilege over someone who is black and born into wealth. We are talking about a level playing field.
A young white girl who has her own bedroom and all the quiet she needs to be able to study and a complete school uniform and two parents who love her and provide for her, three meals a day and the basic necessities of life. Compare that to a young black woman living in a shack in a township. The noise, the distraction, the possibility of having to venture outside at night simply to go to the toilet, sharing a room slash house with a huge number of people, one or both parents not around, her mom having to wake up at 4am to go off to clean someone else’s house, needing to look after her three younger siblings and be the mom in many respects. One example that exists and is played out in many households around South Africa and a clear reflection of a playing field that is not level.
The effects and consequences of apartheid mean that while the white girl may not have had an active role in apartheid, things have still turned out relatively okay for her and yet there is no way you can hold her performance against the performance of the black girl and compare them as equals when it comes to university requirements etc.
# Where does hard work come in or rewards for personal betterment and effort?
As above. The constant refrain from the white person [see Derick below] is ‘I was not an active player in apartheid. I grew up with nothing and worked hard for what I have so why should I give it up?’ And once again, if the playing field was equal, that would likely be a more valid point.
But when you go back to my example, as hard as the white girl works to get into University, at some point she has to come across the story of the black girl and realise that things are not equal or fair and that unless something pretty big is done about it, the cycle will continue for many many years to come. This is where it gets tricky cos i’m not sure what the answer is and hope others will weigh in with some practical solutions but one way forward i guess is when the white girl has a job and is earning R15000 a month, realising that she can get by on R13000 a month and deciding to put that R2000 a month towards a cause that will in some way help level the playing field. i don’t even know what the numbers are in the country for starting salaries and all that but perhaps the solution lies somewhere in the haze of ‘Maybe i won’t have a vacation in Europe for a month while my friend is struggling to pay their rent and eat’ or something like that.
Finding an effective way forward requires a huge amount of people to get hugely creative with what they have and will require a certain amount of personal sacrifice of the greeds we feel entitled to, in order to better address the needs that so many people have. Maybe it lies in part in where that white girl chooses to live or how she chooses to use her law degree or in the community of friends she gathers around herself who maybe don’t all look and think like her.
# while we sit with white guilt
This one i don’t get. i see a strong distinction between Guilt and Conviction. And we should totally be convicted. When we eat the red pill and our eyes are opened [in part] to the unfairness of the situation we live in, then that should move us to want to make a difference. All guilt ever does is paralyse and leave us feeling bad and unable to make a difference. So stop feeling guilty. Be mobilised to do something.
In my quest to understand the present situation a little better i have been reading up on our history from different voices to the ones i was taught – Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, and even Antjie Krog. I have looked to strengthen my friendships with black people i know who live in the townships and graciously spend time educating me on the real needs and hurts and drive of the people there. I have used my forum/audience to create spaces for voices representing in part different colour/culture perspectives. There is a long long way to go and i feel completely out of my depth and with no clue a lot of the time, but i am trying to LISTEN better [without preparing my answer or ‘defence’] and hear stories and be aware of opportunities and so on.
Brett, i hope that has been helpful. i imagine from your work that you have a lot to teach us and share with us and i hope you will continue to be open to really hearing the stories that are out there and gaining a better understanding of what we can do to make an effective difference.
And then there was Derick:
I’m gonna come across more blunt and say that is exactly what the author expects in this article. Stop sugar coating things please. They expect me who had absolutely zero f*all to do with apartheid, to hand over my hard earned $ which I work for everyday and require in order to live, to someone else because they are previously disadvantaged. This article is going the right way about pissing off a lot of people. I also acknowledge the gross inequalities and that I am more fortunate than most. But in many cases this is already being implemented, and look at the state our country is in. Corruption at an all time record high, more and more taxes being implemented, incompetent municipalities and leaders at every turn. Load shedding every day. Is this all due to Apartheid? Lol what a joke. Get out of my face with that please. [Derick Vorster]
i don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because your attitude suggests that you are not so much interested in hearing anything outside of what you already believe and continue to tell yourself. My only question would be how you go from ‘I also acknowledge the gross inequalities and that I am more fortunate than most’ to pretty much anything else you said in there. It is like you are acknowledging there is a disparity and something needs to be done for it to be more equal but you are clearly not going to be doing anything to do anything about it. Just the guy who got lucky with the Lottery Ticket. The only suggestion i really have for you is to leave the country. You clearly are not happy here and you should go somewhere else where you don’t have to be inconvenienced with having all this unfairness in your face. for your sake and ours. i can’t see anything else except an absolutely major shift of thinking and attitude making much difference with you. i honestly wish i had the money to offer to buy you that ticket.