Growing up in Cape Town in a largely coloured area, the perceptions about white and black people were always negative. So naturally I took that on as the norm (as that was my context). I was only in high school when I was first exposed to white folks. All my teachers were white and they knew everything and seem to have everything. I basically unconsciously just ended up assimilating into that thinking that white must be right. My teachers at school were never really outwardly racist but there were those occasional undertones, side comments that one at that age could not quite understand. In this context I never really thought much about the issues of race.
When I went to Bible College a little bit after High School I was confronted with my own racism. One of my classmates who was black got a better mark than me, and this shocked me. Why? Because I grew up being told that black people are not very bright. I went home to tell my parents of this discovery and they just shrugged it off saying “you’re 19 you don’t know anything and not you’re not racist, those people are …” I realised that as a Christian this kind of thinking would not be helpful or gracious it was downright ungodly. So I decided to get to know and build better friendships with black people that I was surrounded by at Bible College. It was and still is an awesome journey. In these friendships I have had to confront a lot of wrong and misinformed thinking and my friends continue to be gracious as we work through these things together. I have found that I am richer for getting out of my comfort zone.
So my friends then exposed some other stuff and brought up my racism towards white people. I couldn’t deny that at all. My experience of many white people is that of ignorance, entitlement, totally unaware of their privilege and so not interested in engaging in issues of race, politics etc.
So my argument for not making an effort to have white friends was, “agh will they ever change? Probably not, and who has time for those people anyway?” So I would just tolerate them but no further and that will be that. Right? Wrong?
I moved to Bloemfontein last year in December and ended up at a predominantly white church. I was like “ahh Help! I see white people, everywhere!” God has a sense of humour for real! Moving here has made me look more seriously at the attitudes and prejudices I hold towards white people. I had attempted to have friendships with white people many times but it always never deepened or went past a certain point. So I never really felt compelled to preserve and be persistent. I wrote to some of my friends and told them I guess I’m going to have to learn to love them white peoples.
I have actively sought to make and build on friendships with white people. What changed for me is that I realised that, had my black friends not been patient, gracious and kind with me then I would have not gotten out of my habitual wrong thinking. My thinking was formed by ignorance and lack of exposure to black people. It was only in my relationships that I was able to move past a lot of things I grew up believing about black people.
So what I want my white friends to know is this:
I am your friend for real, I love you because Jesus made you and I sincerely want to understand the inner workings of your mind. This might mean that at times when you say stuff because you are really ignorant of the world around you; I will in love tell you that you are wrong.
You are not an island. You cannot go on pretending that things are okay or be okay with being in your comfort zone. You are so missing out! You need me and I need you. Further to that I want to need you, because you are part of this epic country.
Be honest. Don’t hold back tell me how you really feel I can guarantee that your anger concerning race and apartheid will often be the root of some misunderstandings you may still hold. I love you enough to wrestle it out with you.
Don’t just moan, own! Don’t just complain about how rubbish things are, own your part in making a difference and changing things. The cop out argument of I can’t really do anything about stuff because I’m white? That’s just unhelpful and only leads you to be complacent and back to what makes you comfortable.
If we want a better South Africa then we have to fight for it. It’s messy and it will mean that we’ll scrape some knees, and come out bruised. But it’s worth it. We have such an opportunity to create a new normal. We don’t need to keep perpetuating our past.
To be very honest it is really rough and tough loving people who just don’t seem to want to get it. I often feel like giving up. But then I realise Christ never gives up on me no matter how many times I mess up and don’t get it. So to my white friends I won’t tap out, by God’s grace I’m all in.