colourblind.jpg

That is the refrain i hear quite a lot from many white people when it comes to issues of reconciliation and marches and freedom and South Africa:

Can we just please stop saying it’s about race?

So i thought let’s give that a try. And the way i want to do that is by telling a few stories. Now try and not get distracted by the kind of message you think i want to suggest with each story. First read it and respond just as a story. And then we’ll examine the responses.

[1] THE BICYCLE

shoes

My dad steals your dad’s bike.

Twenty one years pass.

i am feeling really bad about it and have done for a very long time. i want things to be right between us cos it feels like this whole bike incident has been affecting our friendship from day one. i go to you and say “Sorry” and ask if you will forgive me.

You say you will. But you still don’t have a bike.

To make things right, i should really give your dad’s bike back, yeah?

But actually, because time has passed and because my dad and i have been riding it a LOT and it’s starting to look quite old and a little rusty, i should maybe actually consider buying you a new bike. That sound fair.

But actually… because you have had no bike you have had to walk around. That has taken a TERRIBLE toll on your shoes and over 21 years many pairs of shoes. i should probably at the very least buy you a pair of shoes, but probably many pairs of shoes. That feels a little more fair.

If i want to be deeply and painfully honest though, you walking around long distances has taken a toll on you physically at the same time as it was taking a toll on your dad’s bike. It also affected you economically as you were not able to get around quickly and so it cut down the number of job opportunities you might have had if you had had better transport. You were late for some appointments through no fault of your own but because relying on public transport at times was tricky and unpredictable, not to mention the extra cost you had to pay of fares.

But let me begin, by getting you that bike.

[2] THE MATCH

jonah

Our teams meet for a friendly game of rugby.

At half time the score is 67-3 to us.

We did impos a height and a weight limit on your side and only allowed you to play with ten people. The players on your bench had to sit in the change rooms until they were called on to play. And we paid the ref in advance to make sure that his arm only ever pointed in one direction. And the TMO was only allowed to be used if our team had a dispute.

But at half time your team looks completely beaten up. The players are tired and most of them are injured. We feel quite bad and so we decide that enough is enough.

We line up alongside your team and tell them we are sorry that we have been such bad sports and we want to put things right.

We get rid of the ref and we allow you to choose a ref who will be more fair to both sides. From now on you are allowed 15 players in your team and your bench is brought back next to the field.

We start the second half on equal footing. All good?

Excepting that there is still a 64 point deficit. To make it more equal we would need to cancel the score completely at the very least.

Because also your players are really much more tired and worn out than our players are as they have been playing against bigger heavier players and there were a lot more of us than them, so the physical strain has been enormous. Perhaps it would be more fair to give you a twenty or thirty point advantage to start with so things could be a little more equal, and allow you to begin with fresh players on your team. That feels like one way to B.E.E. a little more fair about it.

IT’S ABOUT RACE!

If you managed to look at both of those examples purely as examples then i think the points i want to make have already been made.

# Saying “Sorry” and hoping we can move on and “just put apartheid behind us” is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. It’s not close to fair or equal or just or balanced. It only feels good to us [white people]. Go back to the “Sorry” moment in either of those two stories above when you read them just as stories and imagine what you would feel as the person receiving the “Sorry”?

# There is Relationship to be restored. We have treated you badly, and if not us personally then our parents and if not our specific parents personally then someone’s parents that we know. And quite possibly our parents by not jumping in enough and saying “This is not right and must stop now!” There is a “Sorry” and a repentance and a forgiveness that must happen and in many cases has – this is an important step. BUT IT IS NOT THE ONLY STEP. 

# Reconciliation, as i see it, is restoring relationship, bringing us together and saying, “Hey, let’s do this thing together as equals. Different but equally important.”

# Restitution though is when we start to look at what was done wrong and try to make it right as best we can. The new bike, the shoes, the medical bills and the employment. The new ref, the refreshed players, the points boost. It goes beyond equal ground because the ground has been so unequal for so long that the consequences have had such an adverse affect. A student in Claremont and a student in Khayelitsha being allowed access to the same school might be Reconciliation, but it is not Restitution. The challenges are far greater in terms of access to knowledge, transport, space and quiet to study, family situation, toilet access and a hundred other things. How we start to address those inequalities is the area of Restitution.

affirm

i hope these pictures help.

Those of us “going on” about White Privilege and Restitution and everything else we are going on about are not trying to make you feel guilty. There is no such thing [in my understanding] as valid white guilt [unless you are blatantly racist in your words or behaviour and then sure, knock yourself out, literally and metaphorically] but there is conviction [this is not right – it must be better] and there is responsibility [i can use the advantages i was born with to make a difference here somehow] and there should be some kind of accountability [who is going to help me do this well?].

One small way that tbV and myself and some friends in Mannenberg and some other friends in Salt River and other places have looked to start doing this is by relocation. One of the biggest tools of apartheid was geographical – removing people from one place and putting them in another or keeping people from certain places. That is not going to naturally sort itself out. But we can choose to start building bridges by choosing to move into areas where everyone doesn’t look like us and then engaging with the people who live around us – building friendships, mending walls – maybe actual physical walls that need mending and we can get dirty and physical as we do that together – listening to stories and pain and dreams, and hopefully beginning new stories together.

Lastly, i believe that the majority of problems in our country are socio-economic/class type problems. BUT because so much of socio-economic/class was defined by apartheid as black and white [and coloured and indian and where each race fell in the pecking order] and everything that went with that, it is largely going to look like a Race problem for a long, long time still and so must be treated as that.

Being “Colourblind” doesn’t help, because firstly, you’re lying so stop fooling yourself, we all see colour and THAT’S OKAY! Each colour, each culture group, each family and individual brings something different to the table and when we aim at colourblindness we lose something. We should be striving together to see all the beauty and wholeness and story and wisdom and love that each individual brings to the table.

As easy as, “What colour is a dress?”

dress

[If you somehow missed Craig Stewart’s speech at the march, click here]

Advertisements