Tag Archive: Alexa Matthews


Continuing with the conversation about ‘How to be an Ally’ with my friend Alexa Matthews who has a huge heart for this kind of thing and the humility to understand that we are trying to figure it out as we go along:Alexa

I have sat with this for a little while – and was hoping to send it off before leaving South Africa for a holiday. I am still wrestling with whether I as a non-black person should be writing this. Simply as part of me knows that this is something that some days I get horribly wrong rather than just right.

Being an ally, for me, doesn’t mean simply choosing to mindlessly go along with the loudest voices shouting about what is happening in the black community – that is not being an ally.

It’s about being willing to listen, hear and acknowledge that on my own, or only surrounded by people who think like me I have an incomplete story or picture of what is happening in our country and being willing to hear why people think the way that they do – whether it is the same or different to me. Continue reading

This is a response to yesterday’s shared anonymous letter, What About Bob? and so if you have not read that yet, start there and then come back here and continue. Alexa is a good friend of mine who has been involved in many of the conversations we have had on race, reconciliation, restitution and other terms that may not begin with R but this is stuff she is passionate about and doing her best to live well. She has also contributed to this blog on a number of occasions such as sharing about one person who gives her hope in South Africa, a personal shout out to South Africa as well as some thoughts from a married person to the single people in and around here life. So if you enjoy this, please go and check those out…

But in the meantime, here are some of her thoughts in response to Bob

Alexa

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Dear Bob,

I read your letter to Brett and heard some of your frustration. Much of what you expressed are common themes that I have heard amongst the white community.

Just to contextualise me:

White, female, CpTownian, Have lived in a desert wilderness, have lived and working in Mozambique, have lived & worked in a corporate context in JHB, have worked in impoverished communities too in Cape Town & JHB. In South Africa, very sadly impoverished correlates with black and coloured.

One of the most helpful things I have ever heard said was that we need to talk about poverty and race without being racist – the reason I mention this is that the majority of people calling for change or transformation are people still living with poverty which looks and feels exactly like it did under apartheid. Yes in terms of the constitution we are all said to be equal but in terms of what life looks like we definitely don’t have the same starting blocks for whatever life journey we want to pursue. We need to recognise South Africa’s intersection of race and class if we are wanting to understand some of the current frustrations: Yes, it’s been 21 years, so it’s not ALL about what you or I do anymore, and we have leaders who serve themselves often rather than the country, but we also need to recognise the following:

Saying that “I am sorry, this was wrong,” doesn’t mean that I am guilty of implementing something bad. It does mean that I see your hurt, your anger and know that purely by being born into the family I was I had different starting blocks. Saying I am sorry is about recognising the untold hurt of the past and the frustrations of the present – many of which are due to the past.

Saying I am sorry or acknowledging that this was wrong goes beyond just ‘sorry’ – it’s also about being willing to ask and engage with how do we repair the past? Relationally, economically, socially?

Bob, as I read your letter, I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a (white) friend recently. Her statement to me was:

“I am not ugly to people, I am not just going to be friends with someone because they are different to me (that doesn’t feel sincere) and why can’t we be nice to each other? I am not political and don’t want to get political but I am tired of be past being hauled up and people looking at me when I wasn’t a part of it all.”

This friend really does believe that all people are equal and has been in situations where she was often the only white person at a party while she was studying, but as years have gone by, her friendships circles have shifted into areas of interest and remained quite pale in their diversity.

Parts of our conversation that unfolded after this was as follows:

* “If we truly want to see healing then actually we do need to be willing to befriend people whose stories are different to us. We need to be willing to be the uncomfortable ones who don’t always understand or fit in. It might not seem genuine initially but we can’t begin to understand the perspective or where we fit or don’t fit if we aren’t willing to listen and to hear and to be in spaces where things are understood differently to people who think like us.

Putting it differently if it came out that a friend had been in an abusive relationship for a long time and we weren’t aware of it, we would want to do everything we could to help that friend heal, to be safe, to get a GOOD fresh start and want to support and understand.

If we aren’t willing to start engaging with a friend whose story we don’t know or understand, even if we don’t identify with being abused or being the abuser, it is very hard to actually be a part of their healing.

The people we care about are the ones who we want to engage with. If we aren’t meeting and forming relationships with other people it’s really hard to develop any understanding of their story”

The reality is that the cracks in our story of unity are showing. We celebrated freedom together, but we never really healed together.

As the white community, very little about our lives actually changed, other than an increased competition in the workspace and perhaps seeing a greater mix of people (depending where we are in terms of relationship as well as geographically) socially.

Our story of unity for the most part has been a one sided story for most of us. We still weren’t, unless we asked to be told and were able to sit with the answers, aware of the cost to most of our peers and the broader South African community. In order to create a shared narrative, we need to go through the frustrating for some, redevelopment of a story where those were quiet get to speak and those of us who have already spoken get to listen.

I hate that before I have opened my mouth, perceptions exist about who I am or what I think. The reality though is that from a race perspective this has been there for years and the filter towards people of colour (regardless of their ethnicity) has been marred by different stereotypes or beliefs, which weren’t always positive. I think that as the white community we escaped this for the longest time due in part to the sameness of most of our contexts and now we are needing to recognise that we ALL have filters.

Ironically race has been the proverbial white elephant in the room and yet it’s us, as the white community who struggle to engage with it. #RhodesMustFall highlighted this in many ways – Shaka was violent yes, but in a very different context and story and all we seem to do by responding with Shaka is reveal this struggle.

Too often I have heard that the black community has been gracious, over and over, in wanting to engage and waiting for any kind of indication that the white community is wanting to see transformation and engage with, but that we aren’t standing up, and asking how and showing willingness to engage in these spaces. Too often I have heard it’s because we don’t want to let go of the benefits we enjoy still so that we can share the space better.

Anger and unresolved, unspoken, deep hurt from the past has to go somewhere – and if aren’t part of the somewhere, through listening, through being willing to be present with, then we will lose our sense of purpose in this.

I get frustrated, I get hurt at times when I perceive the anger to be switching to a place of hate but I am realising more and more that the more I engage, intentionally and listen, in these spaces that hope is returning.

We need you Bob and we need your wrestling. We need you to be asking the question of where and how you can contribute. We need you to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us wanting to see this change. We need you to stand quietly and listen and maybe even weep with us when people share their realities. We also need you to be speaking up and out and shouting that I want to be a part but I am not sure where.

We need you.

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[To read the original email from Bob, click here]

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My friend Alexa recently [as in yesterday, that’s pretty recent don’t you think? me too] wrote this piece called ‘Are there more white people like you?’ where she starts with this:

‘I have been faced with the fact that as much as I am surrounded by amazing people, doing things to see communities shift and healed, that there is not enough contact between different (colour)people happening to make people realise that actually there are many(white)who are seeking this change. Who think that justice matters, who think that restitution matters.’

And gets to this question which was asked to her by two different people:

‘Are there more? Maybe there are more but we don’t see or hear them?’

And it spoke to a frustration that has been growing in me in terms of the conversations that i have tried to have on this blog hoping to be a catalyst for deeper conversations on race and reconciliation, on reparation and moving forwards in this, my beloved country… that every time there is a post or a story share or a challenge, it is the same people showing up, liking, sharing, getting excited, engaging and pushing back – Hi Sindile. Molo Nkosi. Hey Mike. Lexy! Dre, how goes it? Linda! Avuyile!

And that’s it. With occasional cameo roles from one or two others.

And with this blog i’ve realised two things:

[1] i start a LOT of paragraphs with the word ‘and’ – well today i do it seems.

[2] and [see!] when one person comments it usually means at least five people are reading, when three people share it usually means twelve people have been moved by it, when eight people like there is the likelihood that twenty people thought it was worthwhile and so on.

So maybe this is true. Maybe the voices and comments i see on these posts are representative of many more people who are quietly reading and looking on and silently cheering and nodding and having their own wrestlings and offline conversations.

Or the slightly more scarier option of maybe only 6 to 8 people are actually interested in engaging in these kinds of conversations in this particular way.

But i don’t believe that. i do believe that not as many people as i’d like to be interested are interested. But i also believe there are a lot more than i know. And my call to you today is to come out of the shadows. To put your hand up. To make yourselves known. It’s not even about reading or liking or commenting on or sharing my blog posts [and the posts of those who share their stories on my blog] although please keep doing that.

But just let us know that you’re out there. Please just let us know you care. Let us know that it’s not just the five to eight of us who are wondering around feeling completely rubbish at making any sort of significant difference with this. Or that it even matters.

Because it’s a bit of a lonely business advocating for change and daring to hope in a country where so many people are either so wrapped up in their homogenous bubbles of sameness or else completely negative and always complaining about the state of things in the country [often both] or just seemingly oblivious to the need for any change at all “cos didn’t that all happen in 1994 and now everything is just cool, right?”

A lot of my writing is directed towards christian types [because that’s a huge part of my tribe] and while this is in no way a christian issue [as in exclusively] i cannot in my mind perceive how anyone could view racial reconciliation and unity and togetherness as not an issue facing the church and quite possibly THE issue facing the church in South Africa right now [and Americaland, let’s be honest!] especially if you want to dive into Matthew 25 and redefine those considered ‘the least of these’ in the context of our country.

In the movie ‘A Bug’s Life’ a bunch of smaller bugs are being terrorised and bullied by a swarm of locusts until the very end of the movie where they realise they have the numbers. And the tables are turned.

i do so desperately want to believe we have the numbers in this fight against racial segregation and apartness, against poverty and crime, against the disparity between really rich and really poor and against the fear and hopelessness and hectic racism that still exists in so many people you will find lurking on comment boards in the safety of their homes.

i want to believe it. But i don’t feel it. i don’t see it. It feels like there are seven of us. Maybe a few more…

And so i want to ask if there is anyone else out there who cares about this stuff? You don’t have to feel like you know the answers [or even any of the answers] or have the strength to engage in radical ways even [sometimes the simplest ways can be the most radical] – just let us know you’re out there.

So i want to ask, if you’ve read this, and you are someone who sees the need for some work to be done between black and white and coloured and indian and refugee in this country, and that you want to be hopeful and part of the solution and hungry to see positive change in South Africa [even if you have no idea how and even if you are struggling to believe it’s even possible] to leave your name in the comment section of this blog and tell us you’re in.

i’m honestly anticipating no more than seven names, because that is sometimes all that it feels are engaging with this…

So please, i’m counting on you to prove me wrong.

free

Alexa

Mamelani. Listen Up.  Kom ons Luister… all of us.

If I had the mic for just a moment, and the audience was a country that I am yearning to see at peace and functional and prosperous – what would I want to say?  In just 3 – 5 points?

This should be so easy and yet the noise in my head has made this complex.  This is my start actually.

There is too much noise.  We shout at each other: based on skin, class and gender.  We assume agendas: religious, political and economic. We let the preconceived unspoken perceptions and understandings of the other – whoever the other is – control our interactions, whether on social media, in face to face (oh that there were more) dialogues with ‘the other’ and in the positions we take when we are with people who think and talk like us. My first thing I wish we would do is quieten so that we can hear each other without prejudice.

  • Hear each other’s questions
  • Hear each other’s frustrations & anger & hurt
  • Hear each other’s hopes and dreams and desires

In quietening I have learnt about the pain and trauma people close to me have experienced – because of losing their family homes (these are my peers & not ‘some random people who must get over it’), because of family members being treated in ways that still carry deep wounds.  We can’t change this part of our history but by acknowledging the pain of this and being willing to really listen and say “I am sorry that you had to go through that, it wasn’t right”, we might begin to see each other.

I have also witnessed people express that they didn’t know.  And while some may say that there is NO excuse, people genuinely still live in ignorance of the stories of the other.  I have seen grown men weep in response to movies like RED DUST (based on the TRC) who really didn’t know; whose narratives weren’t questioned.

In doing this I am fairly convinced that we would find each other and then actually have a chance of getting somewhere peacefully, functionally and in a way that prospers us as a nation.

It is 21 years since our first “free & fair elections” happened – in which a nation was taken across a bridge but the systems weren’t really.  The longer I sit with this notion (the words of which are Frank Chikane’s not mine), the more I think about what does this mean for my life story – but also what does that mean for someone who is effectively free in theory but the structures keep them, in their life story, stuck on the other side of the proverbial bridge.   21 is often seen as a coming of age – My second wish is that as a country we come of age to a place where we can look at the bridge and figure out who sits where on it.  Without it becoming a place where people defend& attack rather than listen to each other.  Where we can all acknowledge that race, gender and class put us in different positions of power and privilege on this bridge – and that brings with it some responsibility to get the rest of us across the bridge too.

Maybe it’s time to challenge and acknowledge the objective and subjective realities that people, all of us, find ourselves in? This challenge isn’t about “guilting” anyone but rather acknowledging that it does exist.

Lastly, I would hope that each person adopts an attitude of every life matters – so that each person knows that they have worth: That the inherent dignity of each person is honoured.  That this forms a ripple effect in our education policies, in our safety and security and health and welfare policies.  That in speaking to people, rather than ‘them’ or ‘they’ regardless of who they are (rich, poor, coloured, indian, black or white), that we are able to see value in each other’s story.  Even if it’s foreign to us.  Even if it feels like it doesn’t fit with what we have experienced.  I would hope that as we start counting all life as valuable, that our systems can be transformed, that our economic policies are ethical and that each of us can be heard.

[For more from Alexa, head on over to her blog over here: theoutrageousintrovert.wordpress.com]

[To hear what Sindile has to say to South Africa in 2015, click here]

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