Tag Archive: context


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]

Well actually just ‘Jane Lee’ but I panic’d and called her ‘Jean’ once and now i’m so confused that i call her Jean-Jane just to cover all the bases. But she is one of my newest friends and a lot of fun [and a worthy adversary at Boggle which is saying a lot!] and is the worship leader at Re:Generation church where i just got involved in youth leadering and she agreed to share this lovely post with us to take it away J… Miss Lee:

janejaneDuring my time as a Sunday School teacher, our pastor encouraged us to take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test developed by Dr. Donald O. Clifton to be able to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other, and learn how to work together better as a team. After an assessment of over 150 questions, the test revealed that one of my biggest strengths is what the book referred to as “Context – people strong in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.” 

While I had never thought of “Context” as being a strength this did not come as much of a surprise as someone who was a history major in college doing research that focused on collecting oral histories of under-represented Korean diasporic communities. I am a firm believer in the power of history in shaping our present, and the importance of understanding how people, places, concepts, and ideas came to be. Everyone has a story it’s just a matter of unearthing it. It enables me to see the fuller picture, not just fragments of what’s on the surface. This has also come into play in my social activism, taking lessons from the past to identify strategies to create a more just future. 

It definitely had never occurred to me that the value I placed on context and history could be a weakness, but the more I reflected on it, the more I recognized the ways that this had impacted my attitudes toward others, myself, and God. 

Until about four years ago when I encountered God in a tent in Albion (a story for another time), I don’t think I was able to truly receive and accept God’s grace because I was holding on to so many sins of my past, mistakes I’ve made, hurts I’ve experienced/inflicted, getting mired in countless regrets, what if’s, if only’s… This manifested in my tendency to dwell on past relationships, soul ties I had developed in my pursuit of love in the wrong places, and feelings of shame and guilt I had buried deep for all the ways I had disobeyed God in this area.

It’s still a struggle at times, but I’ve since made it a daily practice to let go of my past – to learn from it but not dwell on it. Through Christ Jesus I am a new creation, no longer bound to sin. His mercies are new every morning. He keeps no record of my wrongs. I am redeemed. I am forgiven. I am free – free from my past, free to move forward.

There is an old Sunday School song that I sometimes hum to myself as a reminder of who I am in Christ Jesus. The words are simple but it is a powerful declaration of God’s redeeming grace:

I am a new creation

No more in condemnation

Here in the grace of God I stand

My heart is overflowing

My life just keeps on going

Here in the grace of God I stand

[To head back to the start of this series and hear a whole lot more Strength Weakness testimonies, click here]

what happened yesterday with the bomb explosions after the Boston Marathon that up til now have claimed three lives and injured well over 100 people [with ten or more amputations that occurred with some of the survivors] was a tragedy.

any time someone is killed it is a tragic thing and more so because this was something that was ruthlessly planned and carried out.

and Facebook knew about it – scrolling down my news feed page there was mention after mention of it with people sending prayers and good wishes to the families of people involved or just stunned that it had happened.

a little bit later i saw online that there had been a huge 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Iran with 40 people killed [so far] and when i went back to Facebook i saw mention after mention of supper and the latest show and movie news and work stuff and i have yet to see any mention of the earthquake.

in fact when i went to find a link to an article on the earthquake i found this list of news items under the heading ‘World News’:

1. Boston explosions: three dead, no arrests, no claims of responsibility

2. Boston marathon blasts: hunt begins for perpetrators – live updates

3. Carlos Arredondo hailed as hero for Boston Marathon rescue efforts

4. Alaska military policeman jailed for selling secrets to ‘Russian spy’

5. Huge 7.8-magnitude earthquake hits near Iran-Pakistan border

So Boston, Boston, Boston, a guy who was jailed for selling secrets, oh and by the way there was this little earthquake that killed 40 plus people.

please hear me on this. i am not saying that what happened in Boston was not a tragedy, but what i am saying is that what happened in Iran is equally a tragedy. what is important when an event like this happens is to be shocked and to grieve and mourn with those who have lost friends and family and to stand alongside them and to also try and bring justice and stop something like that from ever happening again… but at the same time it is so important to keep some perspective – this is not the most tragic thing happening today…

for just a glimpse of the kind of context i am talking about, here are some facts and figures from The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, which i don’t see happening in peoples Facebook statuses [stati?] or Twitter feeds day after day… and this is stuff that Americaland with all its resources [even just a fraction of their military budget] could prevent:

Overview of World Hunger
For millions of people, the fight against hunger is a matter of life and death. 841 million people in the world do not have enough food to eat, including 153 million children under the age of 5 years. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ estimates that 6 million children die each year as a result of hunger and malnutrition. There is no other natural or manmade disaster that compares to the magnitude of devastation caused by world hunger.

Who is Hungry?
841 million people suffer from hunger, malnutrition and famine across the world; 550 million hungry people live in Asia and 170 million in sub-saharan Africa. In total, 95% of people experiencing hunger live in developing countries. However, hunger has recently grown in severity in countries like the United States and former Soviet Union countries, mainly as a result of poverty.

The World Bank estimates that by the end of 2010, 89 million more people will be living in extreme poverty– surviving off less than $1.25 per day.

The Extent of the Problem

40,000 children under age five die every day from hunger and preventable diseases. That’s 24 children a minute; equal to three 747’s crashing every hour, every day, all year.
The loss of human life from hunger is greater than if an atomic bomb were to be dropped on a densely populated area every three days.
One in every five people in the world is hungry.
More people have died from hunger in the past two years that were killed in World War I and World War II combined.
70% of childhood deaths are associated with malnutrition and preventable diseases.
70% of people in Asia live in extreme poverty.

Boston marathon bombing – tragedy – 3 killed, a hundred injured
Iran earthquake – 40 plus killed, hundreds injured
40 thousand children under 5 die every day from hunger and preventable diseases – we do nothing. we don’t even take time to grieve, mourn.

surely that would be a good place to start focusing our energy, concern?

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