In a moment of brave-ity two night’s ago i decided to ask the South African internet a question. I was reading a book that pointed back to the idea of South Africa being renamed Azania and i didn’t think that was the worst idea. After all ‘South Africa’ is just a direction, right. What do you think? Who would be okay with a name change and why?
i also posted an article by Xolela Mangcu on News 24 titled ‘Spinach, Chips and Race’ talking about a negative experience he had had at a restaurant that he saw as directly linked to race and all the white people who jumped on and tried to defend as just being a restaurant/client incident. And many black friends jumping in to confirm that this has happened to them and people they know too many times for the coincidence monster to be invoked. And then more white people jumping on to say the story was not related.
Both of these got a lot of conversation going – some was heated and uncomfortable and absolutely beautiful and i include one of those exchanges below because of where it started and where it ended up. [flashbacks to the ‘What about Bob?’ series of conversations i ran a while back]. Some was just painful and demonstrated an all too typical white response to reflect and defend and misdirect and to refuse to LISTEN to what was really being said and to understand some of the HURT and COMPLEXITY that was attached.
Amidst a sea of frustration and stupidity, there are glimpses and islands of hope and i will continue to lash myself to those as i try to figure out how this ally thing works. Part of it seems to be to continue to invite white people to come to the table and to look inwards and try to recognise the change that still needs to happen without them getting too distracted with who owns the table and how they would prefer the lighting to be and why their particular cushion [you got a cushion?] is not quite as comfortable as they are used to.
Here are some comments and conversations that emerged from yesterday’s posts and shares, followed by some highlights pulled out of a really helpful Jonathan Jansen article [which you should go and read the rest of]:
Debbie: A dream I have is that we would eventually all be referred to as South Africans, because personally I think using terms of black, white, coloured just further entrenches the separation. There are some South Africans not willing to engage with other South Africans, but this does not include all. There are many making the effort and moving forward together.
Linde: I think it’s convenient for privileged white people particularly to use the desire for peace as a means of silencing those that speak about deep racial issues.There are many making an effort, but the social conversations we’re having prove that THEY are not enough. Issues such as Rhodes Must Fall,Open Stellenbosch should not need debating after 1976 and yet here we are.
Debbie: That was not a comment to silence anybody, just a dream for the future. Making broad statements using black and white terms makes me feel further separated from going forward. I then feel I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Help me understand then what Im saying that comes across as silencing voices. Genuine question, I really would like to know.
Linde: You do realise that this is not about making you feel comfortable Debbie? There is a majority out there that has been treated in a way no minority should be treated for many years and then we have privileged people such as yourself who are very concerned about their feelings and protecting those feelings. I appreciate that you spoke your mind but accept that others will do the same and they deserve to. Speaking of the reality of the current status of SA will not change things or create greater division as that’s the same as changing a country’s name without serious reform of the real issues that cause the racial divide.
Debbie: Not trying to feel comfortable nor am I so concerned about my feelings in what we are talking about. I used a lot of ‘I statements’ so as not to point fingers, that was the only reason. I really do want that social change and for the racial divide to go. I am all for people talking if they still need to talk, but surely there does need to come a time when moving forward together is important for all, even with conversations still happening along the way on topics that haven’t been properly addressed?
Linde: How do we move forward when you want to mask the truth selfishly at your own convenience? Moving forward can only happen when we talk and address issues frankly. Rhodes Must Fall & Open Stellenbosch are a consequence of the lack of honest dialogue as black people are muzzled by white people such as yourself and those you think you speak on behalf of who consider the absence of racial conversation as a step in the correct direction. Movements such as Rhodes Must Fall, Open Stellenbosch happened cos black people decided to talk regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you and the people you speak on behalf of. Rhodes Must Fall and Open Stellenbosch and many other movements and organisations are the beginning of change. They are the sign that South Africa is moving on and that we’re tackling these issues head on. Your definition of a South Africa that has moved on is a SA where you and the people you speak on behalf of are not challenged by the wrongs of the past and the WRONG that you are so ignorant of doing right now in this conversation. What you’re doing is the perfect example of white privilege at it’s best. You think you can define the terms of “SA moving on”. For you, continuing to discuss racial issues means we haven’t moved on, cos Debbie and the group she speaks on behalf of has said so. To you Black people who speak of race issues are not moving on. We will not keep quiet because the people you speak on behalf of are uncomfortable Debbie.
Debbie: ok this conversation obviously needs to happen in another place as it’s getting lost in translation here. I was trying to dialogue and not be attacking. am happy to talk inbox and that’s not because of being uncomfortable, but truly believing this will not be solved on a FB post with misunderstandings happening.
Linde: I don’t mean to sound dismissive Debbie but I’ve heard this rhetoric before. I can’t tell you how many times people have preferred to challenge ideas with me via inboxes – cos they’re being misunderstood. In SA white voices/opinions carry more authority and we hear them all the time on their terms. I think I’ve heard almost every argument possible about why talking about race is divisive. Surprise me and do something different – CHALLENGE YOUR OWN PERSONAL SENSE OF PRIVILEGE.
Debbie: Ok, a question, what would make you see that I have taken that step? What is the expectation of challenging privilege?
Linde: This Debbie is a 180 degree change of tone from your conversation. This is definitely something I don’t see often and I hope to see more of it from more people.
1. Don’t dictate to the oppressed how they should act. This is what you have been consistently doing in this conversation. The premise of your argument is based on telling the majority to move on as explicitly defined by you or the people you speak on behalf of..
2. Understand that discomfort is part of the process of acknowledging and letting go of prejudicial/racist behaviour. There’s nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable.
3. That discomfort however pales in comparison to what black people have gone through and what they go through every day today – in the NEW SOUTH AFRICA. Your discomfort is nothing compared to their pain and suffering and it continues – contrary to popular belief it didn’t end in 1994. Their pain trumps your discomfort. As long as one isn’t inciting violence, as you’re also entitled to a safe environment (even online), listen, make a contribution without dictating terms.
BUT THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING
It’s been a pleasure.
Debbie: People always tell me to stay out of online conversations because they don’t go anywhere. I beg to differ most of the time, otherwise I would have missed this opportunity in meeting you and furthering my learning. I didn’t see myself as dictating, so I am sorry for that. I have learnt a lot from working with black people and teaching in a black school for the last few years. I hear about the tough life these kids live and it breaks my heart. I seek to help where I can and always want to see myself a learner, so thank you Linde.
Phumzile: Well Debbie, the long and the short is that we have been socialised for centuaries to think in terms of colour, so that’s not going away in this centuary at least, the slow pace of transformation (if there’s any) is not helping. Let’s accept colour cause to a large degree it shows off God’s creativity, colour is no mistake. There are practical things that can speed up finding our country’s identity besides a name change, eg. White people giving back land without compensation, having this conversation in an indeginous language cause it’s mandatory (not a nice to have in order to make black pps feel like u r a nice white person), etc etc. Perhaps then, a name change when what we see in this country is worth summing up in a word or two.
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My friend Simon telling it like it is: You see, a lot of white people – myself included – unintentionally start falling into an unmerited positivity around race in our country, where we feel that apartheid is long behind us, and the hurt and leftover division is largely on the mend. And the only reason we think this is the majority of us still carry the privilege of not being majorly effected by it. We sort of forget it.
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My Facebook status after two very long, draining, mostly painful conversations with white people being defensive and black people being [in my opinion] way too gracious and patient: “South Africa, it is okay to feel uncomfortable in conversations. Without that we will never move forwards. But when that happens do you stay and push through and listen harder and look more into your own heart and really try to hear and see and be honest about what is happening or do you bail? Don’t give up. There is a lot of hard work ahead but it is more than worth it and we need to be more than grateful that people of colour continue to engage with us at all as we try to figure this out. It is not their responsibility to help us figure it out – that is a gift!”
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Lastly, this article written by Jonathan Jansen in the Rand Daily Mail which i have just pulled the key points out of, but click on the link and go and read it in full.
How to be White and Happy in South Africa
IT HAS long fascinated me, the fact that some white young people fit so easily into the new South Africa but most struggle to live and learn and love alongside black youth.
First, get a grip on yourself. You are not better than the other person because of your skin.
Acknowledge that you are a child of privilege. If you start off with the idea that everything you have is a consequence of the hard work of your parents, you are probably from another planet. Yes they probably worked hard, but centuries of separation and privilege — white affirmative action, in essence — gave your family an emphatic advantage at the expense of black people; that is why you do not live in a shack or never attended a crappy school. Acknowledging this simple fact sets you free, big time. Denying it will make it difficult to ease into this new country since you would never understand how we came to be so unequal.
Learn to listen before you speak. As with any child of privilege, including the black middle classes, you have been subtly trained to think you know more and better than those of lower class or darker race. This I can assure you is bull. But learning to listen is hard, since you grew up hearing your parents bark orders and give instructions to lesser people (in their minds).
Do not listen to your parents when it comes to friendships… Be better than us your parents; learn and love and live without borders for if your generation cannot make this society normal, we‘re screwed.
Always be on the lookout to learn from your friendships.
And learn to appreciate the traditions and expectations of your different friends and their families.
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Anything jump out for you while reading this? Is there something you’ve noticed in your own life that needs to be worked on? If you’re a white person, what questions do you have with regards to figuring out white fragility or privilege or how to be a better ally to your friends of colour?
[For more helpful posts on South African related things, click here]