i see you!
Is that maybe not everything we want to hear and know?
That i am seen. Continue reading
i see you!
Is that maybe not everything we want to hear and know?
That i am seen. Continue reading
This is the first of three passages i want to share from Antjie Krog’s magnificent ‘Begging to be Black’ and this conversation explains itself but also raises some really interesting questions about race and identity which i think are worth thinking deeply together about:
From chapter 7:
I am sitting opposite my discussant in one of the smaller sitting rooms at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin. He is a philosopher and has kindly agreed to engage in a series of conversations with me about what I am trying to understand. He has many things in my eyes that should disqualify him as a possible discourse partner (white, male, teaching Western Philosophy in Australia), but I have read a provocative paper he wrote on the concept of becoming-animal in J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, and it is this concept of ‘becoming’ that I am interested in. Not becoming-animal or becoming-woman as in Coetzee’s book, but becoming-black.
I explain to him that in order to understand something I have to write it; while writing – writingly, as it were – I find myself dissolving into, becoming towards what I am trying to understand.
‘Tracing the lines of flight is what Deluze calls it.’ The professor is a translator of some of Deluze’s work.’
‘I am not fleeing! This is why I am having this discussion. I’m staying, but I want to understand with what I am staying.’
‘Not flight as in fleeing, but flight as in going in a particular direction. One moves from an established known identity by transforming oneself. But transformation always moves in a particular direction and writing is often the best way to trace these directions. Expressed in different words: the aim of good writing is to carry life to the state of non-personal power.’
I quickly write this down on the cover of the thick manuscript file bearing words in black inspired by The Satanic Verses: ‘BEGGING TO BE BLACK.’ The professor notices mt blunt working title and responds somewhat curtly.
‘Tracing lines of transformation is fine, but blackness/whiteness…,’ he says. ‘You’re not going the essentialist route, are you? A core that makes somebody white or black, or Jewish, or female?’
‘No. And I am not busy with difference either, I think. I want to ask two questions. Firstly, I live in a country that for nearly four centuries was interpreted and organised via Western or European frameworks. Since 1994 I have lived with a black majority that asserts itself more and more confidently, as well as many black people from the rest of Africa who stream into my country. So I find most of my references and many of my frameworks of understanding to be useless and redundant.’
‘As in how?’
‘As in how to understand the “reading” of Robert Mugabe both by the South African government and by the Zimbabweans themselves, for example. I do not want to have a Western perspective on Mugabe; I want an Africa perspective. I am trying to work out what that is. Is Thabo Mbeki’s muteness the perspective? Or is Archbishop Tutu’s criticism the perspective, or the crowds who always cheer Mugabe? Or are these reactions all based on something else which makes them not contradictory, but moral and sensible but diverse interpretations of the same world view or philosophy?’
‘Isn’t that derogatory, at least to Tutu? You must remember that colonisers aren’t always trying to “understand” the colonised in order to colonise and dehumanise them even more effectively. Are you not trying to understand so-called blackness as amoral, or a farce, or simply theatre, in order to keep an ingrained racism more sensitively and subtly alive?’
‘I want to be part of the country I was born in. I need to know whether it is possible for somebody like me to become like the majority, to become “blacker?” and live as a full and at-ease component of the South African psyche.’
‘Now what is an at-ease component?’
‘If Angela Merkel or the Australian prime minister says something, you do not sit dumbfounded, thinking: God, where did that come from? There is a traceable logic from within your framework to understand, even if you passionately disagree with then, the most inane and gross comments even of George W. Bush. At times when my president, Thabo Mbeki, speaks, and he is an intelligent man, I sit like somebody in complete darkness. It’s not necessarily that I don’t understand what he is saying; I do not know where it is coming from, from within what logic it wants to assert itself as “right”. I want to understand him and all the many utterances that daily try to turn me into a racist. It feels to me wrong to simply say, yes, we are now mos all liberated and equal, while in actual fact I have only known the white part of this new constellation. It is like saying: black people should now stop their nonsense and become like “the rest of the civilised world” – meaning they should become white. But, actually, black people are the majority and it is I who should be moving towards a “state of non-personal power” within blackness.’
‘How do I “flee” towards black, to use your term, if I have never cared to know what black means? So my first question is this: is it possible for a white person like myself, born in Africa, raised in a culture with strong Western roots, drenched in a political dispensation that said black people were different and therefore inferior, whether it is possible for such a person as myself to move towards a “blackness” as black South Africans understand it?’
‘With all its hurts and Fanon-identified harms?’
‘Yes. And then, secondly, I want to look at the way in which black people challenge Western paradigms that insist liberal values are the only possible framework for a modern state. If we ignore or gloss over this, is that not simply apartheid and colonisation in a new guise?’
‘Let’s summarise: you accept that all life is changing, is becoming, that black people have been and still are profoundly affected by powerful influences from both inside and outside Africa. But you are saying: because you lived in this apartheid bubble which tried to keep itself whites-only and Western, that this has stunted your own changing and becoming?’
‘Yes. So, I am not necessarily interested in African philosophy versus Western Philosophy, but rather in what kind of self I should grow into in order to live a caring, useful and informed life – a “good life” – within my country in southern Africa.’
‘Are you talking about a kind of entanglement?’
‘No. It’s not about mingling, or the entanglement of roots, but how one root can become or link to another.’
I smile. ‘Perhaps that is the word.’
“But you look so white!” many have noted. Well done. It is true – I am a mixed baby, although I got the paler skin of our mother while my brother has many a time been compared to a Mexican. We’ve heard some interesting guesses of our ethnicity over the years: Portuguese, Brazilian, something Mediterranean. So let’s clear it up: what/who am I?
Being born into a democratic country, racial discrimination is something I have heard more about than experienced personally, although there are one or two incidences that have stuck in my memory. I distinctly remember being stared at in a restaurant while travelling through some backward town on our way to the Cape, no doubt due to the shades of our faces. I recall being disturbed by this as a 5 year old and asking why everyone was looking at us. My dad winked at me and said it was because they had never seen such beautiful people in their lives. It’s only now, nearly 20 years later, that I realize how blessed I am to have so tame an experience as my only one of racial discrimination.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town and attend an international school, so the first time I realized that my parents are of 2 different races was in grade 3 when a fellow 9 year old curiously asked me, “Caley, why is your dad coloured?” The heads of the other girls we were sitting with snapped around to look at me, as if they would now be able to see a distinctive difference in my features now that they knew I was not white. The defensive response “He isn’t,” flew out of my mouth for no other reason than to make them stop staring. But it made me think, ‘Why is my dad coloured?’
I didn’t talk to my parents until a few years later when someone told me that people who don’t “stick with their own kind” create “half-breed children who aren’t accepted by society”, as if anyone who was not of one race was something less that human. This was probably the harshest word spoken against me, or at least the one I took the hardest because it came from the mouth of a friend, and it was enough to make me talk to my parents about it. I think another reason it hurt so much was because I was brought up post-apartheid so, naturally finding no fault in cross-cultural friendships, I was shocked to find that people could still be pretty ignorant about that stuff.
The common factor in these 2 incidences is that they both made me feel ugly, and as if there was something wrong with me because I was different in some way to the rest of my peers. I don’t know if other mixed kids would agree, but I think of it now as an attack on my identity and something that almost made me ashamed of the heritage my parents had suffered to let us have.
I believed this more and more firmly as I went through high school, and I began to look back at that moment on the playground with contempt; why would people point out the coloured side of my family, asking why my dad is coloured as opposed to asking why my mom is white? As if “white” was the “correct” race to be and everything else was questionable. It made me extremely protective of my dad to the point of referring to myself as coloured when people asked me. But that’s wrong too; I cannot deny one race group because I am truly both of them: my father’s coiled-haired, dark-featured daughter, my mother’s pale eyed child.
This sense of uncertainty I had about what race I am has hardly bothered me too deeply because it has never been an issue in my family. Our parents brought my brother and me up as Christians, so we know that our true identity is in Christ and not in the box marked “other” on official documents. We weren’t raised in a “white” or “coloured” culture, but instead in one that honours Jesus. Although I moved away from that in my early teenage years (hence the shame and the offense and the extreme pride), I find now, being in a relationship with Him and walking with Him constantly, that my love for God has made me love who He has made me.
To answer the initially posed question; I am… living, following the example of my legendary parents, by the belief that we are all of one race: Human, and every diversity we have thereafter is something to be celebrated. I am also everything that God says I am: loved and precious and redeemed by the blood of Jesus and forgiven and covered by His grace.
I am also part of a family that can aptly be referred to as the multi-culti-crew. What heroes.
Here are simply a collection of stories from people who have lived in countries or areas of diversity and have a race theme to a part of their story which they have so graciously decided to share with us:
Meet Deborah Dowlath [Trinidad and Tobago]
Meet Kevin Lloyd James Lok [South Africa]
Meet Caley Daniels [South Africa]
Meet Susan Hayden [reblog of ‘Disco Pants & a Mountain’ post]
What makes a person?
What makes me, me?
For me I’ve struggled with identity for my entire Life – one of the biggest struggles I’ve had over my identity is the one over ‘race’ (now many would consider it strange for a white guy to struggle with identity over race and don’t get me wrong – I’ve never thought I am not white) the reasons being that I was brought up (My mom assisted hugely by our Domestic worker Vivian Mogotsi, who I would often be left with when my Mom was busy sorting out household business, fetching or dropping my brothers off from extramural activities etc. nearly until the end of my primary school education) in a home where though I was not taught to hate people of a different ‘race’, I observed as my parents who didn’t hate people of colour made comments that did not show a love for them either.
At primary school race was not an issue for me as my group of friends represented a large portion of the rainbow nation and would often hang out with my mates regardless of colour. My notion that colour was just that – colour- didn’t last long into High school as friends started to separate themselves into cultural and racial groups, and soon after people began to discriminate (not always openly) against those that were different (while those of the same ‘race’ who dared to venture against the norm being classed as ‘coconuts’, ‘wiggas’ etc.), for me I couldn’t fit into any one of those groups and was thrown into a friendship with three guys (one white and two black) who for a time also did not fully fit into the mould that was pressed upon us. After grade nine we started integrating into different groups and though still friends, walls started being built as the groups of friends’ views and opinions started having an impact. It was in grades 10-12 in my History class that I saw the class divided by ‘racial’ lines in discussions (sometimes more like debates) about apartheid and discrimination – and we learned of how people (across the ‘racial spectrum’) had been taught by their parents/families/elders/communities to either hate, fear, manipulate and look down upon(or up to as superior) ; or befriend, respect, take time to know, understand and view as equals those of other ‘races’.
I have throughout my life struggled within as I’ve had conflicting messages from parents, friends and society telling me who I can love, be friends with or respect; and who should be by enemy, despised and looked down upon. For a time some bad experiences with friends of different ‘races’ helped me choose the easy path (that of lumping all people of a ‘race’ into a stereotype) of being a racist (if that of a closet racist) for a time – until I realised I had been hurt by people regardless of ‘race’ and been loved by and loved regardless of race.
Now I see colour, but I do not make assumptions or judgements on a person because of ‘race’ but I also understand that there have been hurts and wrongs inflicted upon those of other ‘races’ by white people, I admit that some of my ancestors (not all – my heritage is as mixed as they come) probably had a hand in some of that, I admit to the fact that those who still suffer from the effects of Apartheid, I admit that I to some degree have been privileged by what has happened in the past (regardless of the fact that I was born toward the end of apartheid).
But I choose to stand apart and not let how others may view me (whether it is with hatred, resentment, disgust or fear) change me, I choose to love others and help where I can to right the wrongs – even if I did not have a hand in causing them (as best as I can on a personal level and with others), I choose not to fight only the injustices and hurts inflicted by my ‘race’ upon other ‘races’ but to fight against those seeking to cast down, enslave, hurt, or discriminate against anyone.
The reason I am able to choose those things is because of Vivian Mogotsi and other people who not only showed me that love has no borders but pointed me towards a love that I still struggle to comprehend at times (The love that God has for all of us) and have helped me find my identity in God, in whose image we are all made, and who loves all of us so much that He gave His only son to die so that ALL who believe in Him will have eternal life John3:16 (and that not for some or in differing levels according to race) and so that there would no longer be division Colossians 3:11
All of these things (whether good or bad), all of the choices I’ve made and will make, all of the people who have cared enough to look deeper than the skin, how God created me and continues to lead and grow me – that is what makes me.
So if there are some points I would like you to take from this here they are:
#Skin colour does not make anyone less or more of a human being
#Hurt-people, hurt people (No-one can end pain by inflicting more – things need to be spoken of and dealt with in love)
#Love knows no boundaries
#God Loves all – so should we (note God is love, but Love is not God – He is way more than love, and our definition of love can’t even begin to fit what He is – 1 corinthians 13)
#What makes a person is who they choose to be (circumstance determines your viewpoint not your choices)
If i ever met you and we got to sit down together, perhaps over a cup of coffee or a plate of barbecue riblets, there are some things i would love for you to know… and there are a lot of things i would like you to know, but here are some more things that i would love for you to know:
 Be who you are. Know who you are in terms of character, belief and behaviour. These things are a creation-in-progress and will shift and adapt as you grow older and there will be strong influences from your culture, your context and the people who are both in and around your life. But make sure that you are in control of the process and make changes when you feel changes are necessary [and don’t be too proud or stubborn to do so] and not because outside forces are causing you to. If you are someone who follows Jesus, then let His life and teachings be the outside forces that help shape this person you are becoming. Also take from His example that even though He spoke differently when He was with the crowds and when He was with the religious leaders and with His own group of friends, He never changed who He was. Be who you are, in all contexts and with all groups of people. Let your Social Networking self be your hanging-out-with-your-friends self be your office self be your Sunday-morning-at-church self… and so on. Once you start wearing different masks and ‘becoming’ different people at different times to please those around you, it becomes way too stressful and complicated. Decide who you are and what you believe and be that person.
 Be when you are. When you’re at school, the tendency is to make statements like, ‘As soon as I leave school…’ or ‘When I have a job…’ People tend to ask you when you will get a boy/girl-friend. The moment you have found someone to date, the questions pretty soon start to focus on marriage. On your wedding day there will be some idiot [yes!] who starts the conversation about ‘your first child’ and apparently as soon as you have your first it becomes all about your second. Be when you are. Celebrate the time and context that you are in [even if something in you is hoping for the next stage or situation to be true]. Be present and be content and make the most of when you are, because that will change soon enough and if you have been living in the next moment, then you will more than likely be missing out on all you could have made of the present one. If you are one of those other people then STOP ASKING THOSE QUESTIONS. For someone who singleness is a real struggle for, for the couple who have miscarried or have been trying unsuccessfully for two years to fall pregnant, for the parents at their wits end about trying to raise child number one well, those questions, no matter how well meaning they may be can really hurt. Let us celebrate those around us in whatever time and season they are currently in and let us come up with some better questions. Be content, but continue to dream and desire if there is something you are hoping for.
 Be where you are. If you are doing a gap year in another country or have been transferred by work to another city for a few months or if you are working overseas for six months to pay off your student loan or even if you move to a new city or country, be fully there. Our friend Darin travels a lot and even if he is in a hotel room for one night he completely unpacks his bag to remind him that for that moment or time, he is in that place. It is a habit which helps him to be fully present. tbV and i have lived in three different places in the four years we have been married and it has been so important to make each place our home while we are there. In a similiar way to being when you are, this setting of your focus on the now and who of your present context enables you to have far deeper relationships and experiences than if you were living with a passing-through attitude. Live as if you are going to be there for the next twenty years in terms of creating the space you live in and especially in terms of the relationships you build. Be where you are.
 Live. A lot of christians get this one wrong [and others as well, but we have less excuse]. In John 10.10 Jesus warns His disciples that ‘the thief comes only to kill and to steal and to destroy’ [and you can see a lot of that killing, stealing and destroying happening if you don’t choose to be who you are, be when you are and be where you are] and then He goes on to say, ‘But I have come that you may have life and live it to the full.’
Too many people exist. Not enough of us truly live. And that is what we were created to do. We were created to be truly and fully alive and I personally believe that is only possible when we embrace God and live a Jesus-following life, and especially not when we focus simply on rules and regulations and what we can and can’t do but more deeply live out lives that Love God and Love people in life-transforming ways.
Take time to do a quick stock take of your life. If you are spending 6 hours a day slumped in front of the television, if you are playing World of Warcraft for hour at a time that could be spent with your family, if sport or work or church or any other form of hobby or time spender is encroaching upon relationships or people, if no time in your week is dedicated to pouring into someone else’s life in any way, if you are not getting input [through books or speakers] from people who will help you grow and develop into a better person… and a hundred other things… then you are closer to existing than living and there are some changes to be made. There is not time like today to do this. What one change can be made in your life today to help you to truly live?
Anyways, there are many other things i would love for you to know, if i could get to sit down with you at that coffee shop table, but these feel like some good ones to begin with…
Are there any things you would want me to know?
what an incredible psalm.
we know it was ‘To the tune of “A Dove on Distant Oaks” which makes me wonder what type of genre song that was? is this David at his hip hop best? the title does have more of a country feel to it, or maybe a rock ballad? who knows, but it makes for interesting speculation.
we also know this psalm is from ‘when the Philistines seized him in Gath’ so i’m picturing David sitting with his journal and pencil in a Philistine prison, okay probably not but then how did they write stuff in those days?
but two powerful concepts are waiting for you here:
By this I will know that God is for me. [vs. 9b]
i wonder how many christians believe that.
and maybe if more unbelievers could wrap their faith around that idea they would be more quick to follow.
do you actually really believe God is for you? or is your picture of Him closer to a ‘traditional old testament’ view of God – the angry headmaster just waiting for you to step out of line so he can march you to his office and exact the worst kind of humiliating punishment on you?
but David seems confident – by this i will KNOW that God is for me.
one picture i have of God which i find particularly helpful is the idea of a father standing at the finish line of a 100m race screaming his lungs out in cheering me on. He is not running the race for me, but he is giving me complete support and encouragement and motivation.
the passage that first brought this to mind was Hebrews 12, the first three verses:
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’
Know that your God is for you!
the second Truth to hold on to or invite is this one:
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me? [v. 3-4]
trusting God is obviously an important one and knowing He is the one we should run towards when tragedy strikes [and not away from, or towards in blame] but i am more looking at that last line – What can mere mortals do to me?
this week has been a bit of a tough one for me personally in terms of understanding just how easy it is to let mere mortals affect me, but it’s all about knowing that my core foundation stands firm on God. no matter how irritated people get with me or upset with what i say or how i come across, it really doesn’t matter. i know who i am in God and my identity stands firm in Him. when that really kicks in then it becomes so true that what can mere mortals do to me? nothing.
the two go hand in hand – i know my God is for me, and because of that, what can man do to me?’
do you know these two?