Tag Archive: Questions about race

QUESTION 2:  [Graeme Broster]

I don’t believe we can even begin to discuss issues of race, reconciliation etc before we begin to discuss and answer the issue of identity. Not sure if it’s clear but give it some thought

Race panel question: When, if ever, will it be OK to be “over” apartheid? If possible put a number of years to your answer.

[Brett: Hot question i know but i followed it up with Graeme to get some clarity]

Graeme: When, if ever will the issues we have with race become class issues instead?

Brett: That one may not go down well but a great question – can you define a little more closely what you mean by “over apartheid”?

Graeme: In the sense that the white privilege set say “it was 20 yrs ago, I didn’t vote for it, etc, why can’t we just see people #nocolour and so on”

There must come a day when the enforced inequalities of apartheid are soooooo distant that they cease to be relevant?

Brett: One would hope…

As I was typing thus it occurred to me that there may be a parallel with the grief journey where some linger on their loss much longer than others. When does it (if ever) become OK to say “let it go”?

And now some answers, thoughts and ideas from our panel:

Caley Daniels:

I don’t think anyone is in a position to put a number of years to forgiveness and healing because everyone is different and has experienced hurt differently, and perhaps some have been through too much to ever truly be “over” it. I firmly believe in the power a testimony has to inspire life change. Melody Beattie said, “Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people’s souls.” If we mourn forever the horrors of the past would have been in vain.

Busi Ledibane:

I understand why people get frustrated and say that we should let it go. Letting go is good, letting go is freeing but we should be careful to say let it go with things like apartheid. Because really, what do we mean?

I think that people who are still harbouring anger over apartheid need to let it go because it’s crippling but I also think we should take a minute to remember that apartheid was forty years long and twenty years later, its legacy lives on. You still see evidence of the Group Areas Act. We still have white areas, black areas, coloured areas… It’s in our faces everyday. The poverty of the majority of the country is a result of having been denied quality education and fair opportunities by the oppressive system that was apartheid.

The question we should be asking is how do we move forward? And the answer cannot be as simple as letting go because the scars of something like apartheid need a while to heal. It was a big deal and it’s not something that we can just let go but we can learn from it and swear to never let it or anything similar happen again. But that kind of thing doesn’t just take a few people, it takes the effort of every South African. It requires mind sets/attitudes to be transformed. 

We think we have talked enough but we haven’t and that’s why it still hasn’t been let go. As long as we are afraid to talk about what happened and race in general, we will never truly let it go.

John Scheepers:

To be able to declare that we are over apartheid would firstly require that we are able to define what it would look like for us to “over apartheid.” I am not confident that we are yet able, if ever, to do this. One could argue in a technical aspect that the law books are clean and that apartheid is gone, as do the “twenty years already” squad.  But apartheid was so much more than a legal system designed to favour whites.  Apartheid was a total system targeting everything from geography, to education, to romance to economic ability to religion.  Just a cursory glance at the geography of most South African cities should be enough to tell you that the spirit of apartheid is far from dead. The lines of legal code that have successfully been removed from our law books are but the formal implementation of a bigger system of oppression and racial control, which has a far longer history than 1948 and I sadly foresee having a far more extensive future than twenty years.  

If, however, there ever does come a time when we are “over” apartheid, it will not be the place of us white people to decide when that is. Does an adulterer get to decide when the spouse should be “over it”?  Does the rapist get to decide how long is enough for healing to have taken place?  Does the extortionist get to decide how far reaching the consequences of his greed are in the lives of his victims?  Why does it work differently when the perpetrators are privileged white people? 

When will race issues become class issues instead?  The nuances in our society between these two are infinite and we must recognise them as both intricately intertwined and yet not synonymous.  So while a middle-class black woman might face the same set of racial prejudices that a poor black woman from a township might experience, she will probably have greater access to economic assets than her counterpart will.  Both have deep roots in apartheid policies and apartheid mindsets.  I am not sure we will ever be able to separate race and class in South Africa.  In truth, I am not convinced there are many, if any, other places where the two are wholly separate.  The only difference is that in most other places, it is the minority groupings that often occupy the poorer classes.  In South Africa it is the minority white populace who mainly consist of the middle to upper classes.

Tasha Melissa Govender:

I think we need to remember that our democracy is still young. We’re still learning to cope with this new found freedom to be who we want and live how we want. And like a child with no defined boundaries I think at times it’s simple to go overboard. Having said that I don’t believe reconciliation is a fantasy, it’s an amazing ideal that we should all work hard to strive for, daily. I do acknowledge that there have been many who have been hurt amidst apartheid and within the years of freedom that has followed.

The one thing I feel we should strive to move away from is generalization. As much as it can be said “the blacks control and the whites still suffer…” we must remember that the majority of the ‘black’ population live below the poverty line and whilst BEE may be seen as reverse racism it really is a system, if implemented the way it was intended, that works well.

The only way we will be able to move past the hurt is to forgive. I’ve heard horror stories from my parents and grandparents concerning things that happened to them during apartheid- friends of my parents going into exile, many we’re killed and my mother being arrested whilst she was pregnant for me purely because she wore a shirt that held an image of the Black Panthers. My family has adopted the stance of forgiveness, it is a core pillar of our faith and I believe it is the only way for us to move forward and find a way to be released from the sins of the past.

[To return to question one that the panel looked at, click here]

[To read the post where i introduced the members of the panel, click here]

A short while ago i introduced this panel to you made up of friends of mine from South Africa who are from a variety of different race groups/backgrounds and then invited you to ask any race-related questions you might have. The opinions of the members of the panel are in no way expected to represent the thoughts, feelings and ideas of a whole race group or culture, nor are they anticipated to be complete expositions into the heart and soul and depth of every question asked. They are simply opinions, thoughts and feelings of that individual, who is someone i deeply respect and think is worth hearing from and collectively i hope they will bring a strong degree of variety and depth to answering every question we look at. Not every panel member will necessarily answer each question, but i am hoping to have a few different perspectives on each question we tackle.

Because the answers were slightly longer and worth thinking about a little more deeply, i decided to simply use the first question in this post and i may add some answers as more come in, but in the meantime:

QUESTION 1: [Dave Child]

 “As South Africans, in 2014, how do we begin to frame our identities (as whites, blacks, coloureds etc) in a young democracy with such a long and deep history of racial hatred and discrimination?”

Caley Daniels:

I think we’ve all experienced one or two human beings who are still caught up in the culture of discrimination. What’s sad to me is that it’s usually the opinion of the parents that has been passed on to the children – and I think that is where the problem lies: ignorance breeds ignorance (that’s what it boils down to – racism, sexism, homophobia, whatever). If there are still people of the previous generation whom we can’t rely on to lead us by example, then the change has to come from us. I take my stance from Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:12 (But this can apply to everyone in the context of the question) “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

I say this with the utmost respect for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations which includes individuals who have been through more than we could ever imagine! But we know better than to continue in those ways. We have better circumstances, and environment more peaceful than it was in their time. We should be building on that and using what’s in our hands right now: an opportunity to use acceptance to eradicate ignorance, discrimination and racial hatred.

Tony Nzanzah: 

That is an excellent question that will sadly be visited for thousands of years to come. The thing that is against us is that our past has been framed through the eyes of race and the reality is that some of these feelings are deeply entrenched.

All one has to do at times is to read one negative article about one of the politicians either from the left or right and follow the online comments. Some of the comments remind me how far we are to fully embrace diversity and celebrate it. I believe this journey of transformation takes root when I choose in my interactions to refrain from referring to “them” or “those people” to us and to see myself as part of the whole. It is probably easier said than done and the recent elections in South Africa were a good reminder. You see some of the racial profiling is sublimely entrenched in our society through the forms that we are forced to fill in that ask us to refer us to our racial tag.

We need to be comfortable with people with a different shade and as a Christian, I believe that we are all created equally. Yes, at times the access to resources plays a role in dividing us further. I need to learn to walk across the room and reach out to others and not feel that I have to be invited. It requires me to be comfortable first in my own skin before I can try to reach out to others. One of the influential post- apartheid presidents, Thabo Mbeki, penned the famous words, “I am an African.” In my own journey I tend to embrace my Africanness as a way to help bridge the huge cultural chasm that exists in South Africa. This to me is a new way of referring to who we are as people that see themselves better than just the pigmentation of their skin colour!

We need a new revolution of finding each other and identifying each other as an African. This is hard work that a lot of us refrain from embarking as this hard work comes with a sprinkling of pain and tears. I have cringed when I hear people from a different cultural group saying things as “I understand those people”; this comes out as condescending and out of touch with reality.

It is dangerous to believe that since one has tuned their taste buds to eat tripe or sheep heads this qualifies them to utter such patronising comments. We all need to undergo a cultural detox that removes preconceived ideologies that silently occupy our minds. The battle is really about how I free about myself as opposed to how others need to be freed. As Africans we need to divorce ourselves from victim mentality that only aims to imprison us in the past. The challenge is not out there in some leafy suburb or township but is in our minds. Fear is a powerful weapon that paralyses us as the unknown outcome can be more daunting. The Bible talks about ‘renewing our minds’ and this is a process that is needed to allow us to see each other beyond racial tags. This also speaks about our view of people.  

A utopia of a colourless society is a figment of our imagination but we need to learn to dance with each other to a new rhythm that celebrates our uniqueness as Africans. A perfect dance is only possible when dancers are willing to step on each other toes, laugh at their mistakes and be enriched by them. Come let’s go dancing!

John Scheepers:

 When it comes to identity our world has such a strong push to what I call unique conformity.  In a world drunk with the quest for individuality there exists somewhat paradoxically a co-dependant drive for conformity.  Somehow the uniqueness of racial identity is seen as an evil thing.  We must strive, we are often told, to “not see colour” anymore.  While this might be admirable when it comes to judging a person’s character or ability, it is not the whole picture when it comes to culture.  It is not wrong to understand, at least in part, your identity racially or culturally. But it is when you understand the values of your race or culture as the normalising values by which you may judge the value or worth of another culture that things go wrong.

The Bible celebrates both the unity (common humanity) and the diversity of our world.  The creation narrative displays both the unity of origin, of structure and of order as well as the diversity of animal and plant life.  Humanity is then given a cultural mandate to take up the raw materials of creation and to shape and use them to fill the earth with God’s glory.  Even sin cannot fully destroy that original intent with the result that in the picture language of Revelation the splendour of the nations are brought into the New Jerusalem.  The riches and beauty of every culture and every nation, I suspect, will somehow be redeemed and included into God’s new creation.  Note also that the picture of the redeemed people of God is not simply one homogeneous church service but a seething mass of diversity, people from every tribe, tongue and nation together under one King.  Equality and diversity are not mutually exclusive. 

As a Christian though, the ultimate thing is not my cultural identity but my identity in Christ.  For so many of us who call ourselves Christ followers, we have simply tacked our Christianity on to our cultural identity and values.  But the biblical picture is far more radical than that.  In Christ we have died to our old self riddled through with sin and self-interest and been raised to a new life of hope, joy and renewed identity.  My primary identity is now no longer rooted in my family, my culture or my race.  My primary identity is as a member of God’s new family, his new people through whom he is bringing hope and restoration to a broken and dying world. 

I do not stop being a white, English-speaking male but it is no longer that which primarily defines me.  I am now set free to, like Christ, lay down my life, my rights, my cultural markers, my skin colour, in service of those who are not like me.  I no longer define my brother by the colour of his skin or the language of his birth but by his inclusion into the people of God.  I have a new identity that both affirms the beauty of my culture or my people and yet sets me free to find my identity in a far bigger and more beautiful story than the shade of my skin.

Tasha Melissa Govender

Hi Dave, you know the question of identity is so tricky. There comes the process of defining identity and defining what constitutes as identity. As with everyone else, I can only give you my own opinion on what I believe it to be – it may be biased but I’ll try to be as honest as I possibly can. 

I identify myself first and foremost as a female and then as a South African. I always find there is a tendency to classifying ourselves by race and then nationality, I don’t necessarily agree with this – I simply see my Indian ethnicity as my heritage as opposed to my identity. 

Given our very young democracy, I feel the notion of identity falls into a very tricky arena. I think the crucial factor is that within a society that has so many different facets be it interracial relationships or individuals being adopted into families with different ethnicities than themselves there is a large arena in which the individual begins to define and determine their own identity. I may be simplifying it too much but I truly believe it depends on the individual and the space in which they feel comfortable calling home. At this point it now becomes the responsibilities of those the individual comes in contact with to be open to the possibility of this person identifying with something that may seem other than what they are. I really hope this made sense!

Do you have any thoughts, ideas or feelings to add? Please jump on to the comments section and voice them respectfully – we would LOVE to hear from you.

Did you find this question and answer helpful in any way? Well then please SHARE it across your social networks so more people can become a part of this conversation.

Is there a question you would like to ask the panel that relates to an aspect of race and culture? Pop it in an email and send it to me at brettfish@hotmail.com

[To continue to question 2 of the panel relating to ‘When will we be ‘over’ apartheid?, click here]

[To view other aspects of our race-related conversations on this blog, click here]

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