Tag Archive: white privilege


drum

i have read some REALLY helpful articles about privilege this week.

My fear is that the appearance of the word ‘privilege’ with the assumption of it being specifically ‘white privilege’ on my blog immediately drives the very people i am wanting to hear and engage with this stuff away.

But my hope, which is so much stronger than my fear, is that there are people like Bob [who a bunch of us had this long and helpful conversation with a while back] who genuinely are wanting to understand and be involved in the conversation and change where necessary, there are others who get or kinda get the need for change and just don’t know how to go about it and hopefully there are others sitting on the edge who will eventually at some point hear the proverbial penny dropping and let out a positive and helpful and transformative, “Ohhhhhhhhhhh!”

WHAT PRIVILEGE REALLY MEANS

The first one i read was titled ‘What Privilege Really Means’ by Maisha Z Johnson and doesn’t even use the word white, so maybe we’ll be okay here. She starts off like this:

I’m pretty fed up with privilege. But that doesn’t mean I hate privileged people.

When I write about the privilege that certain groups have, some people – usually those in the groups I’m writing about – get upset.

For example, I say how tired I am of how the system of white privilege excludes and harms non-white people, and some people accuse me of hating on white folks.

There’s only one problem: If you get upset when someone points out that you have privilege, that probably means you don’t fully understand what privilege is.

Because if you think having privilege means that you’re a bad person, or that you haven’t had struggles, or that you haven’t worked hard for what you have – then I can totally feel why you might be frustrated. If that were the case, then yes, it’d be completely unfair of me to claim that all white people or straight people or men or people of any other dominant group are living easy off their unearned privileges.

But having privilege doesn’t mean any of those things.

She lists 18 points which i found very helpful as many of them address specific things that people-who-have-issues-with-the-term-white-privilege are raising, some examples being:

# Having Privilege doesn’t mean you’re a bad person

# Having privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced oppression in other ways

# Having Privilege doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard or you should feel bad about your good fortune

As well as some of the positives, such as:

# Having Privilege means you can support the most vulnerable among us to strengthen your own fight

# Having Privilege means you have a choice about what to do with it

But go read the rest of that article because i found it so super helpful and i imagine if some of the people who have a reaction to the words ‘White Privilege” or “Privilege” in general got to read it, they would have their eyes opened a little bit more. Maybe if you’re a choir person and know someone this would really help, print out a copy and go through it with them and ask if they agree or disagree.

WHITE RACIST OR IN RECOVERY

Then Jordan Pickering wrote this piece on news 24 that contained some REALLY helpful points as well. Please go and read the whole thing.

It begins with a similar mantra that many of us could repeat from heart:

I was born into a system that I had no role in setting up or choosing. If asked, my family would have said that racism is an evil. When Mandela was released from prison, I was barely 11 and only followed the sports section of the news. If an apology needs to be given for Apartheid why would I need to give it? When it comes to taking responsibility for Apartheid, should that include me?

But then goes on to ask a series of challenging but helpful questions and makes some statements that dig more to the heart of the matter:

And this is really the main issue. The problem is not that whites haven’t apologised for our racism (after all, who would someone like me apologise to and what exactly would I be sorry for?). The problem is that we have never owned it at all. It was all someone else’s fault.

Apartheid may be dead, but it bequeathed to all of us those coloured contact lenses that make racism part of our way of seeing. Realising to what degree you see the world with Apartheid’s taint is the first step to owning the past, and taking nation-building forward into the future.

TWO OTHER EXCELLENT READS WORTH YOUR TIME

Hardly anyone read this latest extract i posted from the Steve Biko book, ‘I Write What I Like’ and yet it feels like an incredibly important one to take in as well. [Who would have thought solving all South Africa’s issues would actually take a bit of time and effort and energy and research? Seriously, these conversations are worth reading more deeply on. Make the time!] i was strongly convicted about my attitude of superiority when it comes to black people in general – wow, that is NOT a fun line to think, say or type out loud. Yet i see it in myself. i need help. And i imagine i am not alone in this…

And lastly there was this piece i wrote the other day in response to some of the pushbacks to White Privilege conversation [which continue in the comment section if you have time to engage] which was a response to a response to an article i posted on Facebook the other day.

You’re tired of me blogging about Race and Privilege and Hope for South Africa and more? Well i’m sure people of colour are tired of being racisted upon and so until that stops, there is a lot of work to do. i’m not the best person to do it, i don’t doubt that for a second. But i know some pretty good people who are helping me along, being gracious and sending me stuff to read and having conversations and writing for this blog and more.

The answer answer i’m convinced is RELATIONSHIPS – genuine, authentic, life-transforming friendships with people from other races and cultures and socio-economic groups who will continue to be gracious and loving and patient and more. If you don’t have those in your life and are arguing against any of this stuff, then you really need to shut up and go and make yourself some friends. This cannot be an isolated conversation in the mind space. This is real and has to be worked out and beaten out and wrestled and pushed-back upon and get-a-little-bit-out-of-control and fought over and repented about and confessed and loved and shared over meals and walked, but together. Come on, South Africa. i believe.

[To continue reading and engaging on topics relating to South Africa and beyond, click here]

mandela

This rollercoaster looks familiar.

i had just posted a link to an article titled Get Real White South Africa, written by Milisuthando Bongela on the Times Lives site.

It contained this challenging and eye-opening statement:

Only white people can end white supremacy from within their communities – from their churches, schools, dinner tables, clamber clubs, sports clubs, boardrooms, banting restaurants, neighbourhood-watch WhatsApp groups, advertising agency brainstorms, rebranded Broederbond organisations, newsrooms, coffee roasteries, and homes.

Which i  believe contains a whole lot of Truth as typically [you see it in the USA right now with their different but similar-themed story] it tends to be those who were formerly oppressed who find themselves doing the majority of the work to end the oppression and build the different-looking future.

And ended with what it called this requirement:

This is not a request or a plea, it is a requirement if we are all to live in the peace we are all desperate to achieve. It is time to divide more equally the responsibility of dealing with the racial dialectic we find ourselves in. But there has to be the will to change. If there’s no will to change, those who do care will die trying, as will the dream of our new-look nation.

And typical to me posting a piece on ‘White Privilege’ or other related Race or Reconciliation writing, there was push-back. Some of it has been addressed quite effectively in this nine part series of letters and response, titled ‘What About Bob?’ that i ran on my blog not too long ago. If you missed that, i would seriously put aside some time to work through the posts as they were really helpful.

Two comments stood out in the brief conversation that followed. The first is from a friend of mine, Brett [good name!], who works in a township and so i think should have a greater understanding of a lot of these things or at least greater access to the stories in front of him. i know Brett to be someone who is genuine and so i don’t doubt his questions at all, which is why i feel it is worth taking the time to address my concerns.

The second is a guy i don’t know and to be honest feels like the angry words of someone not that interested in change. Derick contradicts himself in his own paragraph and i don’t know that going to deeply into that one will be helpful, but it is good to highlight how some people think and react so that we can understand what change still needs to happen.

THE CHALLENGES I SEE IN YOUR THINKING

To me, that sounds a lot like all whites, even the white people who had no active role in apartheid, must simply give over their wealth to the previously disadvantaged portion of the population and that the previously disadvantaged must do nothing in between then except waiting for the hand out and redistribution. I don’t see how that is a viable solution. Where does hard work come in or rewards for personal betterment and effort? Again, I acknowledge that the effects of apartheid are still seen today and we still have a long way to go to reach proper equality, but I don’t believe the correct way to empower the poorer portion of black people in this country is to simply give, give, give while we sit with white guilt. [Brett Miller]

Three phrases in this paragraph concern me, and i want to deal with them all briefly:

# All whites, even the white people who had no active role in apartheid

This is a very problematic statement. Is the person who calls someone ‘the K word’ more guilty than the one who stands by and lets it happen? Is the one who enforces a ‘Whites Only/Blacks Only’ beach more guilty than the white person who enjoys the privilege to be found in getting to use the best beach? Does a church or a Christian Student organisation that chose to be segregated rather than fight segregation or simply refuse and take whatever consequences follow not need to stand accountable? The words ‘active role’ i don’t think help create much of a distinction. There is guilt by action and guilt by association and guilt by being complicit and not standing against what was wrong. Most whites in the country fall into those categories although there was a small percentage who actively fought against it and received some consequence for their actions.

But it goes deeper than that. Especially now that we are 21 years in to ‘the New South Africa’ and all of that and so you have people who have been born and are growing up as the generation who wasn’t around for apartheid. But that is where an acknowledgement of White Privilege comes into play. Not that you particularly did anything to create the difference, but that you were born into the difference and purely by being white, received certain advantages [whether you were born into wealth or not]. Many people seem to confuse the term ‘White Privilege’ with ‘White Wealth’ but they are not the same thing. You can be born into poverty as a white person and still have a certain amount of privilege over someone who is black and born into wealth. We are talking about a level playing field.

A young white girl who has her own bedroom and all the quiet she needs to be able to study and a complete school uniform and two parents who love her and provide for her, three meals a day and the basic necessities of life. Compare that to a young black woman living in a shack in a township. The noise, the distraction, the possibility of having to venture outside at night simply to go to the toilet, sharing a room slash house with a huge number of people, one or both parents not around, her mom having to wake up at 4am to go off to clean someone else’s house, needing to look after her three younger siblings and be the mom in many respects. One example that exists and is played out in many households around South Africa and a clear reflection of a playing field that is not level.

The effects and consequences of apartheid mean that while the white girl may not have had an active role in apartheid, things have still turned out relatively okay for her and yet there is no way you can hold her performance against the performance of the black girl and compare them as equals when it comes to university requirements etc.

# Where does hard work come in or rewards for personal betterment and effort?

As above. The constant refrain from the white person [see Derick below] is ‘I was not an active player in apartheid. I grew up with nothing and worked hard for what I have so why should I give it up?’ And once again, if the playing field was equal, that would likely be a more valid point.

But when you go back to my example, as hard as the white girl works to get into University, at some point she has to come across the story of the black girl and realise that things are not equal or fair and that unless something pretty big is done about it, the cycle will continue for many many years to come. This is where it gets tricky cos i’m not sure what the answer is and hope others will weigh in with some practical solutions but one way forward i guess is when the white girl has a job and is earning R15000 a month, realising that she can get by on R13000 a month and deciding to put that R2000 a month towards a cause that will in some way help level the playing field. i don’t even know what the numbers are in the country for starting salaries and all that but perhaps the solution lies somewhere in the haze of ‘Maybe i won’t have a vacation in Europe for a month while my friend is struggling to pay their rent and eat’ or something like that.

Finding an effective way forward requires a huge amount of people to get hugely creative with what they have and will require a certain amount of personal sacrifice of the greeds we feel entitled to, in order to better address the needs that so many people have. Maybe it lies in part in where that white girl chooses to live or how she chooses to use her law degree or in the community of friends she gathers around herself who maybe don’t all look and think like her.

# while we sit with white guilt

This one i don’t get. i see a strong distinction between Guilt and Conviction. And we should totally be convicted. When we eat the red pill and our eyes are opened [in part] to the unfairness of the situation we live in, then that should move us to want to make a difference. All guilt ever does is paralyse and leave us feeling bad and unable to make a difference. So stop feeling guilty. Be mobilised to do something.

In my quest to understand the present situation a little better i have been reading up on our history from different voices to the ones i was taught – Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, and even Antjie KrogI have looked to strengthen my friendships with black people i know who live in the townships and graciously spend time educating me on the real needs and hurts and drive of the people there. I have used my forum/audience to create spaces for voices representing in part different colour/culture perspectives. There is a long long way to go and i feel completely out of my depth and with no clue a lot of the time, but i am trying to LISTEN better [without preparing my answer or ‘defence’] and hear stories and be aware of opportunities and so on.

Brett, i hope that has been helpful. i imagine from your work that you have a lot to teach us and share with us and i hope you will continue to be open to really hearing the stories that are out there and gaining a better understanding of what we can do to make an effective difference.

And then there was Derick:

I’m gonna come across more blunt and say that is exactly what the author expects in this article. Stop sugar coating things please. They expect me who had absolutely zero f*all to do with apartheid, to hand over my hard earned $ which I work for everyday and require in order to live, to someone else because they are previously disadvantaged. This article is going the right way about pissing off a lot of people. I also acknowledge the gross inequalities and that I am more fortunate than most. But in many cases this is already being implemented, and look at the state our country is in. Corruption at an all time record high, more and more taxes being implemented, incompetent municipalities and leaders at every turn. Load shedding every day. Is this all due to Apartheid? Lol what a joke. Get out of my face with that please. [Derick Vorster]

i don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because your attitude suggests that you are not so much interested in hearing anything outside of what you already believe and continue to tell yourself. My only question would be how you go from ‘I also acknowledge the gross inequalities and that I am more fortunate than most’ to pretty much anything else you said in there. It is like you are acknowledging there is a disparity and something needs to be done for it to be more equal but you are clearly not going to be doing anything to do anything about it. Just the guy who got lucky with the Lottery Ticket. The only suggestion i really have for you is to leave the country. You clearly are not happy here and you should go somewhere else where you don’t have to be inconvenienced with having all this unfairness in your face. for your sake and ours. i can’t see anything else except an absolutely major shift of thinking and attitude making much difference with you. i honestly wish i had the money to offer to buy you that ticket.

[For other Conversations relating to South Africa, click here]

My friend Dre, who shared some excellent feedback to Bob’s first email over here, responded to his latest response in a comment but i asked her if i could rather share it as a post cos everyone should read this, especially but not solely, Bob. Dre for president!:

dre

Bob, you didn’t respond to MY post! *sniff sniff* I feel so left out! (kidding, I’ll be fine 😉 But seriously, I do appreciate your response to the discussions in general. I think that, based on this post, you definitely seem ‘further along the journey’ than you did in your original mail, which, intentionally or not, had a much more ranty, almost arrogant tone. Here, however, you show a willingness to listen and engage (despite a few ‘yes buts’ 😉 which is great.

However, I also respect Megan’s point of view – her original comment and the one above, in that I am also getting a little tired of ‘educating’ white South Africans on race. Mainly because I’m still reading, listening and learning too, and as Megan says, it’s up to us to do the work, not demand that others ‘help’ us. Read news articles and opinions from all sources (not just news24 or iol, people!) Go to public lectures at your nearest university. Have robust discussions with friends of all backgrounds. Read some books about South Africa (Brett has some good suggestions on this blog).

Sometimes I feel like some white South Africans are not truly asking questions to learn more, but rather to defend their current viewpoints. So I’d say to Bob and all those who are asking similar questions about race and their place in South Africa, just look at your motives. Are you prepared for hard answers? Are you prepared to be uncomfortable? (I’m not saying you’re not, Bob, just addressing this also to others who might have similar questions.)

Lastly, I feel like a lot of the points you mentioned in your previous post and this one have a lot to do with ‘big’ issues – foreign aid, government corruption, economic inequality etc. these are obviously important, and if we are in a position to do so, we can make a difference on that level too… but often that can be quite overwhelming. What I’d humbly suggest is, if you want to feel that you ‘belong’ in South Africa, start acting small rather than only debating big (and again, this is not just for Bob, and I need to do this more too!).

Get involved in something that brings you into contact with those from a different background and race, maybe even something that helps to alleviate suffering or just helps out those who haven’t had your advantages. If you’re involved in a church, that can be a good place to connect with ongoing projects that help the poor, for instance. Ask around. Use your skills and resources, even if it’s only your time.

Instead of asking: “where do I stand as a white South African”, ask “Who needs me to stand alongside them?” And in the process, your perspective on the country and your ‘belonging’ will change – not that it’ll be easy or comfortable or simple, but it will help.

Thanks for engaging, Bob and others – it’s been an important conversation, I think!

[To read the original email and any of the responses, click here] 

flag

About two weeks ago i published an email from a friend of mine who is white, male, South African and presently living in the UK who had some thoughts, feelings, questions and frustrations about life in South Africa and some of the conversations we’d been having on here. i shared his email under the guise of ‘Bob’ and invited a few of my friends to respond, all of which you can catch up with over here [worth a read!]. Bob has taken it all in and had some time to think about it and compose some follow up thoughts, which you are again invited to respond to in the nicest of let’s-all-see-if-we-can-somehow-learn-from-this-and-be-transformed fashion in the comments section [or if you want to respond in a post, email me]. So here is some more from ‘Bob’:

It’s been a great discussion and I have learnt a lot from it. I think one of the main things learnt is that maybe a more humble less frustrated approach should have been taken.

I tend to take things as I see them, when it comes to a starting point and so the points I raised were points that I have read in other news, blogs and comments. These points struck a nerve with me and in order for me to get my head around things I thought it best to start by putting those points out there in order to get feedback and better understand the issues.

There have been so many great responses as blog posts and comments and these have given me a lot to think over. Some have been eye opening and given me a lot to think over and adjust my way of seeing things and others have prompted further questions, the “I see what you are saying, but…” type ones. My responses to these are not to say I disagree with you, but rather it is my way of eliminating things in order to come to a more balanced point of view. Its just how my mind works (rightly or wrongly). As an example there are many ways to join wood, however only one way is fit for the purpose that you need wood joined for. I generally will try multiple ways before giving in and using the right way, because only then does it make sense to me.

I thought the best way to respond would be to answer each person at a time, rather than jumping around posts and comments. I have not responded to all points raised, this is not to say that what was posted by various people was not taken notice of, it was.

I had also come up with a number of responses to various people and points. However following reading a link that Brett sent me (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710.html –  AN EXCELLENT READ!!!!!), some of my responses seemed very insignificant all of a sudden. So it was back to the drawing board and here is what I came up with.

I would like to say that, though I may not get everything right I am genuinely here looking to make sense of things, understand, learn and grow… so please bear with me and the way my mind works…

Megan – As my harshest critic I thought I would start with your post [Find comment in comments section here]

You had some pretty harsh words for me and at first I actually thought you were a troll and had to ask Brett. After your rant you said… “hate your pronouncements that are from the voice of knowing better, without doing a thing to engage, understand, imagine, talk and listen.”

I never claimed to know better and what you are criticising me for “without doing a thing to engage, understand, imagine, talk and listen”, is the very thing I am doing. I can’t listen or engage without asking the questions that I have. My questions are based on where I am at in my journey (which albeit is probably the very start of it). I genuinely want to understand and grow more and that was what I had to go on to start. They were questions based on initial observations and thoughts based on my point of view and by asking those questions I can listen and reshape my thoughts and points of view.

While I think that sometimes a direct “Hey brother catch a wake up” is needed. I do think that your approach does nothing for the conversation especially to encourage a white person to get involved. Your comment is more likely to drive people back to square one and not engage for fear of being berated for wanting to engage.

ChevsLife [Find comment in comments section here]

I really liked your comment and it really got what I was thinking with regards to (amongst other points) government exploiting the poor and apartheid, to maintain power and serve their own interests. I think that is where a lot of my frustration lies, in that I see (at the moment and I am not saying I am right) government using race to divide us in order to distract people from the issues that government isnt dealing with.

Alexa [Read blog post response here]

You made an excellent point about recognising the past issues but not needing to feel guilty about it. I think a lot of people white/better- well-off do feel guilty about the past or (from a non racial point) their better lot in life versus those less well off. This means that they don’t want to be engaged with people who aren’t as lucky as they are, more often than not because they don’t know and don’t have the tools to deal with the uncomfortableness of the situation. Even those who started from a point of disadvantage and worked dam hard to get to that “middle class”/wealthier state feel guilty and are then seen as turning their back on where they came from. It’s a difficult one and if people don’t realise that they have nothing to feel guilty about, when it comes to the actions of others, they will be more defensive. By removing guilt but recognising someones plight and seeing them as people, we can form strong real honest relationships.

I also agree that engagement without fear of condemnation is important. I am not saying that this will be any less uncomfortable or that it’s about the white perspective, but many post apartheid whites were brought up with a way of thinking. This way of thinking in most cases misses out key information and life experiences, so I think that it is about working with white people to alter their way of thinking to include histories, life experiences and understanding of others points of view without condemnation, as condemnation breeds guilt and guilt breeds defensiveness and no interest to engage.

I think associating with people unlike us when we are the odd one out (no matter the group make up, 1 person from a race group with a bunch of people from another or a poorer person in amongst a group of wealthy people) will always be uncomfortable and that person will be mistrusted by the group. Why? Because that one person is different and the group as a whole doesn’t know that persons motivations for being there.

I have spent a number of nights, spending time with friends in Langa at shebeens (not the mainstream ones) and in Manenberg. i felt massively uncomfortable because those that didn’t know me, didn’t trust me. Cops (1 coloured 1 black) pulled me over when leaving Manenberg wanting to know what I was doing there, was I buying drugs? The same for entering Langa, we were told by our friends that they would meet us at a certain point and escort us in… not something my black friends needed to do when they came to visit me.

I think you were spot on about us celebrating together but not healing together.

I am wanting to engage and I don’t see myself as losing power as I don’t have that much power and wealth anyway, but yes I do see what you are saying, especially from those whites who have IMMENSE wealth. I do though have a follow on question from this though. What about the black leadership of the country and the black super wealthy, they don’t want change either because that will mean possibly losing their power and wealth?

Stephan [Find comment in comment section here]

I don’t think it’s about giving up what we have worked hard for, it’s about doing our bit to help lift up our brother or sister. I think it’s a shift that humanity needs to do as whole and its not unique to South Africa or even Africa and I don’t think that it has anything to do with race (although in Africa the wealth gap is clearly defined by race because of the past). So many of us live beyond our needs or have more than enough to provide for our family and secure their future. I also think that we should enjoy the finer things in life, especially if we have worked hard to achieve them. But do we NEED everything? Should our success mean paying people poorly so we make a better profit? I don’t think so.

Marlyn [Read blog response here] 

I am not trying to play victim, I am though wanting to understand things from a different perspective. I am not a victim but I am confused about where I stand in South Africa.

I make no argument that I haven’t benefitted from the past. I have.

Yes, I have visited Langa and Manenberg and felt uncomfortable and treated suspiciously as an outsider.

I agree totally, I need to acknowledge the suffering of the past, but what I don’t understand and what frustrates me is that the suffering continues from the very people who fought the suffering of the past.

I think there is also a difference between someone saying “Get over it” and saying “move forward”. Structures remain in place because those in power allow them to. I am not saying go to opposite extremes, but they do need to be addressed in a balanced and methodical way.

I genuinely don’t see race, I see people. But yes the apartheid government did engineer things, which the effects of are still present today, so with that said my outlook may differ or be skewed but that is what I am wanting to work on.

I totally agree UCT (and others) do need more black (female) professors, deans and so on. So why then isn’t there this change? Especially as the chancellor is a black women. Surely she has that power to employ a more balanced faculty?

You raise an excellent point about invisible privilege factors and a lot of whites do need further education about this, because it doesn’t even appear on our day to day radar.

I totally agree with you about the conditions the vast majority of South Africans had to live and grow up in during apartheid. But what about now…It was the current government who disbanded the specialised anti gang and drug police units, the current government who is not building or upgrading schools, it is the current government who is leaving tens of thousands of school books in warehouses and not delivering them to schools in need, it’s the current government whose ward councillors are charging people for the keys to their free home in poor communities and it’s the current government who hasn’t significantly increased minimum wage or put proper HR regulations in place.

You also mention the opportunities of White people in the suburbs getting in decent schools and having a better start in life. On the whole I agree with this, but it’s not entirely accurate. If I were to live in the same house that I grew up in, firstly there is no way I could afford to buy there and secondly they would struggle to get into Rondebosch or SACS as we would be outside the catchment area, even though I went to Rondebosch. These catchment areas have been reduced to accommodate pupils for poorer more disadvantaged areas, who have just as much right to that eduction. I agree that the balance is still not there, but it is getting there and should get there faster.

Looking at ANC corruption and business, I hear what you are saying, but…

  • ANC corruption is what we hear about pretty much all the time, by what I hope is a balanced unbiased media
  • Why hasn’t the government increased minimum wage?
  • Why are HR regulations and hiring processes so poor? My wife, who is in HR is constantly amazed and shocked that people need to attached a photo to their application, or questions about disabilities are asked or job adverts are placed “Seeking experienced 20-30 female”.
  • Labourers and domestic workers need better wages and more fairer wages

I would like to also point out that I was referring to small white owned businesses (the ones that operate fairly). It’s only the big multinationals who have the money for the legal clout to skirt around things to maintain power. I now source work for the business from the UK and we try to use bright people who have started life from a disadvantaged point for contracts. We then work with them to help them develop as self employed individuals and going on to find and manage other contracts from within SA and the rest of the world.

With regards to your point on donations. Yes the west offers (and in some cases assumes that Africa needs it), but if South Africa doesn’t want it they are free to make the choice to say no thanks. Not sure if you are aware but the UK has committed £170 million (I may be off by a couple of million) of its regional aid budget to South Africa for 2015/16 with a yearly top up of £80 million each year thereafter with no plans to cap that. If SA doesn’t want it then tell the UK, there are plenty of impoverished areas in the UK (to the same extent as South Africa) that could REALLY do with it.

Of course there are strings attached, same goes for the aid/investment from China (or the aid from SA to other African countries), but once again it’s our leaders who accept the terms. What confuses is that on the one hand the west is called on for this that and the other and then they are told not to interfere and get out of Africa. It’s the swapping of one imperialistic agenda for another (western for eastern – china tells SA not to give the Dalai Lama visa or small mineral mining, carried out by Chinese miners and not employing local people)

I agree my humanity may be damaged, which is why I am on this path to change that. Its not easy when it comes to self reflection and imbedded unaware thoughts.

Tsholo [Read blog response here]

Thanks for calling me on my statement of “moving in reverse”. That was very much a point of vent first, think later. I totally agree with you regarding white privilege and still working to try get my head around it there is a lot to breakthrough and fully understand and not having the opportunity to experience it from the other side does not make it any easier to grasp… but I continue to try.

Thank you for your perspective of the statue issue. I have never seen them as a celebration but as markers of points in history. I can see now how they are used to celebrate and that in so doing continue to cause upset. point taken view changed.

I found your perspective on “What Colonialism brought to SA” really great and never thought about it in that way in that Africa’s progress was interrupted, but surely the same could be said for other nations, countries and people across history, what makes Africa so special in this regard? Is it because in terms of history it’s relatively fresh still?. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Africans were sitting on their thumbs waiting to be rescued and I apologise if that’s how it came out. The question was very much based on other arguments I have heard from “one-sided-ness” and want to understand more from a more balanced perspective.

On your aid to Africa with strings attached point, I covered this in my response to Marlyn.

Yes I am well aware that black people donate and do humanitarian things, apologies if you thought that was a point of criticism. I guess what I was interested in was when you donate and so on, is it view with skepticism or if a wealthy black person donates is it seen as a guilt payment?

When I give, I do so because I want to give back and help where I can, but then I am told by some that whites don’t belong. So my humanity is based on me being white.

Conclusion – Sorry If I didnt get to respond to you all… 

…as you can see I have written a small book and there is loads more that is swimming around in mind. I guess the point is that I have taken everything that has been said on board and am now able to start to see things from a more informed perspective.

I will continue to listen and digest. I am now able to have those conversations with people and better understand where they are coming from.

I think the thing for a lot of whites is that they dont understand or see the difference between racial acceptance and racism. If you havent yet read http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism_b_7183710.htm read it.

I have a long way to go and I am sure that my comments, questions and reflections above are probably not totally there yet. I am though asking the questions to change my perspective and outlook.

I won’t be responding further, I will though be reading any further responses with interest, listening hard and trying to correct areas that need correction in my life.

Sorry Megan if I am not quite as far along as you might like, but every journey needs to start somewhere.

[for Andrea’s response to this piece, click here]

[To return to the original mail by Bob and a link to all the responses that have followed, click here]

My lovely wife Val was of course the hostess for Friday's dinner and deep dive into Race, Boundary and Location conversation that i wrote about over here, and she shares some of her thoughts from the evening:

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The idea is simple: gather good people around good food and good discussion and see what happens. So we did. We turned off technology and tuned in to people. It was messy and it was chaotic, it was painful and it was personal and it was powerful. It was raw and it was redemptive. Some of us ate spaghetti with a spoon cos we ran out of cutlery. We sat on the floor and on stools and really close to each other – three people thigh to thigh on a chair made for two. We talked and told stories, argued and challenged, wrestled and sat in silence – the good kind and the uncomfortable kind. We left with heads and hearts aching, but full.

Here’s some of what I learnt:

1. White privilege is less about access to “stuff” and more about access to choices or, in Sen’s theorizing, capabilities – the real opportunities of being and doing available to attain well-being. Here’s an example: consider a priest who is fasting and a man in a famine-stricken country who is starving. The key element in determining a person’s well-being here is not whether both are experiencing hunger, but whether the person has access to food and is choosing not to eat. The functioning is starving but the capability to obtain an adequate amount of food is the key element in evaluating well-being between these two individuals. Having a lifestyle is not the same as choosing it; well-being depends on how that lifestyle came to be.

Here’s another example. Consider a bike as a commodity which enables the functioning of mobility. Personal, social and environmental conversion factors impact an individual’s ability to convert the commodity (the bike) into functioning (getting from A to B).  If a person is physically disabled, never learnt to ride a bike, if women are not allowed to ride bikes, or if there are no roads, then a person’s capacity to convert the potential of the bike into movement is limited. It’s not enough to give someone a bike if they don’t have the ability, the capacity, the enabling conditions to ride it in a way that moves them forward (or if they don’t have access to a pump, if they cannot take the bike out without being physically threatened by a mugging, etc)

2. In a post-industrial/post-agricultural world, we believe that we too are living in the Information Age, where the primary means of production is Knowledge and the accumulation of knowledge (i.e. education) is the means by which individuals access livelihood, opportunity, resource, jobs etc. I simply don’t believe this is true in South Africa. I wonder if perhaps we are actually in the Age of Connection. Knowledge might be power, but it’s less about what you know and more about who you know. The primary means of production might be Social Capital – the contacts and connections which enable us to network, navigate and negotiate the economic landscape. Perhaps education is the capability, but the functioning is all about social capital – it’s the people we know, the professional contacts, the personal networks that enable us to actualize opportunity. White privilege is at its core all about social capital.

3. While I can sympathize with the pain and anger of black friends, I don’t think I can actually empathize. I can show compassion for, seek to understand, commiserate with, experience anger on behalf of but I can never really experience “from within another’s frame of reference”. As one of our guests so rightly pointed out “We do not and cannot experience EQUAL frustration. You had a choice.”

4. I need to shut up more. Perhaps one of our greatest failings as white people in South Africa is our inability to sit in silence. When we listen to the voices of our black brothers/sisters expressing pain, anger, frustration, or simply sharing their experience, we want to immediately question, clarify, push-back, argue, dissect, debate, wrestle, show the other side, point out the discrepancies or inconsistencies, locate within the “larger picture”, propose solutions, and find “action steps”. We don’t know how to sit – just SIT – with a rage that fills a room, sucks all the air from it, and leaves our friends shaking. We have ears but do not hear, and eyes but do not see.

5. Reconciliation is not the path towards Justice but rather Justice is the path towards Reconciliation. Until and unless Justice has been enacted we can not experience right relationship. (Thanks, Nkosi!)

[To read more reflections from the other guests, click here]

[For more from tbV, like this piece explaining her tattoo, click here]

rACE

Why do white people tend to freak out when the conversation moves to being about race?

i just read an excellent interview article online that spoke into some of the things i have been thinking and observing and while it is worth reading the whole thing, there are two aspects i wanted to dive into. Robin DiAngelo [who is being interviewed and is white and runs workshops on anti-racism and has been for more than twenty years] introduces the term ‘White Fragility’ as something she has noticed again and again. One reason she gives for this is the idea we tend to have that ‘Only bad or racist people can be racist’ as opposed to the possibility that a good person can still have some racism in them. It’s not the black and white [ha!] of Complete Racist or No Racism Whatsoever. As a white person, the likelihood is that i am racist in some way or ways [i see it in myself and it’s horrible and needs to be tackled every time] but the question is ‘To What Extent?’

For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”

In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people. [Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy]

Many white people tend to be a little iffy around race conversation in general, but it tends to be when you bring up the term ‘White Privilege’ that so many of them suddenly get a little “shaky”. i believe that for the most part it’s not understanding what many of us are talking about when we talk about ‘White Privilege’ that causes some of the issue. i think the term has become one of those overused ones that for many people is instant red cloth waved to a bull. If we managed to get some of the people who react so strongly around a dinner table and explain what we are talking about when we talk ‘white privilege’ i believe that for the most part people would be nodding their heads, going, “Oh, well yeah of course.”

White fragility also comes from a deep sense of entitlement. Think about it like this: from the time I opened my eyes, I have been told that as a white person, I am superior to people of color. There’s never been a space in which I have not been receiving that message. From what hospital I was allowed to be born in, to how my mother was treated by the staff, to who owned the hospital, to who cleaned the rooms and took out the garbage. We are born into a racial hierarchy, and every interaction with media and culture confirms it—our sense that, at a fundamental level, we are superior.

And, the thing is, it feels good. Even though it contradicts our most basic principles and values. So we know it, but we can never admit it. It creates this kind of dangerous internal stew that gets enacted externally in our interactions with people of color, and is crazy-making for people of color. We have set the world up to preserve that internal sense of superiority and also resist challenges to it. All while denying that anything is going on and insisting that race is meaningless to us. [Robin DiAngelo]

Wow. DiAngelo nails it on the head. i would love to participate in one of her race workshops.

One thing that helps me think i might be right on the whole direction of where these race conversations have been going on my blog and on Facebook and beyond is the posture. The kinds of people that are saying the same kind of things i am saying or engaging positively in those conversations tend to come with a sense of question, of listening, of being open to learn, of saying things like, ‘Well i don’t know what the answers are but i know we have to do things differently’, of being open to being wrong or needing to change within themselves, of moving away from comfort if necessary, of the possibilities of sacrifice. And more.

Whereas, typically, those people who are arguing against what we are saying and the process are judgemental and accusatory, they say it how it is [as opposed to asking questions, listening, being open to see wrong in themselves], they make personal attacks, they leave ultimatums [“i dare you to post this comment else it proves you’re a liberal doos” or whatever], use Us vs. Them language [“those people”, “the blacks”…], ridicule, talk about how they earned their money and deserve to spend it on themselves, and speak quite negatively about where the country is headed.

If someone disagrees strongly with me and i can see they’ve taken time to listen and hear what i am saying and have formulated an argument based on facts, or sensible ideas, or reasoning, and if they treat me with respect despite strong disagreemnet, and if they argue the issue as opposed to making it personal whether it be about me or other people, then i am far more likely to engage with them further and see if maybe i have something to learn from them even if i disagree with them. And that is what i hope to see more of on here – strong disagreements, back and forth wrestling, passionate arguments on both sides of the conversation – but done with respect, empathy, love, appreciation of the other person’s story and more.

If only we weren’t all so fragile, maybe we could see these conversations move forwards…

[For the rest of the article ‘Why White People Freak out when they’re Called Out About Race, click here]

[To see some of the posts we put together on ‘White Privilege’ click here]

So this morning was a little bit of soul searching time for me as i took into account a lot of what different people have been saying in the comments on my blog recently [and over a longer period of time].

i realised that not only are some of the things that have been said true, but also came to think of some other things i’ve been doing that have actually been completely unacceptable and so i needed to apologise. And for something of this magnitude, i didn’t think written word would actually be enough. So i went for face-to-face by recording this shortish video in the hopes that those i’ve wronged will see it and really hear my heart on these things. And that we can move forwards together in the hopes that i can be better moving forwards.

So thank you for the words that caused me to really think about these things – i hope i am a changed man:

 

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