South Africa is a country with a fractured past a challenging present, and at times, a worrying future. adding fuel to the complexities that come with 11 national languages, many different tribes, huge economic divides, massive unemployment and unresolved racism/prejudices are worldwide events such as #BLACKLIVESMATTER, #BLUELIVESMATTER, ISIS and general uncertainty.
I sit today a little scared! Not because of crime, not because of the uncertainty, not even because of terrorism. Today I find myself more aware than I have ever been that my children may experience things I cannot prepare them for. They may experience things that many have been exposed to for centuries, but for them it will be a lesson that I feel ill-equipped to teach effectively.I see social media ablaze with opinions and comments about how black people are living in fear of police officers and how police officers live in fear of doing their jobs. I even came across a video on my news feed on Facebook that showed the killing of a black man by 2 police officers. It was entitled “Disgusted”. No background, no additional information just apparent murder. Why do we live in a world where in spite of the need for information, something like this is shared, freely accessible to my 6-year-old son, should he innocently want to pick up my phone and go into Facebook. Later on, more articles were written about the victim, that provided a different perspective, one in particular, where the victim was not simply the latest casualty in a “war” against black people but perhaps about to create some of his own victims. How can we share things likes this? Based solely on someones emotive opinion fuelled by sentiment, and my kids need to bare the brunt? Did you know they can’t remove the image of that from their minds? I’m disgusted! Our desire to share our opinions in a knee jerk manner simply because we can, may actually create more issues. Surely, even in a time where some people are sensitive to any comment remotely linked to race and others are so afraid to say anything but in ignorance say the first thing that pops into their head, causing huge offence anyway, surely we need to find a way to talk, to seek clarity, to learn. Surely some of us have a responsibility, perhaps families like mine, are uniquely positioned to create unity when an opportunity for anger or to hate arises?
I came across another video, very well made, depicting in cartoon form a white lady and her black son (I get confused sometimes because white and black seem like such stingy words to describe what is actually peach and brown) This lady raised her son, loved him, provided for him as best she could, unaware, like me, how to teach him to be a black man in a world that historically has been hateful in heart, mind and action to people with brown skin, to put it lightly. One night the boy was pulled over with a white friend and the police officers found some drugs on the friend. The son asked if they had a search warrant when they wanted him to open his boot. This comment seemed to be the catalyst that time travelled this situation back to a place where it was ok to deal with a black man like property, subjecting him to whatever punishment the white man desired.Numerous beatings later, met with laughter by other police officers, the son awoke in a hospital, having nearly lost his life. The cartoon then shows a picture of the son as he lay in hospital. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED!
I’m scared today because I have 2 beautiful brown children and this story, albeit from another country, is not unbelievable. How do I raise my son and my daughter in a world where this is not only possible, but actually happens, purely because one’s skin is slightly browner than another’s? It’s not just that these police are criminals, but they feel justified in their position based solely on an argument supported by pigment.
A little closer to home we have a B&B owner who recently made headlines as he feels his hair style decided that he is royalty and that the hair style of the black people makes them slaves to him! He even based his stupidity on what is at best a crazy interpretation of the bible? How do I explain that to my kids?
An incident that happened a little closer to home occurred at a recent mountain biking race. I took my sons to the Expo that exhibits cycling gear etc. and my youngest managed to take my iPhone from my pocket, trying, to his amusement, to unlock the keypad. I didn’t even realise it was gone. I finally noticed to his excitement what had happened and it was a big joke. Then came the opportunity for one of the exhibitors to unveil his ignorance. He smiled at me and without even thinking of what he was about to say, jokingly said “You see it’s in their DNA”. WHAT?
I stood stunned! Not quite knowing what to do. Should I ignore, should I laugh it off, should I get angry and make a scene. Before I knew it, my kids were running around and I had to leave. But thinking back on that situation, I missed an amazing opportunity. Not to judge, not to hate, not even to put this man in his place. I missed an opportunity to educate!
My family is unique, beautifully so! We may get stares, we may get dumb comments and yes we may not know how to fully equip our kids to engage with a world that functions more on ignorance and fear than it does on love. BUT! We have an opportunity to bring understanding, unity and truth to a world that seems to feed on opinions and comments. We are able to bring Truth and we must! Perhaps we can navigate through mindsets and prejudices that others can’t and perhaps that gives us a responsibility to influence others so that even if we can’t fully equip our kids with an appreciation of what it means to grow up the way they will, we can perhaps be the change that results in their future world not punishing them for not having that appreciation.
We may not have many options, but we always have a choice and I think that in the current sociocultural climate, where we are realising what we thought we had dealt with and moved beyond, has not been dealt with or overcome, we need to be mindful of the choices we make understanding that their impact may reach far beyond our own encounters.