Racism, Ignorance or Plain Stupidity

racismI find myself in a unique position. I believe I have a different perspective. I am certain God has allowed me to occupy a space where my voice will find favour with various groups in our beautiful South Africa.

I am fortunate in that I have the opportunity to dream about the futures of my three amazing children. I can occupy my thought life with the hopes and dreams of my sons’ growing into men who stand for what is right and true. Who know when to sit and listen whilst at the same time, confident in their ability to know the times when they must stand with confidence and speak with courage. My beautiful girl brings me such joy, her strength and poise allow me to confidently declare that she will inspire some and she will convict others. She dresses herself with beauty and boldness, and yet she is not even 2.

I would like to say that the fact that 2 out of my 3 kids are brown doesn’t matter. I would like to believe that my children are growing in a post 1994 colour blind nation. I would like to believe that both my sons can run down the street and all people will see is two boys having fun. I would like to raise my kids and not need to explain the comments from people who should know better. I would like to walk through the shops and have people admire my beautiful daughter in my arms and not even notice the difference in the colour of our skin.

The reality, in spite of my dreams, is very different. We need a conversation; we need to understand not only each other, but where all people have come from. I need to understand your past so you can understand my context.

There are some very real questions that need to be asked and there are some hard truths that need to be accepted before we can move forward, before my children will enter a country that knows it’s past, understands it’s present and not only sees it’s future but appreciates the steps needed to get there.

I am privileged! I know it, I appreciate it and this doesn’t mean my parents didn’t work hard to give me the best possible start. Does it have something to do with the colour of my skin? Yes! I can’t deny it, but it won’t help apologising for it either and it won’t improve the lives of millions of people who didn’t have the opportunities I had because they weren’t white. Does that mean every white family had life easy? No! Does it mean that white people never struggle, or that there aren’t millions of impoverished previously advantaged white people in South Africa? No!

What it does mean is that I had opportunities that others did not have. It means my family worked hard but never had to start each race miles behind purely because of the colour of their skin. Feeling guilty won’t benefit anyone, but accepting I had a head start, or perhaps others had a negative start, might inform our perspective and help us have better informed opinions or empathy.

Why is it we don’t prioritise the learning of a language that will allow minorities to meet majorities in dialogue instead of expecting majorities to engage in our mother tongue around the question of unity. Schools, why do you persist in the belief that graduating from high school speaking English fluently will bring us together? Where are culture studies, race studies, why can’t we have as a goal that all school leavers speak their mother tongue as well as 2 other South African languages, at least at a conversationally proficient level? At a meeting the other day, an older gentleman spoke Zulu with excellence to the waitress, edifying and respecting her, it was amazing to see.

“The world is what we are preparing our children for, and English is the medium used!” Some might say. I believe we need a fresh revelation of our context and the opportunities to provide African solutions to African problems.

Another area in need of renewal are our mind-sets and language habits. We live in a place where there are openly hate filled racist people, on all sides. However, there are also people who function at a superior level of ignorance and then others who, plainly put, allow stupidity to be their guide.

The first group is hard to change and I don’t believe should be our starting point. The place to start is the second group of people who grew up with culturally acceptable thoughts and language uses that have prevailed today. These people are not racists, they don’t hate chocolate and love vanilla, but they also don’t seem to accept that there needs to be a reworking of what they deem acceptable language. They can no longer justify themselves by their upbringing otherwise, without an acceptance and attempt to change; they might find themselves in the first group.

The challenge is that these people can often have good intentions but poor delivery leaving them open to misunderstanding and further polarisation.

To explain this, I remember going to a bike racing show recently where my youngest son took my phone out of my back pocket. He thought this Houdini style party trick was hilarious. His infectious smile and giggle melted away all annoyance. There was a sales person nearby who looked on this interaction and with a genuine smile, informed by the warmth between my son and I, says to me “You see it’s in their DNA”……..

I’ll let you stew on that for a second because I know the knee jerk response is disgust and perhaps it should be, except that I saw the man’s face and I know it was simply a stupid comment, like many I have made in the past. At this point I was presented with an opportunity to dialogue and create a space to teach that his comment was ill timed, thoughtless and could cause great offence, even if logically I know I shouldn’t need to. But what did I do? I was so shocked I stood there silent until the teaching moment had passed and I walked away. My son didn’t notice, but I should have taken this opportunity.

I think there are many opportunities like this that present themselves daily and instead of reacting to ignorance, we can engage with people and create unity and foster a climate of growth and education rather than polarise groups.

Then there are the stupid comments. Stupid mainly due to the climate in which they are expressed. We need to appreciate the context people find themselves in when they experience our comments. A little sensitivity might be needed when we speak. I’m not advocating a ban on free speech, but perhaps exercising a little wisdom in light of our current climate and history might help us phrase what we feel is needed to be said in a way that creates opportunities for dialogue instead of occasions for offence and hurt. I need to remember, something might not be difficult to hear for me, but my past is very different from most and so I can’t assume others will receive a message the same way I do.

I have hope for South Arica, I have dreams for my children and I want to see them both realised. I want us to move forward, not forgetting or expecting others to ”get over it”, but I do want us to move forward together. It will take sacrifice and because I have more, it might mean I have to sacrifice more. Is that fair, perhaps not, but is it right given our present and our past? You might find that it is.

Tell me about you, educate me, so that we can move forward together.




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