The end of words – this can refer to the last words or the goal of words. For me the ending of words takes us into the meaning of the preceding words. In simple terms, talking is important only if there will be a time of non-talking. Dialogue as preface to action is a beautiful thing. Discussion can create or reduce distance. When my partner in love says: “liefie ons moet praat” I don’t get excited. The “ons moet praat” often opens up issues where I hurt her and my subsequent guilt makes me move away. Still, we have to talk. If its doing based talking.
I’ve been mostly silent on issues of race. Mostly because I doubt people’s sincerity. Politics, race and religion share the same temptation of intellectual masturbation and pseudo heroism. When I was young I spoke a lot. Often I spoke nonsense: a 17 year old Schalk would say: “apartheid was bad, but the developmental effect was good compared to the rest of Africa” or “God’s plans with Israel failed so plan B was Jesus and those who now reject Jesus will burn forever”. I was so smart back then, so smart and sure.
These days, I’m not so sure anymore and the things I’m surest about I don’t like speaking about. Most of my replies nowadays are tears or smiles, both of which can be filled with joy or sadness.
I have my own story. Smart people call a story a narrative, as they call talking dialogue. It’s actually funny, for the poor we speak of life-skills and the rich life-coaching. Resilience and co-creation replaced character and working together. Words are very naughty and tricky little things. We often mix words into sentences and sentences into constructs, without an appreciation and awareness where they come from. Yet every picture in our head comes with baggage. I mention this, because the topic of race comes with more baggage than a Sandton girl going camping. My story and my baggage results in my thoughts and opinions.
I wont try to represent or duplicate all the theory on race. On my journey I came across certain no-brainers though: Race is not just about colour, it has to do with power. Race is not just about the colour of skin but with the link between poverty and that skin colour, be it material or emotional poverty. Sometimes race is not about skin colour at all, but culture and ethnicity. In chats about race, we all have our ‘buttons’, those words or ideas that get’s us defensive and upset, those statements that stops our listening and activates our fighting mode. Emotional maturity and patient, respectful listening remains elusive, even amongst us so called adults. So bear with me and try to hear the whole story even if some sentences brings back unpleasant feelings.
I’m going to give a white example now, not because I equate white history with black history, but simply because I am a white Afrikaner, and I will always speak first and investigate my own history, issues and constructs. The lessons I learn or parallels drawn from that to the situation of others is something I consciously resist. Understanding my own people does however help me to open up my imagination and understanding of other people’s issues. White Afrikaners and English speakers in South Africa look the same, yet they are often very far apart. I’ll spare you stories of the Anglo-Boer war, concentration camps, derogatory action, etc. But I will tell you that my own father, a lovely and great man, learnt to speak perfect English and made a relative success of his life, but he is still insecure about white English South Africans. For my dad, at 70, the struggle continues, there is a ‘us’ and ‘them’ that will stay with him until he dies. It is 100 years after the war, the Afrikaners got out on top, took over the country, but the issues persisted. Some Afrikaners moved on and have no issues with amaBritish, others didn’t. I have a thousand times less issues that my father, but I still have issues. I love it when my black friends tell me: “I’d rather work with an Afrikaner than English, at least we know where we stand with you, you are more real than the fake snobbish English who smile in front and gossip behind our backs”. I resent white English South Africans and all whites in Europe who after years of building their empires on black slavery talk about Afrikaners and apartheid as something they had nothing to do with. When I’m honest with myself, I see my issues with whites that are not Afrikaners. The big issue is: if I meet an English person today, how do I look at him or her, what do I think and how do I act? It’s a journey.
Staying on the topic of white, I also have a relationship with my own tribe, the Afrikaners. To be honest, I’m very proud to be an Afrikaner. They way I was raised by the Afrikaner subculture I was exposed to makes me proud and I think there are many fantastic things about Afrikaners and Afrikaner culture. There are also many stupid things. I resent the Afrikaners before me for implementing apartheid, I’m proud that 68% of whites voted in the referendum to stop apartheid, I resent the millions who ignored or spat on Mandela’s gracious forgiveness, I’m embarrassed by poor Afrikaners dumb opinions and classless expressions of coolness. Today I view the majority of Afrikaners as selfish cowards who are too scared and narrow minded to go on the next Groot Trek, a Groot Trek into South Africa. Yet, when I meet an Afrikaner and instantly judge their class, intellect, style and character, I enter the same battle as when I stand before any other tribe. What is the story behind the story, why is this person like this, here, today? Will I give each new Afrikaner, not only a neutral chance, but a positive expectation in love and hope?
Sometimes I’m surprised by an English person, a Jew, an Australian or even an Afrikaner. Sometimes I’m disappointed by them. What is weird is that the good surprises I link to individual uniqueness and individual beauty. The bad experiences I bank in my racial or ethnic stereotype memory… I discover my racism when I catch myself thinking: “tipies” or “that’s not surprising” when someone does something stupid.
Considering the above, I’d have to be crazy to act as if I don’t have black racial issues and stereotypes. In fact, as I got closer to ‘black’ people I inherited further issues whereby I’m tempted to view certain tribes as arrogant, lying, stupid, violent, etc. As Afrikaner and white, I inherited much baggage about ‘black’ people. The issue is not how true these stereotypes are. Even if something might be true for 80% of a tribe of race, where does that leave you with the other 20%? Whites are trapped in a struggle where they genuinely believe their negative racist stereotypes are true. We think, yes, there are exceptions but most of them are like this and they will always stay like this. Again, what I learnt is that this estimation is a completely unhelpful and damaging exercise. Whether 20% or 80% of Afrikaners are racist, whether 10% or 90% of Zulu men beat their wives, whether 40% or 70% of Nigerians are involved in crime is not the issue, not smart questions to ask and it is a way of thinking that is fundamentally flawed. Yet we are trapped in stereotypical judgments and somehow call that realism; to what end?
I discovered that racism is most poisonous and paralyzing when discussed on broad terms, meta-narratives, bulk assumptions, abstractions and generalizations. These discussions seldom lead to life giving internal revolution and outward reconciliation. The antidote, for me is not so much in the content of the topic but the vehicle that houses the discussion or interaction. Generalizations easily paralizes and easily hurts. The antidote, is a movement to the individual, one on one level. This, let me immediately say, is not a compromise in denial of structural injustice or societal violence that needs to be addressed. No, instead of being a cop out it is the essential legitimizing act that gives credibility to the whole process. I cannot talk racial reconciliation or diversity if I don’t have my own story, my own friends and my own actions. My modelling of the end-dream is what validates all my words, all my appeals. My constant learning and changing is the engine that keeps the whole discussion real. The notion to start all racial reconciliation and integration at a one-on-one level is not an escape, it is an appropriate first step.
People throw around the word ‘restitution’ and say they won’t talk before restitution, before the average black man and white man has the same level of wealth, education and privilege. Is that a sentiment aimed at voicing frustration or a real proposal aimed at a real outcome? Restitution is not something white people need to fear. Nor is it something black people need to fear. Unless you are greedy governed by desire for power, money and increasing luxury. Poor whites, and there are many cannot make restitution in many ways, some of them don’t even have professional nor life-skills to share with others. Many whites don’t have much to share and due to their social circles, lack of education, lack of money, and self-destructive behavioral patterns, they do not even have access to ‘white privilege’. They become psychological victims of anglo supremacism, BEE punishment, renting wealthy members of their tribe, stuck in petty arguments and struggles with friends and family members and all sorts of mental traps they create for themselves, they have a victim mentality. Victims never see themselves as privileged and their lack of gratitude sucks the joy out of life. Whilst many of the challenges facing poor whites are real, like with all poverty, the add-ons, the self perpetuating destructive thought patterns and habits is what keeps them poor. I drink because I’m depressed about my poverty and the drinking escape keeps me poor… Poverty has no colour. Yet, some colours have been dealt bigger servings of poverty inducing circumstances. That is why I made a decision not to spend my money in South Africa on poor whites. That will infuriate many people, but each person must make his or her own decisions. And the first lesson of charity is that you can’t help everyone.
So, some whites will struggle with restitution due to their own material, psychological and intellectual poverty. The flip side of that coin are the millions of privileged blacks who are smart, educated and part of a middle class that could reach out and share in skills, connections, opportunities and dignity. What does the black South African with a degree, driving a Jaguar want from the white South African with grade 12 who drives an old Etios? An apology for apartheid? Friendship? Introduction into his/her circle of friends? Many white people call themselves middle class, but they are really rich. Compared to everyone. Many black people do not realize that the cash and toys they have today is way more than what the average white family had during apartheid. The “it’s our time now to eat” is one of the most distorted views and sentiments currently doing the rounds. If it is a competition between the super rich of then and the super rich of now competing to drink R600 bottles of whiskey, wear R3000 shoes, drive Ferrari’s then its fine, compete and waste your money on nonsense. 90% of whites never lived like that. We were one of the richer families in our town, yet we never bought a new car, never went on holiday and went to the restaurant twice a year. I compare that with what I see around me today in Joburg. Why do I make this point? To deny white privilege, to negate black struggle? Not at all, in fact the opposite. Back then and now if the rich, the privileged of whatever colour, spend their resources and luck on self gratification, the poor, the majority black poor, will never get their slice of the pie. Individuals need to look inside and decide what is right. If its cool to buy a Ferrari while your neighbor is hungry, then it will be cool for white and black. Entitlement is a disease that doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, black or white. Nor is materialism and consumerism. What people often think is (and was) an issue of race or religion, was really issues of power and money, with race and religion as legitimizing excuses. If we deny this basic human tendency towards greed we will never crack the race issue. It pertains to macro-policies, structural adjustment, neoliberalism etc, but firstly it pertains to you and me, what happens in our hearts and in our wallets. Don’t run from that, white or black. Our planet either runs on morality, human right and ethics of communal care or it runs on survival of the fittest where the strongest survive. Whether Shaka chases another tribe due to greater strength, the British take control due to having guns or whether you buy a Aston Martin whilst paying someone else minimum wage; survival of the fittest and smartest will always stand in contrast with human dignity and compassion. Integrity: you cannot speak against apartheid on the basis of human dignity and then live a life based on ‘strongest and smartest will survive’. If you think people are entitled to take what they can, to make what they can without a shared responsibility, you behave the same way as a slave owner. If race is not about colour, but about power, we all have to look at what we do with our power and money. If we don’t do that the conversation, the dialogue will never have legitimacy and race discussions will always be hi-jacked by individuals with hidden agendas and selfish motives. Black or white, if you cant bring your wallet to race talks, you are playing games.
All poverty is not linked to race. In South Africa, black poverty is linked to race. The fact that millions of black people today are out of poverty and that a fifth of whites struggle with poverty is evidence that skin colour is not the only issue at play when it comes to poverty. Average white, average black stats can be a very unhelpful way of thinking. It is good to know as a starting point, but using such to stir the pot without pragmatic solutions and next steps perpetuates hatred and resentment. Sometimes we get excited with stats and new quotes. We share it with enthusiasm, but without a plan. I cannot deal with racism if I don’t gave a clear picture in my mind of what a good person looks like and what a good life looks like. Sometimes race becomes a tool to ensure we are the ones who end on top. The old masters make way for new masters and life for the poor remains the same. The poor in Africa will probably always be predominantly black, and so racial resentment is fueled and perpetuated. We fight when we don’t know how to build. And we don’t know how to build because we a) do not know what we want to build and b) are not willing to be affected personally by the new vision. Never underestimate personal comfort and self-interest.
Yet, even if we are all willing to share and contribute, there are still little foxes that can eat away at the integrity of the process. Helping in patronizing ways can be very harmful. Help in itself can perpetuate unequal power dynamics. Good intentions doesn’t guarantee the absence of wrong thinking. Yet, the learning has to come from the foundation of mutual trust and friendship. I discover wrong thinking about race, about black stereotypes every month and I will still discover many ways in which my thinking is immature and reactionary. But I can discover these insights within the context of loving friendships with real black people. These are not things to be argued about, thrown around. Humans have a great capacity for compassion and care, which leads to sincere connecting. The moment you sacrifice that in the name of resentment, being right or anger, you cut off your own leg. Which inevitably leads to more noise. If someone stands in front of me I should firstly see a human being. There are infinitely more that binds us, that we have in common than what divides us. Part of who stands before me is skin colour or gender. Skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, income level and many other things will be part of my journey with this human being, but none of them can be the main thing. The thing walking through your door is neither a white nor a black. The thing has a name, the thing is a person with a personality. Missing that, will shackle you to the extent where every sentence aimed at freedom tightens the chains of distrust. Hardkoppigheid maak mens hardegat. Almal kan hardegat raak en daarom is dit belangrik om versigtig te wees met jou eie hardkoppigheid.
Most of the militant black pride, anti-white stuff I hear come from people who are not the poorest of the poor. They might say that that is precisely the point, the poor are too blind or stupid to speak up for themselves, so the wealthy blacks and wealthy white liberals generate a lot of noise around white privilege, racism, apartheid, colonialism, slavery, etc. You might think I exaggerate, but I often hear youths who actually complain about what the Romans did, slavery in the 1700’s and so forth. Clearly apartheid will be part of the national psyche for many years to come… We are 20 years beyond apartheid many whites want us to ‘move forward’… By moving forward, they mean of course, forget about it and leave me alone to make money and enjoy my life. It wont be left. But to what end? My family was in British concentration camps, how does that affect my relationship with English people today? Should it? It’s been hundred years. I think the answer to the question of “how many years” is simple: the years will be determined by when you feel equal to the previous oppressor. If after 3 years you feel free and equal, you can move on and look forward. Some will not feel and be equal for hundreds of years. World history has proven that. Inequality is not just a feeling however. There are vey real things that make people feel unequal: he racial mix of patrons and waiters in a restaurant, the colour of faces you see on TV, the ethnic profile of people in jail, who drives the truck and who sits on the back, and thousands of other small and not so small things. When to look forward? I personally think you can only look forward if you are willing to embrace and fix the past. Moving on, beyond apartheid or slavery, is only possible when both parties agreed the wrong and commit to walk forward in reconciliation and restitution. Fixing things is a journey and I think, a privilege. When this journey is demanded instead of invited, things gets tricky. That is why I continue to say that if you are very clear of your future picture, you will be able to choose a mature strategy that won’t become counter productive.
We all have many wrong perceptions about the other party. We can learn about that through cross-cultural friendship. Spreading the love. I wont jump for every person throwing around accusations of racism or calls for unity. For me to take another human serious, I want to see how they treat their ‘other’? How they treat their Muslim, Nigerian, Zimbabwean, Shangaan, gay or political opposition. That is how I discern and differentiate who wants to talk to me, learn with me and journey forward, and who are the ones who wants to make noise. There’s a fair share of ‘hardkoppigheid’ in me and I am no Jesus. Part of my Afrikaner heritage and war with British is a pride that won’t stand for unfair abuse. I can be soft, I can listen, I can say sorry, I can help, I can be vulnerable, but I can also say no.
Whites I speak to are also trapped in a fight. Instead of wanting to change they feel entitled to some form of fairness and justice. Here’s how they think: Blacks tell me to learn isiZulu. Yet amaZulu doesn’t want to learn English or Sotho? Some will say, teach your kids to love all people and not be racist, yet xenophobia is commonplace. They say share your money with the poor, don’t build high walls, yet the first thing a poor black man does when he buys a house is build a wall and everyone just looks after their own biological families. Sometimes I share these questions or frustrations. Yet, Goodness 101 teaches us that our decisions and morality must be intrinsic and not dependent on other people’s actions. We have to be the example ourselves. If you try and be the example and then still get accused of silly things, let that just roll of your back and don’t open your heart. That’s why we have to decide who we engage with, who we learn from, because there are many foolish people on both sides of all divides.
A confession: as I mentioned I am not perfect at all, my struggles are many and daily. Many things in my head are angry and reactionary. I want to give an example of the automatic ‘Afrikaner’ emotions and thoughts that sometimes tempt me: Here is where I get genuinely upset. No surprise, it pertains politicians and media: I don’t have a problem with the great majority of the country. But I do feel frustrated with politicians and those who echo their statements in the media. Some blacks, like the ones who wear t-shirts saying kill all whites, like to group all whites together and urinate on any attempt at growth or reconciliation. In my moments of weakness I want to ask them: ufunani? What do you want? Who wants what from whom? Who must pay and who will benefit? The land taken in Zimbabwe and bought in South Africa benefited elites, not the poor. I wish I could farm, but I know as a white man in Africa I cannot own land and a farm, some teenager will kill me and still think he has the moral high ground, that he did what was right, that the Boer got what he deserved. So, where I’m different is, I say, take all the land if that is what the majority of people want. If there is a drop in production and food needs to be imported, make higher tax and buy food from other countries. If you have political power you can do what you want. So no need for crying and fighting, vote for those that will give you what you want and take charge. Nationalise the mines, take the land, increase tax, make a white tax, double BBBEE implications or whatever. Do it. Take charge and live with the consequences. I don’t mind all of that, whatever system is in place many Afrikaners will dig in and make the best of that, we will comply and we will excel. Afrikaners are not good at being blamed. I share this paragraph to show that liberalism or conservatism are not clean cut constructs that drop into our heads from above. We, I, have to struggle with many competing thought patterns. That is okay, as long as I keep going on the journey.
In a way we are all racists. We can all discriminate based on ethnicity and we can all misuse power in selfish ways. How personal we make that recovery will set the tone for the bigger dialogue. Luckily, the power is still in our hands.
Love is not easier than-, but it is stronger than hatred.