My friend Brett has been running a series of Taboo Topics on his blog entitled “What I Would Like My White Friends To Hear.” You can read my contribution to that discussion here if you like. And make sure you don’t miss Brett’s new panel discussion series on race of which I have been asked to take part.
Anyway Brett sent me this blog post, on racial reconciliation in South Africa today for my thoughts. I really liked the post but also I decided to scribble down a few thoughts in response.
The writer acknowledges early on in the post that she is white and middle-class and cannot therefore speak from any other perspective and so this obviously colours some of the questions that are asked or assumed throughout the post. I am not convinced that race is the proverbial elephant in the room for anyone except white people. Only white people are pretending that it is not an issue and trying to press ahead in a mass disacknowledgement of our history and our past. Only white people are trying to pretend race is not an issue anymore because the whole long time of twenty years have passed. Only white people are now welcoming black people into “their spaces” and expecting black people to “be cool about.”
This is actually a well-written, honest and helpful article. But the underlying assumptions and expectations, which in fairness the author is kicking against, are not those of the majority of South Africans. There is no elephant in the room. There is no silent disacknowledgement. There is no pretence that twenty years is a long time. This is an article framed by the questions and assumptions of white South Africans and we can no longer expect to own the right to frame the conversation. We need to do precisely what the author is seeking to do, to listen, to learn, to practice humility, to be patient and to take a million ordinary, everyday steps towards understanding. We must throw out this obsession with it “already being twenty years” and instead acknowledge that there are no easy fixes and no immediate results. We must dig deep and look our past square in the eyes. And together we must travel through the pain to a new future that neither of us has yet seen.