The “White” Privilege that I never knew I had

A while ago I got into some interesting discussions with some friends.  These friends of mine happen to be people of colour – more specifically belonging to what South African’s understand as Coloured People – this is a “stand alone” cultural group in South Africa

Recently two of these friends returned from an international conference where they had had to explain to people that they weren’t white – they aren’t “black” looking so some of the conference delegates had placed them as being “white”.  I love the fact that these friends are able to clarify and confront and explore social constructs such as race and gender, and yet I know that part of this process means confronting some of the pain of the past too.


A few months ago, one of these friends mentioned to me that whilst black South African genealogies are tracked, and white genealogies are nicely archived, the coloured communities genealogies are in boxes – if you want to know your family tree, you need to go scratch through boxes.  When this was told to me, I got very weepy.  See the fact that our old social system of apartheid, denied many people their right to their language and thereby made them submit to the dominant, ruling culture and expectations I was mindful of.  I had never thought that about the details of what this meant in terms of family histories and stories and recognition. 

This weekend we were chatting generally over a braai, talking about life and catching up – and in passing a (coloured) friend made a comment that due to the fact that one of their great grandparents was the result of an affair between a white parent and a parent of colour, the genealogy, my friends genealogy,  on that side of her family just ends. It stops – dead.  Simply as beyond that, no one was allowed or able to access more information due to the old social system.  In contrast to this, our family holidays always included exploring old graveyards (yes, I thought this was weird as a kid) to confirm family details for my uncle who wrote up family histories and assisted people writing up other branches.

I have a strong sense of where I come from and what makes me “me”.   When children are adopted, we do our best to make sure that the family adopting, as well as the child will have a sense of history – as much as is possible.  (One of the crises that may happen for some adopted children is: “Where did I come from originally?”)  

And then I listen to some people who I respect and love, and value that I get to call them friends whose written history is untraceable or oral history ends in places because a social system said it had to. 

We may be addressing the structural injustices of the past – but sadly, there are nuances of things that I am always going to be able to access that some of my friends aren’t – simply because I was born into the “right” people group.   This is white privilege.  I didn’t choose it.  I still got it.  I still get to witness friends work through heartache of some of the past. 

The privilege I can choose is this:

The responsibility that comes with supporting my friends in a way that they choose and ask for is a privilege, as we seek to see hearts and homes healed where history was “dismissed”.

*a braai is the equivalent of a barbeque with a wood fire*

Was he worth the wait?

So much excitement about a wedding & so many people sending love, wishes and hopes for us!  People love to celebrate love.  I know this because my blog got more hits and views and links on the WEDDINGS, DETAILS and WHAT I AM REALLY EXCITED ABOUT than it did for any SOCIAL JUSTICE writing.  I also know this because I am closer to 40 than I am to 30 and there have been so many different reactions to the news that I am getting married. 

Reactions ranging from “he must be really special” *he is* to “ah, see, he was worth waiting for” and “Wasn’t he worth the wait?” I wouldn’t swop my Bear for anyone else.

 If I am going to be annoyed and driven crazy and love and loved, I want it to be with & by him rather than anyone else

Please re-read that before you carry on reading the next line – seriously –make sure you know that I mean it and I want to love and commit to loving him forever – on the good days, the mad days, the sad days and the deeply content days.

However to ask me if “Wasn’t he worth all the waiting?” in some ways is a trap of a question.  The way I understand it is this:

–          I wouldn’t want anyone else

–          I wouldn’t want the waiting time ever again

I shared this with a friend who waited a long time before their child was conceived – she had had the same responses from well -meaning well-wishers – “wasn’t your baby worth the wait?”  She wouldn’t swop that little person for anyone else BUT the heart-ache and grief of being single or child-less is something that neither she nor I ever want again regardless of the outcome.

Walking, talking and listening to friends who are still single – whether younger, my peers or older than me – I am mindful of the amazing gift I have been given in the man who chooses to love me – and still mindful of the chaos of the world as a single person:  of the assumptions made about the amazing men & women I know who love God, love people, are passionate about life and love and yet haven’t met their other.  Being in a relationship is hard at times; iron sharpens iron –we know this.  Being single at times was hard too.

The wait meant some odd choices of dates in perpetual hope; the wait meant that the inner part of me seeking companionship was lonely, not in solitude, in heartache and was sometimes judged when it was expressed for surely I had a life fulfilled – and I did:  I get to do work I love in a country I am passionate about on a continent that pulses a beat of challenges and craziness and creativity. It was hard not having someone to share that with.  Angry, fist raised, crying at God hard some days.

There are no guarantees about the wait just like there are no guarantees that life is necessarily easier in relationship.  I do know this.  I am grateful for a hope fulfilled in the longing for an “other” – especially for the other that I now have to do life with.  I am also grateful that the wait is over and there were moments of growth and hope and amazing adventure in it yes, but that’s not the same as the value of who I have in my life now.

Weddings, details and what I am really excited about….

3 and a half weeks ago I got engaged to my Bear – my best friend, my supporter, the man who has my back, who fell in love with me and not the idea of the me – the idea of me being what I do for a living or project.  Rather I am blessed enough to be loved by someone, who I love back, who sees the fragile, gentle parts of me too and loves those parts tenderly. 

Our formal engagement came after setting a wedding date – we had too many faraway friends & family members to do this any other way if we wanted there to be a chance of them being with us.  So, for about 10 weeks I walked around with the knowledge there was a hoped for date….about 8 weeks ago, there was an official speaking to my parents and on the 15th June there was the official proposal.  A thought out, romantic, overwhelming spoil of a day – one of those days that you wish you could get lost in for longer than the permitted 24 hours.

I can’t wait to get married.  I can’t wait to be MRS BEAR.  It has been truly scary having to confront my wedding phobia.  There it is out loud:  Marriage doesn’t scare me as much as weddings themselves do. These past few weeks I have had to confront this phobia because what I think does count.  My amazing parents (who have been married for 40 years) and sister in law have taken on the task of “wedding planning team” in the province where we are getting married.

I had to make a commitment to not be an ostrich and to be willing to talk about things.  So this is how we did it.  We had a sanction on any wedding talk except for dedicated times.  We enforced this with family, with friends and with well-wishers.  This past weekend I flew to spend time with my family and sign off with them on the details:  you know fabrics, chapel, photographer, reception venue, DJ, décor….it was a really busy weekend of details.  Details which overwhelm and scare me!

Friends popped over to say congrats and hellos and asked me if I was excited about the wedding.  I got text messages asking if I was excited about my dress.  I have had people want to know if all the details are on track.  We have had to negotiate the tight rope of the wedding guest list- something I guess only preludes the table seating plan….and in the midst of it all, as much as choosing who to marry is a big deal what has struck me time and time again is that I am more excited about being married to my Bear than I am about the details.  Every single service provider was concerned about my reaction to rain or to something not being perfect.  Our wedding day is about us being a part of community of family and friends and honouring God and them for the people that we are today, being able to stand and say I do.

DO I think that our wedding is going to be lovely? YES.  Do I want him to think that I look beautiful?  Yes.  Do I want people to have fun?  Yes – More than all of this though I want there to be love and hope and kindness and joy present.  I want us to be surrounded by a community of people who choose to be there- not just on the day we get married, but in the years ahead.  I want us to be talking about marriage and what it means more than talking about colour schemes.  I want us to be laying firm foundations with wise input for the biggest adventure of our lives.

Really, I am serious when I say to you the thing I am most excited about is being Mrs Bear: More than lace; more than colour schemes; more than worrying about the weather.  I am excited about the Marriage part.  The wedding seems small in comparison. Image