Social Justice in my Kitchen…a South African trying to figure things out

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time thinking about what does “Social Justice” look like when I am not being a social worker or community worker or an educator?

What does it look like in my personal space?

What does it look like in my home and how do I live intentionally into this space with the people immediately in my world?

Recently I had a conversation that felt like a values clash with someone who I know genuinely does value people and yet we clashed horribly on expectations of a house helper. Their philosophy was very much if it is someone’s job to clean then regardless of the dirty “mess” in the kitchen that is what they need to do. My stance was that there is mess and then there is disrespectful mess – things like a difference between leaving food scraps on the stove to be cleaned by the helper the next day vs simply ask her to wash the dinner dishes.

My reaction to this was “clash” was shock knowing this person’s stance on other issues of PEOPLE MATTER – all people. My mom raised me to believe that the unspoken messages we give to people we work with, who work for us and the way we engage with them is as important as the spoken messages, thank you’s and requests.
I spent some time last night thinking, again, what would I think or feel towards people who felt it was okay to leave dirty mess for my mom to clean; what would it be like seeing my mom walk to a taxi rank in the rain, wait for transport in the dark and always seem vulnerable to being pickpocketed or mugged.

This week I had a conversation with a friend (of colour) who should be the head cheer leader for the Eastern Cape – she can’t stop raving about how much she loves her home. I also know that this same person has been mugged & pickpocketed more than once while walking or on taxi routes; I know someone else in this area whose mom was brutally raped and murdered en route home from collecting her pension. We have prayed together, cried together and been angry together about this.

My helper, for that is what she does is help me in so many ways, approached me at the start of winter about changing work hours to avoid standing in the dark – something that I had thought about generically but hadn’t owned, and realised we need to think about this too where we can.

BUT then I come back into my own space and think about it again:in my car, in my home with someone to come and help me manage things better so that I can work on other things, I sit in a place of privilege – my mom isn’t walking to the taxi rank in the dark to clean for another family – and yes, I get its work & employment – but how do I respect and value the work of someone who helps create my home to being the nurturing space I want and experience it to be if I don’t honour the fullness of who she is (a pastor’s wife, a mother, a woman, a carer) and what she does?

This morning the woman who instils a sense of peace in my home whenever she has been here and I had a conversation about what makes her feel valued vs what doesn’t make her feel valued in people’s homes where she works. It was that simple a question – which required digging a little deeper into what type of things “do people do or not do” that make you feel respected? It was clear that there is a line between being a person coming to clean for people as opposed to being the function of picking up dirty tissues and wiping down day old food. It was apparent that respect & value, in this manner was something that wasn’t spoken but was felt and communicated.

Justice and being advocates of justice really does start in the kitchen. Unspoken messages of I respect you and honour the role you play in my home are an important of what justice means. It’s not about bags of old clothes or simply making sure that wages are living wages – it’s about ensuring that people who work in our homes are seen and honoured beyond being the arm that wipes a kitchen counter.

I don’t always get this right at all – and I am aware that this is a journey of growth and understanding and finding ways of communicating regardless of the awkwardness to figure things out – to work out how to negotiate this space. I know that it matters to me to be seen and respected and I want to make sure that people around me know that they are too.

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5 thoughts on “Social Justice in my Kitchen…a South African trying to figure things out

  1. This is good stuff Lex. It challenges me about how mindful I am of people’s dignity. It also challenges me of how aware I am of how my relating to people either values or enhances or wounds their dignity. Thank you for helping me reflect further on this.

  2. Such a great post – thankx for continuing to be a vouce and hopefully first and actioner… love to see the posts that come inspired from actions and conversations that are real so keep on.

    love brett fish

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