The world doesn’t work like that.

Over the past few weeks I have had the incredible honour of getting to know someone a little better who is in the same social media South African Adoption and Conversations re: race issues in SA as me.  She is someone who tentatively spoke out about the fact that white parents of black children need to remember that their children are going to grow up experiencing things around race that white people never need to think about.  She is someone who is South African. She is someone who has lost someone close to her under apartheid as a part of the struggle.  She is black.

And then the moderating of her reminder began from white people.

Assumingly good people who have chosen to adopt because they believe each child should be in a family.  People who want to parent children regardless of race.

It happened again when she shared her frustration (with evidence) of a racist encounter with an estate agent who told her a property was unavailable and yet it was available when her white friend called. THE NEXT DAY.

It makes me cringe when we, as a white community do this.

I say we as I am no more innocent of wanting to shout out loudly some days.

My most recent PAUSE moment was needing to check my own reactions to spaces I have been invited into and then question how I feel when people I am in relationship with use language or speak out their anger in a way that causes pain or unsettledness or fear in me.

Whether as well-meaning, faith filled people or not, simply as when we moderate someone’s experience of a racial interaction from outside of their racial experience not only do I believe that  we minimise their story, but we also assume we can fix it or know better.

Whether we recognise it in the moment or not.

Before my son made me a mama, while we were waiting for him, my guy and I had lots of conversations about how we wanted to manage being a mixed race family.  We realised the following:

  • While we might be given great insights into the challenges and glory moments facing people who belong to a racial group that is different to ours, we don’t have their lived realities and that it’s not random people’s responsibility to educate us. Rather, we need, out of relationship with people in our community to identify mentors and teachers to navigate things – both culturally and in terms of race.
  • Our son is our son is our son and we are his. Something I tell him often – mama is yours – but part of him being embraced in the fullness of who he is means recognising that some of the challenges that might face him aren’t challenges that we have had to deal with in our own worlds growing up.  This doesn’t mean that we make race the focus and family secondary; it means we recognise that our family has to learn new ways of engaging with the world.

It means we look at what do we need to equip ourselves and prepare him outside of what we strive to make a safe space for him within our home.  The language we use, making sure his hair and skin are cared for well, without making that the only focal point in embracing him and delighting in him as he explores the world.

  • I am (proudly) my boy’s mama – but no one is going to know or care about that when he is out on his own or an adult. He needs skills, support and insight into navigating spaces as a black man in South Africa.

Before I became his mama, people told me to just let him be my son when he came home.

He is fully my son.  This week he had surgery.  I have cleaned up the tears, the blood off his and my clothes from holding him to settle him.  I have held him or engaged with him almost constantly as he has needed through the day, and the night, so that he could rest, sleep or just be.  He is my son.  My tears have flowed at the physical discomfort and pain he has been in that I couldn’t stop and prevent and all I could do was be present with him.

I am reminded that our family isn’t always perceived as fully being just family when people glare, won’t make eye contact (and this isn’t a cultural thing), shake their heads or are simply rude when we walk past.

I am reminded that while he is still little and I am mostly around, I can field this and help navigate it, minimising its impact.  I can only do this though if I am willing to listen and learn and be challenged.

I am reminded that as he gets bigger, I won’t always be there to do so.

I am reminded as I watch him grow of children I have worked with, or been friends with who have shed tears because children wouldn’t play with them because they were too brown.

I am reminded that the world and its people see colour and that as adults we need to help children understand what that means.  I am reminded that we are in this world too.

I am reminded that this is beyond simply people being mean.  This is about a history of systemic thinking that is entrenched in us in different ways around superiority and inferiority and that we have a responsibility to navigate this out of ourselves and the world around us.

I am reminded that as much as I believe all people are created equal that the world doesn’t work like that.

I am reminded that as much as I might not agree with systems and social or business models that perpetuated race issues, and still do, that doesn’t make them not real.

I am reminded that for me to parent my son well means to embrace the fullness of his story, of who he is and that I need to do this in community.

I am reminded that I can’t pretend that these things don’t matter.

The world doesn’t work like that.  As much as we might wish it did.

 

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It’s not my story to tell

We were joined just over 6 weeks ago.

6 weeks of getting to know each other.

In these 6 weeks we have had to navigate being a new family with a baby, but who isn’t a new born.

We have been exceptionally grateful for the conversations, the listening, the facebook groups talking around things from a transracial adoption perspectives, adoptive parents, birthmoms perspectives and adoptees perspectives that happened in the build up to meeting our boy.

We ventured out the house for rambles, just the 3 of us in the first week of being together.

In the first week of being together we had already run into questions and statements– some well meant, some simply curious and some just inappropriate re: how our family was joined.

We have had to navigate some racial stuff.

We have had to navigate questions around his story.

We have had to navigate questions around the adoption process and costs.

All of this is stuff beyond simply being a family. Beyond simply being a new family. Beyond the (happens to all I know) unsolicited comments and advice.  Comments and advice which I know are well meant but don’t always acknowledge that adoption starts with a relationship (or more than one as between birthmoms and adopted families there are foster/ place of safety placements for adoptees too) ending.  So regardless of how cute, or little, or challenging our children are, when we adopt, our families start with navigating a grief.

My own story involves having being intimately involved in another little boy’s life who called me his mamma for a season despite my reminding him that I couldn’t be. Having to step back from his life was one of the hardest things I have ever done (He is in a permanent placement now with siblings and I celebrated the sweetness of that despite the bitterness of saying goodbye.  He taught me much about parenting and loving babies and being available when you don’t ‘feel’ awake, rested & sociable enough!)

My own story involves having to face an awareness that the grief that I have around this creates empathy for my son’s birth mom and yet is not the same.  The grief of knowing that you have to say goodbye to someone and step back from their lives and yet they are very much alive.

We, my guy and I, both believe that our family story isn’t just ours as the adoptive parents.

 

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Not every adoptive family will feel this way. The internet is full of public disclosures by adoptive families.

Our family being an adoptive family is already public – we can’t pretend that we are genetically his!

Our family story also belongs to his birth mom, as well as to him.

We adopted by choice. He needs choices to navigate the world as the world gets bigger and he engages more of it.

It needs to be his story to tell.

Deeply grateful for friends and family who have honoured this space as well as created safety for us as a new family to be a new family, regardless of our incredible boy’s age!

Whites need to sort out the white problem

Two weeks in a row I heard this said.

Once very succinctly and twice as the theme of a dialogue in a space where we were talking about race.

WHITES NEED TO SORT OUT THE WHITE PROBLEM.

Not who to vote for, not who was less corrupt; not who allowed for the coffee drinkers to access better coffee (pre 94 people might recall the chicory blend that masqueraded as coffee) but simply about this thing that is race.

Race as defined by a Xhosa friend in his 50’s “The concept that politicians made up to do what they wanted to” – this said enough about what it was and why he refused to define himself by it despite growing up in an Apartheid defined society.

This consistent theme reinforced for me, again, that as much as we talk about prejudice, as much as people want the colour blind illusion to be true (which it can’t be because then in essence we deny the fullness of the other person), that actually some of the ways that we think we are allies in the fight against racism effectively reinforces aspects of it.

The way in which we want people to share the stories of their pain, present and past, in order for us to understand why this all matters is one of the ways that we reinforce things.  Yes, I get that as we listen to stories, the reality becomes informed and educational and real – but then I look at some of my friends who painfully have repeatedly engaged in this space and realise what it is costing them to have to retell a story that is still a lived reality, while I get to go home to my comfortable world to process it – and they get to go home to continue living it.  In expecting this to be how we shift our spaces, we once more sit in a place of needing to be served, rather than asking what do we need to be together in this.  Intentionally or not – and in response to this, I hear ‘Sisi Lex, we are tired of this – whites need to sort out the white problem, it’s not my problem that they don’t get it’.

A while ago I wrote about the narrative burden we place on people to talk about the thing that is ‘different’ to us – whether it’s being adopted, being disabled, being foreign, being …whatever – the expectation of them to tell their story.  Maybe rather than asking people to tell me their story so that I can get it, I should be more intentionally creating spaces and listening harder in the present as to what matters in the here and now.

I do know that part of listening to each other’s stories is part of learning how we are all impacted by our life experiences and stories –regardless of the position we hold.  Yet, if this doesn’t happen in a relational space with a commitment to more, than as the above friend said, it becomes about the emotional charge of the moment and not about commitment to shifting spaces.

I am starting to more and more realise what it looks like when some of us have been slow to engage with listening to learn and shift spaces, while others are still seeing people live without simply because politicians did what they wanted to do.  Yes, I get that this goes all the way back to colonialism but the reality for people I know, respect, value and love is that this doing what they wanted directly impacts them still.

Our desire for comfort in the white community I believe is one of the biggest challenges to us sorting out the white problem.  We don’t want to make other people uncomfortable or perhaps we are scared of being scorned, labelled, or seen as ‘something’ if we do speak up.

This week my mom called me, in tears.  This short, going grey, perhaps unseen in some circles or prejudged in others based on her ethnic heritage and age, had once more confronted racism in her community.  In the past 6 months alone, my mom has called me a few times to vent around the fact that people think that it’s okay to treat people as unseen, less than, or unequal based on their ‘race’. Some of the issues have been obvious issues, some of the issues have been more subtle and yet obvious enough to be seen if you are willing to see them.  My mom has my respect in this.  She lives in a small town. She & my dad are some of the most hospitable people I know – to anyone – you could visit them simply because you know me, whether I am there or not. Yet, my mom does not keep silent on this issue.  There are details to the how things have unfolded recently that don’t need to be told here – beyond my parents’ challenging the status quo – not just in words, but also in actions and follow through.  They are retired people.  Not the youthful faces we associate with movements like #luister.  They are parents and grandparents wanting people to know that they are valued, seen, heard and that their lives matter.

My 80 year old Ouma (Afrikaans grandmother) learnt to stop using racist and loaded language, because she was challenged. Was it comfortable for her?  No. Was she the same person who was able to engage in radical ways with people when she felt convicted to?  Yes.  To the point of taking bedding off of her bed to give to someone, and inviting a stranger to sit at her table and giving him her plate of food ‘for you never know when you might be entertaining angels’ much to our discomfort at her vulnerability in this.  Yet, she did it. She got that sometimes discomfort meant more than just being uncomfortable.  I so want to see a life well lived in which I get to honour her and my mom’s chutzpah in this way – because they did and do the uncomfortable spaces.

I recently had an experience of someone telling a racist joke during a social event.  Except that there is no such thing.  We tell children in social skills, that it’s only a joke if it’s funny for everyone – else it might be a little bit mean.  They get this.  Yet, how often do we allow things to be pardoned ‘because it was just a joke’.  I liked the person telling the joke.  I liked their family.  I didn’t like the joke or what it meant or said about people that I know and love.  People whose race is different to mine.  And so I said so. And there was an awkward moment or three that followed before there was a rythmn again in the conversation.  In this moment I realised that doing this seems simple, yet this was the space that more than one of my black friends has said matters more to them than how comfortable I am in communities where I am in the minority whether through work or socially.

We need to become comfortable being uncomfortable.  We need to become uncomfortable enough to voice, challenge and invite people to stretch beyond the status quo.  South Africa has space in it for all who care about Africa and the people who live here. Else, we aren’t actually shifting spaces or living out the fact that we claim that all people matter.  One way of being a part of this is for us white people to start owning that we need to sort ourselves out – as uncomfortable as this might be.

Onwards. Failing forwards at times when we don’t get it right but onwards in this.

#unfenceSA

This morning the first conversation I had with another person involved a story of her young (teenager) cousin being beaten to death by 4 other people.  She was called out of church, along with her family. On arriving at the scene of where he was barely alive, under a black bag at the local rubbish tip, his body was okay, but his face was damaged and scarred beyond what seems to be humanly possible to do to another human being.

Then I thought back to my own childhood where a story like this was unknown.  Where the drugs we were warned about including dagga and tippex thinners and stranger danger with sherbet straws or sheets of stickers – this one I have never checked on snopes to verify?!  Where a drug like TIK (yes, I know it’s everywhere) seemed highly unlikely to even get a mention.

Last weekend I sat and listened to stories of people I know and love but who because of our political history being what it was I never got to know and love growing up.  They were isolated from me and me from them based on the amount of melanin I have in my skin and they in theirs.  Based on the amount of melanin and race, secondly by ethnicity, my black friends – for black in this context incudes anyone not white – would have had their education, their life paths and their potential potentially prescribed. One of the most painful things for me to hear was someone whose family I consider one of my closest, most loved people in Cape Town talk about the battle to get to where he is and the chance that a (white) manager took on him years ago, allowing him to work in a store that my family frequented on a monthly basis to receive scripts for my mom’s blood pressure and my asthma.

How ironic, that someone who holds this much value in my world, is someone whose path I could have crossed so much earlier, but didn’t simply because my schooling and local world was 10km in a different direction.

I nearly didn’t go last weekend – when the invite came and I realised it was in the same 10 day period as 2 other preparation heavy workshop engagements, I thought maybe I need to wait for the next one.  I am really glad I did.

I sat this weekend among people I respect as people wrestling, truth speakers and people further down the road in figuring some things out that I am still working on wrapping my head around and listened.

I listened to a friend speak out, knowing that he would offend some listeners, in a safe enough environment to do so.

I watched people who would usually be deferred to first in speaking, or were used to being given the floor, listening more than they spoke.

I learnt about the depth of wisdom and a history that belongs not just to friends, but to communities to, that wasn’t my shared history.

I engaged with a friend who voiced that he wished that the white community would experience what it feels to be hopeless. Not because he is wishing hopelessness on people but because he wants the white community to experience what it is to feel like there are no choices and to mobilise from there and not just be in an inverted power dynamic.

I was reminded again about how we can be hopefully naïve and in this space it diminishes the hopelessness many feel.

Hope matters, but hope needs to be more than just a feel good thing.  It needs to be something that stirs and disturbs us when we are sitting in a place of too comfortable and too easy and too much going on to think that things need to change.

Hope matters for all of us when we are angry and scared about what things could look like, might look or won’t look like.

Hope matters when we see systems in place that still don’t serve us all well.

Hope matters when I have to speak up and out within my own community against things or for things that need to be heard.

Without Hope we all die, but without any action Hope is just a warm fuzzy thing to hold onto.

I am grateful for this weekend.

I am grateful for the reminder that actually, it takes courage to speak into spaces of privilege and power.

I am grateful for being able to think back to my first weekend, at the age of 16, as a family experiencing listening in Strandfontein 25 years ago, led by Wilson Goeda and Gerrit Wolfaardt (I stand under correction here!).That shaped me in ways that I am still figuring out.

Was I comfortably uncomfortable all the time this weekend?  No

Was I challenged to keep listening, to keep wrestling?  Yes.

Let’s #unfenceSA as we keep listening to those who don’t look, think or sound like us and let’s #unfenceSA by engaging in our own spaces more and challenging the areas where we can do better.

Thank you Johan De Meyer for kicking this off.

Colourblind vs Colour Competence

As a result of conversations I have had since publishing this I want to contextualise the following.  We are in a racially diverse, adoption is common as are cross cultural, transracial families community.  These questions and thoughts aren’t because we are isolated, they are in fact provoked in part because of my exposure to different kinds of normal. The race incident referenced below happened less than 7 years ago in a city which is said to be one of South Africa’s most cosmopolitan ciities.  This is important context I have realised and recognise that it doesn’t mean you will agree with all my stances below or see value in them.  Thank you for reading anyway!

We are on an adoption journey and are preparing to parent a future black man in South Africa. This is some of my processing and I am by no means claiming to have all the answers – however, I am wrestling and wanting to know how we do this well.
I have realised that anytime someone mentions race, there is a HIGH risk of people thinking ‘political’, ‘liberal’ and a whole lot of other not always positive words.
Being colour competent isn’t a political statement. It’s a skill needed in today’s world.

Colour competency is a term I saw mentioned recently in an adoption group. It was in response to a mom of colour asking people to be mindful of the implications of race for their children.

Conversations with friends of colour, reading well researched (sadly all US based) books and observing what I see in my day to day work space are things that have informed some of my thinking. I speak as a white person who grew up in an English/ Afrikaans mixed home – but none of that overtly impacted my social interactions. I WANT to learn from my friends of colour and from people who have grown up in transracial homes, adopted transracial homes how to better navigate these spaces.

A (black) friend recently said to me that she wishes we would use other words- so cross cultural rather than transracial families. I hear her. I concur –but I just wish we would actually more actively engage and talk about this in any form so that the things that for many of my same race peers don’t seem necessary can be understood well and that some of my different race peers can actually engage and tell their stories too and be heard.

I have heard it said by a few of my (white) friends who are parenting (black/ mixed race children) that they are colour blind. Their child is just their child and they don’t think about this. I have struggled with this as our racial features are a part of who we are. Our stories of origin include our culture and race of origin.

A friend from the long ago past grew up as a black man in a white home – on reflecting parts of his story a (white) friend expressed that he wished that there had been a way in adulthood for this friend who has sadly passed away to not have had to have such boxed/ split realities. Until we explore more colour/ race/ cultural competent ways of engaging with each other I am not sure how we are going to get this right going forward.

My child will be my child. I want the best for him. I want him to be the best version of himself. I want him to know that we embrace him, not just for who he is, but for the fullness of who he is- which includes the culture and race group that he comes from. I ALSO want to know how to help him build racial self-esteem – which is a part of his sense of self – and to equip him to deal with the challenges that will face him as sadly the world still does see in colour and race and not always as a celebration of difference.

Recently I have had a few conversations (with white friends and family) where children were said to not see colour – in direct contrast to sitting in a class room 3 months ago where a (black) child was told he couldn’t use the “skin”colour crayon because he was a black man – this child was 9 years old and while he didn’t know necessarily what the meaning of that was to his friend, his immediate response was:
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My Habakkuk Confession

Pre-read disclaimer: My guy encouraged me to share this as he felt it might be encouraging and helpful for other people too. This is an ongoing part of my wrestling with what and where my role is in a country on a continent that I am passionate about and that I want to be a part of seeing healthy and whole. God is a part of my worldview. People matter to me too so yes this is about the state of the nation but it’s also a part of figuring out how to deal with my perceptions of things around me. You don’t have to agree with them – but please play nice if you are going to comment

It’s been a Habakkuk season
This morning I broke down and confessed to my guy that I am struggling.
Struggling with the raw hurt and anger and sometimes hate that is emerging around us.
Struggling to know how much or when to respond and when to keep quiet.
Struggling with a sense of having been silenced as a result of something that has happened that I don’t fully understand.
Struggling with the edification of someone who has committed the most vile atrocities against all people in his own country – regardless of race. People who have had homes burnt down, markets and trading areas bulldozed, been tortured and killed all in the name of ‘’restitution’’ in his own country and is now seen as a voice of truth. (This isn’t my media propaganda, this is my experience of having been there, having sat with and listened to people’s stories – across the racial divide).
Struggling to deal with the calls for action that are needed but that are leading to verbal and other violence when I still have clear memories of what it was to live through these calls in the fairly recent past – when people were tortured, simply disappeared or knowingly killed for holding opposing views, within the apartheid struggle as well as between struggle parties who disagreed with each other aka faction/ political violence, or across borders within some of our neighbouring nations where this rings true too.
Struggling with the level of blood shed that has already passed and with the levels of hurt, anger, fear and even hate becoming more and more evident in dialogues and engagements – I guess I am especially struggling with this and know that on my own, or with friends who only think like me or look like me this isn’t going to be resolved.

Then I read Habakkuk again as a reminder that none of this is new.

Habakkuk reminds us that law and order fell to pieces then too (Hab 1:1-4), that justice appeared to be a joke and that anarchy, violence and fights broke out all over the place; that the wicked appeared to have hamstrung the righteous.
Habakkuk reminds that God can work among us as he worked among the ancestors and people of before, that we can ask God to not only bring judgement but also Godly mercy (Hab 3:2)
Reminds us that the paths that God takes are older than the oldest mountains and hills (Hab 3: 6)

After confessing this to my guy, who then sat and prayed with me (&for me) and we prayed for the country, for the continent, the following vision came about and Charlie shared with an instruction that we need to write this down, so here they are:

• A picture of Africa (as a continent) beating as a heart would beat but haemorrhaging, blood gushing out; a surgeon then attempted to work on stopping the haemorrhage but to no effect, the bleed continued. After this a hand, the hand of God, moved across the continent and only then did the bleed heal, stop. Charlie reinforced the sense that we need to keep praying, we need to keep holding on to the peace and purposes that God has for us in the here and now. We need to recognise that there is much hurt, much unresolved anger and much change needed and it is all pouring out at the moment. We need to keep praying for guidance as to how to manage this space, to guide it and allow it to transform not only systems but also people’s lives in order for healing to happen.

About 10 years ago I had a dream which keeps returning every time I think about the state of our nation:
Context of the house where the dream happened: I grew up in Tokai – relatively close to Pollsmoor Prison, so lived with an awareness of protests and the political awareness that my mom instilled in us through her refusal to treat or engage with people differently based on their race. In fact, mom and dad through their networks exposed us to prayer, reconciliation and story-telling weekends in the early 90’s. Our home was open to all people always and we had missionary (local and foreign) students of all race and nationalities in our house often.

My dream: I was inside the house I grew up in and could see masses of angry black youth shouting, protesting and throwing building nails at homes in anger, shouting threats and toyi toying. These nails, despite doors and windows being closed, slid under the door lintels and landed on the tiles in our passage. In my dream I remember picking up these nails and looking at them in my hands, crying that these are meant for building up and not instilling fear or damaging or breaking down.

I am still sitting with this dream – trying to work out how and where I pick up these nails (even if they prick and hurt and result in my hands bleeding, as in the dream) to know how I am part of the building process.

I am feeling a little more hope-fuelled than I was this early this morning.
I am acknowledging and confessing that my hands and heart have been bleeding.
It has been overwhelming some days.

My prayer is simply this:
God show me where you are in the midst of this?
God show me practically where you need me to be in the midst of this?
God show me how to be a part of the healing and not the hurting?
God show me.

Let your Kingdom come

This morning as we met together in a building, I was reminded again of the fact that this was simply a gathering of people.
It wasn’t church. We the people together were the church. We were a gathering of people wrestling with life and our own responses to it. Whether life meant struggles or celebrations in our families, in our communities or in our country… I looked up and around and saw people whose families are facing challenges, whose communities are being fractured by Xenophobia and different generations of people with different understandings of what makes national transformation important.

I reflected on the weeks that had passed and on the dialogues, in person and over social media and thought about the following points. I don’t have answers to them all. I do know that I was challenged to sit with them some more. In the day. In the week. In interactions.

What does it mean to be in what looks hopeless & yet still have a God of Hope in it?

What does it mean to live surrounded by fear or frustration or hurt and anger & yet know what & who perfect love is which casts out all fear AND then CHOOSE to respond from this space?

What does it mean to feel powerless & yet still have an all powerful God?

What does this mean in terms of our identity & action as people of God?

What does this mean in terms of what we declare? How we heal & seek to be part of seeing others healed?

What does this mean in terms of how we respond to the deep hurt & anger that we cant always connect to, yet there is collective voices expressing this?

What does it mean for us witnessing xenophobia?Afrophobia? Transformation?

I am sitting with this. I want to be a part of hope, of life, of seeing redemption.
I want to be a part of seeing people matter
I want what I believe and what I do and who I am to be aligned & not different boxes that I tick off – which means I need to make sure that my words, my thoughts and my actions are lining up.

Maybe this week some of this answers will become clearer.

Practically:
There are a WHOLE lot of amazing practical things happening in communities from IAMAFRICA which can be found on facebook which is a great practical resource for people wanting to know how to be involved in the Xenophobic relief and helping say NO! to the Freedom Mantle movement which is dealing with how do we develp a vision & leadership in South Africa that allows for South Africa to really be about a place for all and what does it mean to be a part of the change.