In anticipation

The Big Wait.  The Paper Pregnant with no deadline.  No timeline.  Just hope.  Lots of it.

Hope and an awareness that in the background to our story unfolding, others are happening.

One with social workers, acting on our behalf to make sure that our profile is out there for prospective matches.

One with social workers wanting to see children permanently placed with the right families for them.

Reams of paperwork we completed on file being accessed as is needed to confirm and explore possibilities.

A child, whose story we don’t know yet, having to cope with hard goodbyes and temporary hellos until we have the privilege of parenting him.

A birth mom, who may or may not still be around this child – I have no idea of her story but she is an important part of ours, not just as the birth mom of our small but as our family grows in the years ahead.

Our community.

Our community anticipating with us, praying with us, holding open hearts and dreams with us.

Our community blessing us with practical gifts.

Blessing us with a celebration and gathering of family and friends to welcome us to first time parenthood together with a shower and a braai  – my guy is an important part of this all.

Our community getting frustrated for us in the wait – more than us most days!

Our community embracing our process and while not seeing my belly grow, are making space anyway in our worlds for our future child.

Us.

Us talking about the things we are excited about and the things we are nervous about.

Us dreaming what we would like the new rhythm  in our family to be like.

Us talking about working mom, part time working mom or full time mommy space for a season.

Us talking to our families and friends about our feelings in this process.

Us accompanied by my sister in law to an adoption conference (in which she became an us as she pressed in to aspects of adoption)

Me.

Me waking up and thinking about what and how to arrange the second room.

Me reflecting on the professional things my brain knows and needing to work these through with a professional of my own in anticipation.

Me remembering the fear & grief of losing pregnancies and knowing that this is a definite thing.

Me recognising that I am not going to have all the answers and get this right every time and that showing up consistently to try and figure things out is what matters.

Ultimately God.

Walking this journey is teaching me more about faith – we hope for things that we do not yet see to quote Hebrews 11:1.   It’s confidence of what is coming. It’s assurance of what I don’t see. It’s the conviction of knowing this and preparing to do the things that need doing.

In anticipation.

Our mirrors. Our freedom.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
-Albert Schweitzer

The last 10 days have seen some hard curve balls in our family of 2. The details don’t matter for this reflection, but the outcomes and realisations do
Things we were hoping we weren’t going to have to deal with and yet we did. More than did- we came out knowing that we are okay and there is hope, and in fact in the midst of the heartache and sadness there was joy.
Not because we were in denial but because we had ‘mirrors’ reminding us of who we are and what we are about and what our hearts have always known about what we believe our family to be about.

Regardless of what the situation was, I have realised that in any other hard time my default thinking was always: ‘Some people get the easier end, I am not one of them’ or ‘my story involves zig-zag hair pin, up and down paths rather than a controlled, steady climb to the top’. In fact last year when we fell pregnant, my exact words to a few close friends were – this happened too quickly, it can’t be that easy & sadly it was a blighted ovum – but that had nothing to do with my thinking – other than at the time really challenging me to change it but wondering why I should!

I had been wrestling with my perspective on life and what it said about my belief in God (which I didn’t really like at all) before we even knew we were pregnant so it wasn’t linked to the pregnancy itself. And (bad grammar I know, but the emphasis is needed) AND this is important – because my thinking had nothing to do with things that happen ultimately BUT everything to do with how I respond to things. Some things like a blighted ovum just are, but end up feeling like a (can you say rationalising excuse?) self-fulfilling prophecy and in other contexts mean that I don’t live in the moment but mistrust the joy in front of me.

See in this past week I have witnessed someone share their amazing testimony of how their thinking changed (read and follow her journey here: https://adoptaconvict.wordpress.com ) & had a conversation with someone whose life is in a transition and choices need to be made space, but it’s hard to know that there is permission and blessing to do so, and it hit me again.

We all need mirrors.
We need mirrors to remind us of who we are and who were aren’t.
We need mirrors to tell us truth, to encourage and to reflect back to us when we can’t see clearly.
We need mirrors to give us courage.

My mirror this last week diffused what previously would have felt like ‘here we go again – it’s that hard path’ and turned it into WHAT, WHO ARE YOU? REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE?

I realised 5 days after my mirror in our current context (a friend who knows who she is) did this, that there was no time to focus on the hard path, to get stuck in the default thinking simply as once she reminded me of the bigger picture…the rest no longer mattered as much.

It was an incredibly liberating and joyful celebration in the midst of what could have and previously only would have been an angry and tired place.

More than what and who I discovered myself to be in this, again, I celebrate that in the last 6 months, my thinking has changed, that to quote henri nouwen ‘I have lived into a new way of thinking’.

I know that life isn’t fair.

I know God is there regardless.

I know that ‘bad things happen to good people’ and that good things happen to ‘bad people’. That we don’t always get what we or others think we deserve – sometimes it’s much more, sometimes it’s much less. *see below*

I know that when my sense of shame, sorrow, anger, sadness or ‘it’s not fair’ kicks in that sometimes I don’t see clearly in the mirror.

I know that it’s thanks to the faithfulness of community, of people walking down the valleys and up the mountains and onto the peaks with me to celebrate that things have shifted into a new way of living.

I am grateful for friends and family being willing to be my mirror. Mirrors who can reflect the broken bit but also the whole bits – which allows for freedom & confesssion & healing.

I am grateful for God holding up the ultimate mirror of the paradoxes of life and knowing that in this uncertainty about much, that there is certainty.

I know this because I have witnessed it time and again over the last few months and really across the last 41 years &1 day of my life.

To sit in a car en route to work and want to do a happy dance of joy, knowing that the pathways in my heart and mind have changed is more than just about work I have done.

It’s about grace.
It’s about healing and joy.
It’s really been about mirrors: seeing and being seen.

We need mirrors.

*good and bad people used loosely in this context simply and by no means imply that people are not worth anything or that any of us are better or worse than others…

Are there more white people like you?

In the past few weeks I have been faced with my ‘privilege’.
My white privilege.
Yes mine.

I have been faced with the fact that as much as I am surrounded by amazing people, doing things to see communities shift and healed, that there is not enough contact between different (colour)people happening to make people realise that actually there are many(white)who are seeking this change. Who think that justice matters, who think that restitution matters.

How do I know this?

Simply because too often, it’s the same people in contact with the same circles –regardless of what the circles look like. I know this because a friend boldly told me this. He heard me say that my heart was sore because in 2 days I had two friends of colour (from different contexts) voice this sentiment:

Are there more? Maybe there are more but we don’t see or hear them?

Then I got thinking about how do we make these circles bigger? How do we mix them up more?

The next challenge then got thrown at me by someone whose dreams I respect and support, whose voice is loud, whose passion for community, for people and for South Africa is being refined and yet I know that these dreams seem to belong to someone else at times for this friend, as he has other responsibilities in life that stop the pursuit of these dreams.

Why do I think that his dreams matters?
• I believe that we need more young leaders and men like my friend in communities speaking, advocating and encouraging people.

• I believe that we need to relook at how we understand supporting education in this country – for some of us it is about equipping teachers, advocating for bursaries – but I was recently challenged to think beyond that to what does it mean for someone whose very BASIC income is needed to support their family (with basics – regardless of the nature of their work) to how do we support big hearts and brilliant minds out of relationship to be able to study further. We all know that education matters, in this instance though – relationship matters too.

• I was privileged in having parents, who still had to sacrifice, but were able to put me through Varsity with no study debt. My friend’s starting point is not this but it could be if we stood next to him in this. If we acknowledged our privilege – our connections, our contexts, our means – and used it to support him. Then maybe there would be more – more people with privilege being seen as people who are there, who truly are committed to seeing things change.

I want to stand beside a friend to see his dreams come true while his family still live and eat and can celebrate his dreams too. So I am talking with others (yes more of us & mixed racial circles), and praying and seeking other people to stand alongside him. Not out of charity. Out of relationship. This is what family does. This is what we do when we are in relationship and see and hear and acknowledge each other’s dreams.

We help find ways of seeing them happen. I have had people doing this with me. And still do. I want to be a part of someone else’s story too.

This was written with the knowledge of my friend whose story challenged mine – I am grateful that he shared his story with me. In doing so it made me a part of his story as much as he became a part of mine.

i say NO!

Forgiveness and Primal Screams

Yesterday I experienced a sense of terror like I haven’t in a very long time.
Waking up to discover a “want to be intruder” about to step into our bedroom was something that I don’t want to experience again. Ever.
People asked me if he took anything. No. Not anything physical.
Just my sense of being safe in my home- temporarily.
My sleep for the night.
My voice is strained still.
My gut reaction was to scream.
To scream from terror.
To scream that this wasn’t okay.
To scream NO!

I know that he didn’t consider that anyone would be awake – would scream.
36 hours later I am saying NO.
NO MORE.
No more of saying that this is how it is.
No more of the fear.

And the only way I know to say no is to say I forgive you.

I forgive the fact that you violated my space – whether or not you think I need to.

I forgive the fact that you intentionally tried to walk into my intimate space with bad intentions.

I forgive you and pray that you will know a conviction of heart that this is not the way to walk.

I have the luxury of neighbours who immediately responded. Who called the police who arrived less than 5 minutes after the call was made. If I look at the stats in this article I still have more luxury despite what happened than many of the people who call the same city home: http://thisisafrica.me/apartheid-geography-murder-cape-town/

I have the luxury of spikes being placed on walls the next day as a deterrent.
According to the police my scream was a deterrent and you won’t be back.

It wasn’t just a scream. It was a no.

I don’t know your story. And I don’t need to in order to forgive you.

I need to know that I am not going to let this incident define me. It’s not going to define my commitment to this city, to this country and to healing, hope and justice.

The fear you bought with you cannot stay. That fear gets too much voice already. It has too much power and too much place in the narrative of our communities.

It’s time forgiveness got a louder voice. It’s time healing and hope got a space to be seen as bigger than fear, than crime, than violence.

I say no.

Babies, Blighted Ovums & Hope

For the past 2 months my body has been growing, changing, responding to hormones and for the past month, we have known that, according to initial testing all of these things were due to being pregnant: For the first time at forty. Yesterday morning we woke up to go and discover whether it was one or two – not thinking that it was simply going to be the idea of a little person – rather than a little person. The egg had fertilised and implanted, but didn’t develop beyond that – and despite everything that science can tell us, we don’t know why this baby didn’t grow. The gestational sac did – was perfectly sized for 8 weeks. The baby didn’t: I am saying baby because, for us, the moment the egg and sperm fused, that was a developing human being.

Strangely, the week this conception happened, I had a dream that I was going to have a phantom pregnancy (this wasn’t the same thing but the outcome feels the same); I also stopped feeling emotionally pregnant about 10 days ago, but put that down to exhaustion, to nausea and general hormonal irritability. Somehow my body and soul started a conversation that the rest of me is now catching up with.

This morning I woke up with the sensation that the whole pregnancy experience belonged to someone else – yes, I know shock and denial do funny things to one’s mind – except then the sadness kicks in and the tears start again and I am reminded that this is my story. It’s our story.

I am deeply grateful that we chose to share this story with our community, our family and friends from its early days of praying, hoping and dreaming. It meant that people got to share in our excitement, allow for me to struggle through the morning sickness, give me space to be tired and more mindful of germs. It allowed for people to share with us their “pay it forward generosity”. It allowed for a different type of joy within our marriage and our families.

And now… It has also allowed for us to be loved and held and supported in what ranks up there for me with having to say goodbye to a little boy who I so wanted to be mine, but also couldn’t make mine, and watch his initial failed adoption with another family knowing that there was no stepping back in to make him mine; it ranks up there with not knowing whether my mom was going to come back from theatre after a triple heart bypass…. And yet it also doesn’t – for the simple reason that this time around I have learnt how powerful being vulnerable is in this space.

This vulnerability means that we have had a SHARED outpouring and acknowledgement of the loss of dreams and of hopes. In response to our public acknowledgement we have received many private stories, as well as public acknowledgements of shared experiences, shared sadness – and stories, which science seems to support, of hope and little people growing into their full bodies. Beyond the emotion and the science I have been so aware of the prayer covering our family too – for me, Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase in The Message sums it up:

“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath” (Psalm 34: 18)

Today, in the midst of tears, the feeling of being gutted, there is an awareness of deep slow breaths too. Of choosing to see hope and gratitude in the midst of heartache and knowing that in the midst of grief there is still hope.

What does a freedom fighter look like?

This morning this went through my head after I received a message from a woman that she was furious at people’s attitudes and the stuck narrative that things were better pre-94. That she had “lost it” with someone who wouldn’t respect or listen to another man (of darker colour) doing his job because “it was better before”.

Under apartheid.

You know the days when there was a blanket quota system in place: white, preferably male and um – ja….that was about it.

What kind of freedom are we talking about when we talk about freedom fighters?
– Freedom to vote?
– Freedom to speak our minds?
– Education & health care for all?
– Freedom politically?
– Freedom to be safe?
– Freedom to love who we want to?
– Freedom to worship?
– Freedom to be who we are – male/female/ pink/ purple/ worshipers/ non-worshipers?
– Freedom to know that we matter, that people matter?

I teach a course on contemporary society and all my foreign students (whether from the rest of Africa or elsewhere in the world) comment on the fact that South Africans are obsessed with certain social interactions and dynamics (like race) that aren’t a part of the general narrative in their countries of origin – this doesn’t mean the dynamic isn’t there. It just isn’t as apparent. Day to day, people in different contexts compare what was and what is and question what will be in terms of our contemporary society’s future.

Politically and economically as a broader community we are trying to work out what economic, social and political freedom really means. People like Julius Malema, Steve Hofmeyer, political parties and others are all touting what they believe needs to be, needs to happen for us to be free as a nation. Freedom fighters stereotypically are the icons that have been part of revolutions, to see broader social change come about so that we can have discussions about our leaders, about Steve and Julius on the same social media forums without fear of reprisal – other than people disagreeing or deleting you if they disagree with you.

Yet, when I think about this woman, I see a freedom fighter too. Someone who won’t be on coffee table coasters or t-shirts; someone whose name you probably won’t have heard of.

I see a woman who found ways of helping people know that they matter despite a political system that said otherwise.

I see a woman who stood up in front of a community of displaced, formerly homeless people in a refuge in the 80’s where everyone was scared of HIV/AIDS, who shared a cup with someone living with HIV to make the point that HIV wasn’t something you could catch by simply doing life with people – doing lots of other things yes, but not through sharing life things.

I see a woman who was raised and is a part of the cultural grouping associated with the oppressor – the Afrikaaner – who rants and raves and challenges people yearning back to the days of oppression. Not out of a naive space, but out of a bigger picture space of recognisning that things aren’t all great BUT….

I see a woman who has been impacted by crime directly, overseen health care for political prisoners and gangsters, who with her husband, exposed their family to racial reconciliation weekends in coloured communities pre-94 while there was an awareness that this wasn’t the norm amongst most of their peer group.

I see a woman who has watched her husband’s retirement be impacted by the change of management, whose husband exposed things in his place of work that weren’t ethical and was then “moved out” of his place of work and left with a greatly reduced income because of it and who isn’t bitter.

I see a woman in her 60’s still advocating for fair wages, for good conditions, for people to be seen and for justice for all.

I am humbled by this woman.

I am proud to call her mother.

(Today my mom lived for me Micah 6:8… I am forever grateful for the gift of my mom and dad – we are blessed)

SAME same but DIFFERENT

Things that are the same same but different are a big part of why I have been forced to slow down and stop sometimes.

This past week I have had lots of time to sit and think and reflect on what is good, what is hard, what is making this soooo very hard.

I know that I am not (mood) depressed – but two of my friends said to me there is a lot of underlying anxiety/ stress. They are wise, and honest and gentle and worth listening to often!

I reflected on what they meant by this and realised that actually there was.

There have been so many changes in the last 18 months, as well as the last 10 years. Many of these amazing changes, worth celebrating, like master’s degrees and mom’s healthy heart, and adventures in Africa and becoming self-employed. Maybe the biggest has been shifting from a 30 something single to a very recently married and very recently 40-something.

We are still in the midst of the unknowns and the pace at which I have been living has made this harder, but actually yes, there is a lot of underlying anxiety at the moment.

The gift this week has been recognising that I have not struggled with accepting more responsibility and the role of being married and a wife, but I have struggled with letting go of what it meant to only be single.

I simply added wife and married onto the existing things.

See I am the same person with the same dreams, passions and convictions but I am having to learn that my life
has changed and that means that the expression of this by default actually needs to change. It means finding clarity and focus and intent differently. It has meant looking at what is working and isn’t working energy wise.

It’s also meant that I have had the opportunity to look at what hasn’t been dealt with personally, or professionally that is fuelling the anxiety.

What are the unknowns and what are the unspoken, unfinished things that need attention?

What do I need to make peace with as possibly never reaching a finish line and what can I process and perhaps find peace in the processing either alone or another?

How can I not be grateful for this gift?

It’s about rest. It’s about peace. It’s about slowing down and it’s about healing. A journey I get to go on with God, myself and with community.

I like that a lot.

Seriously – Do we need another grooming tool for children?

Yesterday a licence was given to a TV station which would usher in a new era of access to pornography in South Africa.  This is been communicated as the rights of adults to engage/ indulge and explore their sexuality.  Apparently this is one of the new freedoms in our young democracy.

Less than 10 weeks ago the country was appalled at the rape stats, child abuse stats and seeming breakdown in understanding of sexual ethics, morals, values – pick one and I am sure you will find opinion pieces on it somewhere. Over the last 3 years in private practice, some of the children I worked with who had been sexualised had all inadvertently been exposed to pornography.  The children I am talking about are all below the age of 8 and seemingly from what we would all call ‘normal’ homes – their issues emerged when playground games and night time dreams lost their innocence and pants which had been dry for a very long time suddenly were being wet again.

Recently I have been made aware – it was discussed this week again at a professional talk I went to – about the increase in sex addiction.  Like, AA and NA groups, we are seeing growing numbers of SAA groups (not the airline –Sex Addicts Anonymous).  Pornography and its impact on the men and women in these groups as well as the other issues that result are part of what the 12 step programmes seek to address.  And these are not church run groups by ‘conservatives’ who think that sex belongs in a dark room for procreation only.  These groups are open to all creeds, all ages and are about finding healing in the space of sexuality.

There is lots of good, bad and indifferent research out there to defend what you want to defend.

In practice we know that children act out what they see.  Play Therapy as a discipline developed after the 2nd World War when it was observed that children were acting out the blitz over London – with emotional processing happening; after the soccer world cup, everyone was Messi, or Ronaldo and the theme for children’s parties was pretty much about soccer, boots and balls (across genders).  These were innocent processes.  My young clients whose acting out of sexual stuff impacted other children, meant we had social challenges, shame, discipline, social isolation and psychosomatic things to manage as a result of seeing something and then voicing, acting or exploiting other children in an effort to act out what they had seen.

Children, according to our constitution have a right to be protected. Freedom comes with responsibilities and privileges.  It makes no sense that the privileges (of adults and those who stand to profit) over rides the right to be protected from abuse and exposure to things that impede optimal growth and development.  A 12 year old in a workshop I ran last year said the following to me:

“Why do adults allow porn to be out there if they know it’s not good for our brains and our development?  It teaches me to think in certain ways and makes me think I want to practice what I have seen with the girls around me.”

An 11yr old girl voiced that she had bought a DVD from an informal shop – and when she got home to play it was hard core porn.  Are we keeping her safe?

These kids come from a community where child prostitution, sugar daddies and rape is a part of life.

Do we really need another channel that is going to mess with their minds, bodies and the development of healthy sexuality?

Feeling somewhat more than disturbed today.

Race, Reconciliation and Red Herrings…a response to The Spear (2012)

Red Herrings, Race, Penises and Reconciliation

How to start a piece of writing about a topic that has enraged and resulted in vehement debate in a country such as ours?  I know that there will be people who accuse me of being idealistic.  There will be people who think that I am failing to recognise the past.  There will be people who think that I am failing to recognise the present objectively.  In discussions with a friend (she is black)whose heart seeks reconciliation, healing and forward growth for South Africa, I admitted that I am tired of feeling like just because my skin is paler than the majority of my fellow South African’s, I am not allowed an opinion on South Africa, or on the Spear and the dialogue it produced.  It is hard when I listen to people argue so objectively that they can’t or won’t acknowledge people’s subjective experiences which result in seemingly irrational behaviour.  It is painful that when I dare voice anything I know that half the people who may read it through other friends’ debating and sharing will make assumptions about me based on the fact that I am white and should therefore be quiet, or that I am not allowed to be heard.  My words to her were in fact:

Siki, it is hard to be heard when I know that many of my white peers will think that I am not being objective enough in seeking understanding whilst there are people of colour(s) will dismiss what I have to say without hearing or knowing me simply because I have green eyes, dark hair and a paler complexion with freckles!”.

Siki responded to this with “Lex, you need to say that, you need to say these things out loud and we need more people willing to listen and talk and being willing to defy the perceived stereotypes from all sides”

So, I now I am saying what I think – not because I think I know better than anyone else, but simply because I have been listening to a lot of what is being said and spoken and actioned in an attempt to understand what has been unfolding 5km from my home.  I currently live close to the Goodman Gallery where the infamous “Spear” painting is being shown; where the word race and racism has been touted about – a lot.

RACE – what a loaded word in South Africa.  Theories abound – I have heard people say that black people can’t be racist – which makes little sense to me in the context of Xenophobia and Black on Black violence.  I have seen people walk out of lectures when I was at university in response to a lecturer trying to prove this – black and white people who got more and more irritated with her.  I have also been told that black people can’t be racist towards white people.  Again, something that makes no sense to me and never has.  Surely racism is what happens when we are prejudiced or assume something about another person based on what we understand their race or ethnicity to be about? I have engaged in cross-cultural spaces personally and professionally from the age of 15.  One of my earliest childhood memories was leaning to give our helper a hug and a kiss when she returned home from being on holidays and being told by her not to do that; if the wrong people see there will be trouble –she literally recoiled into the corner and pushed me away.  This was how I learnt about apartheid.  I wasn’t allowed to hug someone who looked after me when my mom couldn’t  and made sure I had fun, who disciplined me when I needed it, with my parents’ approval, someone who I loved because “some people don’t understand that it’s okay for people of different colours to love each other” (my wise mom).

In response to a lot of the “racist” cries, many paler Africans are crying, people need to get over apartheid and stop yelling!  No, not everything is racist, but as Max du Preez pointed out, how much animosity still exists in certain communities over the Anglo-Boer war?  I can take you to places where people refuse to speak English, and other places where people refuse to acknowledge that Afrikaners aren’t all thugs – I can speak about this- I am a product of both.  When my mom chose to marry my father, she was asked:  “Ai, JB, kan jy nie met n ordentelike boer trou nie?” (Ai, JB, can’t you marry a nice Afrikaans boy?).  My Ouma and Oupa were accepting and welcoming to my English “rooinek” father –the rest of the family – well, and I can brag that I was once a peace child…  My Oupa (grandpa) took my English father and his first granddaughter (me) for a walk once –without telling my dad where we were going.  It only emerged when they reached someone’s home that it was to a family member who was disgusted that my mom had married ‘the enemy’ so to speak but due there being a baby present, the door was opened and some sense of peace brokered.  Well, for a moment anyway 😉

So, next time, as a white person you are tempted to yell, let’s get over this already, try speaking English in metaphorical “Blikkiesfontein” and note the response?  Or listen to your own gut instinct when a man dressed in veldskoen (vellies), two tone shirts and a fiat bakkie pulls up – what is your immediate thought?

What does this have to do with The Spear?  Well, firstly, I think that we need to take a long hard look at ourselves before shouting out in indignation (some righteous, some self-righteous) about the “ANC and its’ race card”.  What I learnt over the past few days about what some other middle class, educated black South Africans’ are saying with the word race is the following – and before you read this list, agree to just hear what they are saying, rather than getting defensive immediately or blaming the current government for not addressing these issues –listen to what I learnt:

Race…is about the social inequality

Race …is about the lack of trust

Race….is about the fact that so many black people still live in incredibly poor conditions with minimal access to electricity and water

Race …is about the housing crisis

Race…is about white people not knowing much about the past and the injustices and way in which many people of colour in this country struggled.

When I read the above list, I can understand why so many people are quick to shout RACE –it’s loaded with a whole lot of meaning that I don’t automatically give it. I can understand why someone told me to be quiet when I started talking about the need for us to know what the injustices were, and how to respond to these that could bring healing –except that once we did start speaking, there was a sense of peace – for both of us, not necessarily resolution but a better understanding.   The more I engaged with one person’s thinking about this, as she wrote in response to an article written by a mutual friend, the more it made sense to me why people were so upset.

I get that technically and legally the above aren’t definitions of race – but it helped me understand.

I so appreciated this woman telling me that when she drove along the highway, she realised that she did begrudge white people – yes she had white friends, but she got mad all over again at white people when she has a colleague at work who has to wake up at 4:30 to boil water to get to work by 7:30 – this woman takes 20 minutes to get to work, so she isn’t speaking as someone who uses public transport, but rather who sees inside the shacks she drives past.  I appreciated this simply because it irks me too – but I don’t label it race.  I label it social injustice and the way that wealth is distributed and the fact some of this wealth is mismanaged – which as a black friend of mine pointed out is a favourite expression of “white folk”.  I heard him.  I did.  BUT I also know that the fact that poverty exists now isn’t just the fact that wealth is mismanaged now – it was also mismanaged under apartheid with funds being allocated to state security, rather than addressing the needs of all people who live in South Africa and if we want to be honest, funds were badly allocated to a select few.  When I look at communities now, when I look at the new elite class that has emerged, and the level of poverty that remains, wealth is still not allocated equally.  Not here in South Africa, not in Africa, not in the world.  If it was, poverty wouldn’t exist at all.

The Spear, along with the rest of Brett Murray’s exhibition, was social commentary on what many people (both black and white if you read popular media and blogs) had been struggling with in South Africa and see as a lack of delivery, as well as concerns with regards to the gender issues in this country, so objectively if I listen to these concerns I see direct correlations with the list above – and when I am willing to listen to other people’s hearts in this I can find things that we can agree on- as well as ask questions about should this be called race then?  And how does this fit with freedom of expression in our young democracy?

Subjectively though, when my father, either personally or as the man who is viewed as a father to our country is publicly displayed in the way in which President Zuma was, it is very hard to stay objective in responses – especially when it stirs up so much controversy which pushes all the buttons in many and serves as a reminder of much of the indignity of apartheid.   See, I heard that and was confused by this statement, until 2 black peers independently told me that under apartheid, black men would be stripped naked and exposed to white female policewoman for review –for whatever purpose.  Now, I am not sure if loads of my peers knew this, I didn’t consider this at all.  And I already hear some of you saying “Lex, what has that got to do with anything?”  Well, if we are all already struggling with working out how to manage life in South Africa with its history- and some of it feeling more personal than other stuff, and this button gets pushed – and ironically in some ways repeatedly pushed by the people who were offended by it – as some of you are thinking, it has a lot to do with everything.

People don’t live ALL subjectively or ALL objectively – even those of us touting seemingly objective arguments in either direction about The Spear have emotional reactions to what is said to us and about us and apparently on behalf of us in this dialogue.

As a South African, who lives on this continent and is passionate about people and purpose and seeing hearts healed and understood, it’s intensely frustrating to feel that I am not allowed to have an opinion or share what I have learnt from people who are willing to share their sensitive areas with me.  It’s hard to not want to yell back when I get told I don’t understand racism and I know that there are people who won’t give me the time of day as a person because they have already made assumptions about me.  See, I shouldn’t have to tell you the following every time I want to express an opinion as a white South African that this is on my CV:

–          That I grew up in a family where we were part of racial reconciliation meetings and listening to stories from when I was 16 years old. This was pre 1994…. It was whilst I was still in school.  We camped in communities that legally we shouldn’t have been in, but it was “ignored” (probably silently watched) as it was on church property.

–          That I spent a week in a shack in Khayalitsha, in winter, in the early 90’s, with spotlights and police sirens in the background and wondered what would happen if we weren’t invited to stay in a community wanting to see healing too. That I know what it’s like to have township dogs bark at me.  That I know what its’ like to be stared at with suspicion and not spoken to, whilst my black friends who were there too were embraced.  That I know what it’s like not to be able to fluently follow a conversation for lack of slang-vocabulary.

–          That I used to catch mini-bus taxis into Bishop Lavis (poor socio-economic, known for its gangs – well then anyway- violent community) in the mid-90’s as I didn’t have a car and needed to walk through Cape gangsters to get to my social work agency.  That I had taxi drivers who refused to stop where I needed to be dropped off and left me in the middle of Elsies’s River, which at that point in time had the highest incidence of rape (geographically) in the world. This made me just another woman at risk – but I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb.  A sore white thumb. That I had a female Xhosa taxi driver tell me I was a crazy white girl to even be going to work there and driving off her route to get me closer to where I needed to be to make sure I was safe (this still makes me smile).  That my university supervisor at the time used to check the day after practical’s that I made it to class as she would be concerned about me until she knew, from a safety point of view, that I was okay – I found this out after the year was done!

–          That my first second major high school crush was on a coloured boy (I was just a girl –this is not derogatory) but I had almost no one I knew it was safe to tell this too.  I met him on a scripture union camp and he was awesome – and probably didn’t know what to make of this silly-eyed girl that just smiled at him a lot.

–          That I have lived in communities where I was not altogether welcomed by the doctors and managers at work and the “white” people in town simply as I chose and preferred to have multi-cultural friendships and didn’t support their racism or ‘colonialist’ ways of working with nationals in a country where we were guests of their government effectively.

–          That I have had men who refused to speak to me once they knew that I had dated across the ‘colour line’ or girlfriends who wouldn’t discuss this with me.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that I cry and cringe when I watch at the way we as human beings – all of us – yell at each other and keep yelling to be heard- whether out of pain or out of fear – but aren’t willing to stand and listen to someone else’s pain and fear so that we can heal or allow the painful, uncomfortable things to be bought out of the shadows.  There are so many people wanting to see changes in this country, who are seeking the same direction, but we can’t find each other if we can’t listen to each other.  And listening to each other is not about a white agenda, or a black agenda, or a coloured agenda.  It’s not about one upping the other and punishing.  It’s about being able to really see and hear each other together – I am in awe of the shifts in the press the last few days of more and more people taking a stand that is about the bigger picture, but acknowledging the smaller critical details too.

The Spear has highlighted that we default into fighting mode – and we cry without listening – and today reading the newspaper, all the editorials I have read by black editors – have stated this needs to stop;  that we need to look at the bigger picture.  The Spear neatly allowed a side step of the broader issues because it triggered the race card for many people.  And in triggering it stopped, but only for a while, dialogue and discussion from happening that could be helpful in healing and exploring our constitution, and our democracy.

I am committing to stand and letting people yell at me – out of pain and fear and not yelling back – but rather being willing to reflect and hear and cry with, so that if we shift as individuals and groups little by little, maybe the macro shifts we are seeking will come.

I am committing to wanting to understand more – and choosing to respect that people’s pace and process isn’t always where I think it should be – not as a white person, but as Alexa.

I am choosing to ask why the rhetoric resonates with many often, rather than just getting infuriated by it – and responding rather than reacting.

I am choosing to honour my friend, a woman whose heart is also to understand but will often challenge the status quo and speak up to say why the so-called masses may be responding as they are – and part of that was writing this.

I am choosing to allow myself to be corrected and learn – about the objective and subjective dialogues that still need to happen, but can’t be stuck on repeat.  Not because I think I know more or don’t know enough.  Simply because I don’t think any of us do.

 

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.