Justice vs Selfishness

Is SOCIAL JUSTICE in some ways THE STRUGGLE AGAINST SELFISHNESS?

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference with various leaders seeking change in the area of poverty, inequality & unemployment. At this conference were leaders who had been involved in the struggle against apartheid as well as young leaders whose voices are loud in the current struggles that our country faces as a whole – by whole I mean people of all groups and (racial) backgrounds.
There were many reflections on things that worked, ideals that were and weren’t achieved and stories told of the political struggle that ensued to bring SA into a democracy. Rev Frank Chikane said the following which has sat with me and I have no concrete answers to this – other than we need to find this path through restitution and peace: ‘In the build up to 1994 the country was taken across a bridge in such a way that bought the country to a new place without destroying it; however the economic system wasn’t taken across the bridge’.

I sat listening to people speaking about their experience of growing up poor, of the struggle to escape an economic system that is responsible for much of the structural violence and neglect many people still suffer under and realised that this was the bigger narrative against which the smaller, personal narrative needs to unfold. As a South African who is white how do I find my space in the midst of this when I see what are emotional, angry and ‘you can’t possibly understand the other’ type responses on social media and news comments?

How do i listen to what needs to be said, but still ask or challenge or engage people to find an alternate way to that of bitterness driven responses? This morning I again saw a person of colour being allowed to respond to an emotional statement (which is allowed too) and yet when a ‘white’ person affirmed the initial response and asked the questions which I too wanted to ask was immediately shot down. It made me think that while we talk a big talk about creating a land of equal opportunity that in the midst of that we need to find ways of seeing each other – and that means looking beyond our own assumptions and stereotypes –regardless of who they are about.

Sivuyile Kotela said ‘that we need to find a way of talking about poverty and it’s link to race without being racist; that the church has a responsibility to talk about poverty differently to those who do so for political reasons and that as much as don’t want to talk about race often, in the context of poverty it’s a needed discussion’. This might not be radical enough for some of my more left wing friends. It might infuriate some of my more right wing friends that the race word has once more been used.

So in this context how does this broader narrative and story that is currently unfolding as a nation impact my personal narrative around justice? I have had FOMO watching friends engage in dialogues around this until I felt convicted that actually, justice needs to be about the way we live our lives – and yes the dialogues matter, but what matters too is actioning the things that we see and hear.

How do I acknowledge and what do I do re: my white privilege? No – that doesn’t mean I have a trust fund, it simply means that inherently if I listen to some of my best friends (who happen to have grown up differently based on their skin) tell stories of their childhood, do I acknowledge & respond to the wrongs or simply nod and move on?

Justice in my day to day life is about how I:
– Engage my community
– Engage my neighbours
– Engage those employed by me: whether at work or at home. Do I respect and value the person & her work, helping in my home enough to pay her a generous and living wage or do I worry that this will impact my disposable income too adversely?
– What do I do with disposable income and time?
– What do my friendship circles look like? Do I intentionally befriend people whose stories differ to my own so that there are bridges being built or do I surround myself with people who are like me and allow to not have to think/ talk or be the other?
– Is my faith & it’s actions private or is there a social aspect to it in terms of how I live it out?

I don’t have answers for all of the above – but when I start to ponder them the selfishness of aspects of my world are bought to light and it brings me back to consider where I need to shift again.

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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*