Protest Deja Vu

This is the outcome of multiple conversations, with a variety of (different races & economic groups) friends over the past while.  It’s a work in progress.  The calls to protest have made me rethink what I stand for.  Who I stand for.  Not just what I stand against. 

My heart and head have been unsettled and noisy for the past year.  Which has actually led to less online engagement, more listening & more watching what is unfolding around me.  It’s been liberating to realise that I have been guilty of deifying certain voices in the social justice circles.  Of sometimes not thinking through why I think what I do, what filters do I carry with me and through which filters am I experiencing others.

It’s liberated me to start a journey of discovery towards the voices who challenge me to think about what righteousness and justice looks like in relationship and as a God-believer.  I don’t agree with everything always.  I have to sit with things often.  I am still going to be too conservative for some and too radical for others, or too enmeshed and overthinking for yet others.  I am going to cause offence somewhere on this journey.  Sometimes for the right reasons, and other times because I have gotten it wrong and need to reflect and repent of where I have done so, not just inwardly but to the people in the story too.

I have had a lot of déjà vu watching the online postings of the current #HambaZuma, #PhantsiZuma, #ZumamustFall hashtags.   On the 16th December 2015, some of us engaged with similar conversations to those which are unfolding now.  Do we go march or don’t we go?  We agree with the principle, but do we agree with the way the action is happening?

I tweeted something which in my spaces was fairly moderate along the lines of “hoping that once this march is over, we will continue to see mass mobilisation towards other issues of injustice”.  I lost facebook friends over this, frustrated people over this and was accused of being divisive in this rather than invitational which was always the intent.

It wasn’t a judgement it was a hope. A hope that issues of injustice would be acknowledged and in our numbers, in the mass of people, addressed. 

The issues of injustice that matter to me are that of sanitation (going to the toilet shouldn’t mean risking rape, murder, assault or being kidnapped); of children not being in school because of violence or because there aren’t enough support systems in place to deal with children who are struggling.

A hope that remains still, now in April 2017 as we sit in a week in which the date for the EIGHTH vote of no confidence in our president has been set.

My protest question still remains:

What happens after Friday?  After the proposed national shutdown? Where there are ‘well meant’ but offensive motivational messages being circulated about make sure your ‘helper’, ‘security’ and ‘gardener’ are with you for this march?

(Q: How do you know that they share your views?  These are adults, they can choose whether they want to join you or not.  Maybe they want to protest in their own spaces.  Maybe they don’t trust the process.  Maybe they have witnessed enough protest in their lives or lived through the previous change in government to want to choose to hand the baton on to others)

One of my mentors who is black and poor asked me:

What are people going to do afterwards”

“What will change in how people treat each other and take responsibility for things, after wearing black, after marching?”

Government can’t change our social dynamics. Zuma must go BUT what responsibility and response within our abilities are we going to explore and COMMIT to after Friday’s march.

SO, please forgive me for overthinking this if you must, but I have friends who don’t eat supper every night; friends whose children run out of nappies for economic reasons; friends who STILL can’t give their children choices like my parents could give me. Friends who lost parents because they were poor – poverty reduces life expectancy (not a liberal snowflakey vibe, this is fact).  I have lost friends who didn’t have private medical resources & didn’t share how they were struggling health wise and so were on repeated waiting lists in the public health system and ended up having heart related issues on their death certificate but had it been me, would have been placed on medication and under observation.

I want to protest against these realities. These injustices.

I want to protest against power dynamics that aren’t right.

I want to protest against things that take away choices from people.

Yes, I want Zuma to go as I believe that he makes choices that removes choices from other people in order to continue expanding his own world.

I want to protest against the fact that in 2015, there was mass mobilisation for a week towards a march in the community and then it seemed that people went quiet.  That the invitation (again) and call (again) to share responsibility for addressing the daily injustices in our nation wasn’t taken up by the broader white community and THIS has added to the sense of mistrust and questioning of intent and motive.  The impact of our lack of action has led to some of the responses now.  As a white person, I recognise this to be a recurring theme in the social media debates in 2017.  I recognise and own that this is aimed at the white community.  Not because we don’t have a role in this country, but because we are either reluctant or reticent, or not sure how to engage with these things.

I want to protest that people in my friendship circles live like they do, with life being about survival far too often – whether from bullets, hunger or a lack of resources.

I want to protest that our fear of what restitution is stops us from exploring what it could look like in our spaces.

I want to protest for ongoing, as has been emerging in the social media debates, dialogues around what unity really means, about what making good could look like and what seeing each other means.

I want to protest at the fact that too often despite declaring that we are called to HOLY RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE, we get caught up in our own self-righteousness and own vision of what we believe justice to be.  I have had to repent of this.  It’s uncomfortable and necessary.

I want to protest at the exclusivity of some of the spaces I have inadvertently helped create and protest for figuring out how to help keep people going on this journey of reconciliation and restitution so that it’s not just buzz words from the ‘rainbow nation’ illusion but that we keep on doing the hard work we need to in ourselves in order to see the others in the story too.

We are in the midst of a revolution.

It can happen while we pay dignified wages & explore what it means to cap maximum wages so that dignified wages are a possibility.  I am challenged by this every time I think about it.  Dare I think that this could be a reality?  Dare I believe that this is possible and doesn’t stop interest and investment in our economic markets and so importantly into people’s lives?

It can happen while we create relationships and figure out what generosity in this space looks like; it can happen when I choose to share with you because I know I have more than you based on my birth status and not because I am worth more.  And that the way in which I share doesn’t communicate power, but sharing of resources.  That there is dignity and acknowledgement that we are both givers and receivers in this process.

It can happen when I choose less eating out, less shopping, less what feels like essentials but are actually choices and choose to invest or pour that into other spaces.

Not just because you make me feel okay about myself, but because I choose to. And in choosing to, maybe I will find my sense of belonging with you.  In the midst of our differences.

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Impact & Intent: Hand in Hand

Every so often there is a LONG message thread that appears on a social media thread – whether it is about race or family or something else that provokes a response.

Recently I was asked to write a blog that was helpful vs things that were unhelpful in our adoption process- I hadn’t quiet gotten there when another adoptive mom tagged me in a post and vented a little on Facebook re: things that aren’t helpful for adoptive parents to be told/ said. Interestingly a few other adoptive moms reposted this and concurred with a loud YES that this has been their experience – in fact one of the mom’s comment was “we are in our 3rd adoption process now and we still get all of these” despite their adoptions being spaced over a 10 year period.

A different response to this has been from people saying people’s intentions are not all bad in their insensitive way of engaging with things that the blog post highlighted. That it was important to look at intentions. It was important to engage with people around these things and help them see beyond.

I agree with this.

I also think that it’s time we moved beyond just hearing about intentions and also looked at the impact of what happens.

Last year following a miscarriage I had some very hard interactions with people – most of whose intentions were well meaning, but the impact of what they said and did at the time left me reeling.  I am not still reeling. My heart has healed from this – however I am sad that one of the consequences of this is that certain friendships got damaged because while I was sitting with the impact of what had been said, it was hard to get past the intent argument that was put in front of me when I voiced that I didn’t feel safe or seen or heard in the intended act. There wasn’t space for us to look at the how and what in this.

This is something that I feel strongly about. I always have.

I have erred on the side of not always being able to see the intent in things when they have gut punched me in the moment. I have also been on the side of trying to understand what or why people want to know or have said something.

On a bigger scale, I have sat in company with people who still in 2015 believe that the intent behind the apartheid education system wasn’t bad.  It was well intended but the impact wasn’t so helpful or given a chance, because look how things have deteriorated since.  I have sat in discussions with people who have had to be quiet when well-intended people uttered racist or pejorative comments and they were silenced by the ‘It wasn’t meant badly’ argument.

It has been frustrating though trying to wade through both the impact and intent when the impact gets minimised in looking at the intent.

In all of these discussions the focus has been on the intent and while I definitely believe that this does matter, I am also wanting to advocate for more responsibility to be encouraged on the impact side.  I want these things to start being seen as two parts of one whole.  I have sat up at night trying to work out if this is my own place of hurt speaking or if I am actually just frustrated at the way in which we manage this?  My conclusion is that I have been on both sides of this for the right and the wrong reasons at times.

When we only focus on the intent, we minimise the impact for those experiencing it.

When we only focus on the impact, we minimise the opportunity for understanding.

Ultimately though, these things all come through relationships.

Grace happens in relationship.

Growth happens in relationship.

Both sides of this whole happen in relationship.

Hand in hand.

Wanting to know more

Narrative Burden: The pressure or expectation to share one’s life narrative.

We all have narratives – a story. We all have things we share and don’t share. I am learning more and more though, as I read and listen that certain people’s stories feel and seem more public than others.

One of my biggest frustrations, in response to well-intentioned actions/ questions, when my own personal filters get tested, has been to have to hear “It was well meant”. One of the most helpful things I have recently read in a book by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall called Inside Transracial Adoption was that it’s not just about the intent it’s also about the impact. I think that this sums up brilliantly what I have often clumsily tried to say.

It’s not just about INTENT. It’s also about IMPACT.

(It was in this book that narrative burden got given a name for me.)

The more I reflect on narrative burden, the more I realise that while it is a term used in adoption circles with transracial/ cross-cultural adoptees, it’s a really helpful term in understanding some of my (other race) friends’ stories too. The friend whose model C school accent doesn’t reveal that she grew up in a rural Eastern Cape village or the friend who ‘defied the odds’ and whose story then becomes public property with people wanting to understand and know and be intrigued as to how he or she got to where they are. All well intentioned in terms of meaning to be encouraging and seeking understanding but also potentially having an impact not intended – that of being seen as the exception, or as previously blogged about meeting a particular standard suddenly which is not always so encouraging.

In my circles I am seeing a push to more and more open, deep dialogue with the intention to bring healing and understanding around issues of justice and race. We can only do this with people we feel safe sharing the deeper stuff with. We can only do this within appropriate parameters. We can only do this well when we feel like we have a choice and know that what our stories will be heard and respected. Otherwise it feels well intentioned, but actually might have a very different impact.

Part of our official adoption prep has been to listen, to read, to discuss and to explore specific topics.

Part of my personal prep has been speaking to different friends, not in my professional capacity, but as a friend, who have adopted and listening to some of their learnings and frustrations and joys as adoptive parents. One of these friends recently confided that it was hard being asked to share their adoption experience (through writing a requested article) simply as it felt like speaking out their child’s story without their child being able to choose if this is something that they would be comfortable with, or not. This really struck me. Despite the fact that nothing private would be disclosed, their family would once more be on display in a way. It struck me how much this person who is an advocate for adoption and family and people was advocating for their child’s privacy and safety in sharing. It struck me also how conflicted this felt for them.

My guy and I have been speaking about what do we do to keep and protect our future child’s story safe?

We would like our child to have their own story – one which they can choose to tell and engage with as they are developmentally ready to do so. No one asks biological children to explain the private aspects of their stories of origin, and yet in some ways I am realising, more and more, again and again – through reading, through listening and through discussions, that adopted children & especially obviously adopted children don’t get offered the same right to privacy that most of us expect to have – whatever our story is.

I have often thought (and will confess to having said on occasion) ‘tongue-in-cheek’ to people who allude to wanting the full disclosure and details of a child’s story of origin that is kind of like asking parents of biological children to go into the personal details of the circumstances around conception of their children. It’s just something that we (generally) respect as being private. Yet with adopted children there is a narrative burden to tell this story– both on the child as they grow to explain it and on parents who get asked along the way.

Maybe this is a part of our ‘talk-show’, reality TV, social media culture we now live?

Part of my wanting to respect & figure out the ‘narrative burden’ has also meant re-looking at how and what we share – and recognising that I can tell my story only while there is no potential impact on my child or my family. My family has stories which are ours. Which we don’t tell randomly. My small is going to have to develop skills I didn’t need to growing up to help manage this challenge. This is not a shame based response. It’s not an ‘adoption is a secret’ response. It’s a response, for me, which recognises that adopted children don’t get the gift of privacy, or only having their parents know their starting story – social workers, foster parents, sometimes police, and sometimes multiple people in these roles amongst others all know their story which started with saying goodbye without a choice. I want to know better how to give our child the gift of being able to choose.

Discovering ‘narrative burden’ has already been a gift. It’s encouraged me to examine what do we hold in the sacred spaces within our marriage? Within our families and close friends?

Experiencing a glimpse of this when people ask ‘why adoption’ and then offering solutions or intended encouragement especially when we aren’t particularly close, or they don’t know that this has always been plan A for us, has given me a tiny taste of this.

My strategies in being gracious in this are being refined. In learning to recognise intent and respond strategically to that as well as impact. Not just impact, or potential impact. Definitely not perfect. Just being refined.

Grace.