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.

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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*