Our first Diversity Dialogue online!

A reason to celebrate – on Saturday 22 August we facilitated our first online Diversity Dialogue! We appreciate everyone who brought their time and energy into that space, especially those who felt some trepidation at doing something new technologically! Our topic was “Sensitizing the Church to Gender Based Violence”. We would like to share some highlights…

It was apparent during the dialogue, that there are many churches where the teaching seems to be more about rules and gender roles than about Jesus’ love for sinners. In many churches, women do not feel they are seen for who they are because they feel they have to fit into a small and rigid role and cannot be authentically themselves. There was a sense of mourning and lament for the loss of their potential skills and talents that could have contributed to life together but were not enjoyed by the community.

In both community life and Bible teaching, we need to develop an equal focus on the perpetrator and the victim. Bible teaching should be about the real people described in the Bible, with their faults and sins. The heroes of the faith should not be “sugar-coated”. In our practical lives, we can accept all broken people including those who are aggressive or alcoholics, and deal with their hurt. We can work with men who are in pain, allowing them space to heal before their pain leads to violence.

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Integrating all aspects of YOU

While I was doing my coaching course, we were advised to focus on finding and developing our own niche as coaches. My thought process kept bringing me back to the term “integration” – a concept that has often featured in my life, in a number of ways.

I was first introduced to “integration” when, as an Occupational Therapy student in the nineties, we learnt about how better results are achieved when the two sides of our bodies and brains work together. Much more so, than when we rely on only one side. Integration can be defined as the process of combining two or more things in an effective way so that they form a unified whole that is more than merely the sum of its parts. Disintegration then is the loss of effectiveness, cohesion, strength – a process of fragmenting or falling apart. We experience disintegration when we feel overwhelmed by external and internal stressors and challenges, when our parts are not working together smoothly.

When we experience stressful circumstances, we often struggle with strong emotions like anger, pain, anxiety and fear. It feels like they are taking over our lives, and often we try to avoid dealing with them for as long as possible. However, suppressing them often results in an uncontrolled pressure-cooker effect: the pot boils over or even explodes, often when it is most inconvenient.

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This is not their battle…

All over South Africa, people have listened and watched with heavy hearts as videos of the events leading to the #blacklivesmatter demonstrations have circulated on social media. The complexity of emotions we are experiencing is too multi-layered for a short article like this. I can only mention a few thoughts, and yes, these are coming from a white South African. I have to own my come-from. Your perspective may be different.

Firstly, I am so aware of the fact that for many of my black friends/fellow South Africans watching these videos, reading people’s comments and listening to talk shows during the last 2 weeks has been re-traumatising. It has brought up pain, anger and feelings of helplessness from past experiences that feel like they happened today. Even in 2020, most black South Africans have their own list of very recent racism they were exposed to, some of verbal, some of physical abuse. Most of them without video evidence. Add to that the generational trauma of our racially-charged past. We stand on ground seeped in hurtful memories and traumas that have not all been honoured or worked through.

And maybe it is in this discomfort that we must stand a little longer. This is not “their” battle (the re-traumatised), it affects everyone, it is every South African’s battle…What could specifically white folk do here in this present moment? *

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Let’s take a moment…

After the frenzy of activity of the last few days, trying to keep up to date with rules and regulations as they were published, getting ready for lockdown and cleaning the house yesterday to start lockdown with a germ-free state, I am taking a moment (or this weekend ) to assess where we find ourselves at this moment.

During this week we have done many things for the last time for the foreseeable future – shopping at places we know will be closed, visits to family members and friends, walks/jogs around the neighbourhood. These were intentional experiences that were appreciated, greeted and gently left behind.

Then there were those things where we did not know we were doing them for the last time – because the market was cancelled the evening before, the library was closed to the public with staff still working inside, the next weekly face-to-face Sepedi conversation falls in the lock-down. There is a sense of irritation and unfairness around losing these experiences, it does not suit us that we had to unexpectedly leave these behind.

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Family

On 18 May in Auckland Park, the topic chosen was “Family”. The dominant theme was the continuing influence of inequality

on our relationships within families. The underlying power struggle between inequality due to race (with different

shades represented within a family) and inequality due to gender (with a strong patriarchal dominance) was evident,

with strong voices representing both.

Looking back on the dialogue together, the following observations were made:

  • The system is oppressive.
  • I have a greater understanding of my own pain.
  • Black women found it more difficult to represent anger and moved to expressing pain.
  • People tend to shift from pain to anger. Anger is vocalised pain. If not vocalised, pain is internalised.
  • Pain can assist us in finding a solution.

A big thank you to those who bravely sat in the uncomfortable voices of pain and anger and committed to growing for all of us!

 

Missing Men

In Randburg on 16 March, the topic chosen was “Missing Men”.

It feels like this was a “holy ground” dialogue, and any words are going to do it a disservice …

There is so much pain around missing men. The picture that comes to mind, is of an onion, one layer gets peeled away at a time. We feel the effects of exposing this pain and underneath is yet another layer. The pain of the women and children they left. The pain of the missing men themselves – historical and as a result of their own actions, mixed with guilt and shame. The pain of those who are standing in the gap they left – who are having a positive impact but will never be able to replace the missing men in the hearts of their children. The relational and inter-generational pain that this vortex of pain produces. The questions that each person sits with – Am I enough? Am I seen?

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Graffiti

(I wrote this poem in 2016, it sadly seems just as appropriate now … )

Ugly

Stark

Hurtful

Words

Printed

On white wall

Magically

Erased

By the forgiving paintbrush

Of a required re-

painting

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White supremacy

On 7 July at Christ Church Midrand, the topic chosen for our dialogue was “How to kill white supremacy” with the themes of “land restitution” and “dealing with anger” influencing the conversation.

Apartheid was described as “successful in meeting its goals”, because the structures it put in place largely remain and this outside structural racism has penetrated our insides. Our inner racism, even in those who don’t want to be racist, is pervasive. Often both white and black people think that white people are superior and black people inferior. Many black women feel they are at the bottom of the oppressive systemic racism pyramid. At the same time, black women spoke from the pain of being married to black men who feel trapped in their circumstances – they want to be strong for their women but feel they have to swallow racism to keep their jobs and survive financially.

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What does it mean to be an African in South Africa?

This was the topic chosen by the participants during our April Diversity Dialogue.

The voices that emerged with a view on this topic were the voices of History, Emotions and Capitalism. History highlighted the continuing influence of Apartheid on this question. It was described as an echo that continues. This echo was a heaviness and discomfort we needed to step into. We explored possible ways of engaging with the echo, which included showing up, listening, looking, holding the space and serving in response. Capitalism recognised its relationship with the echo – the echo drives us to buy more to dull the echo and distract us from the discomfort.

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