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? *
- Listen – no interruptions, no comments, slow down whatever reactions I feel coming.
- Listen, again – listen to understand, take the emotions seriously, do not judge the anger.
- Listen to get the detailed story – ask questions if necessary to really hear.
- Try to understand the other person’s point of view. How would I feel if I was in his/her position? At this point I may recognise that in their position I would feel the same way…
- Express support in a way that does not put the focus on me. I really need to practice self-awareness and circumspection here. Silence is often interpreted as condoning the abuse, but how I express support can rub salt into open wounds. How can I “mourn with those who mourn”? If this is on social media I can like other supportive comments. I can say “this is rough”, “I hear you”, “I am sorry”. Probably, the fewer words I use, the better. I may want to be more active in my support, but again, I need to take care not to put the focus on me. Background support is also helpful, I do not need to be on the frontline or in the spotlight. I can ask what support is wanted here in my area of influence and reach.
- If this is a situation I was personally involved in, it might be possible to share additional information now, with humility. Some situations are grounded in misunderstandings. This is an opportunity to clear them up without giving or taking offence.
- I need to recognise whatever part I played in the situation and apologise for my own insensitivity, recognise my faults and put things right where I can.
Once we have dwelt in the discomfort, we can dream a little about the future we want and what we can do to build that future starting now. Everyones’ ideas will look different here depending on personality, skills and environment. It may require some personal growth involving reading or watching a video (see link below for resources), it may mean living with our eyes open to a greater awareness of others’ experience, it may involve deepening a relationship by asking some honest questions, it may result in a conversation with someone about their racist words or actions…
Chat to me if you need someone to listen…
*Ideas adapted from the book “Anger – the other side of love” by Gary Chapman
This is a working document for anti-racism resources:
“Comic” by Nathan W. Pyle, Strange Planet