Here is the thing. I started writing this last night (June 21) and decided to stop, sleep on it and respond after a night/morning of reflection. Had this been written last night the title would have read something like $#*!&@*&?\#, and it would have taken the elegance away from my blog (obviously, that wouldn’t have been cute). So this morning, before heading to the Snoek and Potato Fest, I started again.
June 22, 6:57pm
I lived in Ecuador for a year and during that time, as many of you readers know, I experienced the brute force of racism. I spent a year there and it took me two to recover—It changed who I was. It made me afraid of silence; I made promises to myself to always believe someone who says they are hurting especially when the inflection is invisible; but mostly it opened my eyes and gave me the chance to look for the right words to speak presence onto myself. Its coming out of that environment, after having daily conversations with authors through their books, crying, talking to my family, going to counseling, allowing myself to be angry, and taking lessons from my baby cousin (Reeree) through her mantra “this too shall pass”, that I reclaimed myself. Throughout that time I saw the world through race and I assessed everything with that lens. Eventually that distinct lens faded and it merged once again with other ways of seeing. So last night when I was invited to a white South African pastor’s house for tea, and I confronted that brute force of racism once more, my defences were down and I felt caught off guard.
My sister is part of a drug rehabilitation circle that meets 3 times a week to provide opportunities for users to have safe spaces to talk. This pastor is a part of that group; I was introduced to him when I sat in on one of their circles. Yesterday my sisy invited told me he wanted to sit with me over tea and invited her and myself to his house for 4:00. We drove out of Laingville, past the port, past the gas station, down, down, down and finally arrived at a security-guarded neighborhood filled with mansions. (I was all like urks…pastor lives here?!) We got out the car and I felt like I stepped into a luxury home on Bridle Path, except with an entire wall made of glass, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
We sat down with him and his wife. Immediately, as he started talking I began to realize why I was invited to his home. He didn’t want to get to know me, as he said, nor did he want to see how I could be involved in the rehab centre, as my sister thought. He wanted to speak to me, as a “Westerner” (as his “peer”) about what I think I could do to “fix” South Africa (??). Apparently the blinding light of ignorance left shadows on the fact that maybe, just maybe I wasn’t the descendent of a white colonial settler, perhaps we had different histories, and mayyybeee I wasn’t there to “fix” anything.
This fellow believes that South Africa is facing challenges because the “blacks” are not like “us, (as he taps his chest), the Westerners”. He explained this entire paradigm to me in which he shared that “blacks” or “Africans”, as he used interchangeably, don’t have the cultural, mental, innovative, pillars that one needs to survive in this world. He went on to talk politics, using the current land reform policies as evidence to prove his delusional framework. As context: white people own the majority of SA land, but after 1994 and the abolition of the Apartheid government, the ANC government began land redistribution programs to put farm land back into the hands of non-white South Africans. Most people talk about this farm land as unproductive since it was put into black hands, they say that this reform policy has caused South African food prices to go up and increased dependency on imported food products. So when this fellow started talking land, I knew where he was going. He went on: blacks just invade the land and waste what is given to them, blacks don’t have the right “paradigm” to understand how to become Western. This is what the man was telling me. Me. A black woman. He continued: “The West is the ONLY place that has ever invented anything of value”, “Whites taught black South Africans how to read and write”, “before the Whites came Blacks couldn’t understand abstract numbers”, “They want to be like us” “They didn’t know God, they feared all things” etc. etc.
I told him what I had to say, which seemed to fuel his nonsense, and then started tuning in and out. Slightly in disbelief, slightly analyzing the situation, fully impressed with myself for the way I was handling it. Truthfully, this was a flip-over-the-table-pour-hot-tea-in-their-laps kind of situation. Had I done what every part of my mind was telling me to do, I would have given him the excitement, the proof he was looking for and I would have embarrassed myself and the truth behind who I was would be handed to him. I remembered something that I had learned during the years I spent consistently angry. I learned I was giving my energy away to someone/people who didn’t deserve it and in the process took it from those who it should have been intended for. It hit me hard to hear what he was saying because I knew, the South African construction of race didn’t allow him to see me as black, instead he saw me as “Western”, so what he was sharing with me is what he would share with any “Westerner” or white person, this is what he truly believes. It hit me hard also to feel like I was talking to the very person who would justify these historical, yet very present, violence’s. Even if I could change what he thought, or who he was, the energy used wouldn’t be worth whom it was expended on. I felt bad that my sister felt she had to apologize to me for her taking me to his home. It was another one of those important, yucky tough lessons. But I can forgive him, only because I’ve been taught to forgive, by realizing what’s said is said, what’s done is done and what happened in that living room cannot be reversed. The only role he will have in my life is the extra burst of energy he’s now given me to continue to do the work I do.
“I once asked Mandela to describe his long walk from prison to president. “When you’re young and strong,” he told me, “you can stay alive on your hatred. And I did, for many years.” Then one day after years of imprisonment, physical and emotional abuse, and separation from him family, Mandela said, “I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart. They could not take those things. Those things I still hand control over. And I decided not to give them away.”
Pg. 1, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.