Thursday, August 3, 2017

Black Lives Matter

Probably the most profound learning and growing experience I have had the past few years has been that of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I was doing my Masters degree in Edinburgh, and although already on the way, thanks to a South African friend who was at that stage posting lots of stuff on Facebook which played a huge role in educating me about white supremacy (although that term has gained much more traction since then).

I remember Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, but perhaps it started with Trayvon Martin. And it has not stopped since. I can name quite a list without too much effort: Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott etc. etc. There are too many.

Let me take a step back: I am a white South African. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. I am an English South African, whose father faithfully voted PFP though out my childhood, and who was horrified when my friends admitted their parents actually voted NP. But never politically active. My mother, you may be wondering, did not vote in South Africa. She remained a Norwegian citizen for the duration of her forty plus years of living in South Africa and I like to joke that her most notable anti-apartheid protest was to ensure that both her children received the most Norwegian names conceivable.

She did however have a picture of a crying black girl in the house, and as adults she told us that she had intended that we would ask why she was crying. That would be the basis on which to explain apartheid to us. we never asked. I was not actually one to ask questions. Rather I observed the world around me and came to my own conclusions. Funny thing is, while I may have barely scratched the surface, I was never way off either. I realised that black South Africans lived differently. I pieced it together that it was wrong. And I was born with an inherent sense of fairness which told me it was wrong. Very, very wrong. And so I felt uncomfortable in my own skin as my awareness of the world around me grew. And I dared not think too deeply and suppressed the need for answers as a form of protection. I made good use of my white privilege.

But I remember so clearly the moment it all changed. I was living in Norway for a few years in the early nineties and I came across Steve Biko's book, I write what I like, in the library. So I took it out. Before reading it, I paged through the pictures in the book and my glance fell upon one photo, which seemed a bit more familiar, and the name was certainly a shock. It was someone I knew and respected. Could I even be so bold as to call her a friend? Yet, she had been detained by police and even tortured. And suddenly Apartheid became so much more real to me. And I was ashamed. I was so ashamed of being a white South African.

To cut a long story short, that shame pursued me for many years, until the freedom of discovering that Black Lives do indeed matter. That may seem like a paradox of sorts to you, but let me explain. I am a racist. Of course I am. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, how could I not be? Even my parents efforts to raise me more non-racist than many of my peers could not escape that. I was a product of my society. And therein lies the freedom. Unlike the myth that racism is a personal foible, the idea that racism is a structural and institutional reality which churns us all out makes perfect sense. It is not something I chose any more than a black person chose to be born in South Africa. BUT that in no way lets me off the hook, far from it. Let me repeat that: far from it.

The Bible says that "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48b). So we who are white living in a racist system have been given much, no doubt about it. And it is not about. being a white saviour, again, perish the thought. (Quick disclaimer: I grew up in a christian home and spent my entire childhood in that sub-culture. I remain an ardent admirer and dependent of Jesus himself, "christians", not so much, to put it mildly. Thankfully, there are exceptions.) So to speak in the terms of that sub-culture: white saviours are in my view akin to 'idolaters' and those who understand what I mean by that will also understand the consequences that image implies.

Rather we whites need to check our privilege. We need to stop erasing the voices of the rest of the world. We need to sit down and with time learn how and, quite importantly, when to use our privilege to amplify their own voices. We need to voices of justice and equity and restoration. There is so much I could write I suspect. But I am still learning.

And now, with social media and the internet, there are so many "opportunities" to speak. Whether one will be heard in the cacophony of what is 2017, is another question. There are opportunities to learn to write books, feature articles, blogging, ad nauseum. But it occurred to me: am I not just another white "Becky", wanting to be heard. Are there not enough of us? There is a fine balance to be found between taking space and being a voice for change and justice. So this is the question I am grappling with now.

Please join me on this journey.

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