I was born in Mbabane, in the Kingdom of Eswatini many years ago and lived there for most of my life until a couple of years ago.
When my boys were small, friends of ours returned from an overseas posting. Friends who had a racially integrated marriage. It was the time of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and many of the prejudices of institutionalised separation made their way over the border. The sad thing about prejudice is that it easily rubs off, it is contagious and one has to consciously guard against it.
These friends had twins, separated in age from my youngest son by four days. The three were such firm friends that we laughingly referred to them as triplets.
One day, about six months into their first year at ‘big’ school, my youngest came home and asked me why he was different to his two friends. I was puzzled.
“What do you mean, different?”
Without a word he pointed to his arm and rubbed it. I knew with sinking certainty that some well-meaning, ignorant bigot must have pointed this out to him – he would never have figured that out on his own. I tried to respond to my unhappy five-year old with a lesson in genetics, but some of the light had gone out of his eyes, and my reassurances were not going to help.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Checkers, struggling through my mask and steamed up glasses to read the label on some product when the most atrocious language insinuated itself into my consciousness. My first thought was to hope there were no children around. The tone and insistence of the abuse penetrated, however, and as I looked up to see what was going on, I couldn’t help but object.
“Hey!” I said.
The perpetrator was a young white male, casually dressed. He looked at me almost proudly, confident of my approval, as he continued swearing at a young black man, who, hats off to him, was ignoring the tirade. What he had done to cause this, who knows, except that I heard the man say: “you can’t even say sorry,” so I assume maybe he had bumped past him.
I frowned, and said again, “Hey, you can’t talk like that!”
I can be a bit slow at times and should have made a much greater fuss. Once this chap realised I wasn’t applauding his vileness he disappeared fast. Like out of the shop fast. I found the whole episode deeply upsetting.
A couple of days later, at my home, which fronts onto a fairly busy road that edges a park I experienced another unpleasant incident. There are a number of hobos who live around here, and during lockdown a few desperate people had been scavenging for food. Where possible my neighbours and I had helped them. I was on the phone and one of these chaps was waiting to talk to me when a red bakkie screamed to a stop, half on my pavement and started yelling and asking if he was worrying me.
I shook my head and tried to indicate that everything was fine. But they told this man that they were community police and he better get moving before they sorted him out. I shouted and said “No, it’s fine, I know him.” They were in too much of a hurry to listen and roared off. This poor man took off down the street, and I have not seen him since. I had also never seen these “community police” before, nor have I seen them since.
In both these cases I know, and so do you, that if the subjects of the vitriol had been white, there would have been no incident.
How many times have you, I’m talking to the whites here, been served ahead of a black person who was in front of you in the queue? How many times have you received better treatment than your black brother or sister? How many times has a black man doffed his hat, or bowed his head to you and called you ‘Baas’ or ‘Madam’? How many times has a black lady curtsied to you, and shown you the utmost respect, even if she is many years your senior?
How many times have you bowed your head to a black man and called him ‘baas’? how many times have you curtsied to a black woman, or man, to thank them for some paltry favour?
Are you getting the picture?
Are you starting to understand why the response to #BlackLivesMatter can never be “But White Lives Mattter, or All Lives Matter? Do you get it? Because you need to get it! If you try to justify your response to #BlackLivesMatter by saying white, or all lives matter, you are tacitly admitting culpability in the systemic and unrelenting racism that has defined black lives for centuries.
Yup. You are guilty. As are most of us.
This movement is not denying the importance of all lives, even white lives, but it is about ending generations of attitude and behaviour that has ensured the denigration of black people, of treating them as lesser beings, as people who don’t count, and this has to change.
I am very aware that as a white I have and do receive preferential treatment, and it is easy to let it happen. Until such time as we acknowledge this and make a conscious effort to rearrange our attitudes and thoughts, that we refuse that preferential treatment, we are guilty of endorsing our own white privilege at the expense of black people, and nowhere is this more reprehensible than in the Church.
Every time I see Christians touting their counter hashtags I cringe at the damage they are doing to the message of the gospel, the message of love from a God who states unequivocally He created all men equal in His image. If I deny the rights of a black man before my Father in heaven, I deny God Himself. Nowhere in scripture does it differentiate between the races on the basis of colour. Nowhere.
Please! You need to understand what this is about. Until such time as we, as whites acknowledge our role and determine to change ourselves and our part in perpetuating racism, no matter how insignificant you may think your part is, we can never move forward, the fighting and outrage will never stop.
Like it or not, Black Lives Matter!