Making racism personal – Alain Walljee

(IMAGE: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay).


Having established a biblical response to racism in last week’s Gateway News, I’d like to further expound on the theme by making it more personal.

Racism is the trending topic at the moment with the theme “Black Lives Matter” plastered on memes on social media, as well as on the online platforms of businesses and other entities. I even saw the slogan on my TV screen via my broadcasting service provider.

And while many sympathise with the underlying reality of various degrees of black oppression or discrimination in various parts of the world and in different spheres of society, few seem to be aware that the Black Lives Matter’s Greater New York chapter’s chairperson, Hawk Newsome, recently stated publically that the organisation has military Special Forces officers training and advising members to defend themselves against the police. This in itself raises the anarchy alarm and should be worrisome for efforts toward responsible and inclusive law enforcement and broader accountable governance and effective service delivery.

Not only are they preparing a military arm for BLM, but the chairperson also said that they are patterning themselves after the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. Now an armed response might seem fair or even justified if you have not been transformed through a personal relationship with Christ, but if you are saved, you realise how dangerous this would be for social stability and unity-building, especially when you start challenging the “powers that be” on whose shoulders God and the people have placed the responsibility of “bearing the sword”.

Furthermore, BLM, as an organisation, is patterning its policies and practices to Islam. So while people may be under the false impression that Black Lives Matter is just a slogan, everyone who is brandishing it is actually supporting and promoting the actual BLM organisation and therefore helping to push their agenda. And while various sectors of society, including churches, are under pressure to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement currently sweeping the world in fear of seeming uncaring, taking a hard stand at this point would be premature and may even be damaging in the long run, in my view.

A responsible response
In any situation, it is imperative to respond responsibly to any injustice, whether caused by a crime against one’s person, property or even social injustices such as racism or unfair discrimination based on race. And in the matter of George Floyd, whose own family has gone public to condemn the riots and violence in the name of their deceased loved one, it is important to be careful that in the national and global response we do not undo the amazing gains we have already achieved in the process of fixing what is still wrong with the system.

In the same vein, we cannot burn the buildings and loot the businesses of people who had nothing to do with Floyd’s murder; nor is looting and destruction of private or public property a solution in any case and only puts that community in further distress by destroying the lives and livelihoods of innocent community members and the public offices that serve that community.

In the same way that I have always condemned violent protests and looting here in South Africa where communities had protested poor service delivery, I think that the riots and looting in America are deplorable, counterproductive and do not help the cause of those who seek social harmony and equality. You simply do not cut off your nose to spite your face.

But I understand the anger and vitriol that thoughts of racism generate in one’s heart. That is why I wrote the first article last week. My response must be informed by my new nature in Christ. And that is the response I choose. I have lived long enough to appreciate what losing my mind and my cool does to my peace of mind, to my faith and to my overall health and wellness. And I see the grace and wisdom in Christ’s teachings of forgiveness, praying blessings and doing good deeds to those who hate me or commit malicious acts against me.

The wisdom for me in the Christ-response to injustice, including racism, is that, first of all, it helps me heal from the emotional and psychological wounds, but it also sets in motion a positive cycle toward social harmony as more and more people choose forgiveness. But the Christ-response also helps me see each person as an individual and not in terms of a group identity. If you hate an entire race of people, you are carrying a weight no human being is capable of bearing. That self-inflicted yoke will be the thing that not just steals your joy, but it might be the very thing that destroys your life, or at least, the life you could have had, had you not entertained a bondage that was not yours to bear in the first place.

I have had acts of racism committed against me from various races, but to be sure, I doubt if all of them were actually racist, because I must admit that I have been disrespected and treated with disdain by people of my own race. Sometimes, what we interpret as racism is merely a person disrespecting you, but it feels racist because it is a person of a different pigmentation to your own. It takes a sober mind to distinguish between the two. Does that mean that there are no racist people? Of course not – there are racist people on all sides of the racial divide. Yes, on all sides of the racial divide and not just on the white side.

What is racism?
Racism is any form of discrimination based on race, although traditionally racism has been defined as discrimination by those who have institutional power. And no, I am not sucking up to whites by saying this – I have no reason to – but in South Africa specifically, politicians have succeeded in creating a polarising social climate for whites in the country where their freedom of speech is inhibited because of the fear of being misinterpreted or becoming the next hate-speech target.

Julius Malema recently called our president a “bastard”, with no repercussions. Can you imagine a white person saying that in South Africa? But if it is okay for one person to call the president a bastard, it should be okay for anyone to do the same. Is that not what freedom of speech is? Personally, I do not condone such language on any platform, let alone by public figures and parliamentarians, but if one can say it, surely all should be free to say it without a “special” fear of victimisation. Our democracy and constitutional social compact have not succeeded if everyone does not have an equal voice and equality of opportunity.

And this leads me to my next point, which is, step away from the current climate and the recent emotive discourse on racism and look at the world as a whole, and you will see racism all over the world by all people. Nazi Germany discriminated against the Jews. The English discriminated against the Irish. Historical accounts say that it has been going on for more than eight centuries, depending on which account you run with.

In South Africa, there was and is social hatred and racism between Afrikaner whites and English whites. I had one friend in the ministry tell me once that his Afrikaner dad used to tell him when he was a child that the hole in his stomach where his belly button is, is where the English had shot him! And while this is funny to hear, the hatred instilled in generations of Afrikaners in South Africa against the English is real. Don’t even mention the concentration camps!

I mention the few examples above because it is important to place global and national racism in perspective. Racism was never only against non-Whites. Africans are not the only ones being discriminated against, even today. In various parts of the world, this may be the most recent racism and perhaps the most widespread racism, but it is certainly not the only racism. Our democratic government had to be lobbied for years to acknowledge the plight and status of the Khoisan (in their historic tribal variations) as the first and true indigenous people of the land. And if true reparation of land needs to be done, that is probably the fairest place to start.

The far-reaching racial divide
But what if you are not black in South Africa? What if you are coloured like I am – where the Apartheid government demeaned you and the current government disrespects you based on your race. Enter recent public accounts of senior government officials making racist remarks against Coloureds with no real prospect of being held to account in any significant way. But I thank God for my salvation. For when racism happens around me based on my race, I am reminded by the Spirit that my conversation and origin are in heaven and that I am but a pilgrim here on earth. The moment I fight a political battled based on race I misplace my loyalty and hurt my relationship with Christ and my testimony because, as a Christian, I am to disciple all nations.

I have learned that my human nature boils the same when I am disrespected by my child, a colleague, a workplace superior, a stranger of my own race in a public space or what society might deem a racist act by someone of different skin colour. I see the same shade of red, and my emotions require the same spiritual and prayerful process regardless of the details.

In the end analyses, it seems that we must all be careful, Christian or not, for people in authority using race as a means to secure votes for the next election. Be wary of politicians who make villains of people you have never met for personal partisan gain at the expense of national unity and social stability.

South Africa has not healed from our painful past, not because we cannot heal, but because no one in power has consistently facilitated a process or public narrative towards healing; not as long as greed and staying in power at all costs are the goals of politicians. It is in this instance that we realise what a lost cause public interest and the will of the people are, as far as our historic and present governance are concerned. But let us not be drawn into a racial fight with our neighbours of a different race.

Christ-response to racism
And as we rise above a social engineering programme to keep the nation divided based on race in order to keep winning elections, we will soon realise that we have the power through our choices and our conversations to outsmart our politicians and the thinktanks of the world. We can show everyone that there is a better way. Please, enjoy the culture and traditions that moulded you and your kind, but when our paths cross and they already do in so many ways in South Africa, we respect each person and defer to one another for all our sakes – for peace of mind, for safety, for social harmony and for true unity in diversity.

The true victory of the Christ-response to racism is complete deliverance from victimhood and blame-shifting. Entire generations of previously disadvantaged people groups in South Africa are kept in bondage to dependence on the State through social grants because we have not yet made the mental shift to understand that we can work our way out of the situations we are in. And without consciously thinking about it, or verbalising it, subconsciously this victim mentality feeds on arguments of racism, anger and fear that leads us into internalised racism which is self-destructive and must be nipped in the bud with the force it deserves.

The path is open now for leaders to arise to lead the narrative and process of social stability and racial harmony. What with the recent Constitutional Court judgment paving the way for independents to stand in elections as our Constitution has provided since 1996, but have been violated by the Electoral Act. South Africa needs a new brand of leader who can put his own pain in perspective and see the national need and make decisions and policies based on the national interest and for the public good. This leader will balance the pain of the past with the plan and hope for the future. And as we pray for these leaders to arise, we need to pray that civil society lobby groups and the media will have the same goal in mind, because in each of our accounts of the facts of a thing, we are often unable to disengage from our personal prejudice and political ideologies. The careful reader will see my ideology in this opinion piece too!

Here’s to the hope that we can touch glasses and celebrate a combined vision and effort to create social stability and unity in diversity.

Disclaimer: This article is by no means intended to be an exhaustive address on racism and our response to it. But it does go to the heart of racism in a social context on an individual basis, and more specifically with regard to Christians who live according to the teachings of the Bible.


  1. Annalise Potgieter ( Bouwer )

    My Liewe Vriend,
    Jy is my mentor 👌
    Hierdie uitstekende artikel wat jy met sóveel eerlikheid / opregtigheid en vir séker as Koningskind uit jou pen laat voortvloei het, is die beste wat ek as Wit Afrikaner Vrou ooit kon indrink. Júís gesien in die lig van ons jarelange Godgegewe Vriendskap.
    Ek sien daarna uit om meer van jou wyshede raak te lees !
    Baie dankie hiervoor Alain !
    Seënwense !

  2. Hi Alain
    Thank you so much for this outstanding and most relevant article. During the past few days I caught myself thinking and on occasion even commenting on the matter, as the topic surfaced at the workplace. I will definitely share this article with my friends and colleagues at the workplace, as we all can benefit from it.
    A concerned police member asked me a question regarding his fear in executing his responsibilities in todays world and communities. I responded by saying “ Everything that you must protect and serve during your next shift, is Gods creation. Do what is right in Gods eyes, and the actions and opinions of others will be irrelevant”


  3. Dear Alain

    I want to bless you and thank you for giving such a balanced, godly response to what racism really is and what it really isn’t. The devil will use anything that we give to him to divide us and create anarchy and destruction. I really want to encourage you to continue standing on God’s word in every issue that we face as individuals and as a nation.
    God’s blessing upon you and your family as you lead with such truth an honour in His name. Thanking you! Charlotte Jean

  4. This self-righteous, uncompassionate, victim-blaming article shows precisely why Christians are still not leading racial healing in the world. They are too busy politicizing a historical systematic injustice. Fortunately, even though they are fashionably late, many churches in the US are finally waking up and doing something.

    P.s. racism is a Christian problem largely created by Christians. If you don’t deal with a demon, guess what, others will and they will do it in a manner you don’t like. The children of this world are often wiser than those professing Christ because those profession Christ are too busy judging the man they found beaten and left for dead in the street. When they aren’t judging the man left for dead in the street, then they are judging the Samaritan who took him to hospital.

  5. Hi Alain

    Thank you for sharing your views on dealing with racism. Here is my considered response.

    I hear you and concur with a few of your sentiments:

    1. The BLM Movement seems to be pursuing a questionable agenda, that is not biblical.

    2. I fully support responsible, constructive actions towards injustice. Having said that, there are times when righteous indignation (Ephesians 4;26 and Matthew 21:12 – Jesus expresses his anger at the money changers in the temple) needs to be considered. What about the highly debatable Just War theory? What do you do when you are under attack? Can systemic racism be regarded as a Satan inspired declaration of war on innocent people? How peaceful and restrained will you be, if someone comes into your house and unjustly attacks your family? Let me be clear – I in no way support indiscriminate violence and the harming of innocent people but I believe we need to grapple with the merits and ethics of each unique situation, before drawing conclusions.

    3. “Doing good deeds to those who hate me or commit malicious acts against me”. Agreed-this biblical imperative is clearly spelt out in Romans 12:20. However, this does not mean that I must not confront my enemy on the error of his/her ways. Moses confronted Pharaoh. Jesus confronted the unjust, corrupt leaders of His day.

    4. Racism is not ‘owned’ by one group- it is present in several nationalities- Agreed.

    5. Many people tend to bring out the ‘race card’ too quickly, while ‘selective’ racism is also prevalent in our SA society. The conspicuously mild response ( from our ruling part in particular) to Julius Malema’s disgraceful verbal attack on our President is one case in point. Another is the slow and almost apathetic response to the killing of Collins Khosa by black policemen. Many SA’s were far more vociferous in their condemnation of the killing of George Floyd than these 2 cases in South Africa. This differential response is itself racist.

    6. Minority groups in SA need to know that they have a voice, feel heard and know that they also matter. During the apartheid era coloureds and Indians (along with black SA’s) also felt that they were ‘not white enough’; right now, many of them feel that they are ‘not black enough’- and under-valued. These are concerns that need to be addressed in a constructive and purposeful manner, whilst taking cognisance of the pitfalls of positionality.

    Alain, despite sharing some of your perspectives, I take issue with other views expressed in this and your previous article. My discontent is largely premised on the notion of ‘the danger of a single’ story, so powerfully presented by Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie.

    1. The central message in your previous article, is that the biblical (or pastoral) response to racism is based on grace, restraint, and forgiveness. Whilst these qualities are extremely important for all Christians, I find your version of a biblical response to racism, incomplete. A biblical response also requires a look at how Moses, Esther, Jesus – to name a few- responded to systemic injustice, racism and evil. They had the courage to confront wrongdoing and corrupt leaders. So, when you say, “My response must be informed by my new nature in Christ”, what does that mean in totality? In my view, a holistic and complete understanding of “my new nature” refers not only to my ability to forgive an demonstrate grace but includes my new found courage and determination to expose any form of racism for the evil that it is. If not, I will be failing in my full duty as a Christian. True followers of Christ are meek but not weak.

    2. I find your criticism of ‘black lives matter’ problematic and based on narrow understanding of BLM. I’ve already shared your concerns about the BLM Movement but BLM as a message has far greater connotations than the mission and activities of the Movement. The mere fact that I understand and support the BLM message, does not imply that I support the Movement. Similarly, ‘fighting’ for economic freedom for the oppressed, does not mean I support the EFF as a political organization. The message has significance, not the organization, necessarily. Saying that black lives matter( inclusive of people of colour) doesn’t mean that other lives are valued less; it just means that there is a group of people who for years have been undervalued and exploited and its time that stops. For centuries black lives had been subjected to systemic racism, inequality, and poverty and many continue to carry that pain daily. From this perspective, black lives matter; from a value perspective, all lives matter.

    3. If by saying, “especially when you start challenging the “powers that be” on whose shoulders God and the people have placed the responsibility of “bearing the sword”, you are implying that it is God’s will that All governments should be obeyed, regardless of their laws and actions, then I completely disagree. In my view, Christians have a responsibility to obey the government if they obey God’s laws, but to challenge the authorities who do evil in the sight of God. My earlier reference to Moses opposing an unjust Pharaoh, is a case in point. If it was not for the church in SA – who opposed the apartheid government in the ‘80’s through mobilized and sustained action- we might still have been subjected to the rule of an evil, racist government, where white supremacy reigns. “Give unto Caesar what is Caesars; and to God what is God’s”.

    4. Your statement that “no one in power has consistently facilitated a process or public narrative towards healing”, is not entirely correct. I urge you to find out what Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has been doing in this regard.

    Before we can speak truth to power, the church in South Africa must get its house in order in dealing with racism. The best forum to make any headway in establishing racial harmony in the church ( and the SA society for that matter) , is for different race groups to be willing to engage in graceful , yet truthful – albeit uncomfortable- roundtable conversations, where the biblical response to racism is viewed with a wide lens.

    Take Care