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.