Confronting One’s Own Racism
‘One may not reach the dawn save by the night’. I love this quote by Kahil Gibran. A journey into the light often requires a difficult crossing through the dark. Perhaps as South Africans we have not yet had the courage to journey into our own racism so that we may emerge free of its shackles. It’s not surprising. Who wants to consciously mine down into the darker spaces within ourselves?
My own racism lay with the Afrikaner due to Apartheid. I had thought I would marry a Xhosa man, become a Levin-Sexwale for example. But to my horror I fell in love with an Afrikaner, a Vorster to boot. One of the first things I did was to scuttle off to the library to see if my husband was any relation to BJ Vorster. Honestly what a ridiculous activity. Was I going to judge and dismiss this person on the basis of his predecessors?
I soon discovered the immense racism I was harbouring toward the Afrikaner.
My then boyfriend and I argued voraciously about history. We had been brought up with completely different narratives. I began to witness the power of story and the emotional connection we hold to it when the story is received from those closest to us.
His family had voted NP. I hadn’t encountered this paradigm before and yet discovered kind and thoughtful people in his parents, people full of integrity and yet with a completely different historical understanding and paradigm for thinking to my own. I began to witness how difficult it is to shift one’s paradigm of reality when it has been so deeply embedded within the psyche. It is the stories we grow up with that to a large degree become our way of being and thinking. There are few that can completely shatter their existing template to embrace a different one. It can appear as if your very essence will shatter. I had entered the grey area of complexity where right and wrong intertwined and where heritage, story, past and present is grappling within the human being.
I wrestled with this newfound space, I found myself often wanting to run in the opposite direction. While I am racial profiling, it was an Indian Muslim friend of mine who encouraged me to engage with the complexities and discussions that surfaced with my then boyfriend, otherwise ‘how where we to begin to heal?’ she posed.
I began to understand the spiritual fabric that the Afrikaner had grown up under and while I vehemently oppose the thinking that took place under Apartheid I witnessed the devastating effect it had on the psyche of ordinary and good citizens. I began to make and dialogue with more Afrikaners and found myself ashamed at having lumped every individual Afrikaner under one blanket word of racist. To denigrate an entire culture that is rich in in beauty, poetry and trauma to the dungeon of racism is illogical, and racist in its essence.
I married my then boyfriend and chose to be Levin-Vorster. As a result we grapple daily with a landscape that contains different viewpoints and start- points. As a matter of course we probe each other’s thinking to reveal and challenge each other’s subjectivities.
I really think that one cannot begin to engage with racism until one is prepared to sit uncomfortably within it. I still find myself flaring up at times and defaulting to a ‘superior’ viewpoint rather than engaging in dialogue. But authentically meeting the ‘other ‘ in my case has yielded rich insights into the complexity of being human and the tragedy of our past.
As we enter 2015 there is so much fear and anger. Perhaps its time we find the courage to delve into our fears, our insecurities, our anger, our confusion, and our marred and scarred South African history. How else will we recognize our sameness and begin to value our difference, rather than fear it?
We should be global leaders in interpersonal insight and authentically embracing diversity. And yet we’re failing dismally.