2021 02 21 Alan Storey: A Confessing Church
A follow-on article about the Brackenfell High School violence by Alan Storey
published by the Daily Maverick on 16 November 2020.
This past week we witnessed ugly clashes outside Brackenfell High School. The violence ensued between parents / residents and the EFF. The EFF was protesting against alleged racism at the school after reports of a privately arranged masquerade ball / matric farewell attended by only white matric pupils. You can google to read all the allegations and counter allegations that make up the list of disputed facts.
I do believe however, that beneath the disputed facts, there lies truth that invites our reflection and action if we ever hope to live liberated lives in this country. I name four for you to consider:
The first truth: Racism is real
Regardless of whether the organised event was a masquerade ball or matric farewell. Regardless of whether the organised event was privately arranged, or not.
Regardless of whether the school knew anything about it, or not.
Regardless of whether the invitation was open to all, or not.
Regardless of whether the invitation was open to 100 pupils due to Covid-19 limits, or not.
If it is true that out of 254 students, the 42 learners who attended were all white, it is deeply troubling. Whether by exclusive invitation or not, this points to a fractured and divided community based on the colour of one’s skin. It boggles the mind to even think that after sharing 5 years of high school together, a group of students can get together in a homogenic racial group numbering 42 learners. This is true regardless of the reason for the grouping.
In our country and with our history it would be an act of profound delusion to suggest that this occurrence is a mere coincidence and not rooted in explicit or implicit racism. This is especially true for a previously white only school because even though the student body may have changed, the systems, staff and spirit of school may not have changed much at all.
For this reason, white people in particular are encouraged to walk humbly with a willingness to stop, listen, learn and grow. No different to how men are encouraged to walk humbly in relation to the reality of sexism.
The second truth: Denial delays healing
For the school to say that “it is not racist” is denialism. In this country the most truthful starting point is that racism is present, not absent. We may not want to be racist. Our rules and regulations on paper may not be racist. Our motto and value statement may even be written in rainbow ink, but still the reality of racism in our institutions is real more often than not. In other words, it is more honest to assume that racism exists within the institutions of our society, than not. This includes all institutions be they: education, religious, business, sport, entertainment, etc. The assumption that various levels of racism exist is not prejudicial. Rather it is honest and wise. This is, for example, no different to assuming that children from a broken-down marriage will have various levels of inner trauma. This is the logically responsible place to start. If there is no evidence of such trauma however, then we rejoice and welcome the exception, but knowing it is an exception.
Most importantly, what counts is not whether the governing body declares the school free of racism, but whether the black learners attending the school declare the school to be free of racism. Reality check: numerous accounts from black learners testify to just the opposite, namely that racism is real and so is the school’s denialism. The liberation and healing of the school will depend on how they wrestle with this truth. I can hear Jesus saying: “Truly if you want to save your school you will lose it, but if you are willing to give your school away to the truth, it will be given back to you stronger and more beautiful than ever”.
The third truth: Freedom to protest, protects freedom
The EFF are correct to highlight every instance of racism. We all need to be doing this. People may call them opportunists or worse, but people turn to them for a reason. People trust that the EFF will bring attention to their grievance of racism. We need to ask why other parties and institutions, including the church, do not have this reputation. At best the church may write a press statement condemning this or that racist act, but the shameful truth is we seldom put our feet on the ground in protest to stop racism in its tracks.
The right to protest is a fundamental human right. Our freedom depends on it. This is true regardless of who is protesting and for what. Therefore, people’s right to protest must be protected. This includes creative acts of non-violence that may even be disruptive, yet remain free of threat, intimidation and violence.
The fourth truth: Violence breaks down what it promises to build up
The moment protest becomes violent, it diminishes the human dignity of everyone involved – victim and perpetrator. It says, “our issue is more important than your life”. Violence also deflects from the essence of the issue being highlighted. It provides an excuse for people not to listen to the grievances and greater reason for people to stand in opposition. It provides an easy excuse for a violent retaliatory crack-down (violence begets violence). Further, anything that may be achieved through intimidation, threat and violence will forever have to rely on intimidation, threat and violence to be upheld. This is not sustainable. Therefore, violence sows the seed of its own destruction. Ultimately violence fails to create a peaceful and just future as it promises, for violence cannot chase out violence. For these reasons, threat, intimidation and violence will be the undoing of any who rely on such means. To put this another way: the moral arc of the universe bends away from violence.
The EFF’s modus operandi often includes threat, intimidation and violence yet, interestingly, it has within its own history examples of how futile this is as well as how fruitful non-violence is. For example, in April 2011 Julius Malema arrived at court surrounded by bodyguards sporting red ties and carrying semi-automatic rifles. It did him no good. It simply confirmed his loose-cannon status and justified the quest to silence and discipline him. Later that same year however, on the 28th October, Malema together with about 1000 followers walked from Johannesburg to Pretoria under the banner of economic freedom. It was a disciplined and peaceful protest and all the more powerful for being so. It sharply kept the focus on the issue of economic freedom. Despite being disruptive, this protest action instantaneously won Malema praise and renewed respect from even his harshest critics.
The violence from the residents / parents of Brackenfell was ugly, immature and self-defeating. Their violence exposed the truth of their character. Their violence added validity to the very allegations they so vehemently were in denial of. Any case they may have thought they had, eroded the second they landed the first punch and threw the first stone. That is what violence does. Violence robs the violent of any moral authority they may have had. While promising victory, violence seals defeat. While promising security, it makes one vulnerable. While promising to build up, it undermines. The parents’ violent behaviour now completely overshadows any other wrong (perceived or real) that they said they were resisting.
I invite you to re-read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) that remind us that we cannot love God without loving our neighbour. And that our neighbour is of priceless worth and therefore we must be gentle, just, merciful and pure in our relationships, ruling out racism and violence forever.
Reclaim the City takes over the Rondebosch Golf Course to protest against the City’s failure to redistribute public land for the development of affordable housing.
Picture: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)
Today I want to talk about golf. Well actually golf courses. More specifically, golf courses that are proximate to the city. This may seem strange or insensitive to you considering what is going on in the world at the moment: Covid-19. Unemployment and growing hunger. Gender based violence. Military and Police killings. Murderous racism. Climate devastation. Beijing stomping all over Hong Kong. USA fracturing under fascism.
However, I assure you that focusing our eyes down a few fairways and landing our thoughts on a couple of greens has everything to do with what is going on in the world today. Let me explain.
You may remember that late last year, to draw attention to the stubborn reluctance of the city to reverse the persistent Apartheid legacy of spacial planning, we raised a yellow banner on the steeple of CMM with the words: “Golf courses or social housing? What would Jesus want?” (Luke 9:58 has the answer). We were collaborating with civil society organisations Reclaim The City, who occupied the Rondebosch Golf Course on Human Rights Day last year, and Ndifuna Ukwazi. Ndifuna Ukwazi released a report entitled “City Leases” showing that the lack of change is not for a lack of available land but rather that there is no political will to allocate public land for public good. Please read our press statement here.
One would think that when faced with the choice of preserving a recreation facility for the few or providing social housing for the many, especially in a country with a pandemic of overcrowded informal settlements, that it would be a no-brainer on every ethical scale of common decency and common sense to choose social housing. Yet the mowed fairways and manicured greens remain as do the under-serviced and overcrowded informal settlements. This is nothing short of murderous. But no murder docket is opened and you will not find a single article anywhere that describes this choice of recreation over social housing as an act of violence.
Most people do not see this as a violent and deadly decision. So we need to translate the decision to bring it home for us to see and feel. In fact, let us take this decision into our own households. This is very appropriate because the original meaning of the word ‘economy’ means: management of the household.
Imagine a parent favouring one child’s recreational desires over the basic needs of their other children. Surely this parent’s potentially life threatening behaviour would be called out as abusive in the very least? And rightly so. And how easy this is to see. Yet when it comes to seeing this on a larger societal scale many of us remain blind.
The overwhelming majority of parents would never do this because they know how unjust and inhumane it is. They know the emotional trauma and physical damage it will do to their ignored children. They know the suffering and heartache that will manifest forever in the future. They know that violence will one day erupt within their household when their ignored children refuse to be ignored any longer and when their ignored children demand that their lives matter. They know their parental authority will mean little at that moment of rage and revolt. Perhaps police will need to be called to the home to stop the violence or even open a murder docket. A picture may be taken and the heading ‘violent criminal on the run’ typed in bold. Simply put, the parents know that without fairness in their home there will be no peace.
The parents also know how their spoiled child will carry an ingrained sense of entitlement and superiority that will resist equality in relationships going forward because “when you accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.
Above all else the parents know that their household is more peaceful, healthy and fruitful when each child receives the optimal level of care and respectful appreciation for their being.
When this public policy is brought into our own homes we can easily discern how violent it is. We can easily understand the violence of revolt. We can also clearly see who the victims are and who the perpetrators and beneficiaries are.
Can you now see how the decision to favour the recreation of a few, literally robs thousands and thousands of people of a more peaceful, healthy and fruitful life? It is a violence that seeds more violence. Violence must be pulled out at its root. Therefore, until systemic violence is seen as clearly as the violence in our streets is seen, there will be no end to violence. The one legitimises the other. Can you see how when similar decisions are made in just about every sector of society over years and years that we end up with the world we are living in today? If we cannot see this, then we have work to do. Let us have a conversation.
[See Abahlali baseMjondolo’s press statement this past week for further insight into the struggles of the landless.
For our CMM Chat at 11h11 on Sunday the context of systemic violence will form the canvas for our conversation. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the zoom link.
Grace and peace to you
While reading the following poems, Skin by Pie Corbett and What’s your colour? by Julia Donaldson, I reflected on the pain of skin colour that continues to haunt us during our twenty-five years of democracy. The power of the colour of skin and its ability to discriminate and inflict pain and suffering on humanity, is intolerable.
The issue of skin keeps appearing in our media and in our conversations. Why are we still so intimidated by people of another colour; or sometimes, only certain people of a certain skin colour?
Thuli Madonsela suggests that it is about recognising enduring racially-skewed power relations as a legacy of the past artificial racial categories.
The way in which we perceive people and practice colourism, continues to impede the growth and development of a new humanity in our country. It is all about how we treat and value human life, when we allow skin colour to dictate and determine a person’s worth and place in our society. Our colour prejudices, our perceptions and our generalisations of “the others” need to change if we are going to make a difference in God’s world.
What is it about skin; That gets people so excited?
Skin is the body bag; That holds us together.
Skin is the smothering; That keeps out the weather.
Skin is the curtain – Drawn down at the start.
Skin is the wrapper – That contains the heart.
Skin is the spray – Round the ragbag of bone.
Skin is the sleeping bag – Into which we are sown.
Skin is thin – Even a rose thorn can rip skin.
And yet some people – Are afraid of it –
Even though we are all made of it.
This poem confronts us with the truth that God the loving creator has covered us all with skin. So then as followers of Jesus, how are we measuring up to Jesus’ words: “I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness.”? Are we aligned to the plumb-line and example of Jesus’ life, ”the man for others”, of love, justice, compassion, forgiveness? Are we able to look beyond skin colour and are we able to relate to others who are different; especially those folk who choose not to be tolerant in the creation of a new humanity for all. This is our daily struggle to move from resentment and suspicion, to acceptance and growth and understanding that we all need each other or as Martin Luther King challenges us “to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools”.
What’s your colour?
‘What’s your colour, the colour of your skin.’
‘The colour of the envelope that you’re wrapped in.’
The above two lines are the repetitive refrain from a poem that focuses on skin colour. Reflecting on the question that the poet asks, demonstrates the role of the skin as an envelope that contains the body and all that it is: body, mind and soul. The skin as an organ is referred to as an instrument which has the capacity to shape our identity and determine and define our being.
Maybe we should all stop and reflect now on the following questions: What kind of envelope is containing me, shaping me, defining me and by whom? What is restricting me or freeing me to be? What is my exterior about and how is it aligned to my inner being? Can I reflect on my skin as an organ which has the power to determine the manner in which I relate to others in our world? What are my choices of access to opportunities or access denied at the moment? Am I a victim because of the colour of my skin or am I wrestling with my being called “You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son.”?
We are all vulnerable and in need of healing and in need of each other as we together work at making a difference in God’s world, regardless of skin colour!
The Trinity of Water — Food — Energy is vital for our living.
Of the three, water is the most important because without it we would not have food or energy. Therefore our primary private and policy concern should be to preserve water.
Oh and Remember: We cannot grow water.
LENTEN PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]
I don’t know about you but not a day goes by where I do not encounter some issue connected to the colour of my or someone else’s skin. It could be overhearing a conversation about “What if Oscar was black and he accidently fired a gun in a public restaurant?” Or it could be me walking through a “Musicians only” access point at the Jazz concert on Wednesday evening without so much as being questioned while others were stopped and sent round. Or when there is fighting outside my flat at night I know within myself that I feel far more entitled and confident to intervene when it is two black people fighting than when it is two white people fighting (in fact then I may decide to simply mind my own business). Sometimes it is simply a conversation I have with myself in my head.
This past week I was asked to participate in some research about white privilege. In doing so I was reminded of the great paper written by Peggy McIntosh in 1989 called, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Here is a brief extract:
“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.
Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended. Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected.
As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege.
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”
After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of colour that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.
My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.
My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”
Where else is more suited than the Church to have conversations about these matters? Look out for the next Anti-Bias workshop.