The last two weeks have been filled with people raising their voices with regards to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And whilst so many people responded fast and loud with posts all over all social media platforms, others were slightly less vocal. And that caused even more of an uproar.
I absolutely understand why silence could be seen as “saying enough”, but I know it’s not always the case. Even I struggled to find the words. Nothing seemed to be able to express what I was feeling and thinking. My silence was not what some might believe it to be.
And today I share why.
I did not think my [white] voice needed to be heard. I did not feel that what I [as a white person] had to say, mattered or counted in any way. And as a white person, I was scared.
Scared that I will say the wrong thing.
Scared that what I say will be critized.
Scared that if I say something, it just points back to my white privilege.
Scared that if I say something, it might offend someone, or make POC feel like I am justifying or making it about my feelings and emotions.
But I do have feelings and emotions. And I probably will offend someone along the way. And I know I am not the only white person that feels this way. So because I have a voice, because I have a platform, and because whether I say something or I don’t, I feel I have to share my story too.
I did not grow up in South Africa, although both my parents are South Africans. We did not grow up with South African history, and I did not know or understand Apartheid until I was about 15. This was when my parents decided to move back to South Africa. I learned about Apartheid in such a raw way, during the most formative teenage years and my soul was devasted.
I was so utterly disgusted, angry and destroyed in my own race, that for more a year, I hated being white. I rejected my own race so bad, and wished I could have been born another race. Anything but white. I would often cry myself to sleep, and just hated being associated in South Africa with the utter disgrace they brought.
(As I sit and write this, the tears are flowing freely as I recall what my heart still feels so deeply.)
Both my parents were raised in South Africa, and experienced the hurt and the degrading way people of colour were treated. My dad would tell us of the brainwashing education they received as children. And although many just absorbed it and continue to live in the fantasy world that whites are superior, I am grateful my dad was able to see through these lies. From a pre-teen age, my dad would fight and stand up for POC and for their rights. As a teenager, he was often teased and labeled a “kaffer-boy” because he chose friends he could connect with, instead of friends with the same skin colour. As a young man, he would protest alongside people of colour, and was thrown in jail twice because of this.
I could not be more proud of my dad. He has taught us above everything, to love people. To treat people as better than ourselves, and love them, as Christ loves us. Both my parents taught us to think differently. They didn’t teach us to “not see colour” but they taught us how to see people’s hearts. I’ve never gone out looking for coloured friends, white friends, black friends, Indian friends. But somehow I am surrounded by a rainbow of people because I connect to HEARTS.
When I was 16, I was invited to a Matric ball. It was a well known all-boys school. And the boy who invited me was a good friend. He also happened to coloured. When we stepped out of the super fancy car, the whole crowd fell silent. I’m not even exaggerating. You could hear a pin drop. Except for the one guy who said, “Maar dis dan ‘n whitey…”
At the same dance, I ran into a girl I used to know as a little girl. When she asked me who I was with, I proudly pointed to my handsome date, and without meaning to, her whole face dropped as she just said, “Ooooh..” She avoided me the rest of the night, and I happily danced the whole night away with my date.
I remember, in grade 12, when most of us were looking at tertiary education, and deciding on our careers, a very good friend of mine, who had immaculate grades, and highly talented, told me she will not be furthering her education, because “it’s not what our people do.” She was told coloured people don’t go to university, and definitely can’t have a “white person career.” She fell for the lies POC have been taught to believe. And my heart was broken.
While growing up, we would leave a family gathering when my own extended family would say something racist, and even upon confrontation, would not take it back or apologise. I had two sets of grandparents who would often say something completely racist. I loved them dearly, and won’t ever justify their actions. But they were taught that the garderner couldn’t use the same utensils. That your maid absolutely can’t use the same toilet as you. And my grandfather would be offended that the “bergie” doesn’t want the moldy bread that they just threw out.
We were taught better. When we had a housekeeper or a gardener, we had to address them as “oom” or “tannie”, and always had to show them the respect we would to our own aunts or uncles. We were taught to treat all people with more respect that ourselves. And it’s our responsibility to teach the next generation to do even better than the previous.
When our housekeeper started working with our family a few years ago, on the first day I remember her asking me where she should go to the toilet. I was confused. “The bathroom?”, I replied. She seemed confused now. “This one?”, she asked, as she pointed to the general bathroom. “Any bathroom you want.” I was shocked to find out that ALL her previous employers had a separate toilet for her to use. WHAT IS THIS EVEN?
I remember the many conversations I had with my husband (then boyfriend) when we just started dating, and I constantly pushed his racial boundaries to find out what he really thinks and believes. I needed to make sure what the subconscious racial beliefs so many of us [white people] have, were with his man. But luckily for me, his heart also saw hearts first.
We, as white people, do have a voice. Our experiences and our hurts also matter. Our stories matter. People need to see and hear and know that we get it. And we do not have to justify the past or pretend that they do not exist.
They do. And the way white people have treated people of colour unfairly, unjustly and without the respect they deserve, is nothing but utterly wrong. And even worse that it still happens today.
I am sure so many other white people are nervous to speak up. I know I was. But we do not need to run or take charge of this movement. It’s not ours. But speak up. Show your support.
People of colour, I am a white person. I am with you. And I empathize with the generational unfairness you’ve had to endure. I stand behind you. I will lift you up. I’ve got your back. BLACK.LIVES. MATTER.
White people, the goal is CHANGE.
There are many important roads to this change. One is self-reflective, one is political pressure, one is protesting, and one is educating ourselves. As a white person, I want to encourage others to spend your time listening, learning, and reflecting. During this time, there is not a “correct” way to respond. As long as we as a human race can show empathy.
Because, to be honest, if we, as humans, were able to show a little more empathy, we probably would not be in this position in the first place.