I am a white South African who is completely optimistic about the country South Africa can become. But it took being outside of the country for me to better realise some of what needs to be done here.
A three year period of working with non-profit organisations in Americaland (as I call it) and stepping away from the melting pot, so to speak, really helped me gain some perspective. Especially with the #BlackLivesMatter movement that was starting to gain momentum in the States after events like #FruitvaleStation and #Ferguson and people like #TrayvonMartin and #MikeBrown and way too many more to be counted.
Returning to South Africa (which had always been the plan), I was hungry to get involved in the race conversations that feel so crucial. But as I started talking to people and reading comments on articles and blog posts, this one phrase kept popping up: White Guilt.
BEWARE THE GREAT WHITE [GUILT]
I can’t remember ever hearing this phrase from a person of colour telling me it was something I should be experiencing. But again and again white people, particularly those who didn’t seem to want to engage very long in these conversations when they started getting a little hard or uncomfortable, started throwing it out.
“I’m tired of carrying this white guilt.”
“I’m sick of blame being laid because we are white and the history of our country.”
And my own personal unfavourite:
“Enough of the white guilt. Can’t we all just move on already?”
Whereas the truth for me in this ongoing uncomfortable and confusing journey towards racial unity, is that I have never once felt ‘White Guilt’. I have felt strong conviction towards something different and hopefully better and therein lies the subtle distinction.
Guilt is something that condemns and makes you feel bad and tells you that you are not good enough and leaves you whimpering in a hole somewhere, completely unproductive.
Whereas conviction is something that empowers and strengthens and helps bring purpose and lifts you out of your hole, on to your feet and sends you running on towards action.
I guess the confusing thing is that guilt and confusion can sometimes feel the same. But only one of them is ever helpful.
In South Africa right now we need people of all colours who are going to be brave and committed enough to risk sitting at the table together. Facing an unimaginable past and walking together towards the possibility of a mutually beneficial future.
WE NEED YOU
The truth is that South Africa needs you to engage. We saw a tremendous miracle happen in 1994 in terms of how the country handled the transition of power in many ways. It was by no means a perfect handover and us folks got a bit of a great deal.
But things are brewing again and there are some uncomfortable conversations and quite possibly some sacrificial actions that need to take place. As those representative of the former oppressors we do not get to decide when it’s time to “move on”. We need to listen and engage. We need to be investing in our friendships with people who don’t look like us. We need to be diversifying the voices we let inform us about the world.
Forget ‘White Guilt’ but bring on the conviction that leads us to become nation builders together.
The future is bright. Are you in?