Today I read a quote by Richard Rohr where he says that, “It is comfortable people, not the poor, who fear the word justice.” This reminded me of another essay I read by prof. Njabulo S Ndebele entitled, “Finding our way into the future” – you can read an online version here. In it he explores some potent ideas. I found his challenges towards “whiteness” very exigent.
Firstly, he uses the phrase “unreflective Afrikanerdom” describing the situation of Afrikaners once apartheid became part of the “moral fibre” of South Africa. He describes how the “combination of political, economic and military power, validated by religious precept, yielded a universal sense of entitlement. Afrikanerdom was entitled to land, air, water, beast, and each and every black body.”
I immediately wondered what a “reflective Afrikanerdom” would entail. What would it mean for me, as an Afrikaner who benefited from oppression to reflect on my sense of entitlement?
In a wonderful turn of irony he widens the metaphor of Conrad’s “Heart of darkness” when he describes that, “Suddenly, “the heart of darkness” is no longer the exclusive preserve of “blackness”; it seems to have become the very condition of “whiteness” at the southern corner of the African continent. Its expression will take various degrees of manifestation, from the crude to the sophisticated.”
We battle to own up to our prejudices. Yet, we all have prejudices to various degrees and as a friend of mine keeps on reminding me, degrees matter. And what if we find out that our sophistications are on the same continuum as the crude acts of murdering and killing?
Then Ndebele invites me with a challenging observation …
“… the quest for a new white humanity will begin to emerge from a voluntary engagement, by those caught in the culture of whiteness of their own making, with the ethical and moral implications of being situated at the interface between inherited, problematic privilege, on the one hand, and on the other, the blinding sterility at the centre of the “heart of whiteness”.
For the last few years I’ve struggled intensely with the thought that many of the “blessings” I used to attribute to God’s provision was obtained through the systematic oppression of others.
Sure, some of it was begotten through hard work and skill. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that I am dealing with“inherited, problematic privilege”. Baptizing this privilege only in the name of ‘God’s blessing’ or ‘hard work ethic’ is not an option anymore. It has indeed become an ethical and moral case for me. I continually ask myself how this “inherited, problematic privilege” can be worked with in a reflective-obedient Christ following way.
What struck me about Ndebele’s thoughts is that he talks about an emergence that is a “voluntary engagement”. So what are some of possible engagements with the ethical and moral implications?
1. Own up to the facts of oppression (visit the apartheid museum for instance). If I cannot even concede to the fact that I’m a beneficiary of apartheid then I am in denial and show an intense “blinding sterility”.
2. Own up and speak up. Say that you’re sorry as many times as it is needed. More than saying sorry – be sorry.
3. Give out of your privilege. In a conversation earlier today Kutloano and I discussed how powerful it could be to start a trust fund called “The Privilge fund” which could be used to help with education, housing and medical purposes. Privilege in that sense denotes both giving out of privilege and the privilege of giving. I think white churches have to rethink the traditional 10% mission tithe here. Is it ethical to spend 90% of the Lord’s money on ministry to us?
4. Use your skills/education in a way that serves our country instead of building further isolated cocoons of privilege. Tutor a kid, teach people your skill, get your job involved in society.Oasis offers some very practical ways to do this.
5. Learn an African language.
6. Experience a different culture by hanging out with people.
7. …. ? What other suggestions do you have?