Most people battle with either superiority or inferiority. It’s an intense battle. When people with opposing battles come together a subtle transaction takes place. This has been especially true in South Africa. Our country, with its story of oppression, is littered with this battle.
Steve Biko, who was a proponent for black consciousness described community where those with superiority complexes (coupled with power) take the lead as artificial. In a brilliant passage he talks about false integration where the superiors (whites) initiate and dictate:
“The integration they talk about is first of all artificial in that it is a response to conscious manoeuvre rather than to the dictates of the inner soul. In other words the people forming the integrated complex have been extracted from various segregated societies with their in- built complexes of superiority and inferiority and these continue to manifest themselves even in the “nonracial” set-up of the integrated complex. As a result the integration so achieved is a one-way course, with the whites doing all the talking and the blacks the listening. Let me hasten to say that I am not claiming that segregation is necessarily the natural order; however, given the facts of the situation where a group experiences privilege at the expense of others, then it becomes obvious that a hastily arranged integration cannot be the solution to the problem. It is rather like expecting the slave to work together with the slave-master’s son to remove all the conditions leading to the former’s enslavement.” [Black Souls in white skins?] p. 21-22]
In another essay he writes almost the same thoughts when he says that,
“It never occurred to the liberals that the integration that they insisted upon as an effective way of opposing apartheid was impossible to achieve in South Africa. It had to be artificial because it was being foisted on two parties whose entire upbringing had been to support the lie that one race was superior and others inferior. One has to overhaul the whole system in South Africa before hoping to get black and white walking hand in hand to oppose a common enemy. As it is, both black and white walk into a hastily organised integrated circle carrying with them the seeds of destruction of that circle – their inferiority and superiority complexes. The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in reality the artificially integrated circles are a soporific to the blacks while salving the consciences of the guilt-stricken white. It works from the false premise that, because it is difficult to bring people from different races together in this country, achievement of this is in itself a step towards the total liberation of the blacks. Nothing could be more misleading. [White Racism and Black Consciousness] p.70
Biko wrote these words in the 70’s – twenty years before the democratization of SA. When reading his words it is therefore always important to remember that it was written in a pre-liberation context. Therefore the task would be to keep this in mind when interpreting. That being said, I must say that these words are extremely accurate of current South Africa.
Walking with brothers and sisters in the squatter camps of Johannesburg these artificial circles of community become evident. So what to do? Biko, in his time, proposed segregation for a short time till the blacks developed their consciousness – saw themselves as human beings created in the image of God. Whites had to work on their racism. It was always an intermediate measure for him. But what do we do now? Should we just try to work on our issues of superiority/inferiority in isolation? In the suburbs and in the squatter camps, or is there a third way? I think there is.
For the last few weeks Biko’s statement on the circle with its members with superior – and inferior complexes have stayed with me. It reminded me of another circle; a circle of Jesus’ disciples. They were asserting themselves, jockeying for position. Who will be superior? Who will loose and become the inferior ones? They walked and talked on these issues. Jesus interrupted this dynamic. He asked them what they were talking/arguing about. Silence. He then said to them (my paraphrase), “whoever wants to be superior must become inferior and a slave to all”.
Then Jesus placed one of that culture’s inferior ones in their midst. A child. These days I think he placed a little girl in the middle of their discussion. She would have been the most likely inferior one. He then said to them,
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Jesus equates Himself to this inferior one. If you welcome the inferior one, then you welcome Jesus. If you ignore the inferior one (the ‘it’ in the passage above) then the ‘it’ you’re ignoring is Jesus and the Father who sent Him!
Here is a circle that Biko (I dare to say) would have approved of. The inferior one becomes the representation of not only someone made in the image of God, but Jesus himself! So how do we get over the artificial dynamics of fake circles? Here are a few words to live into – some will be easier for those who battle with superiority, others for the inferior:
A journey for the superior ones is to learn how to receive,
A journey for the inferior ones is to be welcomed and to give.