Dear people of colour in South Africa

9:27 am Wendy van Eyck 0 Comments


Dear people of colour in South Africa

I am sorry. I should have tried harder. For years I have hidden behind, “I was too young to be part of apartheid. I shouldn’t have to pay for the sins of others. I didn’t do anything wrong. How could I? I was 9 years old when apartheid ended.”

For years, I have failed to recognise how I have received privileges just for being white in this country and that my advantage came at your disadvantage.

I believed I lived in a country where colour didn’t matter. But I failed you, my fellow citizens of colour, I failed you because I didn’t see I only had the luxury of believing that lie because I was white.

Of course, colour matters.

Every single day something happens to remind you how colour matters. I apologise for allowing my naïvety to blind me to the racism you experience every single day.

I am sorry for all the times I haven’t called my white friends and family on racism. {Tweet This!}

Just this week I let a racist comment go. We were talking about a movie called “He even has your eyes” about a black couple who adopt a white baby. I thought it was beautiful. I loved that it challenged all my preconceived ideas about race. My friend who is white said, “That would be so shocking! Imagine a white baby in the loxion.”
I didn’t understand what she said so I replied, “What? Where?”
“In the location”.
I shook my head barely believing what I had heard and quickly paid the bill. As I drove home, I kicked myself for not calling her on it. Black people do not only live in locations. And people raise children in locations every day, and despite often lacking access to quality education many go on to become the kind of people we all should be proud to call a son or daughter. 

I am sorry that I failed you in that conversation and that I perpetuated a system that holds down anyone who is not white. I am sorry this is not the only time I have failed to speak up when white people put people of colour down.

I am 34 years old and I have never learnt to speak an African language. I have expected every person of colour to adapt to my culture, the white culture that I benefit from.

I am sorry that I thought I belonged in a "different" group of white people, that I was somehow special and immune from oppressing you.

I am sorry I thought it was okay to say “some” white people when talking about white supremacists and I admit when #BlackLivesMatter started I fought for #AllLivesMatter.
I. Am. Sorry.
I am sorry that when apartheid ended I did not change my actions. I am sorry that I haven’t loved you like Jesus, that I haven’t stood up for your rights like I would stand up for my child.

I realise now, and I hope it is not too late, that our country’s failure to transform is not your problem. It is a white one. White people have apologised for apartheid but never really repented. We have not done enough to right the wrongs of the past. We have not been angry enough about the circumstances we put you in because we are too scared that speaking up for you might mean losing everything for us.

I will never know what it is like to go through life without privilege. I can’t pretend to own or understand your experience. I want to though. I want to listen, to learn, to hear how my privilege has hurt you, is hurting you.

And I want to learn to act.

I do not want to put the burden of correcting the behaviour of white people on your shoulders anymore. You should not have to call us on our racism anymore.

I promise you I will be brave your ally in the face of racism.

(Brave? Really Wendy? Brave is Ernest Cole a black South African photographing apartheid and exposing it. Brave is Nelson Mandela standing in a courtroom and saying he is willing to die for his beliefs. It is not brave to be a good human, to do the right thing. I don’t need to be brave, I just need to be an ally.)  

I will call other white people on their racism. I will speak up for you when I am in a room. I know it is not enough. It will never be enough.

Thank you for being patient with us. Thank you for giving white people more than twenty years since apartheid to realise how we have failed once again. We do not deserve your kindness.

A recovering white racist

P.S. To the white people reading this: I have always wondered who I would have been if I had lived through apartheid. And I’m realising that this is our chance to be the people we hoped we would be. I am scared. I am not sure how to fix this but I know I want to do something. I see white supremacy rising in America and from all I read about it I'm realizing that if they win in America all white people win and I don't want to live in a world where I am an advantaged at the cost of people of colour. Here are a few resources that have gotten me thinking and acting on this issue. I hope you'll find them helpful too.
Novel: Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult (Affiliate link) Set in America. Picoult tackles racism head on from the viewpoint of how white people have benefited from slavery (in a South African context apartheid) and looks at what a white persons response should be to current racial tensions. I can’t recommend this book enough. She has a great article about how to be an ALLY on her website which you can click here to read.
Non-Fiction:  Born a crime - Trevor Noah (Affiliate link) This book isn’t funny. If anything it’s uncomfortable to read. It will challenge you on so many levels about race.
Movie: He even has your eyes. French with English subtitles. You can find this on Netflix. Watch the trailer here. As a white person, what is your first reaction to the idea of black people raising a white child? Yup. This film will challenge all those preconceived ideas and open the door for real conversations about race.
Podcast: The Liturgists Episode 34 - Black and white in America Very American in history but the truth is universal.
Article: Repenting Systemic Racism, Relevant Magazine. Want to know what to do next? This article on the biblical example of Josiah lays a great foundation.

Unfortunately, many of these resources are American. I would love to read more from South Africans on race so if you have any other resources please share them in the comments.

Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash



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