TGIF: our weekly contact with white people
We resumed our weekly contact with white people as TGIF resumed after the Christmas holidays.
TGIF is a gathering at a coffee shop early on Friday mornings, where someone speaks on a topic for 45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes discussion, and it’s all over by 7:30 in time for people to get to work.
Until last year, we went sporadically, when there was a particularly interesting speaker, but about a year ago we started going regularly. TGIF has a break for a couple of months over December and January, and when it resumed yesterday we realised that when it wasn’t meeting, we had very little contact with white people as a group. The people who come to TGIF, however, are probably not typical of what most would regard as white society or the “white community”; these are mostly evangelical Christians with a conscience, aware of white privilege, and so probably not a good barometer of what white people are thinking.
Not that we care that most of the people present are white. That’s not why we go there. We go mainly because most of the talks are interesting and stimulating, and though one is exposed to different ideas on the Internet, I find that it is rare that I read an article there from beginning to end, and most of the stuff on social media consists of text bites, which requre even less of an attention span. Sometimes at TGIF we stay a bit longer, continuing the discussion with others who don’t have to rush off to work. It’s not the colour of the discussers, but the interesting views expressed that keeps us going back for more.
But a couple of things made me more aware of the whiteness of most of those attending TGIF, and also of a possible generation gap. One of the other regular attenders shared something that had appeared on Facebook:
#WeWhitePeople need to hold fellow white people accountable for the everyday, and systemic racism which benefits all of us. If we don’t who will? None of us are exempt. We need to shift our people from oppressive behaviours and that begins by confronting the racist programming in ourselves.
What do you want to say? Hashtag #WeWhitePeople and have your say. Please upload a photograph of yourself (if safe to do so), and share your own commitment to ending white supremacy.
Now I see a few problems with that. One of them relates to the term “our people”, which I see as ipso facto racist, for reasons I have explained here How racist are you? | Khanya. One of the ways in which we who lived through the apartheid era, and who happened to be white, confronted the racist programming in ourselves was to learn to stop thinking of “we white people” and to stop thinking of white people as “our people”. So invitations and exhortations to think of ourselves in those terms sound like invitations to reprogram ourselves as racists, as a dog returns to its vomit. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but it’s there.
But there are white racists in South Africa, and racism remains a problem in our society. So how can we combat it?
One answer, that seems to be implied in the Facebook post quoted above, is to use our influence to shift “our people” from oppressive behaviours. And this was also dealt with by the speaker at TGIF, Robert Botha, who was speaking on diplomacy and leadership.
He said that we often think that we are helpless in the face of these social forces, but there is relational analysis, which can tell us about relational proximity. We might be close to people who are close to people with influence.
So, if we are white, we might be close to people who have influence in the “white community”, perhaps. Except that I don’t think that there is such thing as a “white community”. We often use words like “community” loosely implying that there is community where there is none. I can speak of the TGIF community, because people who attend TGIF meet regularly and have social intercourse with one another. So can I influence any of them to use their influence among people they are in contact with to combat racism? I think some of them are already doing that. But they are the only white people I’m in regular and frequent face-to-face contact with.
Of course there is the Internet, and social media like Facebook and Twitter. There one encounters people one has never met face-to-face; can one influence people there? Perhaps to some extent, but text bites, like sound bites, can be shallow, and become tiresome after a while. Trying to influence people there can be counterproductive, because in text bites, even when superimposed on graphics, are simply assertions without any attempt to justify them.
So what can I do to shift people (not “my” people) from oppressive behaviours? Well, one way is to preach the gospel, which is the good news of liberation from oppression. And another, for those who look back on the apartheid era and think it wasn’t so bad, is to write about it in this blog, which I do, under the heading Tales from Dystopia.
Can anyone suggest anything else?