It’s time to tackle some sticky issues that no one really wants to talk about. But if South Africa is to have a future that is not fraught with hate, resentment and blame… we kind of have to. It’s all about colour…
Racial tensions in our country are running high at the moment. With corruption in our government and a new president who is trying to weed it all out, talks about land expropriation, and racially based murders and attacks occurring on a daily basis, it’s easy to get caught up in the big issues without seeing the root of it all.
Fuelled by the anger and fear on both sides of the political spectrum, people are acting and speaking with a level of violence that totally contradicts the heart’s desire of just about every single South African – regardless of the colour of our skins.
It’s all about attitude to colour
And what do all South Africans want? A country that is peaceful and economically prosperous. A country where they have the opportunity to better their lives. It’s that simple – but not so simple to achieve in our current political climate and with current political attitudes.
The bigger picture of hate and violence actually comes down to one thing – racial and cultural prejudice. Prejudice is a sneaky thing. It can be so insidious and ‘part of our culture’ that it pervades our attitudes and our actions. And it would seem that we never pause to ask why we think the way we do.
The wonderful thing about attitudes however, is that they can change. And it’s up to us as ordinary citizens to change these, one prejudice at a time.
Race matters – but it doesn’t have to define us
To say that race doesn’t matter and that we need to leave the past in the past is incredibly naive. Our history of inequality in South Africa does still affect us today. The legacy of Apartheid means that many black people still don’t have the opportunities that white people have in terms of education, economic security and social connections.
At the same time, it is impossible to change the past. We can redress inequality through land expropriation and affirmative action, but allowing our anger over these issues to define us is not a solution. Living in the now, focusing on the positive changes that can be made, and learning to argue respectfully is something we can all learn to do.
Privilege matters – and we need to talk about it
Much of the time, racism is not a blatant behaviour. What we see on the news is racism at its most extreme, but there’s a type of racism that flies under the radar. Privilege. In South Africa, our history created a system of privilege, which is still sadly in place even 20 years after Apartheid ended.
A huge number of South Africans don’t understand the effect of privilege. Honestly, they don’t. Their attitudes are the result of socialisation and they might not be aware that they are in fact racist.
Instead of getting angry, educate
If you understand privilege and how it relates to race, you need to talk about it. Not shout about it – talk about it. Anger only breeds anger, but respectful argument leads to understanding and can go a long way towards fighting prejudice.Being respectful matters – and it can change attitudes
With a topic like race, it’s easy to become riled up and aggressive. People are angry about things that are close to their hearts, and while the anger may be justified, being disrespectful isn’t. You only have to look at any social media thread on a race issue to see some of the terrible things people say to each other.
See colour for what it is
The truth is, words do hurt and more importantly, have an effect on people’s attitudes that they carry away into their everyday lives. Contrary to what you might believe, the attitudes of ordinary citizens have more effect on the political climate than the actions of the government.
An argument that becomes an attack only fuels people to retaliate. If you feel the fury building, remove yourself from the debate until you can speak (or write) intelligently and respectfully.
It may sound a little ‘Kumbaya’ and idealistic, but there’s certainly hope for South Africa if we can learn to respect each other’s differences. If we see colour for what it is. If we can focus on educating rather than jumping to conclusions.
Change doesn’t begin with other people. Change begins with you.