It’s been a turbulent start to the year here in South Africa. Amid dreadful drought and searing heat, water shortages, a falling rand (our currency), bleak economic prospects, failing parastatals, protests, poor education, rising unemployment, rising cost of food and much else that is dismal, it seems as if racism is not about to end anytime soon. The rants of others towards others on social media have been vicious and pernicious in their name calling. We’re pulling each other apart –
When, if ever, will it end? The outpouring of hatred continues unabated and many of us wonder if these are diversions tactic used by divisive factions that are not representative of S.A. as a whole, and if there’s something afoot to hi-jack the unfolding of our beautiful country to its full potential. Is racism rearing its ugly head at a crucial time in our history with elections around the corner inter alia, in order to keep our eye off other pressing issues mentioned above? Does democracy take 50 years to stabilise?
But, racism is real, its wound is real. We fail ourselves and our fellow human badly if we don’t uncover our blind spots which are by definition invisible. Blind spots, like deep wounds, need uncovering for them to be seen for what they are. The invisible festering wounds if not acknowledged can wreak untold damage without treatment – and continue. As Freud said regarding the repetition compulsion: history keeps on repeating itself until and if/when we learn from the lessons of the past. The underlying dynamic or theme is compelled to repeat until the lesson is learned and the pattern finally broken.
The blind spot is in my view fear: fear of the other; and here I’m speaking of the other within our own selves which we do not acknowledge and is thus projected out onto the other – so we fear the other, who ‘is not like us’.
If I look at this psychologically in terms of our past and on a wider scale, I remember when we feared the red under the bed, or the yellow peril, or the hippie era and the larger freedom of sex. Here in South Africa, during apartheid, we feared the black man. We whites mostly lived in an ‘us’ and ‘them’ cocoon enforced by the regime of the time and of which by extension, we were a part. Too many of us, the minority by 1:10, were fearful of the black majority in some defined and undifferentiated way. We were kept separate, blacks from whites; separate facilities; separate entrances and exits. It was institutionalised – though it takes two to tango –
Why this fear? Is it possible that the very qualities that we projected onto the black man, the other, was our own darkness that we vehemently denied was a part of us? Far easier for us as white South Africans to say from our position of supposed superiority, that ‘the other’ was lazy, irresponsible, superstitious, savage and brutal, irrational, envious, jealous, had unhealthy sexual drives, desired power above all, ambitious, greedy, and this projection of our own undesirable qualities was made easier by virtue of the colour of the skin of the other.
How much easier it was for we whites to put ‘out there’ our own maelstrom of darkness rather than acknowledging that it is within ourselves –
We see ourselves in a certain way that fits in with our tribal or world view, the way we’ve been conditioned by family, religion, society and culture. We like our comfort zones and stay away from being challenged for fear of re-shaping our thinking and acknowledging and re-cognising what is sometimes unthinkable.
We, no-one, sees ourselves as cruel and inhuman. But history tells us another story. We fear the unknown stranger within ourselves and do not want to bring that unknown part of ourselves out of the shadows. That part who is very capable of hate and hateful speech and action. We know that we may have the best intentions in the world with regard to ourselves and others, yet we are very capable of being destructive. In our everyday lives we overeat, waste water, drink too much, continue with violence in one way or the other, distract ourselves with matters that have nothing to do with soul-searching. What we do to ourselves we also do to the other; what we do to the other we do to ourselves. We cannot continue to use ‘the other’ as a scapegoat for the ills that plague us. Our souls cannot continue shrinking.
My son David put up a Facebook post yesterday morning of a song he composed on Sunday night, reflecting how he feels as a white South African. I’m excerpting his words on his post prior to the song ‘Make Amends‘ and then an excerpt from his song.
His words prior to the song excerpted:
“… I believe there is a great responsibility for white South Africans to undergo deep introspection and gain understanding of why things are the way they are in SA to avoid any further racial tension. If we can humble ourselves in order to gain understanding of each others views … that is a good starting point to making change. It may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary….”
An excerpt from his song:
‘I know that I’ve been quick to blame,
but it’s only because I never saw your pain.
And in the past I was quick to talk,
Until I took the time to walk a mile in your shoes.
It’s a life I would never choose,
Now that I see your point of view
And I’ll never comprehend the cost of the
cross you’ve had to bear,
I hope we can make amends….’
He received many comments on his FB page mostly encouraging, a few damning saying this doesn’t cut it or go far enough. That’s not really the point; being responsible for his thoughts and feelings and expressing them allows for personal change which has its effects on a larger scale.
I believe we all have a healthy desire, perhaps somewhat still unconscious and not yet differentiated, to unify as a nation, between all peoples. Do we need to be torn apart and rendered still further? As much as we have an archetypal desire for union, do we also fear it its polar opposite: of being subsumed by it? It’s such a huge task, holding those opposites in the alchemical vessel that is South Africa and allowing the transformation to finally begin – by bringing the outsider and insider closer together – warts and all – shadows –
The wilderness is within – I am not madly sure of Jung’s exact quote: ‘The jungle is in us, in our unconscious’ – it is our task to encounter and bravely explore it –
This post is far longer than I initially imagined – and I know I’ve barely scratched the surface.
We’re still in Plettenberg Bay, returning to Johannesburg in a few days time. Last week when my brother was here with us, my elder son Mike, Christopher and I went for a long walk on the Keurbooms beach. It was a misty-ish sort of day, and I never wear a hat of any description any time. But the heat on my head was fierce so I wrapped my beach scarf around it. We came across this ‘totem pole’ that was on the beach – which reminded me of building – and balance – and solidity – and beauty – of which we as South Africans are capable.
Yes, the cracks are showing in our democracy and wonderful constitution – that’s how the light gets in –