February 15, 2012
I didn’t follow the tweets and facebook discussions on the DA youth poster 3 weeks ago. Also decided to wait a while with responding, since the hype and emotions around it doesn’t necessarily create the ideal space for reflection. First: I don’t think they were necessarily wrong to create the poster. I don’t think there is anything wrong with what the poster is portraying either. On the contrary, I think the nerve that they touched with the poster need to be examined, and that we can learn a lot by slowly reflecting on our instinctive reactions to the poster. I do however think the poster is naive, and that if a romantic and/or sexual relation between a black man and a white woman is the symbol for the future that they are working for, then we need a new opposition party. So let me explain.
Some responses to the poster had so-called “moderate” voices fall back upon hard-core racist rhetoric. Comments such as “I am a DA supporter, but this is like cross-breeding a goat and a sheep” do reveal the depth of racist formation in South Africa. After a long history of attempting to convince the country that indeed that was some inherent difference associated with a few biological markers (primarily skin colour), it would be naive to think that 18 years of democracy would exorcise these ideas.
But responses on a “lighter” note is just as revealing. Decades after we have found consensus in academia that there is no such thing as “race”, that external biological markers are not revealing any internal qualities, we still find “caring” responses about the fact that the children from a mixed-race sexual relation would have no identity, or about the fact that cultures are incompatible. These attempts to justify our discomfort with an image need to be examined, its a deep reminder that we have a lot of baggage to work through.
However, what the poster are best at revealing remain hidden from public discourse. It is the instinctive feelings from those of us who have been trained on politically correct responses. I don’t use politically correct in the negative sense here! There is things that we know is acceptable (such as sexual relations between consenting adults regardless of the racial categories in which society place them), and therefore wouldn’t voice critique upon, yet continue to struggle with internally, on an emotional level. Deep within ourselves, hidden from the media, twitter or blogs, is the question whether we ourselves would be willing or able to disregard race when reflecting on our possible sexual relations, or those of our children.
I write the previous three paragraphs not as a kind of guilt trip about the deep racism which “others” still reveal, but rather as an attempt at an honest reflection from within the “own” position of white South Africans. To some extent our reactions to the poster does reveal the depth of what a racist past has done to us.
If we are to move beyond this poster, if we are to move towards the future which the DA imagine, then it might help to stop and reflect on where our instinctive responses come from. The relation between sex and race has been important throughout the development of racial notions during modernity. Studying this remain important if we are to de-racialize society, if we want to undo the effects of a system of white superiority. Within a system in which strict biological markers was associated with internal qualities, sexual relations across these racial boundaries create many questions on what the quality would be of the children born from these. The particular fear is that the “pure” white race, with its superior qualities would become extinct when mixed with “inferior blood”.
But more is at stake here. Black and white bodies is defined to some extent in relation to sexuality. The black male body being associated with a “sexual predator”, always seeking to prey on the white female body, to rape the white female. The black female body is defined as the tempter, responsible for tempting the white male body into unacceptable sexual relations. Furthermore, the black female body is constructed in the gaze of the white male as a sexual object, a body good for the gratification of white male sexual desires, as long as these remain out of sight, since the children born from these relations will be of “lesser quality”. In contrast to the black female body, the white female body is supposed to be “pure” (reminding that race and gender cannot be separated). And the white male body? Well, since it is white males that construct identities under a racist patriarchal society, these bodies are possible considered the most perfect beings, in perfect balance. But the modern history of racism is scattered with the untold stories of white men raping black women, to some extent being the act against which many of the above notions is constructed.
I point this out as a reminder that indeed the DA is on to something when they imagine a future where the racialised nature of sexuality no longer determine the social networks of society. On a side note this short reflection should remind us that if they changed the poster around so that it was a black male and white female, they might have found themselves with even more fierce reactions, but let’s leave it at that.
However, I found the poster to be deeply dissatisfying. Not merely because it was provocative (sometimes public images need to provoke reaction to stimulate public reflection), but because I find it somewhat conservative… and yes, I did intend this last statement. Let me explain.
The poster seek to reveal the depths of our personal prejudices and fears concerning race, and imagine a future no longer determined by these. This is its strongest as well as weakest point, as one of my mentors sometimes said. While I tried to point out the strength of this image above, the limits need to be discussed as well.
Let’s put is this way: while more difficult to portray in a single image, an image imagining a future where schools reflect the reality of the country, and where we don’t look twice at this might have been more radical. A future where if I drove past any primary school, the playground would reflect kids exhibiting features which once was used as markers dividing people, and where these markers would no longer determine who is in this school. In short, an image imagining a future where basically every school would consist of a majority of black kids and a minority of white kids, merely because race no longer determine where kids go to school.
Or what about an image of a South Africa where the super-rich no longer dominate in extremely expensive residential areas which exclude the majority. What about an image which imagine a future where my level of education and my position at work no longer determine who my neighbour would be, a future where the vast inequalities no longer exist. While the relation sex and race is indeed very important, and has been an important contribution to maintaining the racist social structure of society, exclusionary economic practices has been as important, if not more. Merely accepting a future where we don’t look twice when a white man is in a sexual relationship with a black woman to some extent simply reinforce the existing status quo, a status quo where a small, generally economically secure, white minority mix freely with the emerging black middle class and elite while assuring that the privileged position of some (although the image of exactly who the “some” is might change) remain intact and the majority remain in dire circumstances (the majority in South Africa remaining, and possible remaining for the imaginable future, the Black African population).
While I welcome the challenge the DA Student Organization bring concerning the way in which sex and sexuality has been racialised, and indeed I hope that they would do more than a poster, and contribute to a healthy public debate on the actual complexities involved with their image, the poster still leave me wondering whether they are willing to voice the necessary critique against exclusionary economic practices, internationally, but with its counterpart in South Africa. Will the DASA be willing to imagine a future where we will not allow residential spaces which exclude the majority and which are ecologically unsustainable, schools which are only for the elites while many rural black schools provide horrible education, super-salaries for some while unemployment remain a primary challenge. All these questions has as much to do with race as sex has to do with race, but they force us beyond the questions of personal prejudice. While the sex questions might contribute to renewed challenging of structural racism in the long run (a different argument, but I do think that it is indeed the case), on its own it might just comfort us into believing that racism is merely about not being willing to date a black or white man.
Two disclaimers are in order before I start this post: First, I’ve never read any vampire stories, don’t know anything about vampire mythology, or the history of vampire (or werewolf) literature. Therefore, this post contain a lay perspective on those parts of the Twilight series. But then again, neither does most of our youth have these kinds of insights, so maybe my viewing do correlate to a “popular perspective” in that sense. Two, I watched the movies with the intend of seeing how adolescent relations are being constructed, for no other reasons, and carries that bias into my viewing. I owe this to Katie Douglas’ podcast on Twilight.
Confession session: I watched the first three Twilight movies in the past 24 hours. Next confession: I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t so gripping that I didn’t sit and work on other stuff at times, but it was a completely watchable movie. But I watched it with my youth ministry hat on, and I was extremely uncomfortable with what I saw.
I’ve scanned some blogposts from youth ministers on Twilight. Seems like you generally have three types of critique (yes, I know there is a lot of appreciation from youth ministers as well, I’ll refer to this at times, add a few positive elements of my own, but mostly I’m providing a critical perspective, so this is where I’ll focus).
As with Harry Potter 10 years ago or so, there is the obvious religious response to the fact that the film portrayed Vampires and Werewolfs in a generally positive manner. The idea that we are somehow exposing kids to the “occult”. I’m not that worried about it really. Strange vampire saga that frowns upon the killing of humans, actually outright rejects the killing of humans (although it’s accepted as a kind of “necessity”). I guess this is just a default position, but since I’m really not concerned about “vampires” in reality, I don’t think using these myths in stories are problematic purely because vampires are mentioned. I suspect that if I were to study vampire movies generally I might be strongly opposed to the portrayal of violence, but that’s on a different level. Anyhow, the violence scenes in the Twilight series can be described as “mild” to say the most, so except if you chose the road of total rejection of any portrayal of violence (and then I’ll have to include much of our violent sports), I wouldn’t worry about this too much either as a youth minister. The only scene that is bugging me, concerning violence, is links to “cutting” in Twilight 3, where Bella cuts herself to save Edward. But I guess it’s debatable whether the link can be made to teen cutting. Oh, that and maybe the senseless killing in Seattle by the gang of “newborns”.
The second response some writing from youth ministry has to the films is the portrayal of sensuality and sexuality. A couple of kissing scenes. Again some complain, but except if you are doing a total clamp-down on any portrayals of teen sexuality this shouldn’t concern you too much. On the contrary, if going purely by physical intimacy portrayed in these teen relationships I would say this isn’t even problematic given the age at which characters are portrayed (taking Edward as 17 instead of 109 obviously). Obviously there is the fact that these values are blatantly described as “old-school”, and portrayed as the values of a romantic bygone era that needn’t exist anymore, it is quite remarkable that you have a teen best-seller making any case at all against sex-before-marriage).
I’ll add one more positive to the last paragraph, not concerning teen sexuality, but linking to typical portrayals of teenage relationships. Bella has an abnormally good relationships with her parents. On a first-level analysis quite nice to have this really. I bet most parents in our congregations would love to have this kind of nice and friendly relationship with their parents. Now obviously we must add that parents are portrayed as people who have no understanding of the life their kids are going through and wouldn’t be able to handle it if they did, but hey, parents are portrayer as really caring for their teens, and teens as loving their parents. So lets give recognition where it’s possible, and open up conversations with teens where those opportunities do appear.
However, I want to take on from the arguments on sexuality to get to the point I’d like to make. The film really has very little explicit sexual portrayals. However, the whole thing burns with sexual tension like little I’ve seen before. Maybe the author (apparently a Mormon) heard some of the popular phrases from teen sex education (or Christian high school youth cultures). You know, those saying that you should leave something to imagination, and those saying that you somehow get more “passion” if you let things develop without going into overly sexual experiences too early. Because this film with very little sexual scenes really has you smelling the sexuality every minute of it.
My guess however, is that it’s not the physical stuff that points to this, but the way the relationships is portrayed. From very early on you have this kind-of-typical teenage television relationships where each will do “anything” for the other (even go to high-school together admitting their feelings in front of all the judging eyes). Throw into this a “big story” and a few supernatural elements just to heighten it up. By the end of Twilight 1 you have this kind of super-charged I’ll-do-anything-for-you teenage relationship, where I’ll do anything for you goes somewhat above the normal, but I guess wouldn’t require anything more than a “reality check” if this is to become a model for teenage relationships. Some in youth ministry take issue with any form of commitment in teenage relations, I’m not sure this is bad however, definitely hyperbolic, but that I find an acceptable literary as well as cinematographic strategy. I guess the youth minister in me just have to remind teens that these relations actually happening and being positive at that age is extremely rare.
My discomfort starts after the breakup. Two facts might hide the deeply problematic structure for teen relations being portrayed. There is the obvious fact that this concerns vampires and werewolfs, and therefore shouldn’t be “normal”, and here the fact that I don’t know the myths might cloud my interpretation, since there might be long explanations from vampire mythology from what I’m about to say. However, our teens don’t come to the film with degrees in mythology, and not even with having read the books, so hear me out fans (give me the explanations if you want, but just see the links I’m seeing if you can). The second thing clouding our interpretation is that this is a movie and things end well, and we therefore are told that all the decisions made were good (although the speech at graduation might hint that the decisions weren’t good, but that late adolescence should be a time for making mistakes, so therefore again all’s well that ends well.
But I watch Bella in the months after the breakup, and I see teenage girls. The hunk which she believe to be the love of her life leaves her with some corny excuse about how it’s “better for her” if he leaves, and she goes into a depression. This is portrayed as totally disconnecting from all other relations, sitting doing nothing, and combined with the kind of nightmarish experience which if you do find this in teenage girls (I’m sticking to the films constructions of gender roles, but this can probably be applied to teenage boys as well) 6 months after a breakup you might want to get professional help for the teen. Even for a lay person in vampire stories the hidden idea that there must be some “supernatural” reason for this jumped out, but the film doesn’t portray this as far as I could see. All you know is that Bella experiences this hole in her sole which cause these extreme reactions where she can’t work through the end of the relationship in a healthy way. Worst part: it’s portrayed as a positive thing, since she is clinging to some kind of truth even though she doesn’t know it.
Then comes the adrenaline. Where the boy she lost becomes more important than life. Where just one more glimpse of him is worth risking life. This should not be confused with the idea of giving your life for the ones you love (which I think is a tradition we might not want to forget in this individualistic culture), Bella is risking her life for the romantic ideal. Edward, as the character willing to “sacrifice the relationships because of his love for Bella” is another conversation, and one which I’ll skip for the moment, so let’s continue with Bella and youth ministry. Bella remind me of the caricature of the teenage girl coming into the counselling office, not crying anymore, but determined to do anything for the guy she loves, although she has no idea why he is rejecting her. Sex. Alcohol and drugs. Rejection of family. This is the reality which I find connection with in the life of Bella. And this is portrayed as positive. Clinging to this romantic ideal in spite of all evidence to the contrary, going to the extreme “for the relationship”. We even have the “other guy”, the “best friend” whom she will use in any way necessary just to get “one more glimpse”.
All this might be responsible for the feel of extreme sexual tension I find in the film. I think youth ministers and parents can kind of skip over the vampires and werewolfs of the films, I find it just a continuation of the recent upsurge of fantasy (simply because we now have the technology to make really cool fantasy films?), one which we’ve debated in youth ministry since Harry Potter, and I think, at least in typical mainline and progressive environments, accepted as quite positive contributions to contemporary imagination, and hopefully helping along reading ability (which for Protestants should be a good thing). Explicit sexuality and violence I think we might also skip over. Our teens need to learn how to reflect on displays of sexuality which does not reflect reality (one of the biggest problems of pornography), but I don’t think these films provide the greatest challenge facing this.
But as youth ministers we would have to think about the way in which the romantic ideal in teenage relations are begin constructed. Specifically the role of women in these relations. If Edward is interpreted as the “older guy” it might become even more problematic. The scenes from much of Twilight 2 has shocking reflections of what happens to some teen girls after certain breakups, and we have to provide healthier ways of reflecting on this (Twilight 3 will fare somewhat better in my opinion, but I’m getting to 2000 words, so let’s end this for the moment).
The romantic ideal of Western relations are being pointed out as the cause for a lot of relational issues in our society, and the way in which this ideal it rooted in the construction of adolescence today cannot be denied. This I think is deeply problematic within a film which otherwise portray quite ‘conservative’ values of families and teenage sexuality, and even hints at a few counter-cultural (maybe too strong a word, but there is a hint) values (such as anti-consumerism in Bella’s approach to shopping and critique on the high school culture in her approach to prom).
In Violence Zizek points to some questions which again got me thinking about the always persistent notions in Christianity that we have a task to convert the whole society to Christ, meaning that all should become part of the church. He writes:
What if such an exclusion of some form of otherness from the scope of our ethical concerns is consubstantial with the very founding gesture of ethical universality, so that the more universal our explicit ethics is, the more brutal the underlying exclusion is? What the Christian all-inclusive attitude (recall St. Paul’s famous “there are no men or women, no Jews and Greeks”) involves is a thorough exclusion of those who do not accept inclusion into the Christian community. In other “particularistic” religions, there is a place for others: they are tolerated, even if they are looked upon with condescension. The Christian motto ”All men are brothers,” however, also means that those who do not accept brotherhood are not men.
My reflection at this stage does not concern the questions whether this is a legitimate interpretation of Paul, but rather the quote serve to open up questions concerning evangelical universalism.
A distinctive marker of Christianity is the ways in which it created categories for interpreting the act of entering into the faith community which opened up this faith community to all, regardless of culture or background. Obviously Paul’s thoughts was important in this process. I usually describe this to my confirmation classes by saying that the crime that the followers of Jesus, those called Christians, committed against the Jews was to open up the Jewish faith to everyone – they made it too easy to become a Jew. Gone where the days of circumcision, which made it literally painful to become a member once you were an adult (and obviously opened up possibilities for woman to become part of the faith community).
Again similar categories were created within the protestant Reformation, sola gratia, sola fidei. But again the critique from Zizek is applicable, because if membership is sola gratia, but the sola fidei is still a prerequisite, it puts a question mark either on the choice of faith, or on the non-believer. Either you don’t have a choice, or else you’re choice against that which is assumed is open to everyone open possibilities for the most brutal forms of exclusion (and the history of the church is ample examples of this).
However, this is not the only interpretations possible. In an article titled How my mind has changed. Mission and the alternative community*, David Bosch describes his own project from the years 1972-1982 as
What I have attempted to do— not very successfully, I am afraid, judging by the reaction, particularly in the Afrikaans Reformed Churches! — was to build on and develop further the intrinsic similarities that I believe exist between Reformed and Anabaptist ecclesiologies.
He unpacks this by explaining that
The more identifiably separate and unique the church is as a community of believers (Anabaptism) the greater significance it has for the world (Calvinism).
Whether this is what Bosch intended or not, I’m not yet completely sure about, but on a very simplistic level this assumes that church and world can never become the same, that the church should always be but a part of a broader community, and not identifiable as the community**, always smaller than the community, smaller than the world. The experimental garden. The place where things are possible which would not be considered in the world.
How then is this significance for the world to manifest when this community is truly unique?
I suggest that we need a deeper exploration of the idea of public dialogue.
If our own place is understood as part of a broader dialogue, and our contribution to the world and transformation of the world (mission) is found in our uniqueness, it opens up possibilities that this world can contain a place for others. Exactly as a Christian, I can create an openness which recognize the voices of others within this public dialogue, contributing to the positive evolution of society. However, I do this only from a position of faith, of a firm conviction that also the way of the church, in its uniqueness, has significance for the world.
Maybe, in this post-secular world, this could even be done without condescension. Not only could we recognize that certain distinctly different worldviews are siblings of our own (be it the monotheistic faiths, or secularism), but the growing recognition of the important role which for example eastern religions need to play in our time (think of conversations on ecology) also open up the idea of a dialogue where the other need not be defeated, but where uniquely different views are needed in the ongoing dialogue concerning what Christians would call the kingdom of God (that which is the dream of how things could be in this world).
And the church then? Well, we would need to discover and live our distinctness as the community which over the past 2000 years reflected on the tradition which grew out of the life and words of Jesus. For the sake of society we need to contribute from our uniqueness as church.
* Bosch, D. J. 1982. “How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community”, in Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December), pp. 6–10.
** My guess is that chapter 13 of Transforming Mission, and the 1993 chapter in The Good News of the Kingdom: MissionTheology in the Third Millennium titled God’s Reigh and the Rulers of this World both open up the possibility that different church traditions might be appropriate at different times and places. This might open up the possibility of interpreting Bosch in such a way that at times a complete identification between church and community is possible, but as a rule I believe you don’t find this idea in Bosch.
September 23, 2010
(A) recent analysis of the top journals in six sub‐disciplines of Psychology from 2003‐2007 revealed that 68% of subjects came from the US, and a full 96% of subjects were from Western industrialized countries
In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the premier journal in social psychology—the sub‐discipline of psychology that should (arguably) be the most attentive to questions about the subjects’ backgrounds—67% of the American samples (and 80% of the samples from other countries) were composed solely of undergraduates in psychology courses. In other words, a randomly selected American undergraduate is more than 4000 times more likely to be a research participant than is a randomly selected person from outside of the West.
This group is called WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) because, not only do they point out that not all studies on this group can be universalized, but in comparative research it would seem that this group generally lie on the extreme many different aspects which research has been done on. You can find many examples in the paper.
In a growing conversation over the past years many of us have become skeptical of the easy way in which we buy into American church models and ideas. Think about our models for youth ministry, mega-churches, emerging churches etc. Think about all the times George Barna statistics is quoted, usually with a disclaimer such as “we know that this is America, but we are only a few years behind them”.
Although this article doesn’t talk about church, it does raise the suspicion concerning the effectiveness of American church models even further. It compares Westerners to non-Westerners, only to find that Westerners are somewhat weird in the world, being the extreme in different aspects of their being, and not the universal example. The Americans are compared to the rest of the Western world, just to find that in many respects Americans are the extreme with the Western world. Other comparisons are also made, and some things which do seem to be universal is also pointed out.
Reggie has been pushing me on this point over the past years, and I’m more convinced than ever that he is correct: We need to do local research on church, society and theology. This do not mean we ignore American research, we can learn a lot from the vast amount of research that is being done in America. But the findings cannot be assumed to be true for our own context. Furthermore I would suggest that it would be almost impossible to engage American dialogue partners whom are unable to recognize the contextuality of their own approaches to church and theology (and sadly many of the American books on the shelves of our Christian bookshops, and speakers we fly in to “teach” us do not seem to have the necessary skills to recognize this, although they might mention “this is how it work in my context” a few times when talking).
If their is truth in the study in behavioral sciences, and if the behavior of a group influence the forms of church which gets created (not such a far-out assumption to make), then many of the typically American models of church created speak not only to a context which is different from the context in which I need to work, but are born from a context and speak to a context which is really on the extreme of society in the world. This might be the last place where we should look to if we were to find universal ideas on church.
This is not a total rejection of American diologue partners. I have learned a lot from American voices, but just a call that we listen to Americans as Americans. A country somewhere out there which seem to be quite strange when compared to the rest of the world. I am from South Africa, and this country is also quite strange when compared to the rest of the world. So let’s find ways of engaging our own strangeness.
One of the narratives that Steyn identifies in Whiteness Just Isn’t What It Used To Be she called A Whiter Shade of White. This group of whites in the post-Apartheid 90’s denies the influence of their own whiteness, or of race in general, on themselves and other. In my reading of her work I had the idea of this being a typical liberal type of line. Definitely opposed to racist talk. Actually, so opposed to racist talk, that all talk about race is rejected, even considered racist. Some of the quotes by white respondents from Steyn includes:
Whiteness had no part in my identity or culture (p107)
I am who I am; I just happen to be white (p109)
In Whiteness: An Introduction. Steve Garner makes a similar note about certain approaches found with whites, where
seeing ‘race’ at all is often imagined as being racist by itself
Steyn critiques this approach saying:
The “black” world is not taken seriously; certainly not on its own terms. Ironically, (in this case) color blindness also diminishes the bitter history of black struggle (p106)
a desire to close the discussion on the past is one strand within a general pattern of denial. The appeal to let sleeping dogs lie hides the crucial issue of which dogs are still holding onto the bones. It is an evasion of the extent to which the past permeates the present, of how the legacy of social injustice continues into the future. (p112-113)
In a very practical way, I experienced myself participating in this approach at a stage of my life, I think it must have been late highschool and/or early university years. This was characterized by almost an inability to use the terms “white” or “black”, by an emotional reaction when doing this, and an inability to express myself concerning racial issues. Furthermore, I denied my own racism by being aware of the more blatant and vocal racism that I’d see in the people around me.
I think it is a danger for those who are typically “good people”, who identify themselves as “not racist”. It’s important in my own thinking, because many “church people”, who like to be “good people” and “not racist” can easily fall into this approach. And while I think the attempt at non-racialism to be found within this group can be appreciated, the problem is the dishonesty about their own racialism, and those of others.
If Steyn is correct, then the sad part of this approach is that it
may find at some stage that far from being ahead of the pact, it hasn’t kept up with the Africanization going on in other white identities (p157)
In moving past this approach, I had to force myself to start using the words “white” and “black” again. Further along the line, I had to learn about other races existing as well, and start naming them. I’m still in process of learning this. After that I had to be honest about my emotions and perceptions concerning race. What do I really feel and think concerning black and colored people? What about Asian and Arab peoples? What irritated me? I needed to put these into words, and still need to put this into words, to that my emotions and perceptions can be challenged. More importantly, and much more difficult, I had to start calling myself white. I am a white person (although with some Malayan blood a number of generation back). This is more important, because I have to recognize that I am not the norm, and have been racialised in a specific way within this multi-racial world. In understanding this, and putting this into words, I hope I can start growing into a deeper understanding and appreciation of different races around me, and again even more importantly, see the blind spots in my own race, and be open to change by learning from other racess.
This is the difficult journey that I’m trying to be on. But it’s really a difficult journey.
This reflection flows from the debate on Antjie Krog’s Begging to be Black, organized by the Centre for Public Theology at the University of Pretoria, in which Jurie le Roux, Klippies Kritzenger and Rodney Chaka participated. Tom Smith wrote a brilliant critical overview of the debate, which I’m not even going to try and repeat. However, I’ve been journeying with my own being Afrikaner since July last year, and would like to continue this journey with reference to the current conversation.
The responses at the above mentioned debate again made me realize how much more thorough I still need to think about my own being, my own Afrikanernes. The detailed and critical analyses of Krog’s book, pointing out some of her own indebtedness to being an Afrikaner, as well as some naiveties in her approach forced me to think about by own almost naively positive reaction to Krog’s work.
One thing I think we have almost consensus about. Krog’s use of Black wasn’t the best choice of words. We might differ on our reason for saying this, but maybe Begging to be African would have been a better choice. For me, however, this quest has found words over the past year in becoming an Afrikaner. I, the naive reader of Krog and Jansen, want’s nothing more than to reclaim being Afrikaner. I want to claim being Afrikaner, being born from Afrika, wanting to be from Afrika, while being white and Afrikaans speaking, but I want to be that other white African, not the Afrikaner from the Voortrekker monument pictures, not the Afrikaner from the April 2010 letters to daily papers in South Africa,but the new kind of Afrikaner, the one who has no identity other from being part of a democratic South Africa.
And yes, Krog help me with this. I have called Jurie le Roux “one of the unsung heroes of my life” in the past, and I’ll stick to this, althouh I have realized years ago that we differ when it comes to how we understand our own being part of Africa. As a brilliant philosopher and exegete, he was able to point our some of the problems in Krog’s approach. Using French philosophers one could say he, and others, is able to “break” Krog’s work. But just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s broken. Somehow Krog seem to fail the deconstructionists, whom I love – the little I understand about them, and then in my eyes get up and become helpful in spite of messy formulations, lack of philosophical depth, and lack of theological understanding.
And I think it’s something on a more emotional level that really get’s me into Krog’s work. The way in which she attempts to deny her own European heritage at some stages, but then have to admit her comfort in Germany, they way in which she are uncomfortable with her white Afrikaner tradition, but at times are forced by others to admit her own being advantaged by exactly this which she fights against, and the way in which she simply goes out there, and attempt to live relationally with a broader South Africa.
Through messy formulations and all, I find in Krog’s work something which missiologists called interculturation, an exchange of concepts, ideas. Krog might make it sound as if her attempt is simply to become more African, but in her person she really learn from different cultures, and in her story also give of what she is back to those black’s whom she so easily identify with Africa. Maybe I’ll not beg to be black, not even beg to be African, as if there are some ideal form of African out there which I should strive to become. But please let me be that different Afrikaner.
I want to be the interculturated Afrikaner, the Afrikaner that are actually able to listen to my fellow Africans, to allow them to deconstruct who I am, to deconstruct my own whiteness, to help me become more Afrikaner. No, I cannot deny that I also feel this connection with European and white thoughts, that is part of me. But I want to see that part of me through the eyes of my fellow South Africans. I don’t simply want to continue existence as an Afrikaner, but I want to understand my own being white and being Afrikaner, and understand it in relation to other around me, and through this become more of a white African.
Krog would call this something different. She’ll call this becoming black, maybe. She will sound different when she speak about this than I do. But I see in her work how she finds a reinterpretation of her own identity in relationships with black, colored, indian South Africans, South Africans of different languages and backgrounds. She struggles, she’s critical, and yes, in the end we’ll agree that she remain a white Afrikaner, but she’s more and more of a white Afrikaner that finds identity in relationship to others, and in spite of brilliant critique against her work, in spite of the fact that her work could be broken, it’s not broken for me, because on an emotional level, and in spite of critique also on an intellectual level, she helps me along this journey of becoming that white African, that Afrikaner that’s not the Afrikaner that we know.
February 1, 2010
OK, if you have followed my tweets the past few weeks you’ll know I’m reading Jonathan Jansen. A lot can be said, but his book is brilliant in my opinion. This story was one that really caught my attention. I just quote, make of it what you want.
Knowledge in the Blood. Page 138-139:
Just before I stood down as dean and resigned from UP in 2007, I held my final lunch with the ten designated first-year students. For the first time, those organizing the logistics for the dean’s lunch made a mistake; instead of sending five white and five black students, ten black students showed up. Initially I was disappointed, for the purpose of these events was to encourage integration by modeling these ideals early on through the planned lunches. But having ten black students was an unforseen blessing, for these bright and articulate young people said things they would probably not have volunteered if white students had been in the room.
After formalities were over, I opened the discussion as usual with the question about how they were experiencing the education campus of the university and what we could do as the leadership of the Faculty of Education to strengthen the quality of those experiences as undergraduate students. Immediately to my left sat a strikingly beautiful young woman, her hair in braids. She spoke clearly.
You know professor, we really enjoy being here, and we must thank you for everything you and your staff have done for us as first-year students. But you know, where we live in Res [residence], it’s so artificial; I would really like to date some of those white boys.
I nearly fell off my chair in shock. Date white boys? I was expecting the usual concerns about enough parking spaces for students, the unlit areas of campus needed lights, limited access to the Internet, the restricted library hours, the odd lecturer who is unfriendly, and other familiar student complaints. But dating white boys was completely unexpected. I was still stuttering, and unsure what to say, when a handsome young man to my right, brightly bald, chirped in: “Prof, I agree with Thandi, I would really like to date some of the white girls on campus.”
This was too much for my black consciousness state-of-mind, and I remember saying to myself: “Damn, the goal of the national democratic revolution was not the date white folk!” But I dared not utter this sentiment. As an experienced teacher stumped for a response, I again played for time. “Well,” I said to the now eagerly awaiting audience of ten young black students, “tell me more.”
As the students spoke during that lunch time, I cringed at the clear but gentle criticism coming from my black students. As university leaders, we had created the architecture for change and integration on the education campus, they said, but in reality the black and white students continued to live separate lives. What was natural among college students, the act of dating, took on severe and rigid racialized forms. When dancing was organized between two or more koshuise, it was white students going with white students, and by language. The students, though physically together in the formal arrangements, lived light years apart. If there was one act of social interaction that was never discussed, but in which the lines were firmly drawn, it was on this matter of dating.
It took me some time during this extended period of listening, on my part, to realize that this criticism had little to do with dating per se and everything to do with the artificiality of social relations between black and white students. What would come completely naturally to young people, the act of dating, was the one firm line that nobody would cross on this race-divided campus. Nowhere was this racial distancing between girls and boys more acute than at the former Afrikaans universities.
… No knowledge has been more forcefully transmitted from parents to children before and after Apartheid than the knowledge of racial and ethnic purity that must be maintained at all costs. Something about race and sex drives white South Africans into a state of madness.