After months of dialogues and conversations about racial identities with Izwe Lethu and other dialogue platforms, of trying to understand a little more about what it is like living in a black body in our country today, I have a) not often been in contexts where I heard the stories of Indian and Coloured people; and b) wondered at times, given many other facets of identity, how urgent and important it still is for us to continue having discussions about racial identities?
Listening to my fellow-contributors at the Justice Conference session, “Navigating the Deep Waters of Identity” and witnessing the engagement of people in the audience, their emotive comments and questions (ranging from fear to uncertainty to anger) it became clear to me, once again, that we really still need to keep on listening to stories of people from different race groups.* I have found that as a white person it is so easy to think that I know or understand the reality of racial identities, when in fact, I hardly have any idea of what it feels like to live as a black, Indian or coloured person in our country today. I believe that God shapes us through these very stories to become people who respond to the challenges in our country with empathy, generosity and love (rather than fear, defensiveness, ignorance and hatred). And if there is one thing we will need to overcome the brokenness in our society, it will be deep empathy with one another.
An hour and a half was always going to be too short for a session on identity in South Africa, and much can be said in hindsight about the session, so check out the following links (I have unfortunately not been able to get hold of all the contributions to this session):
– For a great summary of quotes and notes from the session, check out Brett’s blog post (number 2 in a series of 3 that is well worth checking out!).
– Tristan Pringle shared an extract of his contribution (plus some thoughts and reflections on the session).
– Sam Mahlawe kindly sent me a full transcript of her contribution on navigating her identity as a black women in South Africa.
– Parusha Naidoo shared a thought-provoking piece, The Daily Commute.
(I shared my contribution in my previous blog post)
*I know that there are some who argue that we needn’t pay attention to the differences between race groups or racial identities and rather just focus on what unites us in Christ (by quoting Scriptures like Galatians 3:28 or 1 Corinthians 12:13). I hope to share how reading Miroslav Volf’s, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation, have helped me understand how overlooking differences between us (even in an attempt to include and unite) can actually be an act of exclusion. Christ bringing us together does not mean erasing the differences between us so that we all become one “undifferentiated sameness”, but to erase the enmity that exists between us: “Unity…is not the result of “sacred violence” which obliterates the particularity of “bodies”, but a fruit of Christ’s self-sacrifice, which breaks down the enmity between them.” (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 47).