In her first post It’s not about race, it’s about the gospel Puseletso Kobedi describes her background and the context from which she writes; which have led to her conviction to open the conversation about three issues which she believes gets in the way of the gospel. Here are three barriers that she feels prevents South African Christians from being true agents of reconciliation:
Black inferiority is me thinking that by virtue of being black, I’m not good enough. It’s thinking that by not doing things in a western way, I’m somehow barbaric: How dare I eat using my hands and not a fork or knife?
- It’s me being scared to disagree with a white person in power because I’m too scared to lose my job.
- It’s me putting other black people down or laughing about black culture to feel like I’m the “better black”; “I’m not as black as them.”
- Or always being so happy to accept a dinner invite by white people but getting anxiety at the thought of having a white person in my house – “what if my food is not good enough? I just need to fix the bathroom first, or get a bigger house.”
Black inferiority is I guess a byproduct of white supremacy. Apartheid was a regime that said that white South Africans were the superior race. And just like black inferiority, it’s something we have to be aware of; we need to check ourselves. White supremacy shows itself when a white person says something like “wow, you speak English so well for a black person”. This is not a compliment; you are basically saying “you sound white, well done”. White supremacy is employing one or two apprentices of colour but never giving them any authority in the decision making process of your church; or actually teaching them the ins and outs of running a church. You see enough potential to send them off to Bible College, but they’re not good enough to be leaders in prominent white churches. You see, doing this perpetuates the notion that a black minister is not good enough to lead a congregation of a majority white church, even a mixed one. His place is leading a rural or township church.
The gospel will look at both black inferiority and white supremacy and say they are both pretty messed up. No colour or culture is better than the other. We are all created in God’s image, different and unique. Different tribes and tongues bringing glory to God. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26-28) God did this so that they could seek him, perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from anyone. For in him we live and move and have our being. I am a Christian before I’m Sotho; I am a Christian woman before being black. Which is why there is hope; even with my black inferiority struggle. I need to embrace the way that God has made me: my loud, vibrant, long-named self.
2) Black Anger
Like I said, we are all fallen. Sometimes we don’t even realise when we’re being racist, which is why it’s so important that we talk about these issues. But as a black person, how do I deal with the injustices in this country? How do I deal with Penny Sparrow calling us black folk monkeys? How do I deal with sometimes being used as the token black because I speak eloquently? These things make me angry and I honestly just want to write people off; I want to go on Facebook and have a rant. But let’s be honest, being the angry black only alienates people, it makes people put their defenses up and no one wants to listen. Being angry also doesn’t change anything. But truth is, it’s easier to be angry than mourn and be hurt by the injustices still happening in our country…in our churches. I sometimes just want to cry out to God, “How long Lord, it’s just not fair”. Sometimes it just seems like God doesn’t care.
My husband is often the one who will gently knock some sense into me when all I’m seeing is RED. He is the gracious one between the two of us and he will often give the other person the benefit of the doubt. He does this because we value relationships and sometimes people don’t want to intentionally hurt us. How often has it happened that you have offended someone and you hear through the grapevine that you have offended them and you had no idea? Me being the angry black and just sharing my frustrations with my black friends makes things worse. Sometimes, most times, we need to sit down and talk about how we feel. It’s very hard when you feel wronged to be the one that seeks reconciliation. And I’d like to challenge us on this; be the one that starts the difficult conversation. Be the one that steps out of your comfort zone. Why? Because you desire unity. Because the gospel is at risk of being maligned. Paul in Philippians 1:27 says “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”. Being angry is not a manner worthy of the gospel. No, seeking to understand, seeking reconciliation and showing grace is a manner worthy of the gospel. But not being angry does not mean that you suffer in silence. We need to speak out against injustice, especially in the church.
And my dear white sisters, when you hear my cry of race or racism, don’t roll your eyes and say “Aag, not that again”. Don’t dismiss my pain and say that “it was in the past” or “God doesn’t see colour”. God does see colour – he made us black, Indian, coloured, white- he made us different and beautiful. With that being said, it starts with me having that uncomfortable conversation. Black anger is something real, it’s understandable, but it doesn’t build me as a person, especially not the church.
Now to my last point, black apathy. Like I’ve shared, I had a fairly good life. My mom is a nurse, my dad a miner and we lived in a suburb. I went to a private school, never had school loans or needed to apply for bursaries. My parents are still married and have a happy marriage. I think it’s safe to say that my life is an exception from a typical black South African. So fast forward a few years later and the “fees must fall” “Black lives matter” movement begins. I remember how annoyed I was watching the fees must fall strikes at Wits. I just saw students that wanted an easy way out; students that didn’t want to write exams. Burning down a library and vandalising things is not right but I remember listening to a radio interview and one of the callers called saying “we just want to be heard”. I cannot imagine my mother having to clean people’s houses and kitchens, for me to work as hard as I could and then get told I can’t continue studying because of lack of funding. You see, I am that black child that had it good and didn’t care about others’ struggles with race or money. I was apathetic, as long as I was fine, then everything was fine. As soon as I was experiencing racism, that’s when it clicked. My world, my little bubble had been popped and I realised that we still have a long way to go as a country, as a church. But surely being apathetic goes against what God has called us to be? God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others. To not be throwing out comments like “Aag, black people are just lazy”; “black people just want hand-outs”. These are things that have come out of my mouth.
We cannot let our sisters suffer
But what about in the church, is black apathy a thing? Some of us go to prominent churches, have people making big donations but have our sister churches struggling in townships. Then when you mention this you get comments like: “but we don’t go into ministry for money”. Which is true, but it’s so much easier to say this when you’re able to have a vacation in your family home in Richards Bay. It’s easy to make comments like this when your children don’t have an issue of not having text books. It’s easy to say this when you have been left an inheritance and have been handed a house and bond in your name. It’s easy for us to spiritualize things when we have it good. We cannot be okay with being in affluent churches and not helping out churches that are struggling in the townships and rural areas – where we know that half of the congregation’s members don’t have jobs. “White privilege” – another term that is used often – how can we use that for good? And I’m not talking charity, no; but rather, long-lasting impactful help. We cannot be okay with our fellow brothers and sisters going hungry; all for the sake of ministry.
I may have ruffled some feathers in what I’ve written, but I believe I’ve said some hard truths that need to be said and heard. If we claim we are sisters in Christ, let us love one another earnestly. Racism is sin; it’s a heart issue and it requires supernatural intervention – the gospel.
- The gospel says to me when I’m feeling inferior that I am made in God’s image, planned before time. I am not black by mistake and I am loved.
- The gospel says to my anger that God is sovereign and that he is a God of justice. My attitude and behaviour should be one that is worthy of the gospel. I cannot be angry and show grace at the same time.
The gospel says to me when I am being apathetic: “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
We still have a long, hard journey ahead of us, but if we seek to first understand, change and reconciliation are possible.