Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Life Interrupted

A few Australians have asked me with a straight face how I can call myself African. I must admit to having gotten rather angry. Another person incurred my wrath when they said they wouldn't return to Cape Town after seeing poverty right next door to wealth. Instead they would go back to their bubble more than ten thousand miles away. The individuals who made my blood boil were not bad people. They were my friends. It is just easy for life to go on uninterrupted when the problems are elsewhere. When the issues don't affect you directly.

There is some philosophical backing to this. The liberal idea of going around the world on a 'Civilising Mission' is deeply problematic. People try and help with the best intentions, but that was the heart of colonialism. Spreading the 'idea of Rome' by force. Coming at issues with the solution without doing the hard work to actually engage first. I don't like the concept of people being against 'cultural appropriation'. For example, there is a push back against people getting tattoos of Maori symbols or Chinese writing. The push back is that you shouldn't steal the cultural symbols of other people. What I don't like is that this reinforces the idea that there is such a thing as 'other people'. Intrinsically other. 

Tattoo Fail

I do think we need to understand that there are multiple solutions to how society can interact peacefully. Culture is the process of multiple solutions having developed in multiple places. There is no such thing as superiority of one group of people. I don't think the answer is 'self determination' where there are multiple isolated groups with fixed boundaries of what defines them based on geography and blood lines. I agree that we need to approach different cultures with respect. We need to learn from each other.

I personally reject the idea that the culture I am a part of is defined by arbitrary things. I have to accept though that those arbitrary things have given me a large helping of privilege. I have to think about what that means in terms of the choices that I make. I can't simply ignore my advantages and carry on without my life being interrupted.

That is why I support the concept behind the #RhodesMustFall movement. I think the choice of demonstration at the University of the Free State was spot on. We can't just carry on living our lives because 'visiting Cape Town' is emotionally difficult. I find visiting Cape Town emotionally difficult. I went to a party where everyone was a decade younger than me. I would have hoped to see more mixing of different people. There were almost one hundred white people. That was hard. 

Black Pain vs White SupremacyVenue: Shimla Park StadiumTime: Circa 19:00After continued arrogance from University of the Free State management, the students partnered with the currently outsourced workers (#EndOutsourcing) to make a statement the management would understand. A peaceful protest made its way onto the field during a Varsity Cup match. What followed was the melodic "Iyoo Solomon", which made waves during #FeesMustFall protests across the country in 2015. After a few minutes of song and dance, boos from the crowd became louder. Soon enough, white students accompanied by some parents made their way onto the field in aggressive fashion. Easily outnumbering the black protesters, the white students proceeded to assault the protesters and threw objects at them. Some of the protesters, including our mothers who keep our campus immaculate, sustained injuries. This was done to a standing ovation from the white crowd and the accompanying house negroes. As if nothing had happened, the match arrogantly resumed. This goes to show that the UFS continues to protect a system that advances the interests of white students and employees at the expense of the black majority. Suffice to say, however, the winds of change have blown.
Posted by Sam Styrax on Monday, 22 February 2016

It was hard to walk through the streets of the city feeling less at home than when I visit Australia. I walked from Kirstenbosch to Parliament. Not something I used to do when I was studying at UCT. The truth is the physical proximity didn't make me a fellow citizen with the people I walked past. You earn a we. Apartheid meant there were little bubbles of similar people, and you jumped from bubble to bubble. 

It isn't just a South African problem. The world is infected with Global Apartheid. There is still deep feelings of superiority between groups creating ethnic, religious, political and cultural clashes. We are simply not very good at mixing with people who view the world differently from us. Focusing on only your own countries problems and ignoring our deeply intertwined history simply isn't good enough. The cold war meant that most of the Western World was complicit in South African Apartheid. It was the Communist world that provided support to overthrow white supremacy. You don't get to just say, oh terribly sorry... and carry on.

There is also a #RhodesMustFall movement in the UK. Trevor Noah did a wonderful clip reminding the British about colonialism. The truth is people here don't think about it that much. Life goes on. At some point we have to start taking more pauses. At some point we need to interrupt our lives and listen.

Rhodes shouldn't be celebrated. He is the poster child for white supremacy and colonialism in the same way as Mao and Stalin were for Communism. As Hitler was for Nazism. I agree that we can't ignore our history. Even problematic figures. I agree that we should look at people in the context of their times. I am a big believer in moral progress. This means we are bound to look back at our heroes with big questions. What that doesn't mean is that we should celebrate the problematic figures indefinitely. Museums. Statue parks. There are plenty of ways to learn from history.

Life can't just carry on uninterrupted.
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