Saturday, June 18, 2016

Question Marks

I didn't drink coffee till about 3 years ago. Up till that point, I had only had about 4 cups in my life. All through unintended peer pressure situations where I wasn't brave enough not to drink the cup that had been made for me. I then decided I wanted to train my palate because coffee was becoming such a social drink. In the UK, coffee has passed tea as a favourite hot drink and coffee shops are replacing pubs as a place to hang out. I still can't tell much difference between the various types of coffee. I am at the 'nice/not nice' stage. That is a step further than the 'all not nice' stage. I am at a similar stage with red wine and whisky. Some people know the full story. Year matters. After taste. Texture. Colour. There is a full story behind each sip.

A friend asked me to do a piece on white people. 'Tell us how they feel regarding slavery, apartheid, etc.'. He feels that a lot of the writing on this topic is from a black African perspective. That there is not enough public introspection from white South Africans. Instead there are just lots of racial slurs with no commentary. Although this could be tiring to general audiences, he feels that South Africa in general craves them.

One of the things with being white is that it is not something I build my identity around. In a similar way to the fact that I am male, English-speaking, financially independent, university educated and I have two passports. I also have a wide network of social support. I have a loving partner who listens to me, challenges me, and supports me. I don't feel hard done by in any way other than feeling I would like more access to some people I care about, but am restricted from because of geography and choices.

One of the aspects of oppression is group identity. Group consciousness. To push back against prejudice, groups end up building pride in what that group has achieved. Finding heroes who clearly show that the prejudice is stupid. Most of those 'groups' I belong to leave me desiring a way to disassociate. I want to feel part of the bigger group. I want to unravel that prejudice. I want to learn more. Listen more. See more.

I know my bubble is really small. I know that within 'white', I do not speak for all whites. I can see the differences where others would see things as being the same. I know that English English people tend to save their tea bags. Something to do with the war and not wasting. Even though the war was more than 60 years ago and tea is now rather cheap. White doesn't seem white to me. Spanish. Italian. Greek. Swedish. Iranian? Romanian? Iranian (i.e. Aryan)? Black and white isn't black and white. Part of my privilege is that I can be 'colour blind' because I am not held back in any way. I don't feel structural privilege. I can only read about it and see it happening to others. I can count the people in the world who treat me badly on one hand. With fingers to spare.

The 'United' Kingdom still has massive social divides just like South Africa. They even had a referendum on Scottish independence. They are now having a referendum on whether to stay in the European 'Union'. There is deep resentment across class and political divides. The idea that there is a unified 'white' view is far from the truth. The  'United' States divides are equally obvious. Red States and Blue States fighting. #NeverTrump shows how the Red States are divided. The conflict between Sanders and Clinton supporters shows how the idea of Blue unity is even challenging. Global Apartheid is alive and well.

My view on how we start chipping away at this stuff is similar to my view on how I work towards getting a Comrades Marathon medal next time. How I am trying to learn isiXhosa. How I am trying to learn the piano. I think it starts with training our palate to recognise the flavours in things. Training the ear. Training the muscles. It starts with drills. It starts with moving. Walking. Then running. All learning is linked in that it starts with getting comfortable with discomfort. Challenging how we define ourselves.

My approach is to learn more about others rather than trying to express my view. That might be part of my privilege. That I am able to let go of my identity. To deconstruct it. To look at the things I can't do and add a question mark. To look at the things I am not and add a question mark. I don't think the end of problems start with solutions. I think it starts with relationships. Understanding things as they stand first. 

Perhaps the end of prejudice lies in more question marks. 

Listening, Reading, Writing and Coffee
Training my heart, thoughts and tongue

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