The heading is a fair question: Racism reflection. Why now? It is most definitely not a favourite topic with anyone. Whenever it comes up, the discussion is jarring, painful, embarrassing, defensive, aggressive, and even evasive. And quite rightly so. We are still trying to find the right mode of conversation, which is open, honest, not accusing, not defensive, but also interested in finding a way to leave the conversation open for further searching. We must still see such a discussion as an opportunity for social and personal development, rather than as a topic for hurting and being hurt and opening wounds. The discussion about racism will by its very nature always include pain and refer us to important human values such as truth, reconciliation, peace, justice, solidarity, forgiveness and love.
Still, why now? Firstly, the reaction by certain parishioners who were consulted about the topic, is quite correct: There is no overt or even covert problem in the parish, not to my knowledge, anyway. A feeling of not being quite at home, or of someone not talking to me, or something else, does not necessarily amount to racism. Some people, no matter the ethnic group, are just by nature snooty or aloof, or they got up that morning on the wrong side of the bed. It does not make them racists. Even such reactions have not been brought to my attention. On the contrary, the topic does not feature in our parish life! We can be very grateful for it. So, why now? To answer this question, we have to go back to the information brought from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council way back towards the beginning of the year. The topic of racism was supposed to have been dealt with during Lent. This was the wish of the Southern African Bishops Conference. Evidently our Bishops thought that racism had raised its head so many times and with such severity during the past year that it needed to be addressed. However, the material came too late for Lent, and so it was shelved. In the PPC it was discussed, and I suggested that our young people should help us with fresh and creative ideas. This is what they have been doing, and over the next four weeks they will share their creative thoughts with us.
In the meantime, the Centre for Pastoral Development of the Archdiocese of Cape Town decided to make racism a topic for next Lent 2019. We can gain our own experiences in anticipation of next year. My suggestion is that we see it as an opportunity rather than a painful burden. There are so many other topics, which need constant reflection and repetition, such as the sixteen days against violence against women and children in December, or the conservation of our environment, or the considerate use of our water resources. Racism is one of them.
These social issues have become part of our daily lives and require constant vigilance, re-thinking, education and training. No one is born a racist, we become racists!
Why now? The parish community, like any other social group or organization, be that the school, the office, the immediate neighbourhood, the sports club or group of friends, is always a microcosm of our society and country. Some groups reflect it more than others, depending on their social composition of individuals. Our parish, most certainly, has become such a microcosm with our increasing blend of nationalities and ethnic groups of South Africa. This is fantastic because we should be able to value the social, non-racial growing together of South Africa on a smaller scale in the parish community. Being a microcosm simply means that we are a true reflection of our national (in a smaller way, even of our African continental) life. All of us have to learn and train to make such togetherness possible and workable, for others to see. It is going to be very challenging to us if we can achieve something like this as we expose ourselves to the debate on racism not just once but again and again, in the way we do it with all the other social issues of our country.
This topic is very relevant in the smaller circles where we drop our guard when talking about others. In the comfort of the group it is easy to talk racially. It is common knowledge that racial behaviour stands and falls with what is being discussed around the dinner table. It is just another reason why we should convince ourselves of the importance of the topic.
As parish, we receive our mandate and strength from Christ who prayed in John 17, “that all may be one, as you Father and I are one.” Why now? As long as we live in South Africa, racism will be the Achilles heel of our society. However, if we deal with it in a mature way (primarily by listening to understand), it is our best chance of experiencing the healing power of Christ. It will become an opportunity to sense that precisely in this topic lies the features of holiness in South Africa – people who are welcoming of others, show respect for diversity, are open to the awe-inspiring fact of seeing in every sister and brother God’s image, generous and charitable, sharing the pain and joys of Christ in others, and believing that as a nation we have a calling to show the world that diversity, differences an otherness are not threats to unity. Rather, they are there to enable the most beautiful experiences of the wisdom and beauty of God in humanity. Such holiness will simply be our experience, that the Son of God became flesh in every one of us. Precisely in this topic we will experience that to believe in Christ and his powerful presence is so relevant to us in South Africa. And it is because we want to be a society of sisters and brothers of the same Father.
But then we need Christ to heal, teach, correct, motivate, reward and inspire us. We need him to show us the way.
Fr Ivanhoe Allies (Bothasig)
September 13, 2108