Our interpersonal paradigm is shifting. Correction. It has shifted. Seismically.
#RhodesMustFall and the subsequent #FeesMustFall movement brought to life the dormant volcano that is our Post-Apartheid society. Our inter-subjective landscape is expelling myths of racial equality and harmony, as racism is tackled head on between us and gradually within us.
Racism, defined as 'prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior' (Google, 2017). White paradigms have reigned, despite a new constitution. The Western canon and perspective dominates our educational systems from school to university. Integrating African perspectives and canons of literature and thinking is only being debated now, 22 years into our democracy. But it is the interpersonal realm that interests me. Here white privilege is being decoded for white people to understand. It has been the entity within these dialogues that has turned my head the most, conscientising my personal blind spot.
Black voices are loud. Black voices are clear. The black psyche is speaking and healing, vocalising its past and present trauma, and very slowly being acknowledged. It is not an easy space for many white South African's to be, for they are not the dominant voice in these dialogues. In fact they're being asked to kindly refrain from interrupting and to listen, simply to listen. An active listening. A listening that acknowledges the experience of the speaker. A listening that bridges the silenced chasm of hurt.
Active listening can engender empathy. Empathy is a pathway to restoration. The integration that takes place within a human being when they feel seen, heard and acknowledged is visceral. It is cellular and if repeated rewires the brain's neural pathways into healthier patterning. Speaking out one's silenced narrative is essential for healing; a reclaiming of one's voice. I sense that white people are not used to being in the listening chair when it comes to black pain and perspectives.
Within the South African race dialogues, context is a critical component.
There is a need to jump in, correct, re-assure. Within myself I witness a need to connect into the pain through my own. Perhaps if we can rather listen from a space of equanimity, we might open up a space for healing not only for the speaker but for the listener too. Listening is a profound tool when executed with empathy. As a mediator it is empathy that is the chief mechanism that enables participants to loosen their grip on their version of events and open up to different pathways for resolution. Being seen, heard and acknowledged requires whole body-mind presence from the listener. The impact on the speaker is alchemical.
Within the South African race dialogues, context is a critical component. White people have of course also known and experienced their share of trauma. Domestic violence, emotional and physical abuse and neglect, rape, and tragedy – these are traumas that cross colour lines. Furthermore white people have known the cruelty of oppression, close to home the Holocaust and the Boer War. Sorrow in its different guises is part of the human journey. Perhaps in part what initiates insight and wisdom.
However in the context of post-colonialism and post-apartheid, it is the Black and Coloured psyche that was victimised and traumatised. And it is right that their voices dominate now – they need space, breath and air to be heard and acknowledged without interruption. Being othered, oppressed, silenced and invisible is not unique to Black and Coloured people, but within this context it is.
A South African colleague, who moved to America two and a half years ago, recently returned for a short visit to see family. He came for dinner and to discuss a project. It was within this moment, this conversation that I realised how indelibly this country has shifted. Impulses of decolonisation, institutionalised racism and racism in general have become common conversation topics. Even the most conservative spaces are talking to these issues and grappling with their meaning. Racism is out the closet and being ousted from our society. This is deep, worthwhile, albeit challenging work.
The Rainbow Nation might have been shattered but I suggest that we've finally started to do the work required towards healing our traumatic past and forging real connection across race lines.
Mediating being human continues...