To Real-ly Talk is not fun… Perhaps that is the point. The sentimental rainbow-kumbaja talk is in the past and the Castle Larger advertisement with the best of inter-racial friends braaing together is just not the South African reality. So instead of hearing that everything is okay and instead of reading on Facebook that South Africa is doomed, we gave talking to each other a go. The problem with talking though is that someone has to listen. Talking is easy, listening… not so much. You have to be vulnerable, especially when the guy talking is talking about you, with this horrible catch… you are not allowed to defend yourself. This sounds like something masochistic depressed people do. Well, from 13-18 October a bunch of South Africans gave it a go.
On 13 October white people had the privilege of listening about among other things, their privilege. For about two hours a crowd of about a hundred whites sat in a Pretoria church listening to 4 black guys talking about them. It was quite bizarre, because for a moment it felt as if we had to remind them that there are whites eavesdropping in on their conversation. In that difficult and vulnerable two hours, I realized that, that is exactly the point. We need to listen to black people talking, because whether they are talking in a Pretoria church with whites observing or around a braai, they are talking about things that concern us, and the sad part is that they mostly talk to each other. This is the South African dilemma. Whites talk to whites about blacks and blacks talk to blacks about whites and everyone agrees.
When it becomes Real Talk though, things get interesting. You willingly challenge your beliefs without retaliating. You try and do something they do in marriage counseling: First seek to understand, before seeking to be understood. So what was the aftermath of 13 October? Mostly a bunch of shocked white people disagreeing with some of the stuff said, but also realizing that certain things they say and do without thinking is considered hurtful, condescending and sometimes just racist. It’s amazing what can happen when people try the listening thing.
On 14 October we had the same concept, but in reverse: Johannesburg, about a hundred black folks in the audience, four white speakers and no casualties. Again tough, again difficult. People felt misunderstood, but were reminded that it’s okay. Try and do the understand thing tonight, our host Thulani advised. After the formal session was over, the white speakers hopelessly outnumbered, stood there targeting the exits as seemingly unsatisfied customers crowded around them. One big black bloke pushed himself to the front of one of the conversations and said, ‘thanks for being honest’. Another mentioned that he came to the event resenting Afrikaans people and he’s not sure he feels the same way. At 23h00 we started chasing people out, that’s enough respectful inter-racial discussion for one night. It’s ridiculous how much more engaging and constructive a conversation is when it’s not anonymous #social media must fall!
Up next were the TGIF sessions across Gauteng and we are happy to report that only one person walked out. We expected a lot more tantrums, given the controversial content. Apparently South Africans are braver than we gave us credit for.
That Saturday morning we held our Perspectives in Black and White Conference and it was much of the same. With the wonderful exception of hearing black and white perspectives alongside each other. It was even better to hear a doctor, pastor, lawyer, journalist and academic, each speaking from their individual fields and experiences. The crowd made notes as if the talks weren’t recorded. I suppose now is as good a time as any to inform you that the recordings are available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnImCrdsBLcmIhpFQJ3O8ng
Attendees walked away wanting more, demanding more. What about the teacher, accountant, unemployed, colored, Indian perspectives?
We’ll get there. Something tells me this whole race issue is not going away anytime soon.
It all ended very much in the same way we would like it to go forward – no hashtags, no Facebook discussions, no romantic one-liners, no politicians… just raw, naked, messy, vulnerable Real Talk.