Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Affirmative Action

I live in a country that has recognised that black people were discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. Black people were given inferior education, inferior housing, and lower paid jobs. They are at a complete disadvantage in life when competing with white people…people like me. I have had all the advantages in education, social confidence (some would say arrogance), and capacity to live life.
I believe that this is unjust. And that Black people must be given space to catch up. Redressing the injustices of the past must make space to assist previously disempowered people to get onto the ladder of life.

But understanding this does not make my life as a white South African any easier. My recent stay in the United Kingdom has allowed me a glimpse of a society where race is not the primary factor in assessing the worth of a person. It was liberating to be amongst people who valued my contribution – without first asking why a white male was leading the workshop. It was rewarding to have people thank me for what I bring, without asking why the church was not promoting black leadership instead.

And I am forced to admit that I am tired of feeling apologetic for being a white male. I am tired of being constantly scrutinised by committees who ask what a white male is doing in leadership. And I am tired of defending black incompetence in the name of Affirmative Action. Make no mistake - I completely support the policy of affirmative action. But I am struggling to know how to offer leadership. Because life in my country, my community, and my church is no longer about gifts, abilities or vision. Neither is it about the call of God on the life of an individual. It is about the colour of skin. And this makes me an endangered species.

Pray that I may have the wisdom to differentiate between that which I can change, and that which I cannot.

(and feel free to offer comment and advice)


David said...


I am also of the white male variety. An endangered species for sure in South Africa. I love South Africa and I am committed to its transformation. However one cannot deny ones experience and feelings. The voice that others do not want to hear just because of its genetic heritage. Surely once we have fought against that which is bad it is imperative to fight for that which is good regardless the colour?

Scout with the Cross said...

You my friend, if you'll fogive the pun, are between a rock and a hard place. Living in England I cannot give any advice on what I would call positive discrimination, but just to let you know you are in my prayers.

The Fridge Elf said...

GRRRRRRR...I too fear my future. Pete. You taught me a lot when I was in Phase 1. One of those things was to battle with my Racism...I did. Then, because of exactly what you're talking about, I seem to have reverted. This makes me angry because it was so hard to fight that evil influence in my life. I don't want to be a commodity in the church because I'm white and young, neither do I want to be oppressed because of this...I just want to be recognised as one gifted by God to do what he has called me to...and if that means I am to lead...then f#*k it I'm gonna do it...in SA and not in England or NZ or AUS or the US where all my friends live. I could easily say to the MCSA to shove their church where the sun don't shine...I have the money and somtimes even the will to bugger off overseas...but I won't...I refuse to allow this injustice to oppress me because my grandfather oppressed black people...I love SA and I love South Africans. God called me here and I will do my work here...

Phew...now that that is off my chest I feel much better. See you in September father in the faith.

Dave Lynch said...

I guess the pendulum always swings in the opposite direction as far as the force applied to it allows.
I suppose the question is where is it now?...still heading to the extreme or moving back toward centre?


Sylvia said...

having had the priviledge of your leadership while we were in Ireland I know how passionate you are about your country and I've seen your desire for equality. Whatever your country,community or anybody else believes, God has given you a vision for his work and his mission and he has given you the gifts and abilities you need for the task. You are wonderful and unique and the only you that God has got. I will pray for wisdom for you and for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

digitaldion said...

Hi Pete,

I too share your conviction that redress is necessary in our nation. I share it, work for it, and often close my mouth, and bind up my heart, to allow it to happen in spite of me.

However, affirmative action without any clear guidelines or measurement instrument is merely a form of active discrimination against those who are excluded in the absence of clear guidelines.

In Malaysia, where I have just been, there is great anxiety and struggle over affirmative action. They instituted it some 30 years ago to redress the inequity between Chinese and Malaysian population groups (the Malay are the majority - around 70% of the population). The Malay have had the advantage of being 'affirmed' into positions, getting into universities, and sitting on committees of power for the last 30 years - in most instances that have more than risen to the challenge! And so the economy and social structure reflect that dexterity and courage. The goals that were set for their policy of redress were met, and then some, in recent years. Yet there has not been the political will to end this process of 'positive discrimination', as they call it (after all if one does so you are offending the majority of your voting constituency)... So, affirmative action continues, and now it favours an empowered and largely richer majority, and makes it very difficult for a disenfranchised minority.

What is frightening in South Africa is that we have no exit strategy (not even one that we can deny in 30 years time). Moreover, our policy also favours a majority, a majority that keeps the ruling party in power. Without measurement guidelines, and with a majority vote, it will take a miracle of courage to exit this process and still maintain justice for the minority.

Today I sat in a very tense Church meeting and heard how race and gender were used to justify certain behaviour, to give some persons preferential treatment, and to exclude others.

I felt dissempowered, undervalued, and quite hopeless. In fact, if I am honest I felt abused and oppressed. My opinions were disregarded and set aside, not because of reason, or lack thereof, but because I am white and male. I have less currency, simply because of what I am, not who I am. Because of this arbitrary aspect of my being I was discriminated against (I say arbitrary because I did not choose it - I was not asked what my race or gender was to be). It did not feel good.

I have a doctorate, I am in a position of authority in the Church, and I struggle to hold just a tiny little bit of space open for people like me. Indeed, we are a dying race, us white Africans.

I remember some years ago fighting for our black female students, now I find myself making similar arguments for our white male students...

It is not easy to be an alien and stranger in your own land.

I pray that I would find the courage to do what is right, even when it is costly!