God's Word for today

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Using the "R" word

"[If] you polish a turd, it's still a turd" - Peanut (Jeff Dunham, "Arguing With Myself")

I had an interesting discussion with one of my fellow Phase ones last night concerning the various organisations within the MCSA. We were discussing aspects such as uniform, and commented on the fact that some people want to join a particular organisation, but are anti wearing the uniform.

From my point of view, I have no strong feelings wither way concerning uniforms. I am hhowever aware that us whiteys aren't too crazy about uniforms - the Women's Auxiliary, for instance, don't wear them - but as we spoke, I came to realise that uniform is not the real issue.

I can say this because as a former member of the Welsh Male Voice Choir of South Africa, I've had experience of the whole uniform "thing". And let's be honest - if you aren't wild about wearing black shoes, grey trousers, a white long-sleeved shirt, and a green blazer with the Welsh dragon on the breast pocket, then tough - you simply won't be allowed on stage. And likewise, if you want to join a Methodist organisation whose Constitution prescribes a particular uniform, then unless the organisation as a whole decides to do away with uniforms, you have no option but to suit up.

And that's not really a problem. While I cannot in a million years claim to have really been active in the struggle against apartheid, much to my regret, I am reasonably proud that I've managed to build bridges in some small way by joining the Local Preachers' Association in 2007. Granted, I was the only whitey to wear a black suit, and I was not too hard to find at the Central District LPA Convention that year (hee hee), but when it comes down to brass tacks, most Local Preachers wouldn't dream of going into the pulpit wearing anything other than jacket and tie.

So if the issue is not the uniform, then is it language? Once again, I go back to the 2007 LPA Convention (I missed 2008 due to assignment pressures, and I'll say more about 2009 shortly) - now to be fair, if you are the only one among 300 delegates who doesn't speak Xhosa, you can't reasoably expect the entire convention to be conducted in English. But a couple of my fellow preacers gathered around me and gave me a running commentary, in English, of what was happening. When I felt the need to address the convention, someone gladly translated into Xhosa for me. In fact, I can think of very few occasions where I was made to feel more welcome!

So what, then, IS the real issue? It's race! This came home to me quite forcibly when I was invited to give the opening address at the Grahamstown District LPA Convention earlier this year. Being quite honoured to receive such an invitation, especially since I am new to the District and a Phase One to boot, I looked at the dates, and to my great surprise, I noticed that the dates had changed from those published in the District diary. When I queried this, was told that there are actually two LPA Conventions - one for coloured preachers, and one for blacks.

I was aghast! What happened to our commitment, made 50 years ago, to be a "one and undivided Church"? And how is it that the "powers that be" permit such a situation to continue?

Similar thoughts came to mind when I had a meeting with the Young Men's Guild (YMG) of my congregation earlier this year. They indicated an unwillingness to attend the YMG Convention on the grounds that they, being a coloured community, speak Afrikaans, while the majority of YMG members speak Xhosa, the language in which proceedings are usually conducted. Their complaint was that they felt excluded on grounds of language.

My response to them was that they should attend the convention, but request that since there is a reasonably large group of coloured YMG members, the language differences should be accommodated. If the convention organisers refused to do so, I was prepared to create a big stink about this at Synod.

The problem is - they didn't go. They lost a great opportunity to create some unity within the YMG. In fact, deep down I believe that the language issue was a red herring - they weren't able to have their own convention (for coloureds) - although this possibility was suggested, which I dismissed out of hand - but they weren't prepared to join in with the blacks.

So why my quotation at the beginning of this post? Because you can dress up racism as nicely as you want - the apartheid enginees tried this with "separate development", "own affairs", and "plural affairs" (what on earth is a "plural"?) - but racism remains racism.

Which brings me to another thorn in my side - the Black Methodist Consultation (BMC). Being white, I of course was not invited to join. Never mind that I may possibly be in support of some of the aims that the BMC is trying to achieve, I am excluded purely because of the colour of my skin. Yet if I were to suggest the formation of a "WMC", I would be branded as an out-and-out racist, a relic of the apartheid era. And rightfully so!

So my question is this: At the risk of being lambasted in the blogosphere, how is it that racism is only racist when perpetrated by white folks? Surely a turd, no matter how brightly it is polished, whatever name it is given, and whoever does the polishing, remains a turd?

1 comment:

Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

Yes - you are right. And sadly at this level we reflect our society rather than shape it.