The Coloured Question

An important concern was recognised and highlighted by Keegan Davids at the Justice Conference this year. This is the feeling that some folks, who identify as 'Coloured', still feel that they are marginalised, even at an event about social justice hosted in Mitchell's Plain.

It's a concern that deserves critical reflection if we are able to work together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I want to raise some questions on the issue of recognition and representation.

For many folks the offense may begin with matters related to recognition and cultural 'violence'. One example of this is the use of language in the liturgy. Whilst we utilised African languages, the insertion of Afrikaans (which in the context of the Cape Flats is not the language of the oppressor as in 1976 but a mother tongue to many) appears to only have been marginally included. Another example may be that folks who identify as 'Coloured' appear to have been under-represented in panel discussions (since I was on a panel most of the weekend, this was not as evident for me as it may have been for other folks). For myself, I might also want to suggest that arguably White folks were under-represented.

What does recognition and representation really mean though?

I think we need to avoid getting fixated on the epidermal layer which are constructions of colonial and apartheid discourse. Just because someone is White, that does not mean they cannot make important contributions to dialogues on social justice. Just because someone is Black, that does not mean that they are inherently woke.

So what is really at stake?

I suggest two things:

First, there is the issue of whose knowledge and experience is centred? Though we move beyond the fixation of skin, there is the very real issue that White people have in fact long been, and are still centred in dominant discourse. So we need to work to decentre that and put all knowledges and experiences (the global too) in healthier conversation with each other. In the context of #JusticeSA2018, while it was incredibly progressive to recognise the importance of place by hosting the event in Mitchell’s Plain, the real question though, is how has the knowledge and experiences, the lived experiences of the Cape Flats been brought to the table or afforded a chance to be centred in discussion?

I raise this point even with my comrades in organisations that are doing great work in education and in housing. The main critique I offer is - where are Cape Flats schools in your fight for quality provisioning and how much on the ground mobilisation is done in such communities? When we talk housing, where are the stories of Cape Flats residents who have been on long waiting lists, who live in backyard dwellings or crowded flats, and what of the many in bank financed homes that are being foreclosed on and evicted. Are these not also real problems and manifestations of real pain?

The second issue is that of the real tangible spatial arrangements of apartheid that persist and maintain the boundaries of the past. There is a real geographic, economic and political reality that articulates in certain spaces that make the deployment of the term "Coloured" a very relevant one. If we want to be able to deploy non-racial language or even hope for the people to embrace (Biko)Black in the political sense more easily, then we first have to acknowledge their pain and deal with the systemic and structural problems that position people as Coloured even today. That goes beyond skin-deep.

So what does that mean then for how we practice?

We need to praise ourselves for taking Justice Conference forward in so many ways and opening up super important conversations that build community and mobilise the people.

We then need to consider how we can frame social problems in ways that include all folks and in ways that do not minimise the pain of some by positioning it in a hierarchy of oppression. We must stop saying things like "but rural schools and informal settlements..." because the reality is that people are dying in both rural schools (by toilet) and in urban ghettos (by the bullet).

Last words.

Thanks for offering me a community that has been able to refresh me and restore my faith. For long I have been ashamed to be Christian because the local church is so far from the gospel that Jesus proclaimed. We can't speak Jesus without speaking justice...that is a naturally attractive gospel that does not need to be dolled up.