By Gerard Janse Van Rensburg
You hear all this talk about transformation, changing institutions, industries, social structures the very fabric of society. You hear talk of cultural practices not being respected, being ignored and oppressed. This oppression is called racism, and maintaining the status quo is racist. Keeping things as is, is racist.
“But I’m not racist”
But I’m not racist! I don’t have anything against them! The colour of someone’s skin has nothing to do with how I treat them! But why must we change all of these things? What will happen to MY values? MY culture? Why do they want to destroy that! What will happen to my livelihood? What will happen to my family, my kids, their futures? Will we have to change our lives completely to continue living in the country I was born and raised in? That my father and grandfather was born and raised in? Will we suddenly have to start speaking a different language wherever we go? Will we become an oppressed people, relegated to the fringes of society?
Why are people so afraid?
Transformation is met with resistance because of fear. People fear change. Change brings the unknown and the unknown is scary. We hear we must change, society must change. But my life isn’t so bad, and all that could be taken away if things change!
Transformation is resisted because of fear. But change doesn’t need to be feared. Change also brings new hope, new opportunities, new life. Society has already changed, cultures once separated by force are starting to intermingle, intertwine. A new culture is already emerging. That is how culture works. It cannot be contained because ideas cannot be contained. Not in a world with Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram (yes even that). We share our cultures with each other without even knowing this is happening. Our universities are filled with interracial friendships, shared public spaces, shared stresses and anxieties of due dates and missed parties. We live and work in the same buildings, use the same roads and transports. See the same adverts on T.V. Shop at the same grocery stores, complaining about the cost of meat and bread.
What about our similarities?
People speak of cultural differences, but have they thought about cultural similarities? These far outweigh the differences. We are all human with the same desires to love, live, care for our families and friends. We sing, make music and art, write books, cook food. We marry, teach our children right from wrong, teach them to respect their elders (to the extent any teenager can be taught this), go to school, to not be lazy. We speak of differences, but what actually are these differences? Go speak to a person you believe is different, ask them what they fear, what they long for, and you will see those differences melt away like fog in the day’s bright light.
Transformation is resisted because of fear. Fear of the unknown. But the unknown was never actually unknown, simply unseen. Their culture is already part of our culture, and our culture is already part of theirs. Transformation does not need us to lose ourselves, but to see the sameness already existing in the other. And then, with eyes wide open to our similarities, looking forward to the future that we can shape through combining our differences to make OUR culture, OUR future.
Gerard Janse Van Rensburg is a UCT Psychology Masters Student, Guest Lecturer and Ascent lab Manager.
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