The other day I was chatting with a South African colleague whom I had recently met. She expressed her fear and discomfort with the current state of the country, with the political instability and deepening racial tensions, among other factors. I could feel her sense of despair especially in relation to her three young children whom she must try somehow to shield from the madness. The only viable solution in her mind, and in the mind of many others like her, is to flee. Find some way, any way, to leave the country and settle elsewhere. Somewhere safer, like the US or Canada or Australia.
I felt for her. As a member of the white minority in an increasingly turbulent South Africa, I imagine she feels hedged in, threatened, overwhelmed by the fast moving currents in the society, and also by the forbidding waves of black animosity that seem to grow more intense with every passing day. From her point of view the landscape around her must look especially dark and grim and scary. Better to try to escape to safer (whiter) shores.
I feel for her because the world is changing. It’s not just South Africa, it’s across the globe. Cosmic shifts, tectonic plates heaving, both literally and figuratively. Old monuments and institutions and world orders toppling. There are few—if any—corners of the globe she can escape to where she would not be touched by these forces.
One of those major tectonic shifts is that black people around the world are starting to wake up. For centuries we were trapped under a spell, controlled by the wizardry of white colonialists and slave owners, hypnotized into following the beat of a drum that was not of our own making. For centuries we sleepwalked our way into obedience and capitulation, and we took whatever was dealt to us with our heads bowed. Mostly.
But this wizardry can’t last forever, and black people are starting to wake up. Everywhere I’ve traveled I see it, particularly in Salvador, Brazil and Johannesburg—cities with majority black populations. I see black people beginning to embrace and love our physical traits, recognizing our unique strengths, standing up in our full humanity, declaring to the world, ENOUGH!
Perhaps to an average onlooker like my colleague, this feels like an existential threat. It stirs up a fear built on the assumption that when one group rises, another must necessarily fall. A zero sum situation. With perception compromised by fear, only two choices appear to exist in the face of this perceived threat: run, or fight back.
But what if there were a third choice? What if my colleague chose to see this movement not as a threat, but as an opportunity? An opportunity to co-create a healthy future for all, not just for a few.
What might the future look and feel like if we all went out of our way to nurture and facilitate this awakening, to join forces with the swaths of black people creating visions for the future? If we chose not to fixate exclusively on the “bad apples”—the violent and corrupt and materialistic (which exist in every race, culture and socioeconomic bracket)—but instead help fan the flames of hope and vision of those in genuine pursuit of the wellbeing of their communities?
Because as collective wellbeing increases, guess what? There’s less crime, less despair, less corruption as a whole. In countries like Brazil and South Africa, with a majority black population, it would be nearly impossible to reach a state of equilibrium and stability without intentionally fostering a sense of wellbeing among black people.
It may be a huge paradigm shift for my colleague to embrace these changes instead of resisting them. But I am convinced that fleeing or fighting will only make things worse in the long run. The only real solution, the only approach that leads to a win-win situation, is to celebrate this awakening. Join forces. Collaborate.
And there is SO MUCH good work happening among black communities here in Johannesburg. So many individuals and groups throwing off the worn mantle of oppression and setting out to create a new future. In Salvador, Brazil, where 80% of the population is black, a similar trend is occurring. It’s inspiring and exciting and full of hope.
In future articles I will highlight some of these efforts and initiatives in the two cities, if only to encourage readers and people like my colleague that things are really not as bleak as they seem. And also to give you an opportunity to join forces in facilitating this great awakening. Because I assure you—you don’t want to miss out.