Reflections from IJR’s Lucretia Arendse

he Second Meals for Change dialogue took place on 5th October 2019 at the Fountains Hotel in Cape Town.  The event brought together people from different race groups, ages and walks of life. The conversation aimed to allow participants to express their lived realities of race in South Africa and to hear the experience of others. This is a vital component of the work of the Anti-Racism Project at IJR.  For there to be reconciliation, we need to listen to the stories of others to understand different perspectives, and to be heard when telling our stories.

The methodology for this event differed from the first event where everyone was seated at tables and shared their stories before coming together in a plenary discussion. This time participants sat in one big circle all facing each other for conversation. Participants were shown a video and small group discussions allowed each person to speak while others practised active listening, mirroring back what was heard before having a broader group discussion.

The topic for this engagement was “Unpacking this thing called Racism”, and the audience was shown a video of children in the United States who were shown black and white dolls. The children were then asked some questions about the dolls, and in most of the instances, regardless of the race of the child, they attributed negative characteristics to the black doll and positive attributes to the white doll. The video aimed to portray and later discuss what internalised racism is and how one is socialized into a particular world view.

The video elicited several responses from the audience and triggered an interesting discussion.  Some of the participants noted that what the video shows is self-hatred on the part of the black children, which is learned from a young age. They suggested that the solution to this problem is to start in our homes and to ensure that our children are brought up with self-confidence and loved for who they are. One participant noted how the social construction of race is learned, through media, television, society and what the video shows are that it needs to be unlearned. Another participant shared how their child had rejected a black doll until the parent started to show the black doll love and affection.

The conversation turned to the issue of names and how important they are.  One of the destructive colonial practices, which is still practised today, was to give black people “English” names. This was dehumanising and patronising. A participant shared how he refused to give his children “English” names and insists on them being called by their birth names. It was suggested that we all make an effort to learn to pronounce and use the names that have meaning in the respective African languages.

A brief overview of other forms of racism, viz structural and institutional racism were presented, but more in-depth discussion will take place in future Meals for Change dialogues.

The event ended on a positive note with participants claiming their identity and one person noted: “I am black and I am beautiful”.