Not the colour of your skin but the content of your character?
Mark Mathabane in his autobiography Kaffir Boy gives a clear picture of what life under apartheid is truly like for those who are on the lowest level of humanity. In his words, he was a “fourth class citizen.” The struggle of what faced human beings because of other human’s desire for control and power is so vividly described in this book. The ability to write and tap into the human emotions that are so violent on the spectrum when there is abuse and mistreatment from the front row seat is griping and moving. The book from beginning to end was intense and caused me to have such empathy and to feel despair with the author. How could one human being treat another human being with such disrespect and disdain?
One of the powerful thoughts that was raised in this book is the incredible power of stereotypes. Escaping what others place or project upon you is a struggle within South Africa for sure but I believe it is a struggle universally. Is it possible to escape what others say you are or what they embrace you as? The moving script of this book is the intensity with which the author and his family faced the abuse and total human disregard from those who should have had a heart for them because they were simply brothers and countryman. The stereotypes on both sides of the issue is one of the things that really comes to light in his writing. The truth will set you free or it will make you act.
The other part of stereotypes that I observed was within the color of the cast of characters. The stereotype of who white people were, who black people were, who outsiders were and the most gripping even within their own family who they were and how they were treated. I think one of my favorite parts of the book is when the author for the first time at eleven years old encounters being in the “white” world. What he had been told and what he saw in his mind that was “projected” from others of who “white” people were not what he encountered. So often our human nature is to think what we think is universal and that everyone is the same because of their race, religion or ethnicity. It was quite interesting that the author found life within the margins of where black, white and other nationalities met. His bravery and his ability to be stealth enough to discover through sports an avenue for some equality.
Discipline of education and sports
Not really surprising is the fact that sports and a drive to have an education, even though not easy, were the two things that helped take time and take dedication to take our author off the street and from becoming a thug. Life is filled with choices. Simple disciplines were in his writing from his view on sexuality and his view on the hardship that he had to endure. The practice time spent on tennis to become someone and his devotion to reading to really be someone is impressive. It reinforced for me the importance of education.
This was a very eye-opening book. The mistreatment of people is never easy to see or learn about but when it is a legalized oppression it makes it really hard to stomach. One of the other things that really stands out to me is the ability to not really know that is going on just a mile away from where you live. Putting your head in the sand or choosing to look the other way is not a n acceptable excuse for the mistreatment of people. Believing what your told instead of knowing the truth is the great revelation of this book.
I am looking forward to once again discovering a culture that I know very little about. I do remember when I was in fourth grade my parents hosting a student from Zimbabwe. His name was Tambari Esoi and he was one of the great influences in my life. He helped me to just see people as people. His color was different than mine and his food traditions was entertaining (he had never had a hamburger before) He could do a standing back flip and I learned so much from him as he lived in our home. It changed my view as I lived in a very segregated Oklahoma town. Get to know someone before you hate them or put them down.
My best friend is Reggie Dabbs and he is one of the premier youth communicators in the USA. He is black and I am white. I have been in all kinds of situations with him nationally and internationally. In just the past days I have seen him have to deal with the harsh reality that even still in America there is conflict simply because of race. How people interact with each other based on the color of their skin instead of the content of their character is something that still disturbs me and makes me sad. This book did give me hope that as long as I live I will continue to do what I can to change that trend in my community and within my church culture. The individuals who went past the line and did all they could in their power made a world of difference for Mark. I can do the same where I am.
11 responses to “Not the colour of your skin but the content of your character?”
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Great insight into an atrocity that has plagued our broken world. Mathabane shows us the “under belly of the beast” when it comes to racism and poverty.
In working with students, how do you combat this fallen nature and encourage people to see the lack of color? In your ministry, have these two presented themselves in Oklahoma?
We have had this issue present itself in our ministry. Our church and town is pretty white but our youth group has been integrated from the very beginning. We constantly try and make our students aware when what they are saying might be racist or up near the line. We pass around a “PC” card for those who say things without thinking. It is amazing what students repeat what they have heard at home without event thinking about it being offensive to someone else. This is light hearted but it is a teaching moment for those who just roll out all kinds of verbal things.
I love how you end your blog with, “I can do the same where I am.” I think this is the best anyone of us can do. I appreciate your perspective as a youth leader for so many years. Keep going for it! Looking forward to being with you in SA.
You know that it is an every changing landscape. Interesting where things go and when they go in cycles.
Looking forward to Cape Town.
Between Tambari and Reggie you have been given rich healing relationships.
There were no black kids in my high school in suburban Southern California. What racial tension we experienced was between Anglos and Latinos. One of my best friends now is Josue Gomez, who originally entered the U. S. illegally out of El Salvador. Listening to him pray in Spanish has transformed my attitude and ear for Spanish. As a high school kid I studied French and not Spanish because there was more snob appeal to that route. But now the Lord has massively set me free from those old and inappropriate attitudes.
Based on how your life has played out, what advice would you give someone if you discern racist attitudes in them?
Stand up for those who are being wronged and point out to others where they are usually blindly offensive. Even this past week, I didn’t stand by and just let the offence happen. I stepped in at risk to my own self to be there with my friend. That is not always easy or convenient but it is worth it.
Thank you – stand up; yes!
Thank you for giving us a window into your own journey. It is amazing how much having exposure to other cultures in a personal way can change our stereotypes and prejudices. Such was your case growing up when your parents decided to host Tambari at your home. What a blessing.
As you pointed out, racism is still an issue faced in different churches. I had a friend visiting us from Kansas. He said that he would never have the multiethnic church experience that he had with us at Ethnos back in his hometown. Not because there is no diversity, but because his church would never mix with other races. That was an eye-opening conversation for me. I am still trying to understand how a Christian mind can still embrace segregation. Exposure seems to be a good first step in combating racism. The DMin gives us good exposure that enriches our leadership. I look forward to seeing you again in South Africa.
I agree with you. How can you read the gospel and how could you still be unable to integrate with other people groups. I do know that within our denomination this is a real issue though. One of the things that I studied and wrote about in my MA was about Azusa Street. The integration that launched the whole pentecostal movement in the US was completely a picture of the body of Christ. Every nation and race was represented at some point. I look forward to heaven for that simple tension being lifted.
Looking forward to Cape Town.
“Kaffir Boy” certainly emphasizes the power of choice throughout Mathabane’s life and the resultant benefits and regrets. He made the choice to continue his education, reject his tribal traditions, disassociate himself from his gang, doubt the tenets of Christianity, excel at tennis, to be forgiving and objective concerning white people and the white world, and to go the United States on a tennis scholarship, while leaving his family behind in poverty and oppression. I’m sure you emphasize to your youth group that all choices have consequences—some negative, some positive.
Kevin, thanks for helping our cohort to learn global leadership values through your shared ministerial experiences. Your blogs are always insightful and delightful to read. May God continue to bless your ministry and give you safe travels in the SA venture.
Thank you and yes our youth group has been a melting pot of all people groups and races. It has been amazing to learn so much from other cultures. I have been in some really unique settings which has helped me to be understanding and bold in helping change students into their future. God Bless and looking forward to cape town.