The disparity that came with South Africa was disorienting. Black, white. Rich, poor. Christian, non-christian. Untamed wilderness, under-developed townships.
In the midst of the same day, I would begin my day in a vibrant city with the hipster trends of Portland and just a few hours later I would be standing in the grueling poverty of tin shacks. In some cases within the same hour, I could go from walking through the rubble of district 6 and then purchasing souvenirs in world-famous sites. The bouncing back and forth between this every day was jarring, to say the least.
I enjoyed walking on the shoreline with beautiful hotels and inside unique designer stores, but then just a short taxi ride later I could be confronted with poverty in downtown Capetown, where church signs said, do not feed the poor.
I was in a coffee shop with supercars as decorations and then later that day driving through the middle of drug-ridden and impoverished townships. I stood in the pastor’s office of his drug rehab clinic centered in the middle of this ghetto while we watched drug deals happening right outside the gates of the building.
I would be standing on the edge of the world one moment and inside the confines of Nelson Mandela’s prison the next.
It was too much too process in 10 days.
And of course amongst most of these scenarios you see my big face. And before you laugh off my selfies as a just a bad habit of a millennial let me tell you why I choose to present myself within all of these images. Within all of this context zipping by me, here’s all I could think to pray:
“Help me find my place in all of this.”
Where do I fit with what I just experienced? What am I supposed to do with all this information?
I’m not sure I have the answer for this yet, but one thing that this confrontation has done for me is to strengthen my handling of issues which are “hot topics”. As an upper-middle-class white male, I have often been afraid of my voice coming across as racist because of the privileged status I hold, and the anger that is sometimes projected onto what that privilege has represented for others. Although I don’t have the answers to our US questions, or even the race issues here in Sacramento California, I don’t want to shy away from the issues anymore. As a well-known black pastor said to a room full of white evangelical pastors after the Charleston shooting, “your silence is deafening.” My silence on racial issues has been based out of fear out saying something wrong. I’ve been shown I need to speak up. When I first started reading about Apartheid for this trip, I was only vaguely familiar with it. Upon learning the details I quickly became grateful that I’m young enough to not be counted amongst those who did nothing to try and end it. Of course, there are the other social and human rights atrocities taking place today. Am I involved in the stopping of these?
There is one thing that I can take back to the states, and that is a perspective on how America has dealt with its shameful past of racial issues and civil rights. In the 20+ years since the fall of apartheid, to memorialize what happened in a way that honors those who suffered, and is also honest about the embarrassment of its country. This again shows a cast split when lined up with America while although we had slavery for 200+ years and had mass amounts of injustice for over a century after to minorities, it’s ill-effects are not properly placed in the people’s priorities. It has largely been ignored. Like South Africans, we are ashamed of our past, but for us, our slavery and our past of racial injustices has become the family member we don’t like to talk about. (At least for those who are not on the receiving end of the prejudice.) South Africa on the other has owned it’s mixed past and memorialized, both the good and the bad. It’s past becomes an inspiration at times and a warning post at others. Consider for example that the Apartheid Museum in South Africa has a whole room full of nooses. America on the other hand, well, “There’s a high school in Alabama named after Robert E Lee and it is 89% black. You don’t see the irony in that?” More disturbingly, Alabama is also one of three states that have Martin Luther King Jr. day as a joint holiday with Robert E. Lee day. Seriously.
I’m plagued by the question, what issue will those who live fifty years from now look back at us and say, “how could they have done nothing?”
Where’s my place in all this?
I think it should be in a place that looks something like this.
 Lecrae, Propaganda. Gangland, Reach Records. Jan. 2016.