on passivism, pacifism and peace

June 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

I buckle my helmet, check both ways, and pull out slowly into the intersection. As I do a car comes out of nowhere, breaks hard and I swerve. We miss each other and I pull around so I’m on the right side of the road. And then I am assailed by the swearing, the shouting, the angry words pouring out of the car towards me. I am called names and the driver threatens to kill me, moving to force me off the road as she does so. I pull onto the sidewalk and she gets out of her car. I keep cycling. She catches up with me at the next intersection where I wait for a red light. As I make to cross she whips her car in front of me, cutting me off. I avoid eye contact but the barrage of hate directed toward the “f-ing white bitch on the bike” crashes into me. I wait silently and as she pulls off she swerves in again to hit my front wheel. She speeds off and I cautiously cross. I’m shaking and a tear runs down my cheek. Once again I am caught up in the dramatic and chaotic fallout of an emotionally volatile and unstable community. Still, nothing prepares me for it. Nothing prepares me for the fight that breaks out in the street, or the sounds of domestic violence coming through the walls, or the mother telling her child she wished he was dead, the erratic discipline, the man who corners me and threatens me on the street, the gunshots, the threats, the hate, the degrading names and the aggression that permeates the fabric of these relationships.

Several weeks back I wrote on things I have confused over the last few years. Hidden in the middle of that list was this one: “I have confused Not hitting people with Non-violence”, a confusion which came to a head one day as I sat in my room listening to a neighbor’s misogynistic rap. At that time, my interaction with violence – or the ever-threat of it – changed. Non-violence, pacifism, and peacemaking become less theoretical and more personal; no longer abstract, because my relation to them had become embodied. So I asked, how do i do non-violence, how do i practice pacifism, how do i be a peace-maker when violence – the threat, the call, the power of it – is tied inextricably to my being woman. Or my being white. Or my being young. Or my being out of place, a stranger, a foreigner. Or my living, walking and breathing in a violent neighborhood. Or my being hypocritical, abounding in wrath and lacking in mercy.

Here is the complexity of my interaction with violence and non-violence. I trick myself into believing that not raising my voice or my fists is a non-violent response to frustration and anger. I ignore the rage, wrath and fury that simmer within me. I don’t scream at my neighbor but I hate her nevertheless for the torrent of aggression she directs towards her kids from sun up to sun down. I think of the things I would do if I had the “courage” – I secretly hope she leaves so I don’t have to deal with the contradictions her violent stagnation causes in me. I come to believe that passivism (not doing anything in a violent situation directed toward me and not doing anything with the violence within me) is an adequate replacement for pacifism (that fundamental opposition to violence that reveals itself in demonstrative non-participation in violence and counter-commitments to establishing and maintaining peace.) I am caught in this hard space, somehow believing that not seeking retribution is the same as seeking mercy. Saying you are non-violent and lowering your weapons is dramatically and fundamentally different from disarming yourself, your attitudes, your heart, and your spirit. Not participating in violence is radically distinct from participating in peace.

How then do I practice peace and engage in pacifism? How do I make non-violence less a way of thinking and more a way of being? How do I ensure these things begin in me, but don’t end there?

How do I seek the peace (the shalom, the wholeness,the reconciliation) of the city (the place, the neighborhood, the community, the relationships) I am placed in, recognizing that my shalom is inextricably tied to its shalom, my peace found in its peace (Jeremiah 29:7 paraphrased).

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on being woman (explicit)

March 18, 2013 at 9:02 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

the lyrics slam into my bedroom, smashing into every crevice, every corner, crawling with its insidious fingers over my bed until the entire room seethes with the sadistic words. the words wretch, a hate-filled debasement of woman. this is no ordinary misogynistic rap. it is an intensely graphic description of rape and abuse. and a glorification of both. the words don’t seep. they rip through every part of my being.

my mouth fills with bile and i cannot take any more. i have had my fill and am sick to my stomach. my hands shake and all that fills my mind is “this has to stop”. i walk downstairs, my vision blurred and stand staring at my husband who looks up and asks if i’m okay. the words don’t even come out. it’s ripped through me and now it’s tearing at my skin, making me want to scream, to roar with primal fear STOP!

I draw a breath because I know this must be handled right. And so I reach into the deepest part of myself, walk across the street and knock on his door. He comes slowly, nonchalantly, and I look past him at his 2 year old daughter standing in the lounge. “I’m having some trouble with your music,” I say. I’m shaking and I cannot breathe. “I find the words really offensive and it’s so loud it keeps slamming against my house and filling my whole bedroom.” He offers to turn the volume down.

but his calm response masks the rage that i’ve incurred in him. it’s not only his music that seethes now. its fed him, wrapped him, rapt him, enclosed around him and he seethes. against me. because who am i, woman, to dare? i’ve shamed him. and he later tells my husband, she should never have said that to me. next time you tell me. but not her.

and i am positioned. framed within his twisted hyper-masculine culture as woman. he spits it out just like his music vomits it. i am positioned as the one his music rapes, his songs hate, his brother hits, his friend screams at and degrades and abuses night after night. i am positioned as nothing. i am nothing.

and i am filled with that primal fear of woman. that lack of power in the face of overwhelming hatred, of physical retreat in the face of a strong hand.  there are days i walk these streets isolated by the eyes following me. that do all the things to me my mind dreads. and i pretend not to see. to walk on by. voices call out to me – challenging, mocking, taunting. i pretend not to hear. because i cannot entertain the fears these things raise in me. daily.

today i am positioned as woman. as woman alongside the wife who was beaten, the girlfriend who was date raped, the teenage mother, the worndown, despised, degraded. today my experience of living in this neighborhood shifted. today my interaction with violence – or the ever-threat of it – changed. non-violence, pacifism, and peacemaking become less theoretical and more personal – my interaction with these thoughts and ideas and philosophies can no longer be abstract because my relation to them has become embodied. i do not interact with them from a distance, in an event, in a moment or in a experience; they have become tied to my being, my walking, my presence. how do i do non-violence, how do i practice pacifism, how do i be a peace-maker when violence – the threat, the call, the power of it – is tied inextricably to my being WOMAN.

today my experience shifted. all because i couldn’t hold down the bile as the words drove deep into my bedroom.

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on being my sister’s keeper

February 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , )

Perhaps the most profound question asked in the Bible, is the one Cain poses to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As I’ve been thinking this week about the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, this is the question I’ve kept returning to. Do we have a responsibility to watch out for and care for those around us? The answer for me is undoubtedly a resounding “Yes!” In the light of the many stories of violence against women this past week, I want to call us all to become – day-by-day – our sister’s keepers.

See that girl in the club, looking really uncomfortable as three guys come around her and hit on her? Move closer. Eavesdrop. And if need be, be ready to stand in and defend her.

The girl in the bathroom wiping mascara from her eyes? Ask her if she’s okay or if there’s someone you can call.

The little kid walking alone from school? Park your car discreetly up the road and watch over them til they reach a more populated area.

The girl bent over the toilet vomitting cos someone spiked her drink? Take her hand, sit with her, get her hydrated, walk her home, call a friend, hold her hair back while she’s sick in the bushes. Do whatever it takes. Keep her safe.

That single girl at the braai? She should never have to ask you to walk her to her car, and should never feel like she is being a burden. Take stock at the beginning of the night of who arrived alone and keep watch for when they leave and walk them to their door.

That group of 14 year old girls walking along Tokai main road at 10pm? Stop and offer them a lift. And if they decline tell them you’re going to follow them from a safe distance until they make it home safely.

The woman with the black eye and the cut lip? Ask her name and see if she needs medical attention. Open the door to conversation. Give her your phone number. Just in case.

These are all stories of times I’ve tried to “be my sister’s keeper” – in only one of these situations did I actually know the girl’s name beforehand. Sometimes people thought I was wierd, occassionally they may have been creeped out, often they were grateful. But maybe once or twice I even helped to save a life.

If I am not for them, I am against them. And woe that God’s reply comes to me, as it did to Cain: “What have you done?” [The echo in my head, “What have you not done?] “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

sister's keeper

 

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on doing something

February 16, 2013 at 11:33 am (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , )

In the wake of several highly reported rapes, the brutal attack on Anene Booysen and the recent killing of Reeva Steenkamp, many South African’s are asking themselves, “What can we do?” Wearing black, protesting on social network platforms, and even calling for higher penalties on convicted offenders all have their place. But how about we went a step further and started targeting the opinion-makers, the  places where mindsets and attitudes are being sculpted, the voices that are headline-by-headline daily erroding our country’s sense of value for life, desensitising us to violence and degrading women? How about flooding The Daily Voice and Die Sun papers with letters of protest around their irresponsible reporting, sensationalist stories and shockingly offsides headlines that devalue life and women and increasingly create spectacle out of tragedy?

While letters to the Editor are certainly a start, I’m guessing we’re going to have to go a couple of steps further. Let’s be honest: folk who write a letter of protest against insensitive headlines are not generally the people who are buying The Daily Voice. With a daily readership of just over 500,000 even a deluge of outrage may not affect The Daily Voice. But hitting their bottom line will.  40% of the Voice’s content is advertising. So how about we call for higher standards of social responsibility from advertisers and call for companies to pull their ads from The Daily Voice and Die Son until such time as we see a marked difference in their reporting on women and violence.

Justice

Too often, South Africans underestimate their power to influence the media and public opionion and social norms. We can be activivists and advocates, reformers and revolutionaries – empowered to forge, and form, and frame. Instead, we become passive consumers of media and of mindsets. We become bystanders, then victims and, inadvertently, perpetrators.

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