I’ve been wanting to write this blog post since Friday. It’s been difficult. I was 90% done, then I abandoned the attempt. (But I might cut and paste some good bits). For a while, I considered not writing anything at all. It’s not as if I am being paid. Nobody is going to care that I don’t have an opinion on Xenophobia. I can come back when the topic is new and easier.
The hard questions
Why is the topic so hard, though? It’s easy to have an opinion about Xenophobia. “Say no to Xenophobia.” See? Easy. Except, I don’t think it’s that easy. For one, while we all yell that at the top of our voices, I have to ask…who is listening? Are the men who killed Emmanuel Sithole reading Twitter, slapping themselves on the foreheads, and wondering why they did not realise it earlier?
Do we expect that xenophobic communities even have ACCESS to the forums decrying the xenophobic attacks? And where they do, do we expect fancy posters and celebrity endorsement to change their minds? Do we expect them to suddenly reform in the face of superior logic.
I’m being a little bit harsh. For one, the very first response to any outrageous act should be to denounce it. The outcry stands as a call to action. And voices do make a difference, or this blog would be worthless.
And certainly, more is being done than the mere raising of voices. There have been practical outreaches, and marches. I don’t for a second want to imply that these things are not necessary. It’s basic triage – FIRST, you act to stem the bleeding. In this case, some literal bleeding, followed by homelessness and immediate threats.
But my question remains – who is listening to the outcry against Xenophobia, and are our actions now in 2015 changing what we failed to change since 2008 and even before that? (Actually, the ridiculous thing is that Xenophobia has never gone away. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenophobia_in_South_Africa It’s been here since the formation of our democracy, and we have unequivocally failed to address it).
My concern is that, once the violence dies down, and people go back to their homes (here or elsewhere), we will forget again until next time. We will have said we despise prejudice in all forms. We will have ferried blankets to displaced foreigners, set them up in shelters, and told them we really do love them. And then we will forget to do anything about the situations that led to these attacks in the first place.
Meet Doctor Xeno
We have been too quick to assign scapegoats. The utterances of some political leaders (and the protracted silence of others), while insensitive or outright irresponsible, could at most have been a catalyst in an already very volatile situation, surely? The media, I feel, has been trying a little too hard to paint some individuals as the supervillains. (Media is too narrow a term, and I risk setting them up as the villain in MY story. But I lack a better one for now.)
And if we have supervillains, then the “xenophobes” (who apart from one or two very specific cases have not been specifically identified as far as I can tell) are the evil minions, doing the bidding of their cruel masters.
It makes for a good story, and dangerously, lulls us into the false belief that the enemies have been identified. And, if someone should be successfully charged with hate speech, then we can all smile and acknowledge that justice has been done, and go on with our lives. We’ve been a little too quick to buy into that story.
In the spirit of good prose and narrative technique, I might go with the contrasting argument that we are really all the villains. We are all in some small way responsible. While that might have a grain of truth prosaically, it’s not a very helpful argument.
I think many people remain silent because they don’t know what to do – because they feel as if merely saying something is not enough, but no sensible follow up makes itself evident.
I think people go back to their everyday lives because the solution is really complicated and they simply don’t know how to fix it.
So – back to the drawing board. There are no super villains. There are no evil minions. There’s a country with fifty million very different inhabitants and some challenging problems.
Well, then, what?
(I think) one half of the solution lies in understanding. Real understanding. Deep understanding, which doesn’t settle for comfortable simplifications.
I’ve been scouring the media for ideas and opinions, especially those with something to offer on the the long term causes and solutions. I’ve been speaking to a few people. I’ll share my findings in a later blog post.
A second part of the solution lies in finding a way to act on that information. Reading about Xenophobia, I realise I know nothing. I’m like Jon Snow, who has his own problems with Xenophobia (interesting analogy, no, with the Wildlings Beyond the Wall?). The more I read, the less I understand. and the more I realise the picture is incomplete. My social and media (and social media) network is far too narrow.
My writing is tolerable. My blog is average. My editing is dismal. But I’m here. I’ll make mistakes, and I’ll learn as I go. I’ll take your criticism. And I’ll share what I learn. Maybe you’ll share some of what you know with me. Maybe we’ll argue, and we’ll both end up better knowing more than when we started.
I’m here, and even though I know nothing, I’ll start by doing something.
And so should you.