God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Some reflections on racism

Traveling the world and especially the USA one can’t escape the question of racism, let alone coming from South Africa were the question of race seems to be connected to all questions of life and seemingly influencing every decision made in this country.
I guess we all agree that there is only one human race and that the differentiation into human races was and is a political and social tool to suppress or discriminate or even dehumanize people of certain skin colors – or in our days especially in South Africa, hold them accountable for past or present discrimination.
Not seeing this is in itself racist – and even if it is tempting to claim for oneself to not seeing the colour of a person – it somehow denies people of colour the inherited history and emotions attached to their lives till today.
Racism is part of what we are born into – it is what theologian would call original sin or structural sin; for example: As a white European person – I am born into a world with certain privileges – I inherit certain implicitness without being guilty of anything. But I have to deal with it – and in a time of social media, of constant exposure of racist incidents it seems to be one of the Sisyphusian task of our generation.

But how do you address it? How do you address the discrimination of generations of people, of whole societies, of whole groups within a country, of a whole continent – how do you remedy the disadvantages and horrible consequences for the lives of whole generations?

Unfortunately you actually can’t make it good again – you can only try to compensate the living but it has to be done in a way not creating new hardships and injustices. And it sounds like squaring the circle. For it to happen I guess the following must be in place:

* The ability and willingness to recognize and to acknowledge the past and the present problem of “racism” and its consequences
* To recognize the “racist” in me
* To recognize that the marginalized group must find back the freedom and pride to be – I am sure the black conscience theory of Steve Biko can be of great help
* To listen to each other in really hearing the stories of each other – to try to walk in the shoes of each other for a while to understand without discussion and debate – just hearing what is said and feeling the pain, the desperation, the hope and the aspiration
* To find common ground in redressing the injustices without creating hardship and obvious new injustices
* To find forgiveness, because the burden of the past, which never should be forgotten, can only be accepted if and when forgiveness is given and accepted on all sides
* To give your all into the efforts of walking together, being patient with each other but determined to overcome and learn out of the past

Only on this base we can strive to overcome the past and to create a future which accepts a non-racist society where new words, a new language is expression of a new sibling-like relationship where indeed skin colour does not predetermine your place in society.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Madness translated into perspective

I guess there are not a lot of people who are not worried about the madness politics is presenting almost globally: be it the constant onslaught of a self-absorbed fake news producer like Donald Trump, be it the raw emotions raving through Germany when it comes to the questions of refugees, be it the bizarre battle in Bavaria about crosses in all state institutions or the renaming of the Ministry of Home Affairs into “Heimat-Ministerium” – the list could continue endless.

All those madness is an expression of a somehow deep down felt insecurity of the human race looking into the future. It seems that most people experience an inner anxiety which translates into yearning for the “good old times” or the “strong man” , holding on to what is known while not being able to clearly seeing what will come.

And what will come is tremendous – it has consequences so far-reaching that those anxieties have to be taken seriously – even if it seems that politicians are yet not able to really grasp or understand the magnitude of changes coming. Or if they do, they are not honest with the people on the ground.

The digital revolution which is unfolding in front of our eyes will be much more profound than the industrial revolution or any other which has shaped human mankind. It completely changes the way we work, we feel, we act and we plan. It makes it necessary to look with completely new eyes how people are organized, how countries and states are functioning, how democracy or a dictatorship is working, how wars are battled out. Whoever has watched Mark Zuckerberg giving testimony in front of the US American Congress speaking about the Facebook Community which spans around the globe will have gotten a glimpse how mind-blowing social media and inter-connectivity of people in reality is. Additionally artificial intelligence will shape our path into the future in a way most ordinary people can’t imagine. And not only those with money will rule the world, but also those writing the algorithms on which we more and more base our decision-making process.

The “fake news” debate and the Russian interference – the bots in social media and the personalized streamlined news of Facebook with targeted advertising is the starting point of a manipulation spree which promises to intensify in many different ways. All the health and activity monitoring watches and gadgets slowly change the way you think and act and motivate yourself.

Ethical guidelines for those writing the algorithms and programming the computers are urgently needed to avoid what will make Orwells “1984” novel a cheap copy of reality.

This also means that the way, Africa is developing has to be seen in a different light – the argument you hear often that Europe is so developed in democracy and other portfolios because it took so much time to come to today’s state of affair will hold no water anymore for the emerging states on the continent as time has to be factored out as a necessary part for such development. Developments in the area of digital progress are too fast.  And there is something else:

The intensity with which the human race tries to destroy the very fabric of the planet and makes it inhabitable is mind-boggling – just watch how the USA in the moment turns the clock back on recent achievements. We might be able to kill ourselves and our environment before we even have a grasp and we are ethically on top of a digital development which just begun.

If we want to succeed as the human race we have to pull on one string when it comes to cut down on destroying the planets resources – and we have urgently start to rethink the way we organize ourselves – how we want to keep up the core elements of democracy, good governance and social achievements globally. We need to develop ethical guidance in the digital mine field we are about to enter.

And we need to understand in Africa, that looking too much into the past we miss the train into a future where this continent should play a major role instead of chasing a history which is needed to learn lessons, but not to get stuck in. A fine balance where once again too many emotions will not help the cause.

Donald Trump and there-likes are the last stand of a chapter in human history – white male dominant racist – which comes to a close and nothing will change that – except when we continue to allow further destruction of human decency, academic wisdom, religious tolerance and all the parameters needed to keep our planet breathing.

Filed under: Africa, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Racism – the original sin one cannot escape?

Visiting the Duke University with its vast history of racial divide and coming together there can’t be any evening meal with lecturers of history without at some point touching on the question of racism in the USA. Stories told about black movements on Duke campus – and those experiencing equality and black conscience movements in Montgomery and in other parts of the South States of the USA – for a German living in South Africa an intense evening of sharing the pain and questions arising from history and the challenges future will hold.

While it seems that my US American friends have made peace with the fact that as a white man, one cannot escape the original sin of racism purely by being born from a white mother and father -I still grapple with the fact whether it is fair to be again and again put in the structural and personal white privilege and somehow racist corner – no matter how engaged or involved one has been in healing the racial divide.

Recognizing the past, acknowledging structural privilege is one thing – making it the Cain’s mark of every white person for the foreseeable future is another. My question was on this eve and still remains whether talking in the same “termini” our forefathers have done will assist in overcoming a racist past and leading into a non-racist future. While under Obama and Trump here in the USA seemingly the topic is discussed much more prominent and controversial – so different from the usual US American way of being nice , shallow on this subject and avoiding conflict – we also going in South Africa and I guess in many parts of the world through a renewed debate on this topic. Yes, maybe it is true that we on all sides have to speak out and speaking out might even hurt – not only the listener, but also the speaker acknowledging truth we can’t allow for this seemingly original sin to linger and therefore darken the future of future generations.

Maybe the debate, the pain ,the accusations are a necessary redemption to be in the future saved from the evil of racism – maybe the revolution of social media taken note of all the racist acts and laying in bare in the public to see, to judge, to mourn, to decry – maybe all this is necessary in the development of a human civilization, which at the end only knows one race, the human race – later looking back on today’s debate and yesterdays history in sheer non-believe that racism was even a possibility to entertain for so long in history.

For me, this question remains after this eve as painful as ever – and the question-marks keep nagging how to approach a seemingly original sin which keeps on poising societies in our times. My experience at Duke University was a reminder how much had been done, and how much still has to be done – and how many circles we have already run without really moving in-depth forward on this question.

Filed under: Africa, General, HOPE Cape Town USA, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

And the question is…

South-Africa-question“What has this all to do with your work?” – I was asked recently discussing my blog and the person questioning me noticed the hardly not to notice political overtone of the last blog entries.
The answer is very simple: the  roller coaster on the political scene influences together with the water scare and now the polony  scandal the psyche of the people around us – the madness of state capture, the midnight changes in cabinet, the economic meltdown of South Africa in the last years resulted in more food-insecurity, in more unemployment, in more emptiness, in more loss of perspective as society. Students were encouraged to demand fee-free education which is in itself a non-sense, as there is nothing for free and the result of the reckless announcement of former President Jacob Zuma of the implementation of for said “free”   education means now in return an increase in VAT and again, the poor have to carry the biggest burden.
The unstable politics of the last years have taken a toll in all spheres of society and the divided ruling party, warming up to the party of the Gucci revolutionary “Commander in Chaos” with his only hardly veiled racism and power hunger balances the hope of a better future with the new president again negatively.

Add in the Western Province the serious threat of taps running dry – it all creates a situation where people are visibly on edge and less inclined to think rational and with measure.

HOPE Cape Town developed since years already a second arm of service which aims to assist those in need not only in the medical field, but also tries to remedy social woes of troubled South African families: poverty, lack of education, early childhood development and deficits in the framework of broken communities – read drugs, alcoholism, broken families, gangs, violence, corruption – has to be tackled simultaneously with any medical intervention to be successful.
This social services and assistance arm will be further developed – a part-time social worker and an occupational therapist are at the core of those developments working hand in hand with the doctors and the social system of the state – latter unfortunately a broken system with gaps hurting and killing children as a result.

The pain giving birth to a new and democratic South Africa with all the up’s and down’s are impacting in many practical terms the work of NGO’s like ours. Strikes and service delivery protests are damaging not only infrastructure but people engaged in those activities often forget their medication, their doctor’s appointment or even to put food on the table for the family. Corruption on all levels of society makes life more expensive for those anyhow struggling to make ends meet – and if delivery of state services are chaotic it is indeed difficult to get the papers needed for e.g. registering somebody into school.

And people who have nothing to lose anymore are obviously vulnerable to propaganda and ideology which wouldn’t make sense if one would have the time and the education to ponder what is often told from politicians in public.

The world is in the moment globally a bit in turmoil, and working in the non-profit part of it means to be vigilant and vocal for all those who have no voice or are somehow silenced by food parcels and t-shirts or a free meal – popular methods of those wanting to remain in power here in South Africa.

 

Filed under: Africa, General, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

H&M racism observations

I am aware that for some in South Africa the mere fact that a white person is writing about racism is seen as inappropriate – but I am also aware that in the madness of emotions and seemingly permitted violence by a political leader and self-styled revolutionary one cannot stay silent on this topic. Therefore – even knowing the danger of being misunderstood and attacked some observations on the matter who made headlines in South Africa’s news the last day.

H&M’s advertising of a “black” boy from the North of Europe wearing a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle” caused consternation and mood swings in South Africa – culminating in trashing some outlets by brave EFF fighters supported by their political leaders who conveniently forgot that upholding the constitution is their duty as Parliamentarians.
There were also voices who saw the ‘racism’, but called for other means of protests while others could not see the “racist” point in this advertising.

As we have the freedom of expression in this country I dare to say that I personally don’t see racism in this hoodie story – but I see an insensitivity of the company looking into the South African markets. The question of race triggers here on the Southern tip of Africa lots of emotions – partly rightly so when we look into the history of country, but partly also clearly abused as a political tool and an excuse not to engage with one another on sore topics.
The accusation of “racism” is meanwhile a convenient tool to justify violence, looting and personal attacks – or, as just mentioned and demonstrated with the EFF’s action and comments of the self-styled “commander in chief” a political weapon to create instability, havoc and protest actions aimed on destruction.

I am aware that looking into the painful history and the question of healing will stay on top of the to-do list of South Africa for the next generations – the question of land and wealth distribution will linger and has to be addressed in the same way. We can only conquer those questions without creating new injustices if we listen to each others pain and guilt, despair and aspirations, hopes and nightmares…

South Africa stood 1994 with Madiba’s dream of a rainbow nation as a symbol of a global hope to lead the nations in overcoming injustice, racism and discrimination in a peaceful and dignified manner – we owe it to him and all those who gave their lives in the struggle that we don’t allow for cheap and quick unjust solutions but to remain an example the world can follow. It is a pains-taking task, the temptation to act out of emotions and to go for the quick fix will not lead to a better world and life for all.

Racism is ingrained into the history of humanity – it is a very stupid concept as there is only one race, the human race. But as a Catholic theologian I am also aware that history is full of those errors of judgement which lead to unspeakable terror – 100 years ago in my church democracy was from the devil and who ever advocated religious liberty was quickly outside the church. In the Middle Ages you lost your life using common sense not compatible with the church.
So looking into the past and acknowledging the unspeakable is the first part – accepting painfully also that for those gone there will never be a chance to compensate or to make it right. But we can learn out of it and make it right for our generation and more important for the generations to come – but abusing this past to great havoc and to continue to bring renewed separation to those living now means to prevent them to live their lives to the fullest. Instead of hate and division we have to forgive others and ourselves and work much harder to overcome inequality, discrimination and  all other stumping blocks for a brighter future for all.

Yes, there will real racists still be out there  – but let us leave them stand in the cold of their own hearts and dark corners – social media shit-storms just elevate them unnecessarily and make them heroes in their sick constituency. Some thrive of it like you can see with Donald Trump and other right-wing white machos.

South Africa – the cradle of mankind – let us work hard to make it a place where the human race started to acknowledge and to live as one – all equal under the sun.

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
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Ball of HOPE 2020

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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