Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “America”

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

The tinsel and trees are up and carols are ringing through shopping centres. With Christmas just a few weeks away, we asked a few Common Grounders to share what the day means to them and how they celebrate it.  

PeliswaIn New Cross Roads, Cape Town

“Christmas is for family – it’s a family gathering. Some of us live in different places so it’s when we can spend time together. Christmas is when we bond. In my family, we all meet – aunties, cousins – at my mom’s place. Early in the morning we sit around and drink coffee together then we open presents. Each person’s buys a present for one person. Cheap stuff – not expensive things. In my point of view, Christmas is a time for giving. Even if we don’t have a lot, we all eat together and spend time together. It’s a special day.” Pheliswa

423209_751980315312_367089462_nIn Stuttgart, Germany

“We have a big Christmas Eve celebration. We usually go to church at  3pm and then the whole family – about 10 to 15 of us – gathers afterwards. My parents or one of my siblings will decorate the room so that no one sees the Christmas tree before dinner. Germany isn’t very family orientated so we invite people who don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. The kids get to open one gift and then we read the Christmas story from the Bible. My dad usually says something really meaningful and then we pray and eat together.” Sarah

TerenceIn Grassy Park, Cape Town

“Growing up Christmas was always an exciting time because you’d get the one thing you wanted and we’d hang lights outside the house. I could never sleep the night before. But then Christmas was just about Father Christmas; now I understand that Christmas is the day that Jesus was born and that is the main reason why we should celebrate. I’m more aware of those who don’t have. I always try to give them something if I can afford it so that at least they have something. I do feel a little bit sad at Christmas time because it reminds me of my mom who passed away, but thankfully I have my sister, so she makes up for it.”  Terence

FreddyIn Kinshasa, Congo

“Where I’m from in the Congo, my parents are elders in their extended family so Christmas is a huge event. We normally invite all our uncles, aunts, and cousins. For the elders, they kill a chicken and they have traditional food, but for the kids we have French fries! We spend the whole day together until late. My dad, as the eldest, reads a story about Jesus from the Bible. He encourages those who’ve been through difficult times during the year to remain strong because Jesus came for our salvation. From 10pm to 3am, those who are Christian, have overnight prayer at church. During that prayer meeting, it’s not about preaching – it’s about praising God and dancing. It’s a very joyful event.” Freddie

156098_10151343760646281_797515950_n-001In St Louis, America 

“In America, Christmas is all about family traditions. In my family, we start the morning off by reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke with the sounds of our favourite old school Stephen Curtis Chapman Christmas album wafting through the air (it generally plays five times on repeat).  We then open gifts one at a time starting with the oldest and break halfway through for my mom’s famous egg casserole, homemade cranberry coffee cake and chocolate Lindt balls. The rest of the day is spent with extended family where the dads try to relive their childhood by putting together the little boys’ legos.” Lindsay

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Show loveChristmas isn’t a festive season for everyone. But you can make this year different by showing love to and making a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need. For more information on our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.

 

Love Across the Colour Line

Following on from his wife’s earlier blog post, Dan Weeks shares his journey of coming to grips with his own prejudice and the life-changing consequences.

Dan and his wife, Sindiso

Dan and his wife, Sindiso

If you asked me at age ten or twenty who I was going to marry, Sindiso would have been the farthest thing from my mind. I never expected to cross the colour line – or the cultural-continental line, for that matter. The thought never even crossed my mind.

At first, it was simply a matter of geography. I was raised in a small American town where 100% of the people were white like me. I attended elementary and high schools where the same was true. In church, sports, music, and the like, not a drop of colour could be found.

Then, at age eighteen, I left home to spend a service year in Washington, DC and found myself in the minority. As I began working alongside people of different races, a gradual thaw began and I took pride in calling a few black people friends. But I’d be lying if I said we were close. The gap between us – race and class together – was too wide to bridge. Friends with borders and few benefits.

My prejudice kept us apart.

You see, all my life I had seen models in magazines and on TV who were white. Long hair, short hair, blonde or brown, their skin was always the same; what else was there to call beautiful? The same was true of the role models in my life. With the solitary exceptions of Martin Luther King and Michael Jordan, all the people I looked up to as wise and just, sporty and cool were also white. In every book, movie, newspaper, and TV, the implicit message I received about race was “white is right.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the images I saw of black people in the media – and this was not mere accident – overwhelmingly conformed to a few ugly stereotypes: black people were criminals or welfare queens, corrupt or lazy, extravagant or poor. The few available exceptions I encountered seemed to prove the rule.

And here’s the rub: It’s one thing to tolerate a group of people who you believe, at a deeply subconscious level, to be inferior. That’s basic human decency, a standard any Christian can meet. But it’s quite another thing to see such people as equals and to ask a member of that group to be your wife, the mother of your children.

In order to undo these malign impressions and come to see black people as my equals (true friendship requires nothing less), I had to undergo a change of heart and mind. It has taken years.

To change my heart, I had to get to know black people as human beings. I had to stray from my white bubble and enter common grounds. Then, I had to let black people in and ask to be let in. When that happened, I gradually came to see how impoverished had been my understanding of who they were. In all the ways that mattered for moral worth, we were the same. I’ll admit that having ‘elite’ black people around me at university – people who shared my social class, who walked and talked like me – made things easier. How much simpler is it in South Africa to befriend a professional black colleague and invite her to our home than the man who clears our trash?

The process cannot end there.

To change my mind, I had to acknowledge the uneasy fact that their humanity was under assault still today. This is primarily true of the overwhelming majority of (non-elite) black people, in South Africa and the US, whose lives are little changed since apartheid and segregation. I had to see the manufactured barriers that stood in the way of their becoming my “equal” in society. Simply put, I had to see injustice: a stubborn and costly injustice, not confined to history, that made me the inheritor of unearned privilege and made them still its victim. Their trials were not the result of personal failings alone (Lord knows I too have failed) but were also part of a system, a set of institutional arrangements, that result in black children being born, on average, with a fraction of the wealth and opportunity that I and other white people enjoy.

At the center of this journey is Sindiso. When we met and fell in love in England, she was completing her PhD on a prestigious scholarship. Two facts I often mentioned to family and friends when seeking their approval. Would these facts make her acceptable, the exception that proved the rule of black inferiority, in their minds, or mine? I’d like to say her credentials never mattered much to me, but they did. I cannot speak for the others.

Nevertheless, with her help – and with the boundless grace her family and black friends have shown – I am coming to see that, although she is exceptional in many ways, her ‘people’ are every bit her equal and mine in the ways that truly matter. There are still challenges, both weighty and mundane: barriers of class and culture stand in the way of full mutual understanding between us and her family, resulting from privileges they did not have under apartheid.

We are exposed to basic needs of subsistence and access to justice close to home that we wish did not exist. We still get plenty of looks in public, looks which she invariably notices and I often do not. In many ‘privileged’ white spaces, especially in Cape Town, I feel naturally entitled while she is ill at ease. Our different tastes in food, music, art, and sport have taken some tinkering. And black hair is a whole lot more complicated and political than I ever imagined… 🙂

Confronting uncomfortable truths about race and class, and growing in mind and heart, does not come naturally to me. My selfish pride still gets in the way. Yet I thank God for both the process and reward: finding the love of my life, who happens to look nothing like me, and coming to grasp the fundamental truth that we are all, equally, image-bearers of God.

– Dan is a Fellow at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard and is currently writing a book about poverty and democracy (www.PoorInDemocracy.org). He is also a member of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation. For more on Dan and Sindiso’s story, follow their blog sindisoanddan.wordpress.com

What are some of the prejudices you’ve had to deal with in your own life? How have you tried to overcome them?

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