Identity crisis...what crisis?
I am an African woman. As you read this, a mental image has immediately formed in your mind. You are just missing specifics for a fuller picture. Is she Zulu or Xhosa, Pedi or Sotho? Perhaps your thinking extends beyond South Africa’s borders to Malawi, Zambia or Zimbabwe?
I am an African woman.
I am an African woman who is white.
If you are a black African woman, I can see your nostrils flare and smoke coming out of your ears as you indignantly whisper ‘How dare she call herself African!!’
Your black African identity has just presupposed superiority over my white African identity.
Seriously, that is what you have just done.
Default prejudices and stereotypical expectations and assumptions have been reinforced.
I am pleading with you, my black ‘sistas,’ to just breathe, count to ten and to not stop reading.
I am an African Woman.
I was born in Africa and have lived here all my life.
I concede that my lineage and roots cannot be traced to Mapungubwe. My ancestors were not slaves. For all I know, my ancestors could have been slave traders.
I am a 4th generation South African whose paternal great grandparents were from England and whose maternal great grandparents were French Huguenots. My maternal grandfather was a true Afrikaans boer, a sheep farmer from Cradock.
My paternal grandfather left school at the age of 14 to learn a trade to support his mother and nine younger siblings after the death of his father.
I was born in the summer of ’69, [the only significance of this is that it is the title of a Bryan Adams song].
I am a product of growing up under the Apartheid regime on the side of white privilege.
My birthplace is a little town called Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.
I have lived in South Africa, Uganda and Rwanda.
I am an African woman.
I was born on African soil. Four generations before me were born on African soil.
What else can I call myself? What identity am I entitled to?
I have realised that if there is any group in South Africa that can be pitied from a cultural richness and heritage perspective, it is us English white South Africans. Please hear me out. Perhaps the only card I can play is that we are a minority group! [I hope you can find the humour in this irony].
South Africans who have cultural and tribal allegiances have unique traditions and practices, be that Zulu, Xhosa etc. These could be traditional marriage practices, lobola, coming of age ceremonies, and traditional dress.
The Cape Malays have a rich food culture and lingo.
The Afrikaners have koeksusters, melktert, braaivleis and rugby.
What easily discernible traditions or cultural practices do I as a white English South African have? Perhaps white privilege? Are you slowly starting to feel sorry for me? Do you realise why I have an identity crisis?
Thabiti Anyabwile has so transformed my thinking on this idea of racial identity. His premise is the following: ‘The category of race is a social fiction. It is not a real Biblical category.’ [He refers to Acts 17:26] ‘The idea of race is an illusion. Nowhere in the Bible do you find anything describing race.’
He goes on further to explain that there is one Biblical story. We are one human race descended from Adam.
In Genesis 3, Eve is called the mother of all living.
After the flood, the rest of humanity descended from Noah and his sons.
We are all unified as descendants of Adam and Noah. The table of nations in Genesis 10 illustrates that all are descended from Noah’s sons. It does not mention race, but rather class, language and ethnicity.
Thabiti argues that before Christian unity, there is biological unity because we are all descended from the same parents. ‘As Christians, we need a thorough rethinking of anthropology… We need some truth-telling in a vigorous Biblical way.’
So in the church, dear ‘sistas,’ we do not have the right to look at one another in terms of racial categories. That would be a sin. That would be racism. And it is a sin in the way racism has manifested itself in the hearts and actions of people. This may be historically justified but that doesn’t make it right.
I do not have the freedom to look at you and behold first your skin colour and base an entire narrative on that and you do not have the freedom to do that to me.
Because of our citizenship in heaven, I have more in common with my black ‘sista’ in the pew than I do with my white neighbour who is an unbeliever. That is what Christ’s blood bought on the cross. We are co-heirs with Christ. We are one in Christ.
As Jesus said in John 8:32, the Truth will always set us free.
What more wonderful truths could there be for you and me than contained in these verses:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. [Galatians3:28-29]
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. [Colossians 3:9-11]
Where does that leave you and me?
It leaves us deliberately and intentionally changing the way we look at each other. I must look at you with different eyes. You must look at me with different eyes. We must view each other through the lens of the Gospel of Grace. We are ‘sista’s in Christ.’
Tim Keller articulates this so clearly: ‘Racial pride and cultural narrowness cannot co-exist with the gospel of grace. They are mutually exclusive.’
Identity crisis? What crisis?
I am settled in this. My identity does not need to come from my skin colour, my language, my traditions or my cultural practices. None of that defines me. It may explain me, but it does not define me. My identity is found in Christ and that trumps all else, because that is eternal.