By Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya
We are living in a tumultuous world that is undergoing volcanic changes. We are navigating unknown territory, grappling with the socio-economic and political changes wrought by the current Covid-19 pandemic. In the midst of a pandemic that threatens to cripple economies, in its wake, it is uprooting and exposing social ills and corruption like never before. It is bringing to the surface like icky, gross pus, issues that need to be dealt with properly, in order for true healing to occur.
We are witnessing the ugly heads of racism, injustice and indifference. The recent violence and chaos happening in our world is appalling. It is beyond what the soul can bear. We have heard differing opinions being expressed – some good, some bad and others just downright shocking. What is clear however is that certain issues which were simply swept under the carpet, or superficially addressed, now need to be addressed properly in order for us to move forward into the new.
It has made me reflect on who I am, my place in the world, the sacrifices my family made for me, and the future I dream of and envision. As a mixed-race, multicultural, multilingual deaf woman, I grew up in the midst of black and white families and valuing both sides. I realize I may have a different ‘normal’. I grew up aware that I am both white and black with a rich North American-African-Scandinavian heritage that has anchored who I am. I am secure in who I am.
The fact that I don’t fit the social tableaux of what is supposed to be ‘normal’ has not shaken me. My greatest battles in life have been mainly centrered around my disability, or the perceived notion that because I’m deaf, I can’t achieve anything notable in life. My greatest challenge is obtaining the same access to information and opportunities that people who hear have in order to live a rich, fulfilling, meaningful life.
In South Africa where I currently live, a country dealing with complex, multifaceted issues as a result of apartheid and other elements; I, like other people who are mixed-race/biracial/multiracial have a unique set of challenges to deal with. I have seen and experienced varying nuances of exclusion and disregard most of which I have chosen to laugh through. I have chosen to instead seek to understand why people react the way they do, understanding the historical context and narratives, and finding ways in which to have conversations that hopefully change people’s mindsets and give them something to reflect on.
Combating the nefarious elements of racism, injustice and indifference that threaten our wellbeing and rights to freedom of existence, economic participation, education, access to information and speech requires a whole new way of thinking, asking questions and finding new solutions to challenges. New ways that take into account the time honored values of respect, dignity and equitable treatment. It merits hard conversations and reflections about who we are, where we are coming from, why we are here and where we want to go, regardless of our skin colour and ability.
I believe the key to successfully bridging conflicts that are brought about by an “us”, “them” and “other” perspective often lie in the language or semantics we choose to use. People are asking for and yearning to be truly heard, seen and acknowledged. People are asking for justice and compassion to drive real change. I dream of and envision a future in which people overcome deep-seated issues and challenges through meaningful conversations and dialogues that heal and unlock even the hardest hearts.
I dream of and envision a future in which people, no matter what their skin colour or abilities are; have the right to exist and have equal access to economic participation, education, information and a say, that enhances their quality of life. As the first mixed-race person in my family, who by coming together charted a new path of love that rose above uncertainties and fears about the future, I hope that when family members saw me for the first time, they saw and recognized the future. A future of children who may not even have the same skin colour as their parents, still carried their hopes and dreams for a better world. A world that didn’t pin them into a box of what to conform to, based on skin colour.
As I witness family, friends and peers raise their own families and, welcome new members even during the pandemic; I am surrounded by a new generation of multiracial, multicultural and multilingual couples and children. I joy at each new story triumphing against the odds. I think – who will these children, our future, look up to? What core values and lessons will we teach these future generations?
They will need strong, confident, resilient people who though having warred and battled through challenges, emerged victorious because they dared to have real conversations. Conversations based on mutual respect and a genuine desire to understand each other and find ways to resolve conflict, and to rebuild the future on firmer foundations. No child should have to grow up in fear simply because he or she looks different. These children are the face of the future – a future that says true unity and love across what people said was impossible, is after all, possible.