My friend William Goxo recently asked me: “I have been wondering about you, being born and bred under apartheid in a white Afrikaner farming community, what makes you different? You are not what I have seen all over!“
Here is my answer: I am a descendant of white colonists who came from Europe to South Africa about 350 years ago. I believe my blood to be a mixture of German, Dutch and French. I may have some Malaysian blood in my veins too, but we were classified as “white” by the Nationalists who came to power in 1948. My parents were not Nationalists, and in those days could have been considered to be more “enlightened” or liberal, but they were not free from racial discrimination either. Growing up in a society and going to school where discrimination was the order of the day, I was of course influenced. So, I will be a hypocrite to say I never discriminated. And all of us who think that we do not discriminate, still say and do things without even realizing it ourselves how discriminatory and hurtful it can be to others!
When I was about 25, my life changed drastically. I went overseas and read a book about Steve Biko that was banned in South Africa under apartheid. What Mandela said in court and something Steve Biko said, stayed with me ever since. As I understood, Steve Biko despised these liberal white “good-doers” who “care so much for these poor blacks”, but still come from very high up in their own eyes! So, amid “fighting for a good cause” you can still be full of yourself! From this high-minded mindset you want to “educate” and help these “poor and simple people” and tell them how they should live and react and do things! It is this stuff that I found at that time, not only in liberal white circles, but I found it in myself, in my own mindset, my own conduct. It was then that I gave up the fight against this mentality in others, and the fight started within myself.
The source of discrimination
Unless we understand the root of all discrimination, we will never get rid of it! We will always deal with it on the surface. No law can ever stop discrimination. We can teach our children good principles and good manners, we can punish people who use the “k-word” or “n-word”, but unless we find the root of discrimination and get rid of that, it will continue under the surface and in the minds of people, and will from time to time break out like it happened in the recent murder of George Floyd. It is like the Covid-19 virus that you cannot stop with rules and regulations. You must get a vaccine that fights the virus from the inside if you want to stop the pandemic!
The bottom line is, none of us ever decided where we were to be born, what colour our skin should be, what gifts and talents should be in us. I could have been black and born in a slum! And with totally different talents than I have today. My friend William Goxo could have been born white, and in one of the most affluent suburbs of Cape Town. How on earth can I, who just happen to be what I am, exalt myself above anybody on earth? And why should somebody that was born in a slum look up to those born in affluent suburbs, bow for them and feel inferior? That is crazy! Inferiority complexes are just as wrong as superiority complexes!
So, to look up to certain people and to look down on others because of their skin colour, race, wealth, language, etc.- that was taught to us by a sick society! It is not sober and sensible at all! And sad enough, that is how we all were brought up, with “this is great and grand”, and “that is low and inferior!”
And how does God, who made each and every one of us to be like Himself (Genesis 1:26) regard all of this? He who after all decided where you and I were to be born? He who made our skin colour and planted some gifts in each of us, so that the one is a bit more competent in a certain area than another? God judges all people by the same standard (1 Petr.1:17), and that what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight. (Luk.16:15.) Does He esteem rich people higher? People with a particular skin colour? People who are gifted? Not at all! You will find it nowhere in the whole Bible! But why do you and I do that? Because we as humans get so easily puffed up without any reason whatsoever, because of our carnal mindset. This is how God judges this kind of behaviour in Col.2:18. And if we have this mindset, and still call ourselves Christians, we are just carnal Christians, small babies in Christ!
How then can we get rid of discrimination?
It is one thing to know we are all corrupted in our mindsets, but how can we get rid of it? Jesus said if you acknowledge the truth, that the truth will set you free! (John.8:32.) It is also written that it is impossible to do this with the law – with rules and regulations. (Rom.8:3.) And that the only way to get rid of it, is to condemn thoughts like “I am more than my him / her because of the colour of my skin, my gifts, etc.” These kinds of thoughts can be very subtle, and we need the Holy Spirit to point it out when we have these kinds of thoughts that are so deeply rooted in us.
And this is precisely how I stopped being a racist, that is, thinking that I am more than somebody else because I have a different skin colour or culture or gifts. Since I started acknowledging these discriminatory thoughts and condemning it little by little, by God’s grace my thoughts about others, my nature, my way of conduct changed. And this is why I am what I am today. I am not a “self-made-man”! Jesus in His goodness changed my life to be as it is! And He will get all the honour for it!
1 Corinthians 4:7 has been a great help to me in this regard: “What do you have that you have not received, and if you have received it, why do you boast as if you have not received it?” Thinking of this verse makes me immediately sober and then I refuse to allow any high-minded, discriminatory thoughts. This is how I am getting rid of the source of all discrimination in me, bit by bit.
Today I, Tielman Slabbert, a white Afrikaner male, love and respect all people just as they are. They are beautiful to me, just as God made them. I like black, white, brown, and yellow people, whether old madalas, “ooms”, grannies, omamas, ababamkhulus, young men, children, aunties, bafanas, etc. I love them all!