The Hewitt family who lived in the township of Mamelodi for a month, on the same wages as those in the township.

Here is a really good article to read about how to listen from a position of privilege, from Christena Cleveland’s blog. I challenge you to read it and think about how you are privileged either because you belong to the dominant culture, race, religion, or gender in society, and how you can be a better listener.  I was really challenged by her advice on listening well before jumping in to fix things. I’d say that advice applies to me in most contexts–marriage, the work-place–but most especially when I’m in a position of privilege.

Here’s an excerpt:

“In the two years that I’ve lived in my predominantly black, low income neighborhood in Minneapolis, I’ve seen dozens of teams of privileged folks come in and try to fix a glaring problem without taking the time to build solidarity with the great people in my neighborhood.  Typically, within months the good-intentioned privileged folks retreat back to their privileged spaces, leaving behind a devastating trail of benevolent classism and racism.[i] Last summer, a few kids on my block told me that they don’t trust the white people who come into our neighborhood because they “don’t understand us and they always leave soon anyway.”

If Christian privileged people aren’t careful, their problem-solving heroics can easily dishonor the image of God in oppressed people. Most obviously, this occurs when privileged people bypass the crucial stage of “weep with those who weep” listening. This type of listening requires the privileged people to stand in paradigm-shifting, time-consuming and uncomfortable solidarity with oppressed people. Instead, they go straight to the “Let me solve your problem for you” type of non-listening.

For the rest of the article, click here.

Recently I read an article about a white family here in South Africa who visited the township where their “domestic worker” lived. They stayed there (with their two children, under the age of 5)  for a month, living in a small one-room house in her neighborhood. Many people criticized what they did, saying it was just poverty tourism. But others (including many in the community) expressed appreciation that a white person  was coming to understand how they lived, and to live with them. Apparently one day when visiting a tavern to watch a soccer match, one man started quoting Nelson Mandela’s “from the dock” speech (“ I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”)

I still don’t know what I think about it. On the one hand, their actions increased their empathy, their sense of solidarity and their understanding of the kind of life their domestic worker (and many, many other South Africans) live. And they were there for a whole month, which isn’t just a vacation. But on the other hand, after a month they went back to their nice house with a swimming pool, and their domestic worker stayed in the township. It reminds me of all the pros and cons of short-term missions, but on a local scale.

But I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing because unlike short-term missions (which are glamorous, and international and cost lots of money) this family was going somewhere where they had an established relationship already, and they were going with the intention to listen and learn. Most white people here have the privilege of living in places where they are in the majority (weird, huh, when we are only 10% of the population in this country??)–but our money and our social networks mean that this slice of the “rainbow nation” can live separately. Some people have never even set foot in a township. And while some may have driven through, not very many have spent any significant amount of time there. And if they have, it’s usually been in the “let’s fix and save everything” capacity, not the listen and learn capacity. I think especially in our country, we need more people doing this kind of thing–really learning, really listening–from people who are privileged.

I would go further and say, though, that after listening well, action does need to be taken. Not necessarily action that is a quick fix for superficial problems that let us go back to our comfy lives  (as mentioned in the Cleveland article). But hopefully action that is birthed out of solidarity and understanding and that means our lives are changing and getting uncomfortable, too. Hopefully after listening in solidarity, privileged people’s actions will result in choices that can change systems of injustice, even if it comes at personal cost. (Like this family who pay their domestic worker a living wage, even though it means they are cutting back on their spending to do so). The cool thing is that the Hewitts don’t seem like they are just going to go back and live their lives the same way. And I think that’s why they’ve received so much back-lash from others…because people don’t want to really listen because they are afraid of what they might learn.

In what contexts can you listen better in this week?

  • Praise God for a wonderful and productive time with Rachel and David. They were both so encouraging, and produce great work!
  • Pray for our holiday club– training day for our 9 Hilton highschoolers who are helping is on Saturday, and the club is next Weds to Friday.


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