18 Comments

  1. Joan Wright
    June 19, 2020 @ 12:08 am

    Yes, I read your blog with great interest. So well written and true of your past in South Africa.

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 24, 2020 @ 3:35 pm

      Dearest Joan, so lovely to hear from you. This was a hard post to write and some of the comments were hard to respond to. Thanks for you always being there for me, my whole life since I got to know you. Hope you are doing well. Love you so much.

      Reply

  2. George Mierisch
    June 19, 2020 @ 1:40 pm

    Wonderful article, and so timely. Thank you Gerda!

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 22, 2020 @ 1:10 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind response, George. Your and Kimarie’s love and support are so important to Peter and me. Looking forward to seeing you in real life in a week or two, or whenever the virus has spiked in Utah and we can safely meet. Lots of love to you both.

      Reply

  3. shen
    June 19, 2020 @ 5:16 pm

    Powerfully said. Perfectly put. Thank you. How can I send this to people who might not see it? (Umm, don’t tell me you aren’t really writing!) I’m soooo glad you are in my privileged white of-course-racist life. xoxox Shen

    Reply

  4. Jo-Anne Berelowitz
    June 20, 2020 @ 12:37 pm

    Nancy Geyer told me about this essay. So powerful. I’m from Durban. Came to the US in 1977. Lived mostly in CA, one year in Canada, now in Austin, TX. Writing a memoir about SA. Art historian by profession, now retired and about to graduate from the Rainier Writing Workshop.

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 22, 2020 @ 12:21 pm

      How lovely to hear from you, Jo-Anne. Thanks for your kind words about my essay. I’m glad it resonated with your experiences, I imagine in your memories from South Africa and how you perceive race relations in our mutual adopted country of the US. So glad to year you are writing a memoir about SA. How wonderful that you have been doing a writing workshop program. Getting into writing was a huge leap into finding my way in my life when I was newly emigrated and in my late thirties and forties. I imagine writing your memoir and being with other writers must have been an inspiring experience. Congratulations on completing that! Wishing you all the best in your writing and the rest of your life!

      Reply

  5. Daniel Shepard
    June 21, 2020 @ 2:04 am

    Recognizing the differences between race groups, maybe a contract between blacks and whites is needed.
    Each race creates its own destiny and it so happened that whites advanced more rapidly.
    At some stage, maybe millions of years ago, blacks and whites must have been equal however whites took the initiative to better themselves and advanced quicker.
    Face the fact that black people invented very little (if nothing) of note then imagine a life without factories, cars, boats, planes, TV’s, electricity, computers, satellites, medical advancement …….
    The vast majority of blacks are consumers, not producers and naturally want to share equally in what whites have produced but in all fairness they lack the willingness, drive, ability or intellect to be able to contribute.
    Now they have realized that there is a way to avert attention from the glaring and obvious and that is to play the victim and pull the race card and not surprisingly to some extent it’s working as can be seen by the reaction of the politically correct, liberal and guilt-complexed section of the white population.
    There are white people who strangely feel the need to apologize to blacks just for being white and privileged but it will be difficult or even impossible to change the status quo.
    Blacks multiply at an alarming rate with black women tending to conceive in their teens giving no rational thought as to whether they can afford it or not, leaving black children to grow up without fathers. The cycle will repeat itself for generations to come.
    For whatever reason black men are more prone to crime than most, so in every major city in the world the poorest and most dangerous areas are always the black ones.
    Since the advent of the large migration from the poorer African continent, Europeans have been able to experience the above first hand.

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 22, 2020 @ 12:27 pm

      Dear Daniel, as you know from reading my post, I disagree with your at every point. However, I am glad that you want to communicate because only if we talk about our differences can we understand each other. I know that what you personally experienced in your life has led you to feel the way you feel, just as my experiences led me to the perspective I expressed. I wish you peace with yourself and everyone around you.

      Reply

  6. Ria Saunders
    June 22, 2020 @ 1:58 am

    So brave and so honest, Gerda…….as always.

    With love
    Ria

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 22, 2020 @ 12:29 pm

      Thanks for always listening, my dearest Ria. I miss you and will write you a proper email soon. I’ve been unfocused with the quarantine and poor Peter has to help me with every move these days. Love you so much.

      Reply

  7. Angela Garzouzie
    June 22, 2020 @ 12:11 pm

    Wow, Gerda! What a huge gift your story gives me – I share so much of it! Thank you so much. I can write well, but struggle to THINK clearly, and have felt so massively overwhelmed by so much of this BLM. But it’s just not enough to stay overwhelmed, is it?? One response for me is reading My Grandmother’s Hands https://www.amazon.ca/My-Grandmothers-Hands-Racialized-Pathway/dp/1942094477/ref=nodl_
    Recommended by an African-American Minnesota friend who’s involved in the GF memorial project and who has patiently and graciously walked with me as an immigrant, who had many layers, including denial, around this issue. The book is helping me unpack emotionally and even think more clearly. His argument is that we must go through our mind AND body if we hope to remove racism.
    I hope to follow your journey more closely. Thank you again.
    Angela.

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 22, 2020 @ 2:19 pm

      How wonderful to hear from you, Angela. I wondered if you were from South Africa and looked you up on Facebook and friended you. I see you are also friends with my beloved bestie Erna Schutte–and that you give spiritual care at a hospital. How lovely to meet you! I’m glad that my story resonated with you. I can identify with your efforts at figuring out the effect of one’s growing up in South Africa and transposing one’s thoughts on the American situation. I checked out the book you recommend–read the first chapter on Amazon–and plan to get it. I am so happy to know about this book, since the embodiment of our personhood in our BODIES has always been something that has interested and fascinated me. I have done some reading on psychoanalysis since Freud and its reclamation by feminists and students of race via the French philosopher/psychoanalist Jacques Lacan. Freud insisted in his later writings that “the ego is above all a body-ego,” and highlighted the fact that we perceive the world through our bodies in a very deep way. In “My Grandmother’s Hands” Menakem describes the neurological mechanism of the fear and other responses via the vagus nerve and the reptilian brain. I have always been so intrigued by the way our brain completely side-steps our rationality in so much of our lives. That is why one of my resolutions is not to regress to that stage of dementia (like my mother did) where one’s childhood racist indoctrination takes over and you cannot help but react in a racist manner. Thanks so very much for introducing me to this book–I will recommend it to many people as I go on to write about my dementia, particularly in the context of racism. Like you say about yourself, I can write well, but my dementia is wreaking havoc on my daily life in the world. My saintly husband, Peter, helps me more and more every day just to navigate through the physical spaces of our lives. I know that must bring comfort and peace to so many people in your job–and also that your ability to do that must necessarily spill into your life. Thanks for doing such an important job in the world.

      Reply

  8. Angela
    June 22, 2020 @ 2:29 pm

    Ag, fantastic! And hoorah for being able to even write that sentence, net so! (-: I am listening to the book rather than reading. Also highly recommended. The exercises are good but I am not managing to do them as he rightly insists one does before reading on!! Look forward for further conversations!

    Angela.

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 24, 2020 @ 8:17 am

      I also look forward to talking more in future.

      Reply

  9. pieter steenekamp
    June 24, 2020 @ 7:09 am

    Hi Gerda,

    I agree, apartheid in the ’50s was cruel. I don’t want to defend 1 little bit of it.

    But, are you serious about your father beating a black man with a rubber house like you described?
    I grew up in the same area in the same time, and I don’t recollect anything like this ever happened on our farm and I’m not aware of anything like that happened in the area? I’m not saying it did not happen.

    Are you referring to Oom Boshoff acting like that? You can knock me over with a feather. I’m flabbergasted, seriously!

    Your cousin from the neighboring farm at the time.

    Pieter

    Reply

    • Gerda Saunders
      June 24, 2020 @ 8:47 am

      Hello Pieter, I really do not know how to respond to you. I know that my memory is suspect because of my microvascular disease, but I do remember my childhood on the farm very well. I told Peter about about my father beating the man shortly after he and I met and I’ve told close friends about it over the years from my early thirties onward. I wrote about this in fictional form in my first book, Blessings on the Sheep Dog. Seeing my father do something so violent deeply shocked me as a child, just as his hitting me with his belt is still a very painful thing for me. The very horror comes from the incongruity of a man who lived in his head most of his life doing something that seemed so uncharacteristic. Having experienced the lesson of incongruity early in my life, I am never surprised when someone in a respectable position (and, in Utah, usually someone from the Mormon church) is arrested for child sexual abuse or embezzlement or some other crime that looks completely out of character. As I said in my post, I was very close to my father and still have warm memories about him; and I feel a great respect for what he achieved in his life despite his life-long depression (which I inherited, together with the insomnia) and the impossibly difficult circumstances under which he farmed, culminating in the drought that wiped my family out. I remember other stories of members of our larger family and people from neighboring farms treating black people with disrespect and/or physical cruelty and telling about it with great hilarity, but I am too worn out emotionally at this stage from dwelling on the events that led up to this blog post to give more examples. Thanks so much for being in touch. It is good to know that your experience of my father makes his act unbelievable to you. He was someone I loved and I’m glad that his overall goodness is what stays in people’s memories.

      Reply

  10. Pieter Steenekamp
    June 26, 2020 @ 12:00 am

    Hi Gerda,

    I accept that what you wrote about your father is true. I apologize for doubting your word.

    But I am deeply disturbed by your blog post. Two reasons: first the emphasis you place on the incident you witnessed of your father taints the legacy of an imperfect but good man who was a force for moving society to a better place. Secondly I argue that your emphasis on the past injustices is not conducive to making society better.

    As a start I just like to try to establish some possible common ground. At heart I’m an anarchist, as described on the back page of Noam Chomsky’s On Anarchism: “Anarchism is a radical scepticism about structures of dominance, authority and hierarchy throughout human life, from the patriarchal family to imperialism”.
    Then I accept that the peaceful protests and voices against George Floyds’ murder is fully justified and I support it.
    I also accept that there are past injustices that contributed to a not ideal society today. As part of my anarchist heart, I also support actions towards making society better for Black Lives. I just don’t think supporting a victim culture as per the tone of your blog is taking society closer to a peaceful anarchy.

    Below I’m trying to explain my position. I first try to argue why focusing on past injustices is not a good strategy to making society and specifically Black Lives better. Then I explain why I’m disturbed by the tainting of your father’s legacy. Lastly I talk a bit on what I’m doing to make Black Lives Matter.

    The first point: focusing on past injustices is not a good strategy for making lives better. I’m just giving one example of the contrary.
    In the 1980’s living in South Africa I was very worried. I used to repeat the metaphor of keeping a lion in a cage and poking the lion is not a good idea if the lion gets out and is then angry. My tribe metaphorically kept the Blacks in a cage and we kept on poking the beast. I saw disaster because I knew it’s inevitable that we are going to get freedom in the country. Fortunately my fears did not materialize and we had the good luck to have a wise leader in Nelson Mandela that very much focused on making the future better and understood enough about human nature that if he did not demand that my tribe kneels in forgiveness. If he did there would have been a blood bath and everybody would be have been worse off.
    Fast forward this to another country: America today. I argue you would be much better off following Madiba’s example rather then trying to promote the victim culture. Look at somebody like Andrew Yang’s effort that focuses on making things better. If the left keep on promoting the victim culture and ignore the rioting and looting, you have the danger of Trump’s law and order message to result in him getting a landslide.

    My second point is the tainting of your father’s legacy. I have very fond memories of Oom Boshoff and am deeply disturbed on highlighting his imperfections. In this section I’m going to present two sub-points: first is that on the balance your father was a force towards making Black Lives better. The second point is an example where it’s better to rather not broadcasting everything to the world.
    Your father had many challenges in life. As a human being and father he climbed a very steep mountain to make sure his house is in order: looking after his offspring. But he also lived in a society as part of a tribe that was deeply discriminatory against Black Lives. In this regard he also acted in ways that you can be proud of. You mentioned his actions in supporting the school for young Black Lives. I think it’s safe to say that, yes he was not perfect, but his actions contributed towards changing his tribe’s attitudes that later on making them accepting the constructive actions of Madiba.
    Gerda, you’re welcome to make of your fathers’ legacy what you want, I am proud of my uncle’s, your father, though imperfect, actions that eventually contributed to my tribe accepting Madiba as our leader. Not only for his family, for Black Lives Matter he was a force for the good.
    Then I want to give an example of how I think one should honor the legacy of a good, but imperfect hero. My friend Harald Pakendorf was a close friend of the late Van Zyl Slabbert, at one stage leader of the opposition in the apartheid regime. Harald, having been a newspaper editor for many years, was asked to write a book about Van Zyl Slabbert. He declined, giving the reason he has intimate knowledge of Van Zyl Slabbert’s imperfection as a human being. Writing a book would leave him with one of two options: either lying about his life or tainting his legacy. He decided that, although imperfect, there was enough positive actions in Van Zyl Slabbert’s life that he does not wish to taint his legacy. Harald declined the offer.
    I don’t want to lie about about Oom Boshoff’s past, by I also don’t want to make his imperfections the main focus of a virtue signalling message.

    Lastly I wish to pre-empt and defend in advanced criticism on my criticism. I hear you ask, okay Pieter, so what are you doing to make Black Lives Matter.
    I am very serious about contributing to make education better, with the focus on the broken schools in the townships and rural areas. My first attempt was to establish a school as a template for a model that could be rolled out to the townships and rural areas out to give very good education at very low cost to the kids that currently get a very low quality education.
    It’s a long story and I’ll be glad to expand on it, but the long and short of it is that it failed. I am learning from my experience and I am planning a follow up prototype school. I’ll be very keen to discuss this with anybody anywhere.

    Pieter

    Reply

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