James de Villiers

Charlottesville: the other side of the coin

2017-08-18 10:49
A demonstrator at a rally against white supremacy in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Pic:  Jessica Kourkounis, AFP)

A demonstrator at a rally against white supremacy in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Pic: Jessica Kourkounis, AFP)

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“The world hates, because the world is blinded staring at itself,” my aunt, the 80 year old icon, said.

Her petite body moved effortlessly in the four-by-six-meter kitchen, alight with the mid-afternoon sun, while the Afrikaans radio played just loudly enough in the background. The dated brown kitchen cupboards seemed fitting for this nostalgic scene.

She sat down next to me at the kitchen table and breathed heavily. Her eyes were whitened from years of agony, with defined wrinkles running towards her mouth: each wrinkle carrying its own story.

Her hands trembled as she took a sip of her boiled water, using both hands to avoid spilling.

“The world hates, because the world is unable to look past its own selfish desires,” she said.

She spoke, not out of anger, but out of regret. Her large eyes begged me not to repeat her mistake.

That day Aunt Ann, my Aunt Annatjie, shared with me how she gave up her dream of adoption, because her extended family didn’t approve. The childless widow, first rejected because of her marriage to an older man, was forced to give up happiness; her family unable to look past themselves and accept a black child.

Last week, on the other side of the world in Charlottesville, America, a protestor cried. “Love trumps hate,” her poster read.

She ran, trying to escape the fast-approaching black car. The car killed one. On Saturday, a white terrorist killed an innocent soul before driving away.

It was a perfect storm. They, the white-supremacists fighting the removal of a statue commemorating a slave-owning war-hero, faced opposing anti-racism activists, shouting. Their voices echoed: inaudible to the human ear, confusion in the middle of this great ideological divide.

In war people lose touch with their own humanity. We forget that it’s a human we are facing. We see an enemy instead: an obstacle that simply needs to be removed.

But then, in Chicago, a man raised his hand. A self-described former neo-Nazi, Christian Picciolini, said we are all doing it wrong.

“Dialogue for the first time with African-Americans and with gay people and with Jewish people… That’s what changed me,” the man told Upworthy in a video on Monday.

“I really received loved and compassion and empathy from the people I least deserved it from.” 

My Aunt Annatjie would’ve agreed.

She died from pancreatic cancer four years ago. My mother and I sat in our hometown old-age home and listened to her last few breaths. It stung like glass piercing flesh. Her death was agony, an undeserved tragedy.

And going against human nature, Aunt Ann would not be remembered for a bitter heart, but for her ability to place herself second. Despite continued rejection, she chose to love and connect – to care.

“The world hates, because the world is blinded staring at itself,” my role model, aunt Annatjie, used to say.

So today, instead of focusing on what we fear and hate, maybe we should try to build a bridge? Our world is alive with extraordinary possibilities, we should just open our eyes and see it.

* James de Villiers is a reporter at News24 in Cape Town.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    charlottesville  |  racism
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