Contributing writer Bongani Musikavanhu ’18 reflects on the racist messages of this summer, some of which were directed at him and his family. A version of this article appeared on print in our November 2016 issue.
When I first heard anything at all, I was on vacation detoxing in my home country of South Africa. we were just getting to that point in every good vacation where wifi becomes more and more scarce, due to lack of access and the fact that we really just didn’t want to distract ourselves at all from enjoying our time. But one day in peaceful Kwazulu Natal, my eldest sister Gail-Agnes decided to enjoy some Facebook when she saw all sorts of commotion that was hard to piece together. All we knew at that moment was that some people had said some deplorable things about our family and race. So initially, all I felt was helpless; I couldn’t have done anything at all in that rural vacation setting. And all my information came from my sister Gail-Agnes.
So as soon as I could, I did some research and slowly began to piece together the fact that these messages were not just random people commenting online. They were my friends saying hateful things about me and my family.
At that moment, all I could feel was a great need to make sure that people understood that I cared, and to remind people that anger is not how to fight racism. So I did. I summed up as best I could all my thoughts and opinions and posted them to Facebook:
“Recently it has come to my attention that a new Ridiculous has come to light. A Ridiculous that carries the straw to the camel’s back. Racism is not a new war and never will be; it has been fought by those older and wiser than I and has been conquered in many ways. In all our victories from this war against racism, anger and violence have never solved anything. So thusly, it is neither my responsibility to accuse nor to bring any judgement. However, it is my responsibility to let everyone know that I am aware of the situation and am willing to say and do something about it. As for the men at the source of our conflict, forgiveness will always be on my heart. This is solely due to my faith in which my very honor dwells. Because of my faith, I know that if I forgive others for their trespasses, our heavenly Father will also forgive me, but if I do not forgive others for their trespasses, neither will our Father forgive my trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). I mention this not to convict anyone, or to self promote, but rather to explain the reasoning behind my mentality. I forgive not because I feel like it; but because it is necessary and for the best of us. I accept every apology; however, we all know that thieves only feel true guilt for their actions when caught. And in this particular situation, it was my family that was put to mockery on top of blatant racism. And it is my family that I care most for. I think it is great that everyone has acknowledged that there is a problem; however, the true and best way to solve the issue does not lie in social media or in death threats. The true answer lies in full understanding of the actions taken and actions we can take toward ending this ordeal as a whole. I know that the suspension of random individuals will not end this form of racism, and I also know that if most of the texts and conversations held in all group chats were made public, nobody would feel like making any remarks on anything anymore. The men who make the most noise in times of judgement tend to be the most guilty.
Finally in the words of Martin Luther King ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’ We can sort this out together back in Wellesley, like we always have.”
I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, yet I quickly came to realize that half of my family and friends on Facebook did not have a clue about what I was talking about. Immediately my parents were up to speed, We felt angry, sad and betrayed, but sensed great opportunity: an opportunity to acknowledge the hidden racism that some of us experience or enforce daily without knowing or caring. An opportunity to expose it and define it.
Once we did, once we exposed and defined the racism; we were shown just how beautiful and natural it is for human beings to unify and heal. People from churches in South Africa and Boston prayed and acknowledged the situation; people at this school and town, for whom the situation was not even directly relevant, unified to amend the situation. A scenario as small as boys irresponsibly fooling around on Facebook had managed to alert and unify multitudes of people to heal an immigrant family from South Africa.
That is why it was so important to us as a family to forgive. It does not take Christianity, our faith, to see a chance for unification rather than a chance for condemnation and retaliation toward random boys. That is why the One Wellesley movement is crucial — because it gives students an opportunity to embrace the fact that we are different as individuals, and to let our differences bring us together. Knowing that people, who are less than willing to repent, make comments like these every day should make anybody sick. Yet we let them, and watch as bystanders.
The scary truth is; if we had no incident at the start of the school year. Racism would not be our priority as a school, and the One Wellesley Program would not exist. These comments on Facebook re-sensitized our school, and presented us with a brand new opportunity to step up. And recent acknowledgment of events regarding race around the school like the bathroom profanity and the computer lab Swastika are not futile or redundant attempts at sympathy, They are examples of active awareness to bring unity and prevent racist or locker room talk throughout our school.
With this in mind, we can see the student group One Wellesley not as an an opportunity to judge our fellow classmates or express empty sympathy to distant issues, but as a seizing of the opportunity presented by our circumstance, to make things right and to unify.