In preparation for our trip to South Africa, only a few weeks away, we have really gone full force with fundraising and planning. We’ve held raffles, bake sales and benefit dinners. Our meetings have focused on planning both logistics and activities for the camp we will sponsor. We have discussed the history of South Africa as well as the living conditions of the children we will be working with. But our latest meeting took a different turn – a very personal one.
This time we were presented with a group exercise. We were split into two different groups. One group consisted of six people all of whom had either brown or black hair. I was placed in the other group that consisted of four people all of whom were blondes. From the beginning Peter made it clear that the blonde group was the group expected to succeed in the task presented as we received praise and significant additional support throughout the exercise.
We were given a simple task: to make a structure that reached from the table to the ceiling and was able to stand on its own. The materials we were given included raw spaghetti from a box and mini marshmallows. As simple as the task may have seemed, the blonde group was actually having difficulty coming up with a solution to the task. Not too long after we began, Peter, who had been watching our failed attempts, offered us some assistance by giving us countless supplies. He then wandered to the brunette group and proceeded to deliver negative messages directed at the individuals in that group. After waiting a little longer and watching the blonde group’s attempts, he walked over with a box of cookies and offered us support and ideas of how to go about this. Then Peter took one member out of the brunette group and transferred him to the blonde group. The new member’s ideas helped a little, but we had already made our minds up, and our newest member fell prey to the fact that he wasn’t in the group originally, and he was therefore left out from the process that had already begun. Shortly after, the newcomer was asked to leave our group and then told to stand alone in the corner.
It is hard to admit that at first I didn’t recognize what was happening, after all I enjoy competitive games and I was focused on completing our task. I was even happy because by the end of the time limit my group, the blondes, had succeeded in building a structure that reached the ceiling from the table and could stand by itself (plus we had extra mini marshmallows left over that we could munch on). I was so focused on achieving my goal that while aware of the other group’s struggles, I focused on my own task. But, of course, it was impossible to ignore the inequity of the experience and its sobering and serious implications. It gave just the tiniest of windows into the battle black South Africans face. This exercise was effective and poignant! It was personal!
So now what? I am a blonde. I will arrive in South Africa in a few short weeks…a blonde. In fact, for all intents and purposes, we will all arrive in South Africa blondes, as none of us have experienced the kind of oppression, discrimination and lack of opportunity and support blacks in South Africa have.
Is it possible to reach out to and support those who have experienced such inequity when coming from a life of such privilege?
Is it possible to share a moment in time with each other – one of equality, respect and hopefully some joy?
How do we overcome very real obstacles together?
Can a blonde make a difference in a life so different from their own? If so… how?
This past meeting makes me believe that it begins with opening our eyes to each other’s experiences, recognizing obstacles faced and finding common ground in the moments we share. And that’s what I intend to do.