Olivia Shaw
Olivia Shaw
South Africa, 2021
My name is Olivia Shaw and on January 13, 2021, I will be hopping on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa to begin work in Woodstock at a group home for immigrant and refugee children. I will be living in Cape Town for about six months and am so excited to see how my work will develop in my time there! Read More About Olivia →

The Price of Reconciliation

| Click here to listen to a song I found myself listening to repeating while I processed and gathered my thoughts to produce this post |


Grappling with the events that broke out yesterday has deemed itself to be a much larger task than I anticipated. Yesterday was hard. My heart grieves for not only our nation, but for those who, for close to a year now, have tried to peacefully voice their concerns and bring justice to the transgressions our country has inflicted upon them. What yesterday’s demand for power is being inappropriately compared to, is a group of people who wanted to bring attention to and reconciliation for the adversity they had suffered and endured for hundreds of years. Just a few months ago, they were met with violence, brutality, gas, hoses, and the national guard- on the first call. They were met with fear, reproach, misunderstanding, and even worse- closed minds who were unwilling to simply listen. Yesterday’s events only reinforced a truth about our nation that we have seen time and time again- and until we can acknowledge these events at face value for what they were, we have not invited our country into a space that produces healing, justice, and reconciliation.


I think sometimes, due to our country’s political status and international power and influence, we (yes, I’m generalizing) invite a mentality that suggests that we as America are invincible and immune to war, famine, civil unrest, and unjust and unfair political systems. We falsely put up a front to the rest of the world that we are perhaps better, more successful, happier, and progressive- a front that is cracking because it is not the truth; and what is more toxic, harmful, and destructive, is that we put up this front to ourselves and each other and blatantly avoid the necessary conversations to begin the long and hard process of healing and reconciliation with our country’s foundational and systemic history of cruel and unjust transgressions.


Amidst the panic, concern, alarm, sadness, and discomfort (to name a few emotions) that I felt yesterday, I also selfishly felt myself sighing with relief that I would be leaving in a week. This momentary peace was very brief as a second wave of anxiety welled up as I had to confront the notion in myself that just because I was escaping the United States and our problems, does not mean that the rest of the world is not without its own struggles and transgressions. I had to remind myself that South Africa is not without its own, if not worse, political and civil unrest. I would not be able to escape the byproducts of racism in a week, rather, I would be stepping deeper into the deprecating effects of racism- just in another hemisphere, just known by a different name- but racism just the same.


Before really engaging with policy in a safe educational environment, filled with grace, empathy, and forgiveness for my previous ignorance as I really began asking myself hard questions about what I believed, I think I would have assumed that we as a country were holistically making a lot of progress towards collective liberation. I am forever indebted to social work as a profession for revealing the reality of the nation I live in and encouraging me to continue to learn and grow. At the end of the day, we are no better than countries who are still publicly struggling with the same issues and until we develop a system that does not strategically harm, isolate, and oppress specific populations of people, we will continue to perpetuate blatant racism and system inequality. We will get nowhere.


I was asked to complete a survey preceding my departure to the country I would learn to call home for a period of time. In this survey were questions such as:


How is the country you are visiting generally projected in the media?


What preconceptions or stereotypes do you have about the country/continent you will be visiting?


In what ways would you consider yourself to be culturally sensitive?


If I had to complete this questionnaire again, the responses might be unrecognizable to what was originally submitted, despite the time between the two submissions being less than twenty-four hours- and here is why:


While completing this survey I realized that my unchecked biases left me on a false and faulty pedestal. I had unintentionally placed myself on a three-legged stool with uneven legs- predestined to fall as soon as it’s challenged because my intentions were misguided and built off of ideals and notions that are plainly put: false.


It is hard to confront these thoughts and heartbreaking to write, but I’d be doing myself and those following my journey a disservice if I did not process these and put them here so that I may also be held accountable to the decisions I make, the platforms I utilize, and the ways in which I support marginalized and oppressed populations of people- regardless of color, country, history, and nature of transgression, racism, and oppression. I may be providing a blog submission early and disregarding any sense of a timeline or schedule, but it is impossible and inconsiderate to ignore the events yesterday and not acknowledge and share their direct implications to the transition I will be making in less than a week..


As excited as I am to finally be in South Africa and to share about the Western Cape, the beautiful weather, and the new experiences I will have- I recognize that deeper than this, I have a responsibility to provide adequate education to myself and others before I share these things. Their lived experiences, their history, their culture, their lives that I am stepping into and infiltrating- that is and will always remain far more important than any new recipe I could find and any picture of my views on a mountainside hike. Those hikes will be there, the food will be there if we can preserve indigenous South Africans’ culture and advocate for their needs as we, as Americans have failed to do for hundreds of years for millions of Black Americans. Today I will not post exciting pictures because yesterday serves as a clear enough symbol of these words.


The world watched yesterday.


As Scott Erickson stated in collection of thoughts (which I implore you to read after, by clicking here) , symbolism is an important and ingrained part of how we come to learn and remember things, and later recall and associate these things. We have been taught that we are a symbol of power and progression. We are a symbol to the world and the world watched us yesterday. After the last four years, I am concerned to travel abroad and become enlightened to what we as America are now a symbol for because yesterday, I too, watched the events that occurred, and I hung my head in shame and I wept in frustration, in disgrace, in disgust, and in sadness for the people who continue to be hurt by our nation and judicial system, and I will continue to weep and mourn until yesterday is not only appropriately recognized as a breaking point, but rightfully utilized as a turning point for our country. May this invite the very same conversations that have been avoided and strategically unaddressed.


And I will never stop trying my best to actively listen, advocate, and educate on behalf of the people who continue to fight and struggle and persevere for basic human needs and rights. May yesterday’s events give me the urgency to address future injustice quicker and fiercer. May yesterday’s events, and the symbol of long standing injustice and racism that they represent, make me a better advocate to the people around me and social worker to the clients I will serve in my profession.


The survey previously mentioned concluded with two simple questions that I have looked at now with a newfound sense of profoundness:


What impact or impression do you wish to make on the people in your host country?


What measures have you taken to prepare yourself for your impending journey?


I’d like to bring with me from America, the parts of our collective whole that reveal our humanity and generosity, our perseverance and grit, and our capability of change and transformation when placed under enough pressure. I will continue to hope that yesterday’s events will reveal themselves to be, in time, the necessary pressure to elicit the change we have yearned and fought for. Until then, my preparations will remain the same: to write, to process, to talk to others, to learn, to tune into the true needs of those around me, to challenge myself, and to love others as well as I know how.

Perhaps the most meaningful tool for adequate preparation that I can give to myself is the acknowledgement of fear I have to witness racism and violence, or the immense amount of pressure I feel as the weight of my country’s actions fall into my lap to take responsibility for and justify to other countries as I become a liaison for the United States.


In your corner,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *