In search of ‘shame-covering’ garments

The review of Hélène Opperman Lewis’ Apartheid: Britain’s Bastard Child (image below) intrigues me especially as my research this year focuses on identity and its need for a narrative. Apart from this I am of course a South African from within the broader Afrikaner context, associating mostly with the Southern Cape/Boland perspective, while having roots stretching to other regions as well.
Lewis discusses her work on the cycle of being shamed and shaming in turn through oppression as a means of dealing with one’s own shame. Her work highlights how it is not only the case for individual shame but also collective shame and looks at how it played out in modern day South Africa, leading from Britain to the Afrikaners and now the modern ‘Black’ collective. The peoples named in this specific book are then simply examples and the British of course not the root of the problem. Also, not every individual within a people associates similarly to the overarching narrative which haunts them as a group – degrees of being bound up or committed to the narrative differ. While simultaneously, that culture cannot be reduced to that aspect of its narrative. What I believe can happen though, is that people can say, “I feel shame” or “I feel superior” and begin to ask why.




Ascribing primarily to the Biblical narrative, I see shame’s origin lying in an experience before God, also ‘losing face and status before the rest of creation’, as one commentator puts it (read the Genesis account in the Christian Bible for context). Mankind has since been binding itself to identities apart from its relationship with God in attempts of self-justification. A recent (Eastern) Orthodox Christian scholar I read talks of ethics that flows from this, as attempts to manage and ease the blows of our rootedness in death (sin/shame – just using these terms interchangably and perhaps somewhat carelessly here).

We put on many ‘shame-covering’ garments but the good news of the gospel is that we, even us who are of pagan, Gentile decent, may put on Christ and be reconciled to God – in a somewhat similar fashion that he extended skins to Adam and Eve to cover their shame (Genesis) – and in that also to one another.

It remains a tricky business but I would propose we must at least seek to find ourselves in the fully true story, while seeking to allow others to do so too.

I am working with Paul Ricoeur’s concept of narrative identity as the suggested means to interpret the fully true story (as opposed to partly true stories, such our cultural narratives, for instance) but there is of course much to be said about the process of entering a fully true narrative. I would certainly begin in agreement with Ricoeur that we are confessing beings, asking to be interpreted by ‘the other’ (or Other), and so too participate in interpretation.



PS – being here in England now (2016/17), it is also sad to see how shame leaves them confused and seeking to write a new ‘shame-covering’ narrative, while there is also so much that is beautiful about Britain and its historic seeking to be rooted in God; how it shaped them.



About Servaas Hofmeyr

For life through Truth.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Culture, Ethics, Human Behaviour, Life, South Africa and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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