14 Mar We Need To Talk…
Over the past couple of days, a few things have come up and South Africa’s racist history has reared its ugly head again. Firstly, talk of white privilege. Yeah, South Africans still don’t know how to have that conversation. Secondly, the Worcester “dompas” situation and now the UCT protests over the Cecil Rhodes statue on Jameson steps.
That all of these things are coming up is not the issue, rather the concern is over how South Africans talk about these things. Let’s start with white privilege. It is a thing but I don’t think a lot of people know what even makes it a thing. White privilege is not just about the material wealth of white people in comparison to that of the black South African majority, although it is a part of it. What people don’t get is that the reality of white South Africans is better than that of black South Africans in general. Asking us to prove it with statistics and finding that we can’t is not going to make the reality any less true. Verashni Pillay wrote a piece for the Mail & Guardian a few weeks ago titled, “Six Things that White People Have That Black People Don’t”. It was widely shared by many people who agreed with it and then again shared by those who were too quick to get defensive and ask for statistics and evidence to back up her claims because, “This is the reality of a lot of my black friends,” was not good enough.
People ask for evidence to back up claims when they are feeling attacked and I would suggest that is what was behind some of the defensive comments about the article. What South Africans need to understand is that articles like that are not an attack on the white race but rather an effort to raise awareness and help people to become more sensitive to the lived realities of others. Whether we like it or not, generally the realities across colour lines in South Africa are very different. No, I won’t give you percentages, but it’s true. What you need to do is stop equating the willingness to talk about your privilege with admitting guilt because they are not the same thing. While South Africa’s past is responsible for the mass inequality we have between black and white South Africans, no one is claiming that white South Africans who are privileged today are responsible for Apartheid. We know you weren’t there.
Talking about and becoming aware of privilege is one of the steps we can take to becoming this rainbow nation we claim to be. Until that happens, let’s stop using the term like we deserve it. What will make us a rainbow nation is not just the fact that we are able to co-exist in the same country despite our many different skin tones, cultures and languages – it is all those things plus being aware and sensitive to one another’s realities. We cannot erase the history of this country but we must at least be willing to talk about its legacy openly and honestly.
There is a flipside to this, though. While some white South Africans might get really defensive, there are black South Africans who are too hostile regarding this matter. These are the people who are not quite sure where to place the blame for inequality. That Apartheid gave white South Africans a head start might be a fair point, but making the poverty of black South Africans the problem of white South Africans is not. We cannot keep saying, “They have all these things, that’s why we have nothing.” What that does is remove the focus from the people who are really supposed to be bringing about change: our government. Yes, South Africa is in a mess because Apartheid happened, but black South Africans remain poor because our government says 30% is a pass. Our government fails to provide a decent education to its people and then when they cannot make it, it gives them social grants to further cripple them (I’m going to be the first to say ‘I told you so’ when the government realises the social grant system is not sustainable). And then, to further insult the people, the president of this country gets security upgrades worth R250 million on his Nkandla homestead because he can’t live in a presidential house like his predecessors. We will probably sit and watch him get away with it, much like his government gets away with everything else. So, black South Africans, raise your standards a little. Yes, refuse to be seen as less than the white South Africans, but equally refuse to settle for less than you deserve: recognise and exercise your right to bring your leaders to account.
Speaking of rights, who do the residents of Worcester think they are? I don’t care if you are afraid of criminals or if you have some “swart gevaar” vibes going on. What you need to know is that in this post-apartheid nation of ours, you can’t go around restricting people’s movements and then justifying it. See why it’s important to talk about race? Because there are people who are still so clueless that they would a) violate the constitution, b) use their white privilege to get the cops to violate the constitution with them and c) use their white privilege to justify said violation and then claim that there’s no such thing as white privilege. I’m sorry but some people just make me so angry.
Some other people confuse me, though. Like, how has that Cecil Rhodes statue been there for so long?
I will leave you with that question.
But, hey, be mindful of how you have that conversation too.