Mere Observations · People · Race

South Africa’s elephant

Before I begin, I’d like to issue a trigger warning for racial slurs and racially derogatory language. Yeah, it’s gonna be that kind of post…

I’m a black person. Just putting that out there. So quite often, I’m going to allude to my own experiences when I write about anything to do with black people. I know that’s an issue for some, an alarming number of people are threatened by public displays of proud blackness. If that applies to you, save yourself and I the trouble.

I cannot sum up my experiences as an African in this modern world in one post. There are so many dimensions that make up being black/African, and all have to be considered. Hopefully in the coming weeks, my writing shows some of those dimensions. The one thing that will always affect me to the day I die, among other things, is racism. Yes, here we go…

But what I’d like to talk about specifically is South African racism that I’ve only experienced indirectly. Before we go further, I would like to make y’all aware of the sociological definition of racism (from sociology.about.com), which explains what it is in its true form. This is one definition you will not find in a standard dictionary.

Now I don’t know how people in other parts of the world act racist, but I do know how it’s done here. In fact, I’m aware of the whole attitude to racism in our country and for those who don’t know South Africa, get comfortable. I will be unearthing a lot of shit.

Ask any South African today, “who’s Penny Sparrow?” and you may get a response like “Oh yeah.. that bitch.”. Why? Well… there is the matter of this:

Sparrow

And then the fauxpology, which just AGGRAVATED the situation:

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Ati “please accept my apology”…

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The post that set South African social media ablaze was made public sometime in December, and by January she lost her job. Now she has to pay a R150 000 fine to an equality court. However, I’m not satisfied.

Sparrow, like many covert and overt racists, is not sorry; she certainly does not regret what she said. She probably regrets posting about it on Facebook though. What I’ve learned is that racists are unapologetic about their bigoted views, but they will start wanting to kiss your feet and apologise profusely once that mess reaches their boss. This is why online ‘movements’ like To Catch A Racist and Racists Getting Fired exist and are succeeding.

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The above image illustrates an ugly form of American racism, which I may get into another day, but back to South Africa.

This was so shocking for a lot of South Africans, because enough of our countryfolk believed that racism was dead in South Africa. How cute. For the rest of us, it was shocking because it is so rare when somebody implodes the way Sparrow did in racial rage. And when it happens, they are not forgiven. I was not surprised because an alarming number of white people, who may not think they’re racist, let micro-aggressions (e.g. “You’re the nicest black person I know”) slip out of their mouths, and when I’ve been confronted with that most of my life from classmates, I tend to keep my guard up.

Regarding Sparrow, all I thought was “now the whole country knows who she is, she can never evade this for as long as she’s alive, which may not be that long”.

What I honestly didn’t expect (silly me) was a domino effect: other white people (with even more to lose) started voicing their support for Sparrow and agreeing with her. Learning from the actions of our anti-racist American counterparts, intrepid South Africans started rising to the occasion, dispensing information about how to deal with hate speech. As well as contact info of reputable entities that were associated with these individuals. One had a partnership with a fitness supplement company; another worked for Standard Bank. Both fired and disowned, faster than you can spell the word ‘kaffir’!

Shem.

Since the beginning of the year, more and more racists in our society were making themselves known. A Pretoria High Court judge, Mabel Jansen, made a series of just-plain-awful-why-the-hell-did-you-think-that-was-a-good-idea-to-post-on-the-Internet statements in May. Before you click the link, prepare yourself for Orania-level racism and peak white feminism. It’s not certain whether she’s been fired, but a lot of people are calling for her head.

A pastor at Rivers Church in Sandton proclaimed in his sermon that God sends people into your life to do good things or whatever and used that to explain that we shouldn’t chase white people away (which no one is doing…). Listen to the sermon here, as well as read his apology. Yeah, he “apologised”.

THEN, an owner of a resort (a guy who looks like he doesn’t bath and is one sabbatical away from getting “dreadlocks”) told a potential guest that they “do not accommodate blacks or government employees any longer” and also said some other crap.

It’s a goddamn mess and a pity to see this happening but seeing as racism is an almost taboo topic in South African discourse (with both white and black folks complacent in shutting down any conversation about it), things like this go unchallenged, but it’s about time we as citizens confronted it.

A few days ago, I saw some tweets by a man called Pieter Howes; he posted a thread of tweets that encapsulate the state of our nation and where we went wrong re: addressing our past. He made some valid points about Madiba’s ideology which had good intentions, but absolved the white population in South Africa of responsibility to own up to the horrors of the apartheid which their own people were directly (and indirectly) involved in.

Let me summarise what Howes said: White people living in SA right now are not to blame for what happened but they benefit from the system which the colonisers and eventually the apartheid government created. Yet, the majority of them refuse to acknowledge their racial privilege.

(Update (2017-05-24): A woman, whose name I forgot, went on Morning Live one day, sat down with Leanne Manas and said right about the same thing as Howes. Now I’m not going to speak for other black people, but going on national television and dropping truth bombs like that is how you act like an ally, if you’re calling yourself one.)

So, to complain that white people are not being appreciated though “they built the economy”, and to blame “lazy blacks” and/or the ANC government for the problems that exist in our society is disrespectful AF. It’s like they’re forgetting when in South African history things truly started going downhill… What did they think, that the international sanctions SA was attracting during apartheid times was just because other countries were being haters?

But that is what white supremacy does: it takes away from an entire people, convinces them that they’re worthless and that they need white people to help them (“White Saviour Complex”), and then shames them for not being able to better themselves without help.

Howes said that in trying to transform our nation, we missed a crucial step: atonement. He made an example of Germany post-World War II, which went through the whole process of apologising for one of the worst periods of crime against humanity in history. He went on to add that white South Africans must atone otherwise this nation will be forever stuck. Acknowledging the past and what people of your race have done is not a personal attack on you; it will be difficult but no difficult than it is for black people living in SA, still experiencing covert racism and micro-aggressions and yet having to walk on eggshells around their white colleagues and friends, because they don’t want to bring up the past.

So it makes me glad that social media is making these disparities evident and that our youth (not all of them though) is taking notice and do not want this to continue. No doubt this has been happening for years but no one wanted to do anything about it because it disturbed the status quo. It ruined the image of a “rainbow nation/miracle democracy” that the rest of the world bestowed on us.

I also feel that black South Africans who’ve managed to make successes of themselves are playing respectability politics, because from their perspective, everything is fine. Food insecurity is not a thing for them; their children go to the best, predominantly-white schools; they have beautiful homes and cars, life is sweet. If they could achieve it, surely there was no excuse for the less-than-affluent majority. It also seems as though drawing attention to the forgotten citizens (South African people of colour living in impoverished conditions) would threaten the position they worked so hard to get to. I’ve always felt this, but it is only now when I hear others echo my thoughts I realise I’ve been on to something.

I remember in 2007, all the girls in my grade (including myself) went to Mpumalanga for camp and one of the places we visited was Pilgrim’s Rest, which used to be an old gold rush town but is now a museum. There were many reminders of the racist past, including a tombstone in the old town’s graveyard. This tombstone caught my attention for its detailed explanation of how the person who lays there beneath it died: “got into a skirmish with 2 kaffirs”. I voiced my dissent at the brash words and what did the white girls who heard me say?

“Oh, chill! That was just how it was back then…” And just like that, they made me feel like a fool for even bringing it up. What frustrated me was their nonchalance about the old-timey racism, which is not even old-timey because that word is still being used to describe black South Africans. That experience, however small, cemented the idea in my head that talking to white people (not all, not all) about racism can be like talking to a brick wall. A brick wall that gets indignant and may even call you racist.

So me writing this is out of character for me.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve noticed an awakening among South Africans who see no place in our society for bigotry. There are now more discussions, definitions of things like white privilege and ‘black tax’. There are also now white individuals offering long paragraphs of disapproval for racism and calling on their fellow whites to ‘get it together, take action and stop shifting the blame’. And most of all; “stop getting defensive when someone says ‘hey this is racist, kindly not do it'”. This is good because — let’s be real — people value a white person’s opinion on anything over a person of colour’s. They might as well use their voices for good.

There is even talk about creating/changing legislation to ensure that hate speech is properly punished in a way that the offenders will feel it. I hope this will not end here; we must continue to fight racism for as long as our country exists. I’m sorry to say but long Facebook essays do nothing but provide reading material (and I love a good read), and a song will not enact change (the government really thought a song would help, a weak reggae one, at that). We’ve moved past preaching love; bigots don’t care about love, they just need to be punished.

Talk shit, get hit.

 

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