South African started 2016 with a bang. A racial explosion that saw many accusations thrown back and forth, mostly behind closed doors. Some obviously went all out in public with calling of names and calling to exterminate! Mostly, the conversations turned private, each group chatting and gossiping among their own. Instead of asking: “what should we all learn, how can I change” I was hearing “one has to be careful what you say these days”. The reality check that confirms the death of Madiba is that people still have lots of racial issues. It is easy to exaggerate and millions of South Africans, despite their baggage are willing to move forward together, but the media and political focus on especially white racism did show how far our country still has to go. The sad thing for me is that this whole story seems to move people further away from each other. Some black people see it as their task to incite other blacks towards activism and some blacks resign to the idea that things will never change. Whites, especially Afrikaners defaulted to our Laager mentality.
When whites who are trying to change and learn, who show respect and restraint, who even try to be involved are judged with those who are blatantly racist, they pull back and give up. The decide not to be engaged, to mind their own business. You can control what someone says, but you can’t control what they think. So for many, in their mind they even become stubborn and decide that they do associate certain groups with certain animals, but they decide not to ever say it. And so the poison and rot festers in their hearts. The issue is not resolved, a taxi on the road, a piece of litter from a car window, a trike on the news or the amount of a ‘farm murder’ inevitably triggers their hurt and anger and they will eventually vent to someone. These angry whites are trapped in South Africa. I honestly suggest moving to another country if you feel like that. Afrikaners still think this is ‘their country’ because of love, sacrifice, commitment and history. It is not the white mans country: Whites are a minority with a scandalous past that perpetuates economic inequality due to privilege of capital, skills and networks. These privileged won’t disappear soon, even if you tax whites extra, take their farms, tighten BBBEE or give more grants to the poor.
And so, the discussions on racism and white privilege intersect. While racist or unengaged whites are being attacked for being racist, the progressive and sincere whites are grouped in the naughty bunch who should feel guilty, give away their house, or immigrate. It is not clear how whites are supposed to respond to the concept of white privilege. Surely, some moderate blacks will say white privilege starts with the humble recognition of privilege, a repentant and humble attitude and the building of respectful friendships and perhaps advocacy of the cause. I love and agree with that. Whites should stop complaining or blaming (ZumaMustFall) and live their lives in modest simplicity. Whites should be sensitive not to be condescending and patronising. I like that. But militants like Malema and many other angry people talk in a way that implies the above is not enough. What do they want from us? What do they want from me? To learn an African language? I know hundreds of racist farmers fluent in isiZulu or Sotho. Still I support the idea. What else? How else to show solidarity? These are good questions.
Afrikaners are stubborn, as the British can attest and when feeling threatened, Afrikaners become ‘hardkoppig’ as they enter fighting mode. All hope of of reconciliation and integration gets lost. This proves the Afrikaner’s lack of general humility. I’ll be nice if you are nice seems to be the motto. But here comes the problem: the 1994 transition and Nelson Mandela was very nice, very kind to whites. What did we do with that grace? We took it for granted and showed nothing in return. We missed our window to build a Rainbow Nation. Is it too late now? I don’t know. The trend seems to be even more economic and racial segregation. People stick to their own, unless brought to gather by money.
Many poor blacks do not understand the centrality of tax in the white mind. Whites love to point out that the ANC does not give RDP’s, the government does not give RDP’s or grants, it is paid for by the tax payers: black or white. Whites say that their job is to keep the economy going and with half their money they give government the cash to build houses, schools, hospitals and pay grants. Whites think that their 40% tax and 14% VAT is enough of a contribution. I must add, before crucifying this mindset, many rich black people think exactly the same. Charity for all these groups are optional niceties and often distrusted since ‘helping’ seems to open more cans of worms than it brings healing.
As a white person I have to ask myself: how can I share my white privilege? That should be the central question for any white person and especially any white in South Africa who calls themselves Christian. Love is not about handing out soup or donating R5 to the poor at the traffic light. Sharing white privilege has to touch power dynamics on both sides. For me, this is a positive experience that I am very committed to. Some blacks are angry at me simply for being white. Even if they drive a Jaguar and I drive a Jazz, they call me privileged and oppressive. I have to make peace with the fact that many who likes to talk about white privilege does not want me to share my white privilege, since that would entail a power dynamic of giver and receiver, it would imply the acceptance that you can learn from the oppressor and for many people that is still too difficult. In the same breath, the majority of people in South Africa are eager to share, learn and grow together. I choose to focus on those and ignore the angry ones.
Afrikaners should never complain because their suffering under British conflict is too long ago (100 years) and the bad we did after that, through apartheid, took away our right to complain. The quicker you learn this the better; especially in public. Not withstanding the above, I do have a comment to make about stereotypes and humanity. Every single human being is firstly a human, before they are a colour or a gender or a nationality. Every person on this planet deserves respect and love. If you don’t respect and love every person, be it gay, Nigerian, women, Zulu, Afrikaner, German or Chinese, you are not a humanist and all civility is built on humanism in that sense. So when people start talking about racism and white privilege I listen carefully. I listen for their feelings and what they want, but I mostly listen to see if they have a humanity that chooses love and respect for every human being. That is why I like Tutu and Madiba, their love transcended homogeneity.
When someone talks about racism, Zuma or white privilege, I wonder how they feel about gender equality and xenophobia, farm murders or gay rights. You can’t pick which elements of human dignity and justice you prefer. I heard someone explain that it is not enough to be non racist, you must be anti-racist. You cannot be neutral. I agree with that. But for us all to stay real, explain to me how through you actions, your time and money you are anti-xenophobia, anti-homophobic or anti-chauvinism? I distrust people who make noise and talk a lot, but their own lives, their budgets and calendars do not show the same moral standards. If you are a selfish or stingy individual, why should I share anything with you? Before helping anyone I ask them how they have helped someone outside their biologica family in the past month or year. Simple as that. None is too poor to share or be generous.
Imagine a black person grew up in a shack, without a father, she had bad schooling and a very difficult life. By some miracle, she managed to get a metric and worked her way up after getting a job. Eventually she became very good at her job through dedication and intelligence. One day she was head hunted and given a position as Director of a big company, finally a huge success story after years of struggle. Now imagine person looks at her and say “another bloody BEE affirmative action joke”… How nice would that be? By judging this girl, assuming she got there because she is black and female will deny and undermine all her hours of hard work and sacrifice. It is easy to kill with our words. Now imagine a white person growing up as an orphan, without wealthy relatives. He was often hungry growing up and was excepted no where. He never finished metric, but started his own small business selling hot dogs. Eventually he expanded and he started selling coffee and he started employing others. In all of this, he always tried to help others, especially orphans. He kept donating (even after paying tax) another 30% of his salary to black orphans. One day he got a good position at a company that does entrepreneurial training. He had no schooling. The CEO of the company was white. So everyone at work looked at him and said: “he got the job due to white privilege”. What do you think of such a comment?
White privilege exists. It is different in Europe and USA with white majorities, than say in South Africa or Zimbabwe, but it still applies. Black privilege through BBBEE exists to some extent, it is a reality that there is today a larger black middle class than white middle class and thousands upon thousands of black people are way richer than many whites. This does not take away white privilege, although in South Africa, with all political control, surely blacks can take their future on their own hands! Still corporate South Africa is still very white at senior level. It is changing and employment equity etc is having a big effect especially in the largest companies. But where does this leave us? With whites complaining about BBBEE and black about white privilege, we can easily get trapped in divisive dialogue. Personally I support BBBEE and it is needed to fix the wrongs of the past. Yet I can’t label every successful black person as a BEE Diamond. Similarly, whites (who all have white privilege) all end up in different places. What takes a white person to the top today is in some rare cases inherited, but mostly it is being the best, smartest most hard working and nicest white. Don’t pee on someone’s efforts and unique gifts and struggles. See the good in what took a person to the top and don’t be simplistic in giving labels. If someone feels judged or unappreciated, they will withdraw. Don’t pee on a human’s story of beauty by attaching cheap labels. The growing white poverty and black wealth shows us that in South Africa, in 2016 things are way more complex than white privilege and black victimhood.
You as an individual, what do you do to share your wealth, your luck, your success? Let’s journey together in unselfishness, forgiveness, repentance and solidarity among all groups. Even with Zimbabweans.