Did white privilege save Oscar at Tasha’s?

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Copy of SSIB002_SAFRICA-PISTORIUS_0325_11 REUTERS Oscar Pistorius accidentally set off a firearm nside Tashas restaurant, in Johannesburg, in January last year. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Had it been Mandoza, cops would have been called immediately and he would have been charged, says Khaya Dlanga.

I read an article on Gawker by a white man, David J Leonard, soon after George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting to death an unarmed black teenager in Florida, US. This was the opening to the article:

“I have been profiled my entire life as innocent. When disruptive in class, I was told that I was eccentric, that I needed to work on my focus. Growing up, I looked for fights and conflicts yet I never fit the profile of a juvenile delinquent. The chip on my shoulder never signified a thug; I was just a kid with a bad temper who needed to mature and grow out of it.

“When I was pulled over in Emeryville, CA (California) for speeding for several miles and asked multiple times by the police officer if there was a reason for my speeding, I told him the truth. “Officer, my ice cream is melting.”

“No stop and frisk. No pretext stop. No humiliating search. No fear of how to hold my hands. No ticket. I, like Adam Lanza and James Holmes, the two most notorious mass shooters of the past year, am white male privilege personified. We are humanised and given voice and innocence over and over again.”

The question many black people asked themselves after Oscar Pistorius allegedly let a firearm go off inside a busy establishment, Tasha’s restaurant, what would have happened had that been a group of black guys?

The argument some make is that Oscar got away with it because he is a famous celebrity, not because he is a white male. Fine, let’s say that is true. What if Mandoza had set off the gun at Tasha’s? Would he have been seen a thuggish, dangerous Kwaito star who set off a gun inside a restaurant or just a couple of lads having fun?

Many of us suspect had it been Mandoza, cops would have been called immediately and he would have been charged. Not only that, the patrons in the restaurant probably wouldn’t have just sat there and let it go, they would have had something to say.

Black people experience this kind of behaviour all the time. If a black person is late for a meeting, it is typical of them to be late, but the traffic excuse a white person gives is taken at face value.

White privilege is not to be confused with racism. Those are two different things. White privilege is assuming the best intentions when it comes to a white person than when it comes to a black person given precisely the same circumstances.

When I lived in Cape Town trying to rent a home, I called several places and was told they had just been taken or no longer available. However, when I asked a white friend of mine to call the very same places after I had been told they were no longer available, they were mysteriously available. White privilege means renting a place is easier than it is for a black person. These are some minor encounters faced by people everyday that a white person might take for granted.

There was a South African comedian who made a funny joke about being black. It was Kagiso Lediga if I’m not mistaken. I will attempt to tell the joke in writing.

He talked about how being black means that you get followed around in stores because people assume that you are going to steal something. And it’s not just being followed by white shopkeepers, it’s black assistants even in the absence of their white bosses because they assume the same thing.

Then he said it was great because his white friends who were shoplifters used him as a decoy to steal from shops. It’s a funny but tragic tale, but that is the life many black people experience. A life of permanent suspicion and guilt.

Oscar probably got away with the incident at Tasha’s simply because he is white, not because he is famous.

* Khaya Dlanga is a social commentator and author of In My Arrogant Opinion.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Times



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