Haters of black achievement are poisonous to black people overcoming racism’s reach, says Eusebius McKaiser.
Johannesburg - After 20 years of democracy it’s still nicer being a white South African than being a black one. A white baby born this morning is more likely to live a flourishing life 20 years from now than a black one.
But guess what? If you think, as a black reader of this column, the sole or primary reason for this is the persistence of “whiteness” or the economic hegemony of white capital, you’re focusing on only one part of the problem.
Yes, that would be an important and big part of the economic justice problem, but not the entire problem.
Reality check: as blacks, we’re often our own worst nightmare, a fact masked by the presence of race-based structural inequalities that focus our collective anti-whiteness attention.
God alone knows what we would do if white people disappeared in a puff of magic after you’ve read the final word of this column entry.
Are you wondering what sparked this all? And about the justification for these assertions? Here goes.
I’ve noticed an irritating tendency for a couple of years now among some black people to hate other blacks who excel or who are actively chipping away at their goals as they march towards excellence, towards self-actualisation.
A guy starts a magazine. He dreams of profiling black excellence, provoking his readers to act in their own lives. His magazine flounders and folds. He is condemned for the effort.
A woman expands her business empire. It’s not a spaza shop operation, but a luxury brands boutique. She gets a loan from a development finance institute with stringent conditions. She is criticised for not being an aspirant spaza shop owner, and stealing money from fledgling businesses worthier of loans.
It’s lost on the crowd that it is a loan, not a handout. And with conditions the spaza shop owner couldn’t meet.
Her crime? Black excellence. Her core critics? Blacks. All this while the Oppenheimers leave on a plane for a Swiss breakaway holiday. No critics around. No critique of the origins of their wealth.
Whites don’t self-sabotage unearned privilege.
A man writes a book critically archiving his memories of life in a Gauteng township, beautifully showing the banality of black life as a middle finger against apartheid. He is criticised for apparently romanticising apartheid, a chief black critic criticising him after telling the public that he, energetic critic, never read the book.
Meanwhile, mostly white book lovers buy this brilliant debut book from one of the finest writers in the country, while many blacks averse to books throw stompies at his black excellence.
They self-sabotage the black consciousness project in a fit of intra-black jealousy.
A man discovers rocket fuel as a talented youngster in the Eastern Cape. Americans grab him, name a minor planet after him, let him design his own degree at Harvard, where he studies engineering, and for fun reads moral philosophy while learning Mandarin.
He returns home after a life-changing experience made him conscious of life’s unpredictability and he comes back, next discovery completed, determined to be a rock star social entrepreneur using engineering and science in general for good social ends.
He, unlike the other characters in this story, doesn’t get torn apart. For him, it is even worse: he is nameless, faceless and invisible. Because black excellence doesn’t excite us enough to carry him on our shoulders and out on the cover of magazines.
He is more brilliant, despite his age, than the other sharp black South Africans I have not named in this column. Yet fewer readers will guess his name.
We’re keener to know the name of the black business captain whose penis is in the news than we care to know the name of one of the most gifted sons of this country.
When I profiled this Harvard engineer and social entrepreneur on my radio show, I had to swallow the knot in my throat as I listened to him. I was caught off guard by his humanity more so than his intellectual brilliance.
His compassion for others made him correct my description of his career: no, he’s not a scientist interested in research for its own sake.
He wants science to be a means to an end, that end being the reduction of our social challenges such as expensive and ineffective energy sources that affect the poorest the worst.
But you wouldn’t know these details. Because communities like #blacktwitter prefer pseudo-profound 140-character tweets, and hating those who defy apartheid stereotypes, instead of joining the effort to turn around the narrative about black (in)competence.
Finally, if you wonder – for the umpteenth time – why these observations are narrated in group identity terms, I don’t apologise for that.
The reason is simple: injustices were not and seldom are meted out to individuals. Our legacy of injustices – sexism, class-based racism – are structured in group terms. And strategies to eliminate their impact must be structural interventions.
This doesn’t mean group identities are compulsory. A black guy can be an asshole who hates black achievers in our midst. That’s his right.
Nelson Mandela didn’t go to prison for us to have a black essence. Black individuals can and do see the world differently.
But know this: you, black hater of black excellence, are as poisonous to black people overcoming racism’s reach as a white person blind to unearned privileges.