INDEPENDENT Media’s “Racism. It Stops With Me” campaign must be supported by all South Africans.
For over 21 years, black South Africans have largely forgiven the majority of the white population who repeatedly voted in a racist government that dehumanised and denied them their most basic human rights. Despite the prolonged emotional, mental and physical suffering to themselves and their families, black people have, in the name of freedom and reconciliation, and “a better life for all”, willingly forgone retribution.
Have whites responded with the same generosity of spirit? Not even close.
Most whites in South Africa are racist. Even those who profess not to be racist are racist. Unless it is especially blatant most do not even recognise racism – especially in themselves.
When it is pointed out, they become defensive and angry, instead of humble and apologetic.
Racism is in our psyche and in our blood. Centuries of conditioning have genetically engineered us to be racist: to genuinely believe that we whites are superior.
For thousands of years the Biblical lexicon has associated darkness with sin and evil and whiteness with light and good. Most whites accept without question that Western culture is desirable and should supersede all others; that black culture is barbaric and undesirable; that whites are more intelligent than blacks; that whites are hard workers and blacks are lazy.
Whites see black people living in conditions they would never contemplate and fallaciously presume that black people are okay with it or, worse, deserve it. They see black people exclusively cleaning our homes, our gardens, our pools, our streets, our businesses and our schools and collecting our garbage. “They” are the labourers who dig the trenches in our streets and dig the diamonds and gold from our deep rock. “They” have done these things forever. More recently “they” are the faces of crime and of the incompetent and corrupt.
So “they” are nothing like us.
Except they are.
“White supremacy” conditioning has been thorough – but, in South Africa today, there is no place for racism and nothing will excuse it.
White South Africans regularly abscond from the burden of responsibility that the past places on their shoulders in the present: “I wasn’t even born / I’m not responsible / I never voted NP / It’s the government’s responsibility.”
This attitude cripples our ability to work together to build South Africa into a peaceful, prosperous democratic state.
Julius Malema, in an interview with a Sunday newspaper earlier this month, is spot on when he says white people will continue to feel superior – to regard black people even as animals – until the material living conditions of black people is equal to that of the whites. It’s a Herculean task – it needs every South African on board, working together.
To move forward we have to accept that our superior economic freedoms today (ie our superior access to resources) have come at the expense of our black compatriots and continue to do so, and that we are obligated to assist in whichever way we can.
Whites need to take on board the criticisms that we are racist; that, unconsciously or consciously, we too often say and do things that are hurtful and damaging to the majority of South Africans. To understand racism we have to listen more and deflect less. We have to demolish “us” and “them” and just be us.
The present government has failed to build a more equitable society. Economic development is stifled by nepotism, corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability. Our leaders’ shortcomings feed into whites’ tendency to stereotype and generalise in terms of race and so all black people are judged by the actions of a corrupt minority. The ANC government itself regularly fuels the fires of racism by labelling white critics as racist. (Black critics are either coconuts or counter-revolutionaries.)
Black people are tired of waiting for access to the only real means to acquire economic freedom: that being a quality education that will enable them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and hardship.
They are tired of broken promises from the government and of their harsh living conditions; they are tired of the total lack of empathy from their white counterparts; and they are especially tired of white people’s racist and fallacious criticism that their material circumstances result from laziness and attitudes of entitlement.
The magnanimity of black South Africans is cracking: service delivery protests are rising in number and violence. Racism with a strong anti-white sentiment is becoming commonplace on all social media platforms.
Wake up White South Africa. You cannot hide in a laager. You cannot all emigrate to Australia! Be an advocate for change. The more the government fails, the more we need to pull together and build together.
Our children and grandchildren’s futures are intrinsically tied to the futures of all South Africans.
We will sink or swim together.
l Cowan has a Bachelor of Social Science in Social Work, Psychology and Sociology and is the author of Tenderly Taming Teenagers, published by New Africa Books. She is a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis in Cape Town. She writes in her personal capacity