SOMETHING that comes up during my diversity training sessions, and frequently in discussions among people of colour, is the perception that white people are invariably racist. Some believe Afrikaans white people are worse than the English-speakers.
The perception is based on how black people are treated. A single look is often all it takes to send a clear message about how one is perceived, and cause pain and be offensive. This is to say nothing of gestures, speech and other actions. Racism can go in different directions, but people of colour are often on the receiving end.
It would be naive to think everything white people say and do in relation to others is racially motivated, but racism happens often enough for many South Africans to feel that way. What is really happening in white culture? Are they all either outright or closeted racists? The answer is no, and we will look at the evidence.
All white people, often from a young age, are exposed to racist and biased views from parents, schoolmates, friends, colleagues and so on. What they do with these opinions is up to them. Upbringing determines much of our behaviour, but when we come of age, we are able to make up our own minds.
It is up to white people to apply positive peer pressure on one another to refrain from and reject racist behaviour. It is up to white parents to raise their children in a non-racist way and ensure they are socialised with other children in a healthy way.
Some expressed that choice in a national whites-only referendum, something people seem to have forgotten. In March 1992, the then president, FW de Klerk, announced the results: 68.6% of whites voted in favour of reform. South African History Online (2015) says: “Surprisingly, the majority of Afrikaans-speaking Whites gave their approval”.
Sometimes it is the quiet people among us whose views should count the most, but they don’t get heard. Why are we so obsessed with the Andre Slades and Vicki Mombergs of this world? But does the sincere, older Afrikaans person - who treats everyone fairly, and who quietly cast their vote according to their conscience in 1992 - not count because they don’t make headlines? There are more of the latter and fewer of the former than we think.
Recently, an Institute of Race Relations study found that “72% of South Africans reported no personal experience of racism in their daily lives” .
Ferial Haffajee’s 2015 book What if There Were No Whites in South Africa? delves into this topic. One of the critical points she makes is that we all need to be willing to see the meaningful transformation. There is documented proof of progress, but we tend to focus on the negatives.
Most South Africans want to get along and they want to end discrimination.
Chief executive, the ICHAF Training Institute