You must be in deep denial Max du Preez
Gillian Schutte tells Max du Preez that speaking down to others helps sustain the narrative that seeks to rob people of their right to live a life of dignity.
There is a new non-racist discourse that contains implicit racism though its purveyors seem not to recognise it. This is a depoliticised liberal discourse that has enabled some to convince themselves they are not racist whilst they spew racist discourse on social platforms and into their columns at an alarming rate.
So cleverly disguised is it in a seemingly benign veneer that there is often not even an outcry from the public. The modus operandi of this contemporary discursive trend appears to be to downplay the race element in the master narrative and hoodwink all into believing that racism is no longer a problem.
Rather, it is now about race denialism and it is very clear how the discourses of power, social discourses and media discourses seek to mollify, circumvent, disguise and even ignore the issue of racism in contemporary societal narratives.
This is the trick of the new depoliticised liberal double-speak. It allows racists to be racist without any accountability.
This is clearly seen in Max du Preez’s News 24 article “Nation of Victims” – in which he pushes a narrow privileged view of South Africa and whitewashes the negative experience of being black and poor in a country with one of the widest socio-economic cleavages in the world.
He does this by presenting the negativity of South Africans as a homogeneous blanket of unjustified positions simply based on our nationality.
Though his article is written in seemingly benevolent terms, when unpacked it is offensive and shows a distinct lack of reflection on what it means to be black and living below the breadline as opposed to what it means to be white and privileged in South Africa. He has de-racialised and de-classed the diverse “lived experience” of South Africans to make a paternalistic and one-dimensional value judgment for the sake of a column and his glibness disguises the horrific socio-economic reality of poverty for the majority of people in South Africa.
He begins his paternalistic invective with the black unemployed and poor whom he says “blame foreigners from elsewhere in Africa for all their problems”.
Unpack this and we find statistics that show that 53.8 percent of South Africans live in dire poverty while around 21.7 percent live in extreme poverty and are unable to access food security, sanitation, housing and healthcare. These are not just words for a column – this is the “lived experience” of fellow human beings we are making reference to. Around 15 million go to sleep hungry every night. Does he suppose this is a positive experience?
He then totally overlooks institutional racism when he says the black middle class blame everything on the whites – as if “the whites” have nothing to be accountable for, such as many resisting transformation, abusing BEE and fronting, creating the glass ceiling effect and undermining black people in their corporate environments. There are plenty of studies to show that institutional racism is still rife in the corporate and academic world, so why would Du Preez write about it as if it is a matter not to be taken seriously?
He is right when he says that whites say “we are about to become another Zimbabwe” because this is a standard narrative that a certain ilk tell themselves in order not to share their privileges with the majority of black folk in this country – preferring to turn an oblivious eye to the suffering and starvation of those who have been systematically pushed out of an economy and below the bread line.
Du Preez, to justify his premise, then quotes a super privileged capitalist, Donald Trump, who has been exposed as a chauvinistic racist bigot on social media. This seriously exposes how oblivious he is to his privilege as a white male in South Africa and the world – a combination of factors that ensures you derive the most benefit from a global system that privileges whites and white males first.
To crown it off, Du Preez uses the old liberal “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” maxim when he sarcastically asserts: “If you’re unhappy or your life is not what you dreamed it was going to be, don’t do something about it, simply find someone to blame, is the approach.”
It is hard not to imagine that the subtext here points to those blacks that live in poverty as lazy – that they do not make enough effort to get work but would rather sit back and blame someone else for their lot.
Just where does he get off saying this stuff in a country where the unemployment rate is now at 24.3 percent and where millions of workers have been laid off since the introduction of a neo-liberal system that has moved toward the capitalisation of industries and have no need for a large workforce any longer. Has he never noticed black men sitting on pavements in their hundreds waiting for the chance of a lowly paid job? Does he not see domestic workers well into their old age, still hobbling to work daily? Has he not seen the thousands of men and women waiting at taxi ranks to make the two-hour trip back home or walking 20km to get back to townships because taxi fares are so expensive and take up at least a third of workers’ small salaries? Does he not realise that there are two distinct economies in South Africa and that most black people get paid much less than whites and often coloureds and Indians for the same work?
He then asserts that “from the ranks of black South Africans we hear that all whites are rich, selfish racists who live off black labour like parasites. Blacks are still slaves in the land of their birth. Whites stole their land and still cling to 90 percent of it; they own all the media and arrogantly dominate the public discourse and universities. In short, life is hell for black South Africans and the bloody white settlers don’t want to admit it”.
He presents these factors as if they have never been the problem. It seems he believes that whites did not dispossess indigenous people of their land; that whites are not still exploiting black workers as cheap labour – from the mines to their own homes. Is he really denying that much of the land ownership is still in the hands of whites – as is the wealth of this land? And if he has not noticed in the last month alone that the dominant discourse is still dictated by whitist values and the gatekeepers of morals and knowledge remain white, then he is deep in denial.
The cherry on the top of his white oblivion is when he relies on the views of two esteemed academics who “noticed the most sophisticated infrastructure, economy and business sector in the so-called Third World. They say the number of houses built for the homeless since 1994 is unique in modern world history”.
So I guess he did not take them to the plentiful informal settlements in South Africa. Did it occur to him to tell these esteemed academics that more than half the children of South Africa go to bed hungry every night – even in households that bring in a social grant because expenses such as basic services seek to make profits rather than serve the people.
Surely he understands how physically, emotionally and spiritually painful it has to be to live like this and to get to watch the inaccessible lifestyles of the rich in the distance when you cannot afford to eat.
Does he know that many marginalised people die a slow but early death from depression, stress-related illness and malnutrition?
His article has arrogantly minimised the “lived reality” of everyone except the white and the privileged. He has tried to pass this off as a positive “nation building” exercise and amazingly his seemingly non-threatening lexis has convinced some intellectuals that this is a brilliant and pithy piece of truth. But more sinisterly, it is assertions like his that ensure that whites remain oblivious to their privilege and that they never feel the need to work towards transformation.
There is nothing “brilliant” about trivialising the reality of poverty in any manner.
Whitist oblivion and a culture of always speaking down to others, albeit in paternal nice-sounding tones, helps sustain the narrative that seeks to rob people of their right to live a life of dignity, Mr du Preez.
Snap out of it. Really.
* Schutte is a founding member of Media for Justice, a social justice and media activist as well as a documentary film-maker.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.