“This changes the shape of the world for me.”– Thomas Blood, 1618-80, Anglo-Irish adventurer and thief of British Crown jewels.
Eusebius McKaiser is like one of those teachers who smacks you on the side of the head and says, “stop dreaming boy!” The disruption, the destabilizing of our notions of reality, is just what the doctor ordered. White hegemony needs such a disruptive smack on the side of the head to wake it from its self-indulgent dream.
Somewhere in the back of my skull is the still-resounding clamour of an annoyingly well argued position in direct contrast to identity politics and Critical Race Theory (CRT). The argument was made in a coldly rational way by a lilly-white fellow with a nordic sounding name. Although he beat me hands down in an online tête-à-tête, and there’s always a’danger’ of oversimplifying the issues, of painting all whites as perpetrator-devils and all blacks as victim-saints, I still welvome McKaiser’s slightly cavalier style of debate. I mean, he’s happy to klap whites for their bigotry but equally happty to klap black bigots. This is exactly why he shut down the mic on the racist idiot shouting “F**K WHITES” at the 2015 Ruth First Memorial Lecture. (Either the shouter didn’t grasp that the martyred anti-apartheid activist Ruth First was white, or he was happy to throw even the most committed liberal on the pyre with Verwoerd and the gang. Either way, McKaiser was not allowing the politics of hatred on his beat: he draws a line between anger and hatred.
When I talk of white privilege with white friends or work colleagues, I often get a look of confusion; some folk just close down entirely. Whites – myself included at times – seem to see only the erosion of privilege (the impact of the curiously named “positive descrimination”) – the ‘preferring’ of a black candidate over a white candidate, job reservation for black people in government departments or supermarket checkouts, race-based quotas for entrance to universities, frustrations with BEE and a tender process which in any real sense excludes whites. They see a steady growth in euphemisms which mark off whiteness as a sort of vice (“transformation” is the buzzword I most enjoy: it sounds so philanthropic, but can just as easily mean the complete erasure of whiteness. (The “removal” of blacks from areas zoned for whites by the Apartheid government was a cynical ‘transformation’, no?). They’ll call my attention to wealthy-SUV-driving-black elites (with a sort of unspoken inuendo of ill-gotten gain). They call foul over corrupt BEE deals, and the all too evident corrupt pilitician and government official in the pay of a shady businessman. But none of these round-the-braai (or office water-cooler) anecdotes justify the perpetuation of white hegemony, the dismissal of the plight of the poor majority and blindness to structural injustice. Egalitarianism can not be dispensed with because some use it for ill-gotten gains. And frankly, ill-gotten gains is really what the colonial experiment was all about, right?
A quickly forgotten history
It mystifies me how we whites are so indignant at the slightest threat to our constitutional rights or privilege, or at the failings of our black compatriots, when through the shameful apartheid years so few whites expressed displeasure at the advantages of petty apartheid. Where were the protests against the policing of black bodies in so-called white areas? The Group Areas Act marginalized and discarded millions of black south Africans: how few were the voices of white protest! Was there white anger against the dompas? The Apartheid laws were draconian: where was the white voice of protest within our borders to detention without trial? (Amnesty International and WCC made their voices heard, but within South Africa I can only think of a few white journalists, clerics and the Black Sash. Of course rhere was white outrage, but it was not pervasive outrage). Job reservation for whites?- no complaints. When did my people demand fairness, justice and egalitarianism for their black fellow South Africans? Did they object to segregated beaches and amenities? To the ejection of blacks from restaurants, buses and train carriages reserved for whites only? The erasure of whole communities like District Six and Sofiatown was met with indifference except by a handful of conscientious white liberals and churches for whom Christ’s commandments remained inviolable. Respectful of their stern nationalist government, did my people dare to protest on behalf of their black compatriots? Even a little rebellion perhaps – the defaceing of the ubiquitous blankes/nie blankes signs, in a small act of resistance on behalf of the oppressed? Where were the flags raised against apartheid-era political and corporate skulduggery? Corruption and wrongdoing was part and parcel of the apartheid economy: where were the moralists’ shrill voices then? Few and far between. But then, two wrongs don’t make a right, ey? It’s all in the past now, right? Another time, another generation; let bygones be bygones, let sleeping dogs lie…
There are many worlds in one in South Africa, some remain shattered and scarred, worlds which remain isolated by wilful ignorence, lived experience, apartheid geographies and of course – the distorted distribution of wealth of which Whitey Basson’s R100 million salary is but one recent, obscene example. And to this last point, the obscenity is amplified by white hegemony’s cynical self-jusification. Example: where most of Shoprite Checkers staff earn around R2000 a month, a sycophant for the group said that “Basson deserves every cent of the R100 million salary that Shoprite has paid out to him.” (http://citizen.co.za/business/business-news/1304338/whitey-basson-deserves-r100-million-pay-shoprite/). And that’s always been the white man’s self-justifying bleat on this continent: he inexplcably deserves it all – its resources, its land, the cheap labour of its people. The richest pickings. Afterall, he’s worked so awfully hard for it since 1652, and look how the happy natives have benefited from all the clever ideas and technologies he has magnanimously bestowed!
Of course the situation is complex: class and money create striations and contradictions that must be accounted for. The notion of absolute white hegemony is open to debate (English and Afrikaans speaking white south Africans have made uneasy bedfellows in this country’s history, and with a burdgeonind black middle-class we must constantly re-examine our preconceived ideas about economic and hegemonic power)
Then again: some things remain eerily reminiscent of pre ‘1994 South Africa. How anyone can drive the surreal few miles between Diepsloot and Sandton (past that weird folly, Steyn City) and not be sickeningly aware of these different worlds is anyone’s guess. I tell my white friends to do a simple exercise: take note of the luxury german cars on that stretch of road. The majority of Porsches, Audis, BMW’s, Mercedez Benz’s and luxury SUV’s are driven by ‘the minority’. Now, with Hogwartsian wizardry, transport yourself into one of those hot, overcrowded minibus taxis weaving it’s way towards Sandton, and remind yourself that this is a part of the reality for most black South Africans getting to and from their place of work. This same contrast can be seen – and the imaginary game played – throughout South Africa, where its rocketing Geni Coefficient is as evident now as it was during Apartheid. Black men mowing white men’s lawns or washing the ‘madam’s’ car. Hour-long roadside queues where the working class wait for transport home. Play the game: vary the permutations in your imagination: over there is your mother or your wife and child in the taxi queue, and over there your father mowing the white man’s lawn, your son at the robot hawking cheap chinese goods. Now tell me white privilege doesn’t exist. Or is that “just the way it is in Africa”?
When I think I’ve found a safe white liberal space in which to lay down my white guilt (ag, shame you bleeding-heart liberal, Scott), like Thomas Blood – McKaiser’s words break in and steal the crown jewels. But as the jewels are ill-gotten gain, where’s the loss? Frankly we are fortunate to have McKaiser at the forefront of race discourse: I Just read his 2015 book Run Racist Run; it is as intelligently argued and challenging as it’s author on 702.
His knowledge of the treacherous currents of race in South Africa makes him an invaluable navigator – not one I always agree with or even particularly like. But then in rough seas, affability isn’t as valuable as a keen eye for sea and sky.
It is well worth reading Eusebius McKaiser’s analysis of the responses to the 2015 Ruth First Memorial Lecture (delivered by Panashe Chigumadzi and Sisonke Msimang): http://bit.ly/2j92ehv
White folk need not all be in agreement or be singing in harmony from the same political song sheet, but we need to listen even if it is to angry voices – like McKaiser’s, because if we don’t listen and act, the ‘faux neo-radicals’ with their anti-white hatred may one day shut down all meaningful debate. I disagree with McKaiser on many points, but listening and acting on the grassroots intel is surely sensible. Let us challenge our presuppositions, suspend our angst, stop denying the experienced inequalities of the majority of black South Africans.
There is an essay at Huffpost by Trey Lyon: Call It What It Is: White Hegemony (http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6234484)
He begins with a defintion:
hegemony noun: influence or control over another country, a group of people, etc.
1: preponderant influence or authority over others : domination
2: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group, and goes on:
“It is only now that I understand the fullness of my own complicity in this catastrophically destructive system that has claimed the lives and yet never the dignity of millions of black men and women for hundreds of years.
The more I’ve learned about my own complicity in perpetuating this system, the more I have become persuaded that it is more than the notion, ideology and mythology of white supremacy. This phenomenon, largely experienced in the Western world, and uniquely embodied in the founding of the United States and the horrific legacy of chattel slavery isn’t simply the belief of a few radical, racist, xenophobic idealists. It is the systemic and willful suppression of an entire culture born out of fear and cowardice. It is White Hegemony…”White Hegemony is a carefully calibrated, deliberately contrived system which continues to prevent persons of color from attaining and asserting influence that is at least commensurate with the percentage of the African American population in the United States.
“There is a reason for this and it is White Hegemony. May you and I dismantle it, brick by brick. And may we start right here, right now—one conversation, one person at a time.”
I am as complicit in white hegemony as any other: I live in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg. I drive a French car. I shop at Woolworths. A Malawian man works for me twice a month to send money home to a family he has not seen in two years. A woman whose young child lives in Zimbabwe, works for me twice a week. Were I not to employ these two people, their circumstances would be more dire still. And so I am simply another cog in the very system I decry, with no claim to any moral high ground.
One area I disagree with McKaiser is on the subject of “equality”. (He speaks of it often, as if it were an incontrovertible truth. Nowhere in the world, in the history of humanity, are all people equal. It’s a socialist myth: there are clever and stupid people, the gifted and the giftless. The talent of an Einstein or a Michael Jordan isn’t ubiquitous (and if you doubt me I can show you my Matric certificate and athletics record). Egalitarianism is a more nuanced word. Of course things get muddier when you add privilege to the equation: with privilege comes unfair advantage, and the so called fruits of privelage may be taken for inherent attributes. I have often wondered when looking at those appalling images of poverty in the Sudan, how many of those people in UN food queues – in different circumstances – might have been accomplished writers, engineers, scientists, sportspeople, musicians, surgeons. Their disadvantage is then read backwards as a lack of inherent ability – a typical racist trope. Truth is that given say, my own advantages, any one of those children may well have exceeded my own accomplishments. But this is all conjecture because unequal opportunity rarely permits such latent possibilities to come to the fore.
“Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
[My comment: with emphasis in red: worth is not ability. This is even implicit in Karl Marx’s dictum “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” ( to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English: either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights; or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people, economic egalitarianism, or the decentralization of power.”
A respondent at Quora writes, “Equality of opportunity is good for the following reasons: 1) It increases economic success on a national scale. It used to be that economists talked about “trickle-down”, meaning that the wealth of the oligarchs would flow on to their employees and down through the economy. Now, it is recognised that this trickle down occurs only weakly under terms of trade that hugely favour the strongest party – the oligarchs. You end up with a small class of very wealthy, no middle class and a very large peasant class. … all humans are equal in moral value. This might seem self-evident to many in the West, but it is not. In many (most?) parts of the world today, it is right & proper, normative, that the wealthy should prosper at the expense of the poor. So a magistrate does favours for the millionaire’s errant son but demands bribes to hear the case of the peasant farmer. If equality of opportunity is a human right, the magistrate demands no bribes and takes each case on its merits. This is morally good for the peasant farmer (who gets justice) and the rich scion (who learns that actions have consequences). “Enforced egalitarianism” sounds like communism to me. It is a failed experiment. However, a country that asks wage & salary earners to pay a higher tax rate than those living on stock investments does not offer equal opportunity. A good education does more than anything else to overcome disadvantages of birth! After that, governments from both sides of the fence offer heavy tax breaks for the poor, reducing as one improves one’s financial position. There are some tax breaks for the rich, but comparatively few. Both societies have a social attitude that abhors public greed (e.g. bribery, nepotism, corporate handouts for friends & lobbyists of the government). It is very hard for a country to move toward increased equality. The most successful are by definition the ones with the most influence over government policies. It is not human nature to voluntarily give up privilege in favour of the less successful in life.”
WHITE PRIVILEGE: “an invisible package of unearned assets” (Peggy McIntosh)
Counter s to the White Privilege :
“…white privilege as a method of attack and insult is becoming a leit motif in our politics. And white guilt is always on hand.” -Sara Gon, IRR