Whites on whiteness

I have cut and pasted some dialogues from the discussion forum reddit, from a conversation with the heading,

Black South Africans: where do you see white South Africans in the future? 


“Black guy checking in here. I will begin by noting that this topic means I must speak in generalizations, not all white people, etc.

Not going to wade into that long list about decolonization etc (not really my hobby horse), but I’ve got an idea on what an “ideal” white person might look like, from a race relations point of view.

Here’s a quote from Biko that might be helpful for stimulating some conversation and thought about what black consciousness might want from white people:

“So as a prelude whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.” -Biko

We’re talking about white people here, so I’ll focus on the first half of that quote. Lots of white people do still think they’re superior, or at the very least, that a lot of black people are inferior. This comes across in a variety of ways, from the refusal to engage with languages such as Zulu and Xhosa, to casual racism, to ‘dog whistle’ politics in which they complain ad nauseam about how “uneducated” votes are ruining this country by voting ANC and then somehow smoothly slide into nostalgia for Apartheid. Of course, if the DA supporters are waxing nostalgic for Apartheid, then yeah, I’m not voting for their party, even if the ANC is full of shit.

Lots of conversations that could theoretically be harmless are tainted by this basic problem. For example, people want to talk Afrikaans culture and Afrikaans pride. But then I go and look at Stellenbosch and it’s clear to me that the Afrikaans project that they had running there was very embedded in a culture of racism and white supremacy. I know that as a lived experience, not some theoretical idea – I was there and I can candidly say that Stellenbosch is the most appallingly racist place I’ve ever lived in. And I’ve lived in a couple of places.

So, the very basic underlying issue that we need to get rid of is the idea that white people are superior, and if we do that we’ll be a lot of the way there.

Adjacent and related is the issue of empathy, which some white people seem to lack. They don’t actually want to hear about black people’s problems or experiences, they just want to seek a way to deny it. Notice that disclaimer I put at the beginning of this post. I did that because the moment you mention something like this, people will swarm in saying “but not all white people are racists, why are you saying that, you must be racist against whites!” This is because they don’t want to hear what black people have to say, they just want to ‘prove’ that they’re right. Sometimes this lack of empathy will extend to things like using the k-word and then trying to argue about how black people should feel about it. I’ve experienced the last, primarily on the internet, thank god.

Finally, the last bit on the wish list for white people is that when they experience other white people engaging in racist / supremacist behaviour or speech they call them out on it. I’ve got white friends who do this and believe me, I notice it and appreciate it. If your mate starts talking about ‘these blecks’ or imitates a black person’s accent in a story intended to make fun of said black person for being stupid, please them call out. You can talk about how a black guy did something stupid without linking it to his blackness. Just tell me what a dumbass he is and I’ll probably nod and agree.


[In response to a comment that descrimination has been abolished in the US]:

LT: “we haven’t (abolished discrimination) though. maybe discrimination (“officially”, I mean, definitely not structurally), but the US government still officially recognizes race, which means it follows a racist ideology (since it affirms the concept of race as an inherent quality of a person, even if we lived in full equality and discrimination didn’t exist whatsoever, this would still be racist by definition as it recognizes and affirms the concept of race).

you literally can’t avoid being classified within a (misleading/irrelevant/scientifically meaningless) racial category, even if you personally disavow the concept of race. I’ve purposefully left the racial box blank in protest in official gov docs and have had it filled out by the official I handed the form to, after taking one look at me. Legally, it’s still racist.

Not to mention things like affirmative action, which I’m ambivalent about (I think it should be based on socioeconomics, not race, and even if it were reserved for underrepresented POC, it should heavily factor socioeconomic status as well to ensure the POC is actually disadvantaged, otherwise you’re just creating this subclass of rich/educated/professional/integrated/whitewashed POC and the vast majority still remain disenfranchised). Whatever its merits, by definition it is a racist policy, as it is based on the (false, needless to say) ideology of race.”

deepnoob: “Its honestly so unfair, I have many white friends who struggle to get jobs (despite being more than qualified to do it) and get turned down because of BEE. And its detrimental to our sporting culture too if you choose players based on race and not on playing performance, its like a kid who says “I’m not a bully” but he’s still punching the kid in front of him. South Africa is still in Apartheid, its just that most people don’t see it :/ My english teacher pointed out that we can easily be compared to Animal Farm, and when you look into it its quite clear to be honest.”

Answer from “dr_draik”:

“But here’s the thing – it seems really unfair to be discriminated against, sure, but that’s coming from a position where the majority of white people had decades of artificial economic advantage to build up a base. Consider the incremental advantages of being white: better schools, more stable families (unlikely to have children too young, or parents who are out of work, or who have to become migrant labour to earn money to provide for the family), better health (both from living conditions and nutrition, as well as access to medical care), more natural command of the common languages of power (English and Afrikaans).

Some or all of those advantages (and that’s far from the whole lot) are present in the lives of most white people in this country. And there are always exceptions, but when we’re talking about society-wide problems, we have to deal in generalisations at some point.

Remember, the reason that race is a proxy for economic advantage is that South Africa has a history that involves unfair advantage for specific races over others. We can’t ignore it. It’s still way more unfair to be born non-white, even today, than it is to be born white, because we are dealing with generations of unfair privilege. That doesn’t get fixed in a few years, especially when those in government are often more concerned with obtaining tenders for their friends and family than they are with serving the country.

Just look at FeesMustFall: the reality in South Africa is that white people have disproportionately better access to services and education through the simple virtue of having a stronger economic base, yet there are people for whom a R2000 rise in entrance fees could mean the difference between tertiary education, and giving up and never realising their potential.

This is a complicated and difficult situation, and I realise that it really sucks to be overlooked for opportunities due to race, but if we don’t find some way to restore opportunity to those who were discriminated against, then we truly lack any sense of empathy and justice

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