A to Z of white privilege

2015-02-22 15:01

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Comedian Chester Missing on the A-Z of inequality – from double-glazed glass ceilings to what is still wrong with white people

A

Apartheid. Because the only white people who didn’t benefit from it are albinos. Its legacy lies in patterns of wealth, access to resources, education, transport, healthcare and social and cultural capital. And also in road renaming in Cape Town. De Klerk Boulevard. WTF?

B

Black economic empowerment. Because wealth redistribution got jacked by the same white captains of industry who created the system in the first place. So many Chester Missings out there. Broad-based black economic empowerment, however, is a different kettle of fish.

C

Culture. The people with the money have buying and employing power. Their tastes and norms dictate who gets employed and what products and media get sold. Whiteness for daaayyyys

D

Diversity. The word that exposes power in workplaces, because most South African companies – and Western popular culture in general – are more normalised to white tastes. In other words, diversity is like pap. It’s usually only something you talk about when there are people there who aren’t white.

E

Equality. Because pretending we are all equal is the easiest way to sweep our unfair history under the rug. Let’s be honest: if you are stuck in a shack with no job and no hope of getting one, then you are “born free” in the same way free-range chickens are free.

F

Feminism. Because it’s about more than just race. For black women there are often two glass ceilings. Double-glazed career blocks. Nice

G

Generalisations. Because when it comes to white privilege, there are no exceptions. On the other hand, these things occur only in culturally specific ways. English-speaking white people sometimes seem to think they are a better sort of white than Afrikaans ones. Shame.

H

Hypocrisy. Because somehow you can benefit from 350 years of affirmative action but act all condescending towards a black person who does for five minutes. Or you can see one black guy in a Porsche and shake your head about tenders, but see 10 white people in a cavalcade of sports cars and not blink an eye. What’s up with that, man?

I

Ignorance. Because it’s really tough acknowledging that your entire life has received a leg-up based to greater or lesser degrees on other people’s suffering.

J

Jesus. How much cultural arrogance do you need to have to believe a guy born in the Middle East 2?000 years ago could look white?

K

The k-word. Because there is no word for white people that carries the same racism. And somehow there are white people who are still saying it.

L

Law. We negotiated a Constitution that would allow white people to legally keep the spoils of apartheid, including profits and land. To extract a country’s wealth and exploit the labour of its people and get off scot-free ... stand aside Ocean’s Eleven, white South Africa wins.

M

Marikana. Because the apartheid economy has changed political leadership but not the employment patterns that perpetuated it. It’s like the worst kind of déjà vu.

N

Nelson. The name they gave to Rolihlahla because saying his actual name was?…?well?…?just too many Ls.

O

Oppenheimers. When are they giving back some of the loot?

P

Parents. Because when your parents aren’t having to catch a train and two taxis to get to work, and are earning more than slave wages, they can give you the support you need. Because your parents’ access to education and the rules of corporate culture are a massive advantage in learning the skills for a competitive job market. Duh.

Q

‘Quiet please’. Especially if you are black and making a noise in white space at the 12 Apostles Hotel. You will be asked to shush. Tell them you are closet Italians. Noisy Italians are cool. Noisy black people are told to voetsek. Cultural norms are cultural norms, buddy.

R

Race. How do you benefit from race for 300 years, but when it’s time to fix it say “there is no race”? It’s like saying “there are no dishes” when it’s your turn to do the dishes. Nonracialism that attempts not to talk about race also attempts to hide the fact that you are often automatically assumed innocent if white, but if you are black, bring bail money. Everywhere.

S

Slavery. Do you know that in the UK, upon the abolition of slavery the slave owners received payouts in the billions (in today’s terms), while the freed slaves received nothing, enforcing economic patterns that are still around today?

T

Talent. Because your abilities are not just a product of your awesomeness. They are a result of networks of social, emotional and economic support, as well as knowledge and cultural skills that make access to certain social groups just easier. In South Africa, senior managers are still 73% white, so guess whose cultural norms, what social networks and what social capital counts? Do you say “Moët” as “muht”, “mo-aye” or “moweee”? Snigger, snigger. Thanks for playing, please collect your free gift as you leave.

U

Understandable. Access to the people who can hire you and make decisions about your career, the people who can give you on-the-job skills training and mentorship, is hugely dependent on your ability to relate and be understandable, in accent, language and cultural similarity. Does your accent sound like someone in a Steri Stumpie ad? Shame. Sorry for you.

V

Vernacular. A bizarre catch-all we use for African languages, which are almost never the language of business in corporate South Africa.

W

Whiteness. A quality that doesn’t technically exist but that hides itself behind Western norms, reinforced again and again through most of our media as a sign of beauty, trustworthiness, empathy and, eventually, intelligence. It gives a bias to certain ways of being. Also the one word that most upsets white people.

X

Xhosa. It’s not kawsa, or corsa. It’s Xhosa.

Y

Yaslike. Because 21 years into democracy only two of South Africa’s wealthiest 14 people are black. Also, ‘Yebo’, often the only isiZulu word many white people know. Eish.

Z

Zuma. There is no other reason to use this letter.

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