Dashiki Dialogues: Are whites’ race issues really less pressing?

2012-09-08 09:14

Last week I attempted to inaugurate a dialogue about the wounds of whiteness in the “post colony” of South Africa.

Imagine just chatting casually about how young white men deal with the fact of life in a world that is increasingly ridding itself of white supremacist biases.

Especially as, generally, many owe their current privileges to that abhorrent worldview. Is that discussion a problem?

It nearly got me into trouble with my friends on both sides of the racial divide.

The “trouble” was of a minor sort, not the type I would have needed VIP protection for; but all the same, I found the responses telling.

Some white male friends, though agreeing with the underlying discourse of my arguments, demanded I take a much more complex approach to what is a really complex issue. Touche!

A few of my black friends, on the other hand, felt I shouldn’t even have honoured “white problems” with my attention.

I would do better to focus my energy on the challenges faced by “our people” in the villages and ghettos across the world, and especially here in South Africa. We have enough issues they argued.

The scourge of drugs, unemployment and the dysfunctional state of the black family unit as a result of the historic sins of white people deserve more attention, some said.

The protests, if we could call them that, by my white male friends have precedence in black politics of resistance.

A lot of thinkers in the anti-racist movement have forged careers with an inverse version of these complaints. Black people have been making demands to be treated as complex subjects by those white writers who have historically seen themselves as able enough experts to write about us.

The academy, with its Western bias, is littered with heinous texts purporting to study blacks as a “problem”. The result has been that many giants of modern Western thought have a dirty record as racist enablers, from Immanuel Kant to David Hume.

So it was refreshing to see how white male subjects responded to being written about by a darkie. I must digress here and acknowledge some colleagues who welcomed the dialogue about the woundedness of whiteness as a necessary item on the public’s agenda.

The demands by those friends with whom I share the burdens of blackness are also very telling of what time of day it is.

The priorities placed on the public’s agenda is a much-contested space. Hence, for historical reasons, black problems, a matter of restorative justice, must get first priority.

This is what they were defending by refusing to enter into dialogue with the burdens of whiteness . . . perhaps rightly so. We all deserve our dashikis.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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