Dashiki Dialogues: The poor white problem, BBC style

2013-05-26 10:00

You know white people suffer very badly when they are poor.

They can’t take it like us darkies, who are used to dealing with poverty.

I remember nearly choking when I heard this idea offered among a group of mates at varsity a few years back.

They were offered by a relatively intelligent girl who ­somehow didn’t think they were ­preposterous assertions.

We were talking about that ­spectacularly vulgar white American ­rapper Eminem.

The chat was about how the ­rapper ­actually grew up poor in trailer parks trapped in the cracks of the ­American Dream.

Needless to say, a long and convoluted exchange aimed at reasoning with her to save her from that inverted racism followed.

But it would be honest to recognise that as a South African, she’s an apple not falling far from the tree.

Public debates around poverty, as with a lot of issues, are often seen within the prism of race in rainbow country.

In fact, this weird idea that some human beings are suited to suffering just by virtue of their race is part of a larger set of ideas here.

Just as it is possible for the BBC to run features that ask absurd ­questions like “do whites have a ­future in South Africa?”

The story was put together last week by BBC world affairs editor John Simpson.

His claim to the soap box on the issue is that he once lived in South Africa.

Simpson puts forward some findings, like an estimate that across the country there may be up to 400?000 poor white people living in squatter camps with little or no water or ­electricity.

He doesn’t go into the specifics about the condition of other members of the South African tapestry of ­peoples.

What about the Indian or ­coloured communities’ struggles with similar economic challenges? Let alone blacks, who have been ­dealing with similar, if not worse, challenges for a long, long time.

The BBC’s Simpson and others who are only appalled by suffering when it affects certain members of society have a long precedence, at least in our country.

As early as 1932, a report of the Carnegie Commission called The Poor White Problem in South Africa set us on this course.

The report was a study of poverty, specifically among white South Africans.

It made recommendations about segregation that some have argued would later serve as a ­blueprint for apartheid.

That is the ultimate end of such a heinous perspective of our story as a people.

That organisations like the BBC are able to imbibe guided tours by groups like AfriForum and then construct racist social narratives shouldn’t be surprising.

We should be alarmed when that type of dialogue is legitimised by those who claim their dashikis to be of the land.

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