Dashiki Dialogues: White solidarity is the core of racism

2013-06-23 14:00

Solidarity, the trade union operating on the right wing of our national body politic, is failing to deracialise white labour politics.

Their recent complaint against the SA Airways (SAA) cadet pilot programme’s transformation efforts only serve to make the union a stain on the fabric of our history.

Here are the facts, if you missed them: out of the 5?200 applicants for SAA’s cadet pilot programme, only 40 candidates made it to final selection from a shortlist of 271.

These included 10 African men and four women, nine coloured men and one woman, seven Indian men and two women, and seven white women. In response to this selection, Solidarity cried racism.

They complained that the national carrier’s focus on selecting candidates from previously disadvantaged groups is racist because it didn’t include white males. But they don’t complain about the fact that, presently, 85% of SAA’s pilots are reportedly white, and that 90% of these are men.

The numbers show clearly what should be done to transform the aviation sector, even if Solidarity can’t seem to add them up.

Solidarity’s cries only function to keep labour racialised, in opposition to the national agenda of fighting racism.

The debacle may help us understand how the white working class helped sustain apartheid by insisting on their whiteness as a group, thanks to formations like Solidarity.

I contend that darkies overcame their racial identity for the good of the nation when they embraced Indians, coloureds and Chinese into the bracket of blackness.

This is all thanks to the black consciousness movement, and its dictums such as “blacks can’t be racists” and “black is not a matter of pigmentation, but a reflection of a mental attitude”.

The whole thing shored up race and racism in South Africa as a white problem.

I’m reminded of writer David Roediger’s magnum opus, The Wages Of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, which investigates not just how the US’ white working class at critical junctures is manipulated into racism, but that it comes to think of itself and its interests as white.

I contend that in our collective haste to blame National Party leaders for racial oppression and apartheid, we may have failed to consider how that system of white supremacy was, in part, a creation of the white working class, represented today by the likes of Solidarity.

They reminded me that, at our darkest moment, white labour didn’t just receive racist ideas, but embraced, adopted and, at times, murderously acted upon those ideas.

This may be a tough dialogue, but we must cleanse its dirty dashikis.

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