No one is born a racist

2012-09-08 10:07

The failure to transform with political liberation consigns us to continue suspicion, writes David Matthews

The moralist’s allegation that white South Africans as a people were, or are, by their inherent natures, more racist than other people was, and is, itself a racist belief.

Certainly, many white South Africans were, and are, strongly racist. Some were even criminally so. That they were and are such, however, is not rationally attributable to a unique and different nature with which they were all born.

Rather, it is attributable to their nature as ordinary human beings, functioning in the particular circumstances prevailing in South Africa, with each responding individually as a human being to those circumstances.

White South Africans are indeed racists or, to put it less radically, racially prejudiced in varying degrees – from extremely to barely at all – but so, of course, is everybody else. To argue that white South Africans are by nature more racist than others
is unwittingly to perpetuate the racial fallacy.

When black South Africans subscribe to this fallacy, they do themselves, as historical victims of racism, a grave disservice because they thereby unconsciously confirm the acceptability and validity of racial stereotypes.

If it’s scientifically possible for white South Africans to be born different to everybody else in terms of their predisposition to racism, then it’s no less scientifically possible for blacks to be born different to the rest of humankind, in a variety of equally negative ways.

The whole driving force behind the anti-apartheid movement, surely, was the denial of this racist stupidity.

Isolated by the receding tide of history, the cruel and inhumane policy of apartheid duly collapsed and South Africa was reformed to accord with the socio-political requirements of a modern, democratic society.

While the political structure in South Africa changed for the better, racial attitudes certainly did not, despite
the intense moralising that accompanied the process.

Indeed, it was largely because of the moralising that attitudes were unable to change (despite the extraordinary generosity and grace of black people).

If white South Africans, for example, are believed by blacks to be inherently different from other people in their racism, then that is that and there is nothing to be done about it. But this traps both whites and blacks in a racial stereotype.

This is the unsatisfactory point we have arrived at today in South Africa’s race relations. Whites remain defensive, arrogant and mired in their delusion of superiority.

And blacks are injured, suspicious and generally unable to escape their historical stereotype.

The early promise of racial harmony is not being realised and never will be until interracial understanding, trust, respect and cooperation are established.

The only way out of this trap is to reject outright the racist belief that any particular people are what they are because of their different inherent natures, rather than their circumstances.

The fact that we are all racist to some degree or other needs to be acknowledged.

Finally, it should be understood publicly that anybody accusing anybody else of racism while claiming to be free of it themselves are simply revealing their own hypocrisy.

The solution to the problem of racism lies in disproving the stereotypes rationally rather than moralistically perpetuating them.

» Matthews is Cape Town-based writer. This is an extract from an article he has written on racism 

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