The F-word: Despicable louts give racism a bad name

2012-03-31 10:17

If I were to join, or start a service delivery protest it would be about the failure of President Jacob Zuma to finish the project he had announced of getting South Africans to talk to and understand each other better.

You might recall back in 2010, just after news that the number one had contributed to Orlando Pirates chairperson Irvin Khoza being a grandfather, Msholozi announced “a nation in dialogue” to start conversations between South Africans of different races with the aim of finding a common South Africanness.

It was a great idea, I thought. South Africans seemed to sweep their history as a institutionally divided people under the carpet.

We assumed that just because April 27 1994 had happened, we were all experts in each other’s lives when we know we are not.

Just this week I discovered that my daughter’s Grade 3 teachers had taught them that black people love expressing themselves through singing. For a moment I sighed with resignation.

The narrative of the ever smiling nigger was being visited on my unsuspecting little girl.

My daughter’s teacher who, for the record is not black, might be wrong about this trait that blacks supposedly have in abundance because they are black.

I do not believe though that she deliberately set out to mislead children under her care. I trust she told the children what she believed was an uncontested truth.

Children in other schools where teachers are black, may very well be teaching their learners there that whites do not like to express themselves in song and dance or are naturally better at maths and science.

Like my daughter’s teacher, they may be mouthing blissful ignorance meaning no harm.

Teachers come from the same society as all of us. Many of us raise our children as we were raised; to believe that there are hardwired behavioural traits that black or white people have because of their skin colour.

A lot of what passes to be self-evident truths about other South Africans who do not look like us comes from our very ignorance. As it is often the case, prejudice is the child of hate and a grandchild of ignorance.

This is where Zuma would have been helpful if he followed up on his promise.

If Zuma had gone ahead with his plan, our children would be having a fairer grasp of what their compatriots who do not look like them are about. It would obviously not be a perfect picture but at least it would be a start.

It would help deal with the assumptions we who have lived lives separated by law and later by wealth, make about each other.

It would disabuse some whites of the notion that they are exclusively picked as victims of crime because they are white rather than because they have things that criminals believe are valuable.

They would know that, contrary to the rantings of fringe groups who mourn the end of white supremacist rule, criminals don’t care about colour.

Black people on the other hand would hopefully abandon the default position where every loutish or foolish thing said or done by whites is an act of racism.

Crying race has unfortunately become the refuge of those who cannot make sense of the reality they encounter.

The obnoxious have given racism a bad name, as it were.

I am in no way suggesting that there is no racism or that some of the loutish behaviour and hurtful things that are said or done is not inspired by racism.

We should never be apologists for racists and racism. We should uproot it anywhere we find it and punish it severely.

The fight against racism suffers when we fail to differentiate repugnant from racist behaviour.
Neither is acceptable but they are not the same thing.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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