Victims of racism must lead the battle

2011-03-05 09:04

Afew years ago, a commentator who styles himself as a thought leader on the “black experience” took me to task for suggesting that a certain municipality’s blanket ban on white ­business in the name of affirmative ­action was racist.

This individual accused me of not ­understanding what he called the “historiography of white racism”.

I confess that to this day I remain guilty of this awful ­failing for I still do not believe that the ­“historiography of racism against black people” gives us a special dispensation to be ­racist.

There is very little not to understand about white racism.

It has been the pervasive narrative since the mercantile age right through colonialism and apartheid.

We know too well of the physical scars caused by the employment of the methods much preferred by plantation owner Charles Lynch.

We also know of the ­psychological scars of white racism best described by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of The Earth.

Black racism is a little different. It has grown under the radar.

It has thrived ­because black people have been victims of race-based bigotry for so long that they internalised this victimhood as naturally as a zebra accepts that it will forever be a lion’s prey.

There are those black people who cling to the historical nonsense that black people are incapable of being racist.

This group has clung to the slogan that one needs institutional power derived from ­either politics or wealth to be able to subjugate fellow human beings before one can be called racist.

If this grouping were to be believed, it would mean that racism ended at midnight on April 26 1994 when white ­people lost political power. We know ­better.

The other problem with this mindset is not just that it says blacks are incapable of the feelings and sentiments other members of the human race are capable of, but also that it reduces racism to its ­effect on its victims rather than the very holding of a bigoted thought.

Black racism is no different from female sexism, such as when women unashamedly say they watch sport just to objectify men’s bodies.

If it is wrong to objectify and reduce women to tits and arses, it should ­equally be wrong to think that men are nothing more than biceps and abs.

I know of a certain influential woman and womanist who has a picture of a well-sculpted man on her door.

The note on the door says “enter if you look like this”.

Knowing her, I suspect she would have had reservations if a male colleague had a picture of a sexy woman in a swimsuit or less saying the same things as her hunk.

Yet she is a smart and progressive woman in all other ways.

History has shown that the mere fact of having once been a victim of a form of bigotry does not necessarily equip you with the consciousness to deal with your own prejudices.

Women are no more conscious of gender justice imperatives than many men, or than black people are about racism.

As Jimmy Manyi and Kuli Roberts have shown, an anti-prejudice mentality cannot be assumed simply because people are smart, have themselves been victims or even if they are campaigners against other forms of bigotry.

They are like many of us who perpetuate bigotry in the belief that it is not as bad when it comes from us because everybody knows we were once and are in a lot of ways still victims of the same bigotry.

The future lies therefore with an anti-racist – as differentiated from non-racist – consciousness.

It starts with asking ourselves how we would feel if the same things were said or done against us just because we have more melanin than other human beings.

Black people do not owe being ­anti-racist to the need to be “nice” to others or because they are ignorant of the “historiography of white racism”.

It is precisely because we understand the history and reach of white racism that we must become the bulwark against racism and all other forms of bigotry,including our own prejudices.

It is in doing this that we will put in motion the words of that icon of all things black and beautiful, Steve Biko, who prophesied that “in time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.”


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