The ‘devil’ that lives in all of us

2009-08-01 00:00

THE recent arrest of a black Harvard university professor by a white police officer in the United States of America, which culminated in the “beer summit” at the White House with president Barack Obama, reminded me of some of the challenges we still face as a people and as a nation.

Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested on Thursday by police sergeant James Crowley after Crowley received a call about two black men trying to break into a house. Gates, who had been trying to open a door into the house, was arrested and a number of questions were raised after the incident, including Gates’ racial profiling.

Obama then invited the two men for a beer on the White House patio and the three were joined by Obama’s deputy Joe Biden to “quell the race row”. Obama, who is friends with Gates, advised the two [as well as the nation] to take a positive lesson from the incident and move on.

I have often been accused of being a racist, or of being racist in this column, but aren’t we all racist, that is, the pre-1994 class? I do not believe that the generation before 1994 does not, one way or another, look at issues, things and people, in terms of one form of racial classification or another.

As a nation, divided at the time, we were taught to look at each other through the racial lens and the remnants of this continues to live within us, and the first step is to admit that this is indeed the case.

Failure to do this is like an HIV-positive person having unsafe sex on the grounds that he or she is negative. This is called denial.

A lot of people are racists, black and white, but they hide it to be politically correct.

How many black people look at a white man and think Verwoerd, the father of the system that oppressed “us”, which, by default, makes that white man a racist.

This stereotype exists, even if the black person who thinks this way has never even met the white man.

When a white woman walks down the street and sees a black man, she clutches her handbag because her defence mechanisms send out an alarm saying “armed robber and thief”.

There’s also black-on-black racism where one sees a foreign national with an accent and, even though we do not know that person, have never met him or her and do not even know which country in Africa he or she is from, our deeply-embedded stereotypes say “Nigerian fraudster”.

I have a Ghanaian brother-in-law and he does not fit any of the profiles that exist out there.

The U.S. has been an integrated nation for more than 40 years and the remnants of racism always seem to come up. How much longer then for South Africa, which has been in the sunshine for a mere 15 years?

You will find that the people who claim not to be racists are the real racists, while those who admit to it are more than half way to facing our tainted past and removing the remnants that are the devil in all of us.

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