Guest Column

Beach racism: 'What makes your white skin better?'

2016-12-19 14:41
Herman Lategan

Herman Lategan

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Herman Lategan

I loathe politically correct whites, in particular those who were often silent during apartheid. I reject that mob of opportunists but I also refuse to ignore my own racist demons. Often, I have to check myself with friends, of all hues, to see if I’m in the wrong or just being a people-pleaser.

That’s how you roll if you’re striving to live a conscious life in a fractured country. You make mistakes, you examine your prejudices, you self-correct. It’s called personal and collective growth, no rocket-science involved, just your heart.

It seems, however, some local whites just don’t want to learn from their shadow. Over this last weekend, I was gobsmacked to see after everything that's happened some Facebookers are once again spreading pictures of Durban’s beaches, packed with...people.

What does it mean if a white person places a photograph of a packed Durban beach and says nothing, or “No Comment” as one cretin wrote? Do you think that this is cool, and that such a post, in our racially charged country, comes with no sub-text?

I’m not referring to Ben Sasonof, I didn’t see his comments, neither did I at the time see Penny Sparrow’s. Shamefully, I’m talking about some of my very own Facebook friends, or their friends, all having a jolly old time indulging in covert (or so they thought), raw racism. 

“Shocking” a chorus of whites echoed. Really? People having fun in the sun? Various comments were straight out of a braaivleis fireside chat in the seventies. Some might remember oom Piet standing unsteady on his feet staring into his beer and the flames lamenting the “white man’s burden”.

What these Facebookers are saying is: “Look at all those blacks. 'They' scare me.” What they perhaps don’t realise is the extent to which they were brainwashed by the Nats (and let’s not forget the holier-than-thou classist British before them), to fervently believe in the Swart Gevaar.

Thus, any large group of blacks unconsciously and even consciously represent trouble, anarchy, filth. This is what whites were told, that’s why black people were kept apart, and like sheep whites merrily went along with this.

It’s nearly 2017. Isn’t it time to grow up? What makes your white skin better? Inform me, I’d like to know. And don’t tell me you’re complaining about the fact that it’s so packed, I see right through you (and myself quite often, thank you).

I’ve been on that beach when it was bursting, it was wonderful. Not just once, a few times over a some years. You didn’t have a bunch of pompous gin-and-tonic poseurs and arrivistes sitting around pretending they’re in Brighton. No, you had people screaming with laughter, splashing water, being boisterous.

Is this too much for those archaic remnants who spread these pictures? Should black people rather be in your garden or kitchen, walking your dog, looking after your baby, cleaning your toilet, but certainly not blatantly having fun in the sun?

When I asked this question on Facebook one woman, without a blush, said: “I’m so glad black people can now go to the beach and enjoy themselves [notice how patronising], but I’m not racist if I feel ill at ease between ‘them’.” This she says without a trace or hint of irony.

She continues: “I would like to ‘kuier’ with people who are the same as I am.” That must be a terribly suffocating, sanitised and parochial experience.

My own cousin told me I’m just generalising when I complain about racism (regarding the fracas around the photographs). That’s a favourite line of some whites, the one that says, “We’re not all like that, so shut up.” Sure.  

In her day, she writes, “Coloureds flocked en masse to the beaches of Cape Town and everybody was happy.” She neglects to mention that “coloureds” were not allowed on Clifton, or at the Sea Point Pavilion, where she used to hang out. The utter ignorance is astounding. These are the people who also say: “Get on with it, apartheid is dead.” Indeed.

A well-known theatre personality left this message on my page: “What a disturbing post [mine, that is]. Whilst as a white British immigrant who has lived through all the bad ‘old days’ and fought for total equal opportunity in the best way I know how by empowering the individual, I take exception to your analogy [obviously cross about my reference to the gin-and-tonic-set].

“Packed beaches are fun, go to Europe, but it is the lack of manners and consideration for others around you which ruin the experience: Very loud music, sand in your face, screaming uncontrolled kids...that has nothing to do with colour, just plain good manners. Have all the fun you want, just temper it with respect for the space around you and don't disregard good manners surely?”

It’s unnecessary to deconstruct what she says here, it’s clear. Packed beaches in Europe are obviously better. It’s also astounding that she does not notice she sounds like the people I’m sending up.

Bottom line? If you don’t like black people, emigrate to a place where white people sit around talking about the “good old days”.  You’re in Africa, not some antiquated colonial outpost. Move on, drop your puerile sense of superiority. The Nats told you you were special, you’re not.  

And if you're white, and you experience negative feelings toward the sentiments expressed here, Google this: White Fragility.

- Comments like the ones made on the Facebook profile below is an example of what Lategan discusses above.

- Lategan is a writer and columnist from Sea Point, Cape Town.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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