Guest Column

‘That was my friend who you called the k-word’

2016-01-11 13:23

Anton Taylor

As a rule I never make statuses in anger but today I’m going to make a fucking exception. A friend of mine from university was at the Queen’s Plate yesterday with a group of friends. A woman asked if her boyfriend or male friend could sit on their spare chair. They explained that their friend was away and would be returning and using it. She then embarked on a racist tirade that I do not want to repeat, but it involved repeated use of the k word. I am incredibly proud of my friends, because they followed up on social media, and exposed the woman for her behaviour. Respect to The Queen’s Plate for throwing her out, respect to her employers for firing her within hours of the incident being reported, and respect to her male friend for telling her to fuck off. But most of all, respect to my friends for keeping their composure and dignity in the face of such vitriol. I’m a random white oke who has barely ever been subjected to racism and I’m enraged. How must it be for my friends?

White South Africans. What the fuck is wrong with you? No. Actually. What the fuck is wrong with US? The sense I get from most statuses from white South Africans condemning ‘other’ white South Africans is that their motive is more to prove that they are not racist, that they are virtuous, that they are pious, rather than to address an actual problem. It fucking tweaks me. I know this because I see it so often, and because I have done the exact same thing. We are all scared of being called racists. And we all want to be seen as good people. But the way about it is not to point fingers at others. Look at your fucking self. This is not other white people’s problem. This is OUR fault.

White South Africans play this strange game of calling each other racists. They write articles about how the Matric reading syllabus is party to a patriarchal racist colonial subterfuge but they can’t fucking bring themselves to drive a few kilometres down the road to help out at a women’s shelter. If you care that much about South African race relations then spend a few hours a week at a charity or go to isiXhosa lessons. For most white people, if we have the capacity for self-examination, we all (myself certainly included) do far too little.

People say stupid things. People make mistakes. But this is different. I am not going to name the woman, just because I made a rule to myself a while back that I would not be part of the online moralistic lynch mobbing which has become so prevalent of late. She’s fired. Her life is fucked. But also, because as most white South Africans, WE are responsible for creating a culture where this sort of behaviour is possible. So rather than heaping the blame on one individual let’s take the uncomfortable journey of examining how we could be part of it. And I’m not being a self-righteous poes here. I’m not trying to earn social validation from my black friends. I’m just asking.

I sit thinking by myself. What kind of society have we created where this woman could have possibly thought that this behaviour was acceptable? She is obviously a very troubled human, but the fact is she operated in a world where she thought it was acceptable to tell a security guard that ‘I’ll call them k-----‘s because that’s what they are’ boggles my mind. It just so happened that my friends had the means to follow up on the incident. How many others don’t? We all fucking know that this happens very often.

And now I want us all to take a moment to think about this: A bit over twenty years ago, people of colour were not allowed in white areas. They had to carry a pass. They were provided with an education that was deliberately engineered to under-educate them. Fathers had to work on mines away from their children. About 13% of the land was given to the vast majority of our population. I could go on forever. But I ask, how would you feel, today, if your dad weren’t once allowed into Claremont at night? If you knew that your family had been systematically and PURPOSELY undermined for hundreds of years?

And then apartheid ended and somehow there were no repercussions for OUR actions. Sure, it’s frustrating at times dealing with BEE and quotas in sport, but that’s all. I feel like we’re waiting for the hidden cameras to tell us it was all a joke. Like, is that all? Not even a slap on the wrist?

If I cannot appeal to your sense of morality, then let me talk to your sense of your self-preservation. This cannot go on. Open your eyes. Look at the protests. Look at the repeated cases of racism that are being exposed. People are livid. We have been given warning after warning. We are like the child that tests the limits with his parents. We are pushing and pushing and pushing. And pushing and pushing and pushing. And trust me. We cannot push much more. There will be war.

If, and I believe it will not, South Africa burns, it will not be because of Zuma or Malema or the ANC. It will be because of white South Africans’ arrogance and apathy and lack of desire to engage.

I’m angry and this is far too long. I end with the preface to Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, originally written by Yeats.

‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’

As white South Africans we need to make a decision. We have not much time. This cannot continue.

- This post originally appeared on Facebookand has been republished here with permission of the author.

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