Max du Preez

Resist racism

2012-02-01 13:10

Max du Preez

White South Africans should really resist the temptation to make racist remarks when they’re faced with what they perceive as black racism.

Too many whites seem to believe that when the likes of Julius Malema, Jimmy Manyi or Eric Myeni insult or threaten them as a group, it means they have license to also let rip.

Racism is dangerous and reprehensible regardless of any provocation.

It is also bad strategy: if you feel under threat as a white person or fear being dominated by the majority, it can only do your cause harm if you reinforce the very perception that led to the insults or threats.

I don’t buy the school of thought (now turned into an industry by Andile Mngxitama et al – Google that name if you’re not familiar with it) that black people are incapable of racism.

There is ample and daily evidence that dark-skinned South Africans are as capable of prejudice on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity and place of origin as any other group in the world.

In fact, to call all white people racists or to accuse whites of racism simply because they don’t agree with some aspects of the present government’s behaviour can also be seen as a form of racism.

But it’s not that simple.

When an angry, desperately poor inhabitant of a squatter camp insults white people on a placard during a protest, we should be very careful not to simply characterise it as deplorable racism.

If that same person had a decent job and lived in a decent house in a decent neighbourhood, he would most likely never have uttered any racist insults.

I will not condone his insults, but I can understand that his racism has its roots in his anger at the legacy of apartheid and the continued inequality in the country.

I can understand it when black people sometimes over-react to white criticism of the government or of prominent black figures and lash out at whites in terms that are experienced as racist.

That kind of criticism from whites is far too often rooted in racist notions of white superiority.

Black people have well-developed antennae to detect this form of racism, even when it is camouflaged well.

Many white South Africans are allowing their fears and frustrations in the post-apartheid society to undermine their sense of decency and fairness.

An example: I pointed out on Twitter yesterday that Eugene TerreBlanche’s widow told the court that her husband paid the teenage murder accused R200 and the adult accused R650 a month. Month, not week.

There is not a sane, decent human being alive in this country that would regard that as anywhere near a living wage.

It is naked, criminal exploitation, finish en klaar.

And yet I was bombarded by whites tweeting things like: did he not also give them food and a place to live? Or: at least they had a job, or: why did they not leave and find another job?

Shameful. And I suspect that many of these people would call themselves Christians.

Perhaps the kind way of looking at this would be to say these poor people were also the victims of apartheid: it also undermined their humanity.

To those white people reading this who want to scream at me “ons is nie almal so nie” I say yes, I know.

But those of us light-skinned Africans who believe in non-racialism, human decency, freedom and democracy should not wait for black citizens to jump on white racists.

We should do it first.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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