South Africa is such a marvelous country. I've been living in South Africa on-and-off for about a decade-and-a-half and cannot seem to separate myself from it. But, all too often, I've run into distasteful attitudes related to race and race relations.
People will be quick to point out that racism is not just a problem that South African society faces, and will call it a worldwide phenomenon, but, truth-be-said, there are plenty of communities that have either gotten beyond racism or have yet to experience its sting. But this article isn't about the theory of racism, though I will draw on many principles that give racism the shape in South Africa that it does.
Racism is about prejudice based on, often perceived, racial, ethnic, cultural or religious differences. And racism is also about humiliation and fear. Add stereotyping into the mix, but the type of stereotyping that is negative and leaves people feeling rather raw, misunderstood and sidelined, just because of a narrow-minded exposure to life.
If you grew up in South Africa then, at some stage, your childhood innocence was reformed by racial prejudice. It could have been being pulled out of a school because non-white folk started going to it, or started teaching there. It could have been watching your parents step off the side-walk when a white-skinned person walked by and wondering why.
It could have been questions about what your race was. And if you are a person like myself who came to South Africa as an adult, you pick up on the culture of racism through so many interactions that leave you (eventually) asking yourself, "Are they doing that because they are being racist?"
I find it incredible that there are still so many proud racists, and others still who are proudly subtly racist. I mean, worldwide, wherever racism has been an issue, there's been violence, hatred and death, and with so much absurdity.
Take the recent spotlight on xenophobia that gripped various townships across South Africa - people ended up destroying the very services they depended on for daily living and actually killing other South Africans. And the fantasy of white supremacy saw many white folk sending young white men to psychiatric institutions because they were conscientious objectors to government-sponsored terrorism.
Talk about wasted life, energy and focus. That man in his 50s pumping petrol into your car had a dream that was squandered. He wanted to be a brain surgeon, but was denied scientific education. He was regularly insulted and "put in his place", reminded by the day-to-day state of affairs that he would not amount to anything but a common labourer. His father used to run a newspaper publishing local news, that was shut down by the erstwhile government. His grandfather had his mining claims physically robbed of him followed by legislation that made it impossible for him to recover those claims.
And as far as Mr-In-His-Fifties is concerned, the insult continues, because there is nothing wrong with his intellectual aptitude, but the people whose cars he so faithfully fills speak "whale" to him without any regard to whether he is fluent in English.
It's saddening to read the online banter around whether previously disadvantage individuals (PDIs) can be racist. Who has stopped to think whether you really want PDIs to be racist? A small proportion of PDIs resorted to violence to bring an end to Apartheid, and that after many decades of appeals to common sense and logic. Why would any right-thinking person want to start accusing PDIs of racism? If anything, you want to see the desire for peace and a "normal" life in PDIs.
These instigators trawl online networks with complaints of how threatened they feel by PDIs from the comfort of a home where they are sharing a toilet with 2 or maybe 3 other people. They sleep in a private bedroom, and shout at their neighbours for letting their dogs bark at night. They heckle PDI lecturers for their heavy accent, calling them incomprehensible and accusing them of negatively affecting their education.
They party with "their own kind", only consider romance with the same, and complain about how hard life is having to keep up their mortgage payments, credit card bill and school fees. They scrutinize the CV of the PDI, finding it incredible or nearly illegible, forgetting that their own colleagues are poor writers, or are lazy, or mendacious.
They love their power and wield it with cocky pride. They love their fear of the unknown and huddle together with others like them to reinforce their fear, never thinking that their fear is irrational. They claim they have a culture that the others don't understand. They claim to have tastes that are better and more refined. They believe they can learn nothing from the unknown.
But it's just fear; fear that if they open up and let loose, they will become irrelevant. They are afraid that their "friends" will judge them. They are afraid that those they ignore, victimize and treat harshly will, with a little bit of room, do the same to them. But they fail to understand that their culture of racism is the reason for their fear.
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