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Why South Africans are racist

29 June 2012, 13:16
You'll notice I said 'South Africans', not 'blacks' or 'whites' or 'Indians' etc. This is not an article about a specific group, but rather racism itself.

I don't believe it's because racists are innately bad people. You don't need to walk with a swastika on your arm or be in training for a civil war in order to be a racist - this label can apply to any thought which perceives of somebody else in a specific manner when you have no concrete whether or not they match that stereotype.

I think its largely due to fear. We've all heard that fear results in adrenalin, which results in a 'fight or flight' response. Because we can't emigrate as an entire nation, the flight option is ruled out. All that leaves is the 'fight' response, and aggressive behaviour is part of that.

I'd say that for white South Africans, fear is the root of their racism, while for black South Africans resentment is a more common cause.

I started thinking about this again yesterday, while residents in my security complex were having a meeting about security concerns. They had identified that a potential risk was a group of vagrants living in a field outside our complex, and that whenever the police were called to displace these vagrants, they soon returned afterwards.

That got me thinking ... why are we trying to chase the vagrants away, instead of finding somebody who can speak their language and then engaging with them? Why is fear our first response to them? Especially seeing that I doubt these vagrants are the home for the professional thieves which target security complexes, but rather just poor people with nowhere else to live.

Why is it so easy to 'other' people from racial groups we don't belong to a point where the very thought of engaging with them as people doesn't even occur to us?

This is where I think language plays a huge role. How much tension is built from a lack of understanding, as white people generally don't try to communicate with black people beyond 'Please bring me the card machine' and 'Make sure you sweep up all the leaves'?

This dialogue needs to open on a nationwide level, and not just between white and black South Africans who have gone to the same University or who work together in the same companies (and yet, ironically, sit at separate tables in the canteens).
Maybe technology is the key. Hopefully we'll get universal translators which will allow people to communicate easily across all our official languages, and maybe once we can start understanding *what* people are saying we can start to see the commonalities with our own lives.

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