South Africa’s history is one of great racism: racial segregation and classification. As a result derogatory words that outline a group’s racist perceptions about another have been exchanged and disseminated.
Umlungu: The born supreme White
The white man has been and is still called uMlungu by the black race referring to his white skin. However, this simple race marker term later evolved to have a socially constructed metaphorical meaning.
The black man was called a K*ffir, to refer to his undesirable black skin, barbaric culture, kinky hair, savage/beast behaviour and backward/limited mentality.
In its simplistic sense, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species theory proclaims that human beings emerged from Apes; the Homo erectus stage, and evolved to Homo sapiens. According to white supremacists the black race still has the premature brain of an Ape; they haven’t fully developed, their kinky hair is that which covers the Ape, their black skin is that of an Ape- in essence blacks have not shed off their Ape behaviour- they are Apes- a K*ffir.
This ideology was widely disseminated and perpetuated during apartheid by white supremacist philosophers who emerged and wrote extensively about why skin and intellect are intertwined.
A renowned and respected white supremacist philosopher, sociologist, statesman and the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd convinced many whites that black is sub-human, a degraded form of white, a third class citizen, a parasite, a beast with broad shoulders and great strength but incapable of self-independent thinking. This beast can only be of use if handled by a white man.
Verwoerd’s baseless work was not discarded, because not only was it believed to be accurate and truthful, but other philosophers before him have written precisely the same thing. For example, Verwoerd’s work mirrors that of Aristotle’s Aristotelian Hypothesis that was used to justify the enslavement of American-Indians and later Africans during the Slave Trade. The Aristotelian Hypothesis’ golden rule is “some human beings are by nature slaves and others free.”
The later resulted to white being used globally and in South Africa as a yardstick for superiority and non-white a degraded and inferior race that needs to be handled to fulfil its life existence.
Successfully, the undesirable non-white K*ffir was working for a white man in mines, farms and as garden boys/tea ladies. The white man was to be called a Baas while the black man was called a boy. This constructed human race pyramid resulted to the term uMlungu to evolve to denote socially constructed biased connotations.
uMlungu: a socially constructed person
uMlungu meant (and still does) master, one of superior social being, the enlighten one and an academic. Secondly, uMlungu means opulence. Being uMlungu means you are at the top of the food chain, you’re literally the peak of the pyramid- you are essentially a Renaissance Man!
The term uMlungu is automatically given to a white person regardless of whether they do exhibit qualities of a renaissance man or not.
An antonym for uMlungu is “Bhulu” (Xhosa) or “Bhunu” (Zulu). It is literally taken from “Boer” which the Afrikaner proudly called/calls himself to denote pride in his race/culture, his undefeatable strength and superiority i.e. Eugene Terreblanche’s My beloved Country speech that says; This is a heartbreak land with a heartbreak history. But you are the owners. You’re the boss of your house and your farm and huge areas of South Africa and your absolute inalienable property. This is the property of a group of whites, of Boers joined in a land with its own title. You are the owners of this land. You own it!
Blacks associated Bhunu or Bhulu with aggressiveness, ruthlessness, racism against blacks and unjust government. What blacks had done was take a name that Afrikaners used to proudly/positively call themselves and attributed it with their negative encounters with whites. They have used a white man’s weapon against him.
A white man is called uMlungu because of his perceived social status and superiority; however, when that white man ill-treats a black person he is called a Bhunu/Bhulu. Which denotes the belief that blacks had; that a white man has racism ingrained in his blood- it’s in their nature be act like a Boer.
An example of such a mentality is that of Julius Malema that is often viewed as hilarious attempts to enforcing white guilt. Indeed, his racism claim he shouts out every time a white member of parliament questions his manifestos is laughable. However, when looked at a microscopic level, they reflect his inability to distinguish between a racist white man and a genuinely concerned citizen for the future of this country. Likewise, a black that supports a white person that questions him is called a tea lady (Lindiwe Mazibuko) or garden boy (Vusi Mmaimane).
A more severe example is that of Elijah Muhammed’s Black Muslim church. When slavery was abolished in the US, African Americans were granted a right to freedom of religion. Many like Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali joined Elijah Muhammed’s congregation that advocated “white men are devils.” His philosophy was in direct conflict with his arch rival, Martin Luther King JR who advocated for the living together of blacks and whites i.e. “I have a dream” speech.
Umlungu: The hardworking black
Today, post-apartheid times, uMlungu is still automatically a white person- but is nonexclusive to just skin colour. You can be black and be called uMlungu- but you have to earn it- you have to be recognized and be called by fellow blacks.
Being uMlungu is not being born a yellow bone… If your lighter skinned you are mockingly called Sharon or Emmanuel- these are stereotypical coloured names given to light skinned blacks to show that ‘you may be white but you’re still second to a white man and not any different than a black man.’
To be black and be called uMlungu you need to dominate- exert power and influence upon your kind. Being a black uMlungu is about social advancement, attaining a higher status quo through occupying managerial positions; something that was once a white man’s opportunity.
To be an absolute uMlungu you need to go live with your kind. You can’t not live in a black township with busted pipes, illegal/unlawful electricity connections or have a shebeen queen as your neighbour- even worse, as an uMlungu you can’t live in a Skwatta camp with constant fear that one of your neighbours’ flame stove might explode and burn the entire street. A black uMlungu lives in suburbs; an area previously prohibited to blacks under the Group Areas Act of 1950 which forcefully moved non-whites for living in the “wrong areas.” An uMlungu resembles opulence- he smells of wealth.
In the past a black man was working hard to please a white man and feed his family. Today, a black man is working hard to resemble a white man in order to please his race and conform to his people’s ideology that true legitimate success is born of a white man. This black uMlungu spends all his life trying to accumulate wealth for recognition. When he finally attains this wealth he’s pulled down by being called a ‘coconut’- a white wannabe. This backlash simply enforces Verwoerd’s supremacist philosophies that, indeed; poverty, hunger, living in shantytowns, illiteracy and other social ills are part of black culture. This beast cannot free himself from his conditions- he is incapable.
Perhaps Verwoerd was correct after all; strength is not what is needed to uplift the black race- black consciousness is what is NEEDED, because blacks are still chained by their own psychological oppression.
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