Young whites clueless about racist behaviour

2015-03-09 13:09

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Johannesburg - Young South Africans live in a time and space "where filters are not encouraged" – and this means some white youngsters believe they are merely "calling a spade a spade" when they make racist comments, says the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).

A white student at Wits University on Monday allegedly said to fellow fourth-year law student Sinethemba Memela: "I will f***ing kill you, you black bitch," during an altercation outside a lecture hall.

Memela told Wits Vuvuzela, the student newspaper, that she had earlier upbraided the white student for mocking a senior black lecturer’s pronunciation of the word 'patent'.

Memela has lodged a formal complaint with the university against her classmate.

The institute, which compiles an annual Reconciliation Barometer, said there were several complex and nuanced reasons why South Africa's so-called born-frees were frequently at the centre of racist allegations.

"Social media contributes greatly to unfiltered utterances with few consequences," the IJR's Stan Henkeman told City Press on Friday.

Henkeman said the institute's work with young people had revealed that "as much as race is at the forefront for most South Africans on a daily basis, there are few safe spaces to openly debate the topic and allow for honest conversations".

This means that those who genuinely want to engage "don't know how and where" to and, consequently, “the more extreme positions and groups with stronger advocacy come to the fore".

The IJR's research also showed different races internalising certain ways of being in the world – white youngsters growing up seeing black people only as domestic workers or gardeners, for instance.

"No one needs to tell them about the pecking order in their world – it is clear for all to see: 'We are superior.'

"Similarly, young black people grow up with a clear message from society that they are not as clever, talented and worthy of success as their white counterparts.

"Without dwelling too long on this, we need to acknowledge that the most powerful education is that which you internalise without interrogating it.”

There have been a number of high-profile racially motivated attacks in recent years by young white people, among them:

-  The case of the so-called Waterkloof Four, who beat a still-unidentified homeless black man to death in 2001;

- The so-called Reitz Four – Free State University students who filmed themselves humiliating black university employees;

- An attack by five young white men, one of them a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT), on a coloured woman named Delia Adonis; and

- A University of Cape Town student and model who allegedly stood on a nightclub balcony and urinated on a black taxi driver. Djavan Arrigone (19) allegedly said he didn't see anything wrong with it. Boss Models sacked him; UCT is investigating.

Henkeman said: "The term 'born-frees' is rather unfortunate because it might communicate to young people that they are not tainted by the past.

"Every child born in South Africa is tainted by the past. They inherit their parents' privileges or marginalisation.”

He said many young black people were “angry because of limited and limiting options, and feel that the new South Africa owes them opportunities”.

Young white people, meanwhile, "generally do not have a deep enough appreciation for the legacy of the past".

The good news, though, is that the IJR doesn’t believe young people are apathetic.

"They are interested in having these conversations and are courageous enough to put themselves out there.

"This is particularly powerful given the fact that for many young South Africans this is a process not only of learning, but also of unlearning," Henkeman said.

Read more on:    racism

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