Dashiki Dialogues: The white identity is still to be resolved

2012-09-01 11:03

I recently had a chat with a blue-eyed, blonde acquaintance about his identity issues.

He had a glass of dry red in hand and a cigarette with a dual character between his lips – the type you can turn to menthol if you want to add something to the flavour. It became an apt metaphor in our chat about our capacity for reforming our identities.

We were at an exhibition opening and everyone was in a mental state of debate. Between discussions of connections in race and aesthetics, the chatter turned to more personal themes, careers and affairs – as small talk tends to do.

My friend told me he was writing an academic paper about the idea of a “post-colonial white male figure”. Needless to say, that returned us to heavier talk.

Now, in a world so obsessed with discourse on criminally minded black boys, their racial woundedness or, as we saw with the great Spear debate, the pathology of their sexuality, I found my blue-eyed friend’s theme refreshing.

There have been a number of works by creative people like JM Coetzee that have made inroads into the pathology engendered by white supremacy on those that it seeks to privilege.

Peter van Heerden’s performance art at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees took jabs at this theme within the Afrikaans community.

However, it seems that on the whole, the everyday identity struggles by young white men in our post-colonial or neocolonial world, if you like, remain a marginal debate.

They should not.

The truth is that when Madiba walked into his new office in Pretoria, he not only represented a shift in black male self-regard and their relationship to power.

It was also a call to renewal for my white friend and his peers.

As the historically emasculated black man claimed a new way of being in the world, the young white male was also being challenged to reimagine his place in a changing world.

Die Vaderland of the Voortrekker was becoming Rainbow country.

An example of how this call to newness can be troublesome is found in those who were specifically privileged during the dark years of minority white rule.

I remember how the son of an apartheid hanging judge, former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon, used to say he was not a “guilty whitey”.

Put aside, for now, the merits of how much of the father’s sins the son is entitled to carry, and I believe the interesting thing was in how Leon was grappling with how to be a new white male, relevant to his new political era.

That is a dialogue that should not just be limited to white men such as Leon.

The nation must be nurtured by it for our collective benefit, if not to better colour our dashikis.

»Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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