Racism is a state of mind

2012-09-08 09:46

No matter what a white man does, the colour of his skin – his passport to privilege – will always put him miles ahead of the black man,” said Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. He knew racism is about skin colour.

The unearned privileges of whiteness do not accrue to whites on the basis of intentions, actions or motives. Racism was as beneficial to extreme right-winger Eugene Terre’Blanche as it was to “freedom” fighter Joe Slovo.

The attempt to reduce racism to stereotypes and prejudices, practised by blacks and whites alike, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what racism is or a conscious ploy to render racism nonsensical so that no one accounts for it and thereby blacks are denied reparations for 350 years of systematic racism.

Yes, it is indeed true that we all have prejudices and hold terrible stereotypes about each other, but it’s not true that blacks can be racist; blacks are victims of racism.

So, what is racism?

In short, it’s a system of power historically created out of violence to oppress, exploit and dispossess blacks to benefit whites. It is more than a mere stereotype.

Racism is a product of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. These historical processes created modern capitalism, based on white supremacy, which is skin-colour oppression created by whites.

From this, all blacks are victims of racism in the same way all whites benefit from racism.

Some blacks are embarrassed by this to a point of denying racism is specifically about the oppression of blacks. Racism seeks to explain black oppression in white hands, just like sexism explains oppression of women.

That whites are not inherently racist is irrelevant, because they all inherently benefit from racism.

A real discussion about how to end racism cannot start from the impatient demands from whites that blacks accept that they too are racist or that blacks must stop their victimhood. Blacks are victims of racism, so please stop insulting us.

A real debate must focus on how 50 000 white families own 80% of South African land, why the JSE is dominated by whites and why senior management in leading companies remain white.

Why is it that an average black family spends about R400 and white households R6 000 a month? Why do white men on average earn R19 000 a month and blacks only R2 400?

Why do blacks live in townships and squatter camps, and whites in well-serviced suburbs?

Racialised inequalities are generally explained by beneficiaries of racism through the fallacy of “meritocracy”, favoured in particular by the opposition party, the DA.

Professor Sampie Terreblanche exposes it as a “self-attribution fallacy”, where whites “credit themselves with outcomes for which they were not responsible. The system enriched whites and impoverished blacks undeservedly.”

Some may correctly object that whites have been out of political power for 18 years. Just like under apartheid, there were black homeland leaders who were paid to give apartheid legitimacy. In 1994 the ANC ensured the bantustanisation of South Africa under democracy.

Basically, our leaders are managers of white supremacy, well paid through the tender and ministerial handbook.

» Mngxitama is the author of the essay: Blacks Can’t Be Racist


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