Fear and loathing

2012-05-08 00:00


Although circumstances surrounding the incident that prompted a racial outburst by Cape Town model Jessica Leandra dos Santos remain unclear at this stage, I am compelled to explore whetehr or not this incident is another of what Dorrit Posel in 2004 termed the "protection of white bodies from rapacious black sexuality".

In explaining her use of the word “k....r”, a derogatory term used to refer to black South Africans during apartheid, Dos Santos stated that it was an angry response to “sexual remarks and sounds” by a “gentleman” inside a grocery store on May 3.

I will ignore questions about the appropriateness of her response, specifically that of invoking a sexual harassment defence when her initial post on Twitter was of “triumph and conquest” over what she termed an “arrogant and disrespectful k....r”.

Instead, I focus on why, if indeed there were verbal sexual advances by the “gentleman” at “Spar”, would she bring his race into the picture, to the point of using a racial slur? Does it have to do with long-held views about black sexuality by white South Africans?

Black sexuality has been the subject of negative white obsession ever since the beginning of colonisation in South Africa, especially the period after the British took over in the Cape, bringing with them attitudes and injustices from the Americas and the Caribbean; albeit under the guise of “liberalism” — attitudes which to this day dominate discourse on black sexuality.

Viewed from the perspective of the British and Dutch colonisers, black sexuality was something to be dominated, feared and punished. Black females, perceived to be devoid of normal morality but highly sexed if not oversexed, were made to be sexual subjects, ostensibly not good enough to be considered as normal people, but sufficing as tools for recreational and sometimes reproductive sexual intercourse with white males.

Black males were seen as lustful, pursuing white women, who in turn would often come to desire black men, making them a threat to white male sexuality. It was befitting then, white colonisers argued, that such behaviour be prevented and when it occurred, to be severely punished.

As a result, fear of black male sexuality permeated colonial life and was linked with black violence — a logical expectation from a subjugated people, which colonialists assumed would be accompanied by sexual carte blanche and the ravishing of white women. White women needed to be protected from such rapacious black sexuality.

Fast-forward to almost 300 years later, much of the same antagonisms remain. White South African males continue to view the sexuality of their black counterparts as a threat and through the creation of myths, which among other things include the size of black male genitalia and the incessant need to keep their white race pure, have perpetuated the same views as before. Not surprising given that interracial mixing, or the lack thereof, was the fundamental principle behind the creation of apartheid South Africa.

Black South Africans, both male and female, continue to lust after their white counterparts — at least according to surveys indicating a greater predilection towards interracial relationships among urban blacks than any other race group in South Africa.

For blacks, there’s a new hurdle that seems to reinforce age-old beliefs about black sexuality: HIV/Aids. Stereotypes often used to explain the prevalence of HIV/Aids among South Africa’s blacks have formed further barriers for black South Africans, with some white South Africans viewing them as oversexed carriers of HIV/Aids.

This, together with long-standing stereotypes, has culminated in a scenario where any attempt to view a white woman as beautiful (which I would argue was the case with Dos Santos given her modelling career) is considered taboo and usually warrants a hostile verbal response.

Jessica Foord, a Durban resident, was gang-raped by five black South African males. This incident drew a huge outcry from the public — naturally, it was a heinous crime. However, the uproar by white South Africans was mostly driven by anger against the fact that 1.) the perpetrators were black; and, 2.) that blacks were now raping white women as well as black women, supposing then that the same crime against the latter is not worth an uproar in the white community.

As a result, what transpired earlier this week between DosSantos and the “gentleman” at “Spar” may be explained using this “fear of black sexuality”, assuming you accept my argument.

Dos Santos’s case is part of a bigger problem. So entrenched are beliefs of the apartheid idea of separateness that South Africans do not interact with each other. The 2011 South African Reconciliation Barometer Survey revealed that 42% of South Africa’s population does not socialise or form deeper social relationships across racial lines.

While it may be easy to surmise this latest incident as yet another act linked to the age-old protection of white bodies, specifically white women from rapacious black sexuality, such a conclusion would not be complete. South Africans seem to be too pessimistic about race relations. Long-held views towards social relationships are only a partial explanation for the low levels of interaction, which have remained relatively static since 2003. Greater effort by all South Africans, and especially the government, is necessary to complete South Africa’s deracialisation●— not the idea of race but its apartheid construct.

• This article first appeared on www.politicalanalysis.co.za

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