Faatimah Hendricks

Why we continue to talk about race

2017-05-11 13:39


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“Oh, not another article on race.”

“She's a racist!”

“Can't she find anything better to write about?”

These are the milder comments I usually see on my columns. Yes, I am writing another column on racial issues. No, I will not stop until people understand why race issues are important and they finally engage on this. There seems to be a lack of understanding on what racism is really about and the effects of it. Racism doesn't just manifest itself explicitly as the k-word, nor is it only institutionalised.

White people have expressed their exasperation at being labelled racist every time an argument occurs between a white individual and a person of colour. They don't want to hear it, but often these incidents are racist, even if derogatory words are not used.

Someone recently asked me what I thought of the incident at Spur that occurred two months ago and if it was an act of racism because there were no racial slurs thrown around. At the time many were asking this question and there were different views. That's old news now. But subtle, yet direct racism from white people is not. The question made me realise that there are still far too many who believe that racism is what is explicitly seen or heard.

Shortly thereafter I saw a video on social media where, on an aircraft waiting for take off, a white man insulted a black passenger and told other black passengers near him  that “you people are all the same”. There were witnesses who could be heard in the video agreeing that this was said and that the white man threatened to “bliksem” the black man in front of him, who had been quiet throughout the video clip. Eventually the angry white man and his female companion got off the plane after intervention from the pilot.

Some argued that both incidents were not racist and the aggressors were actually in serious need of anger management classes. However, when you're okay with disrespecting someone from another race but feel offended when they defend themselves or speak up, then you're being prejudiced, hypocritical and most likely racist. That means you see yourself as more superior to the person who's of a different race to you. What you're saying is “how dare YOU treat ME in that way?”.

There are a lot of white people who do this and claim they would treat another white person in the same way. But let's face it: they don't.

There was an incident on an American airline where a passenger needed medical attention mid-flight. A black female doctor on board told the flight attendant she could help. She was told she would need to provide her credentials first and was ignored. A white male doctor also on the flight offered to help and they accepted it without question. There were no racist remarks made, but accepting a white man's claims over a black woman's is racial discrimination.

Incidents like these tend to show how white people sometimes assume themselves as superior. Even though apartheid has been abolished, there are still many people of colour who have white bosses, whom they address as “madam” and “baas”. This subtle yet crucial representation of power reinforces the belief that white people are and should be in charge. People of colour need to start seeing themselves as equal. However, South Africans are not always aware of how these roles and the country's history has shaped our perception of race. It's a broad generalistion, but one can't deny the legacy of apartheid and the psychological impacts it had.

As a result, while we have eliminated racist laws and still attempt to remove it from institutions, racism has mostly retreated to the subconscious, where people are free to hold as racist a belief as they choose without being guilty of offending or discriminating against anyone. It's not necessarily about saying something racist, but it's about treating someone as superior or inferior based largely on the colour of their skin.

White people get annoyed every time this topic is brought up. They feel they have the right to tell us to “get over it”. They even have the nerve to say that young people who grew up in post-Apartheid South Africa have nothing to complain about and should somehow overcome the legacy of apartheid, despite being reminded daily of its effects. Therefore, let me ask those who sternly believe black people should just “get over it”: did the racists and their offspring just “get over” their racism once our democracy was established? We're expected to not talk about the past and the effects we feel today, to accept it and move on. But racists did not disappear as soon as Apartheid was abolished.

Will we ever be united and stop looking at everything in terms of race? No. Not as long as white people still see themselves as superior. Not as long as people of colour continue to accept being treated and seen as inferior.

- Faatimah Hendricks is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter, Facebookand at selfwriteous.co.za.

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