Georgina Guedes

Why Qwabe was right

2016-05-06 12:03

Georgina Guedes

The story of Ashleigh Schultz, the waitress who was stiffed for a tip by Rhodes Must Fall activist Ntokozo Qwabe, just won’t die. It sits at the confluence of many of our most pressing and inflammatory issues, and the players are perfect both in being exactly who they are, and in some instances for being the exact opposite of what we might expect.

The story has been interrogated and analysed many times over the past week. I have read different people’s published viewpoints extensively, and watched a written brawl break out on my Facebook feed in response to the announcement of the amount that was raised for Schultz. As the differing views have been expressed, I have shaped my own, and a week later, I have distilled them into a few key thoughts.

Who was wrong and who was right?

Qwabe was a dick to that waitress.  Yes, he was not a worse dick than however many centuries of oppression and slavery and apartheid, but in a simple one-on-one interaction, withholding that tip and then bragging about making Schultz cry about it, was a horrible thing to do.

Schultz did nothing wrong. She is a waitress. Someone was awful to her to score a political point. She cried. Certainly, they were white tears, and certainly, the reaction that followed was coloured by their whiteness, but she didn’t seek the publicity or use her tears to gain sympathy. While some of what she did or said later might be problematic, she’s not the bad person in this story.

The people who started the crowdfunding platform to raise money for her are not bad people and neither are the people who donated the money. Each individual action that brought about the cash bonus of a R130 000 lost tip compensation fund was acting compassionately and humanely. They were doing a good thing, and I don’t want to take away from that.

So, given that we have a situation in which the Rhodes Must Fall activist was a dick, the waitress did nothing wrong and was reduced to tears, and all the individuals who donated to her fund were acting generously and compassionately, what the hell is the problem?

This is the problem

The problem is this... despite the fact that no one individually did anything wrong – except Qwabe – collectively, the whole issue has played out to highlight the imbalances that continue to exist in our society today.

“Nasty privileged black man reduced poor, hardworking white waitress to tears” was a powerful enough story to get many South Africans behind a fundraising initiative to PUT RIGHT THE INJUSTICE.

And yet there are so many injustices that we hear about every day far worse than this one that we do not respond to with crowdfunding platforms and donations because of one important distinction: the tears that the victims cry roll down black cheeks.

I am not a huge fan of the “how can you care about this cause, when you haven’t cared about this one?” mentality. But in this instance of Qwabe vs Schultz, I can see why black people would be hurt and angry – although not at all susprised – that the value of white tears yet again far exceeds the value of those that black people cry.

Qwabe was right   

The funny thing is that this whole story – the original action and the result – has played beautifully into the situation that Qwabe was intending to highlight. Imbalances still exist (duh). Society still favours the white man or woman. White people care only for our own current “suffering”, and not for the historical and current suffering that our actions and assumed superiority have wrought on generations of black people.
What Qwabe did wasn’t right, but he was right about it...

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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