Guest Column

You can't fix racism by being colour blind

2016-02-24 18:30

Louise Ferreira

So apparently, we’re going to fix racism and violent protest action by being #colourblind.


Look, I understand the impulse. You think that racism exists because people only see each other according to their race, that it really is only about skin colour, and if we don’t do that anymore, the problem is solved.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

The difference between the average black person and the average white person in South Africa is not the amount of melanin they produce. It is their history, their parents’ and grandparents’ history, of apartheid and colonialism and a million little things that have led us to here: A country that is burning with anger.

Pretending that those differences do not matter is not going to help. It is making things worse.

Also, fellow white people? Saying that you’re colourblind will not absolve you from the responsibility to make reparations and to make a meaningful contribution to the healing of black pain in this country.

(Can I also take a moment to point out that it is profoundly ableist to say that you’re colourblind? As a disability it might not be as debilitating as being completely blind or deaf, but if you think it doesn’t affect people’s lives, just google “colourblind person sees colour for the first time”.)

I encourage you to read this Everyday Feminism article on the subject. But what I think is particularly important in the current South African context — that the campaign is driven by young people, students, bornfrees — is that it ties into two old whines: “It’s been 20 years since democracy, get over it” and “I wasn’t even born during apartheid, how is it my fault?”

So you’re saying that the physical and psychic violence done to people of colour every single day is less valid, because the system that legally sanctioned it has ended and you were not a part of it.

Here are some things that have happened to people I know, all of them people of colour:
Some had riot police with teargas and water cannons at their schools. You are surrounded by people, older than you, who have directly experienced racial violence even if they don’t talk about it.
Many have been told that they “speak so well”.

A friend was told not to speak isiZulu to a colleague (in the kitchen at work, during a break), because it was exclusionary.

Just the other day, a white bornfree called my friend a k****r.

When you call yourself colourblind, you are refusing to acknowledge that people have different, often harmful experiences based on their race, and you know what? That damn well makes you a racist. It means you don’t want to have to do the work of dealing with actual racism; you want to stand in a circle and sing Kumbaya.

If you are religious and would like to pray for peace and the end of racism, by all means, go ahead. If it makes you feel more connected to your fellow students, that’s wonderful.

But remember this: You still have to do the work.You have to engage in meaningful conversation and you have to listen, including to things that are uncomfortable and that you might not want to hear.

Your actions must agree with your professed non-racial beliefs.

That is much more powerful than posturing.

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