Khaya Dlanga

Only whites can end racism

2016-07-08 11:45
Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

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Khaya Dlanga

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The greatest mistake racists make is thinking that whiteness is something to aspire towards.

Not only do they think that you should aspire towards it, but will not accept you even if you try your hardest to act and behave in the whitest possible way. Whatever that white way is. 

Let me correct my first statement. I made a massive mistake, because racists don’t think.

They think they think. And they think they have facts. Racists assume that whiteness is something to aspire towards.

Black people do not aspire to be white. And before some of the racist readers are touched on their studios, there is nothing wrong with being white either. There is something wrong with being a racist because racism is illogical and a mental illness.

Black people should not aspire to be white, nor white people to be black. We are what we are and that is what makes us great. United in our diversity. Although it seems as if we are more divided than ever.

We have to acknowledge those divisions first before we can heal and unite. We have to deal with the hard truths, they must hurt us, they must make us upset, only then can we truly heal.

There is no point in having to pretend that South Africa is not hurting and in pain. The country is pulsating. We are not only dealing with racism, there is also the bigger issue of sexism that looms large in the society. It is understated and misunderstood and ignored. And as a man, I have been completely blind to it too. And worse, participated. 

The great mistake of the ’94 project was thinking that we would heal faster by not facing our pain, by not admitting that black people had been oppressed and continued to be, even after ’94.

That white people did not have to acknowledge that they had benefitted. We allowed them to pretend that they got what they have purely through hard work and not through legislated criminality directed towards black people of South Africa. Black people were denied land, education, self-worth, positions, and any idea that they were the equals of all peoples on earth.

We were legislated out of property into poverty. The white apartheid government was spending eight times more on a white child’s education than it did on a black child. If you do read this, I want you to be angry - both black and white.And then to do something about it. 

Did Nelson Mandela and others in ‘94? Yes they did. Naturally, hindsight makes everyone wise. They did what they thought was right. Now that we know they failed, what must be done? One of the things that this year has exposed is racism. Which, by the way, isn’t shocking to black people. We are just shocked that people are shocked. We are sick and tired of it. And we will not stand for it anymore. 

Silence gives consent

At the beginning of the year when we saw a rise in incidents of racism, one would have thought that people would be much more careful in hiding their racism. Truth is there is no increase in incidents of racism. There has been an increase of cellphones and people with data. Racism is now brought to us by data.

For the majority of their lives, racists have got away with their behaviour, even murder, day in and day out. Year in and year out. They have been rewarded by friends who agree with them.

Or if they do not agree, have remained silent, and as such racists continue to be emboldened about how right they are, and thus feel entitled to continue being racist.

In the words, other white people who themselves might not be racist, have given consent through silence. And as Thomas More said in A Man for all Seasons, "Silence gives consent".

It is the responsibility of every white person who purports to support the idea of non-racialism to police white racists. Why? Because those of us who have to encounter racism, are not there when racist ideas are incubated and allowed to grow.They grow in the privacy of whiteness.

Why is it that it almost exclusively takes a black person to report racism? The truth is, racists do operate in a vacuum. They have been given the impression that they have numerous people who agree with them because silence has given them consent.

When I moved to Johannesburg in 2006, the company I worked for put me up at B&B for a month until I found my own place. I met middle-aged American white women who had been travelling the world. What they told me was how amazed they were by how readily racist they found white South Africans to be.

They said when they met strangers, they would be told that if they happened to hit a black person while driving, they should just keep driving because these monkeys will kill you. They were shocked and traumatised by the fact that people assumed that they shared their views, even though they did not know them.

Later, I worked on anti-racist advertising campaign and interviewed a white researcher who worked at the Institute for Race Relations in South Africa. What he told me was that white South Africans are the only people in the world who will openly express their racist attitudes to another white stranger, assuming that they too shared the same views. It was a strong statement that took me aback.

I wrote an article a few years ago about a white friend of mine who had moved to South Africa to study, she told me that she was shocked by how racist Cape Town was. And how other white people assumed she shared their views too, simply because she is white. 

It’s your responsibility, not ours

When the schools were opened to black people, I was the only black child in my class in primary school. I was sitting class and doing my work like the other kids. Our teachers were not in class for that lesson for some reason. The class was well-behaved, as well-behaved as primary school kids can be without adult supervision.

One of the kids attempted to provoke me. I kept ignoring him. I had also recently read Alan Paton’s Cry The Beloved Country, a book my mother had forced me to read, and I couldn’t put it down once I started reading. The book that made me read other books.

Seeing that I was unmoved by his provocations, he took Tipp-Ex and painted a single white brush stroke on my black arm and then said: “You think you’re white now hey?”

Again I ignored him. The other children in the class looked on, unsure what to do. I continued working, or pretending to be working while doing all I could to control what I could feel was going to be an uncontrollable outburst if I did not contain it. I was aware of my environment.

I was the only black kid. If I reacted physically, it would the white class vs the black child. But I knew I was going to reach a point where I would ignore all of that logic.

He pointed again and said: "Look, he thinks he’s white!" gesturing to the other white kids. I ignored him. Then he said: "You think you’re white? Rub that off, kaffir!" It was at that point that I jumped and lunged towards him, I don’t know what happened, but I was held back and told not do anything to him.

I attempted to wrangle myself out of the many grips of white hands that held me back, hands with mouths that had said nothing the whole time I was being provoked. At this point I was crying out of pure lonely black anger in a white class.

At one point, I felt my hand being grabbed by one of the boys, with tears streaming down my face (no Coldplay). He marched me out of the class and said: "Let’s go to Mr Prentis’ office." That was the principal.

We walked out the class. He had my hand the whole time, marching me, and I was following him, weak, angry and tired. I don’t even think I knew where I was being led.

I couldn’t believe that I was the one now who was in trouble. The young white hand gripped my black hand and the white mouth said: "We are going to report him." Then he walked right past Mr Prentis’ secretary and knocked on his door, and before a response could be made, opened the door and pushed me in. The young white kid was Darren Lentz. 

Mr Prentis looked puzzled and his face immediately became sympathetic after seeing my teary-eyed face. He concluded the meeting he was having immediately and ushered me into his office. He asked me what was wrong. I responded between sobs – you know the sobs children make – between quickened and uncontrollable gasps for air while crying and wiping away tears. I told him that I had been called a kaffir. And I told him the boy’s name. 

To hell with silent morality

He immediately shouted: "Darren, go get that boy now!" Darren went to the class. They arrived together. Mr Prentis then said to the boy: "What did you call Khayalethu?" Yes, that’s what everyone called me back then.

"I didn't call him anything, sir," he said, while looking down. Mr Prentis then looked at him again and said: "Are you telling me that Khayalethu is a liar?”"

He responded and said: "No sir."

Then Prentis looked at him and said: "Do you know what Portuguese are called when people want to demean them?”"

He nodded. 

"Would you like it if I asked Khayalethu to call you that?"

He shook his head, now he too was holding back tears. 

After giving a lecture on racism, Prentis looked at the both of us and told the boy to shake my hand. We extended hands and shook them. After that we became good friends throughout primary school.

The point I am making with this story is that it took another white kid to stand up against racism. Not just silently, he did something about it. He was not a silent moralist. Silent morality, that does not act out nor speak out against an injustice, cancels itself out. To hell with silent morality in the face of injustice.

Mr Prentis could have easily said: "Well, let boys be boys. He meant nothing by it, it was just a joke. Take it easy man." But instead, he reminded him that he too could be demeaned unjustly.

The end of racism is in the hands of white people. These racists are allowed to spew their hate in front of other white people at first, who allow them to fester their hatred.

White people, hold each other accountable because we are no longer containing our anger when it comes to racism.

Sidikiwe ngoku bobubhanxa. It’s your responsibility, not ours.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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