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Daai Een
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Still white, still struggling

29 April 2014, 23:00
A few days ago I posted an article which predictably pissed off over a thousand people, and which once again unmasked the wide spread denialism of racism in the white community.

Quite a few people wanted to know why I make this about white people and not all South Africans, so I decided to share some personal experiences in the hope that something might click with one or two individuals. 

About two months ago I decided to travel through Mpumalanga - tourist style. Along with the immense beauty of the place I was met with such kindness from people of all races. However, on more than one occasion, I realised that the friendliness I was treated with were merely based on the fact that I was white and Afrikaans. 

On my first night in a stunningly beautiful town, I had a long chat with the owner of my guest house. Lovely, elderly Afrikaans gentleman, happily exchanging recipes and parental advice. However, last mentioned advice also included not to put my (hypothetical) children in school in this town, because it's become too black. He told me how his daughter is saving up so she can send her first born to boarding school in a nearby city when she turns 7.

Because that's what 'we' have do these days. On hindsight, I should have said something to put him in his place. I could have told him that I have adopted a black kid myself, or that I am married to a black guy. Unfortunately I was at a loss for words, plus the Afrikaner in me was too scared to take on an elder, so I changed the topic instead. 
Despite the sour taste this well intentioned man's words left, it made me pay closer attention to my surroundings, and to my delight, I noticed that there were quite a few black people hanging out in the most beautiful, tourist areas of Mpumalanga for fun!

Gradually non white South Africans are becoming able to also enjoy the natural gems of our country. Although still under-represented, black people are moving into 'white spaces'. Only, as I kept discovering, it really freaks out many white people.

 Later into my adventure I was booking a shuttlebus to a next destination. When I enquired over the phone in Afrikaans if they did hotel pick-ups, the owner of the business said no, but she'd put me in touch with a friend. I was slightly confused as to what this friend of hers had on offer, so I asked her if this person had a taxi service. She laughed slightly embarrassed and ensured me that he is indeed a taxi driver, but that he is white and usually drives around white people.

Until this day I have absolutely no idea why on earth this woman had to reassure me that she was recommending a 'white' service to me. I mean, I live in South Africa, right? And did it occur to this woman that being Afrikaans doesn't always translate to being white? What if she was speaking to a coloured person on the phone? 

Then, the experience which saddened me most, took place in a fairly big city. The hotel manager was a very warm, helpful Swazi lady. I asked her for some information about my surroundings, and wanted to know if it was safe for me to take a walk in the (lush, leafy) neighbourhood. She assured me that although you can never be too relaxed anywhere in South Africa, this neighbourhood is mostly white, so I should be okay... I had no words.

What did she expect me to reply? Had this highly respectable, kind woman come to learn that people like me needed to know that there were no other people looking like her in the area before I could feel safe? Is that what a black person has to do in this country to fit in with white suburbanites? 

I remembered this experience with the black hotel owner again when I was at a fuel station with a family member on the Thursday before Good Friday. She kept telling me that she was feeling uneasy. When I asked her why, she just shrugged. Then a minute later she started laughing, saying 'Of course, it's Easter! They're on their way to Moria!' Then it dawned on me that there were a lot of black people filling up their cars at the station - probably more than usual.

When I asked her if Moria is the only valid reason for black people to stop at a garage, she flipped out and ignored me for two days afterwards. See, she is one of those people who tends to start sentences with 'I'm not a racist, but...' For such people to be told that they are indeed racist... well, just look at the comment section to my previous post, and watch the ones coming in to this one, and you'll get the picture...

Mpumalanga is not the only place in South Africa where I've come accross white racism. However, one of the reasons  why these experiences were so disturbing to me, is because the hospitality industry is supposed to help tourists get a feel for the people of South Africa. Yet, the people so comfortably expressing racist views in the presence of a stranger like myself, are also the people dealing with foreign visitors to this country.

Right now, for all we know, people all over the world think that we still have Apartheid in South Africa as a result of contact with such individuals. Plus, I keep wondering what's been said in the company of non-white tourists by these very same people. I've already explained in my previous post what ridiculous things some white people do at parties in the company of black people, and I keep thinking that as a black person I'd feel slightly uneasy to book a room in a white owned hotel.... 

Which brings me back to the question as to why I am making the struggle I talked about a white thing, as opposed to a South African thing: Although things are changing, the most beautiful, safe and connected places in South Africa are still inaccessible to the majority of non-white South Africans. That's why I talk about 'white spaces'.

As white person I can't comment too much on challenges black people have to face in claiming back their place in these 'white spaces'. What I can say for sure is that many white South Africans either consciously or sub-consciously see these changes as something negative.  Unfortunately, the silence of people who disagree - my own silence included - adds to the negative energy they create, an energy that is not going unnoticed.

However, regardless of their resistance, South Africa has always been and will always be a predominantly black country. Time to deal with it. 

*Let's see if white people can respond without turning this into an ANC argument...
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