To be the head or the tail — what side of the racist coin will you call?

2017-05-23 06:00

IN the context of the current debates and tensions facing our society, I feel there are a number of underlying considerations that are sometimes overlooked, as well as a prevailing need by interest groups on all sides to be “right” and not to acknowledge, and in some cases be accountable for, the effect their groups may have had in leading up to where we are today.

The long history of racially biased interactions in South Africa began in 1488, which at 25 years per generation amounts to 20 generations of prejudice leading up to the 1994 elections.

That is 20 generations of one group using its self-anointed position to maximise its socioeconomic standing, optimise its levels of education and health care, and offer just enough handouts and support to keep the other groups subservient.

It’s no surprise then, that the prejudicial mind-sets are so well-embedded in our veins and without us acknowledging it, are sometimes still viewed as normal.

Farm workers calling the white farmerNkosaan, whites rolling their eyes to each other in a queue with a black teller, blacks asking whites to represent them in forums to other blacks because whites are considered more credible. And so it goes on.

But the thread is that we are or were all racist because of the environment we grew up in.

While many people across the cultures in South Africa would deny being racist, I would like to surmise that in all of our veins are the remnants of this affliction. And I believe that if we were to unpack these involuntary hand-me-downs, what would appear would be two distinct pairs of glasses with which the world is viewed.

The one pair worn by most whites makes everyone of a different colour look inferior and slightly less valuable, and when looking at oneself in the mirror one may be inclined to see the creation of a superior being, worthy of all the benefits that you and the gallant forefathers before have benefited from.

And that has been reinforced for 20 generations, so to say: “I was born after 1994 and therefore did not participate in or benefit from apartheid”, means that the glasses are not just glasses, they are blinkers as well.

The other pair presents the world as a more hostile place and makes the wearer feel more vulnerable, less worthy and deserving of self-devaluation.

It dims the light, so that colours on the brightest day cannot be fully enjoyed, standing in a taxi queue in the rain for two hours a day, families sharing a two-room house, fetching water from the same spring the Nkosaan’s cattle drink from, are all bearable with those glasses on.

So the reasons for our feelings of prejudice, be they superiority among whites or resentment by blacks, have different origins, they are not always the same form of racism.

What I am advocating is that whites remove their glasses first. We landed on these shores with them on and forced the local families to put theirs on.

Let’s acknowledge the 20 generations of looking down our noses through those lenses and from there let the healing begin.

As a white in this country I do not wake up feeling guilty for the past, but if I do not acknowledge it and in my daily life try to redress it, I would.


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