Cape Town – "I’m aware of this privilege that I inherited as a white male in this country due to apartheid and as a South African I’m taking ownership of that," Danny K says without wavering or any hesitation in his voice.
Had you told me that one day I would have one of the most progressive and open-minded discussions about race and privilege with singer Danny K, I would probably not have believed you.
He has always been extremely polite to me whenever I’ve had any interaction with him – but by my own pre-conceived notion bias I never thought of the local singer-songwriter in the context of serious topics like race relations and white privilege.
And if you think his Twitter race row on those exact topics was a spiel, fluke, or fake, then your prejudice is blocking your view as well.
In an open and frank conversation with Channel24 he talks about his views on racism and the extreme reaction to him addressing the topic so boldly on a public platform.
ON THE TWEET
On the morning of 5 March, Danny K, real-name Daniel Koppel, picked up his phone and recorded a short video message which he later posted on Twitter.
Annoyed by a white radio journalist complaining about a new quota system put in place to help develop young athletes, Danny in just 1 minute and 49 seconds effortlessly and accurately unpacked the topic of white privilege.
He followed it up with several more tweets calling out complacent white people who deny that the aftermath of apartheid still exists and refuse to acknowledge that they benefited from a system that favoured them based on their race.
The quota system Danny was referring to was announced by South African Schools Athletics (SASA) earlier that same week and stated that at least 40% of all South African district, provincial and national school athletics teams must be made up of players of colour, reported Sport24.
A few days later it was announced that the SASA would be scrapping the quota and withdrawing its memos in which it made the announcement.
The quota system might be gone, but white privilege is still very much alive and if you dare to mention it, as Danny would quickly learn, you will meet the wrath of all those who for some reason fear to acknowledge that by law they were granted access to more resources, opportunities, and privileges based solely on the colour of their skin.
Yes, even Twitter-besotted politician Helen Zille will come for you with a snarky "you need some spelling lessons" instead of addressing the real issue on the table.
During a phone call with Danny in Johannesburg he recalls the tweet that set off a Twitter storm and saw him garner both hate and support online from a very vocal social media community.
The first thing the 41-year-old admits is that the topic has been on his mind for a very long time and that it wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment thing: "I was telling my story and what I was witnessing around me as a white male South African. Racism is nothing new in South Africa. I think it’s naïve to think it doesn’t exist today. It certainly does, and my tweet was saying that I don’t think enough white people around me, and in the media, and in society-at-large, are speaking up about it.
"This has no place in South Africa in 2019 and it’s going to do nothing for nation-building at all. So, it was a reflection of my world and also owning up to my role in saying I’m committed to calling it out. I think anyone that takes exception to it is part of the problem. I don’t know what was so revolutionary about saying we can’t tolerate racism? That shouldn’t be a controversial statement."
ON THE ZILLE
I ask him about Helen’s out-of-touch response to his tweet.
"I still laugh about it. At first, I was flattered that I was on Helen Zille’s radar. I come from a time where I remember her political leadership in this country," he admits before taking a moment and adding: "So, when she weighed in on my tweet I was firstly very surprised and then when I realised that she really had ignored my plea to end racism and own privilege…I just thought this shouldn’t have been the first thing that came to her mind when she read that. It was about the message and not my grammar. I know I’m lousy at spelling, but I was disappointed by her response. It was shocking to me to say the least. Spelling should not have diluted the message."
ON GENERATIONAL PRIVILEGE
"We need to own the generational privilege that comes from our parents. I benefited from my father’s ability to compete unequally during apartheid because of the marginalisation of black people and that is a fact in our country. No-one is saying that if you own up to that, that you are going to be marched into the sea. It’s not about that. It’s about saying if you own where you are and you recognise that it was on the back of people who were discriminated against and the victims of all of this, then it gives you empathy and gives you responsibility and perspective on where you are in this country. It was a personal thing for me to say. It frames my universe. It gives my life context knowing that I’m a privileged white male.
"When I’m having these types of conversations, since the tweet, I’m realising that this word 'privilege' and specifically 'white privilege' evokes defensiveness. People think it means that they didn’t work hard or that they have to payback something. It’s not saying that at all. It’s just saying that it gives my life some perspective and gratitude."
ON THE BACKLASH
"One of the problems that happened since this thing and has been disappointing to me is that the focus has been on the backlash of what I said. I’m scared it is going to shell-shock more people into not wanting to say it is okay to own their privilege and speak out against racism. I just hope more progressive thinkers won’t be deflated by it. That’s why I’m standing firm by what I said."
He adds: "That should further cement my motives and commitment to my work in this space. Because if I was trying to tow the politically correct line and swim under the radar, I never would have said these things. The reaction to it is proof of what a big story it has turned into. Certain people might be questioning my motives but that’s the most honest answer I can give. It would have been far easier to have backtracked or declined interviews like this. Social cohesion and moving South Africa forward are what I’ve always loved. It’s part of my up-bringing. It comes like breathing to me saying and thinking these things."
After the murder of Lucky Dube in 2007 Danny along with muso Kabelo Mabalane founded the non-profit organisation, SHOUT which aims to create a safer South Africa with various anti-crime initiatives. Using their platforms Danny and Kabelo are spreading strong anti-crime messages with the help of a host of local musicians and celebrities.
Throughout our conversation over the phone there is a sincerity and calmness in Danny’s voice. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone and he isn’t forcing anyone to do anything, he’s simply sharing his perspective and if it’s met by shrill shrieks of haters then it means he has hit a nerve.
"We want South Africa to work for all of us, but we have to have these honest and sometimes uncomfortable dialogues and conversations," he says.