Racists still have plenty of places to hide

Estate agent Vicki Momberg (Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24)
Estate agent Vicki Momberg (Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24)

Charlene Naidoo

I found this column by the editor of News24 Adriaan Basson interesting – and slightly tone deaf.  

His overarching idea is that racism is wrong, bad language against blacks, Indians and coloureds is wrong, and Vicky Momberg was terribly wrong for using the k-word 48 times. And rightfully, she is going to jail for it.

So far, so 2018.

The inherent problem with the content is in his statement that he believes the majority of whites are not racist. This statement is so disingenuous; it almost circles back to being benign.  

Much like celebrity gossip magazines love to declare such-and-such the sexiest person in the world (inviting the question – did they scour all 190-something countries?), I have to ask – how did he get to this point of view?

Have we polled the majority of white people in South Africa?

Leave the rest of the world alone for a second (Trump’s America will fight for its right to be as racist as it pleases, thank you very much); but South Africa? Really? Show your work here, please.

Cape Town on its own does its best to hold on to its claim as the most racist city in South Africa. (See, Twelve Apostles Hotel, nightclubs in the north, restaurants in the city centre.) Several companies too still seem to be in the business of racism (H&M, claims against Old Mutual and others); big business with thousands of employees, perpetuating the tradition of racism.

The rest of South Africa is no better. Durban has had horrifically problematic examples of racism in the not-so-distant past. Johannesburg, more diverse than most, has its fair share too.

So, how can one make the claim, even if it is an opinion, that most white South Africans are not racist? The evidence is simply not there.

Tethered to racism are its cousins; elitism and classism. Within the context of privilege afforded to white South Africans pre-1994, they were also the default recipients of the above. The right to go to better schools than ones afforded blacks, coloureds and Indians; the means to attend better universities and live in nicer suburbs.

These three insidious beasts are so intertwined that one can pass for the other – and does, these days. It’s the slyness of racists. They’re clever, you see. So, it might not be a k-word out in the open. It may be a, "Where did you go to school? Are you from the southern suburbs?" Or – an eternal favourite, "You speak so well." Micro-aggressions people of colour face daily.

And of course, the unimplied is always fun to consider. "Speak so well… for?" 

What’s not fun is when the tentacles of racism are so entrenched that you are denied jobs.

"Oh, not because you’re black! However, your experience is not comparable to this white person's" – who, thanks to privilege and being of a better class, was able to gain such experience. Thanks to racism. Chicken and egg. Which came first? Racism or racism?

I find this phrase in his column uncomfortable too: "There are entire new generations of white children and young people who live comfortably alongside black South Africans, want to make a contribution here, grapple with their inherited privilege and will never consider emigrating to Australia, even if they give us visas for free."

What is the alternative to living comfortably? If they lived uncomfortably next to each other, does that imply racism? Would a non-racist white person need to clarify his comfort level of living alongside black South Africans?

And where is all this comfortable living taking place? In majority black areas? Are blacks and whites borrowing cups of sugar from each other in Soweto? Khayelitsha? Langa?

Simplistic literalism here, in aid of the point. Perhaps the writer of this opinion means that most are living in majority white areas where gentrification takes place so that white people can feel comfortable with their new tanned neighbours.

These pockets of comfort are small and meagre against the landscape of fifty million plus citizens.

Where has there ever been an easy unburdening of oneself from white inherited privilege that is mentioned as fact? Look at how Stellenbosch students responded to their fellow students who attempted to join the #FeesMustFall movement that was taking place across the country.

The majority of whites in South Africa may not be as the editor believes, racist. On the other hand, perhaps they just hide it better than they did in the past. They still have plenty of places to hide – and plenty of validations from behind which to do so.

- Charlene Naidoo is a writer/editor at 24.com.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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