OPINION | Why is it so hard for some white people to understand what Black Lives Matter is about?

Protesters hold signs during a Black Lives Matter protest at Kings Square in Barry, UK.
Protesters hold signs during a Black Lives Matter protest at Kings Square in Barry, UK.
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

When oppression is still so evident in South Africa, it should not be hard to understand why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important, writes Billy Claasen. 

For the past few weeks, everyone has been talking about the the "Black Lives Matter" movement which has gained traction all over the world and almost brought the United States to a standstill. It was like a river had flooded its banks and caused water to flow to every tributary, sometimes uncontrollable and irreversible.

Here in our own country South Africa, there are diverse debates and opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement.

People have their own opinions and try to impose them on others. Others' true colours come to the fore with their statements about the movement. This was clearly seen in the sports world when self-made heroes like Boeta Dippenaar and Pat Symcox showed who they really were.

These are men who became heroes precisely because Black Lives did not "Matter". It's shocking to see how these so-called heroes think. Isn't that exactly what needs to be uncovered with the Black Lives Matter movement?

I was born in the early 70s and grew up in difficult circumstances during the peak of apartheid and opression. I would never have been able to catch up with my white fellow South Africans who were born at the same time.

I was born under the knee of oppression, with poverty and apartheid on my parents' necks. I grew up under that same knee, and carried that knee forward. It was difficult, but there was no other choice.


As I write the tears flow down my cheeks. Some are tears of joy over where I am today, but most are tears of sadness. Sad about the fact that a certain group does not want to give up their arrogance. Sad about the fact that a certain group thinks they are victims of the Black Lives Matter movement and wants to portray it as such in the world. Sad about the fact that a certain group wants to abuse their economic power to make a mark and trample on others.

What must be done to stop the opression in our country? What needs to be done to stop the arrogance and to ask people to lay more bricks of sincere reconciliation to help build an equal economic dispensation.

Professor Sampie Terreblanche sums up the benefit of the white minority so beautifully. He mentions why they have complete advantage in the country and how they step on others to claim more and more of the beautiful country's wealth for themselves. They do so at the expense of others and sometimes have swept others out of the way in search of wealth. Whites in South Africa were born with the advantages and grew up with ease. 

This brings me to Boeta Dippenaar and Pat Symcox who were so outspoken against Lungi Ngidi.

There is a perception that if you are white you understand sport better in South Africa, that you are a better player than your black counterpart. White players were untouchable and could do anything against our black players who had to compete against them as well as against opression. That happens even today. We see it everywhere and if we dare to talk about it then you should not "cling to the past". 

How can you leave the past behind and go on as if nothing had happened, if the playing field is still not equal?

How can you continue if white players get better sponsorships than black players? Are our chances really equal if preference is given to white schoolboys just because their father was a sports hero? Where do we draw the line when sports codes at former white schools are better sponsored and funded than at black schools.

Every day we hear how the state is taken to court over inequality and discrimination against whites. Here AfriForum and Solidarity play a major role.

Now, I grew up on a farm. My parents still live on a farm. My oldest brother is a citrus manager on the farm in question where there are several white drivers. They are all managers, but are the salary and benefits the same? Do we hear AfriForum talking about it? Are they talking about the offices on farms where there are seven white women are sitting and not one black person, because the senior manager says that black people do not have the experience?


On certain table grape export farms white students are mentored by black managers, but then that student is paid more than the black manager. Sometimes the white students' accommodation is much better than that of the longtime black manager. Isn’t that exactly where the Black Lives Matter movement comes in?

Is it so difficult for our white brothers and sisters in South Africa to acknowledge that they have been favoured and are still being favoured on several fronts. Is it so hard for Boeta Dippenaar to admit he was favoured by a white system? Is it so hard for Pat Symcox to admit he was was spoiled by white privilege? Is it so hard to take our hands and join us in the search for economic liberation?

As I write this, the question arises that I asked 20 years ago: "With what kind of water and with what mentality did Pik Botha come to wash his feet. Were his thoughts pure and sincere?".

The Black Lives Matter movement is not there to belittle others or make them feel inferior. It is not intended to downgrade the lives of others. It just wants to emphasise the opression black people still encounter.

- Billy Claasen is the Executive Director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation. 

*This op-ed has been translated from Afrikaans into English. 

*Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to opinions@news24.com with your name, profile picture, contact details and location. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers' submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.

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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