Better a White Lady’s ‘Fake’ Smile than a Black Person’s Mean Look

2014-08-18 16:57

We have been quite critical of the black middle class’ betrayal of their roots – townships and rural areas. In our criticism we also accuse them of not making use of services offered by their own black people, migrating to suburbs, taking their kids to private (mostly white) schools. There’s a relationship between the reasons why many successful black people leave the township for suburbs and why the same people would also make use of professional services offered by white people. In the former it is mostly a matter of: security, escaping the hood, a sense of progress in life, access to better schools for kids, etc.

To deal with the latter – using services rendered by white professionals – I have to set the territory of arguments accurately by stating that it is a question of attitudes, not competence. This is to say that I have never doubted a black person’s capacity to do a marvellous job, but I do question his/her attitude in doing that job, especially at the service of fellow blacks.

As black people we don’t always respect each other. Our brothers and sisters who are supposed to be at our service in government departments and other institutions have a frustrating attitude towards us to a point that we only go to those offices because we are desperate.

There are cases of patients who sometimes die in the hands of nurses in township hospitals and clinics. Those who are lucky to still have their lives always tell a story of how rude the nurses were, and continue to be, to them. There are many people, some of them my friends, who vow to rather be left to die at home than be taken to a hospital where nurses are going to finish them off. When you go to banking institutions located in townships you’ll find very long queues and very relaxed employees, most of which having the most disgusting attitude ever. Who are they serving? Their fellow blacks from the same township or village. Additionally, in universities it is our very own black people who are mean to us, black students. Equally, our public schools reek of these attitudes as well.

These experiences have a great influence on the perceptions of us, blacks, about our other brothers and sisters and the institutions they work for. If safety and a sense of progress inform our decisions to move out of the township, then a sense of respect and professionalism shape our preferences when it comes to services. If you can afford a dignified service in a welcoming environment, why go to a place where you'll be made to feel like a nuisance although you're simply asking to be assisted?

(1) It is not a question of black competence, but black-on-black professionalism. The problem is that blacks don’t see the need to be professional to each other either as a result of familiarity or looking down on each other. For example, you’ll find shops owned by blacks being kept unclean as if to attract pigs, not humans.

(2) It is not about black inferiority complex, but an appreciation of the fact that we deserve the best when it comes to things we fork out our money for. And that “best” we deserve is calculated by the kind of treatment we get from those to whom we’re clients.

We don’t have many courteous blacks working particularly as receptionists in areas dominated by blacks. If they happen to be respectful, it is mostly when they are attending a white client/visitor. Sometimes when I greet my black sisters working as receptionists they give me a look that simply tells me to state my problem, see if they can help, and evaporate. It’s like I’m bothering them in their sleep or holiday when in fact I came so that they can do what they’re paid for. Their white counterparts are most likely to make you feel welcome, smile at you and greet. I know many of us call white women’s smiles “fake” and all that, but at least there’s a recognition of your presence in the building, unlike the “Just get to the point?” expression our own sisters pull on us.

But as black clients we also have an input in all this. We haven’t yet set high standards for ourselves. When we get an appalling service from a teller or supermarket cashier, we hesitate to call the manager for the fear that someone else’s job is at stake. We decide quietly that “we’ll never return to this place” without expressing our feelings to the concerned parties. When given questionnaires to rate the kind of service we received at hotels, we see that as a waste of time. We let retailers in our township malls get away with filthy aisles because, in part, other customers won’t support us.

The culture of excellent black-on-black service must first be established before we expect successful blacks to invest in the townships and to use public services.

No one wants to be reduced to nothing.

And unfortunately that's what most of us get when assisted by our own blacks.

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