I am a Racist

2016-05-08 09:56

I didn't even know I was one. A racist. Until Thursday when I was at gym making inane conversation with my (White) trainer and (White) training partner. We were doing dumbbell curls. He had asked us for 15 reps but I had negotiated him down to 12. "Will Smith" I announced, whilst looking at myself in the mirror and admiring my biceps, "Just had his 9th child." Pause. Three, Four, Five, "Actually", I pondered, "Maybe it was Denzel Washington?" Pause. Eight, Nine, Ten. I was confused. I knew it wasn't Morgan Freeman as he always plays God or Nelson Mandela or something. And I would have remembered that. Eleven, Twelve. Dumbbells down. Set complete.

Twenty something years into a non racial South Africa, racism is a hot topic. Mostly because social media has provided a platform to anyone wishing to contaminate the space with vile and poisonous ramblings. From the Penny Sparrows to the Mcebo Dlaminis to the Matt Theunissen there is no shortage of those who are willing to vent both in public and in private. And we abhor them and all they stand for. Because so many of us have grown up in a country that taught us to think along racial lines. We were taught "The advantages of separate development" at school and grew up in a world that didn't allow Blacks to use the same bathrooms as Whites. And as hard as we fought this unjust system (some more than others), this is something that South Africans educated during this era will always have embedded somewhere. Creating new pathways in the brain is not as easy as singing Nkosi Sikeli.

And it’s confusing. Not only because of our shameful past but because defining racism is almost impossible. Many suggest it is the feeling of "Superiority" over another race. But that is simplistic at best. Dangerous at worst. To say that all Blacks have dark skin is not racist. But to suggest that Jews are money grabbing is. To suggest that Penny Sparrow represents all Whites is as bigoted as the assumption that that Blacks are lazy and so on and so on.

Not that government helps. The last few years have seen the ANC fueling the racial divide. The fact that President Zuma can refer to a racist-nobody in his State of the Nation address is an indication not only of the barrenness of substance, but of the fact that he and his party believe that the one subject that will still help muster some support for him and his cronies, is racism. Cyril Ramaphosa continued this ill-conceived strategy with his suggestion that businesses in South Africa are still White dominated. And by doing so shifted the focus to the past and to what divides us rather than what unites us. It fragments us rather than bonds us.

Ironically, one of the few achievements of the President and his corrupt cronies is that he has indeed blurred the distinction of races. Everyone equally detests the corruption that has marred his Presidency and like at the World Cup Rugby Final in 1995 all South Africans stand united praying for the same outcome. Because when he goes, we will feel like we have won the cup all over again.

The fact is this. However we define racism, it exists. Whites and Blacks and everyone in between are capable of being bigoted and unkind. White South Africans have been educated in the fear of "Swart gevaar" and Blacks have been educated to not trust. And as the government largely because of incompetent and corrupt leadership places the good people of the country under more and more strain, so it is easier to return to the primal tenants of our education. It runs deeper than we think and it is our challenge as a country to overcome this.

And it will be worth it. The recent incident in a restaurant in Cape Town where some patrons refused to give a White waitress a tip until land had been returned to Blacks is a case in point. No sooner had the incident become public knowledge that South Africans of all colour banded together to raise money for the aggrieved woman. It was acknowledged that this is not how people of this country behave, and despite that which we were taught, and despite the desperate tactics of government, South Africans are decent people.

It will no doubt take work and it will take time. But so long as we can recognize the trait in us all and be vigilant as to our utterings, I for one am hopeful that I can get past my racist education. And of course, I wish Eddie Murphy mazal tov on the birth of his 9th child.

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