- Xhanti Payi
- 01 Feb 2012 12:42 (South Africa)
Recently it has found a particular resonance for me in the midst of a new wave of talk of racism and white people’s continued disregard of blacks.
In the reading I’ve done and the conversations I’ve had, two things stand out. The first is that white people are dismissive of and insensitive towards the wounds and disadvantages blacks have suffered and for which they are responsible or, at least, were beneficiaries of. The second is that they refuse to recognise their privilege or shed their supremacy.
As far as I’m aware, sensitivity isn’t shown to everyone. Anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship will tell you that sensitivity is a grand quality that is found in the wise and mature, and those who possess it are usually known to be “special” to their loved ones.
Thus, to me, statements about gestures from white people such as sensitivity and recognising their privilege, rest on the assumption that they have such a natural capacity. Perhaps it is not known to all, but an admission of privilege is also an admission that one is just not that great. It asks that white people accept that their achievements are less than they seem because they are elevated not by their effort, but by their skin colour - even worse, that they are only good because blacks have been made bad.
To expect that white people must be sensitive, mature and so grand to the level of muting their own perceived greatness is to me an expectation borne of the belief that they all obviously have such qualities. It is indeed, the same expectation we have of black people who must suddenly be grand and confident in our new society despite the many years of systematic beat-downs.
To act in the way black people ask of white people assumes that they are indeed wise and almost God-like. In my view, this cannot be true of either blacks or whites. This is the reason Nelson Mandela has been elevated almost to sainthood.
My worry is that we have assumed that all white people are wise and mature - able fully to know how to speak or treat a people they have hardly had any contact with beyond the power gradient – where they sit at the top. But qualities of sensitivity, humility, maturity and wisdom are not present automatically in all humans and all at the same time.
Bram Fischer called on white South Africans to "… shake themselves out of their complacency, a complacency intensified by the present economic boom built upon racial discrimination." We can ask, and maybe demand, that white people attempt to be like Bram Fischer, as we can ask and demand blacks to be like Nelson Mandela.
As Njabulo Ndebele said in his Inaugural Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, “We are all familiar with the global sanctity of the white body… The white body is inviolable, and that inviolability is in direct proportion to the global vulnerability of the black body. This leads me to think that if South African whiteness is a beneficiary of the protectiveness assured by international whiteness, it has an opportunity to write a new chapter in world history. It will have to come out from under the umbrella and repudiate it. Putting itself at risk, it will have to declare that it is home now, sharing in the vulnerability of other compatriot bodies. South African whiteness will declare that its dignity is inseparable from the dignity of black bodies.”
It is a myth that the “white man is wise” as much as any stereotype about blacks. Recognising this will move us closer to a non-racial South Africa where no one is assumed or accepted to be more or less than what they are, neither superior nor inferior. We are all individuals with flaws and vulnerabilities. DM
- The ironic price of freedom
- A Mandela everything
- Is there hope for the Marikana Commission?
- A 60% wage hike is not enough, but will leave us all worse off
- What education did Mr Khohlokoane get for the money he didn’t pay?
- Long live the spirit of Margaret Thatcher!
- The ‘white’ stuff: Thanks, but no thanks
- Let them be plumbers!
- Mangaung: The fine arts of mixology and music
- Will black people ever move past the 'white' standard?
- What if Jacob Zuma is teaching us patriotism and leadership?
- Extending the fruits of democracy
- People of big ideas and no implementation
- Umlungu Mdala
- Our blackness condemns us to servitude
- A letter to a fellow almost-revolutionary
- ANC comes to terms with Malema's march
- Who is the real representative of public interest - Parliament or the media?
- Open letter to the directors of AfriForum
- Zille should say sorry as Winnie did at the TRC
- Unless candour prevails, reconciliation remains elusive
- No place for closet anti-racists
- Lifestyle audits, human rights violations waiting to happen
- Things money can buy this holiday season
- To know us is to like us
- The child is not dead, Khaya, just overlooked
- Intellectual arrogance poses a greater danger than intellectual inferiority
- Who is to tell Africa what 'excellence' is?
- Black man, you are not alone
- SA’s great grim reapers
- Worshipping at the temple of beauty
- Be shot down in Jozi or sidelined in Cape Town
- Freedom to trade or freedom of expression
- Is xenophobia a prophecy by Karl Marx?
- Becoming a man ain’t what it used to be
- Human dignity is no match for press freedom
- No more miracles for pansies
- Of snake myths and political realities
- Lies, euphemism and the clash of cultures
- To perform or not to perform – the strange world of ministerial ‘performance’